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The How-To Beginners Guide to Playing Guitar

Updated on December 5, 2011

The How-To Beginners Guide to Playing Guitar

Have you always wanted to play the guitar, but never found the time? Or perhaps you've never found a teacher or guide that worked for you. Regardless of the past, this quick beginners guide will show proper technique and basic knowledge to get you started on the path to rock stardom!

I've been playing the guitar leisurely for over 6 years, without any professional lessons, but always within a common group of like-minded musicians. I've developed a comfort with the mechanics and passions involved and would like to encourage others to make the hardest step of learning, by starting!

Prior Requirements

What You Need to Start!

1. Patience - The most important aspect; understand that proficient skill is the product of dedication and hardwork

2. A guitar! - Electric or acoustic will work, but make sure its tuned by using an electric tuner, a friend with a musical ear, or if you're feeling ambitious learn yourself through many easy to find online sites

3. Guitar Pick - Depending on how your style evolves as you learn, you can decide for yourself on a type, gauge, or whether you use a pick at all.

4. A Comfortable seat - Preferably armless, where you can set your guitar comfortably on your right knee (Left knee for Left-handed players)

YouTube - Guitar Tuning

Here are a few youtube videos to show you how to quickly and accurately tune your instrument.

Standard Tuning Notation

A to G, The Only Key You Need!

All musical notes are constrained to the pitch scale, as described by notes A through G, with sharps(#). These are simply the note steps as defined by the pitch of the vibration. I'm not going to get too technical here, but this is a very important basis for all musical instruments, and is worth researching greater to understand the complete depth and intricacy of music theory.

For future reference, the pitch steps are: A, A-sharp, B, C, C-sharp, D, D-sharp, E, F, F-sharp, G, G-sharp, ...after which the cycle repeats itself. Notice that every note has a sharp(#) EXCEPT B and E.

As I said before, these are note steps. Assuming standard tuning (90% of tunings), each open string of your six string guitar, when strummed, will ring these major notes from top to bottom (heaviest string to lightest) E, A, D, G, B, e. (the first and last string are both E). Try strumming each open string in this order...notice the climbing tone.

Also, know that the note rung by the 5th fret of any guitar string will match the open note of the string below it..EXCEPT for the case of the G & B strings (the fourth to fifth string), here the 4th fret on the G (fourth string) will match the open B (fifth string).

Now as shown in the chart, if we start by strumming the top E-string open, and then the first fret, second, third, fourth, and fifth..we get the notes "E, F, F-sharp, G, G-sharp, A". Now notice that the fifth fret and the next open string are both the A note. See?

Also, continueing up the fretboard will eventually lead back to the E-note, once you hit the twelfth fret. This is called an octave, and occurs after every twelves steps for any note.

This may be confusing at first, but will soon become natural instinct to you in time. This is all I'm going to cover for now, so lets get to playing a simple riff!

Smoke on the Water - Deep Purple

Every Players First Song (Almost)

In my experience, many, many people pick up smoke on the water as a very first riff when starting guitar. This is most likely because it's a very common song, it's an idealic rock song, and best of all it's easy to play.

Shown below is a common tablature (tab) setup. Many online sites show entire songs laid out in this notation. The left to right dotted lines represent the corrosponding string on a guitar as viewed from the player, therefore the lightest string (e) is at the top and the heavy string (E) is on the bottom. This version of smoke on the water is played all on the E-string. If your unfamiliar with tabs, this picture simply shows the order of notes to strum.

So the note order for this riff as described by the tab is:

open -> 3rd fret -> 5th fret // open -> 3rd fret -> 6th fret -> 5th fret // open -> 3rd fret -> 5th fret // 3rd fret -> open

Try it now, check the youtube link below to hear the song.

--------------------I-----------------------I---------------------I----------------------------------------

--------------------I-----------------------I---------------------I----------------------------------------

--------------------I-----------------------I---------------------I----------------------------------------

--------------------I-----------------------I---------------------I----------------------------------------

--------------------I-----------------------I---------------------I----------------------------------------

-----0---3---5----I----0----3----6--5--I----0----3----5----I----3----0-----------------------------

There! that's your first riff, and a classic one to boot!

Additional Simple Rockers

Easy to Learn Songs

Here are a few more songs like Smoke on the Water that should be easy to pick up, and keep you interested in playing. I always found that learning something quick, but satisfying like these helped keep me motivated.

