Our guide to guitar playing
Alistair Stafford

Our guide to guitar playing

First published date November 19 2013 Amended date April 17 2015

At some point in our lives, we’ve all imagined what it would be like to be a world famous musician. In reality though, very few of us get anywhere close to being part of a successful band with a large groupie following (unless of course you get a job in music production). You may fear that the days of you becoming the next Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton are behind you, but don’t worry, as it’s never too late to get started.

If you consider yourself the ultimate expert on Guitar Hero or are the type of person that stands for hours pretending to play the latest chart-topping hit on your air guitar, then perhaps it’s time to make the switch and learn the instrument you love by taking a guitar course.


But I’ll be hopeless...

It makes no difference whether you’ve never picked a guitar up in your life or are already a long-time player looking to take your ability to the next level, as there are sessions available for all ranges of ages and experiences. If you don’t feel comfortable learning in a small group or even one-to-one, then an online course means you can still study the art of guitar playing, just at a time and place to suit you. 


What to expect

Those completely new to guitar playing will start off by being introduced to basic chords and the simple techniques needed to play the instrument. As your confidence and skills develop, as will the level of difficulty in what you’re being taught, with more complicated chords and songs being given to play to test your ability. Many guitar classes will teach you about writing and reading music, while some sessions, where you are learning in a small group, will incorporate elements of performing alongside others.


Which guitar is best for me?

There are plenty of types of guitar, each bringing their own unique style. Some will have more strings than others, while different guitars will have been customised in their design to give a specific shape and sound. Generally though, there are three main types of guitar that are used (all of which have their own variations):

. Acoustic guitarTraditionally the guitar used for people new to playing, the wooden instrument typically has six strings and is often used by pop-performing soloists. As the acoustic guitar doesn’t make as much noise as the plugged in options, it gives more opportunity for a performer to sound unique.

. Electric guitarBeing plugged in to amps and speakers makes this a much louder option. It was first used in the 1930s as a heavier sound to accompany jazz music, before eventually being used in rock and roll and now in many other music genres.

. Bass guitarIt has similarities to the electric guitar in the fact it is plugged into an amplifier, but has a much longer neck and usually only has four strings. It also creates a sound far different to the acoustic and electric alternatives.


How quickly will I be playing songs?  

You’re not going to become an instant success from the moment you pick up a guitar, as it will take a lot of practice outside of classes to get you used to playing the different chords. In the first few weeks you may also get a lot of blisters and cramp in your fingers, as your hands adjust to playing the guitar. However, there are plenty of well known songs that can be played by only using three chords, so there’s no reason why you can’t progress reasonably quickly to performing full length tracks.


The next step

Once you’ve completed your first step in becoming the next Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page, there are several things you can do with your new found guitar skill.

For those interested in studying playing their guitar or another instrument full time, there are undergraduate courses available in music performance, which will provide you with specialist tuition and further guidance. Even if you decide you just want to keep your guitar playing a hobby rather than a career, the fact you’ve been able to learn a new skill will be a stand out trait when updating your CV.


Top trivia

Think you’re the top dog when it comes to music knowledge? We bet that you didn’t know these guitar based facts:

. There is an annual ‘air guitar world championships’, which sees hundreds of air guitar enthusiasts battle it out over four days for the prestigious prize. America’s Eric "Mean Melin" Melin collected the 2013 crown in Finland, with Britain’s Thom "W!ld Th!ng 37" Wilding coming home in third spot.

. The world’s smallest ever guitar is just 10 microns long (about one twentieth of the thickness of a human hair!). The guitar is so small that the only way it can be played is by hitting the strings with lasers on a microscope.

. In 2005, a guitar containing signatures of some of the most famous musicians of all time became the most expensive guitar ever sold, as it made nearly £1.7million in an auction to raise funds for the Asian tsunami appeal.

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