So you want to learn how to play guitar but don’t know where to start? No worries. This how to play guitar for beginners guide will cover all the basic requirements to get you started with playing guitar. The guide is split into 2 sections:
- The Basics – where you’ll learn about the various parts of the guitar, how to hold the guitar and how to tune your guitar.
- Playing – where you’ll learn popular chords, strumming techniques, and how to read guitar tabs.
This guitar for beginners guide is meant for guitarists just starting out, however there are also tips and tricks here which will further help intermediate guitarists excel. Let’s jump into it, use the following index to skip to a specific section or start from the beginning at Section 1.
Happy guitar playing!
Learn to play guitar index:
- Step 1) Learning the Open String Notes
- Step 2) Holding the Guitar
- Step 3) Holding the Pick
- Step 4) How to Tune Guitar
- Step 5) Learning Basic Guitar Chords
- Step 6) Learning How to Strum
- Step 7) Reading Guitar Tabs
- Additional Tips and Tricks
Section 1: How to Play Guitar – The Basics
The first part of learning how to play guitar from scratch is learning the basics. The basics include everything from learning how to tune your guitar, to how to hold it properly, etc. During this section we’ll mention parts of the guitar you may or may not be familiar with yet. If any guitar part names are foreign to you, consult the following guitar anatomy guide to get a better understanding of which name corresponds to which part of the guitar.
Let’s start off this section by learning the notes that each of the six guitar strings correspond to.
Knowing what note each string corresponds to on the guitar is an important first step. This will help you with tuning your guitar (shown in later step) as well as give you a starting point for when you choose to learn more about the note structure of the fretboard (we won’t worry about that for now).
Starting from the thickest to the thinest string, the notes are assigned as follows: E A D G B E. Here is a quick visualization:
A simple way to remember the notes is to associate each letter with a word. For instance, I like to use the following example to help me remember what each open string is.
- Eddie (thickest string)
- Eddie (thinest string)
Try to remember the above acronym or make one on your own to help remember the open string notes. Now that we got that covered, let’s move on to the next step.
Holding your guitar properly ensures that you will maintain good posture and therefore your back, shoulders, and arms won’t get sore as quickly (although you’ll likely still experience some discomfort at first).
If you’re right-handed start off by resting the guitar on the upper part of your right leg. Ensure the back of the guitar is pressed up against your chest and that your right arm is wrapped around the body of the guitar so that your hand ends up in front of the soundhole. Additionally, your left hand should be used to cradle the neck of the guitar so that your thumb sits on top or behind the neck (whichever is most comfortable) while your fingers are on the strings.
If you’re left-handed, simply do the opposite. The guitar should rest on your upper left leg, left arm wraps around the body of the guitar and your right hand is supporting the neck.
Try to be aware of any slouching either from your body or the guitar itself. A lot of new guitar players tend to slouch the guitar so that it’s easier to see their fingers. Try to avoid this habit as much as possible as it makes the guitar harder to play and will cause more discomfort.
Using a pick when you’re first starting is recommended as it is much easier to pluck the strings. There is likely a huge selection of picks at your local music shop and they can be any combination of thick, thin, solid, flexible, wide, skinny. I like to use a regular sized pick that has medium flex to it. Choosing the right pick for you will depend on what you feel comfortable with, but for starters any regular sized pick will work.
To hold the pick, simply lay the wide end flat between your index finger and your thumb. When holding the pick, the majority of it should be covered by your thumb and finger with only a couple of centimetres sticking out.
When holding the pick don’t grip down on it too hard but also don’t hold it so loosely that it will fly out of your hand when you start to play. Try to keep a medium grip that holds it in place without moving around too much when you play. You may also want to play around with holding the pick in various positions. Pick holding preference is subjective and will depend on what you feel is most comfortable.
Tuning your guitar is very important and should be done every time before you start playing. Make this a habit so that your guitar will always be in tune for when you’re practicing, or playing for / with others. When it comes to tuners, there is now more options than ever. You can use your phone, your computer, or even a traditional tuner which all work well. Lets go over each option in more detail.
