FAQ – How long will it take me to learn an instrument?

How long does a tank of fuel last? Well, it depends on how much you drive the vehicle. Likewise, the hours you put into learning your instrument will be the most determining factor in how long it will take you to play it. Below are a number of observations that will help you get a better grasp of the timeline involved.

To what standard?

Question_markLike sport, academia, languages and artistry, there are different levels or standards one can reach. In maths a person can learn to add, subtract, multiply, divide and stop learning maths with few daily arithmetic problems. Likewise, a person could learn a few simple chords on the guitar and be happy to play some of their favorite songs in that fashion. However, neither of these would call themselves either a mathematician or a musician. 

So, when someone asks how long it takes to learn the first question they need to address is what standard they wish to reach. Naturally, it takes a lot longer to competently play an elaborate Jimi Hendrix piece than it does to strum an Irish Ballad.

The Basics

Very few disciplines can be accomplished without mastering the basics first. Unfortunately, this is not the most exciting part of guitar playing but spending enough time on the basics is essential to becoming an accomplished player later on. 

Like any new experience, the first few weeks of learning to play feels awkward. Your fingers need time to adjust to a new way of moving and the muscles are being exercised in a different fashion which can be frustrating. Getting over this initial period of mastering the basics is the toughest part of learning any instrument, once you’ve the hours put in and the basics learned then the real enjoyment begins. 



Learning six to ten chord shapes and some basic strumming rhythms is what can be considered the basics. The most time consuming aspect of this is changing between the chords fluently but with enough effort this will become second-nature. Allowing for eventualities; a person with no previous musical experience willing to practice for a minimum of forty-five minutes per day should reach this standard within four to seven months. This standard will allow the player to strum along to a large majority of ballads and pop songs but further development would be required to play other styles. Naturally, making such projections is an inaccurate discipline given that every person is different with varying levels of comprehension and competence; however, there are always those who look for a time frame. 


  • Take the guitar out of its case and leave it where you’re likely to encounter it. If it’s easily accessible, you’re more likely to pick it up and start strumming. 
  • Try not to view playing the guitar as practice or a chore, rather look upon it as something you like to do and choose to do voluntarily. 
  • Practice the chord shapes while watching TV. You don’t have to strum the guitar or make noise while practicing your chord shapes. 
  • Don’t try to learn too much in a small amount of time. Better to fully-learn a small amount than half-learn a larger amount. Master two chords before adding a third. 

Remember it’s a slow process. It takes time to build and no-one can make an instrument sound good in a week. Happy playing!






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FAQ – What kind of strings should I get?

This question is closely related to ‘how often should I change my strings?’ and that old chestnut will be addressed a little later. First, we’re going to look at the different types of strings to make sure you pick the correct set for your instrument and playing style. 

Different Types 

Before we get into the smaller nuances, it’s important to make sure you’re looking for the
correct type of string for your instrument. There are three main types of basic guitar strings; Steel acoustic strings, Nylon acoustic strings and Electric guitar strings. 

The most common type of strings, steel acoustic strings will suit an acoustic guitar
designed to accommodate these strings. These instruments are generally identified by string posts on the headstock where the steel strings are wound vertically. 

Nylon acoustic strings are designed to suit a ‘classical’ type guitar characterised by a wider fingerboard and slots in the headstock around which the strings are wound horizontally. Typically, these guitars will not sport bridge-pins but facilitate through-bridge stringing. 

Electric guitar strings are commonly made of different materials to steel acoustic guitar strings. The phosphor and bronze in acoustic guitar strings will often make them golden or copper in color while the nickel in electric guitar strings gives them a silvery hue. Electric strings tend to be lighter on the bottom gauges and even though some manufacturers don’t distinguish between the two; there are many subtle differences.

String Gauge

Once you have chosen the correct type of string for your guitar, the next most important task is to chose the correct gauge. Gauge simply means thickness and putting the correct gauge strings on your guitar will greatly affect how it feels and how comfortable it is to play. 

GuitarStrings500x375Heavier gauge strings boast more sustain, richer tone, more volume and a larger bass response but also can be less pliable due to greater tension, can sit higher off the fret board and can be harder on the fingers. 

Lighter gauge strings are easier to bend as they require less tension to tune them to pitch. They also sit closer to the frets resulting in the player having to apply less downward pressure to achieve a clean sound. 

