How to Play Guitar: A Comprehensive Course for Beginners

By Monica | Guitar Techniques

Jul 03
how to play guitar

Learning how to play guitar is a remarkable thing to consider. Many people want to get familiar with this instrument because of its capability to exercise your dexterity and affinity to music. Of course, we all know that guitarists are cool folks. If you want to join the bandwagon of all string-lovers, then you should check out this article! This will be your comprehensive guide towards learning the guitar.

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What is the Purpose of Playing Guitar?

What is the Purpose of Playing Guitar?

Despite its popularity, some individuals still believe that playing the guitar is an optional hobby. They assume that a person can go in his/ her life without ever touching this instrument. Of course, this is not a notion that we cannot debunk. It is their right to assume the importance of this art. Moreover, we have our respective inclinations. Some of us are not really born to become musical aficionados or prodigies.

However, this doesn't justify the fact that there are benefits in playing this instrument. The craft itself is a method of expressing yourself and your ideas. That's the reason why we can see a lot of poets and activists (e.g. Bob Marley) who engaged on this realm of music.

Even simple people like us can gain some certain perks if we pursue this "hobby." At some point in our life, the guitar will become a part of us. From being a mere pasttime, it could become a lifetime passion. And who knows? It might take you to some big breaks and opportunities out there.

Stress Reliever

A guitar can relieve all the tantrums and stresses that you have. Regardless how grumpy you are throughout the day, this instrument can cure you. There are a lot of studies suggest that playing any musical instrument can boost our brain activity. It can somehow rearrange our mood and thought patterns. Our lives are very susceptible to these conundrums. But if you have a guitar, you can survive all these emotional swings and detriments.

Brain Stimulant

Learning the guitar won't make you a genius. On the same manner, it won't make you into a popular pop artist. However, it has the capacity to improve the working process of your brain. It will allow you to gain focus on lots of things, such as studying and finishing your errands. Moreover, it improves your awareness to every situation. You can be keen on every details and spot errors immediately.

These are some of the benefits that you can get from playing this instrument. They are not as big as what you expect them to be. However, they can make you as a better person. Aside from living your passion, you are also helping your body to grow and mold itself.

What You Need to Know About Guitar

Before you start strumming your way, there are still some things that you have to learn about this instrument. Of course, you cannot master this musical tool if you don't have any familiarity with it. Although we can consider that a guitar is a popular and ubiquitous instrument, it still doesn't mean that it is easy to play. Depending on your goals, a guitar could become as hard as a piano and violin. Therefore, you need to put your serious face on this matter. Otherwise, you won't progress at all.

The Guitar

The guitar

You cannot get anywhere if you don't have a decent guitar of your own. In the market today, there are a lot of options for this instrument. For starters, they can opt those units that are intended for interested practitioners and learners. They don't have the premium parts and features that you can see on those high-end models. But for the meantime, you should stop thinking about those luxuries.

Your main goal here is to learn the ropes of a guitar. You have to familiarize and master the fundamentals that revolve around these instruments. You need to know the notes, chords, and other playing techniques. There is no way you can unleash the potential of a high-grade guitar if you are clueless about these things. Therefore, it is practical to start at the very bottom first. Invest in a cheap practice unit so that you can get started already.

You can only consider buying expensive models if you already polished your core skills. In the long run, sticking to a low-end instrument would become disadvantageous to your part. They would limit your proficiency and ability to explore playing styles and other sophisticated techniques.


Strings

Strings

It is essential that you pay attention to the quality of strings that a particular guitar has. After all, this is the main component that is responsible for the sound production. Get this process right, and you will never have to worry about the audio quality again.

Moreover, choosing the right strings is the best and most practical way to enhance the capabilities of your rig. It is undeniable that high-quality strings can generate luscious and wonderful tones. It is also notable that they are comfortable to press and easy to maneuver. With a good set of strings, you don't have to think about constant replacements. They are durable and provides enough reliability to withstand any types of applications.

Coated strings

It is not a secret that strings which are not coated are way cheaper than coated ones. However, the uncoated are prone to dirt accumulation. Specifically, these external detriments will gather up in the exposed windings of the strings, which somehow inhibit and kill the tone of your instrument.

