It looks so easy when you see an experienced and talented guitar player doing his or her thing. Effortlessly caressing the strings, bringing forth ripples of sound that inspire audience members to do the same. It’s not quite that easy.
The first lesson
This probably involves some pointers on how to sit, how to rest the guitar on your knee using its womanly curves to find some stability, how to cradle the neck in your left hand (presuming you’re not a southpaw in which case it would be your right hand) with the thumb supporting behind the neck and the fingers curled comfortably around ready to depress the strings to the frets to form those very first chords. Unfortunately, in many cases, the only thing that gets depressed is the would-be guitar player as he/she discovers that guitar hurts. It’s difficult, painful and may even seem impossible to do what the teacher can accomplish without even thinking. The student may even come away with blisters on the tips of the fretting (pun fully intended) fingers.
Advice for would-be guitar players
Prepare yourself for pain but try to minimize the degree of discomfort.
It will hurt, there is no way out of this. You are applying pressure to strings that are stretched very tightly and attempting to hold them down to the frets with force enough to make a clean sound, all the while trying to keep errant fleshy bits out of the way to allow the string complete freedom to vibrate. You’re using muscles you’ve never used before and you’re giving the tips of your fretting fingers the roughest treatment they’ve had in their life. That has to hurt. Take it easy for the first few lessons. When it becomes too painful to continue, take a break. Over a period of a week or so you’ll actually develop callouses on the tips of those fingers so if you can’t bear the thought of a minimal amount of fingerprint loss you’d better let go of those guitar hero dreams right now.
Cut your nails. You’ll know it if your fingernails are getting in the way, they’ll get snagged on strings. Cut them.
Get a guitar that suits your hands and body. Ever wonder why Angus Young from ACDC plays a Gibson SG. Because of the tone, right? No. Because he’s a little guy, he chose a guitar that has a small neck and a light body. When you next see one in the shop ask an assistant to let you pick up an SG. They’re one of the lightest big-name guitars around. In general electric guitars are easier to play and will cause less initial pain than acoustic steel-string guitars. Nylon string guitars are very easy on the fingertips but that might not be your style. There’s something to be said for not making it too easy on yourself. A guitar that can be played with no effort at all might also be played with no passion at all. Get a guitar you feel comfortable with, one that looks good and sounds good to you. This might be an understated lake placid blue small-bodied electric or it might be a monster with flames and horns.
If you really love the guitar I’m sure nothing will stand in your way and soon the callouses will be shown off with pride as your skill improves in leaps and bounds. But you’ll never forget those first few weeks of pain and struggle.