How to Finally Play the Guitar: 80/20 Guitar and Minimalist Music

When will you stop dreaming and start playing? (Photo: Musician “Lights”, Credit: Shandi-lee)

I’ve always wanted to play the guitar.

It started as a kid, listening to my dad play around the fireplace during the holidays. The fantasy continued with Guns N’ Roses and the iconic Slash. From hyperspeed Slayer to classical Segovia, I was mesmerized.

But I never thought I could do it myself.

Despite tackling skills as esoteric as Japanese horseback archery, I somehow put music in a separate “does not apply” category until two years ago. It was simply too frustrating, too overwhelming.

My fascination with guitar wasn’t rekindled until Charlie Hoehn, an employee of mine at the time, showed me the 80/20 approach to learning it.

This post explains how to get the most guitar mileage and versatility in the least time…

Do you have any additional tips, whether for guitar or applying the 80/20 principle to another instrument? Piano, violin, flute, or other? Please share in the comments!

Enter Charlie

Almost everyone has fantasized about performing music in front of a huge screaming crowd at some point in their life. For me, I’d always dreamed of playing guitar with the same mastery as Jimmy Page, Allen Collins, or Mark Knopfler. Sadly, I could never stick with guitar practice.  I ended up quitting multiple times for a host of reasons: the material was boring, my teacher moved too fast, my teacher moved too slowly, my fingers were killing me, my wrists were sore, I wasn’t making enough progress, and so on.

Then my friend Jake Ruff taught me two simple exercises that changed everything, and I’ve been able to stick with guitar ever since.

Some guitarists proclaim that you need to tackle music theory first, while others will tell you to learn sheet music while you’re practicing chords. I found it most effective to focus on a few easy exercises, while minimizing boredom and pain. In other words, the process for learning that you enjoy the most is the best one, even if it isn’t comprehensive.

Comprehensive comes later.  First, we need to get you hooked.

The Ground Rules 

In order to get past the initial pain period that comes with learning guitar, it’s critical to manage your expectations. If you don’t have a clear understanding of what these first few weeks will be like, there’s a good chance that you will get frustrated and give up.

Here are the three things you need to know before learning guitar, under my plan or anyone else’s:

1. You will feel clumsy. Remember when you first learned how to type? You wanted to hammer out 100 words per minute, without ever making an error. The reality? You constantly had to look down at the keyboard, and you’d get frustrated whenever you made a mistake. Guitar is the same way. As much as you’ll desire the ability to play all your favorite songs beautifully, your body and brain simply won’t be able to. Your fingers will move slowly, your hands will feel awkward, and the sounds coming from the guitar will not be easy on the ears. Relax, and give yourself permission to suck. Allow yourself several weeks to build “muscle memory” – getting comfortable having your hands in positions they aren’t used to.

2. Your fingers will be sore. Expect the tips of your fingers to hurt for at least a month while they’re developing calluses. If your fingers get extremely sore, take a day off, and never play until your fingers bleed.

The pain you’ll feel is largely unavoidable, but you can reduce it by using a capo (a clamp you fasten across the strings of the guitar – read more on this in “Getting Started” below). The most important thing, of course, is to not quit playing altogether because of the pain. Whenever you want to quit because it hurts your fingers too much, say to yourself, “Justin Bieber taught himself to play guitar before he was 12.” Yes, that’s right. That effeminate kid successfully got through the same pain you’re feeling, and so has every other guitar player on the planet. You’re more than capable of pushing through.

3. You need to practice for at least 10 minutes each day. There is no quick path to mastering the guitar, but there is a fast track to failing: a lack of practice. During the first month, you need to make playing your guitar for at least ten minutes into a daily habit. Playing every day will help you build calluses faster, and increase your comfort level with the instrument.

When I first started, I aimed for at least two 10-minute practice sessions each day. I found the most convenient time to practice was while watching TV. The two exercises you’ll be focusing on won’t require intensive periods of concentration, so it’s totally fine to watch your favorite show while strumming away.

Getting Started

First and foremost, you’ll need to buy a guitar (See guitar recommendations below in the Gear section). I know it’s obviously possible to learn with a friend’s guitar or one that’s been given to you as a gift. However, I found that my desire to learn increased substantially only after I put some skin in the game. Buying my first guitar only cost me $100, but spending that amount made me much more committed to learning.

I strongly recommend starting with an acoustic guitar, rather than an electric. With an acoustic, you don’t have to plug it in to play and there’s less of an upfront investment (i.e. you don’t need to buy an amp). Learn on an acoustic first; if you decide to play electric later, the transition will feel much easier than it would have had you only learned to play electric.

Next, you’ll want to buy a capo. This is a clamp that raises the pitch of the strings. You’ll be using it for a different purpose, but to start, it will help reduce the pain in your fingers.

Capo on the second fret.

The capo pushes down on the strings, putting them closer to the fret board and thereby making it easier for you to push them all the way down with your fingers. When you’re doing the exercises, I suggest putting the capo on the second fret.

You don’t have to use a capo, of course, but it can really help while you’re still developing calluses.

Once you have your acoustic guitar, capo, and a few other essentials (see the Gear section at the end of this chapter), you’ll need to put the strings on and get them in tune. Here are a couple videos that will help you do both of these things:

Changing acoustic guitar strings tutorial

Tuning your guitar

For tuning, the $3.99 ClearTune app works really well and is convenient to keep on hand when playing, particularly in the beginning. It’s available for both iPhone and Android.

Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to take a seat in a comfortable chair and get in position to play.

The most important thing about your posture is to stay relaxed. Because you’ll be pressing down hard on the strings, you’ll often feel your upper body tense up. Take a deep breath and only maintain pressure in your fingers.

One final note on your positioning: Your thumb should not wrap around the neck of the guitar; it should be pressed against the back of the neck. Sure, you’ll see a lot of professional guitar players who don’t comply with this, but it’s much easier on your hand to learn chords this way.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Exercise 1: G-C-D

The number of chord variations you can learn on guitar is seemingly endless. We’re going to start with three of the basics: G, C, and D.

Before we get into explanation of this exercise, take a look at how to hold the G, C, and D chords: [Note the use of the silver capo in the photos]

The “G” Chord

Index finger on the fifth string, second fret.

Middle finger on the sixth string, third fret.

Ring finger on the second string, third fret.

Pinky finger on the first string, third fret.

The “C” Chord?1

Notice that, from G, fingers 1 and 2 are each dropping down one string.  Otherwise, the hands are the same.  So, for C:

Index finger on the fourth string, second fret.

Middle finger on the fifth string, third fret.

