Warning: The title of this post about being a ‘genius’ is meant with a touch of sarcasm aimed at all those who want to become overnight guitar superstars. You can be good in 6 months and if you follow these tips you can be an impressive player, but guitar playing is tough and takes time to master. Don’t wimp out. It gets more fun.
1) First, get one lesson off 5 DIFFERENT guitar teachers. Have one 30 minute lesson per week (or 1 hour if you can afford it) for 6 months with the best one. At least one will be awesome. Find the awesome one. Stick with them. They’ll save you hours/days/weeks/months of frustration.
2) Announce on social media that you are learning guitar. Your guitar playing Facebook friends will love this and will encourage you. Go and jam with them. Just make sure they are better than you. You will pick up tonnes of little nuggets of information that would have otherwise have taken you weeks to get on your own.
3) Buy your guitar second hand. This doesn’t mean eBay. Screw eBay. Go to a shop in your town. Support your local music business. Try LOTS of guitars out. Find one that is comfortable to play, particularly the neck. Find one that is a freackin’ awesome to listen to and find one that sounds good in the hands of the guitar shop guy if you can’t play much yet.
4) Sit with the guitar like a classical guitarist or stand with a strap. Don’t sit back looking like some lounge cool player with your wrist contorted. Sit up or stand up, and if you stand up keep the strap high. You’re not James Hetfield. It looks slightly dorkier, but makes learning a trillion times easier.
5) Don’t pay any attention to brands. Most of that stuff you read on the internet are just B.S. reviews or biased reviews. You don’t need it. Use YOUR ears and get your guitar teacher’s opinion when spending money on gear.
6) Get your clothes from a thrift store and get the look. Every guitar genius does this. It’s in the bible of guitar geniuses. Make sure you look cool. Grow a beard if you’re a guy. Dye your hair if you’re a girl. You are going on stage in 6 months (READ #28)
7) Allow yourself at least 3 months to suck. Everyone sucks for at least a few months so instead of beating yourself up for it make sure you practice a lot, relax and tell yourself its ok to suck. DON’T give up and don’t tell yourself you’ll start again in the future. That’s procrastination. When I started out, if there was a gold medal for procrastination, I would have won, not this year, but next year. Don’t be that person. Today is the day.
8) If you must buy a book, buy just ONE book or course with the chords/tablature for all the songs you love. Don’t buy loads and don’t waste $500 on an online guitar course. Save that money for lessons. And save your money to..
9) Buy a variety of picks. Make sure they are Nylon. Buy at least 6 different gauges ranging from 0.4 to 1.0. Experiment with all of them. Buy loads of your favourite picks and check this guide out for more detail.
10) Buy a capo. Get the best you can afford. Capo’s are awesome and will make your playing sound better and much more varied. You can fake it till you make it with a capo.
11) Get a cheap clip-on tuner. Don’t bother with tuner apps; you want something you can leave on your guitar all the time. You could tape your phone to your guitar headstock, but that’s just dumb.
12) Learn ONLY 5 chords. No more until you master them. Those chord books are full of B.S. Learn to play the chords of G, C, D, Em, Am PERFECTLY. You can play millions of songs with just those 5 chords.
13) Buy a bongo. Seriously. Play it loads. Play along with your favourite songs. Master the beats. This will improve your rhythm dramatically and will help you to…
14) Learn to strum properly. Find a strum pattern book or course and learn at 5 awesome strum patterns. Great rhythm combined with a few simple chords will make you sound like a ‘genius’.
15) Toughen up and stop being a delicate little flower. It will hurt to play guitar. Your fingers will be sore. Practice your rock star pout in the mirror as a distraction for the pain
16) Play the chords that we talked about with the capo on the 5th fret. It’s easier on the fingers as you need less pressure higher up the fretboard and the frets are close together making it easier. If Justin Bieber can do it when he was 6, you can do it now.
17) Practice for no more than 10 minutes at a time. You can practice 10 or even 20 times per day but the rule is you must have at least 20 minutes between each practice. There’s a tonne of scientific research that proves learning is done in very small doses. Have 1-2 big sessions for an hour per week for fun. Don’t have time to practice – make time. Put down the remote and pickup the guitar. There is nothing on fuckin TV anyway.
18) Master the G, D, Em, C (back to G) Chord changes. Cycle through these chord changes until they are perfect and fast. Time how many cycles you can do cleanly in one minute. Aim to beat your score everyday. With the capo in different position you can play 100’s of classic songs with just that one sequence.
19) Start by learning these easy classics:
* The Beatles – Let It Be
* Crowded House – Fall At Your Feet
* Rufus Wainwright – Hallelujah
* Ben E. King – Stand by Me
* Bob Marley – Three Little Birds
20) Learn these easy contemporary songs so you know them inside out. (Your gran might not know them but the hot girl/guy will in awe of you. Playing guitar is sexy, did you know.)
