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Beginning Musicians

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Do you really “wannabe”?

When my son, Fred, turned 10 years of age he was totally consumed with the idea of playing guitar. When he didn’t have homework or chores to do, you would find him sitting in front of the TV playing “air guitar” to music videos on YouTube. 

A video caught his attention about how to build a box guitar. He got the instruction from Teaching Station, collected the cereal box, paper towel tube, rubber bands, and crayons and went to work building his very first guitar.

I wondered just how long it would be before he was on to the next thing that caught his fancy. But, every day, after school, he disappeared into his room working on his guitar.

Two days later, walking in the house getting home from work, I heard a strange noise coming from Fred’s room. I very quietly opened the door. Fred sat on the side of his bed strumming his box guitar. 

“Fred, you got it finished,” I said stepping into his room. “Congratulations.”

“Yeah, I got it, but it doesn’t sound as good as I had thought it would,” he said with a scowl on his face.

“You did it, that’s the important thing,” I said.

“But it doesn’t sound that good,” he whined, a tear in his eye.

“Don’t give up. Let’s start working on a plan. Okay?”

Fred wiped his eyes, “A plan?” he asked. 

“There’s a lot of planning to be done before you actually get a real guitar. Are you willing to do the work?”

“Oh yes, Mom. I’m ready.. When can we start?” he asked running to give me a hug.

 

Preparing for your music journey

Many “wanna-be” guitarists think it looks easy, and they can learn on their own. And many do.

But, with a good guitar and good instruction, whether in person or online, you can develop good “guitar techniques” which will cut your learning time.

“Mom, some of my friends were talking about their guitar teacher. I got his number. Can we call him and set up an appointment? Please, Mom? He only has a couple of slots open. Please?”

“How would you practice? You don’t have a guitar.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Before deciding who to take lessons from or which instrument you need to purchase, you need to know where you are going. Let’s answer these questions to get started.

Ok. 

Mom began reading questions to Fred to build “The Plan.”

  • Do you want to play a musical instrument? What kind? Keyboard? Guitar? 
  • What type of guitar? Acoustic, Electric, or Bass?

Fred piped up, “Guitar. It has to be a guitar.”

“Write it down,” Mom said. “Describe the guitar. And write down the answers to these questions.”

Fred ran to get his notebook to begin the process.

  • Why do you want to play?
  • Do you want to play professionally or just for fun?

Fred sat quietly after writing down his guitar description. He described an acoustic model like the country singers play.

“Did you hear the questions?” she asked.

Fred continued to sit in deep thought. “Can’t I be a professional guitarist and play for fun also? Do I have to be one or the other? What do I have to do as a professional? Just play on stage?”

Mom laughed, “Of course, you can do both. Write it down. We’ll look up what a professional does. Playing on stages is part of it, but not the only thing.”

Mom got out her computer and Googled “Professional Guitarist.”

“Guitarists are skilled performers who also frequently write and record their own music. In addition to practicing and performing, they teach, handle tasks such as booking shows, and collaborate with other musicians. They perform live and play in studios for recording sessions. They practice regularly to learn new music, keep their skills sharp, and to keep in top-notch shape for gigs.”  Careersinmusic.com/guitarist 

Let’s map out your music journey

As with any journey, whether it’s cross-country, an international trip, or a trek into the wonderful world of music, you need to set your goals then create a plan to achieve them. 

You may think that planning just to play a music instrument isn’t important, but it is. Benjamin Franklin said: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”

If you want to play an acoustic guitar, you would not purchase a keyboard or sign up for drum lessons. So, let’s begin mapping out your journey so you can get the right instrument and the right lessons. 

Set your goals

Fred sat at the kitchen table with his notebook and a pen. “Mom, I’m ready. How do we create a plan so I can get my guitar?”

I laughed, “You seem to be very excited about this.”

Create a music skills inventory list

The first step in setting goals is to create an inventory list of your skills and resources. Put them in your journal so you can check them frequently. Don’t have a journal? Start one.

