Core concepts are the key ideas that make players into musicians. If you struggle with the guitar or just need some new ideas, this new series will help show you how to become the player you want to be. To start things off, we’re looking at fundamental number one: make friends with your guitar.
People will sometimes ask how long it takes to develop basic confidence playing the guitar.
Some people are immediately comfortable, while others still feel awkward after months or even years! Most will fall somewhere between those two extremes, and even the most naturally gifted are going to struggle sometime. It’s very common for the average person to get discouraged and question whether they “have it” at all.
But playing music is not only for the gifted, and every aspect of playing an instrument can be quantified and taught. Best of all, playing music can be equally satisfying no matter how simple or complicated the song might be. So your immediate goal should always be to be able to play something well, not necessarily something challenging or difficult. That comes later. The satisfaction comes from the experience of playing confidently, and that means making friends with the instrument first.
What does it mean to make friends with your instrument?
It starts with getting physically comfortable. This can actually be one of the biggest challenges for some people, especially for singers that are already comfortable onstage without a guitar. Having an ungainly box hanging around your neck takes some getting used to! But understanding a few simple principles can really help.
First of all, recognize that playing CAN feel natural. Watch any skilled player – actually, anyone skilled at practically anything – and they make it look easy and fluid. That’s not just because of their skills: in fact, it’s the other way around. The skill is possible because the approach is natural. In other words, they play the instrument in a way that lets the body move the way it’s meant to. For example, a relaxed, “default” or “neutral” hand position on guitar doesn’t look any different from a relaxed hand away from the guitar. Yes, sometimes we need to bend the wrist or extend the fingers, but the hands should always return to neutral. When they don’t, it looks and feels awkward, and that awkwardness makes playing more difficult.
If you think this is an issue for you, pay closer attention to how the instrument feels.
Try just sitting or standing with it, without playing, then gradually introduce small gestures. Forget everything you might have been told and just ask yourself whether it feels comfortable to execute the movement slowly. It’s amazing how often I’ve seen someone who has struggled for months or years radically change their comfort level in playing by just paying attention to what feels and sounds good.
Sometimes this means ignoring something you might have been told, and sometimes it means taking the advice to heart. Well-meaning advice can still be misleading if it’s taken out of context, and the person offering it may not have the right perspective. The fact is, there are few absolutes regarding technique other than that both your body and your instrument follow basic principles of mechanics. “Making friends” means that the two work together as naturally as your skills will allow. This doesn’t actually require a lot of experience to notice: there’s a difference between unfamiliar and awkward, and a more relaxed and efficient approach will almost always feel and sound better. But the only way to really know is to explore.
Once you establish a comfortable friendship with the instrument and the music you play, your commitment will win out over any particular frustration or challenge.
And isn’t that the case for any healthy relationship?