Things I Wish I Knew Before Learning to Play the Guitar

    What do guitarists wish they knew before they started

    11 Tips I Wish I Knew Before Picking Up the Guitar

    Today's musicians are lucky enough to have a lifetime's worth of music instruction they can find online for any instrument. Whether it be YouTube, online music schools, or even in-depth interviews with professional musicians.

    With just a few clicks of a button, we can learn what pushed the best musicians ahead and the mistakes that held them back.

    There are always steps that musicians, guitarists included, wish they would have taken differently when they first picked up their instrument.

    Even though every guitarist's approach to playing is somewhat different, some of the missteps that they wish they could take back or change are almost universal. Even if you feel very confident in your guitar skills, we highly recommend you take a look at some of these top tier guitar tips.

    In the article below, we will discuss a few things most guitarists wish they knew before learning to play the guitar.

    Table of Contents


    1. Don't Worry About Your Gear When First Starting Out

    buying a guitar

    When you first begin playing, be sure you have a decent guitar to use, but don't worry too much beyond that. An expensive set up isn't important at first. 

    What is important is that the guitar you do have is set up to play well. Keep the action low and get a new set of strings for it.

    Picking out a new guitar, amps, and effect pedals is fun, but it is not essential for beginners.

    There is something to be said about earning better gear and equipment. Besides, what if you spend all this money on a guitar and pedal only to discover that playing guitar isn't right for you?

    An important first decision: make the choice whether or not you plan on starting out on acoustic guitar or electric. Electric guitar is easier on your fingers and won't demand calluses initially, but then you have to consider getting an amp.

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    2. Learn A Lot Of Chords

    Learning how to play your favorite song will be cool at first, but if that's all you know how to play, there is a good chance you're going to get bored.

    If you're playing the same chords every time you play your favorite song, a simple fix would be to substitute the chords. Songwriters will know several alternatives to the same chord on the guitar. If you know this, you're already at an advantage.

    Think of chords as different colors you can use to paint your musical landscape. The more colors you're able to use, the better picture you will be able to paint.

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    3. Use What You're Learning In A Musical Context

    No one wants to sound like a robot while playing guitar.

    A big mistake many new guitarists make is to practice scales up and down to a metronome all day long. As soon as you begin a new scale, technique, or chord, try to use it in a musical context right away.

    Put on a backing track if you're studying a new riff so you can see how it fits in an actual song.

    When you start playing with a band in front of live audiences, you won't be running scales up and down the fretboard. To make sure you can mesh with a band, put what you learn in a musical context as soon as possible.

    However, that is not to say that learning scales is not incredibly valuable. You absolutely should be learning scales. However, the key is practical use. Allow your scale knowledge to transcend to real-stage performances.

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    guitar practice

    4. Stay Disciplined When You Practice

    There is an obvious difference between practicing with a purpose and just fooling around. Practicing with a purpose will yield quick results, but fooling around doesn't accomplish much of anything.

    Even if you lack motivation on a particular day, don't pick up your guitar until you have a game plan. If you do pick it up and play around that is fine, just don't count it as a true practice.

    If you're trying to learn on your own, knowing how to practice properly will save you from countless wasted hours and a lot of disappointment in the future. Are you going to work on scales? A particularly difficult riff? A new song?

    Speak to an experienced guitarist if necessary, and ask them how they practice. You can also check out our most effective guitar tips here.

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    5. Play With Other Musicians

    Learning to play by yourself is admirable, but it can eventually cause a lack of motivation, or you'll hit a brick wall and won't know what to do next.

    One of the easiest ways to progress your playing is to play with other people. Find a few people you can play with on a semi-regular basis and see how things go.

    You won't click with everyone you try to play with, but that's part of the experience.

    The best way to see if you mesh with another musician is to have a couple of cover songs you want to play and see how it goes from there.

    One of the biggest benefits of playing with other people is developing the ability to listen. Know when to lead and know when to step back.

    You'll also be able to tell what key a song is in fairly quickly because you'll have to figure it out on the fly a lot of the time.

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    6. Develop a Feel for Timing With a Metronome

    Using a metronome isn't all bad.

    Knowing when to play slow, fast, before the beat, on the beat, when to increase or decrease the tempo, and remain in control are all valuable skills to have.

    Guitarists tend to rush. There's no shame in admitting that because it's pretty much universally true. We all want to shred, right? However, you can prevent this habit from developing if you use a metronome when you first start.

    There are many free online metronomes if you don't want to make a trip to the music store.

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    7. Challenge Yourself

    When you begin playing guitar you will likely find a comfort zone after a few months. Whether it be particular chords, specific scales, or a singular band's cover TABs.

    While having this comfort area to fall back on is great, it is important to push forward into unknown territory.

    When you start working on new material you're more likely to learn and develop new techniques. Then, you won't be afraid to try new songs because you're already used to challenging yourself.

    You will know how to break big challenges into smaller chunks and tackle a couple of those smaller parts every day.

    Learn the rhythms, move to the leads, and then work on the solos. If necessary, you can break the difficult riffs into a bar or two to make them a little more manageable.

    And if you can slow the riff down a bit, it will make it much easier to learn. If you're interested in learning how to play guitar faster, check out our article here.

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    8. Be Efficient

    No matter what you're practicing, whether it's speed, switching chords, or anything else, focus on efficiency first.

    There are only so many notes on the guitar, so there will be efficient ways to go about playing different chords and riffs.

    Figure out the most comfortable and efficient way to play with your left hand while focusing on how you can work on your right hand.

    Whether it's economy, hybrid, or alternate picking, there’s always a more efficient way to do it. If you’re looking to get better, be efficient, work slowly, and build up gradually.

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    9. Ask Experienced Players for Advice

    play guitar with other musicians

    Like most situations in life, if you ever have a question, don't be afraid to ask.

    Many experienced musicians will be more than happy to help out because they remember what it was like when they first started playing.

    And everyone can teach you something, no matter how much experience they have. Focus on the positive aspects of someone's playing and never harp on the negative.

    Trained guitarists can likely offer a self-taught guitarist many technique tips. On the flip side, some of the most gifted technical guitarists could learn a thing or two about spontaneity from a raw street musician.

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    10. Never Stop Having Fun

    After putting in hour after hour of learning an instrument, it's easy to forget to have fun. A particularly rough gig or a difficult practice can be a deterrent, but the first six months or so of learning any new instrument can be incredibly tedious, and guitar is no exception.

    There are many reasons playing can stop being fun, and just about all of them will present themselves throughout the years. But don't worry about that.

    The guitar is an extraordinary instrument, and once you learn it, you are never going to put it down. But if it ever stops being fun, take a break. Taking a little break doesn't have to mean you're hanging up the six-string forever.

    When you come back to it, chances are you will be re-energized with a new love for the guitar.

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    11. Attend An Accredited Music College

    Guitar Music School

    There is a lot of merit to learning how to play the guitar by yourself, but self-taught lessons and free YouTube videos will only get you so far. Certain techniques and theories are guaranteed to fall through the cracks.

    That is why attending an accredited music college puts you in the best position to succeed as a guitarist.

    The Atlanta Institute of Music and Media offers guitarists the following program opportunities:

    AIMM provides its students with the necessary tools for rapid progress, creating new professional possibilities in no time. With the Music and Technology programs, you'll have the opportunity to master the guitar and learn the best insider techniques when it comes to tracking, mixing, and mastering like professional music producers.

    Click the button below to learn more about AIMM's Guitar Programs.

    Learn About AIMM's Guitar Programs