So many people when they start playing guitar approach it believing a number of ideas that are simply not true. They may have heard these rumours from friends or family who have never played guitar before, or they may have heard these ideas from people who have played guitar for years, they may have even just assumed some of these myths were the case. Myths however can be damaging; they can put new players in a position that makes the guitar less exciting, enjoyable and engaging. They can be discouraging or act as unsubstantiated excuses when the learning gets tough and at their worst they can threaten to cause injury. That is why in this weeks blog I am challenging the ‘Common Myths Beginner Guitarists Believe’ and in its place I am offering the best advice I can give.
Myth 1: You must start on an Acoustic Guitar
There are number of reasons why people buy into this idea. Some believe that you need the higher tension strings to help build up strength whilst others believe that you master the skills needed for all Guitar playing on Acoustic before transferring it to an electric. This could not be more false; in fact, I will often advise pupils to start on an Electric or Classical guitar.
Though you can certainly start learning on an Acoustic there is one key problem it causes many new players: the increased likelihood of injury. Imagine if you went to the gym to start lifting weights, you would not start on the heaviest weights possible, you would find it really difficult to lift them with good form and if you could lift them at all you would be putting yourself at risk of injury. Instead you would start with a light weight and over time and number of training sessions build yourself up to the heavier weights. Guitar is very similar and though a beginner guitarist could start on an Acoustic, if they have the correct instruction to ensure they maintain good form, it is not always the best approach.
Another problem is due to the simple fact that you cannot learn all the techniques to master all kinds of guitar playing on a single type instrument. You cannot learn techniques used on electric guitars such as bending and vibrato on an acoustic and likewise you cannot use percussion techniques on an electric.
So what is my advice for beginner guitarist? Start on the type of guitar that inspired you to play. If your heroes include the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Slash, John Petrucci or Kurt Cobain start on an Electric. If you are more into Ed Sheeran, Mike Dawes or Bob Dylan then start on Acoustic or if you possess weaker fingers maybe a classical. By doing this you not only ensure that you decrease the chance of injury but you also gain the added motivation from being able to play what you wanted to play all along, after all there will be times that you are going to need that motivation.
Myth 2: I’m not Talented enough to Play
In a way I addressed this myth in my Blog: ‘I’m not talented, I just work hard’ but I think the point needs to be reiterated: Playing guitar is hard work and only a small amount can be owed to talent if any! Why am I reiterating this point? Well I have often come across people who try guitar for a few weeks and give up early because they could not play the chords to an entire song in that amount of time or pupils who have only tried the instrument for a few weeks and were somehow expecting to play like Ed Sheeren in that time. What were these people’s response to their predicament? “I’m not talented enough to play guitar”. I can tell you these people could not be more wrong.
Since the article, I have come up with a new theory as why people say such a statement. I believe it is statement that helps to protect an individual’s Ego; it is much easier for them suggest that their inability to play is down to some innate thing that they cannot change and not down to lack of hard work. So let me say this once and for all, Playing guitar is hard, it takes time and consistent, diligent practice; if you find out that you do not want to spend your time and effort learning guitar, that is fine, I have no problem with that, you do you the best you can, but do not blame your unwillingness to learn on lack of talent when in reality it is lack of time practiced.
Myth 3: The amount of time you have been playing dictates your skill level
This in many ways links back to my previous point that somehow the time someone has spent playing directly correlates with a player’s skill level. Now there is a grain of truth to this, sure if you are practicing regularly the more time you spend playing the better you will be however it is far from a direct correlation. There are some people who have played guitar for two years that are much better than those who have played for five and there are people who have played for five years that better than those who have played for fifteen years and vice versa. At the end of the day, it comes down to how often and how dedicated you are to practice that will dictate your progress, not the amount of time you have been playing.
Myth 4: You should start on a cheap guitar
To a certain extent there is some sound logic behind this thinking. After all, if you want to see if the guitar is for you but you are not yet one hundred percent dedicated to playing, why invest a large amount of money if you are only going to end giving up the instrument a little further down the line. The problem is, is that most very cheap guitars come in a state that makes them very difficult to play and you will either need to shell out money for a good set-up or risk being put off playing guitar by the instrument itself and not necessarily your actual interest.
