Mike Moxcey ©2005

Learning an Instrument

All the specifics for instruments are in the appendices. Because strumming and flatpicking is the same on any instrument, techniques such as those are covered in their own sections. How to generally tune an instrument also applies to all of them.

For each instrument, I show the basics: a reasonably common tuning, a page of chords, and a few special techniques. There are many books and sites that cover each instrument specifically, and many books and sites that just cover one style on one instrument. Those are useful if you want to advance as a musician or already know what sort of music you want to play on what sort of instrument.

Buying an Instrument

You don’t need a fancy instrument to play music. In fact, you probably shouldn’t invest a lot of money at first. That creates additional pressure to justify your investment.

The two primary qualities to look for in an instrument are that it be:
  1. Playable—frets correctly and chords correctly, and
  2. Tunable—it can be tuned (no broken gears) and stays in tune.
Spend money for geared tuners if you want to pay for quality.

One additional item—you ought to like the instrument. If it turns you on, buy it. Don’t listen to the “should” folks who tell you to get a regular guitar for folk music instead of that solid brass one that has your name on it. Ignore the pundits who say you need a resonator banjo for bluegrass if you have already fallen for the openback with a frailing scoop. Buy the potato bug mandolin if it brings a smile to your face.

It’s more important that you like the instrument you are playing than that someone else likes it for you.

You wouldn’t let your friends choose your spouse. Don’t let them force an instrument on you. That said, I would still run an instrument by a musical friend to check that the neck is straight, the tuners work, and it sounds fairly good.

Left-Handed vs. Right-Handed Instruments

Most folks strum with their right hand and fret with their left. If you’re just starting out, I recommend doing it that way. For the people who eat and write left-handed (like I do), you should still learn an instrument the regular way.

There are two reasons for this.
  1. The selfish one is that you will be able to choose from a lot more instruments and will be able to play other people’s instruments at jams.
  2. The thoughtful reason is that YOU PLAY AN INSTRUMENT WITH BOTH HANDS. It is just as hard to learn to fret with a non-dominant hand as it is to learn to strum/frail/fingerpick with one so why not give yourself a wider variety of instruments to choose from? Everything is going to feel awkward at first anyway.

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