Ring finger on the second string, third fret.

Pinky finger on the first string, third fret.

The “D” Chord

Index finger on the third string, second fret.

Middle finger on the first string, second fret.

Ring finger on the second string, third fret.

Pinky finger stays off the fret board.

In the G-C-D exercise, you’ll be working on switching from chord to chord. Here’s all you need to do:

  1. Form the G-chord. Strum.
  2. Transition to C-chord. Strum.
  3. Transition to D-chord. Strum.
  4. Transition to C-chord. Strum.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4.

Each time you switch to a new chord, you should first pluck all six strings individually to ensure that six crisp, clear tones ring out. If any of the strings sound muted or dull when you pick them, check your fingers to ensure that (A) you’re holding the strings all the way down on the fret board, and (B) each finger is only touching/holding down one string.

Once all six strings sound nice and clear individually, you can begin strumming to hear the full sound of the chord. Strum lightly for 10-15 seconds, making sure that the chord sounds nice and clear with each strum, then transition to the next chord.

After you’ve reached a point where you’re fairly comfortable with transitioning between these three chords, you’ll want to try playing along with actual music. Jamming to your favorite songs is definitely the most fun way to learn in the beginning, because it really feels like you’re producing a better sound than you actually are. It also forces you to get better at matching the correct tempo of a song while strumming.

Here are several popular songs that are great for practicing the G-C-D exercise:

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Sweet Home Alabama (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

Green Day – Good Riddance (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

Sublime – What I Got (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

Steppenwolf – Magic Carpet Ride (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

Violent Femmes – Blister (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

Really listen to each song. Try to distinguish the difference in tone between the G, C, and D chords, and see if you can match what you’re hearing. If you have trouble, find the the song on to see (1) what chords you’re hearing, and (2) when to make transitions between these chords.

The songs are all heavy on G-C-D. Some are comprised entirely of those three chords. Here’s the breakdown:

“Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd


“Good Riddance” by Green Day


“What I Got” by Sublime


“You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC


“Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison


“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf


“Blister” by Violent Femmes


Exercise 2: The Fret Climb

The purpose of the second exercise is to get you comfortable with moving your fingers up and down on the fret board. The below images will give you an idea of what the Fret Climb looks like. You can use a pick for this exercise, or just use your fingers to pluck the strings.

Index finger, 1st fret.

Middle finger, 2nd fret.

Ring finger, 3rd fret.

Pinky finger, 4th fret.

Here are the exact steps for this exercise:

  1. Push down on the first string (the one furthest from you), 1st fret, with your index finger. With your other hand, use your index finger to pluck the string. Ensure that a clear, crisp tone emits. If it sounds dull or muted, press down harder on the string.
  2. Push down on the first string, 2nd fret, with your middle finger. With your other hand, use your middle finger to pluck the string.
  3. Push down on the first string, 3rd fret, with your ring finger. With your other hand, pluck the string with your index finger.
  4. Push down on the first string, 4th fret, with your pinky finger. With your other hand, pluck the string with your middle finger.
  5. Move your index finger down to the fifth fret.
  6. Push down on the first string, 5th fret, with your index finger. With your other hand, pluck the string with your index finger.
  7. Continue “climbing” the fret board until you’ve reached the 12th fret.
  8. Once you’ve climbed all the way up to the 12th fret, it’s time to do the exercise in reverse. Go all the way back down the string, moving up the neck of the guitar one fret at a time, and plucking the string each time your fingers move down a fret.
  9. After you’ve gone up and down the first string, switch to the second string. Do this exercise on all six strings.

Again, it’s important to ensure that you’re getting nice, crisp tones each time you pluck the string. Don’t rush through the exercise if the tones aren’t perfectly clear.

Once you’re comfortable with the Fret Climb, try to increase your speed.

Next Steps

Once you’ve mastered the G-C-D and Fret Climb exercises, you’ll have a nice solid foundation that you can build upon in the months to come. But what do you do after you’ve perfected those two exercises?

I suggest mimicking the Axis of Awesome, then picking and choosing your favorites to learn.

Axis of Awesome

First, prepare to have your mind blown.  Then, watch the The Four Chord Song by Axis of Awesome.

This comedy trio plays 38 pop songs in five minutes using just the E, B, C#m and A chords.  Pick up those new chords, use to look up the below songs for ordering, and you can play them.

How’s that for Minimum Effective Dose?

1.      Journey – Don’t Stop Believing (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

2.      James Blunt – You’re Beautiful (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

3.      Alphaville – Forever Young (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

4.      Jason Mraz – I’m Yours (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

5.      Mika – Happy Ending (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

6.      Alex Lloyd – Amazing (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

7.      The Calling – Wherever You WIll Go (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

8.      Elton John – Can You Feel The Love Tonight (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

9.      Maroon 5 – She Will Be Loved (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

10.     The Last Goodnight – Pictures Of You (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

11.     U2 – With Or Without You (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

12.     Crowded House – Fall At Your Feet (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

13.     Kasey Chambers – Not Pretty Enough (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

14.     The Beatles – Let it Be (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

15.     Red Hot Chili Peppers – Under the Bridge (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

16.     Daryl Braithwaite – The Horses (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

17.     Bob Marley – No Woman No Cry (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

18.     Marcy Playground – Sex and Candy (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

19.     Men At Work – Land Down Under (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

20.     Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Matilda (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

21.     A Ha – Take On Me (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

22.     Green Day – When I Come Around (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

23.     Eagle Eye Cherry – Save Tonight (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

24.     Toto – Africa (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

25.     Beyonce – If I Were A Boy (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

26.     The Offspring – Self Esteem (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

27.     The Offspring – You’re Gonna Go Far Kid (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

28.     Pink – You and Your Hand (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

29.     Lady Gaga – Poker Face (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

30.     Aqua – Barbie Girl (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

31.     The Fray – You Found Me (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

32.     30h!3 – Don’t Trust Me (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

33.     MGMT – Kids (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

34.     Tim Minchin – Canvas Bags (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

35.     Natalie Imbruglia – Torn (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

36.     Five For Fighting – Superman (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

37.     Axis Of Awesome – Birdplane (YouTube, Guitar Tab)

38.     Missy Higgins – Scar (YouTube, Guitar Tab)


Next, you can learn more chords and tabs by tackling the songs you most want to learn (search “[song name] chords” or “[song name] tabs” on Google). One of the reasons people abandon the guitar, even after nailing down the basics, is because they’re learning from material that isn’t fun or interesting enough. It took me (an embarrassing) three full weeks to learn the intro solo from Heart’s “Crazy on You,” but it never felt stale or boring because I loved the material. So pick three of your favorite songs that you really want to learn, and practice each of them until they sound great. When you get bored, concentrate on perfecting the nuances of those songs or move on to new material.

