The guitar strings you choose – and how you care for them – can make a huge impact on your playing ability! Here, Warner Robins, GA teacher B. Greg C. shares the three mistakes that can hinder your learning…
As a teacher and as a musician, I have found time after time new players making the same three big mistakes with their guitar strings. These issues may seem small, but when it comes to learning to play the guitar, these amount to huge failings. Beginning players already have a hard time and enough frustration to deal with learning fingerings and fatigue of the hand. Handling these three issues will help alleviate some of the frustration and help make playing and learning easier.
Not Keeping the Guitar In Tune
The first mistake is not keeping the guitar in tune. Some new guitarists may not hear the tonal differences right away while playing, but most will wonder why the chord sounds slightly foul, or more foul than usual. Tuning the guitar with a tuner before any practice session helps a great deal in the quality of the chord. When two or more strings are not correctly tuned the chord can have a quality to it that simply frustrates you compared to what you remember hearing during your lesson. This adds to the frustration of checking fingerings and the structure of the chord. Tuning should become a habit before you play — give it a shot before you start practice!
Choosing the Wrong String Gauge
String “gauge” or thickness is a touchy subject at times. While your instructor should be aware of what music tastes you have and what sound you want to get when learning, be wise in your choice of strings. Using a light or extra-light gauge on acoustic guitars and medium-light or light on electrics will make learning as a beginner much easier. The smaller diameter of the strings makes learning the motor skills and muscle memory easier. The lighter gauge strings also make finger fatigue less of an issue. You won’t be fighting the strings and trying to understand why that new chord is buzzing (from lack of pressure) or why the strings do not sustain as well. After you start to get the skill and muscles built up, then worry about going with the fat juicy sound of heavier-gauge string sets!
Not Remembering to Change the Strings
Last but not least is knowing when to change your guitar strings. Uncoated strings “die” or “deaden” over time and some break, and even coated strings die eventually. As a beginner, you should consider changing uncoated strings once every month if you are practicing 30 minutes for three to five days a week. If you are practicing less you can go a little longer; if you practice more then consider changing them more often. To keep the strings clean, be sure to wash and dry your hands prior to playing, as this reduces the oils, dirt, and sweat accumulating on the strings that cause the metal in the string to deteriorate. You can also wipe the strings with a dry cloth or a string wipe, which helps remove some grime. When a string deteriorates it will not stay in tune well, has a chance of breaking, and does not sustain as well. Coated strings can be great for beginners, but uncoated do tend to have a different sound and a different feel. Whether you choose coated or uncoated, be sure to look them over and change them when they need it.
Hope this helps some of the newer students! Best wishes to your endeavors as a musician, and keep the beat going!
B. Greg C. teaches guitar and music theory in Warner Robins, GA. He is a 2010 Graduate of Berklee College of Music’s Guitar Program and has been teaching students on and off since 2005. Learn more about Greg here!
Photo by veni markovski