Learning Guitar

At 36 years of age I have decided to embark on my first musical expedition. Learning to play the acoustic guitar.
I can’t read sheet music and I’ve never played a single instrument. I have just bought (awaiting deliv) a Yamaha F310 and some beginners books. I have tons of free time and at least 5 close friends that are competent guitarists.
How hard am I going to find this? Have you any advice for a complete beginner?

Long time guitarist here - semi-pro in a gigging band - my advice:

  1. Search this and Cafe Society using “guitar” - lots of good threads on this.

  2. Make sure your guitar is properly “set up” - take it to a local music store and make sure that: a) the neck is straight and has proper “relief” (they’ll know); b) the string compensation is right, so the guitar can sound in tune up and down the neck; and c) that the action is set up right, so you can fret chords well. Nothing is more discouraging than a guitar that doesn’t sound right.

  3. Carve out time to learn stuff and to just play 1-string stuff, rock out and have fun - that is why you are doing this, right? When I was learning, I gave myself plenty of time to goof off; I just made sure I learned stuff, too.

  4. Your fingers are going to hurt - fact of life. No pain no gain!

  5. Look into DVD’s - there are TONS. Guitar for Dummies and such - I have no idea which are any good - maybe check reviews on Amazon or something. But a good one would be a helpful resource.

Hope this helps.

I’m checking in as a 31-year old who picked up the guitar at age 28 for the first time. I had musical skill already in my court since I’d been playing the flute since I was 10, however stringed instruments are such a different animal musically that it was like starting from scratch.

I can’t stress enough, even as an experienced musician, how much a few beginner lessons made a difference. In my brief experience of trying to teach myself at home I’d already picked up many bad habits. Once I’d broken those habits in my lessons, a whole world of understanding opened up around this strange string instrument and suddenly it just “made sense” and I could start fiddling around on my own and get better

Long time pro guitarist and teacher here.

The advice that has already been given is right on.
The three things I tell all students regardless of style:

  1. put some time in every day, even if it’s only fifteen minutes. This will serve you far better than one or two hour long sessions a week.

  2. periodically have one of your most knowlegeable guitarist friends critique your technique - both right and left hand. This is one area where personal interaction is critical.

  3. learn your basic chords, and basic chord theory first (i.e. I IV V etc) - this will give you a better grasp on how it all works together. I tell my students that it’s better to be able to understand and play a couple of keys well for the average just-for-fun player, and use a capo to reach the more distant keys. Later on if you decide to expand your knowledge base, you can, but this will get you playing music faster, not learning chords, which in turn will tend to keep you playing… (Heck, I’ve been playing for 25 years and use a capo all the time - although admittedly this is a lot more common in bluegrass and such than in rock)
    Oh yea, and make sure it’s fun. That’s the most important thing.

Agreed on the lessons to avoid picking up shoddy and possibly physically harmful habits. Depending on what sort of music you’re interested in playing, you may find the method by which I learned rudimentary jazz guitar, as a second instrument to the piano, helpful. Namely, I learned to read standard notation at the same time as I transcribed solo after solo of classic jazz material. I found there was very little point to studying scales and arpeggios as a separate exercise – their forms were mostly revealed by analyzing the music I’d transcribed, and once the relationship between pitch and fretboard was clarified, it’s as though there were few true mysteries in the single-note style lurking behind the music.

Ah, thanks folks. Everyone I have spoken to has given me nothing but support. For some reason I expected looks of incredulity and numerous “yeah right’s”.
Absolutely I’ll have fun. There’s nothing riding on it, just something I want to do.
I’ll give it a few weeks and then seek out a couple of lessons and take it from there.
keep it coming.

What everyone else has said.

Here’s something else. Don’t simply leave your strings on until they break. Depending on how much and how aggressively you play they’ll be worn out and dull long before they snap. Change them when they’re starting to go plonk instead of twang.

Also you might like to start with lighter gauge strings, though 10-47 is probably as light as you should go on an accoustic.

What kind of music do you want to play? If you’re interested in classical guitar, the Frederick Noad series of books are a good start. There are a couple of books that take you from the absolute beginner level to an intermediate skill level, and then there’s a set of four books on the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods, each of which contains graded repertoire and further didactic tips.

Regardless of the kind of music, learn to read music–if you just google around you can find some free websites that will give you the basics. Tablature (TAB), a system in which the fingerings are represented by numbers on the strings, may seem easier at first, but I’ve become a firm advocate of traditional notation, because notes on the staff give you a graphic representation of music–you can pick up a sheet of music and at first glance learn something of the character of the piece, which is nearly impossible with tablature.

