Updated: May 19
The guitar is one of the most popular instruments of all and was one of the best sellers during the pandemic. What does it take before you can get started as a beginner? Which guitar is best for you and why are lessons with a music teacher worthwhile? We got to the bottom of the most important questions and asked Andrea, our professional guitar teacher from Zurich, a few interesting questions.
Before we get started, what kind of guitars are there anyway?
Basically, there are two variations of guitars. The acoustic and the electronic. The latter is with sound pickups that transmit the vibration of the strings to an amplifier and thus produce the sound.
Got it! What else?
There are three different types of guitars. The classical with nylon strings, the western guitar (also called acoustic or folk guitar), is similar to the classical but with a narrower fingerboard and steel strings. And of course the electric guitar, also with steel strings but without a resonating body. Of course, there are a few related types such as the baroque guitar or the family of lutes.
Which is more suitable for a beginner? Acoustic or electronic guitars?
This is where opinions differ somewhat. In my opinion, it is not so that important. What matters is how you learn and not with which instrument. Traditionally, people started with the classical guitar to strengthen their hands and then switched to the electric guitar. But today, I think both are fine. The main thing is to have fun and progress while learning to play the guitar!
Ok, so no clear advantages or disadvantages?
Of course, the intended use also plays a certain role. A classical guitar can be taken anywhere. An electric guitar needs an amplifier, cables, etc. Basically, both instruments can be played quietly if you don't want trouble with the neighbors. With the electric guitar, it's special adapters at the sound output, and with the classical one, you just strum a little softer. With the acoustic guitar, unless it is additionally amplified with a pickup, it is more difficult to play in an orchestra, however.
What do you need as basic equipment to really get started?
With the acoustic guitar, it is certainly a gig bag, the transport bag e.g. for lessons, a plectrum, a small plastic plate, and a set of spare strings for emergencies. For the electric guitar, there is an amplifier and a special cable to the amplifier. For both, it is worth buying a capo, a kind of clamp for the fretboard. With it, other tunes can be played on a guitar. But you don't necessarily need it at the beginning.
Which strings should I buy?
It may be worthwhile to change the first set of guitar strings from the factory. Depending on how good the quality is or how long the guitar has been on the shelf. Strings are different for classical guitars, electric guitars and acoustic guitars! Pay attention when buying it in the store or online.
What’s a good purchase for a beginner?
A good guitar does not necessarily have to be expensive, but if you think you can get a top instrument for CHF 130, you will probably be disappointed. Important are the materials, the workmanship, and how it is set up. This can have a strong impact on learning success. E.g. the string height is also called action. With CHF 300 - 500 francs, you are certainly in a good range. And yes, it is worthwhile to hold the guitar in your hands before buying, so go to a store or ask your guitar teacher for help.
Rent or buy a guitar?
Renting is certainly a good idea for the first few months. Then should know which guitars suit you better. Not all are equally easy to play. With children it may also be worthwhile renting at first, here the child grows and with the child should the guitar. Spanish guitars are usually a good choice!
How long does it take until I can play the guitar?
This varies greatly and depends on the commitment of the student and of course on the teacher! A motivated student can make enormous progress within a year. Sometimes 5-10 minutes of practice per day is enough to get significantly better. And that in turn is crucial for motivation. When you get through the famous first 90 days, a whole new world suddenly opens up and songs that seemed unplayable suddenly become possible.
What do you learn from a teacher that you don't learn on YouTube or with an app?
At the very beginning, a teacher in person is a must from my point of view! The posture, finger positions, feedback, and a learning strategy are crucial for success and motivation. Anyone who has learned something the wrong way knows how difficult it is to undo it. At the end of the day, a lot is based on muscle memory and that is trained by repetition. Learning things the wrong way can catch up with you later when trying to play more complex songs.
So don't learn with YouTube or an app?
It makes a lot of sense as an additional resource to lessons with a teacher! I use both in my lessons. So you have the best of both worlds and the students have an important source of inspiration.
What about virtual, online teaching?
That works pretty well. The pandemic has accelerated that, of course, and the technology for sound and image transmission is pretty good as well! If possible, a hybrid (blended) form certainly makes sense. So in person now and then and in addition to online classes as needed. This way, lessons can be easily integrated into a fully booked workday. Regular lessons also help with accelerating the learning progress so that you do not stagnate and lose motivation.
Do I have to be able to read notes to play the guitar?
No, this is basically not necessary, especially in the beginning. Listening, playing, and repeating together with the necessary chords already gives a lot. Nevertheless, it helps if you not only understand the fretboard but can also read some notes. This opens up a whole new world the better you master the instrument. Usually, this interest gets triggered after a while. With children, I usually don't insist so much on notes, there are other things to focus on.
What about adults? Is learning more difficult for them?
Not really. I teach students who started at that age and achieve fantastic results. You learn more consciously, you know what you want. That makes it a little easier, also for the teacher. ;-)
What does one learn in a trial lesson with you?
The focus is on getting to know each other, exchanging ideas, and developing empathy for each other. Often there is also an initial consultation regarding the purchase or rental of the instrument and basic questions about the lessons. Already within the first five lessons, you can achieve a lot. The focus is on the correct posture, left and right-hand technique, and the first simple melodies. With a few chords, you play many songs and suddenly everything is possible.