A too-short guide to “Mastering” the guitar

Oh, you want to not just learn how to play the guitar but “Master” everything there is to know about the iconic instrument? Well, here’s a few steps to get you inspired and ready to give it your all…Hang on, as AC/DC says “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna Rock n Roll!”

  1. Write down your goals

Yes, the first step doesn’t involve playing music unless of course music is being played in the background while you copy down who you wish to be in the very near future. So, write or type out the songs you want to learn, the type of music you’d like to play, the musicians you want to make music with, or even the venues you want to perform at! Writing down your goals is a tried and true approach to set out on the path of progress. Keep the goals nearby for reference, on your desk or journal, somewhere you can see them when you might be lacking motivation and you need to remember you want to play in a NO DOUBT tribute band!

2. Love your instrument!

Learn everything you can about how to take care of your guitar. There are plenty of books, blogs, and one-off articles on the internet waiting for you. You’ll learn how to change your strings, tune your guitar (all the time!) the types of cleaners to use, what case you need for travel, etc. The important part here is that your guitar is what helps you create the music you love. It’s become an extension of you and you’ll have a ton of pride at the condition it is in. Guitars last for decades if regularly cared for. Heck, go to guitar center every year and have a tech take a look and make sure everything is up to snuff. The wood and metals of these instruments require care from experts occasionally. Lastly, have some gratitude for your instrument, if you’ve been playing for a few weeks and making progress you’re probably already talking about playing music all the time. You’re doing great!!

3. Play with a metronome, app, or drum machine

Look, it’s tough, I know. Playing the guitar is hard enough as a physical task to get your fingers, hands, wrists, arms, brain, and body in sync enough to play that first Led Zeppelin riff you’ve always wanted to rock. BUT! IT’S ESSENTIAL TO LEARN TO ESTABLISH A SENSE OF RHYTHM AND PLAY IN TIME!! Not sorry for yelling, I need you to hear this! If you plan on playing music outside of your bedroom or basement, AKA WITH OTHER PEOPLE, you NEED TO BE ON THE BEAT AS MUCH AS THE DRUMMER! This is key. There’s all sorts of awesome apps for smartphones nowadays that assist you in playing with great time. The best practice is to a simple metronome because it forces you to hear a light click and all of your playing, mistakes and all. Playing to a recorded track is great too. You’ll feel like you’re playing with a band, but beware, you can hide the sound of your playing with the real recording over top. It’s fine, but metronomes and drum machines work best. Playing to drum beats makes you feel you’ve got a drummer there helping you out, just be sure to change up the type of beats being played and the feel of the music. You’ll benefit a ton from playing things too fast and too slow. It will help your fingers play a variety of styles/genres.

4. Find a Jedi Master

You know, an awesome guitar player that is willing to teach you their tricks and tips. Signing up for music lessons at your local music store is a fantastic option. They will help you by pointing out the things that are missing in your technique (which are hard to find because all of us humans are naturally awesome at everything, right?) Jokes aside, you’ll learn music theory and have a sense of where you are in your learning phase. To be honest, you need to go easy on yourself. No matter how long I play music, I will NEVER learn every song, every technique, or even be the best musician. The only constant in life is change, it’s our role as musicians to channel our desire into sound. Learn everything you can and use it to enhance your playing, the world around you, and inspire your friends, family, and community to be a more musical and joyful place.

5. Learn to read TABS

TABS is shorthand for Tablature. It’s simply the music notation format for guitar and other string instruments like uke, banjo, mandolin, etc. For guitar its the 6 lines that are our universe. You’ll see songs TAB’d out in magazines, books, and these days there’s an endless catalog on the internet. If you’re willing, you can pay a little extra for a program that has full band parts notated and it will play along with you. You have options to tweak it within the program to your needs (slow it down, change volume on certain parts, etc) TABS are your best friend, learn the format well and you’ll be able to learn just about any guitar part out there. Maybe, you’ll enjoy creating your own TABS for songs someday!

6. Find friends to “Jam” with

LET’S JAM! This just means, let’s play music. It can be a planned setlist, or just noodling with your friends. Find some people who also love to play. It can be any instrument. They will all bring a perspective to your life that can teach and inspire the better musician in you.

7. Follow your heart & DREAM BIG!

Remember: Every musician started without playing music prior to picking an instrument up. We all start from square one. With dedication, inspiration, motivation, time, and MOST IMPORTANT, PRACTICE, we can reach those goals we wrote down on day one. Practice is your other best friend (You’ve made quite a few friends now, huh!?) With practice you’ll see progress and with progress you’ll smile, laugh, and love more in your everyday life. So keep practicing, with a band, with a drum machine, with a friend, and things will move quickly, especially if you’re having fun. What seemed impossible last week, will become a distant memory when you play it without thinking a month from now, I promise (WITH PRACTICE!)

Lastly, on a personal note: I was first inspired to start playing the guitar when I heard a few AC/DC and Led Zeppelin songs as a 6th and 7th grader. I saw a video and knew that’s what I wanted to learn, who I wanted to be. I worked my tail off everyday because I loved to play music. In some ways it was an outlet for emotions I didn’t understand as a young man. Music was always there for me when I got home from school, work, rehearsal, etc. I let it shape me and I let it be the most important part of my life. Music can do great things for us if we let it. My hope is that people continue to be inspired by the music of others close to them, not just the famous people of the world. So, rock on, you deserve it, and you’re amazing!

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