Using Your Phone to Tune Guitar
There are many apps that can be downloaded on your mobile device (iPad, iPhone, Android) to be used to tune guitar. Some are paid apps which come with additional features while others are free. I’m going to go over two apps, one of which is free (with in-app purchases) while the other is paid.
GuitarTuna – Free
GuitarTuna is a free guitar tuner with in-app purchases. For beginners who just need to tune their guitar in standard tuning, this is a great option. It gives you a user-friendly interface and allows you to switch between manual and auto tuning mode. Manual mode means that you select which string you want to tune, while auto allows you to play the string on your guitar and the tuner will automatically determine which string it is.
GuitarTuna also provides you with a metronome and chords guide. A metronome essentially produces a continuous click at a certain speed to help you maintain a certain beat (more on this later). The chords guide provides you with an awesome library of chords to choose from so you can quickly look up a certain chord and know instantly how to play it.
This app also provides a variety of in-app purchases or bundle purchases. This gives you access to more chords, instruments, tuning settings, etc. Although the in-app purchase prices are a little higher than the next option I’m going to discuss, it does provide you with a ton more information which you may find beneficial.
Guitar Tuner! – Paid $3.99
Guitar Tuner! is the tuning app that I currently use. Unlike the GuitarTuna, this app’s sole purpose is to act as a tuner. Although not as visually appealing as the previous option, it’s straightforward to use and comes with a variety of special tunings that you can experiment with.
Both of these options are great ways to get started with a guitar tuner. Although I personally believe having a guitar tuning app is the best way to go (in most cases) let’s take a look at the other 2 options as well.
Using Your Computer to Tune Guitar
There are also a couple of ways to use your computer to tune your guitar. The first method is through using an online service such as proguitartuner. This website allows you to choose from a variety of tuning options and simply listening through your computer’s mic, is able to determine if your guitar is in or out of tune. When you go to the site simply allow “camera and microphone access” in order for the tuner to be able to use your computer’s microphone.
Alternatively, if you have a Mac, you can use the Garage Band app to tune your guitar by following these steps:
- Open Garage Band and choose Empty Project
- Under the Audio section select “Record using a microphone or line input” and click Create.
- Then select the tuning fork in the upper right hand corner. This will bring up another window which will be your tuner.
Traditional Guitar Tuner
Lastly, you can also choose to buy a traditional guitar tuner. These come in different shapes and sizes and average around $10-$15 at your local guitar shop. A good guitar tuner, if you choose this option, is the Korg GA1 Guitar and Bass Tuner .
- Ultra-compact design
- High-precision LCD needle-type meter for stable tuning
- Quinta Flat Tuning mode lets you tune 1--5 semitones flat
- Supports 7-string guitar tunings
- Sound Out can produce a reference tone from the internal speaker
Last update on 2017-01-22 // Source: Amazon Affiliates
How to Tune
Now that know what options you have when choosing a guitar tuning method, you can now start tuning your guitar. Remember our mnemonic from before?
- Eddie (thickest string)
- Eddie (thinest string)
These are the notes that you want to tune each string to. That means that when tuning your top string (thickest string) you’ll want the E note to show up on your tuner. Always try to tune up to the note. If you turn your guitar pegs too far and the note goes sharp, simply unwind the tuning peg slightly and tune up to the note again. Don’t worry if your tuner is showing that you’re off + or – 1 or 2 cents, your guitar will still be in tune regardless of this slight imperfection.
Still with me? Now that we’ve covered the basics of guitar, its time to start playing. The next section will cover some of the basic and most popular guitar chords, strumming techniques, and how to read guitar tabs.
Section 2: How to Play Guitar – Chords and Playing
In this section, I’ll dive into the basics of what you need to know to actually learn to play guitar. We’ll cover everything from learning a few basic chords that are used in many popular songs, how to strum, and reading guitar tabs.
When first starting to learn guitar, knowing a few basic guitar chords give you the ability to play a huge amount of songs. Many famous songs were created using only 4 chords; even less in some cases. I’m going to show you the best chords to learn as a beginner guitarist so that you can start learning a ton of new songs.
A diagram is drawn for each chord below. The numbers on each string correspond to which finger you should be using. For example, your index finger corresponds to 1 while your pinky would be 4.
