Learning the Guitar, Pt 1

At the young age of 59, I decided it’s about time I started to learn the guitar. I’ve owned a cheap Yamaha classical guitar since the 1970’s, but never got beyond page 18 of the Alfred’s beginner guitar course. After that, things got kind of complicated and I just gave up. This time, I thought I’d try a different approach and see what other learning methods are out there.

First up, I didn’t really like the sound of my classical guitar all that much, so I bought a Yamaha CPX-700 acoustic guitar. Then I looked into alternative guitar courses and bought a copy of the popular Hal Leonard beginner’s guitar course.

I actually preferred the songs from Alfred’s course and didn’t use the new book much, at least to begin with. Then I signed up for guitar lessons at the local community center. Fortunately, the instructor used the Hal Leonard book, and he helped me get over my initial challenges with the material. I now have a greater appreciation for that course and for an instructor who can help you get back on track.

At this point, I could pluck the first four strings and get a tune, however, chords were proving difficult and I wasn’t able to adapt my poor chord skills to songs. Furthermore, nothing I’d seen to this point really seemed to deal with that topic.

After further searching, I came upon justinguitar.com. His course took a significantly different approach to beginner guitar lessons. Rather than learning simple songs with the first few strings, Justin started out with a few chords (A, D and E) and had us work on basic strumming and chord changes. He even provided some exercises to help out in this area.

By stepping back from attempting to play songs, I spent time learning some basic chords (13 of them) and practiced strumming and increasing the frequency and accuracy of chord changes. This consisted of:

  • Using a metronome
  • Starting out at 60 beats per minute and slowly speeding up
  • Using 4/4 timing and 4 simple down strums with a single chord
  • Learning to change chords on every 4th (or 8th) strum
  • Learning not to stop strumming despite messing up chord changes
  • Make a 2D chart of chords and seeing how quick I can change between each in the period of a minute (1 minute chord changes)
  • Learn some simple chord progressions and practice them with the strums, ie. G-C-D or A-E7-D and so on
  • Learn slightly more complex strums
  • Repeat the above over and over and over

I’m still in the middle of this process, but am seeing some improvements in my ability to change chords in time with the metronome.

Oh, and I’m now trying to learn to strum with ‘I Walk the Line’ by Johnny Cash.

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