Congratulations on deciding to learn how to play guitar!
This will be one of the best decisions you will ever make because, let’s face it, who doesn’t like music?
Think of this article as a first step toward becoming an excellent guitar player!
- Is it hard to learn how to play guitar?
- How long will it take?
- In the title, I said, "a week" (Really?)
- Guitar Basics
- How to Hold the Guitar? (Left-Handed)
- How to ACTUALLY Hold the Guitar
- Fretting (and no, you don't have to "Worry")
- Basic Chords You Need to Know
- Tips for Fretting the Chords
- Strumming Exercises
- Tips on Strumming
- Easy Songs you can Play Anytime
- Playing Along
- Final Words of Advice
Is it hard to learn how to play guitar?
It actually depends on your goal.
Do you want to play songs?
Do you want to play the guitar?
Wait that sounds confusing.
Let me explain:
For the first one, if you just want to play along with the songs you like.
The second one, if you want to learn the ins and outs, advanced techniques and theories of a guitar.
The initial path (for both) is easy, but that’s just the iceberg’s tip.
The hard part is probably the frequency of your practices.
Do you think you can practice regularly?
The first goal is definitely more straightforward than the latter.
How long will it take?
Here’s the deal:
This is actually the wrong question to ask, but I’ll still answer it to the best of my ability.
To be fully proficient with a song (as a beginner), it will take at least a week.
Because you need to consider the timing (chord progression) and the correct fretting with no dead string.
If you want to play any pop, rock, or reggae songs, it will take you at least 6 months.
6 months is definitely not enough to master the guitar, but you can be at the level to play most pop songs.
I mean, let’s face it.
No master is born overnight.
There are a lot of chords and strumming patterns to get used to, so it will really take time.
In the title, I said, “a week” (Really?)
But that depends on you! You gotta practice hard.
Also, note that I meant easy songs with simple strumming patterns and 2 or 3 chords.
You can even learn them within a day!
But the proficiency of the said song will take some time. A week or earlier, I’d say.
If you plan on playing those mainstream songs like metal and intense solos, it will take you more than a year.
Building muscle memory for your fingers is the reason why it will take such a long time.
Think about it:
You need to keep practicing up to the point when you see a chord; your fingers will immediately form into a chord pattern without the need to figure it out.
You have to train your other hand as well, to pluck the correct strings without looking.
This varies from person to person.
Best one yet:
Do you have the motivation to practice every day?
This is actually the most important when learning anything.
A music teacher once told me to practice four hours a day to improve my guitar playing skills.
Not all of us have that spare time.
If you’re a beginner, I recommend that you play at least 1 to 2 hours a day.
You can go on for hours if you want, but your fingers will hurt if you don’t have calluses yet.
This article focuses on the basics, which will allow you to play easy songs.
That being said, you’ll be able to play or practice a song within the day.
You have to keep on practicing.
What You Need Before Starting
You don’t need a musical background to learn guitar.
Reading music is a plus, but it is not a necessity to learn how to play guitar (the basics at least).
The 2 things you only need are a commitment and a guitar!
Parts of a Guitar
The body, neck, and headstock are the main parts of a guitar.
The neck has a fretboard and frets. The headstock consists of tuning pegs for fine-tuning of the strings.
The standard tuning for a 6 string guitar is E A D G B e (small e denotes the high e).
You can use this phrase to memorize the string notes!
Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie!
Sometimes you’ll hear, “place your ring finger on the second string.”
The second string is the B string.
Here’s the deal:
The first one (1) starts with the thinnest string, and the sixth (6) is the thickest string.
Big Tune-a: Don’t forget to Tune Your Guitar
When tuning, you can use mobile applications (GuitarTuna) or digital tuners that can be bought online.
You can train you hearing skill when tuning.
You could do so by trying to tune the guitar while relying on your hearing and then check with the tuner if you got it right.
And the good news?
The latest tuning software comes with noise reduction technology.
