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How Can You Become a Master of the Guitar?

By Joseph, published on 31/10/2019 Blog > Music > Guitar > Becoming a Great Guitarist

“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.” – Alphonse de Lamartine

More and more Brits are taking to the stage. But before they do, they have the long and arduous task of learning how to play guitar. They need to learn the notes, the chords, rhythm, and even harmony.

Your first guitar may as well be from an alien planet if you’ve never owned a stringed instrument before. Each guitar player will have to get used to playing guitar, learn how to strum a chord, finger frets in a certain way, and tune a guitar with or without a tuner.

To help those who just started learning how to play the guitar and are still finding their way around the neck, we’ve got some tips and advice for you. It’s a good idea for any musician to familiarise themselves with their instrument over a few guitar lessons before they start strumming some power chords on their new Stratocaster or Les Paul copy.

Firstly, What Do You Need To Play Guitar?

Many people wrongly assume that to play guitar, all you need is a guitar in hand. You will, of course, need a guitar (we’ll let you know how best to choose your guitar below!), but you’ll also need some basic kit to go with it. As elements of this guitar toolkit can change depending on what you intend to play, it is important to determine which style of music you wish to play with it, whether blues, rock, jazz guitar, classical.

If you didn’t know already, each guitar style has a corresponding type of guitar: the electric guitar is perfect for rock and electric pieces, but acoustic is better for blues, pop and jazz.

Fans of classical or flamenco music will need a classical guitar (or a ukelele). Below are a few of the things you might need as a budding or experienced guitarist:

  • An electric tuner to easily tune your guitar strings (more to come on this)
  • A plectrum to strum with
  • A spare set of strings in case of breakages
  • A metronome (a device that marks time at a specifically chosen rate by giving a regular tick.)

How To Choose Your Guitar

It is not advisable to buy your first guitar online at the cheapest price or taking a hand-me-down, however sentimental it is.

Your guitar should be carefully selected in accordance with a few factors, one of which being the type of music you would like to play.

There are 3 kinds of guitars:

  • The classical guitar, with nylon strings
  • Acoustic, or folk guitars, which have a similar shape to classical guitars, but with metallic strings
  • Electric guitars which need to be plugged into an amp in order to play

What’s more, guitars come in various shapes and sizes:

  • A 1/4 guitar, meant for the smallest players
  • A 1/2 guitar, suitable for average-sized children – say, of primary school age
  • A 3/4 guitar: the next size up, meant for the average-sized preadolescent
  • A normal (full size) guitar for children over the age of 12 and adults

So, as you can see, guitars are not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Tune Your Guitar

Now that you’ve picked your guitar, you need to learn how to tune it.

There are many ways to tune your guitar, some traditional some more sophisticated. Here are the different methods:

  • The tuning fork: An inexpensive device that requires you to hit the fork on a hard surface and let it ring to make an A, then you tune your guitar accordingly.
  • The dialling tone of your landline telephone (it plays a perfect A)
  • The adjacent strings technique (also called the ‘Beat Method’): After using an open string note, you use this as a basis to tune the other strings.
  • Electric or electronic tuner: A device that you plug in, play an open string and watch for the position of the needle. You just have to tighten or loosen your string to get the desired chord – once you’ve tried it you won’t go back!
  • An on-line tuner: You’ll need a good internet connection but you can then choose from one with an audio capture or one without, each offering their own advantages.
  • Your smartphone, using a guitar tuning app: there are various apps that you can use which work exactly like an electronic tuner.

To begin the guitar, you will have to learn the basics and the main techniques – fingerstyle, the placement of your index, middle finger and thumb, and basic chords, like the major, minor and seventh chords. Below is more info about the guitar neck to help you familiarise yourself with the musical instrument.

The Basics of a Guitar Neck

The guitar is made of the three main parts: the head, the neck, and the body.

What are the parts of a guitar? In addition to all the techniques, you’ll also have to learn all the lingo. (Source: michaelmep)

What Makes Up a Guitar’s Neck?

Let’s focus on the neck because it’s the part where your left hand (if you’re right-handed) presses down on the strings in order to produce a given note. The neck includes a fretboard complete with frets.

The neck is made of a single piece of wood, usually mahogany, maple, or cedar. The fretboard sits atop this single piece of wood and is made of a harder wood such as ebony, rosewood, or maple. Usually, the fretboard has between 19 and 22 frets (though sometimes more) which are made of nickel, zinc, or brass and allow the guitarist to shorten the part of the string that’s vibrating. Each fret is a semitone apart.

