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Phoenix comes up with some tips for learning to play the guitar as he learns himself...
Phoenix was pleased that his fingers were no longer outright sore.  They were a bit tender, but they were callousing quickly.  His psychiatrist had suggested lessons the day before.  Phoenix had not thought of that possibility.  It may help, he thought.  What he had learned so far on his own, though, was very impressive to him.  His persistence was also pleasing.  His spouse had built him a step to prop his left foot up on so that he could hold his guitar properly, and Phoenix was doing okay with fingerpicking so far.  Phoenix could also play by ear, which was a nice addition to his skill set.  If Phoenix was to teach someone else how to start out, he thought he would put together a list of helpful things to know.  His list looked something like this:

1.  There are different styles of guitar.  There is the electric, the acoustic-electric, the acoustic, and the classical.  The electric, of course, must be hooked up to an amplifier and has adjustment knobs for sound, etc.  The acoustic-electric can be hooked up to an amplifier or just played like a regular acoustic.  The acoustic has no electrical hook-ups and stands alone.  The previous three types of guitar have steel strings.  The classical guitar is an acoustic with nylon strings.  It produces a mellow sound instead of a twang, and is often used for classical and flamenco music.  There are also left-handed guitars.

2.  There are different sizes of guitar.  There is the full size, the 7/8, the 3/4, and the 1/2.  The smaller sizes are generally intended for children, but if you are a small person, considering a smaller scale guitar may be to your benefit.  This author plays a 3/4 Ibanez classical guitar, due to his small size, and it works perfectly for him.  The guitar actually fits him.  Consider it if you are a smaller person.

3.  There are different price ranges in the guitar world.  Some are affordable for the beginner, but many are not.  Depending on what you are looking for, this author would recommend that you choose your first guitar to be suitable for the stresses of learning the instrument, meaning that you do not need the $2000 model to learn on.  Learn on something under $500.  You want enough quality to work with, but not a top-of-the-line model that you will regret scratching, dinging, or having something unfortunate happen to, especially if you are traveling a lot while practicing.  This author's Ibanez was $129.99 and it works great for the time being.  When you get better at playing the instrument, reward yourself by saving up and buying a better guitar later.

4.  Get a case for your guitar, even if it is just a gig bag.  A gig bag is better than nothing.  You also need a tuner, an extra set of strings, a polishing cloth, and whatever tools come with the guitar.  Put these loose things in an accessories bag and keep them with your guitar. 

5.  DO NOT put steel strings on a classical guitar.  If the guitar is built for the stress of nylon strings, make sure you replace your strings with nylon strings.  Replacing nylon strings with steel strings will ruin the guitar.  If a single string breaks, or begins buzzing, it is time to replace the entire set of strings.  Replace the strings one at a time and take note of how they are installed BEFORE you take the string off.  Some strings are tied around the bridge in the Spanish style (nylon) and others are held in place by pegs (steel).  Again, only replace ONE STRING AT A TIME.  It is less stress on your guitar and allows you a reference for how the new strings should be installed.

6.  Tune your guitar every time you play it and wipe it down with a polishing cloth, strings included, every time you put it away.  This will add life and quality of sound to your instrument and its components.  No matter how "cheap" or "expensive" your guitar is, take good care of it and it will take good care of you.

7.  Get a good method book with a CD or take guitar lessons to learn your new instrument.  Self-teaching is fine, but do not be sloppy about your playing.  Make sure you are holding your guitar and your hands correctly and practicing good technique.  This will not only improve your sounds, but will improve your confidence in your playing.  Do not expect to learn to play the most difficult piece in the book immediately.  Begin at the beginning.  Practice until you can play smoothly and correctly on the simple pieces, and then move on when you have mastered those.  This will give you time to get the feel for your particular instrument and to learn the techniques correctly.  If you cannot read music, a good method book should show you how to do this as well, and the CD will help with this.

8.  Your fingers will be sore at first, especially on the hand that fingers the frets on the neck of the guitar.  Take it easy and play every day, even if it is only for ten minutes.  Within five days or so, your fingers will become sensitive to pressure, but less sensitive to pain, and you will be able to play for longer periods of time.  Nylon strings do not bother the fingers as badly as steel strings do, but the fingers will still be sore.  Be aware of this and do not give up.  If you play in moderation despite your excitement for the first few days and get the callouses on your fingers built up some, then you will be much happier playing the guitar from then on.

9.  See if you can figure out how to play simple songs without music.  This is called playing by ear, and is a valuable skill.  If you cannot, that it okay.  It is not a tragedy and it does not mean that you cannot play the guitar or any other instrument.  Some people need music and some people do not.  It does not make anyone better than anyone else.  As you improve, you may develop this skill.

10.  Have fun playing your new instrument.  Enjoy it.  That is what music is for - expression and enjoyment.  Do not neglect this crucial element of playing the guitar.  When you begin to get frustrated, take a step back and remember why you are doing it.  Anger is an expression killer, not to mention a joy robber.  Get comfortable with your instrument and have a good time.
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