The 5 Best Ways to Improve at Playing Guitar

When teaching guitar, I like to break down songs and techniques into smaller more manageable parts. So I thought it would be a good idea to break down my teaching philosophy into 5 areas that will help beginner students maximize their practice time. Here are the 5 best ways for beginners to improve at guitar.

1. Practice 15 minutes every day. Set a timer and practice no longer than 15 minutes, but practice for 15 minutes everyday.  It’s not too hard to fit in 15 minutes of practice into the day somewhere. 15 minutes over 4 days is better than an hour once every 4 days.

 2. Learn to read rhythms and practice strumming. Setting a strong    foundation in rhythm is vital for success in guitar playing down the road. So many issues arise as a result of a lack of understanding rhythm.

3. Learn the notes on the fretboard. There are a few methods for learning the fretboard notes and it’s a good idea to employ all of them. Being able to “see” the notes on the fretboard will take you very far.

4. Learn to play simple melodies by ear. This will greatly improve your ear for music and help your ability to learn songs faster. It can be tricky at first, but very rewarding.

5. Practice chord changes. Mastering chord changes is a very fundamental step, but an extremely important one. So special attention should be made in this area. I’ve found that a lot of issues arise from simply not being able to play the chord changes effectively.



Guitar Conditions: What to Look Out for

What to look out for when buying a guitar:

When you purchase a starter guitar you want to make sure that it is in a functional and playable condition. This particularly applies to used guitars, but new guitars can potentially have issues as well. Most of the time, the guitar that you walked out of the door with is not the one that you tried out in the store. So you want to be sure that the one you are getting is in good condition.

Without getting too technical, here are some basic things to check:

  • Action/Fret Buzzing: The action is the distance of the strings from the fretboard. It shouldn’t be too high from the fretboard or too low. If it is too high, the strings will be hard to press down. If it is too low, certain notes may make a buzzing sound. Both problems can lead to bad intonation
  • Intonation: Intonation is how accurate the pitches (notes) are at each fret. When the guitar strings are tuned to standard tuning, all of the notes played at each fret should also be at the correct pitch. The best way to check this is by using a guitar tuner on the chromatic or “all notes” setting and play each fret on every string.
  • Body Condition: Make sure the body of the guitar is in decent shape.  Make sure the finish on the body is not cracked in anyway or the bridge is not sinking into the wood (symptoms of the wood drying out). Also be sure that there are no dips or swells in the body (signs of over humidifying).
  • Neck Condition: Make sure that the neck is not warped or twisted in any way. Guitar necks can have a slight bow in them, but make sure it is not bowed too much. Also, be sure that there are no cracks in the neck or headstock.


These are some very basic tips on guitar conditions. If you’re buying a used guitar, some superficial cracks or nicks in the wood can add character to the instrument and not affect its playability in any way. Just be on the lookout for the potential issues listed above and you should be in good shape.

Photo by Paul Familetti – willie-guitar, CC BY 2.0,

Buying a Guitar for Beginner Students

Many people who are new to playing guitar ask me about how to go about buying a guitar, what type of guitar to buy, what price range, etc. In this post, I’ll give you some advice on how to do just that. Also, if you don’t want to go full blast into purchasing a guitar you might want to ask around and see if anyone you know may be willing to loan you a guitar that they might not use very often.

Where to buy a guitar?

In the Baltimore area, the biggest guitar retailers are Guitar Center in Towson and Glen Burnie, and Bill’s Music in Catonsville. Two other favorite places are Appalachian Bluegrass in Catonsville and Music-Go-Round in Cockeysville. In Baltimore City there there are two small music shops: Ted’s Musicians Shop , and Brothers Music. It’s also a great idea to check craigslist for a used guitar, but always examine it and try it out before you buy!

Electric vs. Acoustic, what’s the difference?

Whether to buy and electric or acoustic guitar for a beginner depends in large part on the style of music that they want to play. Someone wanting to play rock, jazz, or blues, would most likely want to buy an electric whereas someone wanting to play folk, classical, or bluegrass would be interested in an  acoustic.

Electric and acoustic guitar strings in standard tuning are tuned exactly the same and therefore the notes on the fretboard are identical. So learning the basics on an acoustic are pretty much the same as learning the basics on an electric. But there are some differences in regards to playability, note range, volume, and tonal quality.

