I've picked up my guitar again!

Ten or twelve years ago, I lived with a guy who played acoustic guitar (he had 3 nice ones) quite well and regularly. He inspired my love of the acoustic guitar and bought me a nice white Fender six string. I took one lesson by a very talented classical guitarist who assigned me the homework of practicing only the chromatic scale. Shortly after developing my calluses, I put it down out of sheer frustration and the feeling of being a musically-challenged idiot with hands too small.

The sentimental value of that guitar has kept it with me all these years. On the verge of major depression, I picked up my (apparently) beautifully aged–though neglected baby with the hope of reigniting a long-abandoned desire to make music (and giving me something of my own untainted by the jerks who have made my life practically unbearable). Music of every type has always had the power to inspire me during my lowest of times while making the best of times even better. I sure do miss being around people who play so often and passionately.

I don’t have much of a musical background. My parents had an organ on which I learned a few ditties with the aide of a color-coded book and thingie that set on top of the keys. I don’t for a minute think I have any natural ability. With any luck, I’ve developed a bit more patience, perserverance and focus than I had back then.

I’m not sure what my specific goals are in learning to play. I’m certainly not looking to play professionally or anything. Just to be able to play proficiently music I love (Beatles, Doors, CCR, Bowie, Zepp, etc – Well, maybe Zepp in my dreams.) Maybe jam with others who share my relaxed attitude towards playing. I want to start out with rhythm guitar and move into a bit of finger picking. I’d like to learn how to read music and understand a bit of theory, at least, because the guitar seems pretty enigmatic to me at the moment. Of course, I want to develop my ear as well. Don’t know if I’m interested in playing electric, yet, but I do love great electric lead. Hey, I might need to learn “Hey, Joe” and “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” at some point. I would really like learn my daughter’s current favorite Beatles songs, “Blackbird” and “Mother Nature’s Son.” Also, John Lennon’s “Woman” which was playing at the moment she came into the world.

Anyway, if anyone has some advice on how to learn, what to learn and how to get the most out of practice time, I’d love to hear it (from experience guitar players and new ones, alike). What did you find most frustrating? How did you get past it? What helped? What hurt? What songs are helpful to learn in the beginning? How about really easy songs (no barre chords!) that I can learn to keep me going? Whatever…

Here’s where I’m at after 5 days: I’ve been practicing chromatic scales again and I can already see an improvement in my “technique” and my accuracy. It’s beginning to feel less awkward and painful. But trying to play to a metronome (even slow) distracts me and causes me to make errors I wouldn’t without it. I guess my rhythm is still pretty bad, but it’s also improving on the strumming side. I can play some “Nowhere Man” poorly as my hands still won’t go through the chord changes smoothly. But I still can’t play the bridge as I’m having no success with barre chords. Are there any useful exercises to improve my finger strength and stretch? My ear is getting better as I’m trying to first tune my guitar by ear and then check it against a tuner and my husband’s ear. I’m feeling pretty confident but I really want to practice chord changes and strumming on a song I can play. I spend about 15-30 minutes at a time at least once per day (sometimes several times) until I get tired or bored with the repetition. More songs might help and callouses, too. Yes! I can feel the callouses developing–hoorah! I’m trying to understand tablature for finger-picking, but I’m not quite sure I get it.

So what do you say, dopers? Help a gal develop some musical sense. :slight_smile:

Olga is your friend. :slight_smile:

The first thing to do is buy a tuner. Might I recommend the Intellitouch Tuner? It’s my favorite one and is a bit pricey but they have a $30.00 model out now.

Re-string the guitar.(I’m assuming this is a steel-string guitar). Otherwise you’re going to spend more time tuning than playing with old strings. Elixirs are on the higher end but are my favorite. They hold their tone and tune much longer than other strings but they do cost about $12-$20 a set. Make sure after you’ve put new strings on that you pull and stretch them a bit. I’ve got a peg winder with a slot in it that helps with that. (If need be, take your guitar to the local shop and they’re usually very good about showing you how to restring your guitar and will look over the guitar for any problems that it might have too. Humidity/dryness, bridge problems, etc. )

I skipped over the theory first and went straight to playing songs. I learned the chords and played along with the cassettes until I got the hang of the song. It helped with following the timing of the song, the chord changes etc. That was much more appealing to me than to go through the tedium of scales. Here’s a thread I started last year with a bunch of links to guitar tabs available for free online.
Of course, the idea is to go slowly at first and then attempt to get up to speed with the guitar. I’ve said this in these types of threads before but right hand to me should be primary and left hand secondary. By that I mean that if you’re learning a strumming song, keep the right hand keeping the rhythm while you change chord fingerings. It just sounds much better than stopping altogether while you refinger the chords to start playing again. Trust me :smiley:

As for reading them tabs for finger picking (or chords, strumming etc) check out thisFAQ from OLGA. and here’s a site for basic chord construction.
Strength and flexibility come in time with practice. I’ve seen fingerweights and squeeze machines and tried some of 'em. I didn’t notice any difference as opposed to spending that time playing. The biggest challenge I remember was getting my brain to send the corresponding message to the fingers on where to go. I know, it sounds silly, but that was a hurdle for me.

