Supplemental Material for Page 1 (Chapter 1)
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About the content on page 1:
The book starts here. Chapter One, page one. That is, I informally advise skipping the table of contents and the introduction.
You may, of course, read the book's contents or introduction pages, but it's not necessary. The "contents" page is provided as a courtesy, but I almost wish it was omitted. To see what's in the book, it's better to just flip through the pages quickly. You'll get a sense of the content and presentation. The "introduction" is mostly disclaimers about my use of the staff, etc. If you're new to the guitar, and itching to play (as you should be), skip the intro for now.
The diagrams at the bottom of page ii (circle of fifths and tuning chart) were thrown in as an afterthought (since there was space). They are not a starting place for instruction, but are included for possible reference later on.
Jumping right in: Chapter One, Page One:
Make sure you're ready to go: As noted on the CD that comes with the book, a teacher, a tuner and a metronome are highly recommended for beginners. If you don't have any one of these, please give it some very serious consideration.
Before you start, you'll need your nails (at least left hand) trimmed down to below the tips of the fingers. It is assumed that you have a guitar of appropriate size.
A music stand to put your book(s) on is also highly recommended, as it facilitates proper form & posture while practicing.
Sit with your knees at a right angle to the floor (or with knees even higher than that!). Use some type of foot rest if necessary. (They make foot rests for guitarists, but a small box or a big book or something similar generally does the trick). You don't want your lap sloping downward, or the guitar may try to slip away. Some players like to use a guitar strap even when sitting, as it may help hold the guitar in place. However, I find that most beginners find the strap uncomfortable or distracting. If your strap "hangs loose" as you sit & play (slides off your shoulder, etc), adjust the size or (better yet) remove it from the guitar. Eventually you may experiment with playing standing up. (You'll need a strap for that, of course.)
Observe all the information on page 1 carefully. Be sure you understand the use of chord diagrams. They will be used throughout Sensible Guitar, and much of the other published music you're likely to see.
Don't worry if your fingertips hurt when you play. The discomfort caused by the strings will subside with a couple of weeks of daily practice. Dig in, and press hard enough to achieve a decent sound. As you become more proficient, it won't always seem like you have to apply so much pressure. If you experience pain in your hand, wrist, forearm, shoulder, etc, take a break, and ask your teacher (or a doctor) about it. But don't worry about those fingertips!
Expanding on the text at the bottom of page 1:
"Proper hand position is very important."
Yes. Students are urged to see a teacher at least once or twice when first starting out. If you (a student) happen to grab the guitar incorrectly and practice poor form, you're not likely to get far. Bad habits can form in an instant. I like when a beginner picks up the guitar for the first time right at the first lesson, so a teacher can ensure a proper start.
However, even a sentence as seemingly innocuous as "Proper hand position is very important" isn't entirely true. Many fine players use unconventional (i.e. "wrong") techniques, but play very effectively. With enough determination, you might make practically any technique viable. But that's not the point; using proper form offers the best odds of reaching your musical goals.
"Be sure the thumb of the left hand points upward behind the neck of the guitar. Don't put the thumb over the top of the neck, or turn it sideways."
A prime example of a rule that's commonly broken to good effect. Traditionally (in classical guitar), students were (and still are) held to strict standards of thumb position, as described. However, if you watch most contemporary guitar players, the left thumb often reaches, or "hangs" over the neck. (I've heard this called the "coat hanger effect".) The thumb may be used to mute the bottom strings, or even play notes!
Here's what I usually recommend: The traditional thumb placement is best, and should be encouraged. In classical playing this is critical, but in contemporary guitar (rock, folk, etc.) you can often get away with hanging the thumb over the neck. This is especially true for players with larger hands or smaller guitar necks. As long as things are reasonably "easy" to play (i.e. "reachable"), this is OK, but when a chord or note is difficult to reach, sliding the thumb back into place increases the area your fingers can comfortably reach, and your ability to arch the fingers up, avoiding accidental contact with adjacent strings.
When it comes to turning the left thumb sideways (so it points away from the player), or drawing the palm of the hand up to touching the neck, I'm much more cautious. These positions represent rather poor form, which inhibit mobility & dexterity, and make the guitar more difficult than necessary (and it's already hard enough!). Think of "hanging" the thumb over the neck as a minor infraction, but turning the thumb sideways, or grabbing the guitar neck with the palm of the hand as a major problem.
One final note about the left hand (or, actually, the left arm): Students will often try to rest the left arm on the left leg. This is a pet peeve with me; I pretty much forbid it. It creates a very lazy posture, and obviously inhibits mobility. Also, (unlike many other examples of poor form), you'll hardly ever catch an accomplished player doing this; it just isn't an effective way to sit & play.
"A good strumming motion comes from the right elbow (not the wrist). Be sure not to bend the wrist of the right hand even a little bit."
This is a big one, but could admittedly use some clarification. When strumming, it's important to keep the right hand and arm loose & relaxed. Therefore, I don't mind a little "play" in the wrist, i.e., a little movement in the floor- to-ceiling direction (sideways, or parallel to the guitar) as you play. What I strongly discourage is bending the wrist in towards the guitar. This is extremely detrimental to tone and technique. My favorite analogy is that a good strumming motion is similar to the act of swinging a hammer, but with the whole motion turned sideways. (Try swinging a hammer, and notice how straight you naturally hold your wrist for maximum strength and control. See how awkward it feels to bend your wrist?). Many beginners will give a single downward strum with proper form, but then bend the wrist as a means of reaching back for the next strum. They're not strumming from the elbow. Good, straight hand position should be maintained for all parts of the strum; don't turn the hand or arm a different way for strumming upward than downward. This is achieved by letting the elbow do the work, while everything else maintains good form.
Understand that I'm not encouraging a "stiff" or "clunky" way of playing. I emphasis the term "loose & relaxed". I think even accomplished players don't always realize how much of their strumming motion originates at the elbow. Again, watching lots of guitarists is helpful; there aren't many "wrist benders" among successful players. The main point: Bending the wrist in toward the guitar is to be very strongly discouraged. It's a tough habit to break, and almost always results in a poor tone. (Teachers: many beginners are anxious to "rock" as soon as possible; teaching the popular rock technique of palm muting can help eliminate bending of the wrist.)
Regarding lefties: I advise teachers to stick with the chord diagrams as presented here (not reversed!). Teach the way the diagrams are almost universally drawn. Reversing the diagrams punishes lefties by teaching them a system that generally isn't used. Yes, I know this means the diagrams don't properly correspond to the guitar, but I believe it's the lesser of two evils.
If you have a question or concern, or suspect you may be doing something "wrong", please seek out a teacher, or email me with a question. ~C.C.
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