Overcoming Beginner Challenges (Guitar Lesson)

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Orville Johnson

Overcoming Beginner Challenges

Orville talks about some challenges you will likely face as a beginner and offers some advice that will help you overcome them.

Taught by Orville Johnson in Beginner Acoustic with Orville seriesLength: 13:05Difficulty: 0.5 of 5

Scene 1: Holding the Guitar

Orville explains that the best way to hold the guitar sitting down is with your feet flat on the floor, the guitar rested on your left leg, and your back straight.

When the guitar is rested on the left leg it provides comfortable access for both your left and right hands. When the guitar is rested on the right leg, you need to wrap your body around it. Over time this can cause pain in your back.

Many people begin playing guitar by resting it on their right leg. A footstool under your left foot can be used to remind yourself to rest the guitar on the correct leg, until it comes naturally.

Scene 2: Left-Handed

There are left-handed guitars that are strung in the reverse order so that a player’s right hand is on the fingerboard and the left hand is used for strumming. If you are left-handed should you play a left-handed guitar?

Orville says that it shouldn’t matter which style of guitar you learn to play because you need to learn to coordinate both hands anyway. It may even be easier for a left-handed person to learn to play a “regular” guitar. In the beginning stages of learning guitar, most of the focus will be on the left (fretting) hand. A person who is left-hand dominant can have an advantage in mastering fretting techniques.

Scene 3: Up & Down

It is important to remember what the terms up, down, top, and bottom mean relative to a guitar. Going “up” on a guitar refers to going up in pitch. “Up” means moving along the neck toward the body and “down” means closer to the head. The “top” string refers to the 1st (highest pitched) string. The bottom string is the 6th (thickest) string.

Scene 4: Positioning

When learning to play the guitar you need to master using all four fingers of your left hand. Here is an exercise to help develop this skill.

To begin assign four consecutive frets to each finger (eg. Index – first fret, middle – second fret, ring – third fret, pinky – fourth fret). Start with the 6th string and play the pattern: open (no fingers), index finger, middle finger, ring finger, pinky. Then play the same pattern on the rest of the strings, working your way from the “bottom” to the “top” string. When you play with your pinky on the top string, reverse the pattern so you will play: pinky, ring, middle, index, open. Work your way from the top string to the bottom string.

Change the position of your left hand and the frets you assign to each finger while working on this exercise. Remember to press the string right behind the fret you are playing to get the best tone.

Here is another exercise to help develop left-hand coordination:

Play a similar pattern (open, index, middle, ring, pinky) starting on the first fret of any string. Once you play a note with your pinky, shift up the neck so that your index finger is playing the next highest fret. Continue the pattern until you play the 12th fret with your pinky, then reverse the pattern and play down the string.

These are good exercises to help stretch out your fingers and to begin training yourself to use all of your fingers while playing the guitar.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

WithoutguitarWithoutguitar replied

Hi Orville. I am so happy that I found you. I want to tell yo to tell you why I am here First I need to tell you that I Was given 6 months to live 15 months ago (bad heart valve Too old to operate. 89 years). The lord has other plans And so do I. I hope to spend my days in the recliner learning w Learning all I can about my guitar. I have studied two teachers and G Two teachers and now know from you how to set My goal. It is now known that guitar playing takes years Which I don’t have. Also arthritis is now making Hands painful. Tried meds salves will now remain With brain learning and maybe get to practice. I got nylon strings and looking at slide guitar. I am happy learning at JamPlay and listening to bluegrass music Thanks for your wonderful lessons and so much Patience in presenting them. The lord has given me you As a blessing and I am grateful. Thanks hon! Just wanted To let you know. I am hoping to find more from you God bless you dear Love

hemlocklakehemlocklake replied

the audio does not work

Bradley.ConwayBradley.Conway replied

Hi hemlocklake! I checked this lesson and the audio seems to work fine. Maybe try a different browser or make sure that your sound isn't muted in settings?

SadieCommentSadieComment replied

Amazing. Holding the guitar on the left leg with my feet flat on the ground is revolutionary! There’s a lot less tension in my back, legs and arms and everything feels a lot easier to play. Thank you millions!

