If you are considering taking guitar lessons, having a fundamental understanding of what you ultimately need to know to be a guitar player can save you a lot of time, heartache and money.
If you want to become a classical guitar player, then you have it easy — you can walk into just about any music studio and find a guitar teacher who will teach you how to play in the classical style.
But if you want to learn how to play more popular styles such as rock, pop, R&B, blues, country or anything else, then there are more efficient routes than traditional, classical-style lessons.
Sure, classical guitar lessons will get you where you want to be eventually, but it's a very slow process because they require teachers to prioritize skills that people don't necessarily need to play in most real-world scenarios, such as a band or even just around the campfire.
If you are a beginner guitar player — playing less than six months or so — and your lessons revolve around the following skills, you are probably being taught from a classical perspective:
While these skills will eventually become part of an advanced player's toolbox, the fact is, you need to know different things to really gain traction with the way most people actually play guitar.
Think about it, if you were around a campfire, and someone shouted out a song for you to play, what do you think they expect for you to do? Most of the time, they want you to strum some chords while they sing along. They are not expecting you to pull out your sheet music and play the tune note for note.
Yet, that's how most beginners are taught!
So, what do guitar players really have to know? The answer depends on how advanced you want to become. In reality, there are three tiers of proficiency, and only the first is required to be a decent player.
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Commonly known as rhythm guitar, this is the most essential thing that guitar players need to know how to do because it is the most commonly used skill set at every level.
You don't even have to sing if you don't want to, you just have to have the ability to mouth the words correctly over the rhythm so you that you can be in the right places at the right times.
To achieve this level of playing you need to know about 16 chords, how to navigate a lyric sheet that has chords over the top of the words and how to strum. You should also learn how to use a capo.
The great thing about this level of advancement is that you can enjoy a lifetime of playing music even if you stop here and just get really strong at playing songs. You can even play with more advanced players and have a lot of fun.
Plus, it's pretty easy to get started. The best guitar teachers can get you playing real songs in as little as one 30-minute guitar lesson.
If you want to learn to get to this level, the first thing your guitar teacher should teach you is few chords, how to strum and how to practice singing songs. Anything taught before those things is largely a distraction.
Having the ability to take a guitar solo is the natural next step after you learn how to sing and play songs. Going back to the campfire, if you and friend both have guitars, why should you both always play the same thing? It's okay, and it works, but it would be better to break up some of the singing with an instrumental break.
Or, you can just trade solos over chord progressions and not sing at all. The point is, you're playing together in the complementary fashion that multiple musicians often play together.
The best way to get started with guitar solos is by learning all five patterns of the major pentatonic scale. Using the pentatonic scale is a foolproof way to solo without knowing the notes you're playing. Plus, it can serve as a solid framework that allows you to bypass learning any other scales, arpeggios, modes or anything else. It's like the cheat code for getting advanced quickly.
The reality is that most of the time we play guitar, we play by ourselves, and while even alone, it's pretty fun to sing and play songs, instrumental breaks can seem pretty empty when you're just strumming the chords of the break. The thing is though, you can’t just stop strumming and play a guitar solo because you need some kind of rhythm structure to prop up the song.
The solution is to combine strumming and soloing, and the best players can do this pretty seamlessly. It's a skill that takes a lot of practice. But, if you can do this adequately, you probably have a good idea of what's happening on guitar in general.
Here's the thing though: if you're at this level, you still don't have to know how to read music, or do any of that traditional stuff the classical teachers teach to beginners. So, if you're asking why they even teach it at all, you're asking a very fair question.
All three of these levels take a lifetime to really master; even if you get pretty good at them, there's always more to learn within the level.
So, when you reach each tier, the next step is simply to gain experience using your skills and keep learning the nuances of each level. It takes a lot of work, but it's fun, and that's what people love about playing guitar.
For more information about taking guitar lessons through the Approachable Music project in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area, send us a message.
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This 10-step, straight-to-the-point guide shows you everything you need to play and sing songs on the ukulele. With these instructions, most people can start actually playing songs they want to play in less than a few hours. The book also contains next steps for getting as good as you probably ever need to be.
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