LESSON SERIES - Part One: Guitar for Beginners...

Picking up a guitar for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. With all of the musical and technical possibilities at your fingertips, it's easy to feel overwhelmed. That's why its important for beginners to have a basic plan in place before looking to get more serious at improving their playing.

It is important to get your head around a few key terms before you get going. For example, we hear a lot about guitar riffs, but as a novice you may be confused about what this actually means. Well, a riff is a short, musical phrase using chords or single notes that’s repeated as part of the main structure of a track. Listen to the intro to Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker, or Paranoid by Black Sabbath, and you’ll get the idea of how riffs work.

Strumming is another oft-used phrase that you should get to grips with early on. Strumming means that you strike several strings at once with a single pick stroke. Rhythm guitar playing is based on strumming downstrokes and upstrokes. Use a fairly soft pick for strumming in the beginning and then gradually work up to thicker picks for better dynamic control. Hard picks are more suited to players with more experience and hand control. About half of the pick should be visible when you are strumming. And, keep the strum hand relaxed with 80% of the movement coming from the wrist.

Picking the strings is perhaps the most basic of all guitar techniques. There are only really two kinds of picking: downstrokes and upstrokes. A downstroke means you pick down towards the ground, and an upstroke means you pick upwards. Simple!

In most guitar styles, (rock, blues, jazz, country), you will often find long streams of picked notes (especially in solos). Choosing the right direction in which to pick makes music like this easier to play. A good way to start thinking about picking is to use what is known as alternate picking. This is a simple concept: switch (or alternate) between a downstroke and an upstroke on every note. This approach works especially well when you have a long run of notes, all on the same string.

The best pickers tie in their alternating strokes so that they nearly always play a downstroke on the strong beats in the music, with upstrokes in between. Downstrokes are generally easier, after all, so it’s more intuitive to use them on the stronger pulses.

In the very early days of playing, it is best to start with downstrokes exclusively and progress with various exercises to the use of alternate picking. It takes time to control, but with a good set of exercises, things will progress nicely for you.

You may dream of pulling off incredible solos while sliding across a long stage on your knees, but when starting out it’s important to think comfort and ergonomics.

For instance, chords are easier to play if your posture is good. Sit incorrectly and your fingers won’t reach the fretboard properly. Sitting on a stool or an office chair without arms that enables you to keep your back straight will go a long way for good comfort.

Assuming that you’re right handed, place the guitar on your right leg and bring your right arm over the body so that your pick hand rests near the strings. Classical players prefer to place the guitar on the opposite leg (the left leg for a right handed player) and support the left foot on a foot stool. Both ways are good, but overall the Classical approach will place the guitar in a better ergonomic position for your hands & body.

Tune in Tomorrow for more tips in this, "Guitar for Beginners," series...


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