From square one to full-fledged musician learn how to play guitar like a boss.
Dear guitar student and future virtuoso, just like a long journey starts with a first step, the way to becoming a great guitarist starts with the first tones you pluck and the first chords you strum. But before you start your adventure in the lands of music, it is very important to prepare yourself and we’re here to help with that, too!
This guide does exactly what it says on the tin. If you’ve never played guitar, or if you’ve started playing and then stopped for any reason, this guide is here to aid you through the most crucial steps on the way of becoming a great guitarist.
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We will provide you with answers to the most common questions that people ask when they first start playing guitar like:
– What kind of guitar should I buy?
– How is a guitar constructed?
– How is a guitar held?
– How is a guitar tuned?
– Should I play with fingers or with a pick?
– How do I read chord diagrams and guitar tabs?
– What are the easiest chords you can play?
And please don’t worry if you’ve never played a musical instrument before!
We know that the hundreds of terms like scales, progressions, fingering patterns, and many more, may sound confusing or even terrifying, but we will make sure to walk you through all of that.
Playing guitar might at first seem intimidating and hard, but with a little bit of patience and practice, you will play your first songs in no time!
So, if you’d like to learn how to play guitar like a boss, stick around and have fun! Our first lesson will be about choosing your first instrument! We wish you all the best!
TABLE OF CONTENT:
Chapter One: Getting a playable instrument
Choosing your first guitar:
Electric, acoustic or classical guitar – what are the differences?
Basic guitar parts, string names and how to tune your guitar.
Before you can even begin learning to play guitar, you first need to get a comfortable instrument that will be adequate for your needs.
You will be likely to spend many hours sitting, plucking tones and strumming chords, and getting a guitar that does not suit your style, feels uncomfortable or simply isn’t playable will have extremely negative effects on your future development.
That being said, your first musical lessons will be hard and you may think that you can’t to wide finger stretches or position your fingers in weird shapes. That is simply natural for beginners, but if you dedicate yourself, keep on practicing and have a playable instrument, you will be able to master the basics in no time!
Getting a playable instrument is a process that can be divided into two parts:
1) Choosing your first guitar; buying or borrowing a guitar:
The guitar that you want to get depends on multiple things, the most important factors being the style you want to learn, your budget and comfort.
If you are going to buy your first guitar make sure to try all types of guitars to make sure which one is the most comfortable for you.
It is important not to go overboard with complicated build like 8-string guitars, banjoleles or weird shapes. Asking other guitarists and the workers at your local store for tips on buying your first instrument is also recommended.
There are three main types of guitars that you can get:
1) CLASSICAL, CONCERT OR SPANISH GUITAR:
This type of guitar is a kind of acoustic guitar, which means that it has a hollow, medium sized body with a sound hole. This type of guitar has nylon strings which are usually easier to press down than metal strings, and this guitar can often be bought in a smaller size than the standard one.
This is the most suitable guitar if you want to learn classical music or flamenco music, but you can also play chords for rhythm guitar.
Classical and flamenco guitar is almost always played using fingerstyle with long finger nails on the strumming hand (your dominant hand) and, as any other guitar, with short nails on your other hand.
2) Western, steel-string guitar:
This is the second type of acoustic guitars. It has a narrower, usually thin neck, and is strung with metal strings. It often has a somewhat bigger body than a classical guitar and is a little bit louder.The metal strings might be a bit harder to press than those on a classical guitar, but the narrower neck might be more comfortable.
It can be played both using fingerstyle and using a pick, the second one being more common. It is maybe the best instrument to choose if you can’t decide which style to play or if you are sure you want to play a lot of rhythm guitar in pop and rock songs, but you can of course practice hard-rock, metal and classical music on this one as well.
3) Electric guitar:
An electric guitar is different from the previous two because it has a much slimmer, solid body and no sound hole. Instead, it has pickups, a type of magnet which picks up the vibrations of the metal strings, sends them through a cable into an amplifier which has a speaker.
Buying an amplifier right away is not necessary but without one, you will not be able to experience the full possibilities of an electric guitar.
It usually has somewhat lighter, softer strings than a Western guitar, a narrow and thin neck and is suitable for both rhythm guitar in rock and pop music, but it is also essential for styles like hard-rock, punk and metal.