Additionally, on the left side of the diagram you will see more numbers. These correspond to which fret your fingers should be on. So for the E Major chord, your 2nd and 3rd fingers should be placed on the 2nd fret while your 1st finger should be on the first fret. Also, at the top of the diagram if you see an “x” that means not to pluck that string while an “o” means you can play that string open.
If you’re not sure how exactly the chord is supposed to sound, simply play the sound cloud that is associated with each chord. We’re going to go over 7 different chords in the section below, so have your guitar ready and let’s get started.
E Minor (Em)
A Minor (Am)
Practice these chords on a daily basis. Your fingers aren’t used to these chord shapes just yet, so you have to build muscle memory to allow you fingers to become accustomed to each shape. Practice not only strumming each chord separately but also practice switching between each chord. The more you practice the easier it will become to play chords and the faster you’ll get at switching between each one as well.
Learning how to strum a guitar takes practice and is somewhat subjective, meaning that one guitar player’s strumming technique may differ from the next. Although you’ll likely start to develop your own strumming style and preferences as you progress.
Here are a few basic strumming tips and techniques to get you started.
- Place your strumming hand at the base of the soundhole of your guitar. This is a good default position, however there is no harm in deviating from this. Strumming closer to the neck will create a bass-ier sound while strumming closer to the bridge will create a sharper, smaller sound.
- Keep your wrist loose when strumming. The majority of strumming should be done with your wrist, not your arm. Try to avoid moving your arm too much when strumming (although don’t tense up).
- Practice your downward and upward strumming. When practicing downward strumming, start by hitting the top E string (thickest string) and moving your way down, hitting all strings below. To get comfortable with this, try just practicing your downstrokes and nothing else.
- Next, you’ll want to start practicing your upstrokes. For this, your hand should move in an upward motion starting from the thinest string. For most upstrokes, you’ll generally want to aim to hit the first 4 strings. Try practicing just your upstrokes until you feel comfortable to combine the up and down strokes together.
- Once you feel comfortable doing each stroke individually, try alternative between each: down – up, down – up, down – up, and repeat.
Learning how to play the guitar is a process involving many steps and there are a ton of different strumming patterns to learn. However, practicing the basic down – up strokes will help build a solid strumming foundation. Once you feel you are comfortable with the basic concept of strumming, try playing along to a song. An easy song to play along with to help practice your strumming technique is Love Me Do by The Beatles (scroll down for song and tab links). Try listening to the up and down strokes and replicating them as closely as you can.
Guitar tabs are a super easy and convenient way to learning new songs quickly. There are a ton of guitar tablatures out there for almost any song you can think of. The biggest websites sources for guitar tabs are Ultimate-Guitar and GuitareTab.
Basically, a guitar tab shows you your list of guitar strings: E, A, D, G, B, e along with which fret should be used to play a note. Let’s look at an example:
e------------------|-3--3--3--3-3-|--------------|--3--3--3--3-3--| B------------------|-3--3--3--3-3-|--------------|--3--3--3--3-3--| G------------------|-0--0--0--0-0-|----0---------|--0--0--0--0-0--| D-------------0--2-|-2--2--2--2-2-|-2-----2--0---|--0--0--0--0-0--| x 2 A------0h2---------|-2--2--2--2-2-|--------------|--2--2--2--2-2--| E---(3)------------|-x--x--x--x-x-|--------------|--3--3--3--3-3--|
The above tablature snippet is for the beginning of the Pink Floyd song, Wish You Were Here. Each row corresponds to one of your strings, where the top row (e) is your thinest string and the bottom row (E) is your thickest string. When numbers are offset from each other, such as the first section, this means that you play them one after another.
e------------------| B------------------| G------------------| D-------------0--2-| A------0h2---------| E---(3)------------|
So, starting from left to right, the above tablature snippet corresponds to the following:
- Press down on the 3rd fret of the low E string and pluck that string
- Then pluck the open A string and hammer on to the 2nd fret of the same string
- Then pluck the open D string followed by pressing down on the 2nd fret of the D string and plucking that note.
