In some books and on some websites, you may even get the chords shown to you as images in little boxes.
In order to make sense of this, you simply must be familiar with the song itself as there is no indication of tempo, time, or key signature, or what to actually play and sing once the chords are fretted and the lyrics semi-memorized.
Should you spend several years learning to play like this you might find that you:
1. Remember and see chords as shapes
2. Come up with your own versions of famous songs
3. Build yourself a repertoire
These are great qualities for a musician to have. Being creative with your arrangements like this is good training for when you eventually write your own songs and/or jam with friends.
What it won’t make you so good at is to:
- Play parts exactly like on the record.
- Write and read your own parts.
- Fully understand each song harmonically.
- Have different strumming patterns for different songs and sections.
Things I wish I knew when starting playing the guitar
The main problem with “just learning more songs” is that you never dig deep enough to see how each song is constructed and works harmonically.
This is a shame as it’s then impossible to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from one song to the next.
For the beginner guitarist, very often, enough time isn’t spent on building a great guitar part with the chords at hand.
Again, if you don’t fully understand how the song is constructed, this is very difficult to do without simple trial and error, followed by writing your part in TAB and memorizing it.
To break away from this pattern of just learning more songs and collecting TAB, perhaps thinking: If I just do this enough, I’ll somehow get better, is very important.
Of course, you must build a repertoire in order to play with other musicians but without digging deeper, what you’ll miss is learning music as a language.
What you lose out on is the ability to “speak music”, and to feel confident that you know what you’re doing.
Roadmap to your guitar journey
To take a step toward this journey, the first thing you must do is to stop thinking of chords as just a name and different, individual shapes.
Although having shapes and names are very important, it is the number, the roman numeral, that matters the most.
I remember learning Time Of Your Life early on. The chords were G C D and later on an Em.
I also remember learning Stand By Me using these chords: C Am F G.
I wish my teacher had pointed out to me that these are in fact the same chords, just in a different order. If I had had that experience early on, the path would immediately have been clear.
You may be thinking, but those are not the same chords?!? But they are. They are the same, just in two different keys.
If I was to play Stand By Me in G (the same key as Time Of Your Life) then the progression would have been G Em C D. That’s the same chords, just in a different order.
Very often, the part about how key signatures work, seeing chords as numbers, is put on the back burner, moving on to learning loads of barre chords first. Don’t do this.
Instead, take all those songs you know already and work out what key they are in, and what each chord is, as a Roman Numeral.
What you’ll find is that each roman numeral has a certain sound, this is the first step toward understanding music as a language.
Overlooking this is by far the most common and easily the biggest mistake a beginner could do when learning songs on the acoustic guitar.
As you’ll find in the beginner course, we only need to learn nine songs before we move on and become intermediate players.
Personally, I learned more than fifty songs before I took that step towards barre chords. This took me several years, for no good reason whatsoever.
The language of rhythm
Another often overlooked topic is rhythm playing. Most beginners have one or maybe two strumming patterns that they apply to every song they come across. Again, this is so unnecessary but still, understandable.
The songbooks, lyrics with chords, and TAB sites ignore the rhythm, so as a beginner it may seem as if that’s what we should be doing too. Nothing could be further from the truth.
On guitar, we execute rhythms by playing either with a down or an upstroke.
How I wish my first teachers told me that this should have been played with the right hand keeping a pendulum movement throughout, all those rhythms could then be so easily translated to rhythmical symbols!
This is in fact so easy that the beginner course only needs nine songs (as mentioned) and just fifteen strumming pattern exercises to get you going.
If you can play up and down strokes and understand how this can be notated, playing rhythms, writing them down, and coming up with more variations is so, so easy…
The biggest beginner mistakes summary
These were my biggest beginner mistakes.
- Viewing and remembering a chord as an individual image.
- Not digging deep enough and fully understanding each song.
- Not seeing chords as Roman numerals.
- Not understanding, reading, and writing strumming patterns.
Since my time as a beginner (30 years ago now), I’ve been hooked on improving guitar tuition.
I want to tell you more about it so I’ve put together an eBook that you get when you sign up for my guitar courses.