With a coated string set, you don't have to worry about this problem anymore. The layers of polymer coating will prevent the gunk from pervading in your setup. They cost a little, but they are worth investing upon.

String Material

You have to be more particular about the build quality of your strings. It can significantly affect the tone and vibration of the strings. Currently, most commercial strings are using metal alloy as a form of a wire wrapper. Some alloys sound bright while some are deep and warm. Therefore, you have to choose based on your preferred playing style and genre.

When it comes to functionality, strings that are made from stainless steel give a different feeling on the fingers compared to their nickel-plated counterparts.

String Gauge

The string gauge is another important aspect that you have to know. Specifically, it is the indicator or measurement to the thickness of the string. Typically, commercial strings have a gauge that ranges from heavy to light. Although some players shrug off this factor, it is still has a noticeable impact on the sound and playability of your instrument.

For example, you need to put optimal tension to a set of heavy strings if you want to achieve a particular pitch. Of course, the resulting sound would be big and bold. However, you have to remember that heavy strings require pressure on the fret so that you can bend the notes. The opposite thing happens if you will pick a light string set.


A Plectrum or Pick

A Plectrum or Pick

Despite being small, a guitar pick or plectrum has a big role to play. The latter can significantly affect the tone and technique that you employ over the instrument. Guitarists are using the pick to hit the strings. This particular accessory allows all the sound signal to go in motion, regardless if they are in the form acoustic waves or loud amps.

You have to be meticulous in the build of the pick that you are going to choose. Specifically, you have to be keen on the texture, shape, and thickness of the pick. These will change the tonal character of the sound. Moreover, they also alter the overall articulation and phrasing of the instrument.

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Playing Style

If you are going to shop for a pick, you need to consider the current role that you are playing. If you are into playing rhythms, you need to get a pick with a rounded tip. They are perfect for strumming and creating beats.

For a lead guitarist, it is recommended that they would get picks that have sharp tips. After all, this role requires them to strike only a single note per time. Therefore, they need an assistive tool that can enhance the presence of their instrument in the mix.

Thickness

The thickness of the pick is usually measured in millimeters. Most of the picks today typically range from 0.38mm to 1.5mm. The 1.5mm-gauge is already considered thick. However, some players opt for those picks that have 3mm of thickness.

Thin picks are great for rhythms. They enable the guitar player to generate firm strikes to the string. Of course, they don't cause any blaring sound because thin picks are very flexible. Therefore, each strums that you do with this type of pick will always be smooth. But, if you are looking for better control and volume, then you need to get thick picks. They don't bend too much. Therefore, you can exert as much force as you need to generate high-volume sounds.

Material

The most common pick materials are celluloid and nylon. On the other hand, picks that are made from metal, rubber, and wood can generate unique effects on the sound. Metal picks are a great accompaniment for heavy playing styles. Meanwhile, the wood is suitable for producing sweet sounds. Rubber picks are used for creating those dull tones.


A Guitar Tuner

A Guitar Tuner

Not all people are gifted with a sharp and keen hearing. Those who have this ability can observe the minute details of a certain sound. They can identify the finest changes in the frequencies of different notes and voices. Of course, this skill is essential for any musician. It can allow them to modify or tune their instruments if they notice some irregularities in the sound.

But for ordinary practitioners like us, we have to do this thing the hard way. We can manually configure the tuning pegs every time we are playing different songs and playing styles. Of course, this would take time. If you want the smooth and accurate way of tuning, you better invest in a tuner.

There are different types of tuners that you can opt. Some may come in the form of tuning forks (but we won't recommend you these to you). Instead, we will focus on digital tuners. Digital or electronic tuners can easily capture the differences in the frequency of each string. Specifically, they can capture the acoustic changes that happen between the notes.

You can see various types of electric guitar tuners on the market today. Here are some of them:

  • Headstock Tuner - As its name suggests, this type of tuner clips to the headstock of the instrument. Its main role is to identify the correct tuning by recording the vibrations of the guitar.
  • Pedal Tuner - The design of a pedal tuner has a semblance to your conventional stompboxes. It is the ideal choice for performers who want an inconspicuous playing accessory. Despite being placed at your feet, the display of this device is obvious. Even in dark and non-illuminated settings, the LCD screen of a pedal tuner is still visible.
  • Tabletop Tuner - A tabletop tuner is a comprehensive option. It is quite bigger compared to the other types of electronic tuners. However, it is very functional and versatile. Studio players and recording artists use this kind of tuner because of its accurateness and precision. By just a few clicks, you can already configure the tune of your guitar.


