Learn Guitar with Tim Ferriss?

Lately, I've been talking to a number of beginner guitarists looking for new things to learn and take them to the next level. That has had me thinking a lot more about people that either start to learn guitar and give up, or others that start at some point, quit for a period of time, and then come back to try again later in life. I think it's safe to say that rarely do they give up because they simply don't like the guitar after all.

Today, I'd like to tackle a few of the reasons that come to mind, and offer some of my own responses.

I started to learn in high school, college, etc, but starting a family put a damper on playing the guitar.

This is a common one. In fact, although I didn't give up guitar entirely, I certainly fell into this category. Getting married and having kids can definitely impact the available time to learn and practice, but there are still plenty of ways that guitar be a part of your life. Simply involving your family with your guitar playing can be a great way to get a little practice time, and it can be entertaining for the family. Just because you're a beginner, doesn't mean you have to lock yourself in a bedroom until you can play certain songs. You'd probably be surprised how much your family enjoys listening to you play, even if it's not "perfect". Also, numerous studies have shown introducing music and music education to children at any age has numerous benefits in their education and development.

My fingers hurt too much to continue playing guitar, or my fingers are too big/small to play right.

This is likely the single biggest reason that people give up with guitar. The bummer is that, when it comes to sore fingers, they are likely only a couple days away from calluses fully developing on their fingertips, which alleviates most, if not all the pain they're experiencing. To be sure, the early days of learning can mean some sore fingertips. This is common and expected.

There are however some ways to minimize the soreness. Some folks advise using a lighter gauge string. This can help, but another option on acoustic guitars is to use a "silk and steel" type of string. To those unaware, this may sound a bit like nylon/classical strings. However, silk and steels actually look and sound (although softer sounding) much like regular steel and phosphor bronze strings, however, their core is silk instead of steel. This silk core is dramatically easier to press down to the frets. Less work, less pain.

Also, having a guitar with a proper neck setup can make ALL the difference. This is true at any level of playing ability, but certainly in the early days of playing. If the string action (distance from the string to the fretboard) is set too high, this forces you to use that much more finger pressure to press the string down. More work, more pain.

To address the crowd that says "my fingers are too big/small to play guitar", I have this advice, which I give to anyone looking for their "first" guitar especially. Find a guitar that is comfortable to sit and play. Even if you don't know a single chord yet. Try several guitars, electric AND acoustic. Some guitars have wider or thicker necks, others have narrow or thinner necks, and everything else in between.

So many guitar manufactures have created such a wide variety of neck shapes and body sizes, that there is most assuredly a guitar that fits your hand. Don't worry so much about the brand or the price (within reason of course) at this point. Find one that is comfortable to YOU and doesn't force you to work so hard to play. Even if it's a guitar that all your friends and internet forum players recommended to you, if it is uncomfortable to play, you will lose inspiration to continue. Quickly.

It's too hard to learn my favorite songs, music theory, etc.

In the title of this blog, I mentioned Tim Ferriss. For those who are not already aware of who he is, Ferriss is an author ("The 4-Hour Workweek", "The 4-Hour Body, and others), super-blogger-deluxe, and a self-proclaimed "human guinea pig". In the video below, Tim is addressing an audience and speaking about mastering any skill by deconstructing it. This includes the guitar. He begins by suggesting that you dissemble all the parts. Don't just look at guitar (in this case) and music theory as this big, daunting creature. Break it down.

Take the time to figure out what is currently working and not working for you. For now, concentrate on what you CAN do. It builds confidence in your abilities, and often, you'll find that what you struggled with becomes much easier to do in a lot less time. My approach was very much the opposite, and caused a lot of "ruts" in my playing because I focused so much on what I couldn't do.

In the next section, Ferriss suggests "selection". Figure out what will have the most value in the skill and cut out any distractions. This section is where he actually mentions the guitar and gives the example of the popular Australian YouTube celebrities, Axis of Awesome. In the example, Axis of Awesome performs sections of a number of hit songs that only utilize FOUR CHORDS. Often, the same four chords. Learn those chords and start playing TONS of songs. Being able to play songs that you enjoy and recognize will make a huge impact on your playing ability and will keep you inspired to continue. The cool part about the 4-chord idea is that once you have those chords down, then it's just a matter of focusing on the order of those chords and the rhythm. Suddenly you're mastering even more skills.

If you have the time, I highly recommend watching the video. He also covers how to address the sequence of learning a skill, as well as incentive and motivation tips. Good stuff.

The Tim Ferris video, "Tim Ferriss shares how to master any skill by deconstructing it" can be found on YouTube.

Written by Bryan Holst of
Owner of Rusty Frets Guitar Shop

26th Jan 2016

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