Learning to play the guitar - 20 questions for Adrian Hommel


Adrian Hommel

Adrian Hommel started playing the guitar at the age of twelve. On stage he is known by his stage name Adrian Milarr.

Since 2019, he has been teaching guitar full-time at the music school in the district of Neustadt/Aisch - Bad Windsheim....


What is the perfect starting age?

You can learn the guitar at any point in your life. It doesn't matter if you're in primary school or retired. A very good age to learn guitar is roughly between nine and twelve. Experience with my students shows me time and again that constant progress is possible at this age and that control over fingers and hands is already present and usually very precise.

Do I have to learn to read music?

Yes. No. It depends. If you want to learn classical guitar, it is essential to learn how to read music. There's no way around it.

But if you're more interested in pop & rock, notes are secondary. Here, you usually work with chord symbols, which - in the beginning - can be assigned to a single fingering. Thus, an E minor chord is not a layering of the notes E-G-H, but rather a hand position - a so-called fingering.

In addition, there is also tablature. This form of notation indicates which strings to press at which fret to achieve the desired result. So maybe it's a bit like 'painting by numbers'. For jazz, you should certainly have a good command of all forms of notation.

However, the more professional you become, the better you should know about notes and different notations. The good news: this is absolutely no witchcraft and in the course of time is more of an enrichment than a burden.

Are there instruments that are played in the same way?

Yes. The lute, the mandolin or the ukulele are played very similarly to the guitar. Even the banjo should then no longer be a closed book. The bass, especially the E-Bass, has a lot in common with the guitar - even if the playing technique and the approach to the instrument is significantly different.

What physical requirements are advantageous?

The guitar was designed for two hands with five fingers each. But since the way of playing has become so varied due to aids such as capos, bottlenecks or picks, you only need two limbs that can move independently of each other to be able to play the guitar. I have seen people play the guitar with their feet, with only one arm or with fingers that are not fully developed - and still it sounded good every time.

How do you know if you are ready for the instrument?

The first thing that should be there is a general interest in the instrument. Then comes the aesthetics. Do I like the look, the sound, the material? If the answer to all these questions is yes, then there is another question to be answered: Do I have time for an instrument? When afternoons are filled with school or work and many other leisure activities, learning an instrument becomes a torture because there is no time to practise and progress is slow or non-existent.

In most cases, however, you know after a trial lesson whether you like the instrument (and the teacher) or not. Then you are ready.

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How much does the instrument cost?

The good thing about the guitar is that it is a very common instrument, and that is why there is a big market for it and also a big second-hand market.

Good beginner models cost around 200 € new, advanced and ambitious players can get great instruments in the range of 400 to 800 €. At more than 1000 € we are already in the professional range, and if the instrument is not an industrial product, but should be made by a guitar maker, then we are at about 3000 to 5000 € - of course open to the top. This list is of course only very rough and may not apply in individual cases.

Often music houses or music schools offer instruments for hire, which you can take home for a small monthly fee, if you are not quite sure at first whether you really want to buy an instrument.

However, if you do buy an instrument, you should take good care of it at all times. Guitars don't 'deteriorate' over time per se, but scratches and damage to wear parts will of course reduce the price if you want to resell it at a later date. A little loss will usually be involved in the sale of a used guitar, unless it is a rarity or speciality.

Are there any other costs?

Personally, I like to recommend another tuner, footrest, guitar holder and capo. Good items cost around €20, but can usually be had for less.

Simple care sets consisting of oil, wood polish and cleaning cloths cost relatively little and last a long time, but are not necessary for guitar beginners at first.

With electric guitars, there are also amplifiers, cables and often so-called effects devices. When buying an electric guitar, you should be aware that you absolutely need an amplifier. I don't want to open a can of worms about which amplifier you should buy as a beginner, but I would like to make a brief comment: The amplifier is just as important for playing the electric guitar as the instrument itself. Therefore, it is better not to save money.

The purchase of technical accessories can also occur in a weakened form with acoustic guitars.

How time-consuming is maintenance?

Apart from regular string changes, the guitar is very easy to maintain. A set of strings costs roughly €10 and the strings should be changed at least once a year for beginners, but preferably more often. Both guitarists and their audience benefit from new strings.

If you play a lot or for a long time, wear on the fret strings will become visible, which will eventually have a bad effect on the sound quality of the guitar. Replacing these strings costs about 200 €. When exactly that has to be depends on too many factors to give an exact time estimate. Maybe every five to ten years.

How is the instrument transported?

The cheapest and most practical are guitar bags made of fabric. These have straps that make it easy to strap the guitar to your back. This makes it very easy to carry the guitar to lessons or on a bicycle. You should make sure that the bags have a certain stability and lining so that slight impact damage can be avoided.

If the guitar has to be transported frequently in the car together with other objects, or if it is of high value, guitar cases are recommended, which protect the guitar very well due to hard plastic shells and soft inner lining. However, they often only have a carrying handle. However, the guitar should not be transported without protection. The varnish is very vulnerable and the wood is very thin, so that even slight knocks can cause damage and lead to frustration.

Learn to play the guitar


Can you teach yourself to play the instrument?

Up to a certain level, I would say yes. But the question has many facets that need to be illuminated.