After awhile, you might start thinking about what you’d like your guitar career to look like. Perhaps you want to learn music theory and take classes. Maybe you want to play your favorite songs with your friends at parties. Maybe guitar will be your vehicle for meeting people while traveling. Or maybe you’ll be happy just to have a new hobby that keeps you sane.

Whatever the case, always make sure you’re enjoying the process.

Once you get past these first few weeks, it’s smooth sailing. Have fun!


Fender Squier SA-100 – This is a great beginner’s acoustic guitar that won’t break the bank (about $100). I learned on a similar Fender model, and have been playing it regularly for five years.

Taylor 110 Dreadnaught – For those wanting a nicer model than the Fender, this acoustic guitar is fantastic and runs for about $600.

Kyser Capo – The most popular quick-release capo. Use it to quickly change the pitch on all six strings, and to reduce soreness in your fingers while practicing.

D’Addario Acoustic Strings – It’s in your interest to buy nice strings for your guitar, as they will last longer and be more comfortable. Get at least two sets, in case a string snaps.

String Winder and Cutter – This handy little tool speeds up the process of restringing your guitar, and has a built-in wire cutter so you can trim the ends of the strings off.

Guitar Picks – You can learn guitar without ever using a pick, but I can guarantee you’ll eventually want to use one. Picks give you a crisper sound and more precision in your playing. You won’t regret practicing with one.

Tools, Tricks, and Resources

Justin Guitar – Justin Sandercoe, a London-based guitarist, assembled more than 500 free lessons, many of which contain video and audio tutorials. This is one of the best resources online if you really want to dive headfirst into learning all things guitar.

Ultimate Guitar – This is my favorite spot for finding free song tabs. One of the site’s most helpful features is its quick display of how a chord is held when you hover your cursor over any chord listed in the song.

“Ocean” by John Butler – My favorite guitar instrumental, by far and away. This song is motivation for me (and several of my friends) to keep practicing. [TIM: Here’s a video of a separate friend, Maneesh Sethi, playing Ocean after one week of 4 hours/day practice.]

This is a variation on the more commonly used C-chord, as this one is easier to practice for beginners. With this variation, you won’t have to change the positioning of your hand when transitioning to/from the G-chord.

AFTERWORD: Best of Tips in the Comments

This post produced some GREAT comments and tips from readers. From the first 100 comments, Charlie chose some of his favorites. Here they are…


How to Practice Guitar

“Using feedback to your advantage” by Mike Roode

I am going to weigh in on this one because the article is missing what I think is the most important thing to getting good fast (other than regularly scheduled effective practice). One word: Feedback.

You need high quality, quick and regular feedback to gain proficiency quickly on any musical instrument.

1. At the end of each practice session, make a video recording of yourself (with your phone or laptop) of you playing what you practiced (song, scales, chord patterns) to a metronome.

2. Always review the last practice session’s recording as the first step in your next practice session. It’s like football, hockey, and other sports — they always watch the game afterwards to look for things they missed in the heat of the moment. It’s the same principle for playing guitar because it requires a lot of hand coordination and listening ability. Make sure to capture the entire guitar in the frame of your camera so you can see where your hands are, your posture, etc. Listen to the sound… Where are the calm notes? Did you drop the beat? It’s very important to always practice with a beat (metronome, drum machine etc.) and to be in tune (use a guitar tuner).

3. Spend time with a good teacher if possible, they will be able to correct things and teach you things that can only happen in a face to face medium.

“Learn shapes, not chords” by Micky H Corbett

1) You only need to learn 3 “shapes” rather than chords and use a capo. With these shapes and use of a capo (to change key) you can play 95% of songs out there.

2) Most shapes (and all for starters) consist of two fingers bunched and one stretched. Sometimes it is just two bunched.

3) You don’t need to play full chords – learn how to use 3 fingers first (index, middle and ring) by using the shapes.

4) DO NOT play all the strings at once – 80% of the time play the lower (base notes) and play the upper strings as highlights. Less is more. It is the difference between teen angst and lounge cool.

5) The chord shapes are: the C/G (as above but don’t need the pinky unless you want to); the A/D – (like D but only index and middle, A is one underneath the other); and Em7 shape (like G but with index and middle on 2nd fret A and D strings – two lowest but one)

That is it. Too much time is spent with learners trying to play full chords and having all the strings ring out. That will come in time. For now, stuff that. Dexterity with minimum movement is what you are after. Combined with only playing groups of strings will make you sound more experienced then you are!

“Effective Practice Tips” by Brandon Bloom

-Know your ultimate guitar playing goals, and figure out what you need to learn/be able to do to reach them. Set measurable goals and a schedule for each practice too. (This might be more for those at an intermediate/advanced level) Aimless practicing is wasted practicing, and consistency is key.

-The more extremely focused your practice is, the better. Especially as you get more advanced, it will take a lot more effort to refine your technique further and further until you reach your goals. The less distractions you have while practicing, and the more focused and uninterrupted you are, the more effective your limited practice time will be.

-Stay as relaxed as possible. Use only as much tension as is necessary to make the sounds you want. Anything excess is holding you back, and while it can take a lot of effort and practice to reduce tension when playing something difficult, do so to the best of your ability.

-Focus on exercises that work multiple techniques at once. While practicing isolated techniques is good, if you have limited time, you might not be able to get to everything. Exercises like ‘string skipping’ focus on alternate and/or directional picking, coordination between your two hands, your fretting technique and string skipping itself, while an alternate picking exercise might only help you get better at alternate picking. I know some of you might not know what all of those terms are, but the important thing to know is that — just like exercising for fitness — certain guitar exercises do more for you than others.

-You don’t need a guitar in your hands to learn songs or new chords/scales. Figure out the gist of the song on guitar if you have to, then go on to practice things that will make you better. Spend the rest of your day, when you have time, visualizing yourself playing the song, what you’d do on the fret board to get the sounds you want, etc. Then next time you sit down with a guitar, since you’ve memorized it in your head, you can focus on mastering the song instead of wasting time trying to remember which part comes next or how to play this or that. This can save you hours of wasted practice time.

-If there is only one part of a passage or song that’s keeping you from playing it perfectly, don’t play through the whole song over and over again hoping you’ll get it right eventually. Focus on that one section of song. Break it down to its simplest form, and blast it until you can nail it consistently. Whether it’s a transition between chords, a certain note pattern or riff, whatever… It’s much more efficient to focus solely on that part and then integrate it back into the song than it is to keep playing that song repeatedly while making the same mistakes.

