You want to learn how to play guitar.
As a professional guitar teacher of many years, I can help you free here today.
Forget expensive guitar lessons, simply read and follow the below and you’ll have all the beginner steps you need!
You’ll even be able to start playing songs by the end. 😀
So read on to learn guitar, and share if it’s useful.
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How Your Guitar Is Set Up & The Names Of Each Part
If you’re new to learning an instrument and studying music, the guitar is going to seem like a complete mystery. That’s why it’s a good idea to learn how your guitar is set up.
There are basically three types of guitars. There are acoustic, classical and electric guitars.
Regardless of the type of guitar you have, there are a lot of things all three types of guitars have in common. The main difference would be whether the guitar is equipped with electronics.
Naturally, electric guitars come with electronics on the inside, but sometimes acoustic guitars do too, so that they can be played through an amp or PA system.
In any case, these are the parts of a guitar you should know about:
Starting at the top of the guitar, we have the headstock, sometimes called “head” for short. This part of the guitar usually has the brand’s name or logo on it and is also where the tuning pegs are positioned.
Sometimes there is also a plate protecting access to the truss rod. But you don’t need to know anything about that right now.
Speaking of which…
The tuning pegs are sometimes simply called “tuners”. Naturally, these pegs are used to tune your guitar.
This is done by tightening or loosening the string depending on which direction you turn it in.
The strings goes through the holes and wrap around the posts on the headstock. It’s not terribly important that you know what posts are right now, but if you end up changing your strings, it’s always good to know.
Guitar nuts can be made from a variety of materials, such as ebony, ivory, bone, brass and even plastic.
This is the thin piece of material between the headstock and the neck holding the strings as they pass towards the posts.
In between the headstock and the body of the guitar, we have the neck of the guitar. This is where your non-dominant hand will be doing most of its work.
Fretboard & Frets
On the flip side of the neck, we have the fretboard or fingerboard, so called because it’s lined with fret wires, also known as frets, which are made of materials like nickel, copper, zinc, lead and cadmium.
At the bottom of the guitar, we have the body. This is where a lot of your guitar’s tone comes from, though the neck also plays an important role in that.
There are a few different components of the body we’re going to look at now.
Some electric guitars have sound holes too, though they don’t produce as much sound as an acoustic guitar.
Pickups, Switches & Knobs
Electric guitars come with pickups in place of a sound hole. A pickup is a transducer that senses vibrations produced by instruments.
Basically, this is what allows an electric guitar to be electric. Pickups are what allow the instrument to be heard when it’s plugged in.
If you have an electric guitar, you may have a switch (or multiple switches) along with a knob or two on the body.
Although there are different types of switches, the most common one is a pickup switch, which allows you to flip between pickup combinations (most electric guitars come with two or three pickups) for different sounds.
The knobs generally control the volume and tone of the pickups.
The bridge is where the strings are tied to, fed through, clamped down or otherwise. The string begins its journey here across the neck until it wraps around the posts on the headstock.
Not much needs to be said about strings. If you have a standard guitar, it should have six.
The Correct Way To Hold Your Guitar
Holding a guitar is not an exact science, despite what some books and experts might have you believe.
I think the first criteria is comfort. You should be comfortable holding your guitar while sitting down.
While you will probably play guitar standing up as often as you will sitting down, especially if you plan to become a performer, first it’s important to become comfortable with the instrument sitting down.
Second, the body of the guitar should be right against your stomach. Not the center of your stomach, more like just right of your belly button (left if you’re playing a left-handed guitar).
The neck should extend out in the other direction, mostly parallel with the ground. It’s okay if it’s tilted slightly upwards.
Finally, you should keep your back straight and maintain good posture.
The temptation as a beginner is going to be to slouch over your guitar to see the fretboard or to tilt the entire guitar towards you to do the same.
As much as possible, we want to avoid this, as correcting bad habits later is harder than starting with and maintaining good habits.
If you’re a classical guitarist, then your posture is going to be a little different.
You’ll want to sit up straight and relax, sit on the edge of your chair with both feet on the ground and hold the guitar at a 45-degree angle. You should feel the guitar on your body and both of your legs.
Where You Sit Does Make A Difference
I don’t think there’s any need to put too fine a point on it, but where you sit can make a difference.
I used to practice guitar anywhere and anywhere I could, and I still do – at a computer chair, on the floor, on the couch…
Most guides tell you to avoid this. If it means the difference between practicing and not practicing, however, then make do with what you’ve got.
The ideal is a simple chair without arms.
Naturally, comfort is still important. That being the case, either using a cushioned chair or a wooden chair with a cushion can be helpful.
Classical guitarists sometimes use footstools to prop up their left leg and keep their guitar at the proper angle.
Posture Does Matter
I taught guitar for over 10 years. I’m not a stickler for posture.
But I still think it’s important. If you’re going to be sitting for long hours practicing, doubly so.
As with exercise and working out, you should learn to support your weight with your abdomen.
Sitting up straight might not feel natural at first, but if you think about all the hours you’re going to be sitting and practicing (especially if you see yourself becoming a pro), it makes good sense.
How To Hold A Guitar Pick And Why You Need One
You can play the guitar with a pick, with your fingers, or a combination thereof.
I believe it’s important for beginners to start out using a pick. There’s a lot more to think about when using your fingers.
Playing with your fingers is a valuable skill but it might be too much to take on right away. It’s okay to learn how to do this later.
Learn how to play with a pick, with proper technique, and then begin increasing your picking, plucking and strumming vocabulary.
What Type Of Pick Should I Buy?
There are picks made of a variety of materials, sizes, thicknesses and shapes.
A conventional, medium pick should be fine for most beginners.
If you have an acoustic guitar, try a medium nylon guitar pick. 1.00mm and up is starting to get a little thick. If you prefer more hardness, you can try that.
Otherwise, try something like 0.60mm, 0.74mm, 0.88m and the like.
Similarly, if you have an electric guitar, try a medium pick made of a conventional material.
My favorite is Dunlop Tortex picks. Again, try something along the lines of 0.50mm or 0.60mm. If you like it harder, you can try the 0.88m and 1.00m which are my favorites.
Your preferences will likely change over time as you experiment and that’s totally fine. But start off with something middle of the road so you can get a good feel for the pick.
How To Hold Your Pick
The pick should be held with your index finger and thumb.
This may feel unnatural at first. Many beginners tend to hold their pick like they would hold a pen, meaning they hold it with their thumb, index and middle fingers. That’s what we want to avoid.
I think it’s a good idea to hold the pick relatively close to the tip (the sharper end). If you hold it at the opposite edge, it’s going to feel awkward and make it hard to pick notes.
The tip of the pick should be pointed in the same direction of your index finger, towards the body of the guitar.
