Beginner Guitarist FAQs Answered
For Those About to Rock: 10 Beginner FAQs
Interested in picking up your first guitar? If you’re reading this article, you’ve already taken the primary step in starting a fruitful musical journey. Learning guitar can be intimidating--it’s normal as a beginner to have many questions and concerns, but we’re here to help you get started off on the right foot.
Below are some commonly asked questions when it comes to learning guitar.
1. First off: Am I too old to learn?
No! And let’s get one thing straight: You’ll never be too old. This is an all-too-common concern among new players, whether in their teens or well into their 50s. There’s no age restriction on learning a new skill. No matter when you start, playing an instrument of any kind is a rewarding and worthwhile experience that enhances self-discipline, creativity, coordination and confidence. It may be true that younger players can absorb material very quickly. However, adults are more likely to practice consistently, since they often possess the motivation and attention that younger players lack. So scrub that doubt from your list right away!
2. OK, I'm ready to play. What's the first step?
The first thing you need to do is determine the type of instruction that best suits your lifestyle. If you’re disciplined enough to learn on your own, the Internet is a great resource for instructional videos.
Fender Play, for one, offers a unique micro-learning strategy to keep beginners engaged and motivated and is complete with tips and tricks, in-lesson glossaries, and gear-buying advice—all from world-class instructors (start your free 30-day trial here).
Whether you are learning independently, with a private instructor or in a group setting, there are plenty of options. Finding the right instruction is an important first step in creating good long-term playing habits.
3. Should I learn on an electric guitar?
It all depends on your personal preference and the type of music you want to play. Electric and acoustic guitars both have unique advantages.
Electric guitars have thinner strings and therefore are a great choice for beginners because they require less hand strength. Players with small hands might also prefer an electric for its slimmer neck, which warrants an easier grip and shorter reach.
Learning on an acoustic guitar, conversely, can often be a less costly investment because it doesn’t require additional equipment. It can also ease a future transition into electric guitar because a player’s hands will already be acclimated to heavy acoustic strings.
If you are set on an electric guitar, Fender does offer some affordable beginner amplifiers at a variety of price points. Most are not only portable, but also easy to operate, making dialling in settings quite simple for newbies.
4. What strings do I need?
You’ll want to begin with a lighter string gauge. Lighter, thinner strings produce less tension, and for that reason are generally easier for beginners to work with. We recommend using a set of strings with a gauge of .009 inches to .042 inches, or .010 inches to .046 inches (known informally as “nines” or “10s”) for electric players. If you’re learning on an acoustic, look for a gauge of .011 inches to .052 inches (known as 11s) .
Different string materials also have unique benefits, including the tone they produce. Here’s a quick guide:
Nickel strings: Clear and articulate; a versatile choice for rock, blues and jazz players
Stainless steel strings: Bright and less prone to wear; good for hard rock and metal
80/20 Bronze: Bright and more metallic
Phosphor bronze: Dark, warm and mellow; a great choice for strummers
5. Do I need other equipment to get started?
Yes. The right equipment can make all the difference in improving your technique and your tone. As you mature as a player, you can surround yourself with other tone-shaping accessories such as effects pedals, slides, etc. But for now, here are the absolute essentials:
Nothing is as vibrant--or confusing--as the sheer volume of pick shapes, sizes, thicknesses and materials offered at a music store. As you become more familiar with your guitar, you may find yourself trying out a number of picks to better accommodate your playing style. But generally speaking, plastic picks are a popular choice for their flexibility and grip. We recommend sticking to a standard size and shape, like the Fender Celluloid Pick, as a good starting point. Not to mention, the classic celluloid pick is an industry standard among many players.
As far as thickness goes, opt for a pick of medium thickness (between .73 mm–.88 mm), as it will guarantee you a solid grip without being too overwhelming to hold.