If you are a complete “newbie” you probably won’t have any music skills, yet, but you might be surprised.

  • Have you taken any music classes in school?
  • Have you tried playing any instruments?
  • Do you have a friend who has shown you a few chords on the guitar or keyboard?
  • Write them down in your journal where you can add to them later.

Make Your Goals Achievable 

We recommend using a SMART Goal Planner. The formula below will help you make your goals clear and help you reach them.

    • “Specific (simple, sensible, significant).”
      • What exactly do you want to do? Or what do you want to happen?
      • Why do you want to do this? How important is it to you?
      • Who else is involved: parents, teacher, spouse, etc?
    • “Measurable (meaningful, motivating).”
      • How much time do you have to practice?
      • How will you know when you have found the right instrument and/or lessons?
    • “Achievable (agreed, attainable)” 
      • How can you accomplish this goal? List out everything you will need, such as instrument, teacher, etc.
      • How realistic is the goal? Will you have enough money to purchase your instrument and hire a teacher? Will you have enough time to practice?
      • Break your goals down. This is especially important for big goals. Put it into small steps that are workable.
    • “Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based). If this is a relevant or good goal you will be able to answer “yes” to every one of the following questions.”
      • Is this the right time?
      • Does this match your other efforts/needs, such as school, work, and/or family?
      • Are you the right person to be a musician? A Professional Musician? 
    • “Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).”
      • When will you have the time to practice? 
      • Will you have enough time?
      • What can you achieve as a musician in six months from now? Six weeks from now?
    • “Evaluated”
      • Answer the above questions in your journal – WRITE IT DOWN.
      • Do you have the time and financial resources to meet this goal?
      • Tell someone you trust. Telling someone you know and trust about your goals seems to increase the likelihood that you will stick to them.
    • “Reviewed”
      • Review your goal regularly to see if you are meeting them.

Finishing up the planner

Fred, with his Mom’s help, worked through the Smart Goal Planner for kids for several days after school. He answered the questions above to come up with his plan. Mom drew a planner similar to the one below for him to put in his notebook.

“Mom,” Fred called. “I think I’m finished. Please see what you think.”

Smart Goal Planner - Dena Warfield

Keep going. Don’t quit no matter how hard it is. 

Don’t Quit!!

Celebrate. And Repeat.

Side Note: if the student is a smaller child, you as a parent, will need to help with the goal setting and directing his/her progress.

by Dena Warfield

Best Guitar Methods for Beginners

Best Guitar Methods: Image-by-Valéria-Rodrigues-Valéria-from-Pixabay

Many “wanna be” guitarists think it looks easy and they can learn it on their own and many do. But developing the best guitar methods requires good instruction which can also cut the learning time.

Many guitarists who are self-taught often develop bad habits that have to later be unlearned. Once it’s a habit, any habit, it’s difficult to shake off or change.

A few years ago, you either learned on your own with the help of books and watching others play on movies or videos. But today is totally different. You now have your choice of online lessons and apps to help you learn.

Now, it’s a matter of choice. Who has the best lesson? Who has the best price? Where can you get the most help? I support TrueFire for several reasons. One of the main reasons is that they emphasize technique, first and foremost.s

Back To Guitar Lessons

One of the major problems people have with learning an instrument, but especially guitars, is patience. All of the books, videos, and online lessons emphasize taking it slow and thoroughly learn the basics to establish the best guitar methods.

No matter what you are trying to learn, be it an instrument, how to write, or anything else, learning the basics gives you the building blocks to continue and, possibly, be really good.

Many novice guitar players want to start shredding solos right from the start. Trust me, it won’t happen. Learn the basics.

Watch any really good guitarist. Style doesn’t matter. They all have the best guitar methods. They have put in the time and effort to learn the basics.

Best Guitar Methods: Image by Armando Maldonado from Pixabay

Good Ratings

When dealing with any company, local or online, I go by their ratings. I started supporting another company, which I won’t name, but they made it very difficult to quit. One review I read stated that the information received in the first lesson was not helpful.