Guitar strings are suspended over the neck and the frets. The neck is joined to the head at the nut. The other end of the neck is joined to the body.

If you want to play your new guitar, you need to either play the string open by not pressing down anywhere on the neck or play a given note by pressing down clearly on the frets.

The Layout of the Neck

Are you good at maths?

It’s thanks to maths that the distances between frets can be calculated. In fact, maths plays a huge role in music theory for guitarists. Whether you’re playing folk guitar, jazz guitar, electric guitar, here are some things you should know:

  • The notes B and C and E and F have no semitone between them.
  • Every other note is two frets apart.
  • You should memorise the open notes on each string in standard tuning: E, A, D, G, B, e.
    Since an octave spans twelve semitones, the note of each open string repeats on the 12th fret.
  • In standard tuning, each string is five semitones higher than the previous, with the exception of the B string which is only four semitones higher than the G string. For example, if you play the fifth fret on the E string, you’ll play an A, this same as the open note on the following string.
  • This works for any string except the G string.

Of course, it’s all well and good knowing the principles but you’ve also got to know how to use them.

What Are the Inlays on the Neck of a Guitar For?

You might have noticed that there are little circles, squares, or diamonds on the neck of your guitar. These can come in really handy when playing the guitar.

What are inlays for? You can use the inlays to help you find the frets when you’re playing. (Source: terryellen)

The Inlays don’t Indicate which Note You’re Playing

A lot of beginners think that these inlays on their electric guitar or acoustic guitar are there to represent the notes. However, after one or two lessons, you’ll know this isn’t true.

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as you might think! They are there to help you but they won’t tell you if you’re playing a C, F, or an A.

On instruments such as the piano, there’s a clear difference between the white keys and the black keys.

However, on a guitar, the same notes appear several times across the neck and on different frets. In some cases, a fret with an inlay may play a C and elsewhere on the neck, the same C mightn’t have an inlay on it.

Working out which fret plays with notes requires a bit more thinking than playing a given note on the piano.

Where are the inlays?

You can see the inlays between the frets and on the edge of the fretboard facing the guitarist’s head.

There are usually two inlays instead of one on the 12th fret to differentiate it from the others. This allows you to quickly find the octave for the open string.

The lowest string is an E. If you play the 12th fret on this string, you’ll also play an E but an octave higher.

The inlays can be found on the odd-numbered frets with the exception of the first, eleventh, thirteenth, which don’t usually have inlays, and the twelfth fret, which usually does.

Thus, there are inlays on frets 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19, 21.

If you an electric guitar, you may have up to 24 frets. The 24th fret will usually have the same inlays as the 12th.

You should also work out your level as a guitarist.

What are the Inlays for?

As you may have understood, the inlays are there to help you quickly find a given fret. This is particularly useful if you’re playing along with guitar tablature which indicates the fret number to play.

Whether you’re are playing a Telecaster, an Ibanez, or Gibson, you’ll be able to see the inlays, though they may be different to other guitars. They might be more discreet than on other guitars, but they’re still there.

If you really don’t have any, you can always add them yourself if you’re a beginner and need help.

How Can You Find the Notes on a Guitar’s Neck?

Whatever kind of music you like and regardless of whether you’re playing a Fender Strat or a classical guitar, you’ll need to know where you can find each note on each string on your guitar.

Which are the best guitars for beginners? Before you buy a guitar, make sure you try it out. (Source: ignatsevichserg)

The neck on your guitar will help you find all the notes.

To start, you have to learn and notes of each open string. Usually, from the lowest to the highest, strings are tuned to E, A, D, G, B, e.

Additionally, you should be aware that:

  • There is a semitone between each fret.
  • Between E and F and B and C, there is no semitone. In fact, there is no such thing as E sharp or B sharp.
  • Between every other note, there is a semitone.

For example, if we start with the E string, you’ll hear the following notes along the neck with the open fret being E.

  • 1st fret: F
  • 2nd fret: F#
  • 3rd fret: G
  • 4th fret: G#
  • 5th fret: A
  • 6th fret: A#
  • 7th fret: B
  • 8th fret: C
  • 9th fret: C#
  • 10th fret: D
  • 11th fret: D#
  • 12th fret: E (octave)

The same is true for all the other strings, you just have to start from a different note.