First, there is the attitude. Most self-taught players have posture problems. This usually results in tension, blockages to progress on the instrument and, in the worst case, physical pain. A skilled teacher recognises these and tries to correct them little by little through exercises, because a natural posture is the cornerstone for decades of healthy music-making.

The next thing that comes to mind is the choice of pieces. Thanks to very good YouTube videos, autodidacts tend to play pieces that are too difficult quickly. In many cases, too little technique is taught here and the frustration threshold is quickly reached. A good teacher creates a good foundation for the difficult pieces by choosing many technique exercises and pieces that are adapted to the playing level. Progress sometimes seems slower with the teacher, but is more accurate.

Lastly, I would like to throw 'the inner bastard' into the ring. When you teach yourself to play the guitar, you are totally dependent on your own motivation. Here, a regular weekly visit to the teacher can be a reason to keep working constantly. Even if only in small steps.

Video platforms and online courses certainly enrich the learning of an instrument immensely. For many people, the hurdle to learning an instrument has never been as low as it is today. There are certainly autodidacts who have trained themselves very successfully on the instrument, I don't doubt that at all. With this approach, however, I would advise a visit to a local teacher sooner or later. How long and how intensively, of course, is up to you.

How do you choose suitable practice material?

First of all, it is important to know and recognise the learner's playing level. Based on this, one looks for pieces that are at this level or that are slightly challenging. Well-known pieces or songs are particularly suitable for the latter.

Coupled with additional finger exercises, one can gradually improve the technique and raise the level. It makes sense to formulate a goal or to follow a certain musical direction. Often, musical genres have special playing techniques that can then be practised and put into practice.

It can make just as much sense to deliberately change the genre in order to create variety and establish new playing techniques. All in all, there is no pattern. As a teacher, you have to be close to your students and, in some cases, discard pieces and start a new one.

Learning the electric guitar

How can you practise without disturbing others?

The classical guitar is a very quiet instrument. It can be played well at room volume and is not actually a disturbing factor.

Western guitars are usually perceived as louder when combined with a strumming pattern and chord playing. If one also sings, a volume is created that is clearly perceived by others. This should be avoided during nap time and at night, but it is not so loud as to require special consideration.

Many electric guitar amplifiers now have a headphone input, which is usually sufficient for practising. However, I tend to set the amplifier to room volume or try out a few exercises on the electric guitar without amplification. All in all, I maintain that the volume will not be a problem if you give it some consideration.

What are the different playing techniques?

Basically, there are three essential playing techniques. Strumming or hitting refers to the style of playing in which several strings of the guitar are struck simultaneously with a pick or the fingernails.

Picking or plucking refers to the playing technique in which several strings are plucked with the plectrum or fingertips, mainly one after the other.

Solo or melody playing refers to the style of playing in which a single string is struck with the pick or fingertip. In addition, there are many hybrids, all of which are exciting in their own right, but should only be learned by advanced players. To name a few: Hybrid Picking, Sweeping, Tapping, Hammer-Ons & Pull-Offs, Legato, Thumbing, Slapping.

When can you expect your first successes?

First you start with simple melodies. "Freude schöner Götterfunken" or "Au clair de la lune" are already playable after two months. If you are then diligent, you can play the first very easy pop songs after half a year and the first two-part pieces after a year. The learning curve for the guitar is extremely steep and therefore usually very motivating.


What are popular pieces for the first audition?

Well-known children's songs, Christmas carols or pop songs are usually very suitable for the first audition.

What are the classics and what is your favourite piece?

In the classical field, it is certainly pieces like the "Spanish Romance" or the Etudes No. 1 and No. 6 from AC/DC, Nirvana and Guns N' Roses cannot be missing.

Pop songs are a dime a dozen, but "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who or Limp Bizkit or Every Breath You Take should have been played at least once. It's incredibly difficult to name a favourite. My personal milestones were probably Metallica – Nothing Else Matters, Classical Gas (The Music Of) and Francisco Tárregas .

Which piece really makes you want to play the instrument?

When two guitar virtuosos let loose on an earworm:

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How can you make music together with others?

The guitar is universally applicable and finds its place in all styles.

It is most often seen as the sole instrument of singer-songwriters or in a band context together with bass, keyboard, drums and vocals. There are also special guitar ensembles consisting exclusively of guitars, or plucked ensembles in which plucked instruments such as guitars and mandolins play together. Jazz combos are also part of the guitar's natural habitat. Here, the guitar is almost always played through an amplifier.

It is rarely found in classical chamber music projects and symphony orchestras because, as described above, it is a very quiet instrument. Nevertheless, it is also occasionally found there, especially in the field of new music.

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What is the function of the instrument in ensembles?

The guitar is mainly used as a rhythmic harmony instrument. It thus creates a harmonic basis by playing various chords and supports the rhythm section by plucking or strumming patterns. In the genres of rock, metal and jazz, the guitar is also an important solo instrument, often enriching a song with catchy or virtuoso melodies.

Are there any clichés about the instrument and its players?

At parties there is always someone who can play the guitar. Worse still - he will also play the guitar. And it's very likely to be "Wonderwall" by Oasis.

Besides, electric guitarists, by their own admission, are far too quiet in a band context and absolutely have to turn up the amplifier. Always.

Guitarists can't stop playing around with their instruments during rehearsals.

And anyway: you never have enough guitars.
And anyway: you never have enough effects devices.

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