Looking for advice for a beginner contemplating what direction to take

This is probably in the wrong forum. Can a moderator move it for me if so?? Thanks!

I first need to qualify this with my age. I am 65 years old. Other than an extremely brief 15 year old experience (really insignificant maybe 1 or 2 lessons) I have never picked up a guitar before early last December. I have a recording on here of Glenn Campbell’s Gentle on my Mind and Tom Jone’s Green Green Grass of Home. So that might give you an idea where I am at, at this point.

What I wonder at this point is where to focus my study/practice. I have a cheapy acoustic guitar and will likely stick with the acoustic guitar. I see no need for anything else. There is one realism one must face, my time is limited. Maybe I’ll be lucky and have another 10-15 years strumming away, but maybe something will end it tomorrow. I do not say this solemnly, frankly whatever will be will be. (Wow I just got a good idea for song to learn!!..lol). I’m super grateful I got to enjoy this guitar experience the last 5-6 months. No regrets, no expectations.

However I am at a crossroads as to where to focus my attention at this point. I have many open chords down where I can transition from one to another fairly well. I am growing better at barre chords with time. Funny, I hear most people dread the F-chord, yet I am okay with it. I find the F#m quite easy and love playing it. I struggle more with the B family of chords. E-shape I find easier than A-shape.
I struggle with the A-shape. In fact I have a one-finger open A- chord, but I can’t play a one finger (and barre) in a barrec-chord. My finger just doesn’t bend enough.

But anyway, I digress, I can continue on attempting to improve with playing chords and improve with my presentation using tougher and tougher chords (relatively speaking). And if that is where it all ends that is wonderful.

I hear about the need to study scales. I taught myself the minor pentatonic and have become reasonably good at playing the scale. However I fail to see what it buys me. Most youtube instructors (Justin included) attempts to explain why we should learn this but the explanation falls short IMO. I’d love to see some examples. In other words, somthing like a video showing a use case model of using Am pentatonic. I am a bit green on the entire concept of improvisation. I hear the term but it is often left not fully explained. It’s really just a lead thing right??

I’ll try to explain what I have in mind. What I like to accomplish is to be able to embellish better as I play along. By that I don’t mean being able to dazzle with any great riffs or solos. (again if I were 20 years younger I might target this as a goal). I mean more just make the rhythm, the breaks, or the pauses (not well established with my terms) more musical (melody) and a bit less just strumming along. Am I being clear??

I have tried finger-picking and frankly I SUCK! So I do not this that is an option.

Is there a term or a methodology that fits what I am doing a piss poor job of trying to explain here? There must be others who have the same goal.

Another way of putting it might be; If I keep my mouth shut during a song (supress the vocals, or take a pause) I’d like to be able to make the guitar sound more musical and less like a demolition derby,

Any advice greatly appreciated.

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Hi Mike,

I think this is in the wrong place but no big deal. I’m still learning to navigate this site also.

I’m 53 and similar to you in that I have my open chords down and my barre chords are improving.
Embellishing has never been something I could do and I’m only just starting to get some of this into my playing but I know this will come if I just keep following Justins path.

Regards scales; I used to feel exactly like you in relation to never really understanding what the importance of scales were and how they are applied in playing. And same as you, every explanation I got was unsatisfactory…until I realised this; play the notes from the A minor pentatonic scale over an A minor pentatonic backing track

This was light bulb moment for me. I believe you will know what I mean when you hear it.

As far as what to focus your attention on; I would say focus on whatever it is you want to be able to do but cannot do yet and also learn the songs you want to learn at your ability now but also add some that stretch you a little.

Hope my reply has been helpful to you in some way. Just play for enjoyment and celebrate the little wins on the journey.


Hi Mike,

If you enjoy guitar, it doesn’t matter what age you are. Plenty of people on the community around your age.

I don’t think anyone learns guitar to just plays scales or chords. What kind of songs do you want to play? That will help you work out the area to focus. Learn songs that are in your capability and if you need to learning something new for that song, do so.

I’m not sure where you are at in the course. I’d suggest you work through Justin’s grades, start at Grade 1 if you haven’t done it already and get a refresher. Grade 2 gets into more of the embellishments as you mention, and Grade 3 even more so and starts to get into melody. Just learning techniques is BORING though - do some lessons, then learn songs. As I’ve moved through Justin’s courses I’ve found new songs that I wouldn’t have know of that I now love to play.

Also, btw:

  • Fingerpicking is hard for everyone when they start doing it, some good starter fingerpicking stuff in Grade 2
  • Scales are just notes that sound good played together or over a group of chords. Don’t just learn scales for the hell of it, they are good finger exercises and for expression, improvisation or songwriting.

Oh, and good work posting those recordings before. Would be great to see a video sometime, lots of good people here to give you feedback on technique. You’re right this isn’t the right section for a text post but I’m sure a mod will move it.

