In my last article I wrote about 10 questions you should ask a potential guitar teacher before you start lessons.
However, this time, I thought it would be useful to think about some questions you should be asking yourself before taking up the guitar.
These questions should help you focus on the important issues related to playing, practicing and where you want to take your guitar playing in the future. This isn’t a comprehensive list of points but it should start you thinking about what you need to know before you start guitar lessons. So, let’s look at the very first question you need to ask yourself.
1) What kind of guitar style do I want to play?
First of all, you should ask yourself, what style of music and type of guitar do you want to learn. In terms of guitar type, the basic big three are classical, steel string acoustic and electric. So what are the differences? Classical guitars are similar to steel string acoustic guitars but have nylon strings. Common styles of music played on them are classical, flamenco and bossa nova. Also, the neck of the guitar is a little wider than a steel string acoustic and beginners find that the nylon strings are a little kinder on the fingers to play.
Steel string acoustic guitars have slightly narrower necks and of course the strings are made of steel. Common styles include but aren’t limited to folk, bluegrass, traditional Irish, rock, pop and jazz to name a few styles. You can either finger pick or use a pick or plectrum and beginners usually start with chord strumming at first. As a guitar teacher, the majority of my students play acoustic guitar as they want to be able to strum their favorite songs.
Electric guitars are heavier as they are generally made from solid wood and require an amp. Some jazz guitars are hollow however. Like an acoustic, the strings are metal but due to the lower tension they are a little easier to play depending on the model. Electric guitars are extremely versatile in terms of style including jazz, funk, rock, heavy metal, pop to name a few. Depending on the model and quality, an electric guitar can sometimes cost more than a classical or acoustic as you will need to consider buying and amp and guitar effects pedals if you want.
If you aren’t sure which type of guitar you want, go to your local guitar store and have a look around at the guitars and ask a few questions. You can also ask a potential new guitar teacher what they recommend for you.
2) Do I have my own guitar?
Once you have decided on what guitar you want and you are serious about taking lessons, you will need to buy and own your guitar. This might sound obvious but it’s necessary to have your own guitar at home so you can practice regularly. I have been asked before by students if they need their own guitar or if I can lend then one. I usually don’t teach someone before they have purchased a guitar. Without labouring the point, get a guitar, it’s the best way!
3) Will I be able to realistically practice regularly?
You should be ready, willing and able to practice regularly. Now, you don’t have to be like Jimmy Hendrix who played for hours on end and literally slept with his guitar he played it so much. Just as long as you can put some guitar practice everyday even in just for a few minutes, you will make some progress. If your job and or life is to hectic and you realistically can’t put in regular practice, you simply won’t make any progress. You’ll get frustrated and your guitar will start to gather dust in the corner. Beginners should be looking at playing at least 20-30 minutes daily to make some sort of elementary progress.
4) Are my neighbors OK with me rocking out?
You want to check if your guitar playing is going to annoy your neighbours or whoever you live with. If sound is an issue, playing electric guitar with headphones connected to the amp is a great way to avoid disturbing others. Classical guitar is also usually OK for being on the quieter side. So, think of your neighbours and use common sense to avoid making people’s eardrums bleed when rocking out.
5) What’s my goal?
It’s worth spending sometime and thinking about what your guitar playing goals are. The more clearly you can define your goals, the easier it will be to make measurable progress. It will also greatly help your guitar teacher to structure your lessons and practice sessions at home more effectively.
So, what kind of goals should you be thinking about? Something like “I wanna be an awesome guitar player” sounds pretty good but it’s a little too vague. You need something more concrete and achievable such as “I want to be able to stum my favorite songs in 6 months”. Or “I want to be able to play basic blues rhythm guitar and simple solos”.
Of course it’s great if you want to be the next Eric Clapton or go to music school to study classical guitar. However, you might want to break those big goals down into smaller, shorter and more achievable goals in the beginning. Whether your goals are modest or ambitious, make them clear and make them realistically achievable.
6) Do I really love the guitar?
I remember when I was a kid, my mother took me for an audition for lessons with a guitar professor from a top music college in London. After playing through some of my pieces, my mother asked in her motherly way “So, do you think he’s good enough to get into music college?”. My guitar teacher laughed, turned to me and said “So, Alex, do you love the guitar?”. “Yeah, of course! I love playing” I replied. He then turned to my mother and said “Well, there’s your answer”.
I don’t think my mum was entirely convinced by that remark at that time, but I did get into college to study music and now I teach and perform guitar. So, of course, it’s all about passion and how much you love the music. Passion and love of guitar will be the single most important factor that helps you get through the difficult and frustrating times when you feel you aren’t making any progress. And in my case, it makes up for not being a genius and lack of talent. So, if you really love the guitar, go for it!
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