Above all, have fun!

Practicing chromatic scales to a metronome sounds pretty serious to me if you just want a casual approach to the guitar. I’d recommend building up a repertoire of increasingly difficult songs. The Eagles have a bunch. And you mentioned CCR. As you mentioned, smoothly switching chords should be a priority. Just my thoughts …

Learning a I-IV-V progression helps. Start playing some songs, simple ones- once you get going with that you stop paying attention to how long you’ve been playing. It gets more fun and you toughen up your hands faster. :wink:

I guess the way to go with barre chords is start with smaller chords- try three or four-note barre chords first and work your way up.

Thanks, Ash! (May I call you that?) That looks pretty darn complete, but, wow! I can’t understand most that instructional stuff! I did, however, read the first half of The Guide to Tab Notation. That helped a lot. Then it got hard. I guess I’ll be spending lots of time there.

Well, I did spend a bit of money, so I’m holding out on a tuner. Also, I really want to train my ear. I’ve been using the online tuner at chordbook.com as a backup to tuning by ear. BTW, this is, so far, my favorite guitar website. I have used the chordbook and scales too. I can check what I hear to what I’m supposed to hear. And I’ve saved $30 on a tuner.

Funny, you should mention this. I took my baby down to Guitar Center and had them take a look at it. Because I was a good girl and loosened the strings while it sat neglected in the corner, the bridge is still firmly attached, the neck is nice and straight, and once I give her a good cleaning and oiling the fretboard (which is not warped at all), she’ll be in beautiful shape. I did buy new strings while I was there too. Elixirs. :cool: It was recommended as the poly-coating would make it more comfortable to play while I break in my fingertips. I plan to clean, oil and restring as I soon as I get that peg tool I forgot to get. And, yeah, I’m tuning every time I play, but for now I think I want that practice.

I really don’t mind the scales these days. I do think it’s helping me loosen up a bit and trust my fingers to do their thing. It also seems to be training my right hand to know where the strings are and get used to picking without looking. It’s also nice to see some progress everytime I play them. Once I get this scale down, I do plan to move on to more complicated scales. It’s repetitive, yeah, but when it get’s boring and I feel relaxed enough, I just move on to chords and the one song I’m comfortable with. I do make an effort when I’m going through scales to keep picking even when I make a mistake. I haven’t tried that with chord changes because my brain isn’t multitasking well yet. It’s still trying to keep the rhythm in Right Hand while Left Hand is going, “Hey watch me, I’m trying to go to C now.” “Just shut up and do it, Left Hand. I’m still strumming over here, ya tool!” says Right Hand. And, of course, Right Hand is now distracted and goes off on some weird, stumbling tangent. Meanwhile, Left Hand is still trying to get comfortable. sigh Why can’t they just work together?

Thanks for the tab list thread. What I really need is a list of songs that have easy chord changes, so I don’t have to keep playing Nowhere Man all the frickin time. I really like the song, but geez. Oh, and don’t even try saying “F” to Left Hand. Isn’t there a “fake” F?

Thanks again. I really appreciate the links as well as the support. And it’s especially nice to know that I’m not the first one to pick up a guitar and feel like a complete tool. Yup, it sometimes feels like someone short-circuited my fingers from my brain. Hey, I don’t mind if they work independently as long as they stick with the gameplan! :smiley:

The scales are for exercise; the metronome is for learning how to keep playing evenly and develop some rhythm. Yes, I want a casual approach but I also want to develop a decent foundation as I get more comfortable playing. I want to feel as if the guitar and I are one. Know what I mean?

Thanks for the recommendations. I love the Eagles too. Can you give me a progressive list of songs to add to my practice sessions? Easiest to hardest?

