Teaching Myself How to Play the Guitar--What Tools Should I Use?

by Junior

Ma'am, I am 27 years old. I am not a music teacher, but I am teaching myself how to play the guitar.

I have a bit of a background in reading and playing music. I played the trumpet through middle school and my freshmen year of high school.

What tools do you recommend for me to continue advancing? Also, I have a badly scarred pinky finger on my left hand from an old accident. My left hand which is my fretting hand. It's a bit difficult at times to play some notes using my pinky finger. I mention it because of the article based on one of your students with autism. May God bless you for having the patience and dedication to work with the child.

Thank you in advance for taking the time to answer my question.


Hi, Junior,

You don't have to let that damaged pinky finger stop your playing. Most chords don't require the pinky finger, and there are always chord alternatives and fingering alternatives.

Assuming that you are not going to find a teacher, given your background in notereading, I will give you the same advice that I would follow for myself if I were pursuing an instrument new to me:

I would go to the music store or the library and look at every beginner book available for that instrument. If I were at the library, I would bring home every book in that section on "Learning How to Play the ______". Then when I got home, I would dive into each book and find out which one made sense to me! In my case, I would probably discover that it was the book aimed at a young child that would be the most fun to learn out of. Or, one of the other books might be harder to understand, but have music I was yearning to play. And I would play out of each book as far as I could get each day before I got frustrated. Then the next day I would back up and try to progress even farther.

But maybe your library doesn't have any books you like... (doubtful, because I'm betting your library has A TON of early guitar books). Go to the music store, then, but don't buy anything until you have played out of it, right there at the store, or
determined that the book makes sense to you. Do NOT buy a book just because you like the titles of the songs... you may find you cannot make heads or tails out of the book when you get home. I have a few like that!

It's hard to choose between starting with tablature (Tab)and starting with notereading. Myself, I'd probably go for both. The tab can clear up questions sometimes about when a note is meant to be sharped, for example. Is that an "F" or an "F#" (F sharp)? Most standard notation books take for granted that you understand "key signatures" (no, I'm not going to explain them right now) and so the note will appear to be just another "F". But the tablature will show you exactly which fret that F needs to be played on to sound correct.

At the beginning, you must to be very careful about the basics, such as how to hold a pick, how to use your arm when you strum, what kind of posture you will use (how high you will hold the guitar neck). A teacher is your best source for this information, particularly someone classically trained. If possible, you might be able to arrange for 1 or 2 lessons with someone who plays very well at a local college -- perhaps even one of the music students. I think it would pay to have that early input, and then again perhaps 3 months later, and 6 months later. Your own body can be a real hindrance if you use it badly.

Also, check out many of the books I have listed on my website page "Beginner Guitar." The Everything Rock and Blues Book has a lot of useful information in it.

I also would spend a bit of time looking around Youtube for free beginner lessons, but also consider buying DVD lessons from such sources as HomespunTapes.com. I have bought a few lessons from them, and they are worth it. It's like having a real teacher there, but for a fraction of the cost.

As for TOOLS, I'd say books, an occasional lesson or friend to show you chord progressions & licks, a capo, perhaps a foot rest (I like mine), a music stand DEFINITELY, and the tools you need to change strings.
If you want to play guitar, you CAN play guitar.

Good luck, Dana

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