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How to Play Guitar: A Beginner's Guide

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I love guitars and I love explaining how these instruments work.

Want to learn how to play guitar? Read on for a lesson on how to get started.

Want to learn how to play guitar? Read on for a lesson on how to get started.

Guitar Lesson One: Just Beginning

So you want to learn how to play guitar? Well, join the club, because people from all over the world want to do exactly what you want to as well. What separates you from the rest? It all comes down to whether you've got the motivation and that little word called patience.

Being good at guitar takes time, and I have seen people try to rush learning an instrument. I won't lie; some people are naturally good at playing guitar and can fingerpick and do barre chords like no one else. But for the most part, being good at anything takes time and effort. The difference with guitar? You'll have a hell of a lot of fun doing it.

Not only is the guitar the coolest instrument to play (unlike that trombone your mom told you was cool back in sixth grade), but it is also one of the instruments that allows you to be expressive, and your creativity really will come to life on a guitar. You don't need to know how to read music or even understand what the difference is between a bass and treble clef. All you need is a few minutes a day to build up those calluses on your fingertips and give the world a song or two.


Getting Yourself a Guitar

If you've already got a guitar, you can go ahead and skip this part. But if you're in desperate need of a six-string, I would recommend places like Guitar Center and even your local pawn shop. Pawn shops are a paradise for the beginning guitarist; you wouldn't believe how many beautiful guitars there are to be found, and at such a low price!

But if you don't want your guitar secondhand, then go ahead and search online or even at some local guitar shops. Also, if you are a straight-up beginner, I suggest you get an acoustic guitar to start. Acoustic guitars have a wider neck and will give your fingers a better range of motion. If you can get your hands used to an acoustic guitar, then trust me, when you switch over to an electric guitar, it will be so easy.

Electric guitars have thin necks, and thus your fingers will have a much easier time finding strings and whatnot. So, in my opinion, acoustic is the best way to go, plus electric guitars are pretty much useless without amps anyway, so put some faith in me and look for an acoustic.

Or if you want the best of both worlds, you can look for acoustic-electrics, although they do tend to be a bit pricey. Whatever you do, just get your hands on a guitar and give it a whirl.

Getting Familiar With Playing

Ok, let's face it. Once you get that guitar of yours, there's a good chance if you're a beginner that you will have no idea what to do with the thing, let alone pluck a few strings and strum a made-up chord or two. That is just fine. In fact, many guitar teachers don't suggest you play with your guitar; they try to lead you straight into learning string letters and teaching you the simple chords like A, B, and C.

For me, I believe that familiarity is everything. You have to crawl before you walk, and the same goes with guitar. Don't worry about getting advanced just yet. Instead, focus on tinkering with your guitar, placing your fingers on random strings, and playing whatever your heart desires. Getting familiar with your guitar is the first step towards getting better.

Spend an hour or two a day just hitting notes, sliding your fingers down the strings, or strumming with a guitar pick. After a few days of this, you're ready for the next step.


Learning the Strings

Nobody likes reading instructions for physical actions. But it is possible to pick up a few lessons if you pay attention just right. The next step in your guitar adventure begins with the part everyone hates: memorization.

When it comes to playing an instrument, repetition is key. Nobody likes it, and after a while, it can get pretty tedious. But just like you did in first grade, when they had you write the letters of the alphabet a million times over until your fingers bled, you have to do a little memorization when it comes to guitar and do some good old-fashioned repetition. Below is a diagram of the guitar strings and their specific letters.

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The guitar strings and their letters

The guitar strings and their letters

Ok, so there you go. The string letters are E, A, D, G, B, and E. A good way to remember these string letters is by this neat acronym: Eddie Athe Dynamite, GoodBye Eddie.

Also, something that you should note is that the first and sixth strings are both E. This means that when you play these strings separately, they will have the exact same sound, but the first string will be an octave higher. This comes in handy when you start learning your major and minor scales, but that is a different lesson for a different day.

Practice playing these strings and saying aloud the letters of that particular string. Believe me, after enough repetition, it might just get to the point where you can play any string and know the letter of it just by sound.

Also, a good technique to get used to is pressing down on the strings with enough force to get a good, clean sound. Do not press on the metal bars running across the neck, called the frets. Doing so will create a very muffled, choppy sound. A good rule to follow is to always put your fingers in the spaces between the frets and make sure your fingers are just above the frets for a better, pure-sounding note.

Be warned, though, if you are a first-time guitar player, and especially if you're starting with an acoustic guitar with metal strings, your fingertips will hurt. This is one of the downsides to beginner's guitar, and until you build those things called calluses on your fingertips, you'll be feeling some pain when you play. But don't worry, your fingers will get used to it, but just try to moderate your playing to maybe an hour a day or so, and if your fingers start hurting bad, just stop.

Starting Some Chords

Alright, so you've gotten this far, which means you've got some serious interest in guitar. If you've been practicing every day and playing until your fingertips are numb, then I praise you and give you an A+. However, this next lesson will test your abilities, especially if you're a beginner.

If you already know and practice chords, you can skip this part or stay if you want a refresher course. I'm going to give you the lowdown on what chords are and how to play them for some maximum sound. Piece of cake, right?

A chord is basically three or more notes played together to make a sound. That's the basic definition, but it can be misleading. There's a lot more to it than simply three notes played together. It's all about notes and what sounds good and what doesn't. You could play a G note, an A flat, and a B sharp note and technically call this a chord.

Does it mean that this particular note will sound good? No. Actually, I've never actually tried that combination, but I'm sure the moment I did, my ears would start to bleed. To say it simply, you need to know your scales. However, I can still show you some basic chords to play in the meantime so that you can practice and know the notes you are playing and their letters as well.