“Use competition to learn faster” by Daz

I’d advise you to hook up with someone else as soon as possible and learn from each other. Friendly competition, more rewarding and good fun. If you can sing all the better, learn one song and go to an open mic night (if you can’t sing find a singer). There are a million songs that you could play with the chords above – choose one. Trust me: you’ll practice if you know you have a gig at the end of the week. You’ll get a massive rush and want to continue doing it.

“Public accountability” by Debbie Happy Cohen

I applied the accountability principle to art this year… I painted every day for a year, from 11/11/11 to 12/12/12, and posted each one to Facebook (398 paintings!!!) My technique and confidence levels improved dramatically. I was also able to increase my prices and sell more 🙂

Intermediate Techniques

“The almighty power chord” by Geoff Strickland

This is exactly how I started learning. Find about 4 basic chords and learn to switch between them. This part SUCKS and you will sound terrible, but trust me, it gets better.

Learn about the almighty power chord (throw the guitar in drop d tuning to make this super easy). This will let you learn just about any mainstream punk/pop or rock song and play the sh** out of your favorites. Keep it simple. Nobody starts out playing Stairway to Heaven…. instead try ‘Smoke on the Water.’

The most important part is to push through the month or so that you aren’t very good. Focus on learning songs you love to stay inspired.

If you want to take the band route (this was the fastest way to catapult my playing to a new level) find some guys that want to learn bass/drums/keys etc and go at it. Sitting around in high school and saying to my friends (none of which could play any instruments) lets form a band was the best decision I’ve ever made.

“Strumming and open chords” by Max

As a guitar teacher for many years, this is very accurate as far as breaking down the basic skills. Here’s what I would add:

1) Learn these 3 basic and common strumming patterns (D=down strum, U=up strum):




2) There are only EIGHT, yes EIGHT basic open position chords (without getting into fancy variations). The open major chords are C, A, G, E, D (spells the word CAGED). Open minor chords are Am, Em, and Dm. Spend your first few months switching between all of these chords (there are millions of songs that only use these chords!). You should be able to switch from any chord to any other chord instantly.

3) Combine basic chord pairings, for example: (C-G), (G-D), (D-A), (E-A), (Am-C), (Em-G) with the strumming patterns above.

This is literally months worth of practice for an absolute beginner.

“Solos and Songwriting” by Andrew Edstrom

I grew up in a very musical family (mom is a professional blues singer and stepdad is a guitar teacher) and I’ve been playing guitar seriously for 7 years. After dozens of paid gigs, and thousands of dollars spent on lessons, these are what I have found to be the 20% of skills that get 80% of the results, beyond what Charlie laid out here.

Solos: If you want to solo, there is only one scale pattern (i.e. collection of notes) you need to know. MOST famous players, including Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton, use an extended form of this box for over 90% of their soloing. It’s called the first form of the pentatonic scale, and it is a repeated pattern of five notes that you can see here. If you are playing any of the G C D songs here, put the lowest note of the scale (marked with an R in this picture) on the 12th fret of the low E string. For any of the Axis of Awesome songs, put the lowest note of the scale on the 9th fret. Now practice going up and down the scale in time with the songs and experiment with starting and stopping at different points. Gradually, steal licks from your favorite players and sooner or later you’ll start to come up with some of your own!

Songwriting:? Write your songs in this format: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus Chorus. For “Good Riddance,” the verse is where he says “Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road…” and the chorus is where he says “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right.” The bridge is the instrumental breakdown after the second chorus (I advise you to put words in the bridge, however). Got it? Great.

Now which chords should you play in your song, you might ask? Well, fortunately, Charlie already gave you three of them. Write all of your songs with the G C and D chords, as well as the chord E Minor. Experiment with different combinations of these chords. Your verses should all have the same chord progression, and your choruses should have the same chord progression, but the progression in the verses should generally be different from the progression in the choruses. If you use the same chords in both sections, make them last longer in one than the other. The key is variation to maintain the listener’s interest. In the bridge, come up with a new combination of these chords, and try adding the chord A minor for spice. For inspiration on how to combine chords, learn the songs Charlie has listed here. See what decisions those writers made. I also highly recommend learning Taylor Swift songs, no matter your opinion of her music. The only way to avoid writing cliché songs is to learn as many cliché songs as you can so that you know what not to do.

Learning Other Instruments

“80/20 Piano” by Linda Dye

This is foolproof. Anyone can make up their own music. I found out when I lost my vision and was so scared I would not be able to play piano because I always read the music and could not play by ear. I heard a Ray Charles song and realized, he was playing on the black keys. Revelation! (My vision came back later.) Baby What’d I Say – it’s blues with a 1-4-5 pattern, starting on the E-flat. But even if you don’t know music or what that stuff means, you can use the black keys to improvise and play a relaxing melody.

This is what I show children how to do—Play a black key with your left hand and press the foot pedal at the same time, holding it down. (There are 3, use the right foot on the far right pedal.) The note will sustain itself. Touch a black key with your right hand, then another, try to make a pattern, then repeat it a couple of times if it sounds good. Play another note with your left hand, down in the bass notes, the low notes, and again move around in the treble, high notes, with the right hand. STAY ON THE BLACK KEYS and you will not make a mistake. Try to establish a rhythm, which is just the beat. If it sounds a bit wrong, do it again, as if you meant to do it, then move to a sound you like better. Maybe this will be the first song you’ve ever composed.

To end it, you can repeat that first pattern, hold the last note and maybe do one last bass note. Breathe in, breathe out, close your eyes, and you will feel the music, plus look cerebral and cool.? Let the pedal up now and then or it will sound too murky, maybe when you change bass notes… Just to prove my point when someone is skeptical, I have played on the black notes with my fist, forearm, and even my elbow, and can make it sound like it goes together.

Try googling 1-4-5 and blues scale for more. There are tons of music lessons out there. Learn the circle of fifths, learn the scales and the chords, major and minor. You will never run out of things to learn with music.

“80/20 Flute” by Kaylin Johnson

Here are some key points for applying the 80/20 principle to classical flute, designed for someone who can already read music:

(1) When playing solos and other pieces, flute players rarely benefit from re-playing the portions they can already play well. I see a lot of students who are so determined to play perfectly from start to finish. They end up wasting a lot of time playing the portions they have already mastered, when instead the majority of practice time could more efficiently be spent focusing on the parts that are causing them difficulty.