Now of course there are ways to get around the investment risk. First, ask a friend if you can borrow their guitar while you try a few lessons, or ask a tutor if you can take lessons using one of their guitars. Most tutors will happily let you use their instruments whilst they teach you and many close friends will happily let you borrow a spare instrument for practice. Doing this means you can get a feel for the guitar and decide if learning to play is something you want to dedicate you time a money to and when you do you can spend a bit more money on a decent lower-mid priced instrument.
The second option is to spend more money on a higher grade instrument. As a general rule, the more you spend on an instrument, the less value it looses over time, in fact vintage and limited edition Gibson and Fender guitars will often show an increase in worth over time. Of course the problem with this is that it requires a much larger upfront investment that may not be available to everyone and therefore makes this a limited option.
In short starting on a cheap guitar will result in you investing in an instrument that is going to be difficult to play and will not last you very long if you choose to continue to play as at some point you will want to invest in a more playable instrument.
Myth 5: You must have an Amplifier to play Electric guitar
This is a myth I used to personally buy into as a younger player, the idea being that if you want to know if you sounded any good you had to hear yourself through an amplifier and if you wanted to play through distortion you definitely had to play through an amplifier. The truth however, is that many new players play for a long period of time before they play through an amp. You can still hear yourself clearly whilst unplugged and in fact in some ways you can hear yourself more clearly.
Sure playing through an amp has a different feel and requires some adaption like making sure you are not hitting the strings too hard as well as changes to your technique to reduce unwanted noise from distorted amplifiers, but playing unplugged has benefits to. Distortion can often cover up the mistakes in your playing, whilst developing techniques such as legato and use of hammer-ons and pull-offs can often be helped by playing unplugged rather than through a clean amplifier. So can an amp be useful? Yes, but it can also be a hindrance, you do not have to have one to begin to play and if it is something you cannot afford at the moment, be happy in the knowledge that it is an investment that you can pass further down the road and even when you do possess one know it is a good habit to play unplugged once in a while.
Myth 6: Your Fingers are too big/too small to play guitar
This statement is often made in response to person’s inability to play something as quickly as they would like to. Now there is certainly truth is saying that an individual’s fingers are too big or too for a certain guitar, those with big fingers may find themselves unable to hold a single string without touching the strings next to it on guitars with a small neck whilst those with small fingers and hands may never be able to play an 8 string. However, this is down to the guitar and guitars like people come in many shapes and sizes. Your ability to play comes down these three things ranked from least importance to most importance…
As you can see though you can make choices informed by your finger and hand size to help aid your playing but your finger size, big or small, does not determine whether you are able to play guitar. You only need to look at players like Jimi Hendrix who had giant hands or on the opposite end of the spectrum Randy Rhoades who had small hands to see that hand size does not and never will determine your ability to play guitar.
Myth 7: You must learn Classical/Jazz to be a good Guitar Player
This comes from the idea that Classical and Jazz are superior musical styles and by learning these styles you will somehow be able to master all musical styles in the process. This is far from true, each and every musical genre has their own challenges. Yes, Classical music may be great for learning how to sight-read guitar as it is a skill core to Classical music and Jazz music may be great for becoming a master of improvisation, however, every genre has its own unique challenges, Metal emphasises highly technical playing, whilst funk emphasises Groove, many people will say that Blues has a much higher emphasis on feel, whilst Country emphasises twang. The simple truth is there is no single style able to make you a well rounded guitar player. So if you want to become a well-rounded guitar player take the time to learn as many styles as possible, or if you are not interested in learning all those styles, you do not have to; Learn the styles you love and enjoy yourself; there are many guitar players who are masters of just one style and nothing else and that is ok. Play what makes you love guitar and do not just play something because that is what people expect, you should be playing and loving guitar for you, not for others.
Myth 8: If you don’t start young there is no point in starting at all
There is this idea that to become a great musician you have to start young. Well this many ways depends on what you define as great, is great becoming famous? In which case Slash and Eric Clapton some of the most famous Guitarists of all time started playing the instrument comparatively late to many at the age of 15, maybe you are referring to virtuosic talent in which case Wes Montgomery, one of the most revered Jazz Guitarists of all time only picked up the instrument at 20. Either way there are examples of people who started playing the guitar later than the usually expected 5-13 age that you expect great players to start. However, there is one huge screaming problem with this view point, the assumption being is that people who learn the guitar should learn it with the aspiration of becoming great. That honestly is complete rubbish and I can guarantee that most of the greats would agree with that sentiment; People should learn the guitar for one key reason, to bring joy into the lives of themselves and others, or in a less pretentious way of saying it, too have fun.
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