MUSIC CORNER: Teaching Yourself Electric Guitar

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Congratulations! You  finally got your first electric guitar. You will have little trouble adjusting if you’re already an acoustic guitar player, but if you’re learning from scratch, things are going to be a whole lot tougher. Guitar classes are generally pricey, and if you’re not comfortable spending money on lessons, here’s a cheaper, yet equally effective alternative: selfstudying. 

Know your axe. 

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Unlike an acoustic guitar, the electric guitar requires a bit more technical understanding. Electric guitars are practically the same shape as acoustic ones, but what essentially differentiates the former from the latter are the pickups. The pickups basically “pick up” the vibrations of the strings and transform them into electrical current to be sent to the amplifier. Typically, an electric guitar has two or three pickups. There’s one below the neck, one near the bridge, and some models have one placed in the middle of the two. Because of their varied locations on the guitar’s body, each pickup gives o a di erent sound. The bridge pickup, for instance, emits a more high-frequency sound than the one below the neck. The pickup selector is a little switch on the body of the guitar that lets you choose which pickup to use.

Every guitar is different; some models have special features, such as effects and multiple pickup configurations. Some have multiple tone and volume knobs as well. This is why it is essential for you to read the manual (or at least skim it) so you can be familiarized with the essential parts of your mighty axe.

Make sure you’re fully equipped For starters, you’ll need an amplifier (a small, inexpensive practice amp will do) and a cord that connects it to your guitar. It is also advisable for you to get a tuner. You can buy one at a music shop or download an app and install it on your mobile device.

Practicing with guitar effects isn’t recommended for beginners since you won’t be able to hear your progress well enough because the sound has been modified, but once you’ve already mastered the basics and you want to kick it up a notch, you can start o with a basic overdrive or distortion pedal.

Get a chord Chart.

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When it comes to self-studying the guitar, the chord chart is your best friend, no doubt. Chord charts can be purchased in music stores and are found in local hit chart zines, but if you’re looking for a more portable option, there are also apps for iOS and Android that allow you to carry your very own chord chart in your smartphone or tablet.

Try to get used to single-note picking Who wouldn’t dream of playing lead guitar? The thought of being able to play eargasmic solos and shred notes under the spotlight with the wind blowing in your hair (Think Steve Vai) is a satisfying image. If you’re keen on being the next Jimi Hendrix or the next Slash, you should know that in playing lead guitar, as opposed to playing rhythm, every note counts. The best way to learn single-note picking is by practicing scales. The blues scale and the pentatonic scale are two of the most widely used scales in the rock, jazz, and blues genres. Fear not, Padawan; you don’t have to go through it alone. Guitar tablature (tabs) can help you determine which string to pick and which  nger goes on what fret.

Visit chord and tablature sites.

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Want to learn the chords and tabs of your favorite songs? Websites like, and are just the thing. These sites contain a vast collection of chords and tabs for thousands of songs by artists of all sorts. You have to be careful, though; these chords and tabs are user-uploaded, so don’t be surprised if some of them are inaccurate. In, however, tabs can be rated by other users, and most often, the tabs with the highest rating given by the most number of users is the one that is most accurate.

Watch video tutorials.

For some guitar players, learning is easier when they mimic other guitarists rather than merely reading tabs. There are tons of instructional videos on YouTube that can help. Video tutorials are also a great way of helping you grasp certain techniques, such as strumming patterns, bending, hammer-ons and pull-offs.

Listen to a song in slow speed.

Some learn better by watching; some, by listening. Although it’s a big step for beginners, imitating what one hears is another way to learn how to play a song. Listening to a track at a slow speed is one handy technique you can use. By listening to the song at a slow pace, you can determine each individual note in a guitar solo and it makes it easier for you to play along to the track while you’re still practicing. Once you’ve already gotten the hang of it, you can start playing at normal speed.

Start simple? The logical way of learning a skill is to learn it from the ground up: you learn a song with a simple three-chord pattern, like The Ramones’ Blitzkrieg Bop. Starting with simple songs is like testing the waters before going o into the deep end with more complicated stu .

However, starting off with something a bit more advanced—stuff for intermediate guitar players, like songs with complicated chords and guitar solos—can also be an e ective way of learning how to play. The rationale is this: when you’ve already mastered a relatively tough song, like Metallica’s Enter Sandman, for instance, learning easier songs like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Green Day’s When I Come Around will be easy peasy.

Whether you decide to take baby steps or to conquer the beasts first, make sure you’re choosing the method that best suits your style of learning. Just go with the one you’re comfortable with.

Make time.

Time is everything. Sure, you may have all the technical knowledge, as well as some natural talent, but if you’re not going to set aside a couple of hours every other night to practice playing, your skill’s not going to develop. If you want to be a serious guitar player, you need to make time to practice so that you keep improving. Keep in mind that even some of the best, most renowned electric guitar players—Jimmy Page, John Mayer, Brian May, Santana, Eric Clapton, you name ‘em!—continue to practice their craft, and that’s why they just keep getting better.

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PARTS OF AN ELECTRIC GUITAR 1. Headstock 2. Machine Heads 3. String Guide 4. Neck 5. Fretboard 6. Inlay Fret Markers 7. Frets 8. Body 9. Neck Pickup 10. Bridge Pickup 11. Saddles 12. Bridge 13. Pickup Selector Switch 14. Tone and Volume Knobs 15. Output Jack 16. Tremolo Arm (Whammy Bar) 17. Strap Button #1 18. Strap Button #2 19. Neck Joint

 First published in Gadgets Magazine, June 2013

Words by Racine Anne Castro