Guitar instruction isn’t only about playing the instrument. Even absolute beginners should also learn a bit about the general history and culture of this famous 6-string machine.
Because electric guitars and acoustic guitars – and the other types of guitar – are not just tools or objects. They are important cultural and historical artifacts that have spread across the world and have developed into the specific instruments – with their headstock, fingerboard, cutaway, hollow body or solid body – that we know today.
So we’ve gathered some fundamental information for you here that you should know as a complement to learning to read music or play the guitar. Guitar isn’t just about your steel strings or nylon strings, your single coil pickups or your humbuckers, or your Fender Telecaster or your Gibson SG. Rather, it intersects with all sorts of cultural and scientific phenomena!
The origins of the guitar go back over 3000 years.
It was in Persia that this instrument was described for the first time, even though this first guitar looked more like a lute than the traditional guitar we’re used to seeing today. Rather than steel guitar strings or nylon string, these strings were must probably made with the gut of an animal. There was no electric or blues guitar back then!
In the 10th century, the guitar was exported to Spain, where it witnessed various transformations over the course of the following centuries: classic guitar, folk guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar. In Spain, they started with flamenco – and other genres we now fairly ignorantly lump into the category ‘Spanish guitar’.
Through the years, the technology behind learning guitar has become more and more advanced – with the luthier, or guitar makers, able to make the instrument louder, to enhance its playability, and to able to rely on new things such as amplifiers and microphones. The body shape changed too, as the instrument used to much smaller. Now we have many shapes, from the dreadnought to the archtop to the twelve string guitar.
The guitar is a member of the plucked string instrument category, as it’s possible to play several sounds at the same time. This is all part of an introductory music theory lesson!
The origins of the guitar. Photo from The Guitar and Mandolin: biographies of celebrated players and composers for these instruments (1914) courtesy of Visual Hunt.
From the time it appeared, the guitar was considered to be a popular instrument that unified the population through widely-known songs, transcending someone’s place of birth and social class. That’s because it was fairly cheap to make – and it was used in all sorts of different styles, from traditional folk to baroque.
With its ability to adapt to all musical genres, the guitar can accompany several instruments as well as get played solo in a range of styles such as rock, blues, jazz, country, classical or reggae. In no time in guitar history has the instrument been so popular and so widely used!
Each musical style possesses its own codes and characteristics, which is why playing rock, blues or funk is so recognizable, regardless of whether or not one has an ear for music.
The main musical genres for the electric guitar are rock’n’roll, rock, blues, jazz, heavy metal, funk, pop, reggae and country, say – whilst acoustic instruments can play everything from accompanying violins in folk to baroque guitar.
Different styles require both different techniques – using a plectrum or your fingers, a strong vibrato or the use of a whammy bar – and different sounds and instruments. For funk, you might want an instrument or guitar amplifier that gives your sound a good treble, whilst for metal you’ll want a much different timbre.
The history of the guitar spans from 3000 years ago to the present day!
To learn to play all of these styles, you will have to work and develop your fingers and develop your calluses: this is the efficient way to gain speed, flexibility, coordination and strength.
Learn the fundamentals that correspond to each of these musical styles: the main rhythms, how to strum strings with the right hand, different techniques for the left hand, and the common chords. And of course memorize and master the various parts of the guitar, such as the fretboard and pickups, first! Watching guitar videos will be of huge help.
Beginner guitar players should also pick up a tuner, capo and metronome. Now get practicing on those basic chords and riffs, and learn a song!
There are musicians and songwriters who have literally transformed the landscape of guitars and music, and who are icons of specific musical styles.
Listing the 10 best guitarists on the planet is no easy task, as it varies according to our individual tastes in music and favorite musical genre. Obviously.
Yet, finding and studying some inspirations is a great way to take learning the instrument out of the banality of all this information about different types of guitar case, tuners, or the pickguard. Amazing guitarists show you the ways to become a wonderful musician, and show you that the instrument is more than just guitar brands and body shapes. Musicians make this stuff come alive.
And whilst the players you like should take precedence, the world of guitarists does agree on a handful of players to cite as global references both in terms of technical skills and melodic talents.
The biggest guitarists on the planet are:
Chuck Berry: A rock’n’roll pioneer. Photo courtesy of Visual Hunt
Hasty criticisms and abrupt judgments give learning to play guitar an even more difficult reputation. We’re sure you’ve often read and heard about these completely harebrained ideas.
Here are five of the most commonly false ideas people have about the guitar:
When you know how to play guitar, several career options are available to you.
Playing the guitar today puts you in a long history of guitar players.
As you will find, careers for guitarists are numerous and varied.
Still not convinced to buy a guitar?
Playing the guitar also has a number of often overlooked benefits.
Discover without delay the scientific reasons for playing the guitar!
Guitar playing is an excellent medicine against depression. It brings numerous physical and mental benefits.
So make your neurons happy by tuning your Fender Stratocaster or strumming the strings of your Gibson.
Quick! Take your dose of serotonin, endorphin or oxytocin by playing a chord progression.
Are you almost ready to dive into a guitar playing adventure?
And here’s a bonus: read a bit further to discover the final advantage of learning to play guitar…
Whilst the science is quite incredible – and surprising – there are one hundred and one different benefits to playing the guitar. Many of them are true when playing any musical instrument, yet others are felt more by the guitar player – of the classical guitar, acoustics or electrics.
For example, whilst many musical instruments are played solo or in the context of a huge orchestra, the guitar is fundamentally an instrument for the small group. Guitar music is usually played in a band, and, as such, the social element of the instrument is hugely important. That’s true of jazz guitar, rock guitar, and any other style guitar you can think of. That’s because, historically speaking, it’s an accompaniment – either to your voice, someone else’s, or to another instrument.
The level of musicianship that this demands is also much higher than for most instruments. You need to be sensitive to the other musicians in your band – players of stringed instruments or something else – and be able to play in a way that works well with the rest of the group.
Other benefits relate to your knowledge of the history of music – as in, by learning an instrument, you are exposing yourself to a whole range of different musical styles, personas, and ideas.
To help you, we’re revealing 10 songs that every guitarist must play.
|I'm Yours||Jason Mraz||An Australian hippy love song|
|You're Beautiful||James Blunt||A song about unrequited love|
|Wild World||Cat Stevens||A poetic declaration of love|
|Wonderful Tonight||Eric Clapton||The serenade of the ultimate guitarist|
|Angie||The Rolling Stones||A love song by the all-time greats|
|Wherever You Will Go||The Calling||A melody for the grunge crooner|
|Wonderwall||Oasis||The iconic song for learning the guitar|
|Shape of my Heart||Sting||Beautiful, melodic, and moving|
|Hallelujah||Leonard Cohen / Jeff Buckley||Great lyrics, great performance, whichever you prefer.|
|The Scientist||Coldplay||British flirting!|