Jean Le BeteJean Le Bete replied

I'm a lefty with a left handed guitar and it feels natural to pick with the left hand, & I seem to have enough strength to fret with the right hand. I also rest it on my left knee, so the complete opposite to what Orville suggests. Your guitar also looks small, so maybe its easier for you to rest on your left knee. I guess we all have to find our own way. Thanks for the lesson. J.

fuzzboomfuzzboom replied

In the lesson material, I can see that the initial 0 is to denote the open position on the first string E. But I don't see how that 0 repeats on the A note 5th fret and D 10th fret and so on. Please clarify.

claimdogclaimdog replied

Yes! Work on that pinkie.

tsimpkintsimpkin replied

Did I miss scene 4 on my iPad?

kirobakiroba replied

Guitar on the left leg sure made a difference in feeling more steady holding it and more comfortable overall. Thanks Orville

kirobakiroba replied

Guitar on the left leg sure made a difference in feeling more steady holding it and more comfortable overall. Thanks

jimandnicijimandnici replied

Enter your comment here.

jimandnicijimandnici replied

Love the scales and finger practices! Great teacher with a lot of experience and practical skills! thanks!

karolkakarolka replied

Thank you for the information on knee position. I am more in control already. The warm up exercises will be a life long tool.

mattpainemattpaine replied

Matt here in Hong Kong. Just did my first guitar lesson. Clearly a lot of practice and repetition required to get my left hand familiar with the fret board. Seems to be a case of don't think about it too much...just practice, practice, practice. The journey begins....

krummholzkrummholz replied

Great first lesson. Will continue.

zertndozertndo replied

Just a small suggestion that I think will help everyone taking lessons. Wouldn't it would be better if you showed the left hand view from the perspective of the guitar player and not the student. That way the student can match the fingering on the fret board and strings more accurately. No offense intended, but Steve Eulberg's fingers are pretty big and hard to see from the students perspective, which string and fret he is actually playing. I believe this should be applied to all lessons from all teachers.

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

If you check out some of the more recent lessons, you'll see that a guitarist's eye view camera has been added.

orangeloverorangelover replied

Thank you so much for your suggestion re: knee position. cheers.

jaranthjaranth replied

THANK YOU for your description on holding the guitar! I, too, have back issues... and this improved things drastically for me.

dtlotusdtlotus replied

I'm SO glad to hear you suggest holding the guitar on the left leg! I've done a few classical lessons so am comfortable holding it on the left. All other "acoustic" guitar teachers I have come across talk about holding the guitar on the right leg and I could just NOT get used to it at all. So it was music to my ears to hear about your way of holding the guitar. It makes sooo much sense!! Thanks Orville. Great lesson BTW! I'm gonna continue with you and hopefully find all your lessons as good!

dtlotusdtlotus replied

I'm SO glad to hear you suggest holding the guitar on the left leg! I've done a few classical lessons so am comfortable holding it on the left. All other "acoustic" guitar teachers I have come across talk about holding the guitar on the right leg and I could just NOT get used to it at all. So it was music to my ears to hear about your way of holding the guitar. It makes sooo much sense!! Thanks Orville. Great lesson BTW! I'm gonna continue with you and hopefully find all your lessons as good!

cvarnercvarner replied

What is the plastic (?) thing by the sound hole?

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

The white thing in the soundhole is a pickup I use when I plug in the guitar to play thru an amp or soundsystem. the black thing next to the soundhole is called a pick guard and is there to prevent the face of the guitar from getting scratched up by your picks.

apple694apple694 replied

I think that the lesson should show the tabs at the bottom of the page. That wouild make it easier to follow.

frwyguyfrwyguy replied

Great lesson!

mscomptchrlmscomptchrl replied

Oww. had to lay off for softball season. back at it agian. Starting at square one. No distractions til spring. fingers sure are sore but it won't take long. Had forgotten about holding it on my left knee. I can't reach the ground if I put my feet flat. I hike up my left foot on the rail of the stool. Hope that is OK. i'm a lefty but I play right so not problem there. Not sure I will ever get my pinky to work right though, but will drill and keep trying.

0kate00kate0 replied

If your theory about lefthanded playing is true, then righties should play lefty to make the most of their dominant hand! I think most people just know which direction is comfortable for them, just as we know which hand it feels right to hold a pencil in when in kindergarten. It's a brain-wiring thing. If anyone thinks they would be truly comfortable playing either way, then they must have a more ambidextrous brain, and learning righty/standard may make sense. But for many of us lefties, it would set us way back and be discouraging to try to force learning any way but southpaw.

mscomptchrlmscomptchrl replied

eureka! After a week of practice I can actually hit the correct strings with a pick. I had no problem hitting the strings with my thumb but I couldn't seem to hit the correct strings with a pick. Am going on to lesson 2. Will keep practicing lesson 1. Thanks. Still have problems resting the guitar on my left knee though. Will work on it.

donrmerzdonrmerz replied

What happened to my comment?