Guitar Setup

As an aspiring practitioner, it is pretty important that you know the basic setup of a guitar. It is not a good thing that you keep on asking help from your friends every time you want to make changes in your rig. As much as possible, you also have to know the technical aspects of this instrument. Just learn to do the dirty works, too. Trust us. It will yield great rewards in the long run.

  • The Tools
  • Tuner
  • Screwdrivers

The Straightness of the Guitar Neck

Ideally, choosing a guitar with A dead straight neck is the best choice. Specifically, this one has a seamless and flat layout. With this type of construction, there is no need for you to adjust the truss. Even if you can notice some buzzing sound, you can already ignore it. Once you plug the guitar into the amp, the buzzes will be gone.

However, if your guitar has back-bowed or relief necks, then you have to adjust the truss.

Adjusting the Truss

The truss is the long rod that you can find in the guitar's neck. You can either tighten or loosen it, depending on your needs. Once you make any of these adjustments, the neck will flex. As a result, there is a certain curvature that would take place in the neck. Of course, it will eventually affect the playability and overall tonal characteristic of the guitar.

You can adjust the truss by using Allen keys. If the instrument is back-bowed, turn the truss in a clockwise direction with the Allen keys. You should turn in the opposite direction if your guitar has a relief neck.

These are some of the basic things that you should learn about the guitar. In the next section, we will formally introduce the key concepts that you need to understand in playing this instrument. Read on!


Steps To Learning How to Play Guitar

Understanding Its Anatomy

It doesn't matter if you are playing an acoustic or electric guitar. Their anatomy is almost the same. Of course, electric guitars have integrated circuitry and wires on their system. Typically, guitars are either made of wood or metal. The type of construction of the guitar determines the sound it creates.

acoustic guitar

Acoustic guitar - credit by wikibooks

1

Headstock

2

Nut

3

Tuning pegs

4

Frets

5

Truss rod

6

Inlays

7

Neck

8

Neck joint/Heel

9

Body

10

Pickups

11

Pots

12

Bridge

13

Pick guard

14

Back

15

Sound board

16

Sides

17

Sound hole

18

Strings

19

Saddle

20

Fretboard

electric guitar

Electric guitar - credit by wikibooks

Meanwhile, here are the parts of the guitar that you should know:

  • Headstock - It is the last part of the neck which holds different guitar parts.
  • Tuning pegs and keys - These components are found on the headstock. They are your main arsenals if you want to change the overall intonation of the instrument. The keys are the ones you are going to use for tuning the strings. Meanwhile, the pegs are the ones that connect the keys to the strings.
  • Nut - Just below the headstock, you can see a thin white strip. We call this is the nut. This is where the strings "rest."
  • Frets - They are the metal linings that you can see on the neck.
  • Fretboard - Some people confuse the neck as the fretboard. No. They are not the same. The fretboard is the wooden layer that is embedded in the guitar's neck. As its name suggests, it is the one that holds the frets altogether.
  • Soundhole - This particular component is only present on most acoustic guitars. This is where the sounds of the instrument resonate.
  • Pickups - For electric guitars, they produce their sound through the pickups. They are small components that channel various sound signals in the amplifier.

Proper Hold of the Guitar

You cannot learn the guitar properly if your posture and hold are incorrect. Forget about the flashy movements of Jimi Hendrix because his body was already trained to do that. For beginners like you, being moderate and controlled is necessary.

If you are a right handed person, you should strum in between the bridge and the sound hole. Specifically, your right hand should do the strumming while your left hand is the one that is fretting. Of course, the roles would switch if you are a left-handed person.

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Step 1

When playing the guitar, you need to sit on an armless stool or chair. Those armchairs will restrict the movements of your hands.