All of my purchases from TrueFire have met or exceeded my expectations. The beginning lesson in all learning paths, or playing style, is free.

I wasn’t sure when they said it was free. How many times have you gone to order something online that says it’s free, but you have to enter your credit card number or when you get to the bottom line there is shipping & handling.

I started to order something the other day that was touted as being free. When I got to the bottom line shipping & handling was around $40. What’s up with that?

Tips for Developing the Best Guitar Methods

Image by Ryan McGuire from PixabayHow to toughen up your fingers.

Yes, your fingers and wrist are going to hurt when you start playing. The higher the action on the guitar, the more pressure it takes to press down the strings. Just about any guitar can have the action adjusted. Take your guitar to a local music shop and have them adjust it.

Adjust your grip on the neck of the guitar. Pressing the strings against the fretboard is hard work and it does make your fingers sore and your wrist ache. As you continue to play it will get better. But here are some tips:

  1. Most beginners press down on the strings too hard. Relax your fingers. Don’t press down so hard. Just make sure the string firmly contacts the fret.
  2. Don’t play with wet fingers.
  3. Hook your thumb over the top of the fretboard to get leverage. This causes you to press the strings more with the flat pad of your finger, rather than your fingertips.
  4. As your fingers toughen up, move your thumb to the back of the neck. This causes you to press the strings with your fingertips, which is more accurate, but harder at first.
  5. Keep your fingernails trimmed. It’s much easier to develop calluses with short nails. Long nails also make it more difficult to get good sound.
  6. Don’t bite, pick, or shave off your hard-earned calluses.
  7. Soak your fingertips in apple cider vinegar for about 30 seconds before and after
  8. Get the right strings. When you’re first learning, light gauge strings are easier to play than medium or heavy gauge. The light strings will cause less soreness. Lightly icing your fingertips before and after playing can also ease the soreness. Topical ointments containing benzocaine, such as toothache cream, can also be applied before and after playing.

Some guitarists use a spot of super glue on their fingertips as a makeshift callus, until they develop their own. If you develop a cut or split in your finger apply New-Skin or some other liquid bandage to seal up the cut until it heals.

Supposedly, Eric Clapton suggests “rubbing your fingertips with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol three times a day for a week or two for beginning guitarists or someone who hasn’t played for a while. Supposedly, this dries out the skins and helps the calluses to develop quicker.”

Your body position

Get a good strap and practice standing.  Yes, it’s harder at first, but when you sit you tend to slouch over the guitar looking at your fingers. If you do this consistently, it will become one of those bad habits you have to break. Always practice standing.

Take it slow

As we mentioned earlier, take it slow. Learn the basics, the best guitar methods. Don’t focus on trying to play fast. Good technique requires accurate fingering, hitting the right notes every time. Be precise with your fingering. The speed will come when you have everything else in place. You won’t have to develop speed it will happen all by itself.

Correct Fingering

Always focus on correct fingering. Don’t try to develop new moves. Stick to the tried and true fingering methods, which will lead to the best guitar methods.

Use a metronome

Image by 955169 from PixabayFrom the beginning, your very first exercise, use a click track or metronome so you develop a good sense of rhythm and timing. When you first start, take it slow. You can adjust the speed on the metronome. The idea is to get used to playing with a steady tempo. Remember, good guitar technique comes first then tempo.

 

Disciplined Practice

Make sure you practice some every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes. Pick up your guitar and practice the last lesson. The calluses won’t develop if your practice is haphazard.  Set up a regular practice time. Develop a good practice habit.

not about how long or how hard you practice. The key is “how” you practice. TrueFire offers “Smart Practice” which is a step-by-step practice system just for guitarists. The system is designed so you get the biggest payoff for the time you invest in your practice.

Practice

TrueFire Video viewsIt doesn’t matter whether you are trying to learn to play guitar, piano, or learn something totally different, such as baseball. We all know we have to practice. The problem is that we really don’t know how to practice correctly.

