GUITAR AND BASS TUITION
WHAT KIND OF GUITAR SHOULD I START ON?
Some guitar teachers insist that the classical guitar is the most suitable instrument for the beginner, while others say that steel string acoustic guitars are just as good, as long as it has a good action with light gauge strings. If that’s the case, then you might as well start on an electric guitar!
The easiest guitars to play are classical guitars. They have nylon strings which are easier on the fingers. The fret board is wider, so the strings are further apart. This makes it easier not to touch the incorrect strings, making chords sound much clearer. Classical guitarists will argue that classical technique is the best technique. On the other hand, there are some famous guitarists that are considered to be virtuosos who break some of these “classical” technique rules.
I generally encourage people to start on a solid top classical guitar, learning finger-picking technique right from the beginning. The transition from finger-picking to playing with a pick is an easier one than starting off with a pick, and then having to change the position of your right hand to cater for finger-picking. The wider neck and fingerboard encourages good left hand fingering technique and strength, making the transition to steel string guitars effortless.
If you take the attitude of “I’ll buy a cheap instrument to see whether or not Johnny has potential”, then you are defeating the purpose. The instrument needs to be encouraging. The very least is that the guitar should have a low action without the strings buzzing against the fret board, and that it is in tune over the whole fret board. The neck has to be straight and not warped.
Solid top guitars have the front face of the body made of solid wood, usually spruce or cedar. These have a much more resonant, beautiful sound than a fully laminate (plywood) guitar, which is what the cheaper variety are made of. The best quality guitars are fully solid wood, but these are expensive.
I encourage people to buy a solid top classical guitar as a first instrument. I’m still using mine that I bought 30 years ago.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO PLAY THE GUITAR?
It very much depends on what you consider to being able to play. It usually only takes less than a month to be able to play a couple of chords and simple melodies well, but if you want to achieve a standard beyond being able to strum a few simple chords, such as playing finger-picking style or being able to improvise solos on electric guitar (known as lead guitar), then we are talking about months and years.
DO YOU TEACH ACOUSTIC GUITAR AND ELECTRIC GUITAR?
There seems to be a misconception that acoustic guitars are somehow different from electric guitars. Essentially, they are not. Although there are some specific techniques that are more suited to one type of guitar or the other, such as bending strings on electric guitar, or finger-picking technique on acoustic guitar, the same basic skills and knowledge are needed for both.
There are many different styles of music that can be played on guitar. Electric guitar is more widely used for rock and jazz styles, while acoustics are favoured for classical, flamenco, folk and soft rock.
I include all popular styles of music as part of my guitar tuition.
DO I USE TAB TO TEACH SONGS?
I teach people to read music right from the very first lesson.
With the aid of the internet, and easy access to tablature (TAB), and easy access to free recordings of music, TAB has become a popular form of guitar music notation. It is easy to understand. You just put your finger on the fret number indicated on the string indicated. It is a much more graphic representation of the layout of a guitar’s fretboard, than what standard music notation is. So it becomes easier to read tab if you are not skilled at reading music. The problem with tab is that you can not “see” the music, that is, to sight sing. Thus, one already needs to know what the music sounds like to make sense of TAB. With standard music notation, you can “see” and hear how it goes, just by looking at it, without even actually playing it. Standard music notation is a much better way of interpreting music itself. TAB only shows you what frets to press on what strings.
You may be someone who just wants to strum chords well to accompany yourself singing. That’s fine. However, being able to read music will help you to learn to play strumming rhythms, and to understand the construction of chords, their tonal qualities and how they relate to certain keys in music. Once you have the knowledge and understanding of this, you will be much better equipped to make up your own songs and know how to make them make musical sense. It also develops your ear, where you eventually get to the stage where you can just hear a song and know what chords to play and what the melody notes are without having to physically work it out with the aid of an instrument.
If you’re serious about learning to play the guitar, learn to read music. It is not rocket science.
Having said all that, I do use TAB in my tuition, but only together with standard notation, to indicate the most suitable fingering and positions for the music notation given.
WHAT EQUIPMENT DO I NEED?
You need the following things to get started:
- music stand
- guitar stand
How much practise should a student do?
The short answer is, the more, the better.
It is better to have short and regular practise sessions, than to do it all in one long session. Try and practise everyday, a bit at a time. It is not so much the length of time that is important, but the quality of the time. Don't get too bogged down with something that you find difficult or boring. Break it up with some other playing that you enjoy, then come back to the set task tomorrow.
I try my best to set tasks that are achievable with one given week of practise, yet challenging enough to ensure progress. Be honest with yourself. You are not going to improve your ability to play guitar if you don't take it seriously and have a go at the set tasks. If you truly enjoy playing guitar, you will enjoy all aspects of practise.
A note to parents of private students:
You can't make your children practise, and neither can I.
It is not something that you can force, or talk them into wanting to do, to try and convince them that playing the guitar (or bass) is a good thing. I have had countless students over the years that do their parents a favour by coming to guitar lessons. Such students progress very slowly, if at all.
If your son or daughter does not even pick up the guitar and play between lessons without you urging them to, then you need to be asking yourself and your child whether or not he or she really wants to play the guitar (or bass). If he or she says that he/she does, just give a brief reminder to practice, and make sure that he or she has the right equipment and place as outlined in the other FAQs. Don’t nag him/her. It should be fun, not a chore.