donrmerzdonrmerz replied

I am a fairly big feller, 6' 4" 220 #s, and my fingers are a bit wider and thicker than average. I found that if I bend my wrist a bit sideways, hand to the right, and hold my fingernails parallel to the strings instead of a bit angled as I see most teachers, it is much easier to get a decent tone without buzzing or touching the string above or below the one you want. Of course it's better if you can find a guitar with a 3/4" or wider nut. It's not quite as easy but sure worth it even though it takes me more practice to get faster with chord changes. Any comments?

jmmorr3jmmorr3 replied

I have never played a stringed instrument before and was wondering if it is normal to have a lot of wrist, arm and shoulder discomfort starting out of the gate? I'm sure it is because my wrist and fingers are not accustomed to being used in this fashion and will take some time to get used to the positioning and movement. Do you have any suggestions for trying to stay as relaxed as possible? Also it seems as if I have no lateral control of my ring and little finger. I can move them up and down (not with much strength of course) to depress the string, but not down the neck to reach for the next fret. Is this also something normal for beginners?

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

Yes, it will take awhile before you get much separation between your ring and little finger. Physically, your index and middle finger have independant tendon systems, while your ring and pinky are connected to each other. Go slowly and try not to be frustrated. As to shoulder and wrist discomfort, work on holding the guitar correctly (on your left leg/knee) and let your left shoulder fall naturally. It is normal for a beginner to have problems with some of these issues until you get the proper positioning.

dignindignin replied

You should not be having pain (great pain, anyway) You should take more breaks. If you are practicing strumming, just let your left arm dangle a little and continue your pattern. Look at this video http://members.jamplay.com/guitar/phase-1/lesson/181-hand-stretches?playlist_item=1&start_time=0.47& for more info about pre and post playing workouts.

ezravanezravan replied

I found out I also play on my right knee.. it's a hard habit to break! I also am left handed and always thought I was missing out on something by playing the "right handed" guitar.. it's good to know it doesn't matter.

jnc51jnc51 replied

Great suggestions on this video. i am left handed as well and found you philosophy on the subject very meaningful. I play standard and now realize i didn't make a mistake. I also like playing on my left knee on certai songs.

joeziglerjoezigler replied

I have to thank you for your suggestion on putting the guitar on the left knee. I've been doing it now for a few weeks and I notice a definate improvement in my posture with the guitar and also much better ergonomics with my left hand especially, reaching higher up the neck. It makes so much sense and it works so well I can't believe it's not common practice, what a great idea!

Orville.JohnsonOrville.Johnson replied

It might take some time but you'll be glad you retrained yourself. I was...oj

caseyargallcaseyargall replied

First thankyou, i tryed your method of putting the guitar on the other knee, felt weird at first but i will stick with it because i see what your talking about... i have tried it before but just felt weird so i didn't stick with it..i'll give it a while. look forward to watching more, from casey.

Beginner Acoustic with Orville

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Discover the essentials with Orville Johnson by learning some of the most popular topics and techniques in beginner guitar.

Overcoming Beginner ChallengesLesson 1

Overcoming Beginner Challenges

Orville talks about some challenges you will likely face as a beginner and offers some advice that will help you overcome them.

Length: 13:05 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Flatpick and StrummingLesson 2

Flatpick and Strumming

Orville talks about flatpicks, how to hold them, and how to strum with them.

Length: 13:29 Difficulty: 1.0 FREE
Fingerpicking and PatternsLesson 3

Fingerpicking and Patterns

Orville Johnson introduces some basic fingerpicking patterns.

Length: 6:58 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Metronome and PracticingLesson 4

Metronome and Practicing

Orville Johnson explains why it is important to practice with a metronome. He also covers some practice strategies that will help minimize your frustration.

Length: 21:35 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Practical Theory Part 1: IntervalsLesson 5

Practical Theory Part 1: Intervals

Orville dives into part 1 of his beginners' guide to practical theory. In this lesson, you will learn the basics of intervals.

Length: 17:30 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Practical Theory Part 2: ScalesLesson 6

Practical Theory Part 2: Scales

Orville Johnson takes a look at scales in part 2 of his practical theory mini-series.

Length: 18:40 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Practical Theory Part 3: Chords and ConstructionLesson 7

Practical Theory Part 3: Chords and Construction

Orville Johnson jumps into part 3 of his practical theory mini-series. This lesson is about chords and their construction.

Length: 21:08 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Practical Theory Pt. 4: ModesLesson 8

Practical Theory Pt. 4: Modes

It's now time to tap back into the practical music theory portion of this series. Continuing on with part 4, Orville now discusses what modes are and how they are really just scales with Greek names.

Length: 19:50 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Basic Blues ShuffleLesson 9

Basic Blues Shuffle

Orville Johnson demonstrates a basic blues shuffle. This incredibly easy rhythm piece will have you sounding like a blues great in no time!

