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10 Commonly Asked Questions About Guitar

By Rado Randriamamonjy



1. How long will it take me to learn to play the guitar?


Most people don't want to hear this, but learning the guitar is a lifelong process.  You really never stop.  How do you learn decades maybe even hundreds of years of music and information?  You don't.  You do your best.  Most of all YOU HAVE FUN.  If the guitar becomes a chore with levels you have to get to before you can enjoy it,  you'll miss out on the fun and satisfaction of simply playing, and appreciating where you are.  That said, getting to a place where you do feel competent is incredibly rewarding, although what that point is and "how long it takes to get there" differs for everyone.




2. How do I get better at the guitar?


The most important aspects of seeing improvement on the guitar are probably commitment, consistency, patience and practicing correctly. 


Without the commitment to stick with the guitar regardless of how difficult things might get, you can never see any real improvement.  Withouth consistency you never build the mental and muscle-memory to make steady and small improvements on the guitar.  Playing every day for 30 minutes is an effective way to build on the small victories you experience every practice session.  Without the patience - the patience to allow yourself to grow at your own pace, to make mistakes, to figure things out - frustration will set in, and quitting is never far behind.  Finally, you have practice correctly.  That means having the right material, and the utilizing the correct techniques to learn and drill different exercises, songs or etudes.  The right material and practicing correctly are vital. 


Commitment, consistency, patience and practicing correctly are how you get better at the guitar. 




3. How often should I practice?


It's hard to say how much time is the optimal amount of practice time, but I like to tell my students 4 times a week, 30 to 45 minutes a day is the minimum.  Anything more than that is very good and will produce some nice results.  Really, it's a question of how good you want to get and how soon.  The more often you practice and for longer periods of time, the better you get.  It is really that simiple.  It's really up to you, your drive, your focus and to some degree your schedule; although there is something to be said for making the time regardless of how hectic your days are.  If you think about it: the ONLY way you will see improvement is if you find a way to put in the time to get better.  It's no more than that.




4. What's the most effective way to practice? 


The best way to practice is to first have goals, otherwise you're either flying blind or following someone else's agenda.  Then, you should write your goals down.  After you've done that, you want to  organize a practice schedule that breaks down your goals into smaller repeatable steps.   Also, you should assign an amount of time you spend on each of these smaller steps and repeat these steps/exercises for their respective lengths of time every practice session.  And again, you want to write that all down.


For instance, if your goal is to learn how to switch comfortably from chord to chord, then you should choose maybe 2 or 3 chords and practice switching between them for 10 minutes everytime you practice the guitar.  If you want to learn your the major scale, then maybe you can practice 3 different fingerings for the major scale for 5 minutes each, every pracitce session. 


Writing down, keeping and committing to set practice times for each exercise will produce the best and quickest result. 


A typical 45-minute practice session could look like this:


Warm ups

  • Finger Exercise #1:  3 mins

  • Finger Exercise #2: 3 mins

  • Finger Exercise #3: 3 mins




  • Practice switching from E to A to D: 10 mins

  • Practice switching from G to C to F: 10 mins



  • Play along to Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" mp3; focusing on the chords and fills only: 10 mins

  • Have fun  jamming out to a song of your choice: 5 mins



You could keep this schedule for 2 or 3 weeks then begin tweaking it by adding, removing or adjusting some of the exercises.




5. What guage strings should I use?


This is really a matter of taste.  The things to consider here are this:



  • The heavier the strings are, the warmer or "better" (for lack of a better word) your tone (the sound of your guitar) tends to be.

  • But, especially on an acoustic guitar, the heavier the strings are, the firmer you have to hold the strings.  So, this will affect your hand-fatigue and discomfort, but usually only in the short run.  Over time, your hands get accustomed to the heavier strings and grow stronger.



Also, the price of strings are usually the same regardless of the guage you select, when you choose from within the same brand and type.   For example, all D'Addario Nickel Wound electric guitar strings are the same price, regardless of  guage.




6. Should I learn to finger pick?


Again, this is a subjective subject and is a matter of taste.  Do you want to sound like Mark Knopfler? Or Michael Angelo Batio?  These are the kinds of things to consider when deciding on whehter to flat-pick (using a pick) or fingerpicking. 


Also, the tone you get with your fingers is warmer than the tone you get with a pick.  But the learning curve of  flat-picking is usually shorter than with finger picking. 


Also, there is a technique called "hybrid" picking or "chicken" picking which incorporates both flat-picking and fingerpicking.  It is an especially popular technique as it combines the benefits of both flat-picking and fingerpicking. 



7. What are power chords?  And what are open chords?


Power chords technichally aren't chords at all.  In a classical or traditional sense, chords are made up of at least 3 notes  (triads).  Power chords are made up of 2 notes (although sometimes the root is doubled.  Even then, it is still only made up of 2 different notes in the chord: the root and the 5th).   Power chords are constructed by taking the common barre chord form and using only the lowest 2 or 3 notes in the chord (the notes on the Low E, A and sometimes D strings).


Power chord are predominantly used by guitarists in the rock genre. They are moveable. And the lowest note is usually the root. They're often written with the number 5 in the name like:  F5, Bb5, Eb5 etc.


Open chords are chords that utilize open strings and are usually the first chords that student learns.  Some common open chords are G, C and E (see below).




8. What is Tab or Tablature?


Tablature or tab is a system of lines and numbers that are used to write music.  The lines represent the strings of a guitar and numbers represent frets being played.   Tablature is a very simple and useful tool for learning to play guitar.  But it has limitations.  Most notably, often, the rhythmic information of the music is left out.





9. Should I take private lessons?


 If you are at all serious about getting better, then lessons are for you.  If you're curious about music and want to learn more, then lessons are for you.  If guitar is just a distraction, something to fill up your idle time, or to do while watching TV, or something to do during study breaks, then lessons are not for you. 


Also, as listed on the first page, if you do want to improve but aren't sure about lessons, you have to ask yourself if you can effectively do the following on your own:


  • Know how to identify your strengths and weaknesses (which continually change over time).

  • Know how to accurately self-assess: your playing, their progress, their overall direction.

  • Develop exercises that provide sound foundational technique.

  • Develop exercises that challenge and grow their remaining skill sets.

  • Organize a strategy that will get them from where they are to where they want to be.

  • Continually find ways to stay inspired.



Many struggling guitarist have at the heart of their issues one or more of these 6 things causing problems.  If you feel like you struggle with any of these issues, or if these issues sound challenging to figure out on your own, lessons with a professional are for you.





10. What do I look for in a good teacher?


Finding the right teacher is one of the most important decisions you'll make in your musical life.   Whether you want to become a virtuoso performer or just play for the sheer joy of  it, you MUST establish a trusting relationship with a competent and prepared music teacher.


Most people when deciding on a music teacher, simply consider price and location.  Needless to say, much more goes into pursuing your musical future than just price and location.   


Is your teacher competent?

Is your teacher organized?

Does your teacher have a proven track record of success with other students?

Is your teacher continually growing as an instructor to provide more value to you and his/her other students?

Does your teacher present a thorough plan to help you with your specific guitar issues and goals?

Is your teacher inspiring?

Is your teacher inspired when teaching?


These are just some of questions you should ask yourself when deciding on a teacher.  You are looking to form a long-term trusting relationship with someone who will be a guide and resource to you on your musical journey. 








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