Some benefits in starting with an electric guitar:
  • The smaller strings on the electric make it easier to play certain chords and to bend the strings.
  • When it’s not amplified, electrics can be fairly quiet which can allow you to not disturb your roommates or neighbors while practicing.
  • It’s easier to match the tone quality of songs that use electric guitar.
  • The body shape of an electric allows you to reach higher notes on the fretboard.
Some benefits of starting with an acoustic guitar:
  • The strings are thicker and better suited for finger-style playing.
  • It’s loud enough on its own in small settings, so there is no need for an amplifier.
  • It’s simpler than an electric, therefore there are fewer components that could break or cause issues.
  • You can match the acoustic tone found on many recordings.

Whether to buy and electric or acoustic guitar for a beginner depends in large part on the style of music that they want to play. Someone wanting to play rock, jazz, or blues, would most likely want to buy an electric whereas someone wanting to play folk, classical, or bluegrass would be interested in an  acoustic.

Body Size

The size of the body of the guitar can be an issue particularly for children,  but also for adults who may prefer a smaller over a larger body size and vice versa. There are adult size acoustic guitars that are smaller than the standard dreadnought type, the largest and probably the most common body size. The best thing to do is to try out different types and see which one feels the most comfortable.

When trying to size up a guitar for a child, please see my post on Buying a Guitar for a Child (coming soon).

What is the price range?

I recommend spending between $100 to $250 for a starter guitar, although you may find some decent used ones for under $100. I’d say stay away from the super-cheap new guitars.

Which brands to buy:

For brands in the $100 to $250 range for acoustic guitars, in my humble opinion from what I’ve observed through years of teaching beginners, Yamaha is a favorite. Epiphone, Washburn, and Fender are decent. Hohner and Mitchell (Guitar Center’s brand I believe) are ok too. Stay away from Rogue, First Act, and Oscar Schmidt (most of these brands retail below $100), they seem to always have issues. There are lots of other brands as well and most are fine as starter guitars. Basically, you want something that is functional and not going to have issues or fall apart after a few months.

In my next post, I’ll discuss a few tips on examining the condition of a new or used guitar. 

Learn Folk-Blues Fingerpicking Guitar at Huber Guitar Studio

Folk-Blues fingerpicking guitar techniques can be used in a variety of genres of music: modern indie folk, ’60’s folk-rock, singer-songwriter, acoustic blues, bluegrass, Americana/roots music, etc.

-Learn to utilize a variety of techniques: Travis Picking, Alternating bass fingerpicking, mono-bass fingerpicking.

-Learn to play guitar by learning simple songs and developing technique as you go

-Learn basic music theory and create your own arrangements of folk songs

-Learn finger-picking technique while practicing your favorite songs!

-Have fun, express yourself, and create a musical foundation that you can build on for years to come!

-Huber Guitar Studio is located in Hampden right off of I-83, 7 minutes from downtown and convenient to most areas in and around Baltimore


Learn Flat-picking, Bluegrass guitar at Huber Guitar Studio

Learning Bluegrass or Flat-picking guitar is a great method for those who are interested in folk, bluegrass, or country music and also for people who want to learn the basics and build a strong foundation of guitar techniques. It is an excellent way to get started as beginning guitarist or a great way to expand the skill-set of the advancing guitarist.

Learning bluegrass guitar involves working on the following skills:

  • Playing rhythm guitar chords “Carter style” with alternating bass notes and walking bass notes
  • Learning bluegrass/old-time repertoire: chords and melodies for songs and instrumentals.
  • Learning to develop speed and volume for playing lead breaks
  • Learning to improvise over the chord changes in bluegrass songs
  • Learning the specific styles of master flat-pickers like Doc Watson, Tony Rice, Norman Blake and others.

Competitive rates! $25 for a half hour lesson or $40 for and hour lesson. Call me (Dave) at 410-960-4436 today!



Huber Guitar Studio

Welcome to Huber Guitar Studio!

Providing guitar lessons to folks in the Baltimore, MD area. Located in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, Hon! Huber Guitar Studio offers private, one on one or small group guitar lessons to people of all ages and varying ability levels.

Whether you are a complete beginner or are looking to improve your skills as a guitar player, you’ll find Dave Huber to be a very patient and engaging guitar teacher.

Guitar Lessons for all ages and ability levels.