In 1962, a little-known Liverpool rock act called the Beatles auditioned for a recording contract with Decca Records, but were rejected on the grounds that "guitar groups were on the way out." Besides the fact that Decca turned down the greatest rock band of all time, this anecdote has become one of the most oft-repeated in show business because of the gross musical miscalculation: five decades later, guitar groups, and guitars, are most certainly not on the way out. And countless music fans around the world harbor the ambition to play guitar.
It's easy to get discouraged when learning to play the instrument, and long-time guitarists often take for granted the complex hand mechanics involved in playing. The first time you pick up the guitar, you don't know how hard to press your fingers on the fretboard, how to transition between chords, etc. And to top it all off, the more you practice the more your fingers ache (at least until you form calluses, which help a lot).
But it doesn't have to be difficult. And there's serious good news for aspiring guitarists: with the internet and smartphones at your disposal, it's never been easier -- or faster -- to gain a level of proficiency with the world's favorite instrument.
Here's the quickest way to get good, fast:
Step 1) Learn two chords
In music, a "chord" is a set of complimentary notes played simultaneously. As an amateur guitar teacher, one of the ways I lure people into practicing is the promise that they can play a LOT of rock and pop songs with the knowledge of only a few chords. From Hank Williams to the Beatles, some of the most iconic figures in music have relied on just two or three chords to write some of their biggest hits.
If you like rock n' roll, E-major and A-major are your best starting point:
And throw in B-major and you can play the basic chord structure of just about any blues, 50's rock, or AC/DC song you can think of.
More of a country and folk fan? Meet G-major, C-major, and D-major, also known as your new best friends:
When you're first learning chords, you need to have diagrams handy for your reference. Thankfully, there is a free smartphone app that provides just this.
Another idea: I used to have a poster on my bedroom wall with just about every guitar chord diagram. I only took it down when I could play all the chords from memory. You'd be wise to do the same.
And don't forget to keep that thing in tune. Jimi Hendrix aside, there's no one who can make an out-of-tune guitar sound good...
Step 2) Get rhythm
Once you learn a few chords, you might wonder: what am I supposed to do with them?
Learning basic strumming patterns (and advancing into fingerpicking) takes time, but there's an easy method I used that more people should take advantage of. And that is: playing along.
Put on your favorite song, pick up your guitar (making sure it's in tune), and play along. Seriously -- even if you don't know what the hell you're doing, just make something up. Find one note that you can hear in the song, play along, and build from there. Try to pick out other notes, or even chords that you hear in the music. Pay attention to the rhythm, and try to mimic it.
You're not going to sound like Eric Clapton overnight (or ever, if you're like the rest of us) but soon you'll find that you can play along with some of your favorite guitarists. Fun fact: one of the most celebrated riffs in rock n' roll -- The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" -- is also probably the easiest to learn:
Playing along will help your technique and get you feeling more comfortable with your instrument.
And as long we're talking about comfort, one final thought: hang out with your guitar. Seriously, just always have it near. When you're watching television, or chatting with friends, or just sitting in your bedroom, hold it in your lap. Most musicians spend a lot of their spare time with their instrument, and you should too. Make stuff up, practice your chords, goof around, experiment. Over time you'll become more and more comfortable with the guitar, and feel more and more confident calling yourself a guitarist.