If you have a guitar lying around, you can start practicing it regardless of the type it is, as long is it’s not a very old, sturdy and broken one. Getting a guitarist to take a look at it and give his/her judgment might not be a bad idea.
Using a guitar you already have, or borrowing one from a friend, might be the cheapest way to start out. Other ways include getting a starter kit, or getting a custom rig. Beginner guitars (and an amplifier in the case of an electric guitar) can cost anywhere between 100 and 500 USD.
What you will most likely need is also a guitar tuner, used to tune your strings, and a metronome, both of which can be also used in form of an app for a smart-phone, with solid results.
2) Tuning your guitar, string names and open string tones:
After you have decided on your first instrument you will need to learn how to tune your guitar. Tuning your instrument means setting the strings to a correct pitch, so that the open strings produce certain notes.
The strings on the guitar are always numbered from the thinnest one, called the first string, to the thickest one, called the sixth string. The strings are, from the first to the sixth, called E – B – G – D – A – E.
The name of the string corresponds to the note being played when nothing is held on the neck of the guitar. That means that an E string must play an E tone, a B string a B note, and so on. You tune the strings by turning on the tuning pegs and tightening or loosening the string.
Getting help from a guitarist friend when tuning your guitar, or a worker at a guitar shop, might be necessary as you will probably not know how it needs to sound. If you play any other instruments, simply watching a few YouTube videos and using a guitar tuner may be enough. Only after getting your guitar in tune can you actually start playing your first notes and songs.
Possible gear you may want to buy:
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Chapter Two: Beginner theory and your first chords
How to read chord diagrams and guitar tabs.
Beginner theory: String names, tone names, chord names
By now you should have a guitar that is tuned and ready to be played! There is no stopping you now! In this part, we will explain how to play a few very simple chords, as well some really basic theory, like how to read chord diagrams and guitar tabs.
There are multiple ways of writing down what you need to play. One way is buy using modern music notation, which is, more or less, same for all instruments. If you already play an instrument, you maybe already now how to read sheet music, and learning how to read sheet music is extremely important if you want to play classical music on a concert guitar.
In the case of rock and pop music, sheet music is less important, at least in the beginning, so we will show you two common ways of how to read music, learn to play your favourite guitar songs and learn the notes on the guitar!
1) Notes on the guitar:
There is a total of 12 different notes which are labeled with letters. Those 12 notes repeat themselves endlessly and they are labeled with letters.Memorizing all notes, their positions and how to find them is not necessary right away, it is something that you will remember with enough practice.
But it is important to remember at least partially how the notes are laid out and to remember the names of the open strings.
Let’s start with the first string, the high E string. If tuned correctly, the string should play an E note. By pressing the E string to the fretboard, just behind the first fret, you will get the second note – an F, and by pressing the third fret, you will get a G note. Between the F and the G, on the second note, there is a tone called F-sharp, or G-Flat, written F#/Gb.
The notes labeled with a sharp or a flat would correspond to the black keys on a piano, while the notes without sharps or flats would correspond to the white keys. There is no sharp or flat note between E and F, and also none between B and C.
We get a sequence of notes on the E string that goes:
[ E, F, F#/Gb, G ,G#/Ab, A, A#/Bb, B, C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E ]
This is the same for all other strings, only the starting tone changes. On the B string, which plays a B note when no fret is held (this is called an open string) the first note would be a B note, then the note on the first fret a C note, and so on.
The difference in a note that corresponds to one fret is called a semi-tone, and the difference of two frets a whole-tone. That means that the guitar has a series of 12 endlessly repeating semi-tones. That structure is called the chromatic scale.
When strumming multiple strings, you are playing a chord. Sometimes, you can also play the notes in a succession, and it will still be called a chord, because you will be holding the exact tones needed for that chord to be sounded.
We will learn how to read chord charts and guitar tabs on hand of one of the easiest guitar chords – the E-Minor chord. Each chord has a root note, so to say, the most important note of a chord, and the chord gets it’s name based on the root.
