Guitar for semi-beginner!
February 5, 2007 11:28 PM   Subscribe

I got music in my soul. Help me learn to belt it out on the guitar! Of course, there's...

I've been half-assing this guitar thing for quite a while now. I know most of the technicalities, but still can't perform more than a few token songs. I've decided to make it a priority, so I need some info on how to get good at this thing!

I live in a pretty small town, so lessons are out of the question (believe me, I've looked). So what's a specific method for improving my skills on my own? I know I need to practice, but as they say, only perfect practice makes perfect!

I've seen a lot of guitar software for learning on my own, but I think I need feedback. Is there any way to use one of those guitar-to-USB cords to do an educational guitar hero setup? Or do I just need to crack down with a lesson book? If so, how long per day/week is optimal? What method should I use?

Thanks, virtuosos!
posted by Willie0248 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Go to guitar camp. There's a bunch of them, all over the country, some for kids, some for adults, all genres. It'll get you stoked and you'll learn a lot in a short period of time. I never had much luck learning from books or software, myself - a human teacher is what you need, someone who can see and hear you play and get you on the right track.
posted by richg at 12:25 AM on February 6, 2007

I learned a lot by just playing along with the radio. I've heard quite a few musicians say they did that.

Also, taking a different tack, why do you have to play on your own? Your town is so small there's nobody who plays guitar/bass/drums you could be jamming with?
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:23 AM on February 6, 2007

If you want to get good then a couple of hours practice - either alone or in a group - per day would be good. You need to learn several different ways of playing any given chord and start to get familiar with riffs, scales, alternative tunings, sight reading, etc. I would say the ideal environment in which to improve would be where to meet up with some other (preferably more experienced) musicians and learn how to accompany them - i.e. not just playing along to the correct chords but knowing how your playing will relate to others in an arrangement. You should be arranging to perform in front of an audience at regular intervals.

You don't say what sort of music you are into but it may be worth looking for people who play folk or jazz music. These people are usually more open to the idea of playing in a session where anybody can turn up and take part - you thus get to play with more people over time than you would do in a group.

If you are really not able to find others to play with then try to at least fix up an opportunity to perform for others.
posted by rongorongo at 3:24 AM on February 6, 2007

Play with people. Real people. Do some covers. Get better together. Make shit up together.

Seriously, music is a communication between the player and the listener. You can get there faster if you learn a little bit of this language with some bandmates and then project it out there.
posted by Wolof at 3:28 AM on February 6, 2007

I disagree with the last two posters. Learning to play along with other people is *one aspect* of learning to play any musical instrument. You can be really terrible at it, but still be a shit-hot player of stuff you've worked out or written on your own.

The suggestions for where to get guitar tuition are good. However, first decide what you want to do with your playing skills. If you want to improve your technique, practice scales and chords and read theory. If you want to write songs, just sit down and start writing them. As you progress, you'll develop your skills into new areas that allow you to play what is in your head. If you want to learn how to jam along with other people, do that.
posted by pollystark at 5:22 AM on February 6, 2007

Seconding Wolof. If you're at all able, find someone else who is at least your equal or better and play off of each other. That did more to improve my playing than anything else. You sound like you already know a few songs so my guess would be some inspiration is in order. If your goal is to be a soloist (ie., Leo Kottke) then by all means, ensconce yourself in a room with a CD player, some CDs, a guitar book and go nuts.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:57 AM on February 6, 2007

I've found that my best practice consists of finding interval (different spaces between notes) up and down the fretboard, changing root notes, and building patterns that way. Start with, say, F#, then look for its fifth. Make a pattern with root and fifth. Add major third, minor third, sixth, etc. Try to jump octaves if you can.

The key to playing any instrument is knowing where the notes are. Stringed instruments (and the piano) have a graphic, tactile marker for each note. It isn't hard, over time, to build up a decent map in your mind of how the notes relate and how they repeat up the fretboard and across the strings.

From there, I would go on to music theory: What do those intervals produce in set combinations? What do different scales suggest, and which ones lean towards others? How do I use these to build up and release tension in music? Etc.
posted by argybarg at 7:52 AM on February 6, 2007

only perfect practice makes perfect!

Um, no. It is the opposite. Start practicing now.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:32 AM on February 6, 2007

It is better to practice with others--it makes it more fun and you more likely to practice.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:33 AM on February 6, 2007

Practice with a metronome. After all, there really isn't THAT much to learn about playing, for example, a c chord, or a g chord. It gets tricky when you actually try to execute these chords in time, in a musical, relaxed fashion. In my experience, the best way to accomplish THAT is to practice with a metronome - be as slow as you need to be, be brutally honest with yourself (in other words, if you are stumbling, then you need to play slower, even if you feel like you are TOO slow), and have patience. You WILL get better, faster, and smoother.

This advice goes for whatever you are practicing - start slow, practice with a metronome, and be patient. And, of course, have fun!
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:40 AM on February 6, 2007

In a former life, I was a music major, and I chose the guitar. I was terrible. The only thing that ever really improved my fluency with the instrument was dedicated practice of the Segovia Scales. I can't recommend them highly enough. You really don't need anything else, IMO.
posted by treepour at 8:41 AM on February 6, 2007

Seconding argybarg. It's tempting to learn the guitar by hand shapes, but it's very limiting. If you teach yourself where the notes are, and you learn how scales and chords are made, your options will be wide open. When your ears are good, you can sound musical without having amazing chops. This was an important discovery for me. It's tempting to spend hours chasing after the mechanics of playing, and while that's important, getting your mind's ear in shape is at least as vital.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:59 AM on February 6, 2007

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