Many who try to learn guitar on their own think that just picking up the guitar and strumming, trying to pick out the melody of our favorite song is practice, or having friends over to jam is practice. Wrong!!!

TrueFire lessons use Soundslice interactive Tab, go to their site for a full demo. The video gives you three views which you can slow down or speed up to facilitate maximum learning. The video lessons make it much easier to see what you are to practice and follow the instructor.

K. Anders Ericsson has researched what it takes to reach a high level of expertise in a skill. He states that practice is deliberate and not inherently enjoyable.

To become a good guitarist or to develop any skill, you must do the work and realize that the enjoyment will follow.

Make up your mind that you will do whatever it takes to practice correctly. Quit just doodling around when it’s time to practice. Yes, at first your fingers are going to hurt, but keep in mind that it’s not going to last forever. Use some of the techniques above to ease the pain so you can work through it. Tips for Beginning Guitarists.

Setting Goals

Image by Dena Warfield Smart Goal SettingNo matter what you are doing or attempting to do, setting goals, especially Smart Goals, will help you achieve your desired results quicker and in an organized fashion. Goals will help you do activities that are specifically designed to improve your performance.

Before going any further, look at where you want to go as a musician, and specifically, as a guitarist.

Many people, when they are attempting to learn something new, like playing the guitar, learn bits and pieces assuming that it will all magically come together at some future date.

How do you know what you should be studying and practicing if you don’t know where you want to go or what you want to do with it? If you don’t have a firm goal or path you will end up frustrated.

In any new endeavor, your goals must include both long term and short term goals. It’s best to set your long term goals first then work backward to include all the steps necessary to achieve your long term goal. This will give you the items that you need to work on NOW.

Inventory Lists

Included in setting goals you need to take an inventory of your skill set and where you are in the present.

Productivity guru David Allen in his “Getting Things Done” lectures states that you need to take an inventory, which he calls a “Brain Dump”, of everything you already know is required in order to achieve your goal.

What You Know

To start, create a list of everything you know, in this case, about playing the guitar. Divide this list into sections: scales, chords, arpeggios, songs, exercises, fingerpicking styles, licks, tuning your guitar, and bits and pieces. This list will include everything you’ve worked on or doodled around with or have a “some-what” knowledge of.

You need to be able to play all of the exercises listed above without looking at a tablature sheet or stopping to remember or starting over.

What You Are Learning

This list will change as you learn new skills. Enter everything that you are currently working on goes into this list. You will move these skills to “What You Know” and add more from “What You Need to Know.”

What You Need To Know

List all the things from your short-term goal list. As you come across things you want or need to learn add them to this list. This list will also continually change as you progress down your learning path.

One of the most important things is that you take the information out of your head and put it on paper so you have a better and more workable list.

Once your goals are on paper, proceed to develop an actual practice schedule.

Motivation

Image by 🎄Merry Christmas 🎄 from PixabayAre you really motivated to do the work necessary to achieve your goals? Remember, as mentioned above, practice isn’t just doodling around and “playing” with your guitar. If you are serious about achieving your goals, about developing good guitar technique, you have to be motivated to practice correctly.

Remember, anyone you have ever admired for their skill at playing any musical instrument or any other skill, have “put in the time, effort, and discipline to learn and execute basic skills and then apply them to build their performance mastery.” Anything worth having is worth working for.

As you achieve each incremental goal, your confidence, and the sheer joy of making it happen will not only be personally rewarding but will also inspire greater accomplishments.

If you are motivated and really want to achieve your goals, you will set aside the time and disciple to do the work. Find a practice routine, such as Smart Practice from TrueFire or a practice routine from your teacher. Then, discipline yourself to do the work necessary to achieve your goals.

by Dena Warfield

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A Guide for Beginning Musicians

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
A Beginning Musician
Beginning Musicians - Image by Sammy-Williams from Pixabay

Maggie’s first lesson was how to tune the guitar. A tuner had come with the guitar, so she thought it was no big deal.

She worked through the lesson and got it perfectly in tune according to the tuner, Something went wrong….