That’s basically what there is to know about holding your pick. It doesn’t matter if the rest of your fingers are closed or hanging open, but I like to leave mine open because it makes it easier to play with more funk and groove.
Basic Picking Technique
Picking can happen in two directions – up and down. So, it’s a good idea to learn both downstrokes and upstrokes at this point.
When you go back and forth between downstrokes and upstrokes, it’s called alternate picking.
Your tendency will be to pick in a downward direction only, but I think it’s a good idea for beginners to get into the habit of alternate picking.
Here’s a simple exercise:
Try slowly picking your sixth string down and up and keep repeating. You’ll begin to see the kind of precision you need to do this properly.
If you feel like you’ve got a hang of this, try the same exercise on your other strings too. This is a great way to get a feel for alternate picking.
Guitar Requires You To Use Both Hands – So, Which Hand Is Responsible For What?
Regardless of dominance, you have two hands – left and right.
And, no matter which of your hands is dominant, as a beginner it’s possible to learn to play left handed or right handed. Either way, it’s going to feel a little awkward at first.
But a right-handed student would feel slightly more at home on a right-handed guitar. Likewise, a left-handed student would feel a little more comfortable on a left-handed guitar.
Assuming you are right-handed, your left hand will be responsible for fretting notes/holding down strings on the fretboard. Your right hand would be used to pick, pluck and strum the strings.
If you’re left-handed, just flip this around. You’ll use your left hand to pick, pluck and strum the strings. And, you’ll use your right hand to fret notes or hold down chord shapes.
Your hands need to be working together in synchronicity to produce the desired sound. This takes some work.
Forming chord shapes with your non-dominant hand is a matter of training your fingers and hand from scratch. Likewise, picking and strumming notes won’t come naturally for your other hand.
But once you get started, it’s important to stick with the roles you’ve picked out for each hand. Progress can come quickly at first if you’re willing to put in the practice.
As a teacher, I would often be in awe of my new students, because they would improve rapidly within the first 30 to 60 minutes.
How To Tune Your Guitar
Tuning up your instrument is an important skill to learn. And, honestly, it can take a while to get a good feel for it, especially as a beginner.
For one thing, you need to develop your ear for different notes. Unless you have a lot of experience playing other instruments, your ear probably isn’t developed enough to tell notes apart yet.
For another, you need to know which direction to tune your pegs in. Assuming your guitar is set up correctly, you would turn counter clockwise to tighten and clockwise to loosen.
I say “assuming your guitar is set up correctly” because sometimes people string up their guitars incorrectly without even knowing. Not a big problem if you’re aware of it, mind you.
The last thing you need to know is what notes to tune your strings to. I will be talking more about the alphabet of music later, but for now I will let you know that the names of your strings are E, A, D, G, B, E (standard tuning) from thickest to thinnest.
With that, here are three ways to tune your guitar:
Tuning By Ear
This is probably the hardest way for you to tune your guitar right now, but as you work your way through the rest of this guide, you should start to get a better sense of how it works.
Tuning your instrument by ear can help you get your guitar in tune with itself, but it won’t necessarily be in tune with other instruments unless you’re starting with a reference or have perfect pitch.
So, the first thing we need to do is get your fifth string (second thickest) in tune.
Place your index finger (left hand) at the fifth fret of the sixth string. Then, compare that note with the note on the fifth string (i.e., pick the sixth string and then the fifth). Leave the note on the fifth string open (don’t fret).
Compare the two notes and adjust the tuning peg on the fifth string until it sounds in tune with the note on the sixth string.
We then want to repeat this process all the way down.
Place your index finger on the fifth fret of the fourth string, and then compare the two notes. Adjust the tuning peg on the fourth string until it sounds the same.
The only change happens on the third string. Instead of placing your finger at the fifth fret, you’ll want to place it at the fourth fret and compare that note to the string below it (second string).
When you get to the second string, you can go back to the fifth fret and compare that note to the open first string.
Tuning With Reference From Another Instrument
If you have a reasonably good ear, you can tune your guitar to another instrument, such as a keyboard, piano, another guitar or whatever you happen to have around.
The first thing you’ll want to do is get your sixth string (E) in tune. So, find an E on whatever instrument you’re using as reference, and compare that E to the E on your guitar. Adjust until it sounds right.
From there, you could find an A, D, G, B and E and repeat the same process.
Another thing you can do once your E string is in tune is to tune the remaining strings by ear (as described in the previous section).
If you have a good ear and a perfectly tuned guitar sitting next to you, getting your detuned guitar back in tune should be relatively easy.
In any case, it’s good to know that there are multiple ways of going about this process.
Tuning With A Guitar Tuner
This is likely the easiest way to tune your guitar as a beginner.
An electronic tuner can be used for any type of guitar and is generally the best type of tuner to have.
I’m partial to the Snark clip-on tuner and Korg Chromatic tuners. They both work well, but of course the clip-on tuner can save time and space because it can sit on the headstock of your guitar.
With this type of tuner, when you play a note, it will display it on your tuner’s screen, letting you know whether it’s sharp or flat.
So, all you need to do is tighten or loosen your string until your tuner says it’s in tune.
But keep in mind that you need to keep picking the string you’re tuning, or your tuner won’t know which string you’re trying to tune.
The Alphabet Of Music
Music has an alphabet just like most languages do.
And, the musical alphabet only goes from A to G. So, there’s A, B, C, D, E, F and G.
But there are 12 notes in total. I only mentioned seven so far.
That’s because there are a few more “in-between” notes, which are known as sharps (#) and flats (b).
So, if we were to add sharps, we would have: A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G and G#.
If we added flats, we would get: A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G and Ab.
It’s okay to think of A# as Bb, or C# as Db. Technically, these are the same notes. It’s just a matter of how they are written.
The exact specifics of when to use sharps and when to use flats will not be covered here. But now you know a lot more about the alphabet of music than when you started this lesson!
The one thing we will cover is the name of your strings. Let’s have a look.
The Names Of Your Strings & How To Remember Them
From the thickest to thinnest, your strings are named E, A, D, G, B and E. Let’s also number them from six to one. So, your sixth string would be the thick E, while your first string would be the thin E, on either end of the fretboard.
There is a simple mnemonic device we can use to remember these strings in order. Here it is:
In case you missed this, it’s worth stating again: The first Eddie is your sixth string, which is the thickest. The second Eddie is your first string, which is the thinnest.
The story only makes sense if you start at the sixth string.
How To Read Guitar Tablature
A piano player would generally begin their journey learning how to read standard notation.
Although there is some value to learning to sight read as a guitarist too, a far easier way to get started as an aspiring guitarist is with guitar tablature (informally and better known as guitar tab).
Standard notation wasn’t necessarily created with guitarists in mind, and that becomes clearer as you begin learning how to read music.