ACDC - TNT

Black Sabbath - Iron Man

White Stripes - 7-Nation Army

Eric Clapton - Sunshine of Your Love

Queen - Another One Bites the Dust

Ozzy Osbourne - Crazy Train (intro)

Metallica - Wasting My Hate (intro)

To find a tab for these or any other songs try sites like:

Guitaretab.com

ultimate-guitar.com

911tabs.com

These tabs are user submitted, so they can vary greatly not only in accuracy, but skill required, as there are different ways to play many songs. For now, try to find the one with the least amount of numbers and additional info, for simplicity sake.

Basic Chords - Musical Building Blocks

Chords are a collection of tones sounded together at once. It can be composed of notes played on a few or all the strings together, and are most often defined by the bass note pitch. Chords can be optimized for many different purposes and playing styles.

The seven chord shapes above show the major shape for each musical pitch. Using just these basic chords, there are literally thousands of songs you can play by following the timing and key changes.

Chords, although simple in concept, take time and patience to master. you will need to train your fingers to make these shapes quickly and accurately, and in the process build up the calluses on your fingers to avoid blisters and such. Don't expect this part of playing to come quickly, but retain your determination, because learning proficiency with these basic shapes will open up countless possibilities in playing and creating music.

I've found this site to be very helpful in mastering shapes and correct fingering involved with chords: http://www.8notes.com/guitar_chord_chart/

Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd - Basic Chord Progression

If you've reached a comfort level with chords, try your hand at this! Sweet Home Alabama is a feel-good song played with three simple major chords: D, C, and G. If you're not familiar with the rhythm or flow of the song, check out the youtube video below, then using the lyrics as a guide, try to follow the chord changes. Listen to the song timing closely to feel out exactly where this change occurs, it should be fairly easy.

Minor Chords - For the Deeper Emotions

Think of a song that feels very emotional to you. It could be the lyrics, or the way its sung, but chances are a large part of that emotion comes from a minor chord rooted within the progression. Minor chords have a wayof producing a deeper emotional "product" than majors, and when used properly, can be very powerful. Song can be composed of any number and type of chords, but generally a song with all major chords will feel happy, and a mix of both or all minors, will be portraying more passion and feeling.

In technical terms, a minor chord is a chord having a root, a minor third, and a perfect fifth. For simplicity, I'd just like you to notice that the only difference between the basic minor chords and their major's is one simple note. However, this simple change causes a massive change in feeling, and such is the beauty of minor chords!

Green Day - Boulevard of Broken Dreams

This song uses E-minor (Em) in the chord progression, and shows the deeper emotion of the minor chord, as compared to something like Sweet Home Alabama. Give it a try, again the youtube video is loaded below.

Other Golden Chordies!

If you're looking for similar songs with simple, rhythmic chord patterns, I would recommend the following:

Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

Eagles - Take it Easy

Eric Clapton - Wonderful Tonight

The Beatles - Let it Be

Toby Keith - Beer for My Horses

Oasis - Songbird

Allman Brothers - Ramblin' Man

Zac Brown Band - Toes

Again, visiting the tab sites I mentioned, or searching google with a song followed by "chords" will give you almost any tab you want!

Power Chords

The Root of Rock

Power chords can be fun and are quite easy to play. They are used in all types of music, but most often associated with hard rock styles of music. Power chords are not technically chords as they only have 2 different notes, whereas an actual chord needs 3 notes or more.

As I said before, power chords are easy to play, but lend very little harmonic texture to a song. They do not have a major or minor third interval, which is the defining feature between major and minor chords.

Additionally, a lot of players seem to get caught in the power chord trap. They learn how to play power chords, and avoid learning the real chords. This is a major mistake. Learning chords is one of the most important things a guitar player can do. It does not matter what style of music you are interested in, you cannot avoid learning your chords!

But that being said, take a look at the power chord chart above. If you look back at the minor and major chords, you will see that the power chord just takes the root note, the perfect fifth interval, and a repeat of the original root, twelve steps up...remember, this is called an octave!

Above, to the right, you'll find a tab of the intro and main riff to Hashpipe by Weezer. This is just a quick example of power chord notation, but give it a try. Power chords like this can give a faster, melodic feel with relative simplicity!

More Interesting Concept Tunes

Here's a list of tunes that combine some interesting playing concepts to give you a little more variety and practice in a range of areas"

Ozzy Osbourne - Mama, I'm Coming Home

The Animals - House Of the Rising Sun

Led Zeppelin - Tangerine

Kansas - Dust in the Wind

Metallica - Fade to Black

Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven

Eric Clapton - Classical Gas

Neil Young - Needle and the Damage Done

All For Now

I'm going to leave it there for now, but more content to come in the future. Hopefully this lens has given you a good overview of the basic concepts and mechanics of guitar playing. The las piece of advice I'd like to give you is to stick with it, and have patience. As a guitar player, you will always be learning and improving, and I hope you find the experience to be as rewarding as I have!