More established players often chose their own string gauge to address tone and feel themselves but lighter gauges are certainly recommended for beginners. However, in some cases very light strings may sit too far down in the nut and drop the strings too close to the fingerboard resulting in ‘fret-buzz.’ Guitars can be adjusted for this but moving back up in gauge is advised.  

Buying the right gauge

7slinkyString sets will always have the gauge written on the outside of the packet. Most people use the imperial measurement system and reference the strings from the thinnest one. For instance this pack starts from 0.9 of an inch and works its way up to 0.52 of an inch (thinnest to thickest). In short terms, this packet of strings are called ‘nines’ after the thinnest string. 

Standard electric guitarists would generally use 0.9 or 0.10 strings. 0.8 would be considered very light and 0.11 or 0.12 would be considered relatively heavy. 

ROTOTB10b      Acoustic steel strings generally work as follows:    

  •        0.10 – Very light
  •        0.11 – Light
  •        0.12 – Light/Medium
  •        0.13 – Medium/Heavy
  •        0.14 – Heavy


Coated Strings 

Coated strings are designed to extend the life of the string – that is to keep it sounding Elixirfresher and more vibrant for longer. This is done via a thin plastic coating on the strings to prevent dust and grit embedding between the notches of the wound strings. This residue prevents the string from vibrating and makes it sound dead ore lifeless. Coated strings are extremely efficient and work very well but can cost up to three times as much as regular strings.

Flatwound Strings


Flatwound and groundwound strings are far less common than regular roundwound strings, these have specific uses and are used by differing styles of players for differing styles of music. For instance jazz players often use flatwound strings to achieve a more mellow sound and to reduce ‘string-squeak.’ Roundwound strings produce a brighter sound with longer sustain and this makes them the choice for most guitarists. 


There are countless brands of guitar strings on the market, each boasting various material or build superiority over its competitors. The truth is that most un-coated strings are very similar and it would be hard to tell them apart once they’re out of the packet. Experienced guitar players will generally experiment with reputable brands like D’Addario, Rotosound, Ernie Ball or Martin and will pick the ones they feel most comfortable with. Many will find the extra life-span offered by coated strings like Elixir worth the extra cost.

bare stHow frequently you should change your strings is simply down to how often you play your guitar. A good reference point is to change them if: (i) they sound dull or lifeless, (ii) they are quite dirty or (iii) you find the guitar hard to tune or it looses tune quicker that usual.

Happy playing





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FAQ – What should I look for when buying an acoustic guitar?

broken_guitar_xlargeThe last article addressed the differences between guitars – mainly nylon and steel strung – and this article shall provide a few pointers to watch out for when buying a guitar. Naturally, the quality of instrument will be reflective of price and that’s essential to keep in mind but there are a number of factors you want to make sure you are aware of before you purchase. 


The type of timber a guitar is constructed from is essential to its sound, feel and demeanor. Very high-quality guitars will be constructed using fully solid natural tone-woods; each of which has a different sonic characteristic. At the lower end of the scale, guitars are made from manufactured timbers like plywood and laminate. Indeed it’s common to see a mixture of laminate and solid timber on some instruments as many mid-range guitars consist of a laminate back and sides with a solid top.   


Unless it’s a very high-end guitar, you can be sure that the back and sides will be made from manufactured timber and a quick look in the sound hole will reveal whether the top is solid or laminate. If the grain can be clearly seen running through the wood as shown, then the top of the instrument is made from solid timber.

The body shape of a guitar will also affect the sound and comfort of the instrument. You’ll want to know whether you want a full or cutaway body type before you purchase. A cutaway is designed to allow the player access to the higher frets on the fingerboard and is cutawaya curve cut in to the lower shoulder on the guitar’s body. Purists argue that this negatively affects the sound of a guitar but the differences are often too subtle to be noticeable.  

 Many acoustic guitars come equipped with a facility for amplification called a pickup. This means that the guitar is fitted with some electronics which enable it to be plugged in to an amplifier or speaker. Most first time buyers will not need a pickup on their guitar – in fact these inflate the cost of the instrument and on cheaper instruments can be a troublesome addition. 

Build and Setup

Acoustic_guitar_00Regardless of the materials that a guitar is constructed from; build quality and setup are the two main factors that determine the quality and playablity of an instrument.