So, guitar tab is a great place to start because it’s considerably easier to understand. And, once you learn how it works, it’s a skill that will stay with you (assuming you keep practicing).
So, let’s look at guitar tab basics.
Guitar Tab Basics
Here is an example of what guitar tab looks like (just the section marked “TAB” – the notation above is standard notation, which is not a major focus of this lesson):
At first glance, it may seem a little confusing, but it will make a lot more sense once you learn a few basic things.
The first thing to understand is that the horizontal lines represent your strings.
The line at the top is your first (thinnest) string. The line at the bottom is supposed to be your sixth (thickest) string.
It might seem like the opposite would make more sense (I even had a student or two who insisted I reverse the tab so they could better understand it), but once you get used to it, it makes a lot more sense this way.
The second part to understand is the numbers.
Now, music and math do have a bit of a connection, but you probably weren’t expecting to see numbers used to notate music.
The numbers on tab charts represent which frets you need to play. You’ve probably noticed how there are metal pieces all along your fretboard. These are your frets.
So, if the tab reads “1”, you’d want to place a finger on the first fret and play that note.
Now, sometimes you will also see a “0”. This tells you to play an open string.
Thirdly, you’re going to see numbers stacked vertically on tab sheets. What do you do with these?
When you see numbers stacked like this, it means you’re supposed to play them simultaneously.
We haven’t talked about chording just yet, but in many cases when you see notes bunched together like the above, you’re supposed to strum all of them together.
Fourthly, you may also see notes stacked vertically on non-adjacent strings.
You don’t need to worry too much about this as a beginner. But what this usually means is you need to play these two notes together.
This is not possible with just a pick. But if you use your fingers, or your pick and another finger, you can easily play two notes with a bit of a spread.
Finally, when reading guitar tab, be sure to read it left to right.
The notes on tab charts are always notated sequentially (assuming they were created by someone who knew what they were doing).
So, when you’re trying to learn a song off a tab, you don’t want to end up playing the notes in the wrong order. It might be a good exercise, but it will sound weird for sure.
Learn The Numbering System For Your Fingers, Frets & Strings
Now that we’ve covered the basics of guitar tab, we should take a moment to talk about the numbering system for your guitar.
Again, numbers may not be your strong suit (they weren’t mine either), but if you’re serious about learning the guitar, I’m sure you won’t be bogged down by this.
First, let’s talk about your fingers, specifically the fingers on your non-dominant (fretting) hand.
Your index, middle, ring and pinky will be numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively.
Your thumb will not be assigned a number. If it ever shows up in tab (as it might in a Jimi Hendrix song), it will be notated with a “T”.
Second, we have our frets. I’ve already spent some time talking about this, so it should be starting to sink in.
Most guitars have about 20 frets give or take (some with more, some with fewer). Most of the playing, however, tends to haven in the first five frets.
So, the space between the nut and the fret, and following that, the space between a fret and another fret would be given a number.
The fret closest to the nut would be your first fret, and after that it would just go up as numbers normally do: 2, 3, 4 and so on.
Don’t forget that these fret numbers apply regardless of what string you’re playing.
Finally, we have our strings. I’ve already covered this, so this will mostly be review at this point.
Your thickest string is your sixth string, while your thinnest string is your first. You should be able to figure out the rest.
Where To Place Your Fingers When Fretting Notes
Now that we’ve covered the basics, we’re just about to get into our first example.
But there are a couple more things you should know about fretting notes.
The first is that your finger should not be placed directly on top of your fret. Your finger should be hugging the fret (i.e. directly next to it), in the space between the nut and the fret or one fret and another fret.
And, when I mean it should be hugging the fret, I mean towards the body of the guitar, not away from it.
The second thing you need to know is how much pressure to apply. If you apply no pressure, the note will either be muted or buzzing.
We need to apply enough pressure to close the gap between the string and the fretboard of the guitar.
Although this isn’t that much pressure when it comes right down to it (unless there’s something wrong with the action on your guitar), this will feel unnatural, so it’s better to err on the side of more pressure rather than less.
Once you’re confident your finger is in the right position, try picking the string to see if the note sounds clearly. If not, keep adjusting the position and pressure of your fretting finger until it does.
How To Play Single Note Melodies & Bass Lines With Examples
Most guides on how to play guitar tend to dive right into how to play chords.
Now, at some point, you’re going to want to learn how to play chords. And, it’s something we cover in this guide as well.
But having taught guitar for over 10 years, I think it’s better to start simply. There are so many students that have trouble with chords early on.
And, it’s no surprise – you’re teaching your fingers to do something new for the first time.
So, let’s have some fun and work our way up to chords.
Here are some single note melodies and bass lines to sink your teeth into.
What Are Single Note Melodies?
A single note melody revolves around playing one note at a time.
Playing recognizable songs like “Ode to Joy”, “Jingle Bells” and even “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is relatively easy using one note at a time.
I will forego those examples here, but it would be a great idea for you to go and learn these on your own time, especially now that you know how to read tab.
In any case, it’s time for you to play your first single note melody.
How To Play Single Note Melodies
It’s always a good idea to begin simply. So, the example that follows uses just two strings – the first and the second.
Additionally, it only uses open notes, the first fret and the third fret.
The melody might sound “familiar”, and that’s because of how simple it is. I didn’t write it with any song in mind, but it also doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to write this.
So, let’s give this a try (as with before, feel free to ignore the standard notation part – it’s just there to give you a feel for timing).
While playing this example, remember to use alternate picking. Play it slowly and precisely.
Speed will come with time. Work on your accuracy rather than your speed, because accuracy is what makes a great guitar player.
Do you have a good feel for it yet?
If not, go back and practice it 20 times. No, I’m not kidding. Repetition is where the growth happens. Trust me – if you play this example 20 times or more, you will improve very quickly.
What Is A Bass Line?
In a band situation, a bass line is typically played on a bass guitar, piano or keyboard.
But there are no rules stating that bass lines can’t be played on a guitar, and many solo instrumental guitarists do play bass lines while playing chords and melodies at the same time.
A bass line is a great thing for a beginner guitarist to learn, because it can teach you a lot about playing simply and rhythmically.
Bass lines sometimes require you to play two or more notes simultaneously, but the vast majority involve playing one note at a time. And, that’s what we’ll be doing here too.
How To Play Bass Lines On The Guitar
As you can probably guess, a bass line would be played on the thicker strings rather than the thinner ones as you can get deeper sounding notes.
You can easily learn bass lines from “Seven Nation Army”, “Theme from Mission: Impossible” or even “Uptown Funk”.
Again, I won’t get into these examples here, but feel free to try them on your own time.
Here’s a simple bass line I wrote to give you a feel for this. Again, we’ll only be using two strings.
