Matt Canty's Writing Place

Learning to Play Guitar

January 17, 2021

I have been playing electric bass guitar and guitar for something like 20 years now. Starting out with my Dad, Laurence Canty, teaching me bass at school.

I took lessons from him until I was about 16 and then went on to perform almost continuously in bands right up until March 2020. Bring on the next gig is all I can say!

I’d like to share what I hope will be some helpful tips. These aren’t tied to one instument. Certainly not the guitar; after all it is not my primary instrument! I hope you’ll be able to get some use from them.

  1. Play Every Day This is by far and away the most important tip. So let’s get it out in the open straight away. Ideally your instrument is within reach from tend to relax; like a sofa. Picking it up for even 1 minute each day equates to 6.5 hours a year. In all likelihood you’ll end up playing for more than one minute. Pick it up! Have you picked it up yet?

    1. Put your instrument within arms reach of a chair or sofa
    2. Leave anything you need to play it next to or on the instrument; such as a plectrum
    3. Don’t worry about learning something new
    4. If you don’t want to annoy others, mute the guitar with your right hand and practise moving your left hand into different shapes
  2. Play It Over and Over and over and over and over. Don’t play a whole song if you have a problem with one part. Break it down. Whilst you may not be playing it perfectly to begin with, your dexterity will gradually improve tip #1 leading to an enhanced control of your instument.

    1. Learning chords? Alternate between two chords you find challenging for ten minutes
    2. Learning a picking part? Play it for two minutes straight (time it)
    3. Learning a scale? Practice the first three notes, nail it. Then four, five, six, seven… etc
  3. Play it Slow Take what you are learning and bring the tempo all the way down. Focus on timing. If possible use a metronome. Metronome or not, this will allow you to focus on hitting all the right notes in the right order. Maintain focus on a steady tempo even without the metronome. Avoid speeding up.
  4. Play it Fast I remember reading this on in The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green with Tim Gallwey. The point is to forget about getting it right, forget about who is watching, forget about musicality. Just go at it as fast as you can. You’ll be surprised. I’d say this is probably best suited to something you are aiming to polish, rather than something you are learning from new!
  5. Focus on the Instrument If you’re doing this right, then you’ll probably have a little moment where you re-enter the room after playing. Again, this was something I picked up in The Inner Game of Music. There are ways of obtaining a focus on the instrument:

    1. Look at the instrument. Sounds obvious, but it really works!
    2. Close your eyes
    3. Look at your left hand
    4. Look at your right hand
    5. Sing quietly to yourself the tune you are playing (no one is listening)

Don’t give up. Playing guitar is a long game. But with these tips, you will improve. I’m sharing a video I recorded today. It inspired me to write these tips. I wouldn’t normally share something which I consider to be so rough around the edges. I leave my personal thoughts on the video below.

  1. I am consumed by red-light syndrome. Once the camera is on, all I can think about is the camera. (#5)
  2. Lockdown beard.
  3. I play the same part of the song over and over again. (#2)
  4. I close my eyes to focus on the part. (#5)
  5. I turn around to alleviate the red-light syndrome! (#5)
  6. Focus on the right hand. (#5)
  7. Playing it very slow. (#3)
  8. Playing it fast. (#4)
  9. Playing it in context of the song. (#1)
  10. I played it today. (#1)

I can see that as I begin to use practical techniques (#3 & #4) the issue of focus (#5) begins to subside.

I am Matt Canty, an engineer of varying titles who helps tech companies run reliable and fault-tolerant software platforms. Just send me an email:

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