Unveiling the Journey: My Adventures in Guitar Learning and Musings on Music Theory

Posted by Souptik Datta on 2023-05-23 @ 11:15:38
A little disclaimer: These are completely my thoughts on this topic. I am not an expert in this field, but rather just a beginner trying to learn. But just thought about documenting my experience, that's why this post.

Starting to learn

So, recently I started learning Guitar, obviously from YouTube. Like the majority, I searched for "beginner guitar tutorials" and came across a "Free 10 days starter course". Intrigued, I clicked on it and commenced watching.
By watching the video I learned a few things. I discovered that in order to play certain notes, we need to position our fingers on specific locations on the fretboard, referred to as forming a chord. Additionally, while maintaining the chord shape, we need to rhythmically strike the strings using a specific pattern known as the strumming pattern. Great!
However, right after that, I felt compelled to put my newly acquired theoretical knowledge to the test. So, I replicated the actions demonstrated in the video and immediately grasped two key insights.
  • The initial observation I made was the necessity for resilient fingertips in order to effectively press the strings against the fretboard. However, I greatly appreciated the thoughtful guidance provided by the video creator, as they offered valuable tips to facilitate this process, ultimately making it more manageable. As a side note, I realized that it typically takes only around a week to develop comfort in your fingertips for this particular technique.
  • The second realization I had was my lack of understanding regarding rhythm. The video instructed me to strum the guitar as D..DU..UDU. However, even when I added pauses at the indicated spots, the strumming sounded rather disjointed, resembling the noise of a construction site. Unfortunately, the video did not provide guidance on how to enhance the rhythmic quality of the strumming technique.
While the first issue was resolved gradually over time, the second problem persisted despite my practice efforts. However, after conducting some research, I stumbled upon the concepts of "tempo" and "metronome." These concepts turned out to be the key to overcoming the problem. Utilizing a metronome application while practicing strumming significantly improved my ability to maintain a consistent rhythm. Now, I feel confident that I can master any strumming pattern as long as I know the beats per minute (BPM). It simply requires practice, and eventually, muscle memory will internalize the patterns.
At this stage, I can confidently state that I have completed around half of my initial guitar learning journey. However, little did I know that the most significant challenge still lies ahead.
Initially, as a beginner, strumming with a single chord seemed satisfactory, but it didn't feel like a notable achievement. Consequently, I conducted another search for "easiest songs on guitar for beginners." This led me to discover the concept of chord shifting. However, it became evident that this is a common challenge, and everyone emphasizes that it becomes easier with practice. Yet, it requires a substantial amount of practice to overcome! Undoubtedly, this phase of learning, characterized by chord shifting, is the most demanding and time-consuming part of the journey.
During that period, I summarized the journey up to that point in the following manner: Playing guitar comprises two primary aspects—strumming and chord changing. When starting to learn a new song, it is beneficial to first focus on practicing the strumming pattern and develop proficiency in that aspect. Once comfortable with the strumming, the next step is to combine it with chord shifting. Initially, when transitioning between chords, it is common to momentarily forget the strumming pattern, even if muscle memory is established. However, with continued practice, the ability to smoothly integrate the strumming and chord shifting gradually improves.

Music theory

From this point onward, I delved into learning how to play individual chords. This process proved to be intuitive and mainly required practice. However, a lingering curiosity persisted in my mind regarding the reasons behind the naming conventions of these chords, such as why they are named alphabetically. Additionally, while watching instructional videos, I encountered terms like notes, scales, and other musical concepts. Subconsciously, I recognized that there was a foundational knowledge gap that needed to be explored. Furthermore, I stumbled upon a guitar playing style known as "lead," which involves plucking single strings instead of strumming chords.
So, I finally decided to dive into this topic called "Music Theory". While exploring I came accoss this title called "Memorize the fretboard". Being curious I checked this and that's when I came to know about "Notes". I will not go into explaining these things here, because that's not the inention of this writeup. But as per my current knowledge notes are the absolute foundational knowledge of not only guitar but in genral any instrument's music theory. It was truly captivating to learn about the names of notes and other fascinating aspects, such as the reasoning behind why some are referred to as sharp while others are labeled as flat. It's an exhilarating experience to uncover the actual reasons behind things that I was previously utilizing without comprehending the underlying why. Following that, I also came across various concepts like scales, among others. However, delving into these topics would significantly lengthen the post if I were to name them all.
Now, let's address the final question: Is it a mandate to about learning music theory if we are casually learning guitar? My response would be no, as the primary focus for playing songs revolves around mastering chords and strumming patterns. Achieving proficiency in these areas requires dedicated effort, and once accomplished, it is a significant accomplishment. However, delving into music theory satiates the innate curiosity that inevitably arises during the learning journey. Moreover, it enhances your ability to comprehend tutorials or lectures more swiftly and easily. Understanding music theory also makes other guitar-playing styles, such as lead guitar, more intuitive. Nevertheless, I wouldn't suggest learning music theory solely for these reasons. Instead, embrace it to explore the intrinsic beauty of melody and to actively engage in discussions about music among a group of like-minded individuals.

Closing thoughts

Learning the guitar can be as challenging as acquiring any other skill. In fact, mastering any endeavor can prove difficult if one lacks interest in it. The key to finding interest lies in motivation, and ultimately, motivation stems from making progress.
But here's one big problem - Progress takes time, sometime lots of time!. And if progress takes time then how to find motivation? And then how to find interest?
So, here comes my opinion - Do not strictly adhere to the conventional learning path of any skill; instead, draw inspiration from it. For instance, if you feel inclined to explore chords and strumming patterns without initially tuning your guitar, go ahead! Eventually, you will naturally sense the need to tune it, and you will find yourself performing the task that was originally intended. In this way, you will ultimately cover all the necessary checkpoints, albeit in a random order, rather than following a predetermined sequence. I am not suggesting that the traditional learning path is ineffective, but rather emphasizing that your learning journey should be driven by your own choices, not dictated by someone else. This way, you will truly enjoy the process, as learning a skill should not be perceived as an obligation but rather as an opportunity for enjoyment and personal fulfillment.
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