What is the Best Way to Learn Guitar?
One of the questions I get asked the most in my guitar workshops is, “What is the best way to learn how to play guitar?” It is such a simple question, but it is one that has so many possible answers, each one being just as true as the other. So.. how do I answer? I tell them that the best way to learn the 6-string guitar is by learning the 3-string guitar.
There are countless guitar legends that started out on homemade guitars, most of them only had a few strings and were built out of found objects, or pieces of old, broken instruments. Jimi Hendrix started out on a one-string Ukulele, Bo Diddley started out on a Cigar Box Guitar… so did Lightning Hopkins, B.B. King, Elmore James… the list goes on and on. Not only do you not have to learn guitar on a 6-string, but it can be liberating, inspiring, and more fun to start on a Roots Instrument like the 3-string guitar. Plus, it is a much more affordable investment for a beginner.
Learning to play 3-string guitar is just as valuable, whether you are a total beginner or have been playing for years. Let me tell you why…
1) It is easier to begin to learn guitar on 3 strings! I find that the #1 reason beginners stop playing is because is it hard to have fun on the 6-string guitar the first day you pick it up. The 3-string guitar, tuned to an open tuning, can make music without the guitarist even fretting a note. Every time I put a 3-string guitar in a kid’s hands, and they hit that first chord, it puts a smile on their face, because they have already made their first “music!”
2) The 3-string guitar teaches you the muscle memory that you need to play the 6-string. When a beginner learns to play on a 3-String, they are still learning the proper left and right hand technique they will need to play the 6-string. They still build callouses on their fretting fingers, they still develop proper strumming and picking techniques, and they still build the musculature in their fretting hand that will help them push the strings down. The benefit with a 3-string is that these challenges are less frustrating, and allow the player to have more fun and get more instant gratification than they would if they were trying to juggle 6 strings throughout this developmental stage.
3) You can still play all of the same songs on the 3-string, it’s just simpler. It is possible to play the same songs on the 3-string, but the arrangements are generally simpler and less intimidating. Most chord changes can be simplified and broken down into one-finger chords. These chords may not be as lush as a 6-note chord, but they will give the player the enjoyment of being able to strum their favorite chord changes, while building up their fretting hand muscles. Learning barre chords (chords where you lay your index finger down across multiple stings) can be the most frustrating stage in a beginner guitarist’s development… But the 3-string makes this process fun and much less painful!
4) You learn music, not patterns. This is the one I love the most! If you learn on an instrument like the 3-string guitar, you will be learning how to develop your own sound, style, voice, and patterns much more so than if you learn on a traditional 6-string. You will have to learn how to use the entire fretboard, not just the first 5 frets. You will have to learn open tunings, not just standard tuning. You will have to learn how to make your own arrangements of songs instead of learning songs and riffs note-by-note. In a sense, you will be learning how to play like yourself instead of learning to play like someone else. Moving on to play 6 strings will be a very easy transition from the 3-string. All you will have to do is learn some new patterns and chord shapes, but your fingers will be stronger, they will have more stamina, they will be know how to strum and pick, they will know how to run up and down the fretboard… and you will have had more fun along the way!
Already a Proficient Guitarist?
When I got my first guitar, I devoured every lesson book, tab book, DVD, concert video, and dexterity exercise I could find! I studied the classic riffs and tones that were accepted as traditional, acceptable, and cool. I learned the right bends for the right Rock song, the right pickup setting for the right Country twang, and the right vibrato for the right Blues moan… but I missed something else completely… I wasn’t listening to myself enough. I had learned so many traditional ways of playing that I wasn’t breaking outside of my comfort zone and creating sounds that had never been made before.
The day I picked up my first Cigar Box Guitar, I had no idea how to play it.. I didn’t know how it was tuned, it wasn’t properly intonated so it could only be played with a slide, and I had never heard anything with that kind of tone before. It ripped me out of my comfort zone and took me straight to the edge of my ability. It made be rethink the way I approached guitar and the fretboard patterns I was used to. It took away all of my safety nets, and made me have to become a musician, not just a guitarist… and it was the best lesson I ever got!
In Other Words…
From one guitar player to another, roots instruments such as the 1-string diddley bow and the 3-string or 4-string guitar are the best personal trainer I have ever found for 6-string guitar. If you try one, buy one, build one, or have one hanging on a wall, tune it up, and watch these videos. You’ll be happy you did!
Keep on Pickin’, and don’t forget to click “Follow” on this blog to catch future articles!
Posted on January 17, 2015, in cigar box guitar and tagged 3 string, 3 string cigar box guitar, 4 string cigar box guitar, beginner, best, Blues, Blues Guitar, Blues Music, CBG, chords, Cigar Box Guitar, guitar, Guitar Solo. Lessons, learn guitar, lessons. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.