Okay, so you want to rock out like Chris Carrabba, or maybe Aaron Lewis. You have the cool clothes, the comfy sneakers, and the slickest, sweetest acoustic guitar anybody’s ever owned.
The only problem is, you really don’t know how to play the thing, so at the moment it’s just a cool fashion accessory. You can change that, though. It just takes patience, practice, and a little bit of investment in materials. Hey! The good news is that you don’t have to pay for lessons!
THE VERY BASIC STUFF (i.e. what you need to know before you can begin playing
How to string it. It’s really simple. If you have bridge pins (the white, beige, or black pieces of plastic that stick into the bridge), make sure that you buy acoustic guitar strings with ball ends. They work very well with the bridge pins, unlike the flat strings without any ends (or the ones with loops).
If you have a bridge with holes drilled through it, you can still use ball-end strings, or plain ones, or the ones with loops.
To figure out exactly how to string it, do an Internet search for stringing guitars, or take your guitar to a music store. The people in the guitar section are usually more than happy to help you out, often for a small fee.
How to tune it. This can be done with a tuning fork, a pitch pipe, another guitar, a piano, or an automatic tuner. Or, if you are a musical genius, you can tune it by ear. (But if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t be here right now, would you?)
Most of the instruments you buy for tuning your guitar comes with instructions. The pitch pipe is fairly straightforward: just blow on the appropriately marked hole (matching the key there to the key of the string you’re trying to tune on the guitar), and adjust the guitar string until it’s in harmony with the pitch pipe. Automatic tuners come with instructions, though they’re fairly easy to understand. All you really do is turn it on, pluck the string you want to tune and adjust according to the readout on the display.
These are the easiest ways for most people to tune guitars, so try to stick with them. They’re also pretty cheap. After all, is there any sense in buying an upright piano to put in your house if you’re only using it to tune the guitar?
WHAT YOU NEED TO LEARN (i.e. cool stuff you can play that will make you look like an acoustic genius and make everyone at school adore you)
Chords. These are simple. They’re just combinations of strings and frets held down with your fret fingers (on your left hand if you’re a righty), that sound good when you strum, pick, or bang away.
The easiest way to learn these is to find a poster with all the chords printed on it. These can be found at discount department stores, music stores, and online for as little as four and a half bucks. Hang it on a wall close to where you’ll play and practice the most often, at eye level for easy reference.
Now all you have to do is pick a few chords and practice playing them. Be sure to press down HARD with your fret fingers: you’ll get a few calluses, but the sound will be crystal clear. Also: be sure to keep your fret hand as parallel with the fretboard as possible. If you have your hand curled tightly around the fretboard and the guitar’s neck, you’ll have a hard time playing some of the more awkward chords. These are usually those that require four fingers or span three frets.
Practice switching from one chord to another, and then to something entirely different. Switch in different orders so that you won’t get stuck in a rut of playing the same thing repeatedly. Ideally, whatever chords you play together will sound like they belong together: they’ll blend with each other smoothly, and your ears won’t cringe at the sound.
You also need to learn scales. All you do when you play scales is hit all the notes in a certain key. Because these notes are spread all over the guitar, every string is involved.
These are fun to do, but some people take a little while getting the hang of them. That’s okay: keep practicing.
Again, get a poster. They’re usually found right next to the posters of chords, for the same price.
If you don’t have any wall space, you can go to a music store or the Internet and find books for beginning guitar players. Some are custom-tailored for those who are into acoustic: read the titles and, if you can, page through them before you buy to see what exactly they’re teaching you. Most of these books include chord patterns and scales.
NOW THAT YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO (i.e. you got the ball, now run with i)
PRACTICE. Set aside a specific time every day, whether it’s ten minutes or two hours, to practice. Do it even when you don’t really feel like playing: sometimes you find yourself in the mood only AFTER you’ve dragged out the guitar case and flipped open the lid.
LEARN SOME SONGS. Playing the same scales and chords repeatedly for months on end is going to get boring. Once you have a few chords (and perhaps a scale or two) down, you can go online and search for chords to your favorite songs. Try to pick simple ones: if you immediately dive into, say, Stevie Ray Vaughan, you’re going to become very, very frustrated at your inability to do in a few weeks what that man took years to perfect.
If you look at online guitar tablature archives, you’ll find tabs a pretty popular way to tell people how to play songs. They require a little knowledge, but many sites have a show to read this explanation that you can download and print for future reference.
NOTE: Some people are very visual learners, in that they have to see other people do it before they can get it. If that’s you, then don’t worry you can find video clips online of people playing the songs you’re trying to learn.
And if you can’t find it that way, go to the concert. Support your favorite artists AND learn something new.
Above all, ENJOY! Not everybody has the time, patience or talent to master acoustic guitar. If you’re one of the lucky people who can do it, then go for it.ENJOY