Remember the letters of the strings? Well, guess what, each space between the frets has its own special musical note and a letter to go along with it. What do I mean? Well, just look at the image below, and you'll know what I'm talking about.


See what I mean? Playing a string alone will give you a note. It depends on which string you pluck. Will it be the E string? Cool, then now you just played an E note. But if you press your index finger down on the string right on the first fret (check the picture if you're still hazy on what a fret is: it's the space where the F is), then voila! You just played an F note.

Go down one fret and press on there, and what do you know? You just played F sharp (note: F# and G♭ are the exact same note). Also note that pressing various strings at different fret locations and strumming them will produce a brand new sound! For example, look at the picture above and then look at this picture of the C chord.


Making sense now? When you press your three fingers down like displayed in the picture, you get a C Major chord! Also, you will notice that each black circle has a number on it? Each one of your fingers is designated a number, and using certain fingers when playing chords is much easier.

Your index finger is 1, your middle finger is 2, your ring finger is 3, and your pinkie is 4. Your thumb is not designated a number because you will not be using your thumb to press down on the strings (most of the time, there are some exceptions, but we'll get into that later).

So now look at the C major chord above and try to play it. Do your best to place all your fingers down at the same time. This is crucial if you want to play chords correctly. You need to train your fingers to press down on the strings all at once. Having your fingers press down on the strings at different times will surely mess up your songs in the future when you practice, and I assure you that you'll be frustrated.

So just practice placing your fingers down simultaneously, no matter how long it takes you to do so. Then once you've placed your fingers down, gently strum all your strings together. Try to strum all the strings except the low E string, for this specific chord does not need the sixth string to be played. Also, notice the letters above in the picture.

Do you see how the letters are E, C, E, G, C, E? This means that all those strings, when strummed, will produce these notes. The main notes for a C chord are C, E, and G. The other notes help produce a more solid sound, and your C chord will shine bright. For some more chords to practice, here is a diagram of some of the most common chords and their corresponding notes.

Practice these daily, and remember to place all your fingers down at the same time! I can't stress that enough.

Note: the X's on the top of the strings mean that you DO NOT strum those strings when you play the chord. They will surely and definitely mess up your sound without fail

Note: the X's on the top of the strings mean that you DO NOT strum those strings when you play the chord. They will surely and definitely mess up your sound without fail

Well, there you have it—a few lessons for the avid guitar beginner. Look for my future hubs, where I'll take these lessons even further. For now, just practice these chords and notes and remember that repetition is key to good guitar playing. Get yourself familiar with playing, and try to immerse yourself in your lessons.

Get a teacher or even a friend who knows how to play so that you can get better, and make sure you check out my future lessons because I'll show you some neat tricks and tips that will surely boost your playing. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment on this article. Good luck, guys, and practice hard.


Prasana on January 21, 2015:

I am a beginner in learning guitar.The information is good for me.thanks for sharing

Anthony (author) on October 01, 2012:

Your fretboard is the neck of the guitar, where you place your fingers on the strings. Individual frets are the spaces in between the silver bars on your fretboard, where your fingers go to make chords.

Lily on September 28, 2012:

I can't get what a fret is

Jack on July 11, 2012:

Sorry for the bad speling my key bird is a bit doggy lol. :D

Jack on July 11, 2012:

Hi I have not used your tips yet cause I don't have a guitar yet,hope to het one soon and start to play and become good at it. Thank you for this hub i was on the Internet for 34 mins trying to finde a something like this. Once again thanks.

Anil S on June 26, 2012:

Can you please explain why C major is called C major ? I mean is there any way i can figure out how it is named? Name to fret combination?

tugbo200-5 on April 24, 2011:

Very good hub.

I play guitar quite a bit, an ole country

boy.Always wanted to finger pick but finally realized

I can't do it,so I'll stay where I am,quietly set back

and envy those that can.

again great hub

Anthony (author) on March 03, 2011:

Lol that's good. I usually play until I bruise my fingers. It feels good, I guess I'm weird, ha. By the way they have a liquid at Guitar Center called NewSkin. You put it on your fingers and it forms I guess that helps your fingers not become so numb. Just a tip, but yeah, keep practicing! I'm working on the new hub already :D

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on March 03, 2011:

Can't wait! I took the day off from practicing the regular chords cause my fingers were so numb. But I am really itching to pick it back up. Darn competing hobbies... writing or strumming the guitar. I wish there were more hours in the day!

Anthony (author) on March 03, 2011:

Ok lol gotcha. A hub on the basics it is.

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on March 02, 2011:

Help memorizing the chords... ha ha ... help with the numbness in my fingers... right now I am just getting the basics down. Maybe a hub on the basics! Thanks again!

Anthony (author) on March 02, 2011:

Hmm. Well let me know what you need help on and if you can zero in on a certain problem you have, I can do a hub on tips to make it easier (could be like fingerpicking or vamping, etc). Just let me know what you want to hear more about.

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on March 02, 2011:

Good, cause I could really use some help! :)

Anthony (author) on March 02, 2011:

Thanks barbergirl I'm glad you liked it. I love guitar and everything to do with it so I'll keep writing some hubs on how to play.

Stacy Harris from Hemet, Ca on February 28, 2011:

Great Great hub... I have been searching for some good information on beginning to play the guitar and I would have to say this is by far the best I have come across. Thanks for the information. I am linking it to my hub on learning the guitar so if other people want to copy me... they can follow here to get some great honest advice.

Thank you... voted up!

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