(2) All etudes and exercises are not created equal. I once had a teacher tell me that if I could master the exercises in the Taffanel/Gaubert 17 daily exercises book, I could play almost any solo. This is true to some degree, but I would recommend focusing on the portions you need for each solo as you choose to focus on it, unless your goal is accurate sight-reading in an orchestra or other performance group.

(3) I completely agree with Tim that consistency is key when it comes to practicing. My first band teacher said to practice eight minutes a day (about an hour a week), and that actually got me into the practice habit because it was achievable. I worked up to two hours a day, but, looking back, I’m not sure that playing past an hour was worth it. I got through more content (etudes, exercises, solos, etc.) but I don’t think it was necessary based on the 80/20 principle. I’ve also heard of many serious musicians who develop problems in their hands or other parts of the body, which seems like a huge motivator to practice smarter, not longer.

(4) A private teacher can be an immensely powerful motivator for practicing and designing a plan for advancement. If you are looking to do something unconventional, such as following the 80/20 principle, it may take a few teachers before you find one who supports you. For example, I play with an unusual embouchure (lip placement) and all but one teacher out of five was determined to have me learn “proper” embouchure if I studied under them. I went with the one who wanted to work with me as I was, and still found success without undergoing a lengthy re-learning process. To note, a teacher can also serve as a mentor and a friend, so I recommend scheduling shorter lessons and getting right down to business if you want to get the most for your money. You can even warm up ahead of time if possible to save a few minutes.

(5) Having the right tools, such as a tuner that can detect notes or a metronome, eliminate guesswork and save you a lot of time and effort.

(6) When working with other groups, such as small ensembles or piano accompanists, listen to recordings ahead of time, if available. When you are paying someone like an accompanist per hour, you don’t want to be paying to learn how each part sounds together. Instead, you should be focusing items such as cues, tuning, and entrances.

Some of these principles may apply to other instruments as well, especially woodwinds.

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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343 Replies to “How to Finally Play the Guitar: 80/20 Guitar and Minimalist Music”

  1. You can reduce the early finger pain by dipping your finger tips in alcohol before playing…google it bc it’s been years since I started playing (hence I don’t remember the specifics) but this is an Eric Clapton tip that works pretty well.

  2. I’ve been in Nashville in the music industry professionally for 10 years and playing guitar for 20… This is a decent place to start with learning but in the end it’s just like everything else.. You won’t be good for a long time.. You have to just keep playing. Keep it interesting by learning songs that you like. But just don’t stop playing, It’s like working out. It’s terrible to get started but once you see improvement you want to do it more and more. That being said, I think doing these exercises are definitely good to do if you have the patience and stick-to-it-ness.

  3. I have am a singer song writer in central Australia and Sydney Australian

    Recently I realised that I need to learn guitar to support myself performing f amf writing so I do 10

    Mine a day and I Can see the improvement

  4. Played saxophone for 19 years through high school and college. I’m returning to it after a decade of not practicing and want to 80/20 it this time. Turn 1-2 years of practice into the 19 year equivalent. Any specific guidance for saxophone?

    Teachers to watch/read for guidance?

  5. For building up calluses faster, there’s a product out there called tuff foot that you can apply daily to help toughen the skin on your fingers faster. It could be helpful for the first several weeks when your fingers are still tender.

  6. I learned to play the guitar for quite some time, but I still do not cease to discover a new techniques. I learned to play myself and I think it’s pretty straightforward to do with due perseverance. Good luck to all who want to master this art!

  7. UNBELIEVABLE!! i work in finance for an asset manager in sales– and field with a lot of competition and a lot of the same tools across competitors. I have a call on Monday around differentiation and doing different things with the same tools, etc. And my boss sends out a link to “the 4 Chord Song” video as some kind of inspiration to get people thinking. Already thinking of the 4HR WW as a resource for my portion for the call, i hopped on to your blog and started cruising around different topics and stumble upon the same exact thing. HA! the funny thing is that, as i was watching the video, i was thinking, “Wow, i wonder if Tim Ferris ever saw this? This totally fits the 80/20 rule.” Awesome.

  8. Don’t give up! If you can get past the tedious part of practice, you’re going to have a lot of fun playing your instrument!

  9. Hi,

    Great post, it’s really helpful for practice for beginners like me and great information & tips too.

    [Moderator: link removed]

  10. Thank you for this.

    I remember Tim saying in a podcast episode (I want to say the one with Joshua Waitzkin, but I’m not sure) something like that programming/technical ability often corresponds with musical performance. That wasn’t exactly what he said, but I think that may have been the seed for my thinking I could understand music, since I understand programming.

    I decided to get a guitar, and I’ve been working through the fret climb and G-C-D transitions. It’s been fun, so I do think I’ll stick with it. One thing I still need is how to best strum. Does anyone have tips on that? (besides the strumming patterns mentioned).

    Because of this post, I decided to look at 80/20 programming, which I consider is this: learning just 4 concepts (variables, conditionals, functions, and repetition using for loops) will allow you to begin programming effectively in little time.

    [Moderator: link removed]

  11. This is an interesting approach, will try it this afternoon. I laughed at the “practice at least 10 minutes a day” thing — guessin’ I might need a bit more than that to become a good player. Cool to see the songs that can be played with just a few basic chords. Thanks!

  12. Thanks for preaching the no-thumb-on-the-fretboard gospel! And a great tip one of my guitar teachers gave me us to always wear the strap, even while sitting down, if you are practicing singing while playing.

  13. Handy Hint: actually, using a capo will make your fingers more sore, because you increase the tension in the strings. If you want to make it easier, tune your guitar down a whole tone or a half tone. This is what Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath did to make guitar playing easier after losing the tip of his finger, and it created that signature super-heavy Sabbath sound.

  14. The social aspect of music is what made me stick with it, to the point that I know run a side business recording and producing bands and independent artist (plus gigging with my own band).

    A friend of mine got drums for x-mas and wanted someone to jam with – he had a guitar he didn’t play so he lent it to me and said “learn some stuff so we can jam” – I was about 16 at the time.

    It was so much fun that we ended up playing a few nights a week, and brought in a few other friends to play too. Within a few months we had a “band” with a number of original songs and were decent enough to do a battle of the bands at a local school. It was our first gig ever, to about 500 people, and we got 2nd place – the band who won it was about 3 years older, and already had a professionally recorded album out.

    After that I was hooked! The additional attention from girls was certainly a bonus (this part continues as long as you continue playing by the way)

    80/20 version: I would WAY rather jam with people than practice on my own – find some friends to play with, who are serious about doing it – not necessarily in a professional sense, but in a “seriously want to have fun jamming once or more per week, and learning an instrument” kinda way.

