Are We There Yet?

It's Time For A New Pandemic Hobby

Tips for learning guitar, because baking sourdough is so last April.

Originally Published: 
Here are tips for mastering the guitar if you're a beginner.
Bruce and Rebecca Meissner/Stocksy

Quarantine has made DIY artists out of all of us. While bedroom pop has long been on the rise — just take popular indie artists like Gracie Abrams and Clairo who are known for the sound — the pandemic helped solidify the lo-fi, guitar-heavy, handcrafted style of pop as one of the music industry’s reigning genres. And as we wait another few months (*knocks wood*) to be vaccinated, there’s never been a better time to pick up a guitar and begin strumming from your very own room.

But how do you get started, and will you be able to play along by a campfire with your friends in six months? (Or at least post an epic acoustic cover of “Drivers License” on TikTok?) Enter Mike Papapavlou, a New York-based guitar coach who was recently named Guitar World’s 2020 Guitar Teacher of the Year. In addition to working with individual students, Papapavlou has also led classes for companies like Citigroup and WeWork.

Not only does he believe that anyone can pick up a guitar, he thinks it’s the perfect hobby to focus on over the next few months. “Playing guitar regularly as a busy adult is incredibly rewarding,” he tells Bustle. “[It’s] therapeutic, relaxing, energizing, and creative.”

Below, Papapavlou shares five tips for would-be guitarists.

Know Your Why

Did you play an instrument when you were younger and want to get back into music? Are you looking to impress some friends the next time you can all finally see each other in person? Do you want to play at Madison Square Garden?

Before even picking up a guitar, Papapavlou believes it’s important to be honest with yourself about your reasons for investing in it. “What’s this all about? What’s your why? What artists do you listen to?” he asks. “If I had to boil this all down to one question, it’s, what’s the desired outcome you’re looking for?” Your answer will affect many aspects of how you choose to move forward, both in terms of the type of instrument you pick and the music you learn to play.

Find The Right Instructor For You

One of the most important aspects of learning guitar is figuring out who’s going to teach you, whether that’s a music coach or just a YouTuber whose videos you really like. (There are listing sites like MusicStaff and Music Teachers Directory to get started finding a coach in addition to word of mouth, and a few free and low-cost online resources include courses from Paul Gilbert, Andy Guitar, and JustinGuitar.)

There are also music instructors at various price points who specifically focus on working with beginners, and many have moved their teaching completely online in the pandemic. Papapavlou notes, however, that not every teacher is an expert at every genre, so it’s important to find one who clicks with what you want to do musically. “Being more specific about the style of guitar you want to play is better,” he says, when it comes to getting what you want out of your lessons and progressing quickly.

For goal-oriented people who want to work toward learning a song, Papapavlou says to focus on music in a genre that you love. Unsure which songs are considered easier than others? Thousands of songs use four basic chords — E-minor, C, D, and G — he says, and it’s easy to find music with those chords that you’ll be inspired to learn.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice sessions are going to vary greatly based on how much general music experience a person has before they begin learning guitar. Many newbies start off by just learning how to hold the instrument and the mechanics of how it works before moving onto anything more complicated like scales or chords. Often artistic flair comes along the way, too.

So is it better to practice every day for a few minutes or to have a single one-hour session every week? Papapavlou says the name of the game is frequency when it comes to making quick progress. “It’s all about getting used to holding [the guitar], touching it, strumming it,” he explains. He recommends that his students start with practicing 10 minutes a day, every day, then work up to 20 minutes a day, and so on. Whether people gravitate toward working on certain skills on different days or just practicing everything every day, Papapavlou says the most important factor when just starting out is to make sure to play consistently in some respect or another.

One pro tip he gives to people who are busy, especially in today’s ultra-connected world, is to put a recurring scheduled time to practice guitar on their Google Calendar or whatever tool they use to plan their days.

Create Accountability Mechanisms

One of the best ways to ensure that you practice is to actually see your instrument regularly. “Put your guitar somewhere that’s very visible — not in the closet, not in the case. It should be somewhere you’re constantly hanging around anyway, and it should be looking at you so that you’re reminded [to play],” Papapavlou says.

Finding accountability partners is also an important part of the process. One of the major reasons Papapavlou encourages people to find a music teacher or coach — or at least a friend who knows how to play — is that having someone to check in on your technique and offer positive and constructive feedback is an important part of getting better. YouTube videos may show the basics, but they can’t tell you how your own playing is going.

Check Your Expectations At The Door

While you might be tempted to speed through lessons — whether they’re from an online course or with a coach — it’s critical to take your time, understand the fundamentals, and make mistakes along the way. “The key to progressing fast is to practice slow,” Papapavlou says. “You have to be OK with sounding a bit crap before you sound good.”

Papapavlou also says students’ own mindsets can get in the way of their progress. “Look into what your expectations are of yourself,” he says. “Some people say, ‘I don’t have any musical talent! None of my family members picked up an instrument!’ That’s not going to serve you.” Instead of focusing on the negative, remind yourself why you want to play, come up with a routine, and be OK with progressing at a steady pace. “With patience, perseverance, and persistence, anyone can learn how to play guitar,” he says. “It’s not a God-given gift, and that means anybody can pick it up.”


Mike Papapavlou, New York-based guitar coach and Guitar World’s 2020 Guitar Teacher of the Year

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