Easy, isn’t it?

Other Techniques for Familiarising Yourself with the Neck of a Guitar

The interval technique

To use this technique, you just need to be aware that each string is separated by a fourth, with the exception of the G and B strings which are separated by a third major interval.

What are guitar inlays made of? Most guitars will have inlays. (Source: connie_sf)

In essence, this is what allows guitarists to easily play certain chords. Some chords would be almost impossible to play if the intervals with different.

However, there is a certain problem with this tuning: the harmonies between the strings. This doesn’t really work between the G and B strings.

For example, the octave intervals played on the sixth and fourth strings won’t sound right on the fourth and second strings.

To avoid this problem, you need to consider the neck and its strings as two separate parts:

  • The low strings: The 6th, 5th, 4th, and 3rd strings.
  • The high strings: 2nd and 1st strings.

If you’re playing across the two sets of strings, just make sure you add an extra fret to what you would usually play to make the octave.

This will ensure that you maintain the fourth harmony.

Octave Triangles

We’ve got some more maths for you…

Thanks to a triangle, you can play a single note on three different guitar strings. For example, if you play G on the third fret of the six string, you’ll find G on the third fret and two frets up two strings lower, which would be the fifth fret on the fourth string.

If you’re playing an E on the seventh fret on the fourth string, you know that you’re on triangle’s peak. The other As can be found two strings and two frets lower, on the six string and the fifth frets, and three strings higher and two frets lower, on the first string and the fifth fret.

Try using these different techniques and you’ll soon see how they can help you find different notes on the neck.

A teacher may prove very useful because they will help you get to know the basic facts above. They may also talk you through the basics of improvisation, ear training, and chromatic technique exercises.

Learn The Basics Of Guitar

It’s a lovely idea, to pick up a guitar and be a self-taught guitarist selling out stadiums and arenas… sadly it’s not as easy as that. The copious information listed above about one single instrument just goes to show this!

While it’s great to be enthusiastic, it can be really beneficial to hire a teacher to walk you through some of the basics of guitar playing.

You can interview several teachers and check out several venues that offer guitar learning.

Such venues might include:

  • A class at your local community centre
  • Classes at a music school
  • Private lessons in a music shop
  • Guitar classes with a private professor who can come to your house

Private lessons are naturally more personal and advantageous than being placed in a classroom full of other students of varying ability, talent and desire to learn, so if your budget can stretch to a private tutor then you should seriously consider this as your first option.

Private tutors also offer the most flexibility because you are the only student they are trying to please, rather than moving days and times around to try to fit in with ten or so other learners. If your options are limited for personal tutors in your area, then have you thought about looking for a tutor online? This doesn’t mean to say you have to learn from a robot or by sitting in front of a computer (however remote teaching is normally an option if you so wish!), Superprof has hundreds of guitar tutors scattered all across the UK!

On the Superprof page, you can review tutor profiles: their background in music studies and their experience in teaching; what type of guitar they teach – say they only play acoustic guitar or fingerstyle guitar – what skill level they teach and testimonials from past students.

Plenty of Superprof guitar tutors offer lessons one-on-one or in small groups and have no trouble coming to your home for lessons. And, perhaps best of all, most Superprof tutors offer their first hour of lessons at no charge, just to see if you get along well enough to learn from them! That’s right, they all offer free lessons!

Superprof is an excellent way to cut out all of the running around you would otherwise have to do to find the ideal guitar teacher for you! And, many of our tutors offer video guitar lessons and guitar lessons online.

What Will I Learn In Guitar Lessons?

As a guideline of what you could expect to learn when you start out playing the guitar, here’s a rough timeline:

  • to start out, you will learn about the chords, strumming patterns, and tabs. Your teacher will start to teach you different techniques like licks, barre, and fingerpicking. Then, you will most likely learn simple songs to practise again and again.
  • once you are well-rehearsed in the practical aspects of the guitar, your teacher will guide you towards learning about musical theory and more technical aspects.
  • further down the line, you will learn more complicated sequences, possibly even be encouraged to play in a band alongside other instruments or asked to sing whilst you play the guitar.

Classes will help give you both a good theoretical base and practical experience of playing the guitar.

During the more practical lessons, in-depth focus will be given to the basic parts of the guitar, including the guitar neck and how to place your fingers, the fretboard, and learning to tune your instrument. Therefore, after several lessons, you will be well on your way to playing (almost) like a pro!

Good luck!

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