A bass line generally plays a supporting role in a song (and because of that, quite simplistic), but it can still be a lot of fun to play.
As with the first example, feel free to go through this several times until you feel comfortable with it. Practice slowly and accurately.
How To Play The C Major Scale & What You Can Do With It
While we’re on the topic of single note sequences, it’s worth learning a scale or two.
A scale is made up of a specific set of notes that sound good together.
With the C major scale, which is what we’re about to learn, it has a pleasant, happy, upbeat sound to it.
Other scales can create dark and moody, sad and uncertain, exotic and otherworldly, mischievous and cool, and a variety of other sounds.
What Is The C Major Scale?
The C major scale is often one of the first scales taught on most instruments, especially piano.
It’s made up of seven notes: C, D, E, F, G, A and B, in that order. So, the scale contains no sharps (#) and no flats (b). Also note that when practicing the scale, a higher C is usually included at the end (because it makes the scale sound more complete).
On a piano, the scale would be played using only the white keys (with no black keys).
When you understand how the scale works, it offers a great foundation for learning music theory.
But for now, all you need to know is that it’s the same as the familiar Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do melody.
How To Play The C Major Scale
Playing the C major scale on guitar isn’t that difficult, but also not as straightforward as it could be.
The notes on the guitar are laid out quite differently than on a piano, and you probably noticed how there are no “white keys” or “black keys”.
There is some logic to the guitar’s tuning and fret system, but it can take a while to unlock all the secrets.
A guitar is almost like a string orchestra unto itself. It can replace violin, viola, and to some extent, cello, all by itself.
That’s because you’re often playing many notes simultaneously. This does happen on orchestral stringed instruments too, but not as often.
And, a violin or viola doesn’t quite have the same tonal range a guitar has.
Anyway, here’s a simple way you can play the C major scale (forwards and backwards) on guitar:
In this example, we’re using four strings to play the C major scale. But don’t be intimidated. If you’ve been following along with the examples to this point, you should be comfortable with this one too.
For now, just think of it as a finger exercise. As you continue learning how to play guitar, finger exercises can prove quite helpful, especially while you’re developing your finger strength and dexterity.
Again, feel free to repeat this example several times. You can even make it a part of your daily practice regimen.
Other Things You Can Do With The C Major Scale
You may be surprised to find that we’ve already been using the C major scale in several different ways.
The single note melody and bass line examples from earlier were all constructed using the C major scale.
So, the C major scale can used to create melodies, bass lines, riffs and so much more. And, the same can be said for any major scale, not just C major. It doesn’t matter whether it’s D major or F major.
But we may as well keep developing our skills.
So, here’s another exercise using the C major scale:
With this exercise, you’re simply working your way up the scale from C to G and then working your way back down. This is a relatively common exercise on piano and with vocals.
The A and B notes have been left out completely. That doesn’t matter a whole lot. It’s just an exercise.
In the second half of the exercise, you play the same thing an “octave” higher.
Here’s a simple explanation. On the guitar exists many C notes.
After all, there are six strings and roughly 20 frets. That gives you 120 notes to work with. But as I already explained, there are only 12 notes in music, so the same notes are repeating across the fretboard.
Some C notes are deeper. Others are higher.
So, in the second half of this exercise, you’re starting and ending on a higher C note than the first. But aside from the fact that you’re playing higher versions of the same notes (and you’re playing different frets), the exercise is identical.
How To Play Double Stops (Dyads) With Examples
We’ve spent quite a bit of time playing single note exercises.
The cool thing about this is that working on your single note skills can eventually translate into competency with lead guitar too.
But now that we’ve worked on some single note examples, it’s time to try some double note examples.
And, that’s what double stops (or dyads) are. It’s where you play two notes at the same time.
The concept is simple but in practice, it can be a little tricky. Some students struggle with this simplified form of “strumming”, something we’ll be covering in more detail later.
In any case, we’re graduating from one string and moving to two. Are you ready?
What Are Double Stops?
So, as I’ve already shared, a double stop is where two notes (two strings) are played together.
If you’re playing electric guitar and have the overdrive cranked up on your amp, playing two notes together can sound quite dramatic.
After all, riffs from songs like “Smoke on the Water”, “Frankenstein”, “Money for Nothing” and even Van Halen’s “5150” is full of double stops.
Now, some of these songs are a little complex and aren’t recommended for beginners. But the main riff from “Smoke on the Water” is easy and worth learning. So, feel free to learn it on your own time.
How To Play Double Stops
The first example I’m going to show you was inspired by riffs like “Smoke on the Water” and “Frankenstein”. So, it should be plenty of fun to play.
The idea is to play the middle two strings together (the third and fourth strings).
Playing single notes doesn’t require much movement from your picking hand. But playing two notes requires a slight flick of the rest.
Glide the pick over the two strings in order (forth, then third) with a downward motion. Tilt your wrist slightly upward so that your pick is also pointing slightly upward. This will make it easier to play double stops.
Let’s give this a try:
Playing the open notes should prove relatively easy. As for the fretted notes, I’d suggest using two fingers, one on the fourth string and one on the third.
It could be your index and middle, or middle and ring.
You’ll need to “cram” your fingers into the same fret, so don’t worry too much about getting both fingers to hug the fret.
Tilt your hand slightly towards the body, as this will make it a little easier to fret these notes together.
If you’re comfortable with this, you could try using one finger at a time to “barre” two strings simultaneously. That’s how I usually play riffs like this.
I’m going to give you one more example to try. This one might be a little trickier by comparison.
I would like for you to give “power chords” a try. A power chord is a specific type of dyad known as a “fifth”.
It can be played using your index and ring fingers, or index and pinky fingers as there is a two-fret spread between the notes you need to fret.
Power chords are used to construct a lot of rhythm guitar parts, especially in all forms or rock, whether it’s punk rock or metal.
Songs like “All the Small Things”, “Enter Sandman”, “American Idiot” and many others use plenty of power chords.
If you can get the hang of this, you’ve got the essence of rhythm guitar for electric guitar.
Here’s the example I want you to try:
Now, you should be aware that there is such a thing as an “open” power chord which is exactly what the first two notes in the example are.
So, this involves playing the open sixth string and the second fret at the fifth string together.
The other two power chords utilize the same shape. Your index finger goes on the sixth string while your ring finger or pinky is on the fifth string, two frets above.
This is a movable shape. So long as your index and ring (or pinky) have a two-fret spread, you can move this shape anywhere on the guitar and get a different power chord.
Again, give yourself time with these examples and repeat them plenty of times until you feel fully comfortable with them.
How To Play Triads With Examples
It’s possible for a beginner guitarist to progress rapidly from playing one string all the way to playing three strings.
And, that’s what we’ve been working on to this point. So, hopefully the examples presented so far haven’t been too difficult for you.