Minor chords are sad, mellow sounding ones, while Major chords are happier, brighter. There are more types of chords, but these two are the most common ones. An E-Minor chord would then be a sad sounding chord with an E note as the root.
2) Reading chord charts, and the chord-over-lyrics notation, E minor chord:
Chord charts are a very common way to write down chords. They visually represent the 6 strings of the guitar and it’s then written which strings need to be held down.
Here is an example of a chord chart for an A Major Chord, a very important, easy and happy sounding beginner chord which you will learn a bit later on.
As mentioned, the first chord you need to learn is an E Minor Chord. To play E Minor, you will need to press down the A and D string at the second fret using two fingers, most commonly using the index finger to press down the A string and the middle finger to press down the D, or using the middle finger to press down the A string and the ring finger to press down the D string. The rest of the strings are not held and you need to strum all six strings.
You need to be careful to press the strings with the tips of your fingers so that you don’t mute the low E string or the G string.
On a chord chart, this would be described the following way:
The open strings will be marked with an empty circle, while the A and D strings will be marked on the second fret with a full circle.
Sometimes, chord chats write down the fingers which you need to use by marking the fingers with numbers from 1 to 4, from index to pinky.
Occasionally, you will encounter an X over an open string, most commonly the low E string, which means that you should not strum the string.
To learn how to play an E minor chord, and see how a guitar chord chart looks like, take a look at the following video and take a look at the example picture provided:
Frequently, people will only write out the name of a chord and use numbers to indicate which fret is played, the first number corresponding to the low E string and the last number marking the high E string, which looks like this:
[ Em : 0 2 2 0 0 0 ]
Chord-over-lyrics notation is often used when you play only chords and no single notes, and is really useful for singing. Some interactive websites will provide a chord chart if you hover over the chord you want to play. Here is an example:
Em C G D Another head hangs lowly child is slowly taken
Em C G D And the violence caused of silence who are we mistaken
3) Guitar tabs and writing chords in guitar tabs:
The number indicates which fret needs to be pressed, with zero representing an open string and X representing a string that is either not played or muted. If the numbers are on top of each other, that means the strings are played simultaneously, and if they are one after another, it means you play them in sequence. Some common chords would be tabbed out this way:
4) Other important beginner chords:
To be able to play some beginner songs you will need to learn a few more open chords besides E Minor. You will need E Minor, E Major, A Minor, A Major, C Major, D Major and G Major.
Learning how to play all of those chords will take a lot of time and practice. This is simply not something that can be learned in one day.
Don’t rush it, keep practicing every day and you will master them fairly fast! Keep using Google to find chord-charts and guitar tabs, print them out and take a look at YouTube tutorials and lessons on how to exactly play each chord correctly!
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Chapter Three: Finger exercises and guitar scales
Finger exercises for the fretting hand;
Stretching exercises, hammer-ons and pull-offs;
Guitar scales, practicing scales, pentatonic minor and major scales.
Some of you have maybe mastered all the beginner guitar chords and want to continue learning how to play melodies or move to other chords. Some of you might still find it difficult to play some basic chords like C major or switching chords.
To be able to progress, you will definitely need to do some finger exercises, including both stretching exercises and learn advanced techniques like hammer-ons and pull-offs.
A nice and musical way to practice these things are guitar scales, certain tonal structures that have a lot of musical value and can be used during composing and improvisation.
You may remember the chromatic scale, the by far largest scale on guitar, as it contains all 12 notes.
We will describe now two smaller scales, pentatonic minor and pentatonic major, which have been used by hundreds of successful rock’n’roll, blues and country guitarists all over the world!
Many stretching exercises are also very good as warm-up exercises and most players do a lot of warming up before performing. Here is. for example, Joe Satriani, doing a few fairly hard and advanced warm up exercises.
We will now focus mostly on fretting hand endurance and exercises – if you want something for your dominant hand, like strumming patterns, picking exercises or fingerstyle-plucking patterns, please scroll a bit further down!
1) Stretching exercises:
Stretching exercises are important for every guitarist!
If you can’t do wide finger stretches which are required to play over multiple frets and strings, like for the C Major chord, you may need to get your fingers to be more flexible. Please make sure not to hurt yourself while trying to do this exercises.