Sonically, music is a science which requires strict accuracy in its execution and musical instruments require exceptional precision during their construction to ensure that they meet such rigorous demands. Nut spacing, neck angle, scale length, intonation and string-height are all contributors to the success of the instrument and it’s essential that these are all constructed with the utmost attention to detail. 

There are many post-construction tweaks and adjustments that can be made to a guitar and these are often called guitar ‘setup.’ In fact the setup of a guitar is the largest contributor to how well or comfortable it plays. Having the neck-angle, string-height (action), intonation(tuning) and nut position all set correctly should produce a very playable instrument which stays in tune and is comfortable to play. 

aaimages (9a)Some mass produced instruments will be relatively OK to play straight out of the box. However, they often require some degree of setup to bring them up to standard and many reputable guitar dealers will carry out a full review and setup before the instrument leaves the shop. Some will request that you bring the guitar back after a few months for a second setup as new guitars take some time for the timber to settle or to become ‘played in.’


There are hundreds of guitar brands on the market all producing instruments at different specs and price. High-end solid timber guitars from makers such as Martin, Gibson, Lakewood and Lowden are extremely expensive, often retailing above two thousand euro. Makers with established brand names such as Takamine and Taylor do manufacture more affordable guitars; however, guitars under the six hundred euro mark from these brands tend to give less ‘bang for buck’ as the brand name adds to the price. 

Guitar_BrandsEntering the market at this level and below are manufacturers like Cort, Tanglewood and Yamaha. These brands produce instruments with a relatively high quality to price ratio and are a shrewd choice when looking to get the best for what you have. While they may not hold their value as well as the more traditional brands, they will provide you with a very playable instrument for a lot less. 

Essentially what you’re looking for is a guitar that stays in tune, is built to a standard that can be setup as you want, is the right size, is comfortable to play and sounds good. It would be unusual if all of these requirements were met on a budget below two hundred euro. However, there are a few guitars retailing below the three hundred euro mark that do – The Cort Earth-100, Vintage V-300 and Yamaha FG720S are all guitars which, with the correct setup will suit the needs of any player. Of course there are others but these ones are stocked widely and are easily accessible. 

Remember, everyone is different. Everyone’s hands are a different size, everyone has a unique way of playing and everyone has their own taste regarding sound – so the right guitar for one person may not be the right one for you. Hopefully the above article has provided enough information to help you get what you’re looking for but at the end of the day you have to chose your own instrument.



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FAQ – I’m just starting, what kind of guitar should I get?


Slotted Headstock

Nylon or Steel?

If you’re on the market for a guitar you’re going to come across instruments sporting both nylon and steel strings and there are some differences between the two. Nylon strung guitars (classical guitars) which are commonly used in classical and flamenco music have a slotted headstock to allow the nylon strings to be wound horizontally as well as a wider fretboard and string-through bridge. 


Steel string headstock

Steel string guitars (western guitars) are the most common type of acoustic guitar and are more commonly used on folk, trad, pop and country arrangements. These generally have a more narrow fretboard than their nylon-clad cousins as well as a pinned bridge and string-posts on the headstock. 

Soundwise they’re both quite different. Classical guitars sound more mellow and don’t boast that steel presence or bite that western guitars are known for and yet can provide a sweet enchanting tone when used in melody applications. 

If you, like most beginners are learning to play by strumming chords then a steel strung guitar is the choice for you. These are the most versatile ‘do-everything’ guitars on the market and are the go-to instrument for learning guitar. However, there are some other factors to be taken into consideration. 

  • Nylon strings are more forgiving on the fingers in the initial stages and this can be an important factor for younger players or those with tender skin.
  • For those players with larger hands who struggle to fret congested chord shapes, the extra width of classical guitars may provide relief.
  • Likewise those with smaller hands might appreciate the slightly narrower neck of a steel strung guitar. 

    Differing neck sizes on nylon and steel guitars

  • Classical guitars are available in a wide variety of sizes. Western guitars are generally either 3/4 size or full scale sizes where as classical guitars offer in-between sizes.
  • The financially cheapest guitars tend to be classical guitars so if you’re unsure whether guitar is for you, there’s no need to shell out cash on an expensive western guitar.


There’s a whole host of instruments available with different body sizes, materials, sounds and of course prices and next week’s article will cover some of these. The above has addressed the most basic of distinctions in order to help you in your choice once you’ve decided to take the first step. Happy hunting!


