Nowadays there is no shortage of people lining up to take your money to help you learn to play guitar. A quick search pulls up dozens of sites offering some sort of system to take you from beginner to expert. People (myself included) want a shortcut. Advertisers know this. They are quick to offer you a solution that caters to this deep human desire of fast results. Stop and think. Learning to play guitar requires hours and hours of deliberate practice. A course will help you in the right direction, but it's not the final solution. There are plenty of free options out there to learn to play the guitar. You don't need to spend money to learn the guitar!
In this article, I will get you started on your path to learning to play. I'm not going to ask you to buy anything. Everything I mention will be freely available on the internet.
Step 1: Find a Guitar
If you already have a guitar, you can skip this section.
You don't need a brand new fancy guitar to get started. Ask some friends and see if you can borrow theirs. Or visit a pawn shop and pick up a cheap acoustic guitar. Acoustic or electric, it does not matter. The quickest way to get started is to go to your local guitar shop and tell them you want a good beginner guitar.
Step 2: Learn the Basics
The names of the strings are the first thing to learn. Starting at the thickest string, the strings are E, A, D, G, B, E. The smallest string is the first string. The thickest string is the 6th string.
The fingers are referred to as the first (pointer), second (middle), third (ring finger), fourth (pinky finger).
The little metal bars across the neck of the guitar are the frets. Most guitars have around 20-24 frets. When learning the guitar, you will hear things like, "Put your first finger on the 2nd string 3rd fret." Now you will know what this means.
Notes on the Guitar
The guitar fretboard is intimidating, but it's simple once you learn it. Starting with the low E string, the notes start at the 1st fret and continue up in this manner:
- E String - F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E
- A String - A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A
- D String - D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D
- G String - G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G
- B String - C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B
- E String - F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#, D, D#, E
I stopped at the 12th fret for simplicity. But the notes keep on going! You don't need to memorize these notes unless you want to. I didn't know the names of notes until I was years into playing.
Some basic music theory real quick. The notes of the musical scale are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. After G, it repeats back to A. The notes with the # symbol are sharps. G# is pronounced G Sharp. Notice there is no E# and no B#. You don't need to worry about the reason for this right now.
Step 3: Learn Chords
Learning guitar chords are what beginners say is the hardest part of learning to play. Holding the strings down with your fingertips hurts. You put your fingers where the chart says, you strum, and it sounds like a dying cat. This is normal.
New players finger tips are soft. Fretting the notes will hurt when you first get started. Take breaks. Practice until your fingers are hurting, then come back the next day. Within a week you wont notice your fingers hurting anymore and you can continue on.
To start, you want to learn the first position major chords. These are:
- A, C, D, E, F, G
Hint: The O means you play that string open. The X means you don't play that string.
Then you want to learn these minor chords:
- Am, Dm, Em
I left B out because it's a barre chord. Most beginners learn these after the open position chords. Here it is if you are feeling saucy:
Step 4: Practice
Now, here comes the hard part. To play songs, you have to have the chords memorized. You have to be able to change your hand from one chord position to the next without missing a beat. Practice your chord changes. Once you can change chords, you can play the guitar. It's that simple. You won't be shredding solos like Jimmie Page, but you will be able to strum and sing along.
Start by practicing the G C and D chords. With these 3 chords you can play songs like Sweet Home Alabama, Knocking on Heavens Door, and Ring of Fire.
Do one simple downward strum for each chord. Start with G to C, then work on C to D. Then tie it all together G to C to D then back to G. It will take time and be hard at first. Trust me when I say that soon you will be switching these chords without thinking about it.
When you master the above chord changes you can move onto these ones:
- A to D
- A to E
- G to D
- A, E, D
- C, F, G
- G, D, F, C
As you learn these chords and changes, there may be a few that are harder than others. Spend extra time focusing on nailing these chord changes. Focus on your weaknesses when you are practicing. It's the fastest way to improve.
For beginners, rhythm is often described as strum patterns. There is the downstroke and the upstroke. You'll see these shortened to down and up. These are further shortened to D and U.
If the strum pattern is down down down up down, you strum that pattern then change the chord. That's the quick and dirty beginner way of learning the rhythms.
That should be enough to get you started. Learning the guitar is a lifelong pursuit. Once you get the basics down, you can seek out instructional videos on youtube and learn any song you want. It all starts with learning the basics. Practice the chord changes and don't worry about the music theory until later on.
Here at GuitarLessons.org I tab out songs with their chords and lyrics. You don't have to worry about any incorrect chords in the songs I post.