* James Blunt – You’re Beautiful (I hate this guy and his music, but hey everyone else in the world loves him, so your friends and audience will do too)
* Lady Gaga – Poker Face
* Maroon 5 – She Will Be Loved
* Jason Mraz – I’m Yours
* Bruno Mars – The Lazy Song
21) Start learning at least one of the following stunning sounding guitar pieces. Learn just one and you will impress everyone in the building. Make it your mission to play one, (more if you can) cleanly and fluently from start to finish after 6 months.
* The Beatles -‘Blackbird’,
* Tracy Chapman – ‘Fast Car’,
* Simon and Garfunkel -‘ Scarborough Fair’
* Kansas – ‘Dust In The Wind’
* Pink Floyd – ‘Wish You Were Here’
* Plain White Tee’s- Hey There Delilah
22) Tap your foot along with everything once you can play it. You don’t want to tap it with everyone strum, just the beat. This is the most underrated tip ever. It will make you play in time, help you remember where you are in the song, improve your sense of rhythm and get you ready for head banging or head nodding when on stage. Your head moves to the pulse. If your foot can’t move to the pulse, your head won’t be able to. Head banging/head nodding looks seriously cool and adds loads of stage presence so practice this – a lot.
23) Make a video recording of yourself (with your phone or laptop) of you playing what you practiced once per day (song, scales, chord progressions, strum patterns, etc) to a metronome. Before the next practice routine, watch it. Be critical, spot your mistakes quickly, then fix them. Mastering any instrument quickly is about fixing errors and weak spots as soon as possible.
24) Look after your body. Playing an instrument is physical. Yes, you might be sitting down for hours on end or standing and jumping around on stage/in the practice room/in front of a mirror in your bedroom. Either way, get loosened up, stretch those joints and limber up like a Russian gymnast. It will serve you well.
25) DO NOT play all the strings at once when you strum – 60-80% of the time just play the lower (bass notes) and then play the upper strings as accents on the beat. Less is most definitely more. This will make you sound more experienced than you are.
26) Focus your time on sections you struggle with. You want to focus on these sections like a shark with a laser beam on its head. Break the section down to its simplest form, and keep going for three minutes over and over until you can nail it consistently. If after three minutes, you can’t nail it, move on, you will nail it after some more three minute blasts.
27) Hook up with someone else and get a learning buddy soon as possible. You will learn from each other. Friendly competition is not only more rewarding, its good fun. If you can sing, DO SO. Learn one song and practice strumming and singing it together. Just don’t sit around drinking tea discussing the how cool it is to be a rock star now that you are guitarists. You haven’t made it yet.
28) Learn the almighty power chord (tune the guitar to drop d tuning to make this super easy). This will let you learn just about any mainstream rock song EVER in no time. There’s an absolute load of great ‘drop d’ tuned riffs and the bonus is that you can play standard tuning power chords in this tuning which will make those songs super easy too. Keep it simple. Nobody starts out playing Stairway to Heaven, that’s not an easy song, it’s a bullshit myth the gatekeepers of guitars tell you. Try ‘Iron Man’ instead for your first power chord song.
29) Set a date six months from today to play an open mic night. Yes, I’m serious. Put in your diary. You will play one song, two if you are happy to, either on your own singing, with you accompanying a singer, or you and another guitarist playing together. It can be instrumental. You’ll play the gig, you’ll get a massive rush and believe me you will love it.
30) Have a structured plan and be accountable to yourself. Get a 10 or 20 week plan on specific goals to reach. Use Stickk to make sure you complete your goal of becoming a guitar genius and play your first gig. If you don’t, you pay money, it’s that simple. Nothing works better as a motivation tool than throwing away some of the hard-earned green stuff. If you want to give me your money for not completing your challenge, that’s cool too, but I’d rather you toughen up and go PLAY THE GIG!
31) You don’t need the guitar with you to practice. Study it, read books on theory, use visualization when the guitar isn’t about. Try using these great little cards to study the fretboard and theory when on the train/bus/bored at work.
32) Learn from a variety of sources. If anyone tells you, you should only learn from them or any one person in particular, ignore them, they are wrong. You should learn from multiple people, jam with lots and pick up all the good advice. You will quickly learn who’s “makers” and who are the “fakers”. Here is a great post that will help (see, what I did there).
33) Play guitar for the love not the money. You are in a very privileged position, many would die to play guitar, keep that in mind when the going gets tough and spread the joy with this awesome instrument.
Have fun, rock on. Don’t make excuses. If this guy can play the guitar, so can you.