Answers to 5 Common Guitar Student Questions

Apr 20, 2024 | Learning Guitar, Online Guitar Lessons, Teaching Guitar | 0 comments

I have been teaching guitar and music theory full time for 14 years at this point. I have been asked a lot of questions and have taught a lot of students in that time.  The same questions from guitar students across the board come up time and time again…..

5 INCREDIBLY common questions I get from all ages and abilities of guitar students – 

1.  How do I get my chord changes quicker?

  • The short answer is – by practising the chord changes you are working on.  Don’t try to do too many things at once either, it dilutes your practise. Stick at it. Ifyou’ve really had enough and have put lots of repetitive practise into the same thing? have a break and come back to it at a later date. Be honest with yourself how much time you’ve put into it though.
  • A more helpful answer –  Land your fingers at the same time on the strings.  See the chords as moving from one shape to another.  When you first start learning chords most people put one finger down at once. eg the C chord is often approached one finger at a time.  This now makes C a 3-part chord. This is ok to get your bearings but you will get to a point where you need to change chords in a progression for a song.  You’ll need to ‘up’ your game because this 1-2-3 move will slow you down.  Try and land your fingers at the same time.  Practise going from C – G, for example,  in a fluid shape change.  Practise playing C to G to A to B7 and changing shape mid-air to land all of your fingers needed in the chord at the same time. 

2.  Should I practise speed exercises to get my fingers quicker? 

Regarding dexterity exercises such as the spider. .  Yes they can be very useful to warm up your fingers, build coordination and build spatial knowledge of your fretboard and strings.  That’s the main reason I would use them.  Other than that, don’t spend TOO  much time on them.  You get better at what you practise so if you’re looking to get more fluent at chord changes you need to practise chord changes. If you’re learning a riff, you need to practise the riff. Beware of spending big chunks of your practice time doing dexterity exercises.  Dedicate only  small percentage of your playing tme to them and then move onto the specifics of what you’re actually trying to get better at. 

3. Should I use a pick? I prefer using  my fingers. I don’t like using a pick, it feels clunky. 

How long have you been playing? Why are you playing guitar? Some people only ever use their fingers to strum and pick, others only ever use a pick.  My answer to a beginner would be… thats fine.  Get used to using your fingers then.  There are so many tangents you could go on when learning guitar so if you are drawn in a certain direction eg fingerstyle, go with that.  Explore it, get some songs and techniques under your belt using your fingers and then see how you feel. You may be curious about learning to use a pick.  

If you want to play a variety of styles and potentially really develop as a guitarist then you would usually need to be able to play with a pick as well as your fingers. 

Playing with picks OR fingers is not really a ‘one or the other’ conversation.  They offer different sounds. On one end of the spectrum you get a more mellow, softer sound with your fingers/thumb and on the other end, you can get a heavier, more percussive sound with a pick. You have a big crossover in the middle where depending on the dynamics you want to create in your music you could use either or both (hybrid picking).  If you master both you have more tools to draw from which gives you a much wider span of textures to use for different songs, genres and situations. 

I said before, you will get better at whatever you practise so if you practise playing with a pick you will get more comfortable with it. In the same way you use a knife and fork or a tennis racquet. It’s a tool. You can get used to it. 

4. Should I learn scales?  What are they for? I don’t really know why I’m playing them.

In their most basic form scales are an excellent way to build coordination,  build your ear and fretboard knowledge just by practising them.  If you were to learn C Major, A Minor, E Minor Pentatonic and G Major Pentatonic in the open positions you would have a really useful foundation for a beginner guitar player.

Going into a bit more detail….If you only practise the scale up and down (ascending & descending) in order you will get good at the scale in order.  The scale is like the alphabet.  Once you know it you then need to jumble it up to create melodies, riffs and solos with it. This is where you develop the language of the key and the scale and start to understand what it offers really. This is not for everyone and, it doesn’t have to be. So, If you want useful finger exercises, learn some scales because you’ll  be building a foundation that may come in useful later on. If you want to explore improvisation and to understand the sound of keys then you can develop this and take it to the next step.

In the beginning as a guitar student you should learn what you’re interested in. What will keep you stimulated and naturally make you want to practise. Start there.  

5.  Should I learn Music Theory? 

Music theory is fascinating. If you’re interested.  It’s a language.  It helped me to see patterns and join dots that made things like the chord progressions in songs really easy to remember and enabled me to see how so many songs were the same.   Learning that a I IV V is a universal formula and how many songs use it. How I could build a D chord for example with the same set of 3 notes wherever I could find them on the fretboard. Why a power chord is rock sounding, how i can turn a C into a Cmajor7 just by sliding one finger and what the sound can add to a song. The longer you are playing the better a tool music theory becomes. Yes, theory is useful especially if you learn how to apply it to the guitar fretboard. It’s not for everyone. 

Plenty of legendary musicians and guitarists don’t know much theory, if at all. You have to prioritise what’s important to you on the journey.

Final Thoughts….

All of the above can be answered differently depending who I’m talking to based on:

  • What your skill level is
  • What your learning style is
  • What is your motive for playing guitar
  • What your goals are

If you know the answers to these questions that in itself will narrow it down. In the beginning go with whatever interests you enough to make you repeatedly pick your guitar up and practise even when it gets tough.  If you’re playing guitar long enough you will get to a stage where you think ‘what now?’.  You will have an ideas of things that you’re interested in as soon as you start to play them. 




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