Self-taught on the Guitar, things I wish I knew.

Guitarists are one of the few class of musicians that usually start out being self-taught because of the prevalence of the instrument in popular music. No matter where you go, there's bound to be a guitar in there somewhere. So, most guitarists start out plucking and strumming away to some of their favorite tunes in rock, pop, metal, blues, and more. 

This is a very interesting situation that distinguishes guitarists from must musicians as most other instrumentalists start immediately in some kind of educational environment like a school orchestra, choir, or band. Guitarists are somewhat underrepresented in this educational environment and are sometimes even forced to go the "self-taught" route because, unless you want to pay for private lessons, that's simply the only way to go!!!

Now that I've studied with several professional guitarists and am a beginning professional myself, I look back 7 years ago to when I started and wonder how things were and what tips would have benefitted me to improve my skills and develop faster on my instrument. 

Tip 1: Beware of Tabs

Now, this is something that I've been adamantly against since tablature for guitar suffers from two very limiting things: tablature does not notate rhythm and is not compatible with other forms of musical notation. For the first downside, tablature restricts you to playing with a soundtrack since the tablature does not hint at the rhythmical value of each note. Tabs only tell you where to play a note on the guitar, but not how LONG to play that note or the next one. Imagine trying to play a piece/song that was written for you by a friend or by a professional that has never been recorded before and gave you tabs for your guitar part, how would you know how the music even sounded like? How fast? How slow? It's even more of a problem when you try to approach classical music on the guitar which is very precise in its rhythmical notation. 

The second reason guitar tablature is just a waste of time is that it is incompatible with other instrumental notation. Why is this important? Well let's say you hear something on the piano, violin, or harp that you really would love to play on the guitar. Well, most music on the violin, piano, and harp is notated on standard notation (e.g. sheet music) and can be easily transferred to guitar by reading straight from the source of the music and then playing it on the guitar. To transfer what is played on another instrument to guitar in the form of tabs you would have to spend endless time trying to map out each note by EAR. The problem here is that the human ear is inevitably fallible and we can often mistake certain notes or add wrong notes in the process of mapping out a song by ear. Learn how to read sheet music for the guitar!!!! 

To learn how to read sheet music buy the book: Hal Leonard Classical Guitar Method (link click here). Even if you don't want to focus on classical guitar, learn to read sheet music for the guitar so that your doors of opportunities become endless! 

Tip 2: Guitar Chords are not for absolute beginners

This is surprising to most as that's EXACTLY what most guitarists start out with when they first pick up the instrument. The reason you shouldn't start out learning guitar chords as the absolute first thing that you learn on the instrument is because it's like trying to juggle 4 balls at once when you haven't even learned how to juggle 2!! Playing a guitar chords requires coordination in multiple fingers of the left hand that can get very frustrating to learn as an absolute beginner. You simply can't do algebra without addition. Instead, focus on learning individual notes on each individual string. Learn the names of each string on the guitar and how to find other specific notes on each string of the guitar before approaching chords. After you can play some simple melodies on the guitar, go to playing multi-note chords. A good place to start would be Suzuki. Suzuki Method offers super basic songs that are meant to hone your skills on finding and playing individual notes. (link click here)

Tip 3: Find a guitar instructor

Although being self-taught can be an interesting journey and fulfilling, we always hit some wall or plateau in our learning. This is simply because we reach a certain level in our self-teaching that we feel like we don't really know what to do to get better or what to learn to improve our skills and technique. Not knowing what to do can be one of the most frustrating things for a guitar player that is really interested in improving and hungry to pushing their technique and skill level. Once you've reached this point in your learning where you can't really do it yourself anymore, take time to find a local teacher near you. Why spend a lifetime teaching yourself through failure and mistakes when you can learn from someone who has already specialized and learned everything there is to know about what you want to do? The most successful and brightest people are always looking for others smarter, faster, and more skilled to learn from and push themselves. 

Magdiel Zuniga