As you can probably guess, we’re going to begin working on three strings now. We get to try out some triads.
What Are Triads?
If a dyad is two notes, then a triad is three notes. You may have figured that out already.
Now, a triad can be picked or strummed. Depending on which way you go about it, you’re going to get a different effect.
Triad shapes can also be quite specific, as they are the essence of chords. The definition of a chord is three different notes played simultaneously, so that’s another thing that makes triads special.
Van Halen has plenty of songs that use triads, whether it’s “Runnin’ with the Devil” or “Unchained”. To be fair, he often mixes them with single note runs, hammer-ons and pull-offs or even bass notes.
A couple of familiar songs that use triads would be “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the intro to “Island in the Sun”. These two songs are worth a look as a beginner.
Anyway, here are a couple of examples using triads for you to work on.
How To Play Triads
Triads can be a little trickier compared to single notes and double stops. That’s why I’ve kept the following examples simple.
At times, playing triads can mean fretting three distinct notes (all on different frets, no less), which is what can make it tricky.
The first example uses quite a few open notes, which makes it a little more digestible, even for a beginner.
As with double stops, you’ll see that the notes are stacked vertically, indicating that they should be played together.
Give this example a try:
The hardest triad to play in this example is the last one that appears in the second bar. This is basically a Dm chord. I’ll be talking more about this chord later.
So, in case you were having trouble with it, here’s how to play this chord:
Place your index finger on the first fret of the first string. Place your middle finger on the second fret of the third string. Finally, add your middle finger to the third fret of the second string.
If you play this triad and any note sounds muted (try picking the triad instead of strumming it, just to be sure), you’re going to need to curl your fretting fingers more.
This will feel weird at first, as with many things you attempt on guitar for the first time. But this is how you’re going to be playing chords as well, so it’s time to get used to using those finger joints.
In the next example, we’re going to play some picked arpeggios.
This requires that we get our fretting fingers in place before picking, or we’ll end up picking wrong notes.
So, this is a bit more of a challenge. But there are still quite a few triads using open notes in this example, so that will make it more consumable.
And, if you have any trouble playing this example, don’t worry – I’ll offer a few more tips below.
In this example, there’s basically one shape per bar (except for the final bar).
Hopefully, you can see where your fingers need to go already. But just in case, here’s an explanation.
In the first bar, you would need one finger on the first string third fret and another on the second string third fret. Ring and pinky can work well here.
In the second bar, you just need one finger on the second string first fret. Very simple. Index will work just fine.
In the third bar, you don’t need to fret any notes. Enough said.
In the fourth bar, there are two shapes.
The first shape is basically a D chord. Again, I’ll talk more about what this is later.
This is probably the most challenging triad I’ve introduced to this point. But I’ve taught it to countless beginners so I’m confident you can play it too.
So, just trust me with this. The fingering will feel weird, but in time it will feel more natural.
To play this triad, place your index finger on the second fret of the third string, your middle finger on the first string second fret, and your ring finger on the third fret of the second string.
You’ll probably need to position your fingers at a bit of an angle (towards the body of the guitar) for this to feel natural.
Then, the final triad is the same as the first triad shape you played, except that it’s strummed.
As far as picking goes, as you move towards thinner strings, use a downstroke. When you’re moving towards thicker strings, use an upstroke.
Again, spend plenty of time practicing.
And, if you’re up for the challenge, try playing the examples I gave when I was sharing about how to read tabs. You might have more luck with these after you learn how to play chords, mind you, which is what we’re going to get into now.
How To Play All Open Major & Minor Chords
Now that we’ve learned to play up to three string simultaneously, and had lots of fun along the way, we’re ready to talk about chords – specifically, open chords.
You’ve picked up a few basic skills that are going to help this process go more smoothly.
Chords will still prove challenging, especially compared to the exercises we’ve worked on to this point, but if you feel good about your triads, you’re well on your way to getting the hang of chords.
I believe it’s important for beginners to learn all open chords (not just G, C, D or some variation thereof).
This is because you get exposed to more shapes. And, as you continue improving on the guitar, you’re just going to be introduced to increasingly complex chord shapes, so you may as well get going with as many shapes as you can handle right now.
Let’s start learning!
How To Read Chord Diagrams
Go back and review the section on the numbering system for your fingers, frets and strings. If you get this, reading chord diagrams should be trouble-free for you.
Now, depending on your reference material, chord diagrams are going to be oriented in different ways.
Some will have the strings represented with horizontal lines, as with guitar tab. This is my preference.
But some material turns the diagram on its side, so your strings are represented by vertical lines rather than horizontal lines.
I think the former is better, and that’s basically what I’ll be covering here.
So, with the horizontal lines representing strings, naturally the vertical lines are going to be frets. Most chord diagrams just show three frets.
Then, you’re going to see dots or circles positioned over certain strings at certain frets. These circles tell you where your fingers are supposed to go.
Many diagrams will also have numbers in the circles themselves or left of the circles (where the nut of the guitar would be).
These are the numbers signifying which fingers to use where. In case you forgot, 1 is for index, 2 is for middle, 3 is for ring and 4 is for pinky.
Chord diagrams often have O’s and X’s as well. If you see an “O”, it means to play the open string along with the notes you’re fretting. If you see an “X”, it either means to mute the string or don’t play it.
Now you know the basics of reading chord diagrams.
Overcoming Common Challenges Including Unintentional Muting & Buzzing
I touched on this briefly with triads, but it’s even more critical as it comes to chords.
You must curl your fingers. This is not optional.
Most chords require you to use two or three fingers, so your fingers are going to “bunch up” a bit.
Not only is keeping your fingers straight going to feel unnatural and make it harder for you to position your fingers correctly; it’s also going to cause unintentional muting.
Once you have your fingers in the correct position, be sure to pick each note individually with your picking hand (instead of strumming).
This way you can check each string to see whether it’s muted and adjust your fretting fingers accordingly.
Another common problem is buzzing. This usually happens when you’re not applying enough pressure to certain frets.
Go back to the basics. Fretting a note requires that your finger is positioned correctly and you’re applying the right amount of pressure.
So, don’t forget to close that gap between the string and the fretboard (i.e. applying pressure in another direction won’t help).
This usually takes a while for most players to master, so don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t come together right away.
Major Chords – C, D, E, G, A
In this section, I’m simply going to offer an explanation as to where your fingers should go with each chord.
But first, let’s talk about what a major chord is. A Major chord has a natural, complete, happy sound to it (just as a major scale would).
It’s common practice to combine major chords with minor chords in context of a song, but there are songs that just use major chords too.
So, the first chord you’re going to try is C. Place your index finger on the first fret of the second string, middle finger on the second fret of the fourth string and ring finger on the third fret of the fifth string.
This may feel like a bit of a stretch, so keep practicing until you’ve got a good feel for it.