Have fun! One of the great things about guitar is that, even though you can only get a maximum of six simultaneous tones, you get more “meat” out of each note, IMO. Bach lute music, transcribed for guitar and properly played, rarely has more than three notes going at the same time, but when properly played carries all the grandeur and richness of something played on a grand piano.

I started at a late age myself. And I still suck but I love it.

Get an electronic tuner.

If you take lessons, tape them on cassette. Any old tape recorder, no need for hi-fi. Make sure the instructor is cool with it first.

Update. Ordered a Yam F310, delivery 1-2 days. Checked with the distributors and turns out 7-14 days. Not at all impressed with that so cancelled the order and strolled round to the local store. Bought a Washburn D10-s for £99.
Came with a simple beginners book which I messed with until last night when I decided to try some simple chords, E, Em, G, A, D, Dm. Loving it. Practised for at least an hour a day since Friday.
One thing I have noticed though. I bought an electronic tuner. Mostly happy with the results but the 2nd string in particular seems a bit off… I retune and a little while later it sounds dreadful. Of course that could be me, but there is also a slight twang to one or two of the strings. A friend surmised that this is because of new strings and just needs a little while to settle in. Any thoughts on that?

p.s. My fingers do indeed hurt :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: Strange cross between numbness of feeling accompanied by pain. Can’t workout how something can be numb and painful at the same time but there it is.


Strings do need to be stretched when new and take time to settle in. I got used to stretching out the slack when I put a new set on.

Make sure your guitar is set up properly - see my post above. If one string sounds off, yes, it could be that the string needs to stretch out - play a lot and see if it gets better. But it can also be affected by the set up.

Painful fingers - ah yes, welcome to the club - wear them like a badge of honor!

A little update. I generally have an attention span similar to my youngest cat. Flick a ball at her and she swats it before staring off into the distance…
However, I still play with the guitar every day.
I’ve learnt the following chords so far: D, Dm, E, Em, A, Am, F, G, C and a couple of others that I can’t recall the names. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
I can just about play the main part of Angie (Stones) and the intros to Come as you Are and Seven Nation Army although they’re just play things.
My idea now is to just keep playing these chords back and forth. Someone pointed out the other day that my next step will be when I don’t go looking for the frets but the hands rather instinctively move there.
So the question is, do I just keep doing what I’m doing?
I’m also looking for a couple of simple songs to string these chords together. I aim towards contemporary indie/rock tunes such as Nirvana, Bowie (have a chord book for him as he is my idol but its way too complex for now), Bruce acoustic stuff like Tom Joad to good oldies such as Bad Moon Rising, Wild Thing etc.

Example: Angie

This one is slightly more complex than the version I play, usually Am,E7, G, F, C, Em.

I still really enjoy it, which of course is the main thing, but feel the need to start making some tunes. I get a real kick when my gf pops her head round the door and says “Is that x?” Of course it’ll really suck if she gets it wrong… I’ll probably lie.

Also just started fingering the chord instead of strumming which is fun. Just on D and Am as a precursor to playing Clocks by Coldplay.

Any guidance always appreciated. Fingers don’t hurt anymore :stuck_out_tongue:

Which means your fingetips now look like the bottom of your toes. Congrats!

But being able to play the guitar is worth it.

I would have typed fingertips, but the calluses on my hands caused the typo.

I might take up the guitar next year, I’ve got a child in the pipeline and I’ll have to play her “Old McDonald had a farm” and “The Grand Old Duke of York” like my Dad did for us as kids :slight_smile:

What I found really encouraging is basically what your doing, taking those chords I learnt and playing regular songs with them. When I did it it sounded like crap, but it was such a good feeling to be able to make a semi-coherant noise come out of the guitar and that inspired me to play further.

I’m pretty much an autodidactic guitarist. I don’t read music very well, I learn almost exclusively by ear.

Having said all that, welcome to the six stringed world! The best advice anyone ever gave me was “Pickle your fingers and never give up.”. The finger pickling involved soaking the tips of your chording hand in vinegar for 15-20 minutes an evening. It toughens the skin and helps your calluses build faster. The perseverance thing? Suffice to say that there will be times when you will want to use your guitar as kindling in the fireplace. This is contraindicated. Put it down for a day or so, then get right back after it. You will have a great time if you do.

And I envy you having folks to learn from. My “teachers” have been few and far between.

I’m at about the same place you are - I just started lessons at age 30, and the chords you listed are the ones I can play now without looking at my fingers. I’ve been playing around with a couple of other songs that you might like - Bruce Springsteen’s My Hometown and the Stones’ Dead Flowers. I can’t find the Dead Flowers tab that I printed out right now, but I’ll try to come back with it a little later.