Looking back at my lifelong guitar and music journey brings back so many memories of mistakes I have made and I’m still making, it has been a long process of learning, unlearning and relearning stuffs over and over. If I could go back in time and have my present self talk to my beginner self, there are so many things I’d say, so many things I’d correct, so many things I’d put in and take out of my playing.
Record yourself – Even in my previous articles, I hammer on this point so much, it cannot be overemphasized. Recording yourself makes you aware of your strengths and weaknesses, it brings them to light. I recall the first time I played with other musicians, it really sounded so cool but when I listened to the solo recording of me (not with the band this time), it was beyond awful! I almost blamed the sound engineer, but deep down, I knew it was all me. Recording yourself is like looking into the ugly mirror, it shows you what to work on, and what to applaud yourself on.
Create your own unique style – The reason why you listen, create, learn and score songs is to take all these information and add them to your playing. Yes, it’s cool to copy note for note, especially from great musicians who have been there, done that, and know better than you. The point is not only to keep playing exactly what you got from them, but to improve on it, to add your own flavour and spice into it. When you learn something, add something else and create something completely different from that which you have learned; it opens up your mind to possibilities and makes you expressive. Sounding musical doesn’t have to be too complicated or technical, it could be minor little touches or addition to what already exists.
Learn to play in time – This is an intricate part of music. Music is about timing, rhythm and tapping into the beat. It would be a shame as a musician to be unable to play in time. One of the things that can help with your timing is using a metronome, drum track, backing track, singing and playing along, or jamming with other musicians. Whatever method you use, your goal should be to be able to play in time with a song or a musical progression.
Learn basic theory – Theories deal with the whats, hows and whys; it’s the foundation of music; it helps you to know why things work and sound the way they do. Complicated music theories like sight reading and the rest are an addition to you, but no one is saying that it’s a necessity, the one that should be considered as really necessary and important are basic music theories like major scale, minor scale, notes in music etc. Theory can be boring honestly (many musicians also think so), but painstakingly go through it, it would help you in no small way.
Your tone is in your hands – Most of it at least! I see beginners at music stores wanting to buy gear that they know little or nothing about when they have not even finished learning the major basic stuff. Distortion and overdrive pedals are good, no doubt, but they are there to enhance and embellish your clean tone (if you have one). Overdrives and distortions can hide a lot of mistakes and your flaws and cause you not to know what aspects you’re lagging behind. Some people play distortion really good and then when they play without the distortion, the two sounds can be hardly reconciled. As a beginner, the first thing to do about your tone is to develop the part of you that doesn’t need any effects, discover your tone and play clean so that when you play with effects, it would make it sound even better.
Learn to play by ear – Tabs are great, they make things easier, no doubt about that. But sometimes, ditch the tabs, try as much as possible to learn by ear. Great guitarists of time past did not have access to tabs or the kind of technology we have now, and they were amazing, we still listen to their musical pieces up till this day. An interesting fact is that some of these tabs are even wrong! Imagine going up on stage to play a mistake you learned from a tab! I urge you to trust your ears, it’s a great way of learning and helps to build your musicality.
Learn full songs – A lot of guitarists are guilty of this (I was guilty of this too), riffs are interesting, they constitute the first few seconds of a song; but you shouldn’t get stuck just playing only the beginning part of the song, it would be a shame if you were asked to play the rest of the song and you couldn’t. Be able to learn the full songs; sometimes the riffs are different from the body of the song, it’s also good for learning rhythm. A good way to be able to learn full songs is to play the songs you love and enjoy. Find simpler versions of your favourite songs and learn them from beginning to end.
Have fun! – It’s a good and disciplinary measure to build a rigid routine, but sometimes it’s good to have fun and play whatever comes to mind. Music afterall has to do with expressing yourself in the purest way, it’s a fun thing to do. If it’s becoming to look like a chore or bores you, find a way of having fun with your music. Laugh at yourself even when you play wrong notes, it doesn’t have to be perfect always, little baby steps would do the trick!
These are some of the things I would tell myself if I were to go back in time and you can use these tips as a beginner in your own journey too. click this link to see the full video version of this article on my YouTube https://youtu.be/c1nGwH2EuAc