Now, the D chord. We already covered how to fret this chord earlier. Your index finger goes on the second fret of the third string, your middle on the second fret of the first string, and your ring finger on the third fret of the second string.
With the E chord, you want to place your index finger on the first fret of the third string, middle on the second fret of the fifth string, and ring on the second fret of the fourth string.
It’s easy to feel your fingers “bunching” with the E chord. But take my word for it – use the fingers as suggested and keep making the chord shape until it feels comfortable.
This one is a bit of a stretch. Place your index finger on the second fret of the fifth string, middle finger on the third fret of the sixth string and ring finger on the third fret of the first string.
Finally, we have the A chord. This one could end up being one of the hardest of the open chords, but certainly not impossible to play, even as a beginner.
Your index, middle and ring fingers will all go on the second fret, on the fourth, third and second strings respectively. Start with your index at the top (fourth string), your middle finger in the middle (third string) and your ring finger at the bottom (second string).
Minor Chords – Dm, Em, Am
Compared to major chords, minor chords have a slightly unnatural, incomplete, sad or dark sound to them.
It’s unusual for a song to contain only minor chords, even if it’s sad sounding, but it does happen.
Now, let’s get to the Dm chord.
I’ve already shared how to fret this chord in the triads section. Your index finger will go on the first fret of the first string, your middle finger should go on the second fret of the third string and your ring finger needs to go on the third fret of the second string.
Now, Em. This is probably one of the easiest chords to play. Place your middle finger on the second fret of the fifth string and your ring finger on the second fret of the fourth string.
One more minor chord to go. Am is fretted exactly like E, except that all your fingers move down a string (towards the ground).
Your index finger goes on the first fret of the second string, while your middle finger goes on the second fret of the fourth string and your ring finger on the second fret of the third string.
With every chord you practice, pay special attention to the chord diagrams. Strum the notes that you’re supposed to strum and avoid strumming the strings you aren’t supposed to.
One Last Tip – Practice Making The Chord Shapes
Some beginners fret a chord and strum it a dozen times thinking that means they’ve practiced the chord a dozen times.
It doesn’t work that way. All this means is you’ve strummed the chord a dozen times. You’ve only made the chord shape once.
So, while strumming the chord is a good idea (also see my note about overcoming common challenges earlier), the thing that you want to practice more is making the chord shape.
So, make the chord shape, release completely, then make it again. Rinse, repeat.
That will help you gain muscle memory faster as opposed to making the chord and strumming it a thousand times.
Learning How To Strum The Guitar
Once you’ve learned how to play chords, the next logical step is to learn how to strum.
I’ve already talked a little bit about strumming, so you should have a general sense of what that looks like.
Strumming chords is basically how most singers accompany themselves on the guitar (if they’re playing guitar at all).
Strumming is an essential technique for every guitarist to learn.
As with picking, we have downstrokes and upstrokes and we want to mix these up.
When strumming in a downward direction, you want to point your pick slightly upward (towards your face), while gliding across the strings.
Picking technique is important here. So, don’t forget the basics of how to hold a pick.
When strumming in an upward direction, tilt your pick slightly downward (towards the floor), and again glide your pick across the strings.
This will all happen automatically, on an unconscious level as you become better at strumming. But you will need to be more deliberate about these actions and motions when you’re just beginning.
Strumming chords creates a basic “bed” of sound that you can sing over, or add other instruments to.
Simple Strumming Patterns
When it comes right down to it, there are a near endless number of strumming patterns.
But there is a logical limit to what sounds good and what’s practical, especially if you’re accompanying yourself as singer.
And, if you’re playing in a specific style (like reggae), you’re not going to want to deviate too far outside of the genre’s established rules.
I always encourage my students to listen to various drum beats and come up with their own strumming patterns that complement the beats.
But before we do that, let’s try these two patterns.
Quarter Note Strumming Pattern
Now we need to get into a little bit of theory, but nothing too complicated.
Most songs are in 4/4 time, meaning there are four beats per bar.
So, with a quarter note strumming pattern, you would strum on every beat.
Each strum should be even in terms of length.
Here’s what that looks like:
If you’re using a good metronome, you would simply strum on every “click”.
Now, let’s create a few variations just for fun (this is great for practice).
First, try playing the example above with just downstrokes.
Second, play the example with just upstrokes.
Finally, play the example alternating downstrokes and upstrokes.
You just got three exercises for the price of one.
Did you notice how upstrokes were kind of awkward? My guitar tech and mentor once explained to me that this is because you’re fighting gravity.
I don’t know if this is true, but there’s something to it. Still, it’s worth practicing your upstrokes, and as far as alternating goes, that’s what you’re going to be doing most of the time, so you need to get good at it.
Eighth Note Strumming Pattern
Eight notes are basically double the speed of quarter notes.
If you were counting them out loud, you would count it like this:
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
So, if you were playing with a metronome, you would have one additional strum in between every “click”.
Relatively simple, right?
Here’s an example you can try strumming along with:
Again, try this with just downstrokes, just upstrokes and then alternate.
I’ve been playing guitar for about 17 years, and just upstrokes still feel weird to me. So, don’t be surprised if you have a bit of trouble with this.
As with all other examples in this guide, give yourself plenty of time to work through these. Repetition will make you a better player (assuming your technique is good).
Developing Your Rhythm
Strumming chords is all about developing your rhythm.
There are basically three components to music: Rhythm, melody and harmony.
I don’t think one is necessarily more important than the other. But whether you’re accompanying yourself or playing in a band, it’s a good idea to work on your rhythm.
Doing so will help you in the studio and on stage if you decide to make a career of it or even just be a weekend warrior.
One tool that will prove handy during this process is a metronome. This device will click out a rhythm at a set tempo and time signature (you can adjust it) so you can stay on time as you’re practicing.
Metronomes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These days, electronic metronomes are quite popular, and some guitar tuners have metronomes built right in.
If you have a smartphone, you can also download a metronome app. And, if you’re using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), it probably has a metronome built into it too.
For me, jamming with a drummer is where I made the biggest progress on a rhythmic level. So, if you can, find a solid drummer you can jam with.
Learning Your First Song
To be honest, you’ve basically learned your first song already.
It wasn’t any song specifically, but the examples I’ve showed you could easily be turned into full songs, and you wouldn’t even need to add a riff (assuming the instruments/vocals surrounding the riff are interesting).
But I will still point you in the direction of additional songs you can learn on your own.
Simple Songs You Can Learn To Play
There are plenty of songs people say are “simple” and are in fact quite complex (most The Beatles songs fall under this category).
Sure, if you break them down and just look at the chord structure of the songs, you’d see that the transitions are easy.
But the guitar parts themselves often contain picking, riffing or other flourishes and embellishments. So, when you strum along, you sound nothing like them.