On the other hand, if the numbers are all in the same column, such as the second section, this means you play them all together at the same time.
e----3--3--3--3-3-| B----3--3--3--3-3-| G----0--0--0--0-0-| D----2--2--2--2-2-| A----2--2--2--2-2-| E----x--x--x--x-x-|
Within many guitar tabs you’ll also see letters or special characters within the tablature itself. These mean a variety of things, the most common characters you’ll see are:
- h – hammer on
- p – pull off
- / or \ – slide into from below or above
- x – dead note
- b – bend
Use the tab legend below if you come across any characters within a tab that you’re unsure of.
The downside to guitar tabs is that most times you can’t tell what the timing should be for each note. Therefore, when learning a new song through guitar tabs it’s also good to have the actual song handy so that you can replicate the correct timing and rhythm. However, to help fix this issue, I like to use a program called Tux Guitar. There are other more feature complete solutions out there such as Guitar Pro (read a complete Guitar Pro review here), however I really like Tux guitar since it’s free and easy to use.
Tux Guitar basically turns a guitar tab into a playable MIDI sound file. Therefore the program actually plays out the guitar tab so you can easily hear as well as visualize how the song should be played. To use Tux Guitar and load in a guitar tab, follow these steps:
- Download Tux Guitar for your operating system
- Once installed, head over to Guitar Pro Tabs or GTP Tabs and search for a song / artist
- Once you find the song you want, simply download it and open the file with Tux guitar
Now that the file is loaded within Tux Guitar, you’ll see a bunch of tabs and likely a list of instruments at the bottom. Many guitar pro tabs come with more than just tabs for the guitar (e.g. vocals, drums, bass, etc). Upon loading your guitar pro tab file, Tux Guitar should look something like this.
Now that your tab is loaded, you can simply use the play buttons at the top of the program and follow along. I still recommend having the actual song handy as replicating the feel and rhythm of a song can be quite challenging to do in a tab. Use guitar tabs to learn the chords / notes of how a song is played, but listen to the song to get a better feel for the rhythm.
So far in this how to learn guitar tutorial we’ve covered a lot of information. Everything from learning the basics of a guitar, 7 extremely useful and versatile chords, strumming techniques, and how to read guitar tabs. However, I wanted to go over a few additional things before wrapping up.
Practice Practice Practice
Learning guitar is not an easy task and as we all know, practice is very important. You’ll want to practice playing the guitar every day for at least 30 minutes to an hour. If you feel your fingers starting to hurt or your shoulder is getting sore, just put down the guitar for a while and come back later, don’t push yourself to the point where it gets too uncomfortable.
As for what you should be practicing:
- Practice tuning every time you pick up the guitar to play it.
- Practice the 7 chord positions I’ve outlined above and practice switching between them (in no particular order).
- Practice your strumming technique by getting smooth downstrokes and upstrokes.
- Use guitar tabs (either Ultimate Guitar or Tux Guitar) to learn new songs. I mention a few good beginner songs below.
Use a Metronome
A metronome is a device that ticks at a particular BPM (beats per minute) to help keep musicians in time with the song they’re playing. A metronome isn’t necessary when first starting out, however when you feel a little more comfortable with playing chords and switching between them, consider using a metronome when practicing. Creating this habit early will help improve your rhythm and therefore help keep you in time when playing a song.
You can use the metronome within Garage Band or an online tool such as bestmetronome.com.
Beginner Guitar Songs To Learn
The songs listed below are all beginner songs using a combination of the chords we mentioned in Section 2 of this beginner’s guide. I’ve included a Spotify link to each song (if you don’t have a Spotify account get one, it’s awesome) along with the Ultimate-Guitar tab and a downloadable tab for Tux Guitar.
TNT – AC/DC
Guitar Pro Tab (For Tux Guitar)
Love Me Do – The Beatles
Guitar Pro Tab (For Tux Guitar)
Take it Easy – The Eagles
Guitar Pro Tab (For Tux Guitar)
Runnin’ Down a Dream – Tom Petty
Guitar Pro Tab (For Tux Guitar)
Hopefully, this how-to guide has helped you improve your guitar playing skills or given you direction on how to start to learn how to play guitar. If you have any questions regarding any of the information discussed in this article (or any off-topic questions) leave them in the comments section below and I’ll be sure to answer them for you.