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What's the Buzz? -- Beginner Steps to Learning to Play the Guitar

Updated on July 27, 2011
Memorization of chords is important to build the base for learning the guitar.
Memorization of chords is important to build the base for learning the guitar.

I have recently bought a guitar and set it as one of my many goals to teach myself to play. A difficult task, I will admit, but definitely one that comes with rewards and sore fingertips.

However, when you don’t know what you are doing, trying to find a starting point is probably more overwhelming than actually playing the guitar itself. Of course, the biggest problem I have is my lack of patience. I really just want to belt out a guitar riff from some popular rock song… you know… like Stairway to Heaven. Or maybe just take it down a notch and try a love song…. like Something Stupid. Obviously, I am not there yet, but a girl can still dream.

So, I decided to start from the beginning. The very beginning. I picked up a book. Okay, so that wasn’t the first thing I did. I actually acted like I was playing the guitar for awhile. It was happy and fun pretend time, even though I was only strumming the strings and looking a little off-balanced. Or, as my husband would say - crazed!!

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What's the buzz?

While I obviously don’t have the experience or the resume backing me up to instruct anyone else how to play guitar, I encourage anyone to follow me in my journey. Maybe together we can learn from each other and eventually become rock stars. Or, maybe we can just get far enough to play Kumbaya at a campfire to entertain those crazy enough to sit out in the woods with us!

For me, I do have some kind of musical background. When I was in fifth grade I started playing the clarinet. I played until I graduated from High School (and for those who are curious - I was a Marching Band Geek!) Now, a clarinet does not translate well into guitar land, so I am guessing that still left me at ground zero. I can also pretend to sing… but, since this is not a karaoke lesson I will refrain from making a horribly embarrassing YouTube video that no one would watch anyway. However, for those hopefuls out there, maybe one day I will make a video of me rocking out on my acoustic guitar. (However, I am camera shy so I did cross my fingers as I typed that!)

After I pretended to rock out, I figured now that I have explored the guitar body, I might as well educate myself on the actual guitar. Part of this is learning the strings and the notes. That seemed easy… from the top string… or the 6th string or the Low E. Yep, I have that mastered. Getting the rest is easy, especially if you use a memory tag. For the strings, if you start from the top and go down, all you need to remember is Eddy Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddy. This tells you that the strings are E,A,D,G,B,E.

Now the question that might come to mind, “What does that mean to me?” That is the names of the notes if you play the string open. Which means you don’t hold down any of the frets. Otherwise it means nothing more than it is fun to say Eddy Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddy. Other than the fact that I know what the notes are, I still have no clue how they relate to the music staffs or what key they are on the piano. I do however know that it is a necessary building block. I am sure relating these notes to other instruments will come eventually, but as for now, I am content just knowing their names.

Another big building block is learning the frets. Between the nut and the first fret bar is the first fret and it obviously goes down from there. The guitar will also give you cheater points of reference so you can easily find the 5th, 7th, and 9th frets. Pushing the string on the different frets will lower the vibration which will give you a different note. I swear, I feel like a genius being able to explain these very basic guitar building blocks, however, it is important to know those building blocks before you can get much further.

What Chord is it?

Chord you help me...

I figured since I knew the notes of the strings and I understood the concept of the frets, it was time to warm up my memorization skills. Honestly, this is the hardest part. There are so many chords to learn and the concept of being able to play them dumbfounds me. I am, however, optimistic that if I keep up with the practice, the whole guitar playing thing will eventually click. It is like the “Ah Ha” moment when the light bulb above your head clicks on and suddenly everything becomes clear. In fact, it is so clear, you don’t understand why you didn’t get it before. Unfortunately, to play a song (at least a more advanced song), you have to be able to play the chords and understand how to get from one chord to another. But, without knowing the actual fingerings, you will fail.

While I have learned a little about reading tablature, the memorization is my first priority. I have a list of all my chords printed off. I am tackling one chord at a time. This week it is the E chord family; next week it might be the same. I have tried a few of the other chords, but I don’t want to rush. I want to train my fingers to automatically go to the needed strings. This takes finger memorization and a lot of strength. I also read some good advice… you need to practice placing all your fingers down at the same time. That is pretty difficult to do, so I fear the E chord family will take a while to get down. The other chords will probably get much easier as the strength in my hands build.

Pick up some good techniques and you will be playing like a rock star in no time!
Pick up some good techniques and you will be playing like a rock star in no time! | Source

Keep on Learning

I am far from expert, but by teaching yourself, you do come across a few techniques, whether it is reading them in a book or watching a video, that help the process out. Here are a list of things I have learned:

  1. You need to build up your hand strength. I never thought pushing down those damn strings could be so hard. But, without the proper hand strength, the note will not sound as crisp or clean. To check my fingers, and to make sure they are pressed down firmly, I will slowly strum each string. Numerous times I have caught myself playing a chord that wasn’t right because of my lack of hand strength.
  2. You need to learn to relax. If you are pressing down on the strings too hard, you will wear yourself out unnecessarily. You can also injure yourself. If you want to keep playing guitar, learning how to relax is a must.
  3. Practice good techniques. This is a must. It might make learning the guitar a little slower, but it will be worth it in the long run and will make you a better player. First, you should use your fingertips on the fret board. This will help keep your hand in the proper position. You should also press close to the fret bar. This will keep the buzzing to a minimum. Lastly, you should practice good strumming technique. Practice alternate picking. It is a faster technique than just downstroke picking. And remember, keep your fingers closed and relaxed.

I guess that is a lot of stuff to learn in the short time I have actually owned my guitar. Yet, the journey ahead will continue to teach me. Unfortunately, the next couple weeks will probably occupy my time with memorizing the numerous chord families. But don’t worry, I will occasionally break away from my intense practice sessions to strum like crazy and act like a rock star!

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    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 4 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      @ahorseback - I got a few of the chords down and what not but I think if I want to become all professional I will really have to find someone that will teach me how to play. Otherwise I am just plucking a few random things here and there. I guess the guitar isn't really my thing! :)

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 4 years ago

      Good for you girl , I wish ,I wish .....Always thought If I could play guitar , I would forgo any need for friends ,lovers....... ed

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      @Sirsarac - Thank you - I am still plucking away at it.

    • sirsarac profile image

      sirsarac 6 years ago from Italy

      Congratulations! A great article!

    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 6 years ago

      Congrats on following a passion / working towards a goal. I fondly remember Kumbayas around the campfire. Soon we'll be hearing you playing on the radio, in concert . . . The Suburban Poet has quite a few songs on his hub.

    • barbergirl28 profile image

      Stacy Harris 6 years ago from Hemet, Ca

      Ha ha - I figured since I already mastered air guitar I should just go ahead and figure out the real thing. I have always wanted to play just never had the opportunity or the time to do it. I too want to learn how to play the flute. That was the instrument I really wanted to play. Maybe after the guitar I will go to the flute.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      I think it's way cool your learning! At least you have a heads up on reading the notes and knowing the count! I will be learning the flute next!

      This totally reminded me of a rather odd party I went to many years ago - a date took me - everyone there (except me) was dressed almost completely in black. I had a pink skirt & top on - way out of place! This group of girls were sitting in a circle when suddenly - they all began to play the "air guitar". Really rocking out too! I think they were on something:-)!