    A friend who is into similar styles of music to you is the best bet, but don’t fall into the trap of “I only like genre X, so thats all I’m going to learn” – be open to experimenting with lots of musical styles, as down the road, the best bits you pick up along the way will add up and define your own playing style.

    1. He’s right and its a great point. While I had a great teacher and practiced diligently, I very quickly found other guys that I could play with and it was a huge motivation to be able to be competent and play well.

  15. Awesome content for aspiring guitarists! I’ve personally taught guitar for over 15 years and wanted to share a few extra tips about How To Change Chords Quicker and Smoother… This is usually a big stumbling block for beginners so here’s a few extra tips:

    #1. The first step is to understand and acknowledge that when you first set out to conquer this new skill…. your going to sound like crap! Don’t worry EVERYONE is in the exact same situation. All too often students are afraid or discouraged when then hear themselves sound bad or don’t get the new technique down right away. Get Over It! If you practice, you will get better

    #2. Ok… now that we got that out of the way, here’s the best piece of advice I can give. When you are focusing on practicing chord changes DO NOT stop your strumming hand (the right hand for most players) from moving. Be forewarned… this will probably sound bad at first. But here’s what happens. Because people are afraid of sounding bad when they play, they stop strumming while they get the new chord in place. Then once they are confident that the chord is ready, they start strumming again. While this might be a confidence booster that avoided some nasty sounds coming from your guitar, it does not help your hands and fingers to learn what it feels like to connect with a steady rhythm.

    You need to push yourself through the rhythm barrier and keep your strumming hand moving while your fretting hand gets the new chord into place. To help make this transition easier…we have step #3.

    #3. Without strumming or playing the strings… Practice moving from one chord shape to the next. BUT make sure that you put all of the fingers down at the same time! The way that everyone first learns chords is to put one finger down at a time until you have the full chord. This is the way it should be… however at some point you need to focus on putting all the fingers down at once. Think about what the chord shape looks like and feels like and then see how close to that shape you can get your fingers to look as they hover over the strings. Then put them all down at once and see if you have them all in the right spot.

    The most crucial element to making this step, as well as all the others, work is to only focus on one main technique at a time. Let’s face it… playing guitar involves A LOT of things happening at once. The more things you can “turn off” the more you can focus on improving one particular aspect of your playing.

    #4. The last step involves using a metronome. If you don’t know what a metronome is, don’t even google it… get in your car, go to the closest music store and just buy one. Or get one on a app. You NEED this tool! After you get one, then hit up google or youtube to find out how to use it. Find a tempo that’s slow enough where you can change chords smoothly and accurately. As you get comfortable and build your confidence start increasing the tempo until you get close to the tempo of the song you want to learn. Then switch over to playing with the song and hack your way through it until your sounding as if you wrote the tune yourself.

  16. While I had not heard of the 80/20 method before reading this post, I learned the guitar using a similar method. I had wanted to learn the guitar since I was a kid and took lessons 5 or 6 times from different instructors but just couldn’t understand their teaching method and I would get frustrated or bored after a few weeks or months and put it down. Not until I met an instructor here in Dallas that I hired to teach my 10 year old son (at the time) did the light bulb finally go off.

    He basically laid a solid foundation by initially teaching all the major open chords in progressions of three chords plus the relative minor and within a few weeks I was playing many of the songs listed in this article.

    What it required though was me practicing every single day for 30 minutes at least and my son and I took a lesson from him once a week for about a year. I was 43 at the time when I really started learning and my 10 year old son had much more natural talent then I did. However, I was very disciplined about my daily practice and stayed motivated as I could hear and feel myself progressing as each week passed.

    I learned more and more songs, learned my bar chords, more complex songs and got to the point where I could both play and sing which, for me, was the toughest thing of all. Fast forward about 3 years and I was playing and singing in a rock band which was the realization of a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. I still play both the acoustic and electric guitar today and sing in the same band. (Check us out on YouTube. Do a search for The Neighborhood Coffeehouse Cafe Dallas)

    I still practice every day and love to play. I am to the point where I can learn pretty much any song and play it quickly. It all started though with that solid foundation and daily practice. I have taught several people how to play using the method I learned so I am convinced it is a teachable method that works.

    Thanks for posting Tim. Hey, I have an idea for a book —- 4 Hour Guitar Player! I’ll be happy to contribute.

  17. Just play. Don’t worry about chords or notes. Just play. If you like, pick out melodies by ear or play along to recorded music. Fake it until you make it but play a little every day or almost every day.

    On a piano or guitar or concertina, my three present instruments, I’ve recently gotten into the habit of being gestural, letting my fingers and hands be extremely loose and play whatever they want to play, slur whatever they want to slur, make outlandish chord combinations if they want, and I don’t care about the sound. I’m just exploring and the motion, the exercise of my hands and arms, are the point. It is actually exercise and don’t you forget it. You have to get your hands and arms in shape (or your lips and lungs if you’re playing a wind instrument). When something comes up that I like, by accident, I try to copy it and move it around, using a kind of bastard conception of what I think is harmolodics, Ornette Coleman’s term, where the rhythm is at least as important as the tonality.

    Just play. Have fun. Experiment and trip yourself up. Surprise yourself.

    Now, on the piano, my fingers do things my mind cannot follow. After decades of amusing myself, I am beginning to hear things that my fingers then do, without asking. When I finish, most days, it is with great joy and satisfaction.

    Not interested in performing, although I have a couple of Youtube videos of my music up (one of which is played on a badly out of tune piano whose off sound I grew to love). My playing is for me not an audience.

    So far, the neighbors haven’t complained. We’ll see what happens when the violin arrives.

  18. One of the best tools you can use is recording, even better with a looping pedal. They can be tricky initially, but if you have an electric set up with an amp, you can record backing tracks, listen to them for improvement and then start practising lead guitar over. Amazing for anyone who wants to learn blues – Rhythm and Lead practice in the same session!

    If you just have an acoustic, then record with your phone / laptop – listening back is always a key element of improving.

  19. I love this idea, so much better than the traditional slow slog, it’s supposed to be fun! My only concern is the C chord described in the article sounds different than the C chord that is traditionally taught, it’s not an exact replacement to people who are listening closely.

  20. Cool article. My struggle as a guitar player ended when I started using a metronome. I am using the one provided . While on the road I use a hardware metronome like Korg TM40. It is boring at first but than you will be playing in rhythm. This is for those that are not gifted and can’t start as soon as they get their hands on a guitar.