Green Day’s “Time of Your Life” is a great example. I remember trying to learn that one as a beginner, and it wasn’t easy at all!
Anyway, let’s assume you’ll just be strumming along to the changes in these songs and not attempting to perfect all the intricacies.
Here are a few songs I would recommend trying:
- Travelling Wilburys – “End of the Line” (the intro isn’t easy, but the rest of the song has a relatively straightforward strumming pattern with just three chords).
- Oasis – “Half the World Away” (this song has a nice, slow tempo and a great strumming pattern for beginners to learn – there are quite a few chord changes in this song, however, so I’d suggest focusing on the intro/verse).
- Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Bad Moon Rising” (barring the intro, it’s a nice, easy song to strum along to).
- Van Morrison – “Brown Eyed Girl” (this is technically one of those songs with an unassumingly intricate guitar part, but if you just focus on the chords, it’s not bad at all).
- Bob Dylan – “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (a great song for beginners to learn to strum).
Keep It Simple
For reasons I’ve already shared, the tendency is going to be to shy away from songs that sound overly complicated, or to try to get your playing sounding exactly like the recording.
That’s not the goal as the beginner, and it isn’t always realistic either. The goal is to get in the habit of listening to the rhythm, playing in a way that complements the song and staying in time.
That’s enough of a challenge when you’re getting started.
As well, you might see chords you don’t recognize (of the sus2, sus4, 7, maj7, min7 variety). For sus chords, just play major. For 7 or maj7, just play the major equivalent. For min7, play a minor.
You’ll learn all about these chords in time. First, get comfortable with the shapes you learned in this guide.
Practice Habits You Should Adopt
I’ve already said a lot about practicing, and that’s because practicing is incredibly important.
I know it sounds like I’m repeating myself, but that’s to drive this point home. If you want to get better, you need to keep repeating the same exercises over and over.
Stop counting how many times you do something (like you would counting reps at the gym). Stop looking at the clock as you’re doing it.
Instead, pay attention to how you’re sounding. Pay attention to your timing. Focus on getting your technique right.
Correct unintentional muting, buzzing and avoid strumming or playing notes that shouldn’t be played.
With that, here are a few more tips to make your practice sessions more productive.
Remember what I said earlier?
When it comes to practicing, speed is not what matters. Accuracy is.
So, practice accurately. Speed will come as a natural byproduct of precision.
Get every note ringing out crisp and clear. Play with the right timing. Smoothen out your transitions.
Transitions (switching frets, strings or chords) is especially difficult for beginners, which is why a lot of your time should be spent working out your transitions.
Practice daily if possible. It’s okay if you vary up your schedule later, especially if you’re attending a lot of rehearsals, performing live or recording in the studio.
Until then, you should set aside a minimum of 15 minutes per day to practice.
The ideal is three hours per day, but if you practice bad technique for three hours per day, you’re just going to get good at playing with bad technique. So, don’t rush into this.
Consistency is key. And, you don’t necessarily need new material until you’ve mastered what you already know.
Go over the examples in this guide repeatedly.
Develop Proper Technique
I’ve offered tips on proper technique throughout.
Your fingers on your fretting hand will hurt, especially as you’re developing callouses, but aside from that, you shouldn’t be experiencing major pain.
Hold your pick properly and practice alternate picking (and strumming). Curl your fretting fingers while playing chords.
When picking, use your wrist. When strumming, use your arm (from the elbow down).
Learn to apply the right amount of pressure to the strings with your fretting hand. At first, your tendency will be to press down harder. That’s okay, but you’ll want to loosen up as you improve and figure out how much pressure you need.
Sit with your guitar against your body. Don’t tilt it towards your face. Maintain your posture.
Study How Others Play
Spend plenty of time listening to and watching other guitar players. With so many YouTube videos out there, there’s no excuse not to.
I spent a lot of time watching Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen early on and learned a lot just by studying them.
Watch your favorite guitar players and those you’re just curious about.
I think you’ll improve at a much faster place if you spend adequate time doing this.
Practice While Standing Up With A Strap
If you don’t have a guitar strap, get one.
I don’t think you necessarily need to practice standing up all the time, but if you’re planning to perform one day, it’s a good skill to build.
You’ll immediately see how different it is to play standing up compared to sitting down. You might even feel like a much lesser player trying to play guitar while standing up.
Either way, spend time practicing sitting down and standing up.
Be Realistic – Here’s How To Ensure You Make Steady Progress
I’ve taught hundreds of students over the years.
I can only remember a few who took practice seriously and made steady, consistent progress.
The only way to stoke the flames of passion is to identify your “why”. You must take ownership of your love of music.
Music can be a lot of fun. But at times, you won’t feel like playing your guitar. It’s about what you do with those moments that makes all the difference.
So, don’t expect to become Jimi Hendrix overnight. Child prodigies are rare, let alone adult prodigies.
Be realistic. Know that you will get whatever you put into it.
Nuno Bettencourt is arguably one of the best guitarists alive. But even he had to work on it. Early on, his bothers showed more promise than he did. He just kept practicing.
So, here are a few things you should know if you want to make steady progress as an instrumentalist.
You Won’t Be Good At First – Don’t Worry
Again, a lot of students (or maybe just their parents) expect them to be amazing out of the gate.
Sure, there is the occasional player that shows early promise. I happened to be one of them.
But I still worked at the craft. Quite aggressively, in fact.
And, while I’ve achieved a level of comfort on my instrument, I could point out plenty of players who are better than me, simply because they have more experience and spend more time practicing than I do.
Either way, please don’t worry about being good at first. Everyone had to start somewhere. You might be surprised to find that some of your favorite players weren’t that great at first either.
Guitar will feel awkward and uncomfortable, and that’s perfectly normal for most students.
Get Into A Practice Routine
In the investment world, experts recommend inspecting what you expect.
What this means is that you need to keep an eye on your investments. Assumptions are unreliable. You just have no idea how things are going to turn out.
Playing the guitar is the same way. If you’re not improving, you need to take a close look at how much time you’re spending in practice. Be honest with yourself.
No one will care more about your progress than you – not your parents, your siblings, your friends or your teacher. It’s up to you.
So, establish a practice routine and stick with it. Set some goals around your practice sessions. This is the only way to ensure steady progress.
Understand That You May Experience Some Finger Pain
There will be some discomfort while learning to play the guitar, especially early on.
More than likely, you will experience some finger pain, specifically with the fingers you use to fret notes.
Over time, as you keep practicing and playing, you’ll develop callouses. The skin on your finger tips will toughen up, leading to less pain.
This doesn’t mean you won’t still tear the skin on your fingers from time to time. You probably will, especially if you end up playing for long hours. But you won’t experience as much pain.