Step 2

Once you are sitting comfortably already, align the guitar properly to your body. Make sure that the thinnest string should be pointing on the ground. Meanwhile, the thickest string should be heading upwards. Also, you have to hold the back panel of the guitar so that it will touch your chest and stomach. In this way, the guitar will rest comfortably on your legs.

Step 3

Your leg should be the one that holds most of the weight of the instrument. On the other hand, your left hand stabilizes the guitar by holding the neck. In fretting the guitar, make sure that you will utilize the V-opening that is created by your forefinger and thumb. Through this, you can quickly move your left hand in any direction.

Step 4

Even if you got these steps right, there is still a good chance that you will experience discomforts. Don't worry. This is pretty common, especially if you are just starting. By continuous practicing, your body will just get accustomed to this.

For a detailed guide on this, check out this video tutorial:

Know Where To Put Your Fingers

Know Where To Put Your Fingers

The proper finger positioning is a fundamental yet hard-to-learn skill. This gives a lot of troubles to beginners and even some intermediate players. The most common struggle is the pain that their fingers experience whenever they press the strings. But with constant practice, you will overcome these problems.

Step 1

The first thing that you have to do is to relax your wrist. As much as possible, you need your hands to be flexible whenever you are playing this instrument.

Step 2

Next, grip the neck of the guitar in the "C" shape that is formed by your fingers and thumb. Specifically, it should be at a 90-degree angle. In this way, you can easily hit all the frets.

Step 3

Your fingers need to curl when you are holding a particular note or string. Through curling, you are enabling your fingertips to have a direct contact with the frets. Moreover, it also provides additional grip to the neck of the instrument.

Step 4

Also, pay attention to the distance of your fingers from the fretboard. As much as possible, they have to be close to one another. This will enhance the precision and speed of your playstyle. The farther your fingers are, the more time it will consume before it can switch notes or frets.

Step 5

Meanwhile, you have to utilize your thumb, too. Since it is positioned in the back of the guitar's neck, your thumb provides stability and control. A tight grip will allow you to clutch the strings down when you are pressing them. As a result, you can have proper hold to the chords and notes. Furthermore, it enables to modify the strings when you are sliding or bending.

Step 6

Lastly, you need to mobilize the flexibility of your wrist. It has to rotate or roll so that your hands can slide as swift as possible. For songs that have fast chord progressions, a flexible wrist is really necessary.

Learn the Guitar Fingerboard

The fingerboard of the guitar is where all the notes and chords are present. You need to familiarize the structure of the fingerboard so that you can easily spot where to hit the strings when you are playing. We can give a more specific detail about the fingerboard by jumping towards the different types of chords that are present there.

Gripping With Chords

gripping with chords

A typical guitar chord is usually made of three notes. Therefore, you can say that a note is a letter while the chord is a word. Of course, you can say that a chord progression is similar to a sentence. Specifically, it is the composition of various chords that make up an entire rhythm or song.

For beginners, you should learn two types of chords: the first position and the barre chords. A first position chord is usually found on the first frets of the guitar neck. Meanwhile, the barre chord can be referred as a "heavy" playing style. You can alter any chord into barre by pressing them deep with your fingers.

The primary chords of a guitar are the following:

  • C Major
  • A Major
  • E Major
  • D Major
  • G Major

Once you learn these chords, you need to practice how to switch between them. Obviously, the transition should be fast and smooth. You can do this by writing several arrangements and practice them one by one. While you are switching, make sure that you can strum at least once.

Also, take note that you need to play the notes properly. For example, the A Major must exclude the lower E string. In a guitar tablature, this is indicated with an "X" connotation. Therefore, we recommend that you should learn to read guitar tabs, too. This particular habit will benefit you in the long run.

Chord Finger Placement

c chord

C Chord - Ring finger (3rd fret of the 5th string). Middle finger (2nd fret of the 4th string). Index finger (1st fret of the 2nd string).


a major

A Major - Index finger (2nd fret of the 2nd string). Middle finger (2nd fret of the 3rd string). Ring finger (2nd fret of the 4th string).