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Hey Mike,

Sounds like you 're looking in a big open field, not knowing where to go. A feeling I have at times, as I’m sure have many others.
Firstly, if you can play a fair few chords, including some barre chords, and incorporate them into songs after 7-8 months of playing, well that’s pretty good going. Thats a big tick right there.

Are you following along with Justins course? Not sure you mentioned it. My advice here would be to stick close to the lessons. There is a master plan in his method, and it will pay greater dividends as you move through the beginner courses, and beyond.
I know setting goals can be a somewhat tedious exercise at times, but they are crucial. If you’re not sure where you want to go, then there’s no pathway there.
You mention wanting to embellish songs more etc. One goal you could set yourself is to pick a song you like, and can play OK at the basic chord level, then study that song. See whats is contained in the original, and, being mindful of your self assessed level, see if you can up the ante on that song, that may contain little riffs, melody lines, chord embellishments etc.
Regarding scales, Justins aim is to get you playing it musically as soon as possible. So once you’ve learnt the scale - really learned it - start playing around with it. Like @jkahn said, try playing over a simple backing track. Try making up you’re own little melodies. You’ll be amazed at what you can get out of it, and you’ll likely experience alot of " aha" moments along the way.
If you want go down the theory path, that’ll open up a whole new world, where you’ll discover the intrinsic relationship between the scales and the chords (and many other things besides). The playing field is infinite, the learning ongoing for all.
And most of all, be kind to yourself. This guitar thing is not easy. And reach out here anytime you’re stuck, or something doesn’t make sense. I know I do regularly.

All the best

Cheers, Shane

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Hi Mike,

I’m 70. I played some as a teen and started playing again when I was about 65.

As others have said, it’s all about playing music. Chords and strumming and scales and theory are just skills to learn so that you can play music. At 65 I could play some songs because I had my teen experience to build on. But now, 5 years in, I can play more songs and songs in more accurate, complete ways.

You mention Am pentatonic. Louie Louie was a staple of bands when I played in the mid 60’s. I played rhythm then so now I wanted to learn the solo. Am pentatonic is the foundation. Now all I have to do is put the notes together is the right order, fast enough with a few bends and slides :blush:

I like the Allman Brothers. I learned the acoustic rhythm part of Melissa and can at least mouth the lyrics. I want to learn the lead parts and I now have enough scale knowledge to work from. Yeah, I’m no Duane Allman, but hey maybe when I’m 72…

Everyone’s time is limited in some way. The only thing that matters is that you’re getting enjoyment from it, play and learn, learn and play.



Firstly, I’ve moved the post into the Just Chatting sub-category which is most appropriate for a general question I think.

My 2cs worth to add to the replies already shared.

I think it all begins with aspiration. Aspiration gives one a sense of direction. Without a sense of direction then I think it is easy to slip into the situation you are describing.

To build on @jkahn’s suggestion this could be based on songs, but perhaps more general in terms of how you’d like to develop your musicianship. And I think about this without worrying if I will have enough time and energy to ever achieve the aspirations you have.

Once you have a sense of direction, then I think it may help you to structure the ongoing learning and practice. While there are things that are foundational in the early Grades, I think there are also things that are not absolutely necessary. Examples of that would be playing power cords. If the songs and music you play are not in a genre where power cords are the way to play them, then by all means skip it, similarly with finger-picking. And nothing stops you from coming back later, direction and aspirations can change over time.

As for learning scales, I think they help in two ways. Firstly, they are the foundation for improvisation, licks, and riffs. Secondly once you understand some music theory covering scales and the associated cords that fit in a scale, it can help in the learning of songs. Playing scales up and down will help develop control and dexterity, may be a good warm-up, but without making musical use then I agree will seem pretty pointless.

So I think the next step may be to share some sense of direction and aspiration.

A long reply and hopefully something in all that which may be helpful.

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Have a look here. It’s not just you.
Older guitar students / Can ‘old dogs’ learn new tricks?

Hi Mike ( from another Mike).
I just read your post and find that some of the things your pondering have been in my guitar journey. I started with guitar at age 60 after health issues forced me out of my truck.
anyway, after some time faffing about on youtube and not knowing where to go I started Justins course. The amount i have learnt and still learning had astounded me. A structed course works everytime. At first I must admit some of the songs are not my taste but, learning to play them had opened up areas I would not have know about, which adds to what I can do with chords,shapes and scales. For me I can stum passibly but I cannot sing ( the dog leave the room when I try) and strumming with the record does’nt feel " right" No idea why just does. As a idea have you tried arpeggio ing (…Sorry not sure of the correct term) the chord as well as stumming swopping between them, one I do use is not to strum all the strings all the time, play top 3 only for a beat or two.
I am exactly same with B barre chords but I found just moving into and out of the shapes, starting painfully slowly I can see and hear the improvment, so stick at it you will get there.
Anyway good luck on your journy, plenty of good poeple on here willing to help.