  21. Get one-to-one pro lessons. Lessons are not just for beginners. Every player has quirks (some bad) and a good pro teacher may help iron them out. You’re never too old to learn from a professional teacher. You have nothing to lose, other than learning more.

    [Moderator: link removed]

  22. Since guitar is effectively a percussion instrument (hitting the strings), you should emphasize rhythm in your post. Without rhythm, there’s no groove (groove is king!) and you can’t play with others. Whether playing GCD or fret climbing, using a metronome or tapping your foot are both great!

  23. Learning to play guitar or any instrument can be overwhelming, but often that’s because it just isn’t taught well.

    While a post like this offers a few decent tips and some not so decent ones, it’s likely going to result in confusion and frustration. I say this as a musician and guitar player that comes from a long line of musicians. I’ve taught and gigged for over a decade, been playing since I was 5 and have had dozens of my recordings on syndicated TV shows. [Moderator: link removed]

    I do agree with Tim on the fact that you should pursue what interests you for the most part as that’s going to help keep you interested. I do this with all my students. I try to strike a balance between what the need and want (which don’t always align).

    As with anything though you need to build a solid foundation. If you start trying to learn songs without a basic understanding of rhythm or syncopation you’re going to get stuck. If you haven’t ever been taught proper thumb position, you’re going to get carpel tunnel.

    The reason so many new players find music theory confusing and don’t see the point is because so many teachers forget or don’t realize that there is a real and practical connection between theory and playing. The same way there is a connection between engineering and math, painting and color theory or computer programming and logic. One can’t exist without the other.

    If I were to say I wanted to learn to code, but am not interested in logic, or I want to engineer, but hate math or want to paint, but I don’t want to spend the 10 minutes to understand how color and light work, I’d sound absurd.

    Personally I’d suggest trying to strike a balance, as with anything. Spend some time learning what you want as well as some time learning what you need.

    Also, G, C and D are difficult chords for a beginner player to start with.

    The G chord used as an example uses four fingers spanning a stretch of six strings. Not easy…

    C has a three fret (horizontal) span. Most beginners have a lot of trouble at first with C.

    D is OK although you cannot play the bottom string as the “E” note is not part of a D chord. So D requires decent control of your right hand.

    Try Em and Am to get started. Then try Em to G. Then Am to C. After you feel comfortable with those, try G to D while keeping your common third finger down. Then try G, C and D.

    [Moderator: links removed]

  24. I would have thought learning barre chords would be the ultimate MED. you can play every note with only 2 finger/hand ‘shapes’ and merely changing the frets in which you play them in…

  25. I like it! I struggled with the same thing. I tried to learn a lot of chords. Then I got an instructor that focused on theory and scales. But it’s sooooo crazy boring to practice scales. Then I found “Tear it up”, originally by Johnny Burnette, but I like the version by The Cramps. It’s also almost exactly the same as the progression as Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, which is also fun! It’s simply combinations of E, A, and B7. B7 is not the easiest, but dang it’s fun! So with that, I switched to focusing entirely on rhythm, strumming, and the right hand. It’s so much fun, and it sounds pretty damn good! Chords and fingering are the technical ability, but strumming is the heart. So now I just play hard and have fun!

  26. Tim,

    Good advice on starting to play! In my experience correct strumming techniques – the right sequence and keeping the rhythm going – is at least as important as getting the chords right. That’s also the most difficult part, imho.

  27. Nice article, I love the four cord song. I play a very percussive style and when I try to teach someone how to do that in a fun way I tell them to just play one chord and listen to their inner rhythm. When you can make just one chord sound interesting and feel god you can start to develop that core with more chords and melody. That is, if you want to play whats inside yourself.

    There’s a video on my site if you want to hear what I mean 🙂


  28. Are you shure that you pluck all six strings for D ? I usually just pluck the last four!. It may be best to put a rider on the excersise saying that later you rarely strum all the strings. I fell into this trap for years teaching myself because I had read you must always strum all the six strings.. That’s why beginners complain that all chords sound the same.

  29. That was a great article with great advice. I taught myself.guitar over the last 2 years. I have become very good at it. I learned on a cheap 400 dollar DBZ Diamond. Learning on a guitar with a base action made me a better player. I became very good, and hen invested a couple thousand in a Taylor guitar . Once I had a real guitar my playing skill went through the roof.

    The one thing I disagree with out of my own experience is then use of a capo for a beginner. Sure it is easier on the digits, but in my experience of I had used tricks to make playing easier I wouldnt have progressed as far and as fast as I have. Also your developing your ear from the moment you decide to learn n instrument. If your skipping the 1st few frets (counting the open strings) they will be behind in developing their ear. Which can be corrected. My advice to a serious budding guitarist is get your guitar set up at your local music store if the pain is to much. You can also use lighter gauge strings. My method involved a high action and hen medium gauge 13s . But that was because in my mind the harder the instrument play the better I became as I mastered said crappy instrument hahaha.

    Great article though.

  30. Looking forward to adapting this method to my newly purchased mandolin 🙂

    But I gotta say: I did not appreciate the negative use of “effeminate”. If women are tough enough to serve in every position in the world’s best military, then maybe it’s high time you drop the derogatory association with weakness (and the 12 year old version of J Biebs, for that matter). Or maybe just hire an editor.

  31. This is exactly the method I used for learning guitar on my own, and I finally found a post that teaches it that way. Of course I’d find it here!

  32. Oceans by John Butler is a great track to learn! Drifting by Andy McKee is also a really great song to learn.. Similar but more acoustic tapping!

    Once you master the acoustic wonders, the next step is definitely Gypsy Jazz! 😉

  33. The c chord shown above is not a c chord. A c chord includes the notes c e g. Most common c chord is 1st fret 2nd string 2nd fret 4th string 3rd fret 5th string.

  34. I’ve learned how to play guitar and piano within months while nobody believe I had musical talent. My process:

    (1) Take a simple song you really like (most songs are super simple with 4 chords)

    (2) Know the song by listening to it over and over again

    (3) Practice the three or four chords (first just slowly, then increase until fluency)

    (4) If you can play them fluently (I try to close my eyes so it goes automatically) then listen to the song and copy the rhythms

    (5) Learn two others songs and come back to the first one, you’ll see you’ve learned a lot.

  35. This is basically how I taught myself ukulele 30 years ago. Learn 3 chords +1 as needed. Endless entertainment!

  36. I’ve been playing since I was 12, and have taught quite a few beginners along the way. I would strongly suggest the opposite of your advice: start on an electric guitar. there are decent cheap ones, like fender squier bullet or epiphone dots, etc. MUCH easier to finger, so you will be less inclined to give up. And you won’t need the capo cheat, which makes things more confusing visually and prevents your ear getting trained to the standard, open sound of the guitar. You build the callous base more easily on electric and then it will be easier to switch over to acoustic later with that base already in place. This is more in line with your (correct) philosophy of doing everything in your favor to help you persist.

