All about musical instruments - menu page
Pay the Piper
Cost: from £40
Best age to start: 8 years upwards (electric guitar much later,
Easy to start? It depends what style you wish to learn. Folk-style is
easy, classical style is hard and progress slow
thing you have to consider is what style of music you want to play on
the guitar, because this makes all the difference to the cost and the
ease of learning. Broadly speaking your choice is between classical
guitar, Spanish guitar, folk guitar and rock or pop style played on an
electric guitar. In making this choice you must expect to be
influenced by the guitar teacher you have found - you can hardly learn
classical guitar unless you have a classical guitar teacher, can you?
Teachers do like to teach the thing they do best themselves, so if you
have a classically-trained guitar teacher, he or she might be
reluctant to teach you in any other style. On the other hand if you
have a folk guitarist for a teacher, he or she probably won't feel
competent to teach you Spanish or classical styles.
The guitar is a simple instrument, with six strings stretched along
the fingerboard and across the curvy body of the instrument. You play
by plucking with your right hand or by "strumming" -
sweeping your hand or a plastic plectrum across the strings - and
obtain differently notes by stopping the strings against the
fingerboard with the fingers of your left hand. Unlike most other
string instruments the guitar has raised frets across the fingerboard.
Their purpose is not so much to show you where to put your fingers,
but to stop the string more securely when you press it down.
If you want to play classical, Spanish or folk guitar you will need
an acoustic instrument, where the sound of the six strings is
amplified and modified by the hollow body of the instrument. Acoustic
guitars of "student" quality are pretty cheap, starting at
about £45, and they can be obtained in different sizes which is
handy if you're small.
Electric guitars have a solid wooden body which does not amplify the
sound at all, so they rely on an electric amplifier to do this. They
usually cost more than acoustic guitars, but not by very much. Of
course, you have to buy an amplifier as well. Electric guitars don't
seem to come in different sizes, so you can't start until you're big
enough to hold and control the instrument.
Classical guitar is a beautiful, atmospheric style of playing. In our
view it is very difficult to learn, and your progress is likely to be
slow. You will learn to read music, and will become adept at playing
several different parts - just a tune and a bass part at first, but
becoming quite complex later on. The finger picking can be very
intricate. Some guitarists grow the nails of their right hand rather
long for the purpose. The classical guitar is quiet, and therefore not
well suited to playing with other instruments, so playing it could
well be a solitary pursuit.
Spanish guitar is closely related to classical, but is noisier and
more energetic. You will need a teacher who specialises in this style,
which may be hard to find. There are no opportunities to play with
groups such as wind bands, orchestras etc., so if you want to play
with other people it will be a question of finding other guitarists
Folk guitar is easy to learn - in fact, some guitarists manage to
teach themselves, and this is really the only instrument where we
would recommend the "teach yourself" books sold in many
music shops. Basically it is a chordal style - you stop the strings in
a certain pattern and strum with your right hand. If you want to
accompany yourself or others singing, this is the style for you, and
you could make yourself quite popular at school, church or youth club.
One thing that makes this an easy style is the fact that an awful lot
of songs can be accompanied using only three or four chords.
Many people teach themselves to play electric guitar too, but they
tend to do it by copying each other or copying their favourite
musicians, and by dint of long hours of practice.
Jazz bands do often use both an electric guitar and an electric bass
guitar, but on the whole the opportunities for playing with others
will depend on you being able to find friends who want to form a group
with you. The fact that most secondary schools in the country have at
least one rock group, and some of them several, indicates that this is
not as hard as it sounds. If you're a successful group you may find
that your music has more of a social side than you had bargained for,
and that you're kept busy fending off the groupies. You wish!
The bass guitar is very different from the ordinary instrument. It
has only four strings, you never strum it and in fact it's a lot more
like a double-bass than a guitar. Some double-bassists play bass
guitar as well, because the fingering is identical.
The main expense once you have bought an instrument is replacing
strings. These are not very expensive, though. An acoustic guitar is
usually carried in a soft case which offers only limited protection to
the instrument, and the wood is pretty thin so accidental damage is
always a possibility. If you can't find a specialist guitar repairer,
try your local violin repairer. Electric guitars are pretty tough, but
of course there is the electrical side to worry about - one loose wire
or badly-soldered joint can spoil your fun completely. Shops that sell
electric guitars usually have their own tame repairer either on the
premises or on call.
If you do decide to try and teach yourself the guitar, here are a
couple of books that might help. You can buy them online at discount
prices by clicking the links. They are
to play guitar and
first stage guitar book. The "Tune a Day" series of
books is fairly old and they may not be the best tutor books
available, but we think they are quite useful for students learning by
themselves. They come in two versions, one for
and one for
To learn more about playing the guitar, try
Rough Guide to Acoustic Guitar or
Rough Guide to Electric & Bass Guitar. Our associates
Amazon list lots and lots of
books about guitar-playing - enter "guitar" and "play"
in the search box below and hit "enter". If you'd like to
get an idea of the kind of music the classical guitar can play, we
CD which includes music for the mandolin as well.
You can get a free eBook about learning the guitar from
to Play Guitar, and at Hot
Frets you can find FREE guitar lessons online!
We also like the look of Gitarrero-Beginner.com, a modestly-priced
software guitar school for beginners with videos, midis, pictures and
useful interactive features. It includes chords, rhythm-patterns,
accompaniments, 28 exercises/songs in different degrees of difficulty,
test feature, tuner, Guitar Teaching Support, user zone with workshops
and an easy song-archive. Click
or on the banner below to learn more. Their links page is worth a
If you're planning to buy a guitar, you really should visit Dolphin Music. They are one of the largest internet guitar shops in the world, and stock 2,000 different instruments ranging from a few pounds to an absolute fortune. Well worth a look!