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Practice Tips for Beginners on Guitar

Hi! This article explains some basic ideas that beginning guitarists should keep in mind when they are practicing. The goal here is not to explain the location of notes or chord shapes or anything like that. That information can be found in any beginner guitar book or explained by a music teacher. These are general guidelines that apply to anything you are learning and trying to practice.

1. Left-hand finger placement
The first thing to keep in mind when you begin playing simple chords and scales is that your left hand is in the correct position. Your fingers should be arched enough so that you are playing the notes with the very tips of your fingers. It may make your fingers sore for a while but they will toughen up. Resist the urge to let the joints in your fingers collapse; it will lead to playing with the pads of the fingers instead of the tips. Also, when you are playing scales try to use only one finger per fret. See example 1 to see how you should be playing a G major scale correctly. The numbers 1 through 4 correlate to your index through pinky fingers, respectively.
An issue of debate is that of the thumb. While some will say the thumb should remain behind the neck directly in line with your fingers, others argue that you can accomplish more by allowing it to wrap around the top of the neck.

Certainly there are some types of playing, such as classical guitar, that require the thumb to always remain behind the neck. But with electric guitar and most acoustic guitar the truth is that a combination of both is the right answer, depending on what you are playing.

For example, playing barre chords will require the thumb to stay behind the neck while playing bends will require the thumb to wrap around for more support. But these aren't absolute rules. Hendrix, for

example, played everything with his thumb wrapped around the neck. He even used it to fret the root notes of chords!

2. Right-hand pick technique
There are a couple important things to remember in regard to the picking hand.

The First is that you have a good grip on the pick. Hold it between your thumb and index finger so that your thumb covers most of the front and that the back rests on the end segment of the index finger. Keep the thumb straight, resist the tendency to let it arch backwards. Before you get carried away learning scales and chords, make sure you are getting a good clean sound when you pick the string. Spend a good amount of time just playing an open string over and over and watch how you are striking the string.

The pick should hit the string parallel and then come to rest on the next string without causing it to vibrate. Another issue of debate is whether you should rest your right hand pinky finger on the face of the guitar. Like the left hand thumb issue, the truth is that there is no right answer.

Some players prefer keeping their right hand in a fist shape while others will let the pinky finger rest on the face of the guitar or the bridge.

There are also subtle differences in the way different players pick that add to their unique style and are not necessarily incorrect. The only thing you have to keep in mind is if the notes are coming out clear and you are not spending too much energy to get the same result.

3. Minimum movement principle
This leads me to the next point, which applies to both hands. The idea is based on conserving energy. When you play you want to see if you are spending too much energy (in the form of motion) to accomplish something that you could do easier if you did it another way. With the right hand this means you should keep your hand close to the strings and don't get carried away when you're strumming. The

more you move your hand the more energy you have to put in to playing. Try to keep your hand completely still when playing parts that are only on one or two strings. When you have to move across strings, move your wrist only, not your whole arm. With your left hand, this principle means you should try to think ahead about where you are going to play something. The same note appears at different places on the guitar so if you can play something without having to move your left hand up or down the neck, or at least with very little movement, then you are conserving your energy and you will be able to play more efficiently.

Example 2 shows an inconvenient way to play a melodic line and a more motion-efficient way of playing the same line.

4. Keep it in time
From the very beginning of your guitar playing you should be playing along to a metronome. Yes, it can be tedious and boring but it will pay off when you have developed a good sense of timing and rhythm. Also the metronome allows you to put a number on how fast you can play something so you can get a good sense of your progress as far as being able to play faster. Always make sure you can play something comfortably and without mistakes before increasing the speed, and only increase it a little bit at a time. Otherwise you will be practicing bad habits and your playing will be unpleasant sounding. An even better way to practice would be to play along to a drum machine. Although they are more expensive, it will make practicing in time a lot more fun. Eventually you will want to start playing with other musicians, too. A real drummer is even better than the drum machine! Take advantage of any opportunity you get to play with other people, it will dramatically increase your skills and your confidence!
I hope these suggestions and tips have helped you tackle the challenge of learning to play guitar. Keep these points in mind when practicing and good luck!

- Ian Medhurst

Ian Medhurst has been an instructor at Excel Music since its founding in 2006.

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