I read about I-IV-V progression, but I didn’t get it. I guess that’s where the theory part comes in. I could play it if I understood what that is. And, yeah, you’re probably right about barre chords. I think they tense me up too much and just don’t feel right. Yet. :slight_smile:

Thank you, thank you, everyone! I’m really excited about this. Plus, I’ve already picked out my next guitar. (I actually tried it out at Guitar Center and fell in love!) Yup, that puppy was built for me. That is, once I’m sure I’ll stick this out. In the meantime, I’m saving all my tip money! :cool:

Another question, but silly… Has anyone named their guitar(s)? I’m thinking I want to name mine. It can’t be dopey. Stevie Ray Vaughn named his favorite guitar “First Wife.” That’s pretty cool.

If I can get it, anybody can. Not music theory, I mean, but the simple stuff. Here’s how it works: pick a chord, any chord, A to G. Let’s say you pick D. That’s the I. Now you add. E is two, F is three, so G is IV. And A is V.
So your I-IV-Vs are: A-D-E, B-E-F, C-F-G, D-G-A, E-A-B, F-B-C, G-C-D. II-V-I is another really popular blues/rock progression.

I tried, and it’s written on my guitar case, but I never call it that. It’s just my guitar. I think it takes a certain kind of guy or gal, I’ve never named my car or my wang either. :stuck_out_tongue:

The only thing you can do with barre chords, when it comes down to it, is play more barre chords. Which sucks, but they do really help you mix it up- different voicings are your friend.

Other tips: find a song and keep doing it, that’s the only way to develop muscle memory and change chords quickly without pausing to think about what comes next. Likewise, when you’re keeping time- use a metronome, tap your foot, whatever… you do it enough and you learn not to listen for the beat, you just feel it. Sort of Yoda-ish, maybe, but if you’re listening to the metronome instead of paying attention to your guitar it’s hard to play right. :wink:

On the fingerpicking side, one thing I would recommend is The Best of John Fahey 1959-1977. There’s an album and an accompanying book with tabs under standard notation, which is much better than tabs alone IMO. The book isn’t spot-on but it’s close enough. It will introduce you to alternate tunings and a good number of the songs are within reach of the novice player.

I gravitated towards fingerpicking I guess because I could do it so much better than flatpicking and strumming chords, and the possibilities are just endless. So many fingerpicking tunes are so simple and beautiful. And it’s a self contained style - no band necessary.

My great learning spurt occurred after I drove from Colorado to NYC listening to Fahey, Bert Jansch and John Renborn. I had a collection of songs burned into my mind that I just had to play. Since I wasn’t working at first I spent weeks going through the Fahey book, then learning some of the Bert Jansch stuff. I played until my fingers couldn’t stand it, then played some more. Incredibly I was learning to play these songs. I got to the point where I could learn fingerpicking songs by ear, even figure out the tunings.

So basically I’m inspired by the need to learn particular songs, and by the revelations encountered in the process of figuring out songs and putting together music of my own. Not very methodical, but I enjoy it. I barely have enough time for it anymore but I still do it when I can.

It’s great that you’re practicing to a metronome. I played (I’m really a drummer) with too many guitar players that have difficulty playing a full bar of music and/or don’t have an internal sense of rhythm. Practicing with a metronome or drum machine will alleviate those problems and make you a much better player to play with.


It’s B-E-F# and F-Bb-C

The I-IV-V refers to the major chords starting on those degrees of the major scale.

In B, the major scale is:
B-C#-D#-E-F#-G#-A#-B, so the I, IV, and V in B are B, E, and F#.

In F, the major scale is:
F-G-A-Bb-C-D-E-F, so I-IV-V is F-Bb-C.

This may be a tad confusing, so you can ignore it for now, Cinnamon Girl. Besides, most pop music isn’t in B or F, so don’t sweat it. As long as you have G-C-D, A-D-E, D-G-A and E-A-B (a bit tougher, since it needs a barrre), you’ll be fine.


The first song I learned is Eight Days a Week by the Beatles. It’s pretty simple. The hardest chord is a b-minor, but after playing that song so much that chord is second nature.
It has D, E, and G as well.

I had a lot of trouble with f at first too. Just stick with it.

Well, most rock players seldom use full barres. For the ‘fake’ F shape you use your thumb round the back of the neck for the F on the low E string and your first finger to barre the top E and B strings.

For a ‘fake’ B or Bm chord you don’t play the E strings (either don’t strum them or muffle/damp them). Play the B on the A string with your first finger and use the remaining fingers to cover the D/G/B string notes.

While a chord diagram will often show a position for all six strings there’s no need to play them all.

