How good should you be on the guitar by now?

This is my favourite one! A lot of my students say the same phrase -“I should be” … For some reason, those three words are extremely popular amongst guitarists 🙂 “I should be much better by now”, “I should know this”, “I should be able to play this song because …”

As Tony Robbins once said, people should all over themselves with unrealistic expectations. The ‘should’ word is a magic pill that helps explain everything. I have done this in the past, are you guilty of it?

So the question is – How good should you be on the guitar by now? How do you know how good you should be? If you are a beginner guitarist you may not have enough knowledge to judge how good you should be on the guitar by now. You simply don’t know what you don’t know! Many times, it is a result of comparing ourselves to others.

Maybe you have a friend that started to play the guitar at the same time as you did and he is now “much better” than you. But should you be concerned? We all learn in different ways, we are all unique and because of that, the world is diverse and amazing… Certain things come easier for some of us and for some, things are much more difficult.

I have seen countless numbers of examples of guitarists for whom the initial struggle turned into total success. How come you may ask? It is learned stubbornness and persistence. Since things are not so easy from the very beginning, they learned that the only way to get better is by being persistent. As simple as this sounds, you will be as good as you want to be on the guitar, but you need to keep going. You can’t be discouraged by slow results. When you picked up the guitar for the first time you didn’t think about how long it would take to learn a particular chord progression or strumming, you just wanted to play the guitar.

Don’t worry about your progress, pick up the guitar every day, have fun with it and simply love what you do. It doesn’t matter if you are slow or quick. Just enjoy the music and the results that you want will always follow.

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Why am I forgetting the rhythm and strumming pattern?

Have you ever noticed that it is relatively easy to learn the guitar chords for a song, but it is quite tricky to remember the rhythm and strumming pattern? Don’t worry, that is pretty normal. I face the same issue all the time.

To be honest, this is the biggest issue I always have when I am learning a song or a guitar solo. The guitar chords in the songs usually are the ones that we commonly use in other songs, so it is no surprise that we remember them quite easily. You may need to work on the transitions between the chords though, as sometimes you may play some arrangements between chords that you haven’t tried before. But that is also a relatively easy fix, but the question is, how can you remember the rhythm?

Let’s take the song “A Horse With No Name” that I just taught for my students and online You Tube channel (I published it at the same time as this article). It is a great beginner’s song, awesome, simple chords, but the strumming is a different story. It is not really that complex, as a matter of fact, it is very simple (at least for me) – but I struggled to remember it. I would memorise the strumming, then play the song perfectly on one day, and then on the next day, I would have to learn the rhythm again from scratch. It took me 3 days to really remember the rhythm and strumming.

One of the reasons, was that I was not really familiar with the song, I knew the song and I could sing the melody of the vocal line, but I really never paid attention to the strumming pattern. I would listen to this song as a whole. And I think this is the key. In order to really dig into the strumming and the rhythm you need to listen to the song in a different way. You need to tune to the part that you are working on, in this case, the rhythm and strumming pattern. And you need to repeat it over and over again.

This process just simply takes time and I have noticed, it usually takes me 2-3 days to really get this into my hand (yes hand). What I mean by that is, that I could actually hear the strumming pattern in my head. Keep in mind that it also takes a lot of repetition to really learn the strumming. We try to learn, then we forget and then we have to learn it again, but at some point, you will start remembering more and more. This is just a natural learning curve and I don’t think you can really speed it up or escape from it.

By working on more and more songs you will develop the ability to remember things faster, but I have also noticed it is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, you may slowly lose your ability to pick up the rhythm quickly. So it is essential to keep learning new songs all of the time – maybe one every week or every other week.

I hope that you see now that there is nothing wrong with you and that everybody has the same problem.

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Light Vs Heavy Guitar Strings

Guitar strings on your electric or acoustic guitar play a huge role in your instrument’s playability, feel as well as sound. Many beginners don’t really think about the strings on their guitars, they just simply go with whatever is on the guitar they have. The problems start to arise when you break one of the strings and you need to buy a new set.

Guitars are built from different wood types, so they may sound a little bit darker, brighter and anything in between – but without the strings, you would not hear any of that. The strings kind of uncover this magical sound hidden in the construction of your guitar. They can make your guitar feel very loose or very tense. It all depends on the type and size of your guitar strings.

Lighter strings tend to feel very soft. They feel very easy to play the guitar and the truth is, they are easier to play. This is one of the quickest tweaks you can make to change that stiff feel of a guitar.

