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Beyond the Fretboard: Choosing Your Battles on the Guitar, Part 1


A new year is upon us, and with it comes the familiar and arguably cliche theme of new beginnings.

People treat January as an opportunity to re-ignite their motivations in a host of different ways. Whether it be to eat healthier, exercise more or start learning an instrument (hint, hint), there is perhaps never a better time than now to start anew.

So I'd like to talk about a subject I think deserves a lot of attention from beginners and experienced players during this time of year: choosing your battles and measuring expectations wisely.

What do I mean by this?

We live in a very exciting time where information is ubiquitous and the steady stream of knowledge never seems to slow down. In general, this is a great thing. But there are always two sides to every coin. Most people (myself included) run the risk of becoming completely overwhelmed by all of the different websites and YouTube videos that are out there on any given topic of interest. Particularly for a beginner guitarist, this could stop you dead in your tracks.

Instead of comfortably drinking from a water fountain, it could seem as if you're unsuccessfully drinking from a fire hose. How can we get back to the manageable analogy of the water fountain in which we control when and when not to take a drink? There are many answers to that question, but the common denominator for all possible scenarios is self-discipline.

Along with controlling the volume of information, we also must make sure we're receiving reliable information. So let's look at a few of the ways in which this can be accomplished.


The internet is indispensably useful, but all it takes is one bad website or YouTube video with incomplete or inaccurate facts to set you on a path which leads to bad habits and poor techniques. My advice is to always check out multiple sources when learning something new. By visiting several websites and watching multiple YouTube videos on the same topic, you can significantly lessen your chances of absorbing faulty information.


If a particular subject or technique is still not clarified, then it might be a good idea to buy a professionally published book either for guitar playing or general music concepts. The obvious advantage here is that the authors often times have many years of musical experience and, in some cases, have received formal education at a college level.

Another advantage is that the publisher has a reputation to uphold and generally likes making money off of book sales. Both of which can be jeopardized if their product contains erroneous material. If you decide to explore this option and you're an intermediate or advanced player, I'd recommend checking out Creative Guitar (books 1 and 2) by the super-talented and knowledgable Guthrie Govan.


This can be a good substitute for those who don't have many musically inclined friends and would like to receive some advice from other musicians. However, this option definitely falls under the "the more sources, the better" category concerning the information you hear from your fellow forumers. Always be skeptical of an overly opinionated individual and search other websites to confirm what you've read at a particular forum.


There are those who say that, in this day and age, guitar lessons are becoming obsolete. Think about it: Why do you need a guitar teacher when every conceivable playing style can be easily found on the internet, fully explained, with video, for free?

Well, precisely for the reasons we've been talking about. The role of a guitar teacher has somewhat shifted from a gatekeeper of knowledge to that of a mentor, personal trainer or coach. Obviously the quality and personality of the teacher needs to be compatible with your learning style, but a good teacher can really help you turn that fire hose back into a water fountain.


Similar to books, any DVD or internet videos which have been released by a professional company or distributor likely has reliable information for the same reasons. It all depends on how you like to learn. Some people prefer reading, others prefer learning visually. Generally, theory based concepts might be better suited for books and physical techniques for videos.

So that's a pretty solid list of options that can help insure you're receiving high-quality information. Again, this applies to beginners or experienced players alike.

In Part 2, we'll focus more specifically on how to control the volume of information, especially if you're approaching this from a DIY mentality.

Chris Breen is a New Jersey-based guitarist with 14 years of experience under his belt. He, along with his brother Jon (on drums) started the two-piece metal project known as SCARSIC in 2011. Due to a lack of members, Chris tracked guitars, bass and vocals for their self titled four-song demo (available on iTunes, Spotify and Rhapsody). They have recently been joined by bassist Bill Loucas and are writing new material. Chris also is part of an all-acoustic side project known as Eyes Turn Stone. Chris teaches guitar lessons as well (in person or via Skype). If you're interested in taking lessons with Chris, visit BreenMusicLessons.com for more info.

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