Learning Guitar

So the world kinda sucks, eh? There’s no shortage of things to be worried about, and if I’m not careful I can easily get sucked into a spiral of despair. Yikes. I can’t help anyone if I’m paralyzed by depression, so I needed something to help take my mind off things. Music seemed like a great choice.

So about a month ago I bought a ukulele. Actually, my wife and I each got one so we could learn together. I’d tried to learn guitar a few years ago but had struggled due to a lack of direction, and the uke seemed like a good way to try again to learn my first stringed instrument. Well after getting really into it I decided to by a guitar again.

The guitar is just as hard to learn as I remember, but the uke really helped me get used to contorting my fingers into unnatural shapes to play chords. So I’m really grateful I picked it up first. I got a Cordoba 15CM ukulele from Guitar Center and went back for a Yamaha FS800. I followed advice from friends to go to a store in person and find an instrument that felt nice in my hands, even if I didn’t know how to play it yet. I got an acoustic guitar because it’s most used in the music I listen to.

The last time I tried to learn guitar I didn’t really have a plan, other than to just playing Rocksmith. Turns out playing a video game isn’t the best way to learn an instrument. So here’s what I’m doing now:

I’m using Yousician to learn uke and guitar; their lessons and tips have been really helpful so far, and I like that their business model (monthly subscription) is based on users continuing to use the app, so they have an incentive to continue to supply educational content. I wouldn’t be as far along with either the guitar or uke without them.

Andy Guitar has a free YouTube-based guitar course that I’ve been following, as well as tutorials on individual songs. The tutorials and the course actually tie into each other, and there’s a bunch of other educational content on their site. Really great stuff.

Ukulele Underground is a YouTube channel with really earnest, helpful tips and instructions. The Ukulele Teacher is another channel that focuses on teaching individual songs (with lots from Steven Universe, too).

I also bought a book from the guitar store with my uke, which covers a lot of basics like how to hold and strum the instrument.

What I’ve been trying to do is to expose myself to a variety of opinions on how to play, and then to synthesize a technique that works for me. Different experts have different opinions on how best to learn, and trying them has helped me understand the principles of what I’m learning.

The human body isn’t designed to play instruments, especially guitar. When I was a student playing alto saxophone, my mouth ached after playing for a while, because my face muscles weren’t designed enough to maintain an embouchure. My teeth left indents on the inside of my mouth that lasted for years after I stopped playing.

Guitar is a bit different. My left hand’s finger tips have lost most of their sensation from calluses building up. I knew this would happen but I wasn’t really prepared for it. I’m a programmer, I type a lot, and typing feels different when half my fingers can’t feel the keys anymore. And I’ve had to be diligent about holding/strumming properly to not aggravate my carpal tunnel syndrome. But it’s been rewarding nonetheless.

I turned to music as a way to cope with crappy world events, and it’s worked: I’m feeling less stressed and more able to focus. The next two weeks off are gonna be jam-tastic.

Posted on December 18, 2016