Guitar Noises #1: Learning to play guitar online

Welcome to Guitar Noises by Paul Hackett. Music and other nice noises.

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Welcome to Guitar Noises, the free newsletter about learning guitar online. It’s good to have you here!

My name is Paul Hackett. I started the guitar lesson website Guitar Noise over twenty years ago.

In the past year we’ve seen more changes in the world of online teaching than the previous ten years put together.  It’s an exciting time to be learning guitar with so many free and low-cost options out there. You don’t even have to leave your home. But with so many choices, how do you sort through it all?

What’s in an issue?

This newsletter will be coming your way a couple times a month. I’m going to help you find the best guitar lessons online. These aren’t just plugs for my site. I’m going to get you in front of the best teachers in the world wherever they may be.

You can help shape this newsletter by sending me your ideas and stories about what has and hasn’t worked for you.

Who is a beginner?

You may have been trying to learn guitar for years and still consider yourself a beginner. Luckily, there are thousands of apps and websites made specifically for the beginner guitarist. There is definitely something out there that is going to work for you.

While the label “beginner” covers a lot of ground, I’m doing my best to share lessons that help the widest range of novice players.

For the Beginner

If I could start out on guitar all over again, there’s one thing I’d like to do differently. I wouldn’t start out just trying to play songs.

When I first picked up guitar, Eric Clapton’s Unplugged was the big thing. Like a lot of other people, I got the songbook with tablature and worked my way through it song by song.

We all want to learn songs we love and play them for others. But learning songs and riffs from guitar tab doesn’t lay a foundation for becoming a well-rounded player. So how do we find a fun way to play and learn at the same time?

If I was starting out on guitar today, I would start by learning some basic techniques that work in all kinds of songs and styles. Not all technical aspects of playing are suited for new players, but there are many that are ideal for the beginner. My first recommendation for beginners is the fingerstyle technique known as Travis Picking.

Travis Picking is relatively easy to learn, and once you’ve got it mastered you will be on your way to playing all sorts of songs and styles of music. It will help you with country, folk, rock, celtic and even pop songs. I suggest working on this technique early and often until you can play it comfortably.

Many sites and apps cover Travis Picking (there are even some lessons on Guitar Noise). My favourite lesson on Travis Picking is a YouTube lesson by Lauren Bateman. In ten minutes Lauren shows you everything you need to get started on Travis Picking. It’s like being in a private lesson with Lauren.

Watch the video as many times as you need to. Pause it and rewind whenever necessary. Take notes if that helps you remember. And when you can pick in this pattern over different chords - it’s time to go practice.

Take your guitar to wherever it is you practice. And practice, practice, practice. Use Travis Picking with chords you know for however many days, weeks, months it takes until you can do the pattern smoothly in your sleep. The idea is to practice until it becomes permanent.

Thank you to Lauren Bateman for making this video. Lauren's excellent videos are as to close to in-person lesson as you can get. I like the format and length of her lessons. As well as being extremely focused and helpful, they have a great energy that keeps the learning fun and exciting. Lauren is always listening to feedback from students. It’s no wonder that her videos continue to improve while covering students’ most requested topics. Check out Lauren’s site and YouTube channel for more.

I will be circling back to more of Lauren’s videos in future newsletters.

Something for Intermediates

Students of guitar often underestimate their abilities. Being under-confident can constrain you as much as being too confident. Ideally we should avoid getting too hung up on labels like beginner and intermediate. For now we’ll say an intermediate is someone who has been playing long enough to need a refresher course.

If you tried the Travis Picking lesson and want something more challenging, I’d suggest immersing yourself into a particular style of music. 

Acoustic blues is a style I return to every few years. Blues forms the basis of most rock music, and is a style usually associated with guitar. Rather than always returning to those Eric Clapton tabs and riffs, how about diving deeper into the acoustic blues?

Acoustic players with even a passing interest in blues should take a look at Mitchell Park’s YouTube channel. His lessons give step-by-step instructions for many classic delta-blues songs. These are great songs are a great way to work on your acoustic technique. You don’t even have to be familiar with the original material to make these songs sound good. Learn a few of these songs and you’ll be picking up little riffs and turnarounds you can add to your jams.

Here is one of Mitchell’s latest lessons:

With a hundred or more videos you don’t have to worry about where to go next. Pick any song on his playlist and give it a try. There’s no need to follow a lesson path, pick a song or artist and work your way through the tunes you like.

Over on his website, Mitchell covers the history of many delta blues players. He also writes about their individual playing style and includes some playing tips. It’s a great addition to the videos on his channel.

What I’ve been reading

With all the extra time at home during the past year, people have been filling their time anyway they can. Joel Miller used to be a roadie for STP, Guns N’ Roses, Poison and The Cranberries. He finished writing his memoirs and gave them the incredibly long title: “Memoir of a Roadie: Axl Said I Made a Great Cup of Tea… Scott Weiland Liked the Carpenters… & Ozzy Drinks Rosé.“ 

After reading Memoir of a Roadie I feel it’s safe to say the life of a roadie is just as interesting as the life of a rockstar. I reviewed Memoir of a Roadie on Guitar Noise. You’ll find a link to online retailers that sell it there. (Amazon, of course.)

What are you listening to?

“What Are You Listening To?” was Chris Stapleton’s debut single in 2013. The title is an attention grabber, but for me, “Traveler” from his 2015 debut album is the best introduction to Stapleton country.

A lot of musicians, depending on where they come from, will resist “getting into country music.” But Traveler is one of those albums that helps break down the wall between and rock and country. If you’re a fan of southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, you’re not far from away from liking Outlaw Country. Chris Stapleton’s Traveler could be the set of songs that makes country music click for you.

Stapleton weaves through emotional topics like the death of his father with acoustic guitars and catchy riffs. I listen to songs from this album alongside Neil Young and Rolling Stones songs from the seventies and it all fits together rather nicely.

Stapleton had this to say about his music in 2015 interview:

"If somebody tells me it sounds dated, I'd say that's great, as long as the date is 1978. My favorite things are from then. And why wouldn’t you want to try to be like those things?”

Tell me what you’re listening to this week. Is there something that makes you want to pick up a guitar every time you hear it? I’d like to know what it is.

Lovely Lyrics

I’d like to indulge everyone with a lyric near the end of every newsletter. It may just be what was playing while I was writing this newsletter, or there may be a deeper meaning. Sometimes I’ll have something to say about it, other times I’ll just leave it here:

“If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on now'
Cause there's too many places I've got to see”

Free Bird, Lynyrd Skynyrd 1972

Is there a better Lynyrd Skynyrd song than Free Bird?

Guitar of the Week

And finally, I want to wrap up each newsletter with a photo of a guitar. This week I’m sharing this beauty. It’s the first guitar I ever owned.

Have you tried buying a new guitar in the past 12 months? Acoustic guitars fly off the shelves faster than stores can unpack them. While stuck at home I dug this out from under 20 years of basement junk. It barely stays in tune for a whole song. For some reason, using a Roadie 3 tuner gets it to stay in tune better than my own ears and fingers can manage. Unbelievable.

What does your most beat up guitar look like? Send me pictures. I will pick a winner and post it here in the next newsletter. You win bragging rights. I will tell all our subscribers you play the most beat up guitar I have ever seen.

That’s all for now. You can reply to me or leave a comment below to get a discussion going.

See you again soon.

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