G chord

G Chord - Middle finger (3rd fret of the 6th string). Index finger (2nd fret of the 5th string). Ring finger (3rd fret of the 1st string).


e major

E Major - Middle finger and ring finger (2nd frets of the 4th and 5th strings). Index finger (1st fret of the 3rd string)


d major

D Major - Index finger (2nd fret of the 3rd string). Middle finger (2nd fret of the 1st string). Ring finger (3rd fret of the 2nd string)


e minor

E Minor - Middle finger and ring finger (2nd frets of the 2nd and 3rd thickest strings)


a minor

A Minor - Middle finger and ring finger (2nd fret of the 3rd and 4th thickest strings). Index finger (1st fret of the 2nd thinnest string)


D minor

D Minor - Middle finger (2nd fret of the 3rd thinnest string). Index finger (1st fret of the thinnest string). Ring finger (3rd fret of the 2nd thinnest string).

Once you got all these correct, you need to play them properly. Specifically, you should strum them in a manner that you can create clean and distinct sounds. If you notice that the notes or chords are not "voicing out," there is a good chance that you are pressing them enough. Also, it could be due to the interaction of the unused fingers towards the strings.

Check out this lesson for the essential guitar chords:

Strumming

The best way to strum is to let your playing hand be relaxed and loose. After all, this playing style is a repetition of upstrokes and downstrokes in different and random combinations. The strum should be precise enough that you can hit all the strings at one.

Despite the required flexibility, you have to remember that your elbow should be as static as possible. The movements should only come from your wrist, not your entire hand.

Learn Some Easy Guitar Songs

Any practice session could get dull if there are not suitable applications that you can follow. Admittedly, practitioners can learn more about different chords and concepts easily if they come from a song. Of course, writing your own set of chord progression is a good alternative. However, the harmony and consistency that a song provides can make things more convenient.

  • Start with the basic songs first. You don't need to go to those pieces that have complicated musical structure because they can make your crazy and frustrated. Ideally, you must choose a song that only has three to four chords on its entire composition.
  • When practicing a particular song, always begin with a slow pace. After all, you are still acclimatizing with its rhythm. Therefore, it is pretty acceptable if you start at a moderate speed. You playing will eventually get fast once you familiarize the entire chord progression of the song.
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Do not get frustrated if your first attempts sound too mechanical and patterned. It is just a normal thing that you have to experience. As we said earlier, constant practice will develop your skills eventually.

Meanwhile, here are some of the easiest guitar songs for beginners:

Love Me Do by Beatles

Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival ( CCR )

Knocking on Heaven's Door by Bob Dylan

Wonderful World by Sam Cook

Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton

Stay with Me by Sam Smith

Leaving on a Jetplane by John Denver

Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol

Othersideb by Red Hot Chilli Peppers

Clocks by Coldplay

Of course, there are other songs out there that are worth trying. You just have to choose those that have basic chord composition. In this way, you can get the most out of your practice time. Moreover, do not worry if you stumble along the way. Just keep on practicing, and you'll overcome the hurdles certainly.

Practice Routine

practice routine

You cannot learn the guitar half-heartedly. It requires your dedication and passion so that you can learn all those core fundamentals and skills. Legends are not born. They are not created either. Instead, they molded themselves. Icons like Hendrix and Van Halen were once like us. They experienced the difficulties of learning this instrument. However, they got the desire to make the most out of the guitar. And the rest is history.

There are certain approaches when it comes to practicing this instrument. However, you can modify your own practice regimen that suits your play style and schedule. As long as you are comfortable with your routine, your skills will certainly improve.

But for those who are still clueless where to start, better follow the guide below:

#1

Decide the amount of time you will dedicate to practice. Of course, we recommend that you will do it every day so that your familiarity won't wane off. Ideally, you should practice for 15 to 30 minutes. It is a good start, especially if you are a busy person. But for those that have free time, we recommend that you practice for an hour every single day.


#2

Categorize the things that you want to practice. It is pointless if you will jumble all those fundamentals in a single session. You won't make any progress in that predicament. For example, on a particular day, you will focus on strumming. In the next day, you will dedicate time to learning the chords. For the succeeding days, you will practice how to read the tabs and improvisation.


