Wednesday 17 June 2009

So you want to play the guitar...

"I'd love to be able to play the guitar like you, where do I start?"  Well, about 30 years ago.  And I'm still a long way from being satisfied.  Grrr & humphf.

There is no doubt the kids pick up new things faster than us grown ups, including the guitar, but it's not a lost cause.  To adult newbie guitarists looking for advice on how to play the guitar I say "learn how to sing."  Huh?

It's about engaging an audience.  People like to hear what they already know.  Okay, this precludes any new material from ever entering the greater collective, but let's leave that out of the equation for now ;)

If you can play a three chord song and sing in tune, you'll get an audience.  Even if you keep that audience to your mate, your dog, or the bedpost, you'll get an audience.  If you can play the theme riff to "smoke on the water", you won't get an audience, in fact, you might get a smack on the back of the head, and you'll deserve it...

If you can sing, then playing & singing a 3 chord song is about as hard as learning the theme riff to "smoke on the water."  I don't need to remind you which I consider more valuable.

So, get a guitar, learn how to strum some chords, once you know three chords, you now have at your disposal approximately 1 million songs you can play...learn how to sing a few!

Most importantly, learn how to play the whole song, from go to whoa.  And play it from go to whoa everytime you play it.  The scourge of the guitar world is half-song playing guitarists ;)



  1. I couldn't agree more. Very good post! Allow me to develop some of your points.

    Whenever I say to someone 'I play the guitar', and when I need to add 'acoustic only', I immediately get asked 'and do you sing?'. Well, 'yes', I do.
    Because unless you play classical music, or you are Naudo (him again!), or Tommy Emmanuel (not my cup of tea though), or many more out-of-this-world guitarists, or even many good ones like Jaw (not professional, but with that approach), you WILL need to sing. Or get a singer, but since strumming is not that hard, there won't be much demand for a strum-only guitarist. But there is always demand for a singer-guitar player, whatever you like singing, there will be people who know and like those songs. And as soon as you open your mouth, what comes out is unique, whether good or bad for that matter. Good guitarists are unique too, but after years and years of practice (30 years!).
    Now when you sing, you can do more than just strum your guitar, but you have to be ready to accept the fact that however time you spent practicing, a very large part of your audience will not be receptive to that, let's say most of the time they will merely notice a different atmosphere in the song, no more. Still it's worth exploring, improving, and practicing a lot, but what matters even more for a performance is the sense of rhythm with the guitar, and level of confidence in the voice.
    Why should you always play songs from beginning to end? Because that's what your audience is after, in the same way they listen to a song on the radio, CD...they don't care about how many chord charts or riffs you know, one more half song played is one more disappointing experience for the audiende, they want to hear all verses, with all the lyrics, the part that they know as well as the parts they never really got (but still recognize).

    You can compose songs too, but be ready to accept that no one will have the least interest in your songs, however if by any chance they do hear one of your songs, and the song is good, then you never know, the tide may turn and from then on they may keep an interest in you as a songwriter.

  2. Glad to see we are still on the same page Roman (you shouldn't have stopped blogging...but I guess you just did here! ;))

    I wish someone had told me all this stuff years ago, I could have put my efforts into learning how to sing instead of trying to become a good instrumental guitarist!

    Great to hear from you Roman,

  3. It's true occasionnaly I miss writing on my blog, I'm still planning to start a new blog someday, but being more focused on guitar playing this time, and for that I still need to find my own path, and as you know, being able to dedicate enough time can be an issue.


  4. Hi JAW, from the other side of the world (Puerto Rico)

    First of all, I want to express my admiration and respect for your guitar skills and thank you for all the music, tabs and information that you share with "US" the WORLD =0)

    After reading your post I felt the necessity to share my point of view on this theme.( I hope not to offend any guiarsit) I've being "playing" guitar on and off for 10 years. I started with a cheap classic guitar back in college and then eventually moved to an acoustic. I still consider myself a beginner and I'm fine with that, because I see the guitar as something very personal. Only my closest friend know that I play guitar... maybe I'm just a little shy. Well... what I want to say is that maybe there is people that want to start playing the guitar and not necessarily want the "stage lights" and the audience, just a mean of entertainment and personal satisfaction. At least that is how I felt every time I'm able to replicate a tune or a melody in my guitar. I don't do it to share it, just to me. I don't think that strumming a 3 chord song and sing is for everybody, probably it is for most people though. But maybe explore some finger style melodies or tunes will satisfies some people just like strumming and singing a 3 chord song even if they are just adult beginners.

    Music gave me something that I haven't found in any gadget, video game or anything, the kind of depth that will last me a lifetime. Maybe in 20 more years I'll be sharing it just like you, you never know, but that is how I think now.

    Best Regards from a fellow colleague engineer;


    PD. Sorry for my english, isn't my fist language.

  5. Hey V13J0 - correct, there are a few of us there that have been playing for a while and 3 chord songs with singing just isn't for us...but for the average punter who is just starting out, I think (generally) it is.

    If you follow a path similar to me then you will be happy playing just for your own pleasure for another 15 years before it isn't enough anymore :) I don't think any of us specifically start playing guitar for the stage lights, but there will come a time when playing quietly to your closest friend won't be enough. Until then, enjoy yourself, that is the primary goal of playing guitar!

    Thanks for your feedback,

    (English is my only language, it makes me feel a bit simple when I see how many people in the world speak two or more languages, but I'm "too old" to learn a new one!)