Any guitar player can tell you the most frustrating thing about learning to play guitar is how difficult learning actually is. Your chords never sound great, your fingers are screaming in pain from trying to stretch over frets, your playing speed is like a slow-rolling train … Need we go on? To sum it up, learning to play guitar is all about being incredibly patient and understanding that at times, it can be frustrating and you'll feel like giving up. We've all been there.
But news flash: it’s not always going to be this way! Even legendary musicians had to put in the time to become good. That’s why we put our heads together and came up with ten tips you can use to immediately improve your guitar playing. Here’s hoping these tricks can help keep you lifted during the hard times and remind you just what playing guitar is all about.
1. Know Your Strings and Notes
When it comes down to it, chords are simply individual notes played together. So it’s important to know exactly what chords you happen to be playing and what notes they are made of. This is especially important if you decide to modify it by moving a finger elsewhere or adding something new. You won’t look silly when you tell your friend you found a new ‘C major thing’! But don’t stop there! Do you know your guitar strings too? Keep a mnemonic like EADGBE (Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually) in your back pocket; it’ll make memorizing guitar strings a breeze.
2. Keep It Slow and Steady
Ignore every video you’ve ever seen of shredders and guitar heroes going hard on the fretboard. It’s easy to get frustrated when you can’t play as quickly as the experts, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. The best way to learn guitar is to play everything slowly. We mean snail-slow. Teach your fingers where to go and what chord shapes to form and keep things that way until you can play them with gusto. This leads us to our next point...
3. Use A Metronome!
Trust us when we say this: a metronome is a guitarist’s best friend. Using a metronome means you can establish the time in a piece of music and forces you to incorporate rhythm in your technique. It’s crucial in building speed as a player – using a metronome at a slow speed while learning music, only to gradually build-up to the appropriate speed is a great way to learn how to master it and play it comfortably. That's why all of the lessons, exercises, and songs on aimusiclessons.com can be slowed down and played along with a metronome in your earbuds!
4. Use Numbers!
You want to make learning guitar simple. One great trick to help you do so is by assigning numbers to each finger on your fretting hand. So your first finger is 1, your middle finger is 2, the ring finger is number 3 and the oft-forgotten pinky rounds up the list at 4. If you ever decide to read sheet music and look at chord diagrams, having this numerical system will take you a long way in your guitar lessons.
5. Play it One At A Time
When playing new chord shapes, it's a must to play each note individually. In musical terms, that's called arpeggiation. Doing this is a big help against deadening notes or producing unneeded string noise. Playing things correctly early on prevents bad playing habits and makes everything else easier.
6. Play Cleanly
Danger danger – your chords can sound messy if you use the wrong part of your fingers. The flat, fleshy part of your fingers can block other strings, unintentionally muting them. When playing guitar, make sure to press down using the tips of your fingers to allow space between them. Doing so allows us to hear each note clearly – letting the chord ring out as a result!
7. Proper Posture = Perfection
How you hold your guitar is critical to successfully mastering it! The wrong posture can restrict your movement, making those guitar chords even trickier to play. When sitting down, keep your guitar in the classical position. Named for the pose guitarists made when playing classical guitar, you'll want to sit upright, with your left leg elevated and resting on the bottom curve of the body, keeping the guitar neck upward. This takes the excess strain off your fretting hand, not to mention your back and your neck. Keep your left elbow away from your torso, letting it float in the air. Doing so gives your wrist the ability to move, letting you play chords with your whole left arm, not just your fingers. Wild, right?
8. Right Hand, Left Hand
All these tips address your left hand but don’t think we’ve forgotten your playing hand. What’s the point of learning to play chords correctly with one hand if your other hand is incapable of playing them in time? Make sure to throw some love to your right hand and develop your feel for rhythm. Examine your picking technique, work with a metronome and practice playing scales to a metronome with up and down pick strokes to synchronize your left and right hand, slowly increasing the speed as you've mastered each tempo.
9. Embrace Discipline
There’s no substitute for repetition. If all you do is pick up a guitar, noodle for five minutes, then put it down again, you can’t expect to become good at it. When it comes to practicing the guitar, dedication and time are your best friends. Give yourself a block of time and come up with a set of techniques to work on. Instead of forcing yourself to go through a two or three-hour session once a week, chop it down to twenty minutes every day. Training your brain to make your hands do different things takes time!
While you’re practicing, keep a log of your regular practice sessions. Keeping track of this will help you focus future practice jams and allow you to acknowledge just how far you’ve come!
10. Understand CAGED
Playing guitar boils down to knowing a lot of patterns and basic shapes. These patterns fuel what we know as the CAGED system – which explains how chords can be created at different places on the fretboard. These core patterns make chords simpler to grasp and far more intuitive to play but they also make knowing the fretboard a must for lead guitarists. If you can play a C major chord in five different ways up and down the guitar neck, you’re well on your way to mastery.
Let us know if there’s anything we missed! We’re all about learning here – it’s why we offer online lessons for guitarists of all levels. Learn at your own comfort and ability. Check out our free 7-day trial and start strumming today!