I suggest dumping the chromatic scales and learning one or two fingerings for the major scale, this will be incredibly useful in understanding even the most basic theory and the patterns your fingers learn will actually be useful (stick with chromatics if you’re set on playing the Flight of the Bumblebee?)

Watch out for chord books with songs in the wrong key (I’m thinking here of Beatles books)

There are some Led Zep accoustic tunes that are much easier to play than they sound since Page uses altered tunings (That’s the Way comes to mind) The tab looks scary but there’s really only a few shapes there. They’re not your usual C/G/D shapes but that just means a little variety for your fingers :slight_smile:

BTW I haven’t got a guitar with me now (they’re frowned on a bit in the workplace) but I’ll try that tab out when I get home and post back if I think it’s wonky.

You most certainly may. :smiley:

I like giving this website to new or returning players because in my mind nothing helps encourage a person to keep playing like being able to pick up a bunch of songs that you know and can sing along with. Some simple stuff that sounds cool would be almost anything by the Eagles or Tom Petty.

I’ve heard it said that the guitar is one of the easiest instruments to learn, but one of the hardest to master. Just keep at it. It is amazingly rewarding.

A Fake F. Well, keep working on the full one (it’ll help with finger strength and dexterity) but you can kind of substitute a Dm7 (xx0211) for the F or just skip the E and A strings and play F XX3211. Or! You can capo at the third fret and play the F with the D shape OR capo at the 5th fret and play it in the C shape. There are lots of way to sneak around it, of course you’ll still wanna be able to play barre chords too!

BTW, I forgot to mention one of my favoritist of all times softwares…
Marma’s FullSuiteScriber

It’s been the secret I’ve kept in my backpocket for some time. The program reads an MP3 (or .wav or a track from a CD) and figures out what key it’s in, works out the chords and the pitch.

First off, the pitch is one of the best parts of the product. There have been songs that I’ve tried figuring out with the recording only for it always to sound wrong. Well, this program lets you know what A equals (usually A=440). But for some songs A=451 or the such. This lets me know to tune up or down the guitar a bit to match the recording.
Secondly, it figures out the chords for the song. The program then scrolls along with the music and a bar lets you know where you are and what chord it believes is playing. Its accuracy is contingent on the quality of the recording and the complexity of the chords. I’ve found it to be right about 50-60% of the time. It’s not going to let you know if a capo/ a different tuning/an odd fingering is being used either. It’s definitely not a perfect program, but it’s a fun start to songs that haven’t been transcribed. (Not *really * recommended for beginners, but since it has a free sample of the first couple bars of a song, it’s neat to check out).

Re: Easy song
“Take it Easy” by the Eagles
Intro: G D C (repeat as needed)
Verse: G D C…G D C…G D C…G D C
Chorus: G D C…G D C…G D C…G D C

Re: Getting LH & RH to strum/change at the same time.
Hold just one chord, strum in time (use metro or drum machine)
Stare at LH, keep RH going
Think about the chord change, keep RH going
Watch LH make the move, keep RH going

After you’ve done it a couple of hundred times, you won’t have any trouble.

Ow. That sounds much more uncomfortable. Maybe it’s my small hands, but that doesn’t ring cleanly for me either. The chord I learned was the smaller F chord, where you just leave out the lowest two strings. Then you’re only barreing four strings. You only really need to do two, but four doesn’t seem and more difficult than two.

It makes sense if you’re playing standing up***** The only time I use a full barre for the ‘F’ shape would be for a Beatles style 7th with the pinky (think You can’t Do That - John’s part not Georges). And I’ve got small hands too

As for conquering barre chords: The beginners’ mistake/problem is trying to wham down all six strings, where you only need to apply full pressure on the strings that aren’t held down by other fingers - it’s more of a leverage thing than brute force. Tougher fingers help too.

Strengthening excercises? Nah, just play more.
*****much more sense if you’ve got the guitar slung round your knees 1970s Jimmy Page style.

Okay - longtime, self-taught player here. Read all of this stuff, and want to add to/comment on a few things:

  • first of all, good on you, Cinnamon Girl - stay with it.

  • Sounds like you did the most important thing, which is to get your guitar checked out so it is playable. A guitar that stays in tune (neck straight, intonation decent) with a nice action (strings not too far from the neck) is *the most important * place to start. When you first practice chords and scales, a new player tends to pull the strings a bit too much, so there is a bit of an “out of tune” quality to their chords to begin with. A well set-up guitar is much more forgiving and therefore sounds better which therefore makes you want to play more…

  • as a self-taught player, what worked for me was to split my playing time between “work” and “play” - I spend 15 minutes on chords and/or scales, and 15 minutes playing songs on one-string in full rock fantasy, or working on songs I already had down but were fun to play, etc…remember: playing something is always better than playing nothing, so don’t punish yourself with practices and end up not wanting to play. This was key for me.

