Absolute Beginners Guitar Guide
Bogdan Radovic
Sep 21 2015, 07:01 PM
Bass & Beginner Instructor
Posts: 15.614
Joined: 30-November 07
From: Belgrade, Serbia
Absolute Beginners Guitar Guide

Hey GMCers!

I’m starting this guide to help beginners out there get started with the guitar as smooth as possible. What motivates me is the fact that I had absolutely no help when I was starting out. It took me a really long time to get started as I was discovering things for myself using materials available at the time. At one point, I have even briefly quit guitar just because I didn't know how to properly tune it.

My first ever band rehearsal with a high school band playing covers.

Taking the first steps & getting ready

I’ll imagine that you just got your first guitar and that you know nothing about it. First thing you need to do before playing the guitar is to tune the strings to correct notes. Check out this lesson to learn how to tune the guitar: How To Tune A Guitar

Once your guitar is in tune, I’d suggest getting familiar with it and its features. Casually watch the videos in this lesson to learn how to hold the guitar and how to adjust the tone settings to get ready to play : Holding The Guitar & Basic Tone Settings. Use this lesson to learn the names of the notes and where to find them on the guitar neck (don't worry, you don't need to remember them all): Notes on the guitar

At this point, I think you should learn how to read the guitar tablature. You can do it by watching this lesson: How To Read Guitar Tabs

I remember that my guitar learning progressed much faster from the moment I learned how to read tabs. Learning how to navigate guitar tabs will push you right into the guitar world and it will allow you to actually start learning the instrument since reading guitar tabs skill is needed to follow lessons online, in magazines, books - you name it! Good news is that guitar tabs are relatively simple to follow as they are made for writing down guitar music in an easy way. This is unlike the dreaded skill of reading standard music notation. Many famous guitarists don’t even know how to read standard music notation as learning how to do so can take a while.

Once you know how to read tabs, you can just jump into practicing GMC lessons! All lessons on the site have guitar tabs included.

Chords and playing first songs

Finally, time to actually play the guitar and have fun! When I was starting, my first guitar goal was to learn how to play a few songs by The Beatles. I just wanted to learn them on the acoustic guitar. Guitar is a relatively easy instrument to get started with as it allows us to play all the famous songs in a so called "chord strumming" arrangements. To do so, you only need to learn how to hold and fret some basic chords. I've made a lesson where I'll be showing you how to play basic guitar chords: Beginner Guitar Chords. You should also learn some of the Beginner Strumming Patterns. When learning your first songs on the guitar, you are bound to encounter chords which are more difficult to play yet relatively common. For this special reason, I've made a lesson to help you with those chords and it is titled: Cheating Versions Of Common Chords. If you find the chord diagrams in this lesson confusing or need extra information, check out my Songbooks, Chord Diagrams & Charts Video Lesson. There I'll also share tips on how you can play famous songs using chord books or chord charts that can be found online

My advice when it comes to learning chords is to start with ones you need in order to play a specific song you like. This way, you can immediately make use of the chord shapes you learn practice them further in a fun way by playing the actual song. When learning how to play famous songs, there is a strong chance that you'll encounter dominant 7 chords here and there. These are chords like A7, E7 or D7 (notice the "7" in their name). To learn how to play these dominant 7 chords, please check the following lesson: Dominant 7 Chords Video Lesson. You'll find out that some of these chords, like E7 for example, are actually easier to play than their standard (non 7) versions.

The first song I learned to play on the guitar was "Love Me Do" by The Beatles. I still remember how to play it till this day! It was such a wonderful moment for me that I'll never forget. Here are some famous songs that don't use too many chords and are great for starting out: The Beatles - "Love Me Do", Bob Dylan - "Knocking On The Heaven’s Door", The Troggs - "Wild Thing", B. E. King - "Stand By Me", Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Sweet Home Alabama". Of course, the best approach is to start with a song by your favorite artist.

This lesson, Picnic Panic Video Lesson, is a good example of how famous songs often (re)use the same chords. Drunken Sailor song is a fun one to play and it uses Am, G and Em chords. There is also the famous Whiskey In The Jar Song which even Metallica had a cover for. This song uses G, Em, C and D in the rhythm track. Finally, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Song uses Am, C, E and G chords.

As you can see, learning the following chords can be considered essential as you'll find them in vast majority of the songs: C, G, D, Am, Em.

Now, you are probably wondering how to find chords for famous songs? They are usually available in guitar magazines and song books which you can rent from the library. The easiest way is to search them online. Type in the Google : [artist - song name - chords] as search terms. The songs are usually presented in the format where there are song lyrics with labels for which chords should be played above the lyrics. So you need to match up lyrics with background chords that you need to strum along. Listen to the original song recording to figure out a rhythm to strum the chords in. When starting out, it is fine to strum 4 or 8 times in each musical measure. This will mean that you are playing 4th or 8th notes.