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FAQ – What age should I start my kids playing instruments?

wunderThere’s no comprehensive answer to this question rather a number of observations which may help point you in the right direction. First and foremost there is little substitution for early exposure to music or musical instruments. Like sport or academia, interest and intuition can start as early as the individual becomes aware of it and some positive encouragement is always welcome.

However, if you’re going to part with your hard-earned cash for lessons you might want to bear the following factors in mind:

  • Naturally, communication and the comprehension of basic instruction is a staple starting point in any lesson. In order to understand what’s going on, the student must be old enough to comprehend the tuition.
  • Many instruments and techniques are taught through basic literacy and numeracy so it’s pretty much essential that the student is old enough to have basic reading, writing and counting skills. (The alphabet and basic arithmetic being the most essential)
  •  Physically, different instruments require different traits; woodwind and brass for example require developed lung capacity whereas upright-bass requires adequate height. Naturally, these issues need to be addressed before lessons are considered. 
  • In the case of instruments such as guitars and cellos, it’s crucial that smaller scale models are utilized in the early years as these remove the difficult physical barriers which inhibit progress. The instrument must always fit the individual. 



The above factors may seem obvious but they’re as good a starting point as any. Always remember that kids learn and retain information more economically than adults so starting young is definitely a benefit. That being said, there’s no point in spending a month teaching a four year old something a seven year old would grasp in an hour. Each individual is different so parents are best placed to make a judgement on the suitability of their own children for lessons.


Hopefully these guidelines have been some help but remember they are only guidelines, some individuals won’t ‘get’ music until later in life and yet there have been child prodigies at the age of six. The best plan is positive encouragement from and early age and when you feel your own prodigy is ready to make the first step that’s the time to start!


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FAQ – The difference between electric and acoustic guitars

What’s the difference between acoustic and electric guitars? 


Acoustic Guitar

Acoustic guitars are hollow timber boxes with a sound-hole cut into them and are designed to resonate in order to make their own sound. Electric guitars are slabs of solid timber and produce very little volume when played. These are fitted with magnetic devices called pickups in order to electronically increase their volume via a speaker or guitar amplifier. 

Sound differences

An acoustic guitar produces its own volume when played and each acoustic guitar sounds different depending on several factors like the body shape, the types of wood that the instrument is made from, the strings and of course the player.


Electric Guitar and Amplifier

The sound of an electric guitar is primarily derived from the type of electronic devices it’s played through. For instance; several pickup designs sound different, each amplifier has certain controls to alter the sound it produces and that’s not to mention the whole host of electronic effects that the player can add to his equipment in order to produce a different sound. 

Playing differences

Technically there’s very little difference in playing either type of guitar. However, because each type lends itself more naturally to certain styles of music; a trend has occurred around the types of music commonly played by each instrument. Acoustic guitars tend to be more chord based and are commonly strummed or finger-picked. Their tone and relatively short sustain lends itself nicely to this application.

Due to their infinite sonic possibilities; electric guitars are put to an exceptionally wide variety of use. Slicker fingerboards and lower string height are characteristics which lend themselves well to melody playing and string bends – producing the type of sounds heard on Chuck Berry or Jimi Hendrix records. 

Common misunderstandings

Sometimes it’s confusing when guitars are described as semi-acoustic or electro-acoustic. Because an acoustic guitar produces it’s own sound, there was originally no need for any form of electronic volume enhancement. However, some acoustic guitars are fitted with a facility which enables them to be plugged into an amplifier or PA system. This facility is
called a pickup or piezo and does not change the natural acoustic sound of the instrument. Commonly, these guitars are called electro-acoustic and many players choose to fit this type of facility to their existing acoustic guitars.


Hollow-Body Electric Guitar

Semi-acoustic guitars traditionally refers to hollow-body electric guitars often used by jazz players and characterised by the ‘f-holes’ in the front. These are very similar to solid-body electric guitars with the small hollow designed to change the timbre of the instrument. Sometimes the distinctions between semi-acoustic and electro-acoustic become blurred. 

Which should I learn first?

There is no straight-forward answer to this question. Many teachers advise learning the acoustic guitar first because chord knowledge develops a good foundation of guitar playing, learning acoustic first encourages cleaner guitar playing and also helps build up the finger muscles necessary to become an astute player. Once all of these attributes are acquired, the transition to electric guitar becomes far easier than if it were the other way around.



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MME website goes live

This MME website will be officially live and online on Sat 26/04/2014

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