Although, you still need to be in a quiet place for better tuning results.
It actually takes an incredible amount of time for ear training. It will also take another article to talk about it.
For now, let’s focus on learning the basics.
Little something extra:
Some songs may require you to use a Capo.
Capo raises the pitch of a guitar when you clamp it on a particular fret.
You can buy one online for a low price, or you can create your own (temporary) if you need one right away.
Symbols you will encounter
- These are the notes: C D E F G A B
- ♭ (flat) is one-half note lower.
- # (sharp) is one-half note higher.
- (O) an open string, which can be produced by merely strumming a string without the need to press any fret.
- Muted string (X) can be made by slightly touching a string so that it won’t produce a sound when you strum.
How to Hold the Guitar? (Left-Handed)
Whether you’re left-handed or right-handed, this will be the same.
Note: I will cover this topic in great detail on a separate post.
Here’s the gist though:
Left-handed and right-handed people should play the same orientation when it comes to instruments.
You’ll be basically training your fingers and hands (from scratch).
Do pianos have a left-handed version?
No! You train both your hands to do stuff they haven’t done before.
Same thing with the guitar.
It doesn’t matter whatever your hand orientation is.
How to ACTUALLY Hold the Guitar
The neck of the guitar should be on your left.
Hold the neck with your left hand. This will be your fretting hand.
Your right hand will do the strumming, picking, or fingerpicking (whichever playing style you’ll learn in the future).
Align your strumming palm between the bridge and soundhole.
Looking at the fretting hand:
The four fingers should be in front of the fretboard to fret the chords and the thumb at the back (usually used to mute, low E string).
I prefer to play while sitting so that my leg can support the body.
You can also play while standing if your guitar has a strap. Just make sure you can shift your fretting hand up and down the neck.
Here’s the thing:
You might feel some discomfort even if you’re holding the guitar properly.
Just like exercising, your body is not used to utilizing specific muscles that much.
Don’t be bummed; you’ll get used to it soon enough.
Fretting (and no, you don’t have to “Worry”)
Before learning the chords, try fretting random strings with your fingers and try to feel it.
The proper way to press a string is in spaces (between frets), just before the fret bar (farther from the nut).
Figure out whether you’re doing it right by strumming.
If there is an unintended muted sound, you are probably fretting a string lightly, or your finger is muting other string(s).
If you hear a buzzing sound, try moving your finger closer to the higher fret and further away from the lower fret.
Left image – The incorrect way of fretting, the fingers are farther away from the higher fret bar, which will result in a buzzing sound of the string(s).
Right image – The correct way of fretting, the fingers are near fret bar. X is a muted string using the thumb.
Does it sound great now?
You’re doing an excellent job!
Now it’s time to learn the chords.
Basic Chords You Need to Know
These basic chords are also called first position chords.
They’re played by a combination of fretted strings (usually in the first three frets) and open strings.
Here are the chord diagrams of the most common and basic chords used in songs:
Here are some other articles that may help you learn the chords:
There is another notation called tabs or tablatures, which also shows how to play a chord.
Tips for Fretting the Chords
1. Practice and memorize the basic chords.
Try picking each string one by one to know if you are fretting it correctly. Make sure that it produces a clean sound.
Keep your finger near the fret (farther from the nut) and use your finger’s tip.
2. Bend the knuckles to avoid touching other strings and accidentally mute them.
3. Rest your thumb vertically on the back of the guitar neck, not on top.
Lower your thumb if you need to reach lower sounding strings. Intermediate guitarists use their thumb to mute the low E string when required.
4. Start slow, you don’t need to rush.
Try shifting from chord to chord randomly while strumming (a simple downstrokes would be sufficient for now).
You are teaching your fingers to do things they aren’t used to, so it will take time.
You need to be smooth and direct so that there won’t be any wasted movement when you shift chords.
Shifting from E to Am.
Both chords have the same shape, so you just need to move your fingers by 1 level.
