How to Learn Guitar – Instructions for Beginners

Beginner’s Friendly Guide to Learning to Play a Guitar


It’s a sad fact that most people who take up learning an instrument quit within the first few months. There are lots of reasons for this, many of which are easily overcome with the right help and guidance. This guitar for beginners article attempts to address the most common mistakes and pitfalls facing beginners when taking up the guitar and hopefully ensure you don’t become one of those who fall at the first hurdle and enable you to progress as far as you’d like to with your guitar playing.rt with the basics. If you want to make good progress it’s important to get these right first. We’ll start with the guitar itself. Knowing what all the parts of the instrument are called, and what they do, is vital if you want to learn how to play it properly.

Start with the basics. If you want to make good progress it’s important to get these right first. We’ll start with the guitar itself. Knowing what all the parts of the instrument are called, and what they do, is vital if you want to learn how to play it properly.

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Take a look at the diagram below.

Guitar for beginners diagrams

The guitar has six strings which run from the bridge on the body, along the neck, over the nut, and on to the tuning pegs on the headstock. The tuning pegs are used to tune the strings to the correct pitch. Along the neck, on the fingerboard are the frets. The note of the strings can be changed by pressing the string against different frets with your fingers. To make a sound the strings are plucked or strummed using either your fingers or a pick. On an acoustic guitar the sound is produced in the body of the instrument and is heard through the soundhole. On an electric guitar pickups are used to convert the string vibrations into electrical signals, which can be sent to an amplifier via a jack lead plugged into the jack socket. The different pickups are selected using the pickup selector switch, and the tone and volume controls are used to adjust the overall sound.

Now you’re familiar with the different parts of the guitar, it’s time to learn how to hold it properly. If you’re standing up, the guitar should be supported by a strap, at a comfortable height, so that your fretting arm is bent at about 90 degrees, with the neck of the guitar pointing upwards slightly. If sitting down, the body of the guitar can be supported either on the right leg, with the neck parallel to the floor, or on the left knee with the neck pointing upwards. The most important thing is to find a position that feels natural and comfortable.

The fingers of your fretting hand should be placed on the strings, one finger per fret, parallel with the frets. Your thumb should stay on the back of the neck, about half way down, in line with your second finger. If using a pick, your picking hand should rest its palm on the strings just in front of the bridge to keep it steady. If using your fingers, your hand should hover just above the strings.

Now for some basic theory. Beginner guitarists usually flinch when I say that, but don’t worry, it’s pretty simple. First, the names of the strings. From lowest (thickest) to highest (thinnest) they are: EADGBE. It’s fairly important to remember that.

Next, a bit about chords. A chord is two or more notes played at the same time. A lot of guitar music is made up of strumming chords, so it is important for guitar beginners to learn as many chords as possible. Usually you will learn chords by referring to chord diagrams, so I’ll explain how they work.

C major

The example above shows a C major chord. The six vertical lines represent the strings of the guitar, with the low E on the left and the high E on the right. The horizontal lines represent the frets. The dots show which strings to fret where, and the numbers inside them show which fingers it is best to use. An x at the top of a string tells you not to play that string, while an O means play it open. So, in the example above, the bottom E would not be played. The A string would be fretted with your third finger at the third fret. The D string fretted at the second with your second finger. The G string is played open, the B string at the first fret with your first finger and the top E string is played open.

Another thing you should learn as a beginner, although a lot of guitarists never do, is how to read music notation. It’s definitely a skill worth having as it makes it easier to learn things, and you’ll be a more versatile musician because of it. It’s also handy for working out riffs, or writing your own music, as you can jot down ideas so you don’t forget them. Although it can take a lot of time to become fluent at reading music, the basics are pretty straight forward.

Music notation for beginners

I won’t go into too much detail here, but the five vertical lines represent the notes EGBDF, easily remembered by the phrase Every Good Boy Deserves Favours. The spaces between the lines represent the notes FACE which spells face.

Thankfully for guitarists, there is another form of written notation which, while it has limitations, is easier to read, and is therefore much more popular with guitar players, especially beginners. It is called tablature, or tab, and it’s quite similar to the chord diagrams we looked at earlier.

Guitar tab for beginners

The six lines once again represent the six guitar strings, this time with low E at the bottom and high E at the top. The numbers written on the lines tells you at which fret to play that string. The above example shows a G major scale, which goes bottom E string third fret, bottom E fifth fret, bottom E seventh fret, A string third fret, fifth fret, seventh fret, D string fourth fret, and so on.

Now a word on tuning. It is very important to make sure your guitar is in tune, especially if you are playing with other musicians. If you’re out of tune, it doesn’t matter how good a player you are, you’ll sound terrible. This is something many beginner guitarists overlook. The easiest and the best way to tune a guitar is using an electronic tuner. You simply plug your guitar into it, play each string in turn and it tells you whether the strings are sharp or flat. Another way to tune up is to tune to another instrument which is already in tune, such as a piano. You can also tune a guitar to itself by first getting the bottom E string in tune from an external reference, such as a pitch pipe or tuning fork, then you tune the A string to the A fretted on the fifth fret of the E string. Then tune the D string to the D fretted on the fifth fret of the A string, the G string to the G fretted on the fifth fret of the D string, the B string to the B fretted on the fourth fret of the G string, and finally the top E string to the E on the fifth fret of the B string. I’ll be covering tuning in more detail in another article, so don’t worry if you haven’t quite got it yet.

Before I finish, I’d like to address a few physical problems beginners often have when starting to learn the guitar. When you first start playing, your fingers won’t be used to the stretches and positions they’ll need to make in order to play, so you might find a lot of things painful at first. With time, however, the muscles in your hands and arms will strengthen and you should find it easier. Another thing often experienced is sore fingertips. The strings on a guitar, particularly the higher ones, can be quite painful to fret at first. Again, this will pass with time as the skin on your fingers toughens up but, if it is a real problem, you could try using lighter strings for a while, until your fingers get used to it.

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