6. Force yourself to learn full songs, not just parts
A great tip that will help you to progress quicker when you are out of the complete beginner stage is to force yourself to learn songs in full. Even the hard bits that take longer to learn. Even the solo that is out of your comfort zone. Because this is what will make you progress. Remember, that if something doesn’t come easily, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do it, it just means you have to give it more time and patience. Practise the hard parts slowly with a metronome over and over until you can gradually increase the speed. A good tip that I like to use is to learn to play something faster than it is because then when you play it at its normal speed, it will be easier.
It’s also useful to know what kinds of songs are generally accessible to beginners or intermediate players so that you can pick songs you know you can play all of. For me, Green Day, Nirvana and Beatles songs were great to learn in full as they weren’t particularly challenging but were enjoyable to play.
7. Practise improvising
My biggest regret about being self-taught initially is that I didn’t practise improvising, which is when you play something on the spot, guided by the key that the song is in. I was (and still am) the type of guitarist to obsessively learn other people’s songs to a T, rather than make my own. Three years on, this has resulted in me having a mental block towards improvising, for fear of making mistakes, sounding stupid or not playing something good. These are all irrational thoughts, as you have to sound bad before you can sound good, so I encourage you to start improvising as soon as possible. You can do this to a song you like or to a backing track (there are plenty on YouTube) and use any scale in that key. A scale is a set of musical notes in order of pitch. Different scales have different intervals between the notes and the most popular and easiest option for improv for beginners is the minor pentatonic scale, which is shown in the diagram below on the 12th fret.
The numbers represent which number finger you should use to play it. It is an E minor pentatonic scale because its root note, the 12th fret on the low E string, is an E but it is important to note that scales are movable. If I moved this exact scale shape to the 5th fret on the low E string, it would be the A minor pentatonic.
Improvising is so beneficial for any musician, as it improves your ear, enables you to write your own music and allows you to adjust to the band around you if you play with one. Adjusting on the spot is a handy skill and will help cover up mistakes as well.
8. Play with other musicians, but don’t compare yourself to them
There are so many benefits to playing with other guitarists or a band, but here are just a few:
- It will improve your musicianship; being a musician is all about being able to adapt and play alongside other people. Bedroom musicians are valid, but imagine how much more you will get out of your instrument if you combine it with others.
- There is so much you can learn from others. It may sound daunting, but surrounding yourself with people better than you will make you learn quickly.
- Playing in a band will improve your communication and teamwork skills. Everyone needs to work together to find time for practice and uplift each other, which will teach you a lot about simply being a nice person. It will also open up opportunities for playing gigs, either at pubs or events, which is very exciting!
One thing I will say about surrounding yourself with better players is that comparison is inevitable. It’s hard not to look at the 5-year-old prodigies on YouTube or your friend who’s so much better than you and think ‘I’m no good at guitar’ or ‘I’ll never be like them’, but you must focus on your abilities, not those of others. See them as an inspiration, rather than a reason to quit, and you will be able to play like them too.
9. Don’t be scared of plateauing
One of the hardest parts of my guitar-learning journey was plateauing and this has happened on several occasions. At a certain point, I felt like I was missing direction and I wasn’t improving, even though I kept playing for hours a day. But what I didn’t know then was that it’s completely normal to feel like your learning has come to a standstill. Look at children for example: they learn more in the first five years of their life than at any other time. This is because when you know nothing, it’s easy to learn everything. Just like your guitar learning journey, you learn more in the first few months when you know nothing, compared to the second year when you already know a lot, so don’t feel like you’ve failed. My advice for someone in a learning slump is to either give yourself a short break from it then return with more passion, or challenge yourself more with trickier songs.
Recommended Reading: How to Teach Yourself Guitar Part One
Another possibility, if it suits your circumstances, is to get a teacher. This can give you more structure to your learning, however, it is important to remember that having a teacher is not for everyone. I have had two guitar teachers and although they have taught me a lot, sometimes I felt like I knew what I wanted to do and wanted to do that instead.
A further reason you may be plateauing is because of a busy schedule. Don’t forget that learning an instrument is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort, so if other important things are happening in your life, it is understandable that you can practise less. For example, when we came out of lockdown and went back to school, I found I had a lot less time for guitar than I previously did and my hours of practice went down from six-plus hours to about one or less. For a couple of months, I barely touched my guitar, but after settling back into routine and learning how to manage my time better, I was able to practise more.
10. Just a few guitar maintenance tips
Finally, it is worth knowing a few things about how to keep your guitar in good condition. A simple wipe with a cloth to remove dust every once in a while can’t hurt, and scraping the grime off your strings can improve their life expectancy, as dirt and sweat from your hands can build up on your strings and make them sound duller.
You should also know that guitarists change their strings because when your strings have been played and stretched for a while, the sound changes. On my first guitar, which was a cheap, second-hand 3/4 size classical guitar with nylon strings, I did not (and still have not once) change the strings. When I got my first electric and had a lesson for the first time, my teacher advised me to change my strings as I hadn’t changed them for about a year. Don’t worry too much about changing them in the first year as I would say that learning is more important, but when you notice that they are very dirty and dull-sounding, I would recommend changing them.
I started with Ernie Ball Regular Slinky Strings (they cost about £7 per set, or £15 for a pack of three sets) and now I use the Super Slinky ones as they are thinner and I just liked the sound of them. Your string choice doesn’t have a huge impact on sound; it is mainly based on your preference. Some people prefer thick strings (although these are harder and more painful to bend) whereas some people prefer thin strings (which can be better for fast playing).
In regards to actually changing them, it may seem complex but it is not that difficult and there are plenty of videos online showing you how to do it. If you really struggle, however, there are guitar shops that will do it for you.
I hope these 10 tips will help you learn the guitar and you enjoy the process. Remember that playing an instrument should be fun, not a chore, so learn songs that you enjoy listening to and playing!