Here is a riddle to start: ever wonder how experienced guitarists can play without ever looking at their fingers? If you’re just curious about the answer, then jump to the end. Otherwise, read on! I promise this article will most likely pique your interest to pick up the guitar!
I have always found it helpful to write about new concepts I’ve learned. While I love writing code, sometimes I get an intense desire to learn or do something new.
Having said that, I recently picked up the guitar and to my surprise, it has been a lot easier than I thought. Had someone told me it would be, I would have picked it up over 10 years ago.
I took a few music theory classes during my college years, but I never cared to learn an instrument until now. I can play a few notes on the piano like the start of Beethoven’s Fur Elise (thanks! to a girl friend who taught me), but I can’t really play a full song.
To a lot of people, music is an art and mystery they think they must have a natural ability for. I fell into this trap and hence why I never tried to learn an instrument.
The reality is music is all about learning abstract concepts. For example, Math uses the language of numbers and symbols to abstract the world. Music is really the same, but uses notes written on the staff to represent concepts like time, pitch, melody, etc. Math comes to most people easily because they are constantly dealing with those numbers and symbols in everyday tasks without thinking why a five is the shape it is (it’s that shape because we agreed what a five is universally).
Some of the things, I’ve learned so far playing the guitar:
It’s all about the chords (aka: the strings to hold down) and the strings to strum while holding a chord.
Captain Obvious might say: duh!
But that removes all the mystery of playing the guitar! The untrained person sees strings and fret wires, but the trained person sees chords: shapes they form with their fingers. I believe an experienced guitarist can play the guitar without an actual physical guitar. As a novice guitar player, after a few days of intense practice I can already feel how it comes naturally.
Before my guitar arrived, I picked up this book at my local Barnes and Noble:
Some of the basics of music in general:
How do we know what notes to play? In the picture below, we can see the abbreviation FACE starting with the first space going up so F-A-C-E for the spaces. The lines start with E from the bottom and so on so E-G-B-D-F for the lines.
How do we know how long to play a note?
And the time signatures (i.e: 4/4, 3/4 etc…at the beginning of the song):
The basics of the guitar:
The guitar has 6 lines with the thickest at the top and thinnest at the bottom and with each line representing a note (EADGBE). It’s also divided by fret wires with the first fret being fret 1.
Some basic chord shapes:
When I need to know what a chord shape looks like, I simply Google it. A chord shape has x, o, and numbers. The numbers represent the fingers you use from the index (1) to the pinky (4). x means you do not strum that string. o means you play the string open while holding down the numbers.
The C chord:
The G chord:
Some more chords:
What I found the most difficult was moving from one chord to another smoothly. But with a lot of practice, I found this grip easier to move between chords:
Notice in the position above, the guitar neck easily slides and floats within my playing fingers and thumb.
As opposed to this grip:
Now that we know what chords look like, back to our original riddle: how do experienced guitarists play without looking at their fingers?
Here is the guitar…notice anything interesting?
The dots at the top of the guitar.
If you look closely, you’ll see the dots on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th frets and 2 dots on the 12th fret. It’s somewhat of a cheat code!
That’s all for now. I will post some more as I learn more.