How to Practice
the Guitar


The inital aim of guitar practice for beginners is to attain a basic level of proficiency as quickly as possible. Most people do this by practising chords, often attempting to play along with recordings. Some manage to gain a measure of ability in this way; many more persevere until impatience and frustration defeat their initial enthusiasm and determination, and give it away.

Consider the following:

In addition, chord shapes and fingering must be remembered, the left hand held in the correct position, and right hand movements coordinated with the tempo.

These are difficult skills to master. Do not feel frustrated or disappointed at slow progress in the initial stages.

However, most people do. As a result, they just keep "running at the problem", hoping that determined perseverance will soon bring results.

Please be assured - it won't.

Even worse, the left hand usually clutches the neck tightly, an impossible position for quick, free movement of the fingers, and this soon becomes a habit. Because the left hand position is wrong, the fingers cannot move as they should, progress halts, frustration sets in, and the instrument is abandoned. Those who take up ukulele often fare better since it requires less strength and dexterity of the fingers.

The recommendation here is not to focus on chords during the first weeks, but to devote the greatest effort to strengthening the fingers and keeping the left hand in the correct position.

Correct hand position is best demonstrated, and those who come along to MLIB can receive assistance from the Meetup Host. Simple finger exercizes away from the guitar can also be learned.

Initial practice should be on playing slow, simple scales. This requires more effort than chords since the fingers are continually moving, but is exactly what is needed to increase strength and flexibility.

The diagram at right shows the first scale to learn. It's an E major scale, the E or Key notes being in red. The first E is played with the second finger on the seventh fret of the A string. Then the fourth finger on the A string, the first finger on the D string and so on. This is called moving "up" the scale. When octave E is reached with the fourth finger on the G string, move back "down" the scale, and repeat this for as long as you like.

The ball of the thumb of the left hand should be in the centre of the neck, the wrist held vertically below it, and the tips of the fingers should be perpendicular to the fretboard. Try to keep the left hand in the same position while moving only the fingers.

When you sit down to practise, do not bother plucking the strings at first. Rest the right arm on the edge of the guitar with the hand relaxed. Then just move the fingers of the left hand up and down the scale several times. Once you can "see" the correct positions, change from just pressing the strings to hammering them down. Even a small amount of force causes the string to sound, and you can judge both the accuracy of finger placement and speed of impact by the clarity of the sound.

This is easy moving up the scale because succeeding fingers are ahead of previous ones. Going down the scale is trickier. It's necessary to lift the active finger clear of the string before hammering down the next.

It's also a great way to quickly develop strength, accuracy and speed in fingering.

Meditative practice

In order to play rather than just practise, it's necessary to use the guitar without looking at the fretboard. Once you can perform the scale up and down repeatedly and confidently, keep playing while closing the eyes. Shift your "inner vision" to your left hand rather than the fretboard, and "feel" what it is doing.

This is the quickest way to develop "finger memory" and accuracy in finger placement.

Thumb and finger picking

It's now time to bring in the right hand. Rest the fingers of the right hand lightly on the body so that the thumb is above the D string; this gives your hand a "reference point" in space. Now use the thumb to pluck the strings as the left hand frets them.

Then rest the thumb on the body for a reference, and use just the first finger to pluck the strings up and down an octave. On the second run use the second finger, then the third, then the fourth.

Once each of the fingers can be used separately, try alternating first and second, then first, second and third. Bring in the little finger when the others are under control.

Singing

Singing is one of the healthiest activities you can perform. Make the most of your practice by singing along with your scales.

Changing key

Now move the same pattern of notes two frets to the left. The result is the scale of D major. The frets are slightly further apart, but as this is continued towards the nut the fingers must stretch further apart and more practice is needed to master this.

Conversely, moving towards the bridge - to the right - the frets are closer together and accurate placement is required to avoid muting them by landing the finger on the fret instead of just behind it.

Notes of the strings

Since each fret is a semitone, the notes of each string follow the standard chromatic sequence up the neck. The diagram at right shows those for the A string, so moving the major scale pattern above to any given fret produces the scale of that note.

The chromatic sequence should be learned by heart. If you don't know it, visit the page above for a diagram and explanation. The best way to learn it is, of course, to sing it. If you take the time to sing the name of each note as you pluck it, you'll learn something that very few amateur guitarists ever do: the names of every note on the fretboard. It may seem like a waste of time when you begin, but you'll be forever grateful for time so spent in later years.

Extending the scale

The scale can be extended to cover all the strings as in the diagram at right, but the fingering on the high strings requires a stretch that's not possible near the nut, and the left hand must be moved to reach the required frets.

The blue circles without numbers indicate notes of the scale that can be played by moving the hand and using whatever fingering best suits; and, of course, the open E string is the keynote of the scale

Variations in tempo

You'll start off playing scales slowly and carefully, but as skill and confidence develop your speed of execution will increase. Once this happens, start to become conscious of the speed at which you're playing. Play a scale deliberately slowly, then speed it up until you reach the limit of your ability, them slow it down again. This is necessary preparation for the next step: variations in rhythm.

Variations in rhythm

In order to explain different rhythms it is necessary to use musical notation. This is difficult to display on mobile phones, so the rest of this page is only available at 1024 pixel resolution.

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