How to Play Guitar

How to Play Guitar

You can use a guitar to play anything from death metal to country to classical, and everything in between. Learning to play guitar is more approachable than many other instruments, once you master a few basics. Here’s how to get started teaching yourself to play.


Beginner Guitar Help

Guitar-Strumming-Patterns  Guitar-Chord-Chart  Star-Spangled-Banner-Tabs-and-Chords


Part One: Mastering the Basics

1. Buy a guitar tuner. Unless you already possess “perfect pitch”, you’ll probably need a tuner. Not only will your playing sound better, but a tuner will also familiarize you with which string and fret combinations correspond with which notes. You should be able to find one anywhere guitars are sold, or at most music stores.


  • Tuners are easy to use and very useful if you cannot tune by ear. Make sure the room is quiet when using a tuner because the microphone on the tuner can pick up other sounds.
  • A useful mnemonic to remember the string arrangement is Every Body Gets Dinner At Eight” or “‘Easter Bunnies Go Dancing At Easter (going from high E to low E). You should try to make up your own acronym; it will help you remember more easily.
  • If you cannot afford a tuner, you can also tune your guitar without one.


2. Learn how to read guitar tabs. Guitarists have their own system of music notation called guitar tablature, or guitar tabs for short. The basic idea is to look at the tab in the same way you look at your guitar; each line corresponds to a string, and each number tells you which fret to hold down when plucking that string.


E|-----------------------3-3--3--------------------||Sweet Home Alabama


3. Learn finger placement. The frets are the metal strips that run perpendicular to the strings. You actually press your finger down between the metal strips, not on them. For example, if you’re playing the third fret, you place your finger on the string between the second and third metal strip. Place your finger as close to the fret as possible to create a good sound.

  • Hold the string down firmly so that it only vibrates between your finger and your strumming hand.
  • Do not forget that you must play on your fingertips and not on the soft part of your finger. This requires cutting your nails to avoid scratching the fretboard.
  • Right-handed players use their left hand for fretting and use their right hand for picking. Lefties are vice versa.
  • When you hold down multiple strings at once at different frets (to play chords), it can be a little tricky (especially if you have short, inflexible fingers). There are usually several different ways to position your fingers for the same chord, so research them and experiment to find which one feels most comfortable for you.
  • Keep in mind that every time you move from one fret to another, the resulting pitch will be half a step higher or lower (i.e. “sharp” or “flat”). This is important for if you want to eventually read and play from sheet music.
  • Some people find that placing the thumb in the middle of the back of the neck, not coming over the top, leads to better finger placement because it allows better reach and strength of the fingers on the frets. Ultimately, however, do what feels best for you.


Part Two: Strumming

1. Strum correctly. This can be the most difficult part to learn without having a teacher demonstrate. Strumming consists of downstrokes and upstrokes in various combinations.


2. Count every beat and off-beat. For example, you might count as “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and…” (every “and” is an offbeat). Each beat and offbeat can be an upstroke, downstroke, or no stroke.


3. Sweep over the strings evenly. No matter which direction you use, make an effort to sweep across all of the strings with even pressure and steady speed. You don’t want to strum some strings a little harder than others, or start off fast then slow down as you get to the last few strings. The motion should come mostly from the wrist, not the forearm.


4. Choose your weapon. You can strum with a pick or with your fingertips. There are various kinds of picks you can use, but beginners are usually advised to start with a thin pick, held between the thumb and the side of the index finger.


5. Stay consistent. Keep your arm going in a constant up-and-down motion, sticking with a rhythm whether or not you’re actually strumming. This motion functions as a metronome for beginners. As you get better at strumming, you can tap your foot, bob your head, or jerk your knee like Elvis instead.



Part Three: Playing Chords

1. Practice chords. A chord is a group of notes that sound good together. The reason they sound good together lies in music theory, but for now, learning how to play a few key chords will suffice. Practice until you can move comfortably between them without losing your rhythm.


2. Learn common major chords. The most commonly used chords in Western music are the major chords, which can be remembered with the word “CAGED”. Click on any of the following links for specific instructions on how to play each chord:


3. Practice getting a clean sound. After you had placed all your fingers on the fretboard, play through each of the strings of the chords. Make sure that the strings that are supposed to ring are not muffled or muted.

  • If the notes are not ringing out properly, find out why. Chances are that you are not pressing hard enough or parts of your fingers are touching that string which prevents it from sounding out clearly. Are any unused fingers touching strings?


4. Learn to play some songs. Start off with easier songs — ones with fewer chords in simpler arrangements. Listen to the song being played properly with guitar so you know what kind of sound and rhythm to aim for.

  • Start off slow and speed up gradually, singing along (if applicable) to stick with the rhythm.
  • As you master easier songs, move on to more complex pieces. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd is an example of an easier song to start with. It’s basically a repetition of the same three chords in the following order: D, C, G, D, C, G, D, C, G.

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