Teaching Yourself

Should You Try to Teach Yourself?

More and more, people come in and tell us they’ve been trying to learn from YouTube videos, websites, or from friends or family members. Let’s see what it is that makes this a good or bad idea.

  1. Good Idea: Lessons are free, you can learn at your own pace. The temptation to try and learn on your own is very strong, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If you have patience, desire, and time to practice, it can work out for you.
  2. Bad Idea: In the case of videos and websites you may have no idea who your teacher is, you can’t ask questions and most important, they can’t see you. No feedback, no correcting mistakes that will catch up to you later, no hands on teaching.
  3. Terrible Idea: The most common mistake we see is that there is no logical, gradual way that you’re being taught. A lot of beginners come in trying to play songs and chords that are way beyond their current skill level.

Our advice is to at least take a few lessons to get started so that you don’t develop bad habits, so you have some goals and direction, and so your teacher can help you map out a plan.

“You must unlearn what you have learned.” Yoda


Learning to Tune

Playing in tune is an essential part of learning any stringed instrument.

I have students who come in all the time and haven’t tuned once during the week. There are all kinds of electronic tuners available, so there is NO EXCUSE for playing out of tune! Why is it necessary to play in tune and what difference does it make?

It helps to develop your ear.

You can get used to an out of tune instrument as easily as you can an in tune instrument. Not everyone is blessed with the ability to hear the difference. You definitely don’t want to think the instrument sounds good when in reality it’s out of tune.

Playing in tune with others is essential.

Nothing is quite as annoying as playing with someone who is out of tune and doesn’t know it. This is more common than you would think. Using an electronic device to tune is a good way to get used to hearing what an in tune instrument should sound like.

Good tuners are very easy to find.

Back in the day, like all electronic equipment, electronic tuners were expensive, cumbersome and hard to use. My first tuner had two knobs on top, one to select the note and one to select the octave. It was also quite big and cost a couple hundred dollars. The new ones can be the size of a credit card or smaller, some clip on to the instrument, and they know what note you’re playing. A couple of the tuners I recommend are: Martin Tuner: a free app from the Martin Guitar Company, it features several different guitar tunings, an ear trainer, and a small slide presentation on how to change strings. The Snark clip on tuner attaches to the peghead and senses the vibrations to tell you what note you’re playing. There is no built in microphone which means it won’t pick up outside noises. There are too many more to mention, but it’s difficult to make a bad choice. The price and ease of use should be your guide.

What the different tuning modes mean.

There are guitar tuners, bass tuners, ukulele tuners, bluegrass tuners, chromatic tuners and the list goes on. If you think you’ll be playing and tuning with other instruments, the best choice is a chromatic tuner. Chromatic means that the tuner has all of the notes on it, so you can tune any instrument as long as you know what notes to tune to.

Pitch Pipes, Harmonicas, Pianos and Relative Tuning.

Pitch pipes are usually round or in a holder, you blow into them and then try to tune to that note. The biggest problem is they sound like a harmonica, not a string vibrating which makes it very difficult to tune to if you’re not used to that. Harmonicas, same problem.

Tuning to a piano you need to find the correct note and then try to match the sound.

Relative tuning means you tune the instrument to itself. If you’re not tuning to a fixed pitch or concert pitch, your instrument will be in tune but not to other instruments.

Getting Started With Lessons

What you need to get off to a good start.

  • A decent, playable instrument. Make sure that your guitar, banjo, bass or uke is good enough to get started on. A common mistake is buying or borrowing an instrument without knowing much about whether it’s ok or not. Your teacher will be happy to help you when you’re in doubt.
  • A music stand. Music stands range in price from $15.00 up to $100. The low priced ones fold up and are easy to carry around. They work fine unless you have thick, heavy books. The middle price range is like the ones we have in the studios. Heavy duty and sturdy. Prices start around $45.00. Anything above that is just a cooler looking stand, more ornate and usually made of solid wood.
  • Electronic Tuner. Tuners are not very expensive, and they help you learn what your instrument sounds like when it’s in tune. They start at about $15.00 and go up from there. You can also find a free tuner on the internet. Two that work well are the Guitar Tuna, and the tuner from the Martin Guitar company, available on the app store.
  • A sturdy case. You don’t need an expensive, hardshell case, but a decent gig bag or soft case works well.
  • Metronome. The metronome helps you keep the beat and gets you to play your songs without stopping in between notes. They range in price from $15.00 for an electronic metronome, to over $100 for one that has a clock movement in it. If you buy an inexpensive one be sure it’s loud enough, especially if you play banjo or an electric guitar or bass. Continue reading “Getting Started With Lessons”