As with any journey, whether it’s cross-country, an international trip, or a trek into the wonderful world of music, you need to set your goals then create a plan to achieve them. 

You may think that planning just to play an instrument isn’t important, but it is. Benjamin Franklin said: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”

One of the major problems people have with learning an instrument, but especially guitars, is patience. All of the books, videos, and online lessons emphasize taking it slow and thoroughly learn the basics to establish good guitar techniques.

If You Want Something Bad Enough...

We all have things we think we’d like to do or have. We set goals and sometimes they happen, sometimes they don’t, and often, it doesn’t really matter. And if a goal does come to pass it may not be life-changing… 

Learn How to Play a Musical Instrument

Have you ever wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument or do something so bad you could feel it? Think back to when you first had the desire to play a guitar or piano or another instrument. Taking a guitar off the rack… It was heavier than he had imagined…

Practice Makes Progress; Not Perfect

Learning something new is often fraught with frustration. If you’ve ever tried to learn how to play an instrument like the guitar or piano, you have experienced frustration when you practice but don’t seem to make any progress… 

Losing Motivation To Practice

Do you seem to be losing motivation to practice your guitar? In your guitar practice, if you are trying to practice too many things, each item gets less and less of your attention. Then, it’s not long before you have no motivation to practice the guitar or any other instrument.

How To Practice Guitar

Are you beginning to lose motivation because it is so hard? Did you know that everyone faces the same challenge? When we are learning something new it takes time, it’s often frustrating. When we get frustrated it often takes longer to become the guitar player that you’ve been dreaming about.

Think back to when you first had the desire to play. Remember when you went to the music store for the first time. You picked up a guitar off the rack. It was a little heavier than you had imagined.

You may have been really young, maybe 4 or 5, or maybe closer to 10, like I was. Or have just retired and want something to do during your golden years. No matter your age. A new adventure is about to begin, like moving to a new city with places to explore, new experiences to enjoy. Your new adventure as a guitarist is about to begin.

We all make mistakes. It’s part of being human. But, why do we keep making that same mistake over and over again?
It’s become a habit.

As Dr. Caroline Leaf stated in her podcast “Why We Keep Making The Same Mistakes + Tips to Break Bad Habits,” we keep making the same mistakes because we are not learning from our mistakes. She goes on to say that our minds were designed to self-regulate our thoughts. It is up to each individual to observe, analyze, and change thoughts that are not beneficial.

All Music Things Smart Practice

Having problems practicing?

The answer is really very simple. It’s not just how long you practice. Or how hard you practice. Or even what you practice. It’s how you practice. Vince Lombardi said it best, ”Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” TrueFire’s Director of Education, Jeff Scheetz calls it Smart Practice and he’s designed a step-by-step guitar practice routine just for guitarists.

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Thinking back to when I was about nine years old. I would watch guitar players wishing I had a guitar. I thought if I asked my mom, I might have a chance of getting one.

As I watched The Green Valley Mountain Boys, a local TV show starring REM WALL and several others who worked at the Gibson factory down the street in Kalamazoo, I said, “Mom, mom, come here. Come see Billy. Isn’t he good?”

“He’s just a kid,” she said. “He can’t be much older than you.”

“See. That’s why I need a guitar. I’m behind already. Could I get one for Christmas?”

She paused, “It’s only January. It’s a long time until Christmas. But, I saw a guitar in the second-hand store. Stop in and see how much it is.”

I looked at the clock on the wall… 4:00 pm. I had 30 minutes to get there. I ran for the door, hopped on my bike, headed for the store. I pulled up in front, dropped my bike, and reached for the doorknob just as the lady approached with a key in her hand.

I stepped inside.

“We’re closing,” she said.

“Please, do you still have the guitar?”

“Yes, come on in. I’ll show it to you.”

I picked it up, cradling it in my arms like I had seen others do, and started to strum.

“It’s really out of tune,” the lady said.

I didn’t care. I kept strumming.

“Young man, young man.”

I looked up.