  37. It’s called play for a reason. You play music, you play an instrument, so play with it. Don’t bother with what it sounds like until you find something you like. Then reproduce that sound and then vary it, play with it.

    Have fun. You should leave every practice session with the feeling that THAT was fun.

  38. Thank you for making this valuable information available. As a beginner Guitarist, this information is helping me to navigate through the obstacles with more awareness of what expect and also providing me with solutions to help me succeed in my learning. Thank you

    I too deal with bag of cables that certainly carried a signal but never quite made the grade.You can visit for further info on this

  39. I went through all 323 comments and didn’t find anything about DRUMS. Somebody who can help me apply this 80/20 rule to drums?

    1. There is one rhythm that is the backbone of seemingly 90% of music today and classically. Count to four on your cymbal hitting hand. One the 1 use the kick drum. On the 3 use the snare. Just keep counting to four and you got it.

  40. Goddamn. I’ve been wanting to tackle guitar since I started college at 21, and have always had excuses as to why I can’t. Thanks, Tim. Guess I need to clear the purchase with the wife/CFO and then get down to business.

  41. Question everyone: How much faster could you learn a language if you could get away with discarding masculine and feminine tense? The D.I.S.S. method when properly applied can yield some some much greater results.

    FACT: There are only 12 notes in western music. All music is just stacks and combinations of these 12. Major and minor are equivocal to masculine and feminine tenses when playing music. Using dominant 5ths instead provides for a full chord sound and allevaites the need for major or minor if you are to break it down to its simplest pieces.

    NEXT: Your fretting hand has four fingers unless your a mutant (more power to ya). The point is, to simplify as much as possible. Break it down to just one finger and figure what you need to leverage in order to have that one finger do as much as possible.

    THE NEAT TRICK: (This is by far not as clever as losing massive amounts of weight to win a chinese kickboxing tournement but we can still bend the rules in our favor) By simply downtuning the biggest 6E string one whole step to D we are able to play any of the 12 notes in full sounding dominant chord form with only one finger. Greatest simplification allows us not to focus on finger yoga but on having fun instead. With this simplification it is possible to get someone who has never even played guitar, rocking out the best parts of over 100 popular songs in less than 15 minutes. Beyond that with proper application it is furthermore possible to get somebody good enough to be able to get on stage in one nights time. I could go on in much greater length but simply said when you really break it down and apply the D.I.S.S. method its possible to get results exceeding that of 80/20! Cheers everybody and Thank You Tim! Im loving Tools of Titans! It’s the best one yet!

  42. Fantastic Tim! I was wondering when you were going to hack the guitar, like you did the drums and all else. As a guitar teacher/player for over 30 years, you are 100% correct here. It’s about repetition and Pareto’s law.

  43. The most important part of learning to play is the desire to make the instrument sound like a player you idolize. Unless your idol is Segovia or James Taylor, start with an electric, not acoustic. Search online for tabs to a guitar lead that you heard in a song that moves you. Finally, get mad. Seriously. Get frustrated that your fingers aren’t strong enough and don’t yet have the coordination to play with the same speed. After memorizing the tab, push your fingers harder and harder until you can almost hear the desired lead coming from your own playing. Your hand muscles must burn like you’ve never felt before, and once it subsides, get them there again. DO NOT start with theory or chord memorization, and above all avoid real sheet music until later, if at all. If you want to play like those you envy, learn to make the guitar song before anything else. The guitar is so widely appreciated because of the way its voice makes listeners feel, and nobody ever started listening to Led Zeppelin because they saw the sheet music for Stairway To Heaven. No guitar player worships Jerry Garcia because he knows all the chords. While the sight reading and deep theory proficiency came much later, the motivation to stick that out came only after gaining the confidence that I too can make a guitar sound like a rock star can, and the knowledge that whenever I’m feeling down, my hands are all I need to hear that beautiful voice.

  44. Any tips on applying these ideas for the violin would be greatly appreciated. I have been playing the guitar for a few years now.

  45. That C chord is actually a Cadd9. It’s easier but it’s not used in the same situations and it will sound really out of place in some of the songs you listed.

  46. Tim, Would love to hear you interview Carol Kaye of “The Wrecking Crew”. I think she still teaches guitar and bass via Skype and has a fascinating system that she taught to some of the greats. If you haven’t seen “The Wrecking Crew” doc, it is a must see musical documentary (It’s on Netflix).

    Here are a few links

    [Moderator: additional text with link removed.]

  47. your idea is very great playing guitar needs to read notes first and learn chords these are the basic things need to know.

  48. Thanks for sharing, for this wonderful blog. With the help of this blog i lean many method bout guitar.

  49. I gave this quite some thoughts being a classical violinist who went through the hardcore conservatory training, but would like my beautiful instrument to be accessible. I’d love to apply this to the violin for students, but there are some differences to the guitar that we should tackle.

    Just for those who don’t need to play the most technically demanding classical pieces, but just want to play fun tunes and sound decent…

    How long does it take to get a decent sound out of the violin, enjoy yourself and get the minimum profiency to play some pop songs and movie tunes?

    Here’s how to tackle the 20% of violin technique that gets you to play 80% of the songs (from my experience as a violin teacher and professional violinist): [Moderator: link removed.]

  50. This post reminds me of earlier days of guitar learning. This article is very useful for beginner guitar learner. As a guitar blogger i appreciate your work, anyone can check my review of [Moderator: link removed.]

  51. There’s some good advice here, but I strongly disagree with starting on an acoustic. The first guitar I got was a cheap acoustic and I could barely keep it in tune and gave up.Years later a guy at work told me to get an electric because of the action being lower and needing less hand strength to play notes and thanks to his advice I was able to learn way easier. Amps are a lot of fun too and once you get into the wild world of pedals, you can have tonnes of fun with little skill.

  52. The recommendation to buy an acoustic first is misguided. Your first guitar should be something you look at and are excited to pick up on a regular basis (daily, even if only 5-10 minutes). If your goal is to learn Metallica songs, buy an electric. If your goal is to play like Ed Sheeran, buy an acoustic. Buy the best guitar you can afford that suits the genre or style of music that is compelling you to learn to play. It’s going to be hard to stay motivated, when it’s so hard in the beginning, so buy a guitar that’s the most atractive to you, so you’re less likely to give up in the early stages.