A strap is essential for stabilising your instrument, especially if you intend to play standing up. Again, the variety of products you’ll encounter here is vast, and whatever material or design you choose is left to your discretion. However, as a beginner, comfort should be your ultimate priority. Choosing a strap that’s at least 2 inches in width, with additional padding (usually called neoprene), will help to prevent shoulder and neck pain.
Keep in mind that while electric guitars typically have two endpins on which you can attach your strap, acoustic guitars normally do not. You’ll need to purchase a strap button to secure the strap to your headstock. You can also use a shoelace or piece of string of equal density.
A cable can break your tone as quickly as it can make it, so opt for an instrument cable that’s shorter than 18.6 feet and features reinforced ends for minimal handling noise and signal loss.
You’ll be able to tune your guitar far more quickly and accurately with an electronic tuner or pitch pipe. Try a chromatic tuner, which allows you to tune in any key. Clip-on tuners, which attach to the headstock of your instrument and tune through the vibration of your strings, are a great choice for beginners because they’re portable, visible and very easy to use.
6. How is a guitar tuned?
A guitar can be tuned a number of ways depending on the style of music being played, but for beginners, we’ll focus on basic standard tuning. If you are using a tuner with an LED display, make sure the needle is properly centred. Adjust your tuning machines accordingly if your sound falls flat or sharp.
When speaking in guitar terms, each string is numbered accordingly. The first string is the lightest string on the instrument — the one closest to the floor — whereas your sixth string is the heaviest. Beginning at the sixth string and progressing upward, the key for each string is as follows:
7. What’s the difference between barre chords and open chords?
You’ll start hearing both of these terms a lot as you develop your practice. Barre chords are produced by using your index finger to “fret” all six strings at once as you strum. Different chords are formed by forming different patterns with your other three fingers as you hold down the other six strings. Because a barre chord can be played in any key, you can also change keys quickly by simply moving your hand up and down the neck. New players may find it difficult to play barre chords initially because they require more hand strength and stretching.
Open chords, as the name suggests, do not require each string to be fretted, therefore leaving them “open” when strummed. As you progress as a player or develop your songwriting skills, you may opt for one over the other due to its sound. But by supplementing your play with both types of chords — especially in settings with multiple guitars — you’ll generate more full, complex and multidimensional tone.
8. Are my fingers supposed to hurt?
Yes, but don’t be discouraged. As a beginner, you’ll eventually improve your muscle strength in your playing arm and form calluses on your fretting hand. And yes, that dull pain and discomfort does come with the territory. Those aches are short-lived, especially if you continue to practice regularly, which is key to alleviating pain.
There are some ways to push through the pain like a pro. Again, lighter strings can help, as will lowering your string action (the distance between the fingerboard and the strings). A quick fix by a professional will shorten the amount of pressure you’ll need to exert as you press down.
9. How do I get the most out of my practice time?
The more you put into practicing your instrument, the more you’ll get out of it. Regular practice is critical to improving your ability, even for those who are “naturals.” What’s more important, however, is proper practice. Keeping your technique in check will prevent you from forming bad habits that may sometimes take years to break.
Good posture, proper hand positioning and preventative stretching should always be considered. While it is normal to experience discomfort during your first few months of play, be mindful of tension and unnatural bending in your fingers and wrists.
Remember to take breaks. Great guitar playing doesn’t necessarily come from hours upon hours of excruciating practice. Quality is just as important as quantity. A refreshing breather every 20 minutes will keep your mind clear and enthusiasm piqued.
10. What’s the most common beginner’s pitfall?
Many beginners assume that technique and ability will come to them overnight. It’s this misnomer that leads to frustration--and, sometimes, giving up your instrument altogether. Learning music is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a gradual learning experience that requires patience, time and true comprehension of concepts.
Racing through scales and scrutinising every note is not what makes this craft enjoyable. Let your passion lead you. Learn at your own pace. Keep your abashed curiosity alive throughout the process. And above all else…just have fun.