You can do so with one motion instead of shifting the fingers one by one.
5. Baby steps: Start with 3 chords first
These are many chords to remember as a beginner.
Try to learn at least 3 first, then try a song.
From there, try learning another chord, then your 5th chord until you master all these basic chords.
6. Trim your fingernails!
Fingernails should be short on the fretting hand.
Your nails shouldn’t touch the fretboard.
Otherwise, your fingers won’t be able to press the string correctly, or your nails will mute other strings.
7. Build Muscle Memory and also Calluses
Calluses actually help you.
A callus is a protective skin on your fingertips.
What does this mean for you?
Well, when you develop this playing, the guitar will DEFINITELY be more comfortable than before.
You can use a pick or just your fingers when strumming. I don’t use a pick because I usually strum and fingerpick.
Here’s the thing:
Using the pick produces powerful sounds, and you can play fast with it (usually for solos).
On the other hand, you can make both firm and soft sounds when strumming with your fingers. It all depends on your preference.
Strumming patterns differ from song to song.
A song can actually have distinct strumming patterns that will be built upon the player.
Different songs can be played with the same strumming patterns. Amazing right?
As long as you play it right, and it sounds great.
Tips on Strumming
1. Strum with loose and relaxed motion
If your hand is too stiff while playing, you’ll find it difficult to play fast.
Plus, it will quickly tire you, so you need to relax while playing and enjoy the music!
2. Strum from the elbow to create an arc motion
Although, not so big that your hand will be too far away from the strings to play the next note.
Just enough so that you’ll be on time for your next strum.
3. Experiment with the sound
In some songs, you might be required to slap or mute the strings.
You can do this by tapping your hand to the strings to stop the strings’ vibration producing a beat.
Muting the strings with your palm while strumming creates a bass kind of effect.
You can do this by putting your hand on the strings and strumming with your finger(s) without removing your hand from the strings.
There is one more kind of muting.
It’s almost the same as slapping but not quite.
You have to LIGHTLY tap the strings for this kind of muting without making a sound, hence mute.
Here is a metronome with 4/4 beat with 100 BPM:
Usually, strumming patterns are the same for every verse or for every chorus.
There may be some variations depending on the song, especially for rock songs.
You can practice the basics of strumming with the examples below.
The first three are straightforward strumming patterns, and as for the last, it’s a little fast-paced.
These are just some simple strumming patterns.
You can create your own by listening to the song.
Easy Songs you can Play Anytime
- Blank Space / Style (Taylor Swift) Mashup
by Louisa Wendorff and Devin Dawson | Chords | Youtube
- All of Me by John Legend | Chords | Youtube | Spotify
- With or Without You by U2 | Chords | Youtube | Spotify
- Need You Now by Lady Antebellum | Chords | Youtube | Spotify
- Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver | Chords | Youtube
- Fall for You by Secondhand Serenade | Chords | Youtube | Spotify
- Stay with me by Sam Smith | Chords | Youtube | Spotify
Regarding these songs’ strumming pattern, I suggest you listen to the music and figure out the strumming pattern yourself.
If you do, it can significantly improve your music hearing skills.
Playing an instrument is not like math or science, because they don’t have an exact “playing method”.
You can play different strumming patterns and different chords as long as they sound good.
If you want to play the same way the song was performed, you can always look online to check for the chords and its strumming patterns.
More than anything:
Listening to and figuring out the chords and strumming patterns yourself is a great practice.
Final Words of Advice
There will be times when you’ll get frustrated because you can’t get it.
Don’t be discouraged.
We’ve all been there, just don’t break your guitar.
Being frustrated means you want to learn the guitar so bad, but unfortunately, you hit a wall.
Here’s the kicker:
That wall is just a small obstacle; keep on practicing.
In no time, you’ll laugh at your past self for being frustrated toward something so simple.
Learning takes time, and the best teacher is the experience.
In the end, it will still depend on you precisely how much you practice.
Have fun while playing!