I IV V - quick theory: I haven’t seen this explained in this thread yet. As pulykamell states, the numbers refer to the position of the chords in a major scale (In “do re mi” terms, these are “do” “fa” and “so”). If you play with them - the classic rock guitar version is in A, so the chords are A, D and E - and play A for a four or 8 count, then D for a four count, back to A for a four count, then E for a two count, D for a two count then A (and then bounce to a quick E to end and set yourself up to start again with an A) you are playing the foundation of rock and blues - the 12-bar blues.

Now - the question is: why? (hey, if what you read above is enuff, skip this part, but I liked knowing why myself). It’s because the IV and V notes sound good relative to the I note. If you are starting in A as your I chord, you are playing in the key of A. Another name for the I IV V notes in a major scale (yes, besides roman numerals and “do re mi” speak, they have names, too) are the

I = Tonic
IV = subdominant
V = dominant

When you play something in A - so A is the tonic - you want to end on A - that provides the simplest, most satisfying end to a song (to end it on its tonic note). It turns out that the sub-dominant - in this case, D - vibrates in a nice way vs. the tonic - it creates a feeling of “unresolved tension” that is satisfied by going back to the tonic. Then going to the dominant - in this case E - it turns out that the V note (same thing as the dominant) is the note that most cleanly and mathematically vibrates in sympathy with the tonic. Basically, the first harmony someone tends to sing on top of a tonic is the dominant (or a III, but we aren’t going there right now!!). So: the dominant is called that because it is the note that is the “most dominant” along with the tonic. The subdominant is almost as pleasing, but because it is one off, doesn’t match and nice and creates that “unresolved tension.”

I sincerely meant to make this easy to understand - hope it helps.

  • One last thought - and I am sure I will incur the wrath of some players out there - you DO NOT want an Ovation for your next/nice guitar. You just don’t. Why? I mean, they are incredibly well-made guitars, with consistent high quality, right? Yep. But they simply don’t sound as good as an equivalently priced-and-quality wood guitar. Their Lyracord bowlbacks simply can’t produce the same low-end bass and warm-but-not-ice-picky treble that an all-wood acoustic can. Ovations are good for two things: 1) consistent play in most types of weather - they react less to weather and can take road travel well; and 2) replicating a full acoustic tone in a large stage situation. You know how they make very shallow Ovations that sound thin and lousy acoustically, but sound great when some musician plays them on stage? That is an extreme example of what I am saying - Ovations can limit feedback (a common problem with amp’d acoustics) and replicate a full acoustic tone in a large stage - but the qualities that enable them to do that make their tone sound comparatively bad in a plain acoustic setting. So unless you are planning to play a lot on a big stage, it makes no sense for you. I strongly recommend Taylors, Martins and a number of other all-wood guitars - there are a variety that are at least as well built and much better suited to your playing needs…

my more-than $.02

Lots of good advice here; like you, I’m pretty completely self-taught, and went for many years without even taking my guitar out of the case, then picked it up and started again about three years ago. I play bass a lot more than guitar these days, but still pick up a six string from time to time.

I’ve recommended it before, and I’ll recommend it again – Guitar Pro is just about the most useful resource for teaching yourself guitar I’ve ever found. Yes it’s a tab program, but it also has a full multi-channel MIDI playback, shows each track of a song in both tab and regular musical notation, shows a fretboard and/or keyboard diagram that displays notes as they’re played, allows you to isolate or mute a single track with a single click (so that you can hear just the guitar part, or everything but the guitar part), has a built-in metronome, allows you to quickly change tempo to standard percentages of the default (so that you can slow down a track to 50% to learn it), etc. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the feature list. Best of all, there are thousands of Guitar Pro-format song files available at http://www.mysongbook.com that are all ready for you to download and begin playing along with – most of the Beatles’ stuff, lots of other classic rock, etc. A bit light on R&B/Soul and alternative stuff for me, but still enough that I have several dozen songs downloaded that I work on regularly. Download the demo version and try it out for 30 days – for me, there was no question in my mind ten minutes after downloading the demo that I was going to shell out the $60 for the full version. I still consider it the best $60 I ever spent on learning to play. I should include a standard disclaimer that I have no connection whatever to the developer of Guitar Pro; I’m just an extremely enthusiastic customer.