This post is for anyone who has thought about picking up the guitar but hasn’t yet. For those of you who aren’t musicians, becoming one is both more fun and easier than you imagine. I’m writing this post in the hopes that I can convince 1 or 2 of you to pick up a guitar and start making your own music. Below I describe a basic theory and method for getting started with the guitar that I’ve taught in real life to many friends with success.
Before I picked up the guitar, I was operating under a lot of false assumptions about how difficult it is to become a musician.
- I believed I was too old to start to learn music.
- I believed I had no musical talent and that I wasn’t a “musical” person.
- I thought you needed to learn to read music to play an instrument.
- I believed to overcome these barriers it would take too much time and effort.
I couldn’t have been more wrong on all these assumptions.
If you don’t have musical talent I’ve got good news for you– you don’t need it.
You just need time. Playing guitar is fundamentally about teaching your fingers to do weird things they aren’t used to doing. That’s it. It doesn’t take a genius. It takes some hours. Set aside 10 hours with the guitar and you’ll be playing some great songs. Promise.
I love playing the guitar. When I think of the decisions I’ve made that have changed my life the most, picking up the guitar was one of the most important and meaningful decisions I’ve ever made.
Learning how to play an instrument opens tons of doors:
- A quality and productive way to “unplug” and relax.
- You’ll enter in to a community of musicians who are looking to jam, sing, write, and take over the world– it’s like learning a new language and culture.
- No matter what your race, sex, creed or color you will increase your sexual attractiveness.
- Listening to music will become more enjoyable because you’ll start to pull apart the composition– you’ll begin to understand what is going on. (Eventually you’ll start to make your own).
- And as a bonus… once you learn your first instrument, the next ones get easier.
This post will teach you how to play songs on the guitar in less than 10 hours.
The information you need to play the guitar can be learned in 5-10 minutes. That information consists of 5 finger shapes you must remember. I’ve posted them below. The rest of your 10 hours will be spent teaching your finger muscles to play chord shapes.
For those of you who play guitar, you might have noticed that some of my tasty licks aren’t so tasty. I’m no Stevie Ray Vaughn. You don’t need to be superstar to have tons of fun with this stuff. Despite not being the best guitar player, I’ve played my songs in front of 1000’s of people in live venues, had songs I’ve written and recorded played on San Diego’s leading rock station, and played in some super cool seedy dive bars to drunken hipsters. That’s just a few among a countless other memorable experiences. You don’t need to be a genius– half the battle is just showing up.
Here’s what your 10 hours can look like.
- Minutes 0-30. Read this blog post. All the info is here to get started.
- Minutes 30-60. Practice making the basic 5 shapes. This is probably the hardest part. You gotta put your head down for 30 minutes and remember the chords that are demonstrated below. Once you start getting these shapes down, adding to your portfolio will be easy. You can even experiment with adding and removing fingers– you’ll find a lot of cool sounds here and you’ll continue to discover these for years to come.
- Minutes 60-600. Pick up the guitar everyday for 20 days for 30 minutes or so. You can do this while you do other things like watch TV or chit chat. Get your fingers used to moving around on the fretboard. Start jamming out some John Denver baby. Please do sing along. Eventually try to keep up with tempo of the changes in the actual song. Once you can change your chords on time, focus on improving your “touch” with your right hand. Strum the chords in a way that it adds texture to the recording (if you are playing along with the man himself.)
The shapes you need to remember (the only information you need to get started):
Tips for playing:
- To get good touch in your strumming hand, it’ll take longer than 10 hours. It’s about reps. Try to consider the amount of finesse you are hitting the strings with. Do a little research on palm mutting and other useful strumming techniques. If it sounds nasty at first, that’s cool. Your fingers and wrists will start to adjust. Focus on getting quality sounds out of the guitar.
- With your left hand, fret the strings as close to the frets as possible. This will reduce buzzing and the chords will ring clearer.
- You’ll need to press the strings down firmly to ensure they ring out well. One of the toughest parts for beginners is ensuring you aren’t “muting” the strings that you aren’t fretting (credit natasha at www.dresshead.com). These small touches get programmed in to your fingers after hours of time, so don’t worry too much about it. Just focus on getting the best sound out of your guitar.
- Your fingers will hurt, don’t worry about it too much.
- It’ll feel weird for the first few days. This is normal. At the beginning a G chord feels like it was purpose designed to give you wrist cramps, after a month of playing the guitar it’ll feel like coming home.
Songs you can play along with within 1 hour:
- “Country Roads” by John Denver – Chord Map | Youtube Performance
- “Last Kiss” by Pearl Jam – Chord Map | Youtube Performance
- “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash – Chord Map | Youtube Performance
- “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan – Chord Map | Youtube Performance
- “Margaritaville” by Jimmy Buffett – Chord Map | YouTube Performance (need that A you learned!)
A little faster, perhaps after a week or so of jamming out….
- “Runaround” by Blues Traveler – Chord Map | Youtube Performance (play C instead of Cadd9)
- “Lonesome Johnny Blues” by Cracker – Chord Map | Youtube Performance
- “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows – Chord Map | Youtube Performance (notice you’ll need to learn A!)
Ok, I did my 10 hours and I Can Play John Dever’s entire catalog. My roommates are going to kill me. What’s next?
- Search popular tablature sites for your favorite songs. Google “your song name + tab.” Tablature is basically easy notations of how to play chords and songs.
- Consider learning to play your favorite artist’s catalog by reviewing tablature sites for their songs and jamming along to youtube. Guitar driven artists are great to learn from. Think Dave Matthews, Jack Johnson, John Mayer, stuff like that.
- If you want to learn how to strum along to a song Google [song name + ‘chords’], if you want to play the solos and riffs as well, Google [song name + ‘tab’]
- I believe if you focus on learning via things you enjoy, like playing some great songs from your favorite artists, you’ll eventually seek to push your knowledge deeper and go for the crazy stuff like learning scales and all that jazz.
- The guitar is a remarkably hackable instrument for a million reasons that will be revealed to you as you spend more time with it. As you go along in your journey you’ll find a million shortcuts and fun ways to learn fast. I’ve rarely heard any of this stuff from guitar teaches, so beware, trust your instincts, and learn from people who can you where you want to be.
Have fun and let me know if you need more help.
Cheers from Bali,
PS, check out John wail.