There is a theory that goes around – primarily amongst older guitarists, though not exclusively – that if you want to learn guitar, you should not start on electric.
It’s not true at all – and it probably prevents a lot of would-be great electric guitarists from ever trying – although like all theories of this type, it’s not completely unfounded.
The theory goes…
The average electric guitar is undeniably “easier” to play than the average acoustic guitar.
It has a slimmer neck, lighter and looser strings, and if you plug it in you can play very gently and still hear every note. The electric guitar gives you less physical resistance than the acoustic guitar – that’s a fact.
And so these people take the leap that since it’s “easier,” you won’t get as good. And so you shouldn’t start on electric.
But my question is “what if you specifically want to play the electric guitar?”
All guitars are not created equal
If you specifically wanted to play electric guitar, but I made you play acoustic first for a year to “train you up,” you’d be in for a bit of a shock when I finally handed you an electric guitar.
Sure, there would be plenty of things you learned on acoustic that would transfer right across – where the notes are on each string, the shapes for different chords, how to use a plectrum – but physically, after spending a whole year acclimatising to the physical dimensions of an acoustic guitar, with its wider neck, thicker strings, higher action… the electric guitar would feel very strange.
Because it’s not the same instrument. And that’s the mistake the “don’t start on electric” crowd make.
They think that it’s all the same instrument, just an “easier” or “harder” version. Nope.
If you want to master electric guitar, then there’s a lot that playing acoustic can help you with. But only as a supplement. What’s really going to help you is playing electric guitar, and playing it a lot.
Have you ever seen people go for a run carrying small weights in their hands, or strapped to their arms?
These people are engaging in a form of resistance training – when you make an activity harder to perform, you force your body to adapt to the increased load, and to become stronger. And it works.
There are all kinds of ways to make a run more difficult – run with your eyes closed, try to breathe as little as possible, shout random Spanish words every few seconds… all these things will make the run more difficult. But will they improve your running? Probably not.
And it’s the same with the guitar. And most things, actually.
Manual vs automatic
I was discussing the whole “don’t start on electric” thing with a student last night, and he made a great analogy: there are people who think that everybody should learn to drive a manual car – since it’s more difficult, it must make you a better driver, right?
Except what if you never had any intention of driving a manual car for the rest of your life? What benefit could there be? You’re not adding resistance, just difficulty.
When something is true in one domain, it’s easy to get carried away and try to apply it to everything. Think harder about what you’re trying to do and whether you’re giving yourself genuine, helpful resistance, or whether you’re just making life unnecessarily difficult for yourself.