Length: 12:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Connecting Chords with Bass RunsLesson 10

Connecting Chords with Bass Runs

Orville Johnson demonstrates how simple chord progressions can be spruced up with bass runs. The classic song "Oh! Susanna" is used as an example.

Length: 12:04 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Voice LeadingLesson 11

Voice Leading

Orville Johnson talks about the concept of voice leading. This concept will help you play chord progressions that flow better and sound more harmonious.

Length: 10:20 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Major ChordsLesson 12

Major Chords

Orville Johnson teaches the basic major chords in this lesson. He also explains the best way to change from chord to chord, a challenge for many beginners.

Length: 19:23 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Note ValuesLesson 13

Note Values

Orville Johnson jumps into some light theory with a lesson on note values.

Length: 7:51 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
The CAGED SystemLesson 14

The CAGED System

Orville Johnson takes a beginner's look at the CAGED system.

Length: 8:14 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Open D TuningLesson 15

Open D Tuning

Orville Johnson introduces open D tuning and encourages exploration of its possibilities. This tuning is great for a broad range of playing styles.

Length: 24:04 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Open G TuningLesson 16

Open G Tuning

This time, Orville Johnson introduces open G tuning. This tuning is great for a broad range of playing styles and sounds pretty without even fingering a chord.

Length: 21:28 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Beginner Fingerstyle TechniquesLesson 17

Beginner Fingerstyle Techniques

This lesson is perfect for the beginner looking to develop dexterity and independence in the right hand fingers. Orville guides you step by step through basic rhythm concepts and fingerstyle exercises.

Length: 26:00 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
How Does a Capo Work?Lesson 18

How Does a Capo Work?

This lesson presents any beginner with the information needed to understand how a capo works. This tool enables you to change the key of a song without learning any new chord voicings.

Length: 22:07 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Beginner Lead TechniquesLesson 19

Beginner Lead Techniques

Orville introduces basic techniques that can be used to play lead guitar. This lesson includes a primer on hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends and harmonics.

Length: 22:14 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Orville's Guide to PracticingLesson 20

Orville's Guide to Practicing

Orville dispenses a lifetime of accrued wisdom on the subject of practicing and learning. This lesson is only 16 minutes long, and it will not only change how you learn the guitar, but can also be applied...

Length: 16:38 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Creating New ChordsLesson 21

Creating New Chords

This lesson is all about creating different types of chords. This does steer the lesson towards music theory, but the information is invaluable and infinitely applicable.

Length: 23:05 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Orville Johnson

About Orville Johnson View Full Biography Orville Johnson was born in 1953 in Edwardsville, Illinois and came up on the St. Louis, Missouri music scene, where he was exposed to and participated in a variety of blues, bluegrass and American roots music. He began singing in his Pentecostal church as a young boy, in rock bands in middle school, then took up the guitar at 17,with early influences from Doc Watson, Rev. Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, and Chuck Berry. In the early 1970's, Orville spent several seasons playing bluegrass on the SS Julia Belle Swain, a period-piece Mississippi river steamboat plying the inland waterways, with his group the Steamboat Ramblers.

Orville moved to Seattle, Washington in 1978, where he was a founding member of the much-loved and well-remembered folk/rock group, the Dynamic Logs. Other musical associates include Laura Love, Ranch Romance, File' Gumbo Zydeco Band, Scott Law, and the Twirling Mickeys. Johnson, known for his dobro and slide guitar stylings and vocal acrobatics, has played on over 100 albums. He has appeared on Garrison Keilor's Prairie Home Companion, Jay Leno's Tonight Show and was featured in the 1997 film Georgia with Mare Winningham. His musical expertise can also be heard on the Microsoft CD-ROMs, Musical Instruments of the World and the Complete Encyclopedia of Baseball. He teaches as well at the International Guitar Seminar, Pt. Townsend Country Blues Week and Puget Sound Guitar Workshop.

Orville released 4 recordings in the 1990's: The World According to Orville (1990) Blueprint for the Blues (1998) Slide & Joy (1999) an all-instrumental dobro tour de force and Kings of Mongrel Folk (1997) with Mark Graham. He also appeared on 4 discs with the File' Gumbo Zydeco Band and produced Whose World Is This (1997) for Jim Page and Inner Life (1999) for Mark Graham. In the 21st century, he has released Freehand, a new Kings of Mongrel Folk disc, Still Goin' Strong, and been featured in the soundtracks of PBS' Frontier House and the Peter Fonda flick The Wooly Boys as well as the compilation cd Legends of the Incredible Lap Steel Guitar.

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