Play Guitar: Beginners

Checklist for The Beginner Guitarist

  1. Are you a right-handed or left-handed guitar player?

    If you are naturally left-handed, you should try to play both left-handed and right-handed guitars for a little while (preferably before you buy your first guitar). If you can't find a left-handed guitar nearby, you can flip a right-handed guitar and string it as a left-handed.

    The guitar is a very complex instrument to play, so nothing will feel natural in the beginning. After a few weeks of playing it, you should start to get a sense if you are playing it the right way for you. Some left-handed players play right-handed guitars because it feels more natural for them.

  2. Your first guitar

    There are many ways to come by your first guitar. It might be an old acoustic laying around in your house, a gift, or maybe you have been saving up to buy a new or used guitar. An old acoustic is generally just fine to start out on, but for younger players with smaller bodies/arms/hands/fingers, a big western acoustic can be challenging to manage. Finding a guitar that is a right fit in size, is maybe more important than the quality of the instrument. If your first guitar is an electric, you'll also need a guitar amplifier or a PC/Mac sound-card that can run a software amp emulation to produce the tone.

    Most entry-level guitars sold today, are at decent build quality (due to precision machine manufacturing). Buying a guitar in the $100-200 range should get you a good quality beginner guitar, and maybe a small practice amp bundled within the purchase. Do NOT do the mistake of buying a $1,000-3,000 instrument as your first guitar. When you are ready for a higher quality instrument, there are other parameters that go into picking the right guitar, such as your playing style and tonal needs, based on what genres you focus your playing around. Most players doesn't reach this point until they have played the instrument for several years.

  3. Tuning the guitar

    After getting hold of a guitar, the very fist thing you need to learn is how to tune it. Trying to play chords and scales will not result in anything before the strings are in tune. The standard tuning for 6 string guitars are E-A-D-G-B-E (low string to high string).

    In the beginning, you can use a tuner app to help tune each string to the correct pitch. However, learning to tune the guitar by ear can be a good exercise to train your ear to hear/evaluate pitch. Training your ear to hear pitch is essential for all music endeavors.

  4. Sitting down when you practice/learn

    You should start learning the instrument sitting down. After playing for a while, you could try to stand up playing the things you have learned, holding the guitar up with a guitar strap. Most guitarist will always be sitting down when they practice on the instrument. Classical guitarists also sits when they perform on stage, while most electric guitar players play standing when performing.

  5. Get guitar lessons from a guitar teacher, or follow a good online beginner guitar course

    To jumpstart your progress on the instrument, and avoid beginner mistakes, it can be very beneficial to find a good guitar teacher and take a few lessons. Alternatively, you can sign up with a good online video course for beginners. If you don't know of any teachers in your area, you can ask the people working at the nearest guitar store. Some stores even have in-store teachers, and it is often possible to sign up for a 10 hour beginner course through them.

    If you are trying to find a local teacher by yourself, ask if they provide beginner lessons/courses in something like a 5-10 hour package? Most professional teachers have set prices for beginner courses. Research their website to find this information. Course-packs are often cheaper than single lessons, because they can have multiple students joining the same lessons, while single lessons often are one to one.

    Teachers are very different, and what is right for one student might not be a good fit for another student. After a few lessons, you should know if the teacher really motivates and inspires you to learn. If the teacher doesn't motivate you, find another. This is why you don't want to sign up for a year with the first teacher you find.

  6. What to learn first?

    When you first start playing you want to learn to coordinate the left hand fingers (pressing down the strings at different frets) while strumming, picking or plucking the strings with your right hand. Or vise versa if you are a left-handed player.

    The easiest way to do this is to learn three basic chord shapes placed within the first three frets. These are G-major, C-major and D-major. After these, you should learn a few more basic chords, like A-major/minor, D-minor, E-major/minor and F-major. Using these cords you can play almost every song written.

    When playing these basic chords starts to feel easy, you can start playing riffs and melodies. Maybe you want to learn something more special, like playing blues-riffs and scales. Or, maybe you want to dig deeper into fingerpicking and more folk-style playing. At this stage, you should choose to practice what excites you musically.

  7. How much should you practice in the beginning?

    The amount you should practice really depends on how motivated you are. In the beginning you need to develop harder skin on your fingertips, which might take a few weeks if you practice about one hour each day. The general rule regarding all physical training/practice is: When it hurts, stop and rest. This is also true for playing the guitar. And rest means not playing until the pain goes away completely.

    Progress often takes place when you don't play, and it's typical to notice improvement first the day after you practiced something. But if you practice regularly, say one hour a day, you will see good progress. After a few months of playing you can increase the amount of practice. It is also fine to take few days off now and then, just to make sure you get the necessary restitution.