One common finger exercise is to put your fingers on a flat surface, stretched out, and try to lift the rest of your palm. Again, be careful not to hurt yourself, although a little bit of discomfort should be expected.
Some more finger stretching exercises can be seen in the videos bellow:
2) Stretching on the fretboard, chromatic exercises, hammer-ons and pull-offs:
Other exercises include actually playing on guitar, and a very good exercise for all four fingers is to play chromatic patterns, which means that you put your index finger on any fret and play notes chromatically, without skipping any of the frets. We recommend starting around the fifth or seventh fret and then moving slowly towards higher and lower frets.
Going higher up the neck will force you to put your fingers closer together, while moving down the neck will help you with bigger stretches. After you can do the exercise on a single string, you need to start doing it over multiple strings, like this:
Once you reach the end of this run go ahead and play it in reverse:
And here are a few videos that demonstrate these chromatic exercises, some are a little bit more advanced, so don’t try to master them all at once:
3) Guitar scales; pentatonic scales:
In music, a scale is a group of notes from which you can make chords, melodies or use them for improvisation. Scales are the tonal basis of music, sets of tones from which you can build melodies and harmonies.
Usually, scales are represented in an ascending order, from the lowest note to the highest, but you can play the tones ascending, descending and in any other combination.
A pentatonic scale is a musical scale or mode with five notes per octave in contrast to the chromatic scale, which has all 12 pitches.
Many blues and rock’n’roll solos use only the notes from a pentatonic scale. The two most common pentatonic scales are the sad, minor pentatonic scale, and the more upbeat, major pentatonic scale.
Learning the shapes of this two scales will be very useful for improvisation later on, but for now, they are a very good way to practice changing strings, bigger stretches and getting used to play basic meloidies.
Pentatonic minor shape and video lesson:
Pentatonic major shape and video lesson:
4) Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs:
Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs are an advanced guitar technique that will require a bit of time to master, but they are essential for advanced guitar playing and complex soloing, but they are not hard to do once you get used to. And there is no better way to learn to do these than to actually practicing them!
A hammer-on is by sharply bringing a fretting-hand finger down on the fingerboard behind a fret, hitting it with a finger, or “hammering on” the note, causing a note to sound.
A pull-off is a stringed instrument plucking technique performed by “pulling” the finger off a string that you are holding, causing a different note to be sounded.
Combining hammer-ons and pull-offs with the chromatic and pentatonic exercises is a good way to master them in a musical way and gain a lot of finger strength.
Chapter Four: Focusing on the dominant hand
Finger exercises for the dominant hand;
Holding a pick, strum patterns and picking exercises;
Easy finger-style patterns.
Now we will tackle the dominant hand, sometimes called strumming hand in the case of playing with a pick! We will show you how to correctly hold a pick, a few easy strum patterns which will make your chords come to life, a few picking exercises for single notes and present you with a few finger-style patterns!
1) Holding a guitar pick:
While there is no 100% correct way to hold a pick, most players tend to hold the pick between their thumb and their index finger.
While some players prefer holding the pick with the tip and bottom side of their index finger, the majority of professional players hold the pick on the side of the index finger.
Holding the pick between the fingertips might be easier in the beginning and make playing chords a little bit easier, but if you choose to do this, you need to be able to switch between those two positions when you want to switch from chords strumming to melodies and soloing.
Although, there are a few players who always hold the pick between their fingertips, like Steve Morse,who definitely proving that each style can be used to play anything:
2) Strum patterns:
There are thousands of strum patterns what make each song sound unique, but as a beginner, you should make effort to master a few ones which sound good over any chord progression and will make your strumming sound good.
The first strum patter that you need to learn is fairly easy: you need to continuously play alternating between a downstroke and an upstroke. Learning this will be essential for the alternate picking exercise coming right ahead and for all of your rhythm guitar playing.
You should also try to continuously strum, even when changing chords. This is a really hard part!
First learn to strum only a single chord. Only after you feel comfortable with playing one chord with the right hand, and learn to switch chords fast between chords with your left hand, should you try to combine those two techniques.
3) Alternate picking and exercises:
Alternate picking is a very simple, and at the same time, a very advanced guitar technique that you will need for your whole guitar playing! Theoretically, it’s very easy, but it can be hard when you need to switch strings.