Lighter strings are also very easy to bend, they are great for bluesy-type articulation. But this light feel comes with a downside. Light strings tend to sound a little bit out of tune if you strum them too hard, and it is harder to keep them in tune. On the acoustic guitar, lighter strings will also produce a quieter sound. Less metal in the strings (thinner strings) means less of the ability to resonate with the body of the guitar. It is not a bad thing, it is just a different result. A lot of professional guitarists prefer this kind of lighter/brighter sound of the guitar.

Heavier strings are obviously harder to play. There is more metal between the fretboard and your fingers, which means that the friction is bigger. These strings will also feel more tense and will definitely produce a louder sound in comparison to the lighter strings. The guitar will stay in tune more easily, but it might be harder to do things like string bends. After a while of playing on heavier strings, your fingers may start to hurt. So that good, strong, sound also comes with a price.

The question is which guitar strings should you use? I would recommend lighter strings for beginners. You will be able to play for longer and possibly the whole experience won’t be that frustrating. At the early stages, it is all about learning the basics, so you may want to use something that makes studying these basics a little easier. Beginners also won’t usually hear all those nuances, I’m talking about. For more experienced players, I would recommend experiencing heavier strings. The initial pain in the fingers is worth the quality of the sound you will get.

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How to practice the guitar during Christmas

Finding the time to practice the guitar during Christmas may be very difficult. The holiday season can be a real killer to our musical progress, due to an endless number of end-of-year parties and never-ending celebrations, which don’t help with our guitar goals. Let me give you some tips on how to practice the guitar during Christmas time.

  1. Less is more.
    It is a funny saying, but in this case, it may work. Shorter but more frequent practice sessions will help you stay on track. If you normally practice for 1hour, try to do 10 -15 minutes. Your progress will be slower but … you will still have some results. It is much better than not practicing at all. It will also keep you on track with your goals.
  2. Only play songs.
    Instead of practicing scales, strumming, arpeggios and having detailed sessions, just try to play songs. Basically, pick up the guitar and literally enjoy it by playing all of your favourite tunes. Don’t worry about mistakes, or how good or bad it sounds, just enjoy the moment with the guitar. It is a great “cheat” alternative guitar practice session.
  3. Keep your guitar out of the case in a visible place.
    This point actually applies all year round. Having the guitar in a visible place will make it easier to pick it up and just play. You will also be more motivated and it is a great time saver. Avoid the situation where you have to get your guitar out of the gig bag, tune it up and then start. Just thinking about doing all those things may be enough to stop you practicing at all!
  4. Play for your friends and family.
    I know that a lot of you treat guitar playing very personally. A lot of my students say something like this: “I play only for myself”, but how about you try to force yourself and share your skills with your family and friends. You don’t have to play anything complicated, even the simplest chords and strumming will do the job. Most people will never get to the level where you are right now, so don’t be afraid to play the guitar during Christmas for others. It is fun and motivating.

I hope this short article will help you stay on track and will motivate you to pick up the guitar during Christmas. Don’t forget that music needs to be shared, so do it. Don’t worry about how it sounds, everybody will love it. You will have a great time and it will still count as a practice session.

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How Often Should You Change Guitar Strings?

Do you really need to change guitar strings? This is one of the questions that beginners ask when I mention changing the strings. If they aren’t broken why would you change them?

At some point, your brand new shiny guitar may start to sound a little bit different. The nice vibrant sound will be gone, the strings will lose their silky nice feel and simply start to feel rusty. It might be a sign that it is time to change guitar strings. You don’t have to wait until you break one of the strings to try to change them. It is one of the easiest and cheapest upgrades to your guitar that will instantly improve the tone, intonation, feel and the sound. It is also an excellent opportunity to do a quick maintenance/clean up of your guitar.

But how often should we change guitar strings?

It really depends on how often you play the guitar. A regular guitar user who plays up to 30 minutes every day or every other day, should change the strings about every 6 months. That is just a guideline only though. I try to change my guitar strings once per month, but I practice every day for 2-3 hours, plus have lessons and gigs on top of that.

Sometimes your guitar will let you know that it is the time to change your strings. If you feel that the strings are getting rusty, are losing the bright vibrant tone and you have difficulty tuning it up, it may be a sign that it is time to change the strings. A lot of recording/gigging artists will change their strings daily to keep a fresh alive tone during recording sessions and gigs. Most of them have signed endorsements with guitar string companies though, so changing the strings very often is not an issue for them 🙂

If you want to preserve the life of the strings, make sure that you don’t have dirty oily hands while you practice (especially women moisturising their hands).

