Useful tips for learning guitar: Some uncommon tips you may not have considered!

Some tips to better your guitar and ukulele game - start strong with these often overlooked tricks for self-taught musicians!


Jace Snel

2/27/20235 min read

Here are some great tips that have helped my students and myself -
Learn to use a pick.

Now, you might imagine this is probably the most simple thing on this list. Well, its actually kind of complicated while deadly simple at the same time. At its most basic in the beginning, however, you're going to hold your thumb across the pick and pinch it at the back, with the rest of your hand slightly opened.

person playing guitar
person playing guitar
Put something under your foot...

If your guitar or uke keeps sliding off your leg. The best thing to do is to put something under your right foot if you are right-handed or your left foot, if left-handed. That should stop that slippery little sucker. (Sitting on a shorter chair or using a strap can help too!)

Cut your fingernails!

Cutting your fingernails is a simple but often overlooked tip that can make a significant difference in your guitar playing. Long nails on your fretting hand can hinder your ability to press the strings down onto the fretboard, making it difficult to achieve clear and precise notes. Keeping your nails short will ensure that you can easily press into the frets, allowing you to produce clean and accurate notes with ease. Additionally, long nails can wear out the fretboard of your guitar over time, causing damage that may require costly repairs.

On the other hand, having long fingernails on your picking hand can be a benefit for certain playing styles. For example, John Butler of the John Butler Trio is known for his unique fingerpicking style, which involves using his long nails to pluck the strings. This technique creates a brighter and sharper sound, which is well-suited to the folk and blues music that the John Butler Trio is known for. However, if you're not planning on using fingerpicking in your playing style, keeping your picking hand nails trimmed short can help you achieve a more precise and controlled sound.

Overall, cutting your fingernails to an appropriate length is an essential tip that can help you play guitar more effectively. By paying attention to the length of your nails on each hand, you can ensure that you're getting the most out of your playing and producing the best possible sound.

Learn to tune your guitar and check it regularly.

One of the most essential skills you can learn as a guitar player is to tune your guitar correctly. An out-of-tune guitar can make even the most beautiful piece of music sound terrible. Luckily, it's a relatively easy thing to do, and once you learn how to do it, you'll be able to keep your guitar sounding great all the time.

There are different ways to tune your guitar, but the standard tuning is EADGBe, which you can remember as "Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears". Remembering this phrase can be helpful when you're learning to tune your guitar. It'll usually get a laugh out of most kids too. Which I think actually helps them remember!

While there are many guitar tuner apps available, they can be clunky and not always reliable. It's best to invest in a good-quality guitar tuner that you can keep in your case or on your guitar for easy access. This way, you can quickly check and tune your guitar anytime, anywhere.

Here are a few of my personal recommendations for the best guitar tuners I've used:

Boss TU-05 clip on -

The Classic KORG GA-1 -

The Snark SN5X clip on -

man in black long sleeve shirt holding a microphone
man in black long sleeve shirt holding a microphone
Understanding Tablature or Tabs -

Tablature is the name for how most guitar music is written these days. It consists of:

6 Lines – These represent the 6 strings on the guitar. Ukulele tab will have 4 lines.

Numbers – These represent the fret which you press. It will be written on the line of the string you also press and need to pick.

Order of the Strings – The bottom line on the page represents the guitar's top (or the thickest) string. They go as earlier. EADGBe (I like to do a lowercase 'e' for the thinnest string).

The main downfall of tab is that most don't come with any way of knowing the length of notes, rhythm or tempo. You have to also listen to the song to help learn these things. That's why learning songs you know well, to begin with, is a great idea!

There are many resources online for learning tablature. is where you will find the majority of tabs on the internet.

Practice your strumming.

Ah, strumming. It's a simple enough concept, right? Just flick your wrist up and down and you're good to go! But in reality, mastering the art of strumming takes time, patience, and practice.

First things first, let's check that you're holding your pick correctly. Are you gripping it too tightly? Too loosely? Maybe you're holding it upside down (it happens more often than you think!). Experiment with different ways of holding your pick until you find the one that feels most comfortable to you.

Now, onto the actual strumming. The key here is to keep an even sound across all strings. You don't want to have one string sound much louder than the others. And speaking of sound, let's talk about that pick. Is it too stiff? Too soft? A good pick should be flexible enough to bend and flick over each string.

But here's a little secret: nobody starts off with perfect strumming technique. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to hit the wrong strings. You're going to sound terrible at times. But that's okay! The important thing is to keep practicing and keep improving.

And last but not least, focus on the rhythm in the beginning. It's easy to get caught up in the up-and-down directions, but if your rhythm is off, your strumming won't sound quite right. So take it slow, focus on the beat, and before you know it, you'll be strumming like a pro!

Experiment with alternate tunings

While standard tuning (EADGBE) is the most common, there are many other tunings you can try. For example, the "Open D" tuning (DADF#AD) is often used in slide guitar playing and can create a unique sound. Let me know if you'd like to explore some open tunings. There are some great musicians who use them effectively - Justin Vernon from Bon Iver for example in his song "Skinny Love".

Use a capo creatively

A capo is a device that can be placed on the guitar neck to change the pitch of the strings. Instead of just using it to play in different keys, experiment with placing it at different points on the neck to create new chord voicings.

Practice with a metronome or drum machine

While many guitarists practice with a simple strumming pattern or chord progression, using a metronome or drum machine can help improve your sense of rhythm and timing.

Try playing along to different styles of music to challenge yourself!

Hopefully, these tips can help you on your way to becoming a kick ass Guitarist or Ukulelist... man they need a better term.