“If you want to play it, you’ll have to buy it. It’s $5.00”

I put it down and reached into my pocket and pulled out $2.75. “This is what I’ve got.”

“Well, you need $2.25 more. But this will hold it until you get the rest,” she said scrapping the coins into the drawer.

“What do you mean, hold it?”

“I won’t sell it to anyone else. Bring me the rest of the money and it’s yours.”

“Thank you,” I said running out the door. I didn’t think to give her my name.

“Mom, mom,” I said running in the backdoor. “Do you have $2.25? She put the guitar on hold. All I need is $2.25. Please, mom.”

“Well, I’ll give you $.50 on Saturday if you’ll do the dishes every night for the next 5 days.”

I looked at the floor shuffling my feet. I would still need $1.75. Tears began to form in my eyes.

“Go ask the neighbors if you can mow their yards or help with something else. You can earn the rest,” she said. “Check at school. Mr. Allen might have something you could do in the music room.”

I managed to get several jobs lined up. I worked hard to get the rest of the money. Mr. Allen, the music teacher, seemed so impressed that I would work to earn the money that he gave me a little extra. He even told me to bring the guitar to him and he’d help me. It took me four weeks to earn the rest of the money.

The day finally came. I didn’t ride my bike to school because I was going straight to the second-hand store to get my guitar.

I walked in and laid the money on the counter.

“Very good, I knew you’d come back with the money,” she said walking into the back room reappearing with my guitar.

She handed it to me. I brushed off the dust and cradled it in my arms. It was mine.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It didn’t come with a case.”

But, I didn’t really hear her. I didn’t even notice the long walk home. I had it. I had my guitar. I had borrowed a guitar music book from the library. It was on my bed waiting for us. The old upright piano in the dining room was in tune enough to tune the guitar like the book said, I thought.

I went straight to my room. I didn’t want to see any of my brothers or sisters. I wanted to be alone with my guitar. I sat on the bed with it in my lap and opened the music book to the first song. I placed my fingers on the strings as the book showed. I went from one fingering pattern to the next until my mother called bedtime. I had played through dinner and didn’t even notice.

“I look at your fingers,” she said as she walked into my room. “They’re bleeding.”

I stopped and looked down. “Mom, they’re not bleeding, they’re just red when I held the strings down.”  I hadn’t even noticed the welts on my fingertips from the guitar strings.

I carried it to school the next day where it waited in my locker.

After school, I took it to Mr. Allen. I waited until he was finished with another student then walked up to him handing him my guitar.

Image by MegLearner from Pixabay“You got it, alright. Let me see it,” he said almost as excited as I had been. As he turned it every which way looking at it, his excitement seemed to fade finally saying, “You can learn the fingering on this guitar, but it’s not going to be good for much else. See this,” he said running his finger around the bottom side of the body of the guitar. “This crack can’t be fixed. It will never really sound very good. I should be able to tune, but it will be hard to play. Let me see your left hand. See your fingertips? That’s because it is made with the strings too high off the fretboard.”

Mr. Allen tuned it and showed me how to tune the first string then tune the other five by tuning the next string to the one you just tuned.

My walk home took a little longer than usual as I thought about my guitar. I wasn’t going to give up. I just couldn’t. Over the next few months, I continued to work as hard as I had the first day. I was going to learn how to play and that was that! I learned about seven chords and I had a good rhythm in my strumming. I took my guitar to YMCA summer camp and was able to play some campfire songs.

Christmas morning finally arrived. I stumbled out to the living room with the rest of the family. I hadn’t seen anything under the tree with my name on it. As I sat on the floor watching the other kids open presents my mom walked out with a brand new guitar case containing a new Gibson LG-1 Sunburst Acoustic Guitar. I was in heaven!

“I know you were disappointed that there wasn’t a present for you under the tree, but I couldn’t wrap this. Will this do?” she said handing the guitar case to me.

Don’t get stuck with an old clunker as I did. Find out how to get your Best-First-Guitar.

by Dena Warfield.

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