Over time, the residue will affect the tone of your guitar and will degrade the sound. It might be a good idea to wash your hands before you play the guitar (make sure you dry them thoroughly as you may damage your calluses). After you finish playing the guitar you may try to wipe your strings with a dry cloth to remove the sweat from the strings. You can also try to clean the strings with some string cleaner that you can buy from any music shop. It will extend the life of your strings and will also improve the feel of the strings.

Very important – if you break one of the strings, don’t change just one string. Your new string will sound different to the others, it may have a different thickness and will create an unbalanced tone. Instead always change all of them at once. The rule of thumb is, once you break one string change them all. At least it is my rule of the thumb 🙂

I hope I have encouraged you to change your guitar strings more often!

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Can I learn how to play the guitar if I have a physical disability?

A lot of people dream about playing the guitar but for some reason, they feel as though it is out of their reach. Accidents can damage or deform our hands, but the question is – can I still learn the guitar?

In my opinion – yes. Playing the guitar might be the perfect therapeutic activity you actually need. Consider that by not playing the instrument, you could potentially rob yourself of a faster recovery.

But what about these complex looking chords, you might ask? The good news is, that you can always tweak the chords – the common shapes that you see when people play the guitar can be adopted and simplified to allow people with disabilities to play the guitar. After such tweaking the songs may lose a little bit of the original spark, but who cares! If it sounds good to you, then it is great.

Playing the guitar is a very individual thing. It may look like we all play in a very similar way, but that is very far from the truth. Guitarists personalise their playing style, use customised chord shapes and so on. Back in the 60s and, 70s most of the guitarists only used 3 fingers to play the guitar. So if you are missing one of your fingers you will still be fine to play.

Check Django Reinhardt – after the accident he was left with only two fingers and played the stuff that people with all of their fingers would never be able to recreate. How awesome is that?

So yes! Probably you will also learn how to play the guitar. Don’t give up because you think it is impossible! Share some thoughts with me, let me know what you think

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You are never to old to play the guitar

We all think that in order to become amazing on the guitar, we need to start at a very early age. This is not true at all. I have been teaching the guitar for many years. 90 percent of my students are adults who had never played the guitar before.

What is amazing about that, is that they all have really great results. Not everybody wants to become another Jimi Hendrix or Slash. Some people just want to strum Knocking on Heavens Door in the evening and have some fun with their friends. A lot of people who started early also gave up early. I have a lot of friends who don’t touch the guitar anymore. They started playing at the age of 6 or 7, and by the age of 20 they had burned out. They lost their passion for the music. Isn’t that proof enough that you are not too late to jump on the guitar journey train.

You can do it, you can have amazing results and have so much satisfaction from your “hobby”.

It is not about changing the world by recording albums and playing big stages, it is about sharing the love for music with our families and friends and having something else relaxing to do, after a long day at work.

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Don’t over practice, play more music

We all know that exercises are designed to bring our skills to the next level and beyond. But there is a fine line between playing too many exercises and not enough music. Music is the reason why we play the guitar in the first place.

Lets take the scales as an example. At first, you may struggle to play scales, your picking is not smooth and you have a lot of excessive right-hand movement (if you are left-handed, it will be your left hand- the picking one). It might also be difficult to synchronise both hands. Many times one hand doesn’t want to ‘listen’ to the other one. Once you pass this initial frustration, it will start sounding better and better, and of course will start to feel more natural. It will become so easy that you will start doing it more and more … We don’t like to struggle, we love easy stuff. This is where this potential problem may arise from. To be honest, I wrote this article as a reminder for myself, as I am just as guilty as everybody else.

The exercises are predefined, structured and predictable, are easy to use and are the basis for our practicing plan. Of course, we have to use them to bring our technique to the next level (and we should!). On the other hand, playing music, improvising or learning new songs may not be as enjoyable as doing exercises. It requires more of your mental focus.

After a busy day at work, it is just easier to pick up the guitar, play a few chromatic exercises, a couple of scales and have the feeling that we have done the job. This is the moment where we need to change the balance.

Learning and playing songs, improvising and playing with others should be the major focus of our playing. This is the stuff that will make us better musicians and will increase our repertoire and understanding of music. Using the scales in a creative way (for example: selecting the notes that sound good and resolve around the chords instead of playing it up and down the fretboard) – this is where the majority of our focus should be.