Essential Beginner Guitar Tips & Mistakes

Tips

Essential Beginner Guitar Tips

The Death Grip

Try to avoid the "death grip." Once you started playing the guitar, you will realize that pressing the strings is very difficult. It can hurt your wrist and fingers as well. Fortunately, there is a way to lessen the stress. Specifically, you have to hook your thumb on the top of the fretboard. In this way, your fingers and wrist will have leverage. It somehow reduces the pain when pressing the fingers.

Meanwhile, the "death grip" is the extreme pressing of the thumb to the back of the guitar's neck. This positioning prevents the mobility of your fingers. Eventually, it chokes them so hard that a little application of force would hurt the. Furthermore, it lessens the accuracy and speed of your transitions, too.

Sit Down and Stand Up

We mentioned earlier that you should play the guitar in a proper sitting position. However, there is still a need for you to practice how to play guitar when you are standing up. It is a form of exercise that improves your control over the instrument. Moreover, it makes you are a versatile player, too.

It is Not a Race

There is no need to be hasty when you are learning this instrument. You have to realize that you are not racing with anybody here. You can practice as slow as you can. Nobody will scold you for that. Time will polish your skills. It is not a secret to anybody. Even the most seasoned guitarists are still practicing. Take your time. Hone your accuracy and control. Your progress might not be fast. However, it will be significant and impactful.

Focus

Honestly, having focus is a difficult thing to attain, especially if you are thinking a lot of things. But if you want to learn the art of playing guitar, you need this more than ever. Concentration is essential so that you can memorize all those technicalities that are present on this instrument. If there are too many distractions in your home, go out in a place where you are alone. Learning in solitude is pretty effective!

Do Not Be Afraid

Some chords are really difficult to play. But it should not discourage you. Moreover, you don't have to avoid them. If you keep on taking the easy way, you will achieve less or nothing. The stones that are hindering you could serve up as your leverage. Therefore, keep on practicing!

Common Guitar Mistakes

Common Guitar Mistakes

Forgetting the Tune

Some people forget to tune their instruments before they play. Others just don't know how to do this. In the first part, we already mentioned that you need a guitar tuner if you don't know how to tune your guitar manually. If you don't tune, it will really affect your overall progress.

First, your brain tries to recognize all the sound that you are playing, regardless if they are right or wrong. If you condition your mind to record the wrong tunes, you are really in a world of trouble. Second, other people might think that you are not a good player. Some guitarists out there judge their fellow enthusiasts through the way they produce their sounds. After all, an out-of-tune instrument will always be the source of ridicule!

Staying on the Line

Complacency is a bad thing, even for guitars. Some practitioners out there keep on playing the things that they already know how to do. Well, it is a good thing if you want to exercise your familiarity with certain concepts and techniques. But if you will do it for a long run, it will hurt you bad.

Doing this will eliminate your opportunities to explore other things. That's why you have to learn how to create a perfect balance between consistency and flexibility. There are a lot of things to learn about a guitar. Never inhibit yourself!

Eluding the Barre Chords

The ability to play barre chords is truly exceptional. Learning this technique can boost your overall capacity as a guitar player. Moreover, many guitarists consider this as the door towards advancement. Of course, doing barre chords is not easy. However, we are not saying it is not an achievable thing. Just remember the keyword here: practice!

Specifically, barre chords are the utilization of one finger to press down different strings at once. For beginners, this is a difficult thing to do. After all, it requires serious finger strength to hold down strings simultaneously. It is the biggest reason why a lot of practitioners are trying to avoid it. But in your case, you should not. Take this as a challenge. Trust us. It will boost your skills in the long run.

Summary

These are the things that you need to know if you want to know to play guitar. Do not let the length of this article discourage you. If you put all these things into work, they would become simple and doable.

Overall, we are hoping that you learned many great things from this short course. Taking an interest in this instrument is already a thing worthy of praise. But it would be better if you will take this hobby seriously. Just keep on practicing. Over time, you will see the results of your labor.

Resources

Did we miss anything here? Tell us all your thoughts in the comment section below! Good luck and have fun!

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About the Author

Hi everyone! Im Monica and I am an avid lover of guitars and everything in-between. My current profession is not really music-related. It is quite discouraging but I just don't want to drop my zeal--especially not to guitars! I created GuitarTrance.Com so that I can keep up with my hobby. Of course, I want to engage with the community as well! Hope we can all get along!