A I said, hopefully I'll find time to add lots more content. but for now, why not leave a comment in the guestbook for me. Any feedback is appreciated, as this is my first lens. Let me know what you thought, and what you'd like to see more of!

Thanks for stopping by, and in the words of Neil Young "Keep on rockin' in the free world"!

Guestbook "Tab"

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    • Richardryder profile image

      Risteard O'Marcahain 6 years ago from Wales

      enjoyed you lens

    • profile image

      marydixon 6 years ago

      This is a great lens - talk about thorough and informative. You have been very generous in your time and in sharing your knowledge. Many thanks.

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 6 years ago

      Great beginner guide to playing guitar. I like how you included basic chords so people can experiment with them. You may want to put that it'd be good to get an electronic guitar tuner to help people tune their strings.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      sound good

      at last i get the inspiration to work with my unused guitar.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      sounds good

      at last it creates to tune me my unused guitar

    • profile image

      cleanyoucar 6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing, as a teen I've always wanted to play the guitar but I can't because I don't have the talent LOL. maybe I'll try these tips out.

    • Johanna Eisler profile image

      Johanna Eisler 6 years ago

      Very good lens! You have helped a lot of aspiring musicians here! Congratulations on making the front page!

    • Rhidawn profile image

      Rhidawn 6 years ago

      Great lens. I've had my guitar for a while now..I started to learn but some of the things just confuse me so I haven't messed with it in a while. I think I'll get it out and try again!

    • davidleetong lm profile image

      davidleetong lm 6 years ago

      My lifelong frustration... Love for music but inability to play any instrument esp a guitar (cramping fingers LOL).. Thanks, will try these tips out.

    • Omaster profile image

      Omaster 6 years ago

      Nice lens. This is great for me because I am a complete beginner at playing guitar!

    • yano jl profile image

      yano jl 6 years ago

      Where would we be without "Smoke on the Water".

      Excellent lens - a great place to start for any new musician.

    • profile image

      Guitarstuff4U 6 years ago

      Nice page man, good to have all those Vids of the real song, that's the way i learned to play, playing along with cassets then CDs and now using my computer. Additionally you should mention Guitar Pro, for anyone with a computer it's a must have if you play guitar

    • Julia Morais profile image

      Julia Morais 6 years ago

      Gonna try some power chords on my guitar now. Great lens!!

    • PrairieFire profile image
      Author

      PrairieFire 6 years ago

      @alexaparker96: I would definitely recommend trying at your own pace first, the internet is a great resource, and I really think the most important part is the time and patience. Thanks for the comment and good luck!

    • Scotties-Rock profile image

      Clairissa 6 years ago from OREFIELD, PA

      Great lens, I am going to go grab my daughters Fender and practice "Smoke on the Water". (love this song) Very fun lens and great job!!! And now that song will be in my head the rest of the day. :)

    • profile image

      alexaparker96 6 years ago

      thanks a lot i was just thinking to join a guttar class at near to my house. but after reading your post i will start by my own effort.

    • profile image

      wbl 6 years ago

      As I am a guitar lover at first thumbs up for your lens :) Great lens :) keep rocking

    • PrairieFire profile image
      Author

      PrairieFire 6 years ago

      @noel rocs: Thanks! I'll definitely have more music lenses, keep on rocking!

    • profile image

      Rhythmwarrior 6 years ago

      What a very well formatted lens! I must congratulate you... WELL DONE!

    • JK Sterling profile image

      Jim Sterling 6 years ago from Franklin, Tennessee

      Nicely done.

    • noel rocs profile image

      noel rocs 6 years ago

      Love this lens! I hope you keep adding more like it :) I'm a beginner guitarist, so I know I'll bookmark you :)

    • GadgetKnowHow profile image

      GadgetKnowHow 6 years ago

      cool lens , thanks for sharing.

    • PrairieFire profile image
      Author

      PrairieFire 6 years ago

      @hughgrissettsr lm: I just listened to it, sounds awesome!

    • hughgrissettsr lm profile image

      hughgrissettsr lm 6 years ago

      super lens! love guitar music! have you ever heard jimi hendrix's version of johnny b. goode?amazing!

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