I would aim for more than 60% of your time spent on playing actual music. Give it a go for 2 – 3 weeks and see if it works for you. Suddenly you might find out that playing the guitar is more fun, more enjoyable and you are inspired to pick up the instrument!

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How to Buy an Acoustic Guitar: Tips for buying your first one

With the abundance of guitars on the market, you might feel its difficult to chose the right instrument, especially if you are a beginner. You may not know what to look for and what to pay attention too.

As explained in the video, guitars come in different body sizes. If the guitar is too big, you may struggle with strumming on the guitar. If the guitar is too small, you may lose the bottom end of the sound. That is quite confusing, isn’t it? I think it is important to find something that feels good, looks good and will inspire you to practice.

Go to a music shop and ask for a few different guitars, so you will have some kind of reference. If you don’t know how to play the guitar, you could ask a friend (if you have one who plays the guitar) or ask a salesperson to demonstrate the sound and features of the guitar for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for some help. Everybody who plays the guitar was at the same stage you are at right now. Nobody was born with these skills.

Another thing to consider is the action of the strings (the distance between the frets and the strings). If the action is too high, you will struggle to play this instrument. If the action is too low, the strings will buzz in a very unpleasant way. So it has to be balanced, not too high and not too low.
The scale of the guitar will determine how the guitar feels. The scale means, the active length of the strings. If the guitar has a shorter scale, the frets will be a little bit closer, but also this instrument will sound a little bit different and will have a little bit of a different feel.

Another cool thing to consider is a preamp with a tuner built into the guitar. With this feature you will be able to plug the guitar into an amp but also tune up the guitar. That means that, as long as your batteries are alive, you don’t need to carry a guitar tuner with you 🙂

If you decide to buy a guitar, don’t be afraid to ask for a discount or some extra items for free. Most music shops will give you some discount or some accessories (guitar picks, a gig bag,…) for free. It is always nice to get something extra 🙂

Have fun buying the instrument and share your story with me.

A few examples of potential guitars you could buy:

  • Yamaha F310 – good, cheap guitar, the body is quite big though
  • Takamine GN15CE  – very comfortable neck, great sounding guitar
  • Washburn HF11SCE – smaller bodied guitar, cool sound
  • Epiphone Dr-500 – good sound, great value for the price
  • Martin LX1E ‘Little Martin’- small body, really cute guitar

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Natural talent – do I need it to play the guitar?

At some point we all struggle to break the barriers of our technical abilities – we can not improve chord changes, the speed of scales, legato or it takes us a very long to master certain things. This is when this thought creeps into our mind. “Maybe I’m not talented?”

Having a natural talent is definitely a great thing. Everything comes easily, memorising is a breeze, technical difficulties almost don’t exist. We look with envy at all these great musicians ripping off the neck, playing the scales with lightning speed. How lucky are they to have these abilities? But maybe it is not talent, maybe it is a hard work? Maybe you can trigger your talent by practicing the guitar the right way?

A long time ago I had a student. He came to one of my lessons with two of his friends. He was definitely the one that did not have “it”. He was not quick with memorising and it looked like everything was a struggle. The group class was not fun for him. What others played with ease, he struggled with a lot. After few months they decided to quit as a group. Something came up and they could not make it together anymore. They decided to take lessons separately.

To cut the long story short, the two of his friends who were very very good, after another couple of months quit. But the guy who was struggling kept coming back. We worked on basic strumming, simple scales, on songs, …. There was a lot of frustration and a lot of fun. Guess what? After a couple of years, he really had a breakthrough. He really became a good guitarist. He took it at his own pace, he did not compare himself to others, just worked on his thing. I was amazed. Persistence and the will to play the guitar pushed him to a place nobody thought was achievable.

His friends don’t play the guitar anymore – how do I know it? The second person from the group became his wife 🙂 So I had the first-hand experience.

The question is. Maybe he developed his talent? Maybe hard work triggering something inside of him?

Natural abilities make things faster, but I have observed one thing. People for whom things come easily, usually quit very quickly. They don’t know how to deal with big struggles. On the other hand, the ‘struggling’ person is surrounded by difficulties from day one. He learns how to deal with struggles, so somehow he develops this mindset that keeps pushing him to the next level no matter what.

I am not naturally talented, it took me a long time to achieve a certain level of guitar skills. But I love it. I hope you will also persist, keep practicing and never give up! The reward of being able to play the guitar is priceless.

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