What Music Do You Like?
When deciding whether you want to learn the electric or acoustic guitar, the styles of music that you listen to should be taken into account. Some genres will typically favour one over the other, for example rock music will more often be played on the electric guitar where as folk music will favour the acoustic. Although it is definitely possible to practice a song that was originally played on the electric on an acoustic guitar at home for example, it may not sound as close to the original as you would like due to the tonal differences which could lead to less motivation to practice.
Also consider what originally drew you to wanting to learn guitar in the first place. Was it a particular song? Guitarist? Band? If you heard the “Stairway To Heaven” intro for the first time and thought that’s what you wanted to do with your life, then acoustic guitar may be the way to go! But if you heard “Back In Black” by AC/DC then your guitar journey may be better suited to the electric.
Which Is Better To Start On?
There is an age-old debate that the acoustic guitar or classical guitar is better to start learning on over electric because they are more difficult to play due to the string height being typically higher. All guitars have something called the ‘action’ which is the distance from the fretboard to the strings. The higher the action, the harder the guitar is to play since it will require more strength to push the notes into the fretboard.
Acoustic guitars will typically have a higher action, since when we strum chords on the acoustic we don’t want the action to be too low as this can create fret buzz. Electric guitars typically have a lower action to make it easy to play single note riffs and guitar solos at faster paces. Not only this but the strings on electric guitars are typically thinner which can make playing easier, as electric guitarists will often ‘bend’ the strings to create a change in pitch, requiring a lighter gauge string to do so.
The classic argument is that if you start on the acoustic guitar that is typically tougher on the fingers, this will strengthen your technique to ensure it is accurate to be able to fret notes correctly. If we learn on electric which for the sake of this argument is easier on the fingers, we may not be challenging our technique as much which could lead to bad habits. But if you’re just starting out shouldn’t you make it easier on yourself? This is the argument that contradicts the older way of thinking, that the electric guitar is more suitable for a beginner since it will not need as much force to push down on the strings.
The last thing you would want is for someone to lose interest because their guitar is too hard to play, so why bother with the acoustic if you really want to sound like Angus Young? The truth is there are advantages and disadvantages to both, so really it would be best to pick what you are drawn to the most that way you will hopefully keep up your motivation to practice.
What Do You Want To Play?
Your goal as a beginner guitarist is important to consider also, since if you aren’t seeing gradual improvements towards this you may find a loss of motivation. If you want to play blues like BB King but are learning the notes in open position on music notation, this can become tedious and be hard to stay focused on your goal. Although it is important to spend some time in the beginning learning the basic fundamentals (more below), the most important thing is that you keep playing and to do so regularly. Learning what inspires you is the best way to stay motivated.
And if you want to play Bob Dylan style fingerpicking but are still stuck on the C Major scale, make sure you keep a balance between the two. A suitable guitar teacher will be able to guide you with your practice routine and repertoire to ensure that you are staying inspired while also covering the important fundamentals. I always like to keep a balance with my students in their lessons. Usually, a new song that they want to learn will require some knowledge of chords or scales, so before we dive straight into the song I may spend a lesson or two on the theory that goes behind it so when they do start learning the song, they can understand how it is built. The key to your guitar learning really is just all about the balance between theory and learning your favourite songs.
How Much Time Should I Spend On The Basics?
When students first start coming to me for lessons as a complete beginner, I like to spend the first few lessons or so on getting the basics down. If they want to work towards learning standard rock/ pop songs I will first start with the basic open chords, a few basic riffs, working on their fretting technique, and plucking/strumming technique. If we dove straight into learning a song, this could be a bit daunting for them since they would have to be learning the chord shapes for the first time and the techniques as we also learn the song which could be a bit overwhelming. Every person is different, so the amount of time we spend on the basics beforehand really does depend on the individual and how much time they can dedicate to practice.
Depending on what your goals are when learning the guitar, how long you spend on the basics and how deep you go into your theory can be something to consider. If you are learning guitar for fun and to learn your favourite songs, just learning the basic chord and scale shapes may be enough. If you want to get deep into your study of not only guitar but music in general, it may be a good idea to dedicate some more time on learning music notation and how it relates to the guitar neck.
This will be very important if you are learning classical guitar, but also handy for other styles. Not only will this teach you how to read music, but will also create a foundation of being able to understand music theory such as how chords and scales are created and how they relate to your favourite songs. Not everyone needs to have this knowledge to be able to play their favourite songs, but if you really want to get deep into the mechanics of music then it can be worthwhile putting in the extra time in the beginning.
What you learn at the beginning in terms of theory and the basics may differ depending on what styles you are wanting to play, and in turn if you are playing the acoustic or electric guitar. For example classical guitar will require a thorough understanding of reading music as classical music is almost always learnt through sight reading music notation. Acoustic guitar will often use the open chord shapes as well as fingerpicking technique for folk music or singer-songwriter styles. Electric guitar will use power chords, bar chords and the pentatonic scales often with playing styles such as rock and blues. These are all generalisations, you can play anything on the types of guitars but typically the styles of music that you would play on each would possess these characteristics.
Just Try Both!
If you are still unsure if you want to play the electric or acoustic guitar, then I would suggest going into your local music store and trying both! Even if you can’t play the guitar yet simply holding it in playing position and strumming your fingers across the strings may give you a good indication to which you connect with more. It could also be a visual thing, if you think one looks way cooler over the other then you may be more drawn to play it at home when it’s sitting on its stand in your living room. Let the staff in the shop know that you are in the market for your first guitar and they should be happy to assist. Happy guitar hunting!
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