I’ve been singing my whole life and it’s what I love, so when I started guitar 4 years ago it was only with the intent of accompanying myself while singing. It was definitely a struggle for me. I had a hard time learning the bar chords when everyone else in my class seemed to be picking them up. This made it so I had a hard time getting fired up about playing the guitar. It was such a slow start. I’ve taken 4 entry level classes since then (one I finished 2 months ago), so I’d love to share some things I’ve learned to spare you the same discouragements.
Regardless of what level you will be playing or in what capacity, my greatest recommendation is to make sure that you aren’t learning bad technique. Here’s why: if you aren’t super serious about it right now, you may later decide that you are. By the time you’ve decided you are serious, you could’ve picked up a bunch of bad habits and now you’ll have to spend lots of time and frustration unlearning and relearning. I have seen so many people give up on lots of things that they wanted to do and dreamed about, because it’s SOOO hard to break bad habits… in anything. I had bad thumb positions, upper and lower body position and bad finger positions. Somewhere in these 4 years I discovered that I love playing just for the sake of playing. So I’ve spent a good portion of it unlearning so I could develop better habits and technique. About a year ago, I started practicing the guitar with the intent to play more than just casually. My greatest advice is to learn every new skill with good techniques. I promise that it will save a lot of time and frustration.
Personally, I think that the first thing that is pretty vital, is not to worry about too much from the get go. Don’t be too hard on yourself and celebrate every small victory. Focus on your fingerboard hand and just play with the thumb of your strumming hand at first. If you are thinking about too much at first, your brain and body could become overwhelmed and you could create bad technique unintentionally. Make sure you focus on the To-Do’s, not the Not-To-Do’s. Professionals in every field have found that when you focus on what you want to accomplish, rather than what you don’t want, that the learning comes easier and you make fewer mistakes. Think of where to place your fingers or where to place your thumb, not where you don’t want your fingers and thumb.
The second thing that I would recommend, is to make sure you practice with the thumb perpendicular to the neck of the guitar and make sure it’s low on the width/ back of the neck. Also, try to keep your thumb placed on the back of the neck between your index and middle finger. This will help to stabilize your fingers that are pressing down the strings. Even if you have seen other guitarists play while “choking” the neck of the guitar, they are either playing incorrectly, or their thumb sometimes momentarily moves up and then moves back to the correct position. Playing technically correct will not feel comfortable at first. I’ll just come out and say it. However, keeping your thumb behind the fingerboard will help you play bar chords a lot faster and more comfortably over time as you build muscle memory in your body, wrists and fingers. As you improve and have need to move your thumb, your muscle memory will automatically move your thumb back where it should be once it’s done with that chord. I did not learn this way. I had to correct my thumb and it always wanted to choke around the neck instead of being at the back for support which is the most difficult thing that I had to unlearn. So focus on that first. Now that I’ve learned this correctly, my thumb moves naturally where it needs to be and bar chords are more fluid.
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