First of all (assuming that you are a complete beginner and not an intermediate, semi-intermediate level player looking for ways to hone your budding skills), congratulations on your undertaking. Since, it is in itself a difficult task making up your mind to learn a musical instrument—any musical instrument. It will take you time, effort, patience and perseverance, but rest assured that the joy and the reward you’ll reap from your efforts will be worth the last drop of sweat you expend on it.
Now, as to the question, how to play the acoustic guitar, the first thing a complete beginner must keep in mind that it does not matter much whether you’ve made up your mind already about sticking solely to acoustic all the way up your musical career—or if you have intentions to switch to electric later, once you’ve achieved a certain skill level. First of all, you’ll have to learn the basic skills that will get you started on your journey (of course, we’ll suggest that you start with an acoustic since it is easier to avail of compared to an electric guitar and it also keeps things less complicated!).
Keep in mind that this is a summary guide on how to get started on playing a guitar and as such, we would be talking only about some of the most basic and essential things that a beginner must follow. There are finer points which however we don’t want to touch on in this article since we do not wish to overcomplicate things for you. You shall get to know them in time once you get along on your journey.
Building up the muscle memory
This is the very first thing a beginner will need to concentrate on. The essential bit to grasp here is that when you’ll be playing a guitar, you will pretty much need all your fingers (of your fretting hand especially, but also of the other—especially if you concentrate more on strumming/picking by hand than by using a pick or plectrum) to perform simultaneously and act in unison.
Now, if you pause for a second here and reflect on this, you’ll find that we only need use our index finger and thumb to perform the vast majority of operations that we do perform with our hands. Other fingers may come to assist at times, but barely ever are they called upon to act individually. However, this is precisely what they will be doing when you play guitar.
So, this is the primary thing. You’ll have to teach all of your fingers to act independently. This sounds pretty basic to anybody who already knows how to play guitar. And it IS basic. However, most guitar teachers would tell you that this is also the phase when most first time learners get disheartened and give up on their undertaking!
So, don’t get disheartened! This will take you some practice and patience, but you’ll certainly be able to master this part before long. There are certain finger exercises (the famous ‘spider exercise’, for example) that are purposely designed to help you build this muscle memory and all you need to do is practice them regularly. Once you do that, you’ll find before long that your fingers have already become much more agile and supple and they can already act independently of each other.
Decide on a schedule and STICK TO IT!
This is another basic but highly important aspect and this applies to pretty much all of our undertakings in life. Do not rush through things. Do not expect to gain a high level of mastery in the space of a month or two. That doesn’t happen. Rather, go in a step-by-step manner and follow a steady pace. It won’t help if you practice for 10 hours for two days on a trot and then not touch your guitar for the next two weeks. Instead, follow a daily schedule. It depends on the individual concerned how much time he can afford to expend daily on learning guitar. But, even if you play for just half an hour a day but do it daily, you’d already be able to achieve a good deal of skill and mastery in as little as three to four months. Isn’t that wonderful? This is the reward you get for pursuing something on a daily basis and at a steady pace.
Where to Learn?
In our opinion, it is always best for a beginner to learn in a group. Find a good teacher or subscribe to a beginner’s class at a reputed guitar academy. When you’re learning in a group, it is easier to measure your progress in comparison to others and having the opportunity to interact with other learners, you will get to share your experiences to each other and this often proves valuable to any learner.
Alternatively, you may also subscribe to a good online guitar learning program. This is ideal for people who prefer to learn at their own pace or when their lifestyle does not permit them to turn up regularly at an appointed hour for their weekly guitar classes. Many of these programs include a forum where you can interact with other learners, so make sure you make good use of it, too.