Beginners Guide to Learning to Play the Guitar

It can seem a little daunting when you first pick up the guitar without knowing what to do with it. Learning how to play guitar is a process that you can follow from a book or a page on a website, but the best way is to be shown by an experienced player with good teaching skills.

how to play guitarThis page might not be able to show you graphically what to do like watching a real person show you. But it will give you the steps you'll need to take in order to get started and provide some of the theory behind the reason this instrument is played the way it is played and why it sounds the way it sounds.

So what's the first step to learning how a guitar is played?

Step 1: Reading Music

Whoa, what just happened? When does reading music come into the equation for strumming those strings? Actually, it comes in right away.

To be able to understand what a guitar teacher is telling you, it's pretty important to be able to recognize and understand what musical notation is. For example, when you're told to play an "A Major" chord, you really need to know what the heck "A Major" is!

Step 2: Learning Basic Terms

Oh wait, here is another "stop, back up a little" moment going down. You're probably sitting there scratching your head and wondering, "What is a chord?"

So you see, already before you've even picked up the instrument, you're hit with a bunch of terms you have no idea about. Yet without them, you are really going to struggle to play that guitar!

Step 3: Navigating Your Way Around a Guitar

So let's assume you've got your theory stuff under your belt and you know what the notes of the basic scale are and you know what chords, bends and trills are. Next you need to take a long hard look at your instrument and get to know what it does and where to find everything you need.

Let's not get too technical here and look at a standard acoustic guitar without all the electronics to confuse you.

This instrument has a large, hollow body to which is attached a slim length of polished wood called the neck, at the end of which is another piece of shaped wood at the end called the headstock. That's the part with six small things that turn sticking out of it.

There are six lengths of tightly stretched wire of different thicknesses (called strings) attached to the body at one end and to the headstock at the other. There's a hole in the body under the strings where you're going to drop stuff into and have a real hard time getting it out again!

The general idea is you rest the body of the guitar in your lap with your left hand somewhere on the neck and your right hand in position to strum or pick at the strings in the vicinity of the hole. Left handed players will do the reverse, by the way.

Step 4: Leaning How to Tune the Guitar

Once you have figured out what all the parts of the instrument are for, it's time to make sure your strings are all in tune with each other. By that I mean each string will resonate at exactly its designated note with respect to the other strings.

It also helps that they are in tune with a concert pitched instrument such as a piano (a keyboard will do). To do this, some players use an electronic tuner that gives them a visual as well as precise indicator that each string is exactly in tune. Others like me prefer a more low-tech tuning fork.

The way to do that is to set your tuner to the thickest string (low "E") and then gently pick the open string (no fingers on the fretboard of the neck) so it resonates. Then slowly turn the string's associated machine head (those twiddley things sticking out of the headstock) one way or the other until the sound of the string matches the tuner's setting. If you're using a tuning fork your ear will tell you when the fork and the string are in unison.

You then move onto the next string "(A)" and repeat the process. Next the "D" string, then "G", "B" and finally the high "E" string. When they're all in tune you should be able to strum them all together and they will produce a sound that will, over time, become very familiar to you.

Step 5: Playing Your First Chord

With all your strings in tune, your hands in the right places and everything feeling familiar to you (at last), its time to start playing the thing! Don't make the mistake of thinking you can now start to shred that baby like Steve Vai.

You'll be miserably disappointed if you try!

The way to get started is to learn to play your first chord. This incidentally, has a twofold benefit.

Probably the easiest chord to get started with is the open G. It requires pressing down on only three strings at once with the fingers of your left hand while the right hand can strum all six strings to produce a pleasing sound.

Here's where video comes into its own because trying to explain the process on "paper" is infinitely more difficult to interpret than simply watching someone "do it" in front of you for you to copy. So I won't try. There will be simple accompanying videos coming shortly.

Once you've got the "G" chord under your belt, you can move on to the "C" and "D" chords which, when played in sequence will produce the basis for literally thousands of songs that have been written!

Step 6: You Have Got to Practice!

The next part can separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls and the guitar players from the drummers. OK, apologies for the cheap shot at drummers, I couldn't resist it!

What I'm trying to get across here is that if you are serious about learning to play the guitar (or any musical instrument for that matter, including drums), you are going to have to practice and practice a lot! This is so that you build familiarity with the many chord structures, strengthen your fingers so you can play them and also make rapid changes as well as building confidence to eventually be able to get out there and show an audience what you can do!

If you can't be bothered to practice your chosen instrument, you can't expect to ever be able to master it. And when you see performers playing great music, you can bet they mastered theirs.

This is something that no one else can do for you. A good teacher or coach can show you what to do and why you do it, but they can't make you put in the work to insure you become proficient at it. That's your job!

The Proof of the Pudding

Learning how to play this amazing instrument called the guitar is a truly gratifying experience for the person who is truly wants and is determined to master it. When you can sit there in your bedroom and play a great song really well or stand up on stage in front of an appreciative audience and feel satisfied that you did a great job, the feeling you get is one of the biggest natural highs that exist!

The proof of this pudding is so totally in the eating!