Learn Guitar At Your Own Pace And FOCUS
If you only take on board one of these beginner guitar tips, make it this one!
Do not feel rushed. Learn at your own pace and dedicate yourself to just one technique during a given practice session at first. Don't overwhelm yourself with too many goals at the same time or you'll just end up frustrated.
Keep focused on one goal at a time. For example, you could spend a week or two really getting to know 5 chords (why 5? Just pick a realistic number for that window of time and go with it!). Then, in the next week or two, practice changing between those chords using different combinations. In the next week, work on your strumming or picking, using the chords and chord change combinations you've learned.
Build up your progress in layers like that. Know what your specific focus is for the current week and stick with it. Don't get sidetracked or distracted into a new technique, causing you to abandon your current focus prematurely. That's what causes problems.
As a beginner, you might think using this method will take ages. Well, you'll be surprised at how quick you progress if you just focus your learning time and put those blinders on.
The thing that seriously slows guitarists down, and causes them to hit brick walls with their learning, is constantly switching between learning different techniques and playing elements, taking any bad habits or half-learned techniques with them.
Don't let that be you!
How Often Should I Practice Guitar, And For How Long?
An hour per day devoted to practicing guitar is, in my opinion, a good benchmark. Perhaps you can practice more at the weekend if you have more free time? If so, great! If not, don't worry, just aim to get that hour in on the days you can.
Remember that regular practice is more important than the amount of time per session. For example, 30-40 minutes every day is far more effective than four hours at the weekend and nothing in between.
Be prepared for each practice session. That means, know what you learned in your previous session and whether you're satisfied you accomplished your goal for that session. If you still need time on your previous session's goal, spend another session on it. Don't move on until you have it nailed. So important. If you feel like you're not making progress with a particular technique or concept, I'm always here to help.
Spend Time On Both The Practical And The Theoretical
There are two types of guitar learning - the mental/theory side and the physical/application side. It's important to distinguish the two, as you may find it easier, as a beginner, to focus your practice sessions on one or the other, as opposed to mixing them together.
Theory - These sessions will be devoted to investigating how the fretboard works, how strings and notes relate to each other, what chords are made up of etc. A lot of theory time will be spent reading and analysing diagrams and your guitar's fretboard. This aspect is for understanding how music works on the guitar, to map out the fretboard in your mind so you can later apply the physical techniques with confidence. If you're serious about getting good on guitar, you need time devoted to theory.
Practical - These sessions will involve exercising your fingers. For example, fingering chords would fall under this category, as the focus will be on getting physically comfortable with positioning and changing between chords, or experimenting with new strumming patterns. With lead guitar, the physical side covers techniques such as legato (you'll learn what that means soon enough!), string bends, speed drills and anything that involves the physical side of playing guitar.
So, as you can probably see, the two do go hand in hand, but I recommend you clearly separate these two aspects during your practice time. Devote a separate session to each. Most often, the theory will come before the physical. Below is an example...
Week 1 - theory - major 7th chords
Learn how regular major chords you have learned in previous sessions can be altered to create major 7th chords. What notes do you add? What unique sound do maj7 chords have? How does adding this major 7th alter the sound of the original major chord? Can you build a chord progression that makes good use of a major 7th chord?
Week 2 - physical - chord changes and rhythms
Focus on the new chords you have learned and get physically used to changing between these and other chords you've learned in previous sessions. This is where you can use a metronome or backing drums to develop your rhythm and timing around these chord fingerings. Try and strum a simple sequence using these chords. Create a simple 3-4 chord song. This is about putting the theory you have learned into context.
So, theory time lays the foundations, physical time puts it into practice!
Practice Time vs Noodling Time
Noodling is just a silly word I, and many guitarists use for "messing around". It's far less regimented and focused than a typical practice session, yet, in my opinion, just as important.
"Messing around" might sound a bit chaotic and unproductive, but it's often the breathing space you need to be at your most creative. Noodling often brings to the surface ideas you've formed, consciously and sub-consciously, during your practice sessions.
Let me just clarify though - noodling time is NOT part of your practice time. During practice time, you want that hour plus to be devoted to a specific technique or theoretical element. Noodling time is extra, and should remain outside your more focused sessions.
Noodling is simply about having the urge to pick up the guitar and experiment with some raw, freestyle playing. No rules. No "right" or "wrong". Anything goes. This is time for you to discover those more unusual chords around the guitar neck, to improvise, to deconstruct and relax your playing. To truly be yourself on guitar!
Of course, if you've not neglected solid practice time, your noodling won't sound that spontaneous, but let's just say that hitting a few bum notes during this sacred time, in the name of experimentation, is not the end of the world!
It might also be useful to note down any weaknesses in your playing discovered during this time so you can plan your future practice sessions more constructively.
Make A Loop Out Of Your Weakest Parts
If you're playing through a piece of music and you keep stumbling at the same place - maybe it's a chord change or something you're doing with your picking hand - try creating a loop of that one section to gradually iron out your mistakes.
This is much more effective than approaching it with that feeling of dread every time you start the piece from the beginning.
So instead of seeing the entire piece of music as an accomplishment, see little bits in the piece as accomplishments and break it up accordingly.
Overcoming Frustrations As A Beginner Guitarist
If, like me, you have a short fuse, you might find yourself cursing to yourself when unable to nail something on guitar. Indeed, you might get so frustrated that you feel like, literally, nailing something into the guitar. If you do get to this point, it's because you're trying to move too far, too quickly. Your mind and fingers will struggle to keep up with your expectations if you're too ambitious or impatient.
When you hit that brick wall, take a small step back. Are you trying to play too fast? Have you been using a metronome to start slow and gradually speed up? Are you giving yourself enough time? Are you progressing in incremental stages rather than trying to take huge leaps in an attempt to "short cut" your progress?
The important thing is not to feel hopeless, that you'll never accomplish what you're stuck on, because you will. Time and persistence is all it takes. YOU set your deadlines, and even then, you can move them.
As I mentioned earlier - know what you accomplished in your previous sessions so you have that safe point of confidence to step back to, take a deep breath, and begin your creeping progress from that point once again. See my article 10 Reasons Why You're Not Making Progress on Guitar for more help.
Be Inspired By Different Styles Of Guitar Playing
I listen to a lot of internet radio, from soul to death metal. I think it's good to listen to a wide variety of music, even if you're not particularly into certain genres. Each genre has its own qualities when it comes to guitar, so spend time just... listening. Listen to how rhythms, chords and solos are used. You may not know how they're doing it just from listening, but you might like the sound of something which you'll then be inspired to go and investigate independently.
That's how I learned much of what I know about guitar - inspiration, investigation, accomplishment. The benefit of this is, you'll learn far more than what originally inspired you.
Don't Forget To Enjoy It!
Above all, enjoy playing guitar and enjoy the journey! Look forward to 3, 4, 5 years down the line when, if you've been persistent with your practice time (and allowed plenty of time for noodling), you'll have accomplished so much. This is all about freeing up your creativity, bit by bit, so you can express yourself on guitar as naturally as you can with speech. Doors will open all throughout your progress. Each new door that opens is like a new outlet for your creativity.
The more of these doors you open over time, the more creative options you'll have at your disposal and the more your music will have the chance to be unique to you - and that is, in my opinion, the ultimate purpose for learning guitar, or any instrument.