That’s why it’s a good idea to limit your practice time early on. It’s important that you take some breaks in between. That way, you can still pick up and play the next day.
Otherwise, you might still be in too much pain to keep up with your practice schedule.
What To Look For In A Beginner Guitar
If you don’t already have a guitar, you’re going to need one.
You might be able to rent from the studio or borrow one from a teacher or a friend for a while, but that’s probably not going to last you forever.
Having your own guitar makes it easier for you to practice at home, which is where it truly counts.
But what should you look for in a beginner guitar?
Electric, Acoustic Or Classical?
There are plenty of guitars out there that are essentially classified as beginner guitars, and a low price point is generally a dead giveaway.
Early on in this guide, I pointed out that from a broader perspective, there are essentially three types of guitars – electric, acoustic and classical.
What’s right for a beginner and what’s right for someone who’s been playing for a while can change, so it’s important to keep that in mind.
If you’re serious about guitar, at some point, you’re probably going to own more than one. You might end up owning eight, like I do right now.
I started on a classical guitar and happen to think it’s great for beginners because they generally come set up with nylon strings, which are easier on the fingers.
The only downside is that classical guitars have wider necks than acoustic or electric guitars. So, if you have small hands, classical might not be the way to go.
To me, the second-best choice is electric. The strings on electrics are not as thick as they are on acoustics, which makes them easier to play.
Electric guitars are quite versatile and can be used for just about any genre of music. And, despite their reputation of being loud, the volume is totally controllable.
Finally, you have acoustics, which aren’t a bad choice by any means. But acoustic guitars can be hard to play because of their thick strings and sometimes high action.
If you want to play any type of rock, it’s unlikely you’re going to limit yourself to an acoustic guitar for long, though it still has its place.
Now, if you happen to find a bargain on a better guitar (one that isn’t classified “beginner”), feel free to check it out.
If you have a guitar that’s been passed down from your grandpa, or you have a neighbor that’s willing to give you an old guitar, again it’s at least worth a look.
One last important factor is the size of the guitar. It should match the person using it. So, if you’re buying for a small child, try a mini guitar. If you’re a smaller man or woman, try a partial sized guitar.
Regardless of what guitar you end up with, be sure to bring it to a qualified tech for set up. This will cost you a bit of money, but it’s worth it.
Ask them to replace the strings and adjust the action. Ask them to make the action nice and low, so it’s easy for a beginner to play.
That’s about all there is to know about choosing a guitar.
How Much Should I Spend On A Beginner Guitar?
Be prepared to spend somewhere in the $100 to $400 range.
I don’t recommend purchasing cheap, off-brand guitars that only cost you $50 or somewhere in that range. They are typically poorly constructed and awful to play.
Some lesser known brands are great. But just for reference, it’s better to buy a guitar from an instrument store than an electronics store.
Companies like Squier (owned by Fender) or Epiphone (owned by Gibson) are still worth it. Sometimes, the guitars they produce are downright amazing for the price point.
If you have more of a budget, it’s okay to spend more. Just remember that if you decide guitar is not for you down the line, you might end up regretting spending more.
And, in most cases you won’t need to spend $400 to get a nice beginner guitar. There are lots of options in the $100 to $300 range.
Common Myths & Misconceptions About Practicing & Playing The Guitar
It doesn’t matter how long the guitar has been around. People continue to share their own stories, experiences and urban legends and they keep spreading.
The internet has made it easier than ever to get a message out into the world, regardless of its accuracy or soundness.
So, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about practicing and playing the guitar.
“Starting with an acoustic guitar is best because it makes your fingers tougher.”
“You must have natural talent if you want to become one the guitar god you desire to be.”
“If you’re practicing on electric guitar, you need to be using an amp.”
The list goes on and on.
The bottom line is that there are fewer barriers to entry than you might even realize.
Here, I’ll address three common myths and misconceptions. Hopefully, this is enough to get you playing instead of endlessly thinking about playing.
Does It Matter Whether I’m Left- Or Right-Handed?
Jimi Hendrix came on the scene in the 60s and caused a huge upset in the guitar community.
Not only was he playing left-handed, his playing style was flashy and unconventional. He would play with his teeth, behind his back, under his legs and more.
Did playing left-handed make Hendrix a better guitarist?
No, while it may have made it harder for right-handed guitarists to understand what he was playing and how he was playing it, in the end it made no difference whatsoever.
As the legend goes, Hendrix could play any guitar, regardless of how it was oriented or stringed!
So, no, it doesn’t matter.
And, as I said at the beginning, regardless of your dominant hand, just pick a side and stick with it. It will feel equally awkward at first anyway.
To be fair, the world is a little friendlier towards right-handed guitarists, as right-handed guitars are easier to find.
Do I Need Prior Musical Experience To Be Able To Play Guitar?
The only prior musical experience I had before playing the guitar was singing in the school choir and playing triangle, harmonica and recorder. Oh, and sometimes I would detune a guitar or bang on a piano too.
I showed no early promise as a musician. But when I started getting excited about playing the guitar, I decided it was for me.
I didn’t know much about music at all, because I wasn’t all that interested up until that point.
So, having some prior experience can help. I had a student who’d learned to play the piano before learning the guitar, so some concepts sunk in quite quickly for him.
But it’s not a prerequisite. You can begin playing the guitar without any musical knowledge or experience.
And, amazingly, you can even learn to play it without bogging yourself down with a lot of music theory.
Is The Guitar A Difficult Instrument To Play?
Some say it’s easy. Some say it’s hard. Which is it, really?
While I do think there are instruments that are harder to learn than others, in the end it’s all the same.
Why do I say that?
Because becoming a virtuoso player on any instrument requires practice, practice and more practice.
So, if you want to be amazing at an instrument, it doesn’t matter which instrument it is. You’re going to need to spend a lot of time studying and playing it.
If I told you it was easy, you’d probably feel discouraged trying to learn to play when you aren’t progressing at the same rate others are.
If I told you it was hard, you might get stuck in analysis paralysis – thinking about playing the guitar, instead of spending time playing the guitar.
Learning to play an instrument requires whatever effort it requires. And that varies from one person to another.
So, don’t worry too much about it. If you’re serious about learning to play, spend more time playing.
How To Play Guitar For Beginners, Conclusion
The guitar is a great instrument and learning to play can offer a solid foundation when it comes to learning to play just about any other instrument.
It’s highly versatile, allowing you to play any style or genre imaginable. Slight differences in gear choice and technique make it extremely personal, as every guitarist sounds different!
And, even though guitarists are a dime a dozen, it’s still possible to carve out your own little niche, especially in your local scene.
If you love music, you won’t regret learning to play the guitar or any other instrument. It takes dedication and effort, but it’s the same type of dedication and effort required to achieve anything great in life.
So, what are you waiting for? Get playing!