The basic premise is the same with the first strum pattern you have learned, play a single note with a downstroke, then with an upstroke, and keep it going!
When you can play single notes like this, you can change your strings. You can either practice this with all open strings, or hold an easy chord like E Minor.
Another exercise you should try is playing the chromatic exercise from the previous lesson, or guitar scales, using only alternate picking.
Doing this will greatly improve your strength, dexterity, speed and overall technique.
This is a bit of a harder tab, but try to do this exercise only using alternate picking on any string:
4) Finger-style exercises
If you choose to play finger-style, you’ll have to grow nails on your plucking hand and practice playing with your nails. There are a few players playing without nails, but it might be a bit painful, specially in the beginning.
Like with strumming patterns, there are numerous ways to play fingerstyle. Here strumming patterns that you can use to play already existing songs, or you may want to try to write your own lyrics and have your own songs.
You will also need to learn a technique called apoyando, which is basically a finger-style equivalent to alternate picking. Basically, you use your index and middle finger and constantly alternate them, plucking usually only a single string at a time.
Practicing apoyando with the chromatic and scale exercises from before is a good and more musical way to master the technique, but you can use only open strings or simple chords in the beginning, until you get used to it.
5) Practicing using easy guitar songs with open chords:
The by far best and most efficient way to practice finger-style playing and chord strumming is to actually play along some songs! Here are a few songs that use only beginner chords, are in standard tuning and require no additional equipment.
It’s just you and your guitar, try to sing along, too!
All the videos include tabs or chord charts to make learning easier! Good luck!
Chapter Five: Guitar tricks and where to go from now on
What do I practice next?
If you’ve come this far, that probably means that you have mastered everything from the previous lessons, that you know how to play a few simple songs and that you’re ready to move on! We want to congratulate you on your effort and your success!
But what now? We’re here to provide you with a few suggestions!
There are many ways to make your playing richer, bigger and sounding more unique, and often it’s some very simple tricks!
There are also a few formulas for writing cool guitar songs, so you may want to try writing your own pieces. Here are a few tips in which direction to go from now on:
1) D – C – G guitar trick:
There are hundreds of songs that use the D, G and C chord only, and that is because they are easy to play on guitar and sound good together. You can also use this progression to write your own songs and make sure they’ll sound good.
A great thing is that you can play these chords in any order you want, and they will always sound good together! So try it with either a pick or with a simple finger-style pattern and you may end up writing your first successful guitar song!
2) E – A – D guitar trick:
This is another progression guitar players and bands have employed for decades, and the basic premise is the same as with the previous one, the chords are really easy to play and sound really good together!
You can use this progression for practicing or writing your own songs, just like the previous one.
3) Practicing advanced techniques:
You don’t have to be an expert guitar player to play expert-level stuff. Just start out simply and practice.
If you don’t succeed at first, you need to continue practicing.
Here are a few possible techniques you want to start learning and making them your own. Keep on practicing and you will master them in no time, just like you’ve mastered everything before!
Good luck and have fun!
Every end is a new beginning!
New challenges are waiting for you!
Just like the title says, you may have finished our beginners guide but that is nowhere near the end of your guitarist adventure! You are now ready to go out, explore the wonderful world of music even deeper, build up on your existing knowledge and learn even more songs, more techniques, more styles, more, more, more!
It was fantastic having you here!
We sincerely hope that you have enjoyed our guide and that you’re still motivated to keep on going! And even as our guide ends, we won’t let you go without any support or suggestions.
While you’re still here, you could check out some of our other articles. We are sure that you will enjoy them as much as this guide and that they will help you advance from a beginner guitarist to a full-fledged musician.
The wonderful world of the Internet offers even more fantastic tutors and teachers who can help you become an even better guitar player than you are now.
Learning from your friends and making music together is a nice way to get better and share experiences, but music is also a way to find new friends and build new relationships, so make sure to go out, start a band, play music with other musicians, and not just guitarists, but violin players, pianists and singers.
Try to get more people to play guitar, share our guide with them, help them with the basics and keep on having fun!
We wish you all the best. Good luck and keep on rocking!