Reffer to my Beginner Strumming Patterns lesson to learn some basic rhythm patterns which you can adapt and apply to playing famous songs. To learn more about finding the beat in music and what 4th (quarter) or 8th (eighth) notes are check my Beat Basics lesson.

Technique Basics

We usually all start by playing the acoustic guitar and strumming chord songs. Then comes the electric guitar! WOW, what a difference isn't it? Silky smooth strings that feel effortless and I shouldn't even mention the low distance between the strings and the fretboard. I remember my first contact with the electric guitar. A friend from school brought his Jolana (Czechoslovakian brand - google it) and a Zoom 505II guitar processor. We had the headphones plugged into it. We all took turns playing THE ELECTRIC GUITAR. I took it in my hands and played the solo from The Beatles song called "And I Love Her", solo which I was practicing on the acoustic guitar for a while previously. When I played the first note, I literally couldn't believe how cool it sounded. It was a smooth lead guitar tone patch set on the Zoom 505II processor and it sounded astonishing to my ears. I was hooked!

To get started with the electric guitar, you do need to practice a bit several playing techniques. First and foremost, I would suggest learning how to hold the guitar pick and how to play the first notes using down and up strokes. Check out the Using A Guitar Pick Video Lesson to get started. This lesson also covers striking all the strings at the same time (strumming) which will be useful to you if you are having trouble playing the acoustic guitar chord songs. Next stops would be to get familiar with what are and how to play the following three techniques: Hammer-ons ; Pull-offs ; Slides. These three are very essential techniques that you should start practicing as you'll surely need to master them over time regardless of the playing style you are interested in. These techniques are used in almost all the songs which are played on the electric guitar, including rhythm and lead playing. You can use this lesson to learn your first scale : learn the minor pentatonic scale. Try using hammer-ons and pull-offs when playing the notes from the scale. Scales are used a lot when playing lead guitar and solos. If you're interested you can check out this lesson to learn how to read scale diagrams: how to read scale diagrams.

Rhythm Guitar

When starting on the electric guitar, one of the first things I did was tolearn how to play the power chords. This was actually my ticket for joining the school band! I learned power chords and BOOM, I was able to start playing simple rock/metal songs like Black Sabbath - "Paranoid", Nirvana - "Smells Like Teen Spirit", Offspring - "Come Out And Play" and others. This was a really cool way to get started and learning how to fret down the power chord shape on the electric guitar is relatively easy since it involves using only two fingers and just moving around the same shape on the guitar neck. You can't get away with playing power chords without using the palm muting technique. This technique is responsible for all those cool sounding power chord rhythm guitar lines.

If you are currently focused on rhythm guitar, I'd suggest to check my Beat Basics lesson which deals with 4th and 8th notes as well as Beat Basics 2 lesson which deals with 16th notes and 8th note triplets. If you are having difficulties internalizing the triplets feel (this is normal!), use this lesson to practice them: Triplets Exercise. Those are called note durations and we use them to subdivide the beat in music in order to create interesting rhythms and grooves. To get familiar with basic note durations or to just practice playing in time, I'd suggest practicing the following exercise lessons: Whole & Half Notes, Quarter & Eighth Notes as well as 16th Notes Exercise lesson.

At this point in your guitar development, it would be a good idea to start learning barre chords. My How To Play Barre Chords lesson covers that. Barre chords are not easy at first, but the good thing with barre chords is that they present a shortcut to playing all the most common chords on the guitar using only a few chord shapes which you need to practice. This is a bit of shortcut and it will help you become a good rhythm guitarist. Knowing how to play power chords will allow you to play tons of rock songs and learning barre chords along with basic, open string chords we talked about earlier will round up your rhythm guitar skills so you'll be able to jam with fellow musicians or play famous songs. There is really nothing else at this point that would prevent you from joining a local cover (or original songs) band if you wanted to pursue that path.

Since rhythm guitar playing quality strongly depends on your ability to keep a steady beat and play in time, I'd suggest checking out how to use a metronome lesson. I'll admit that I didn't really start using metronome until much later and if I knew better, I would have done it sooner. Skipping metronome presented some problems later on in the intermediate stage at the time I was starting to experiment with recording and playing with a band for real. Metronome is not a must by all means and I actually always like to recommend playing along with the backing tracks instead of the metronome, as you get this way the same effect but it is more fun. Playing with a beat will help you push your playing forward if you feel you have trouble keeping the beat on your own.

When I was starting out on the electric, one of my major goals was to learn how to play a rock 'n' roll rhythm and groove like the one in this lesson: Beginner Guitar Boogie.

The Start Of The Journey

Congratulations, you are about to embark on a wonderful guitar journey! If you are reading this and you've followed the lessons, it means that you have quite some guitar playing behind you now. At this stage, you should be having fun with playing rhythm guitar stuff. You should be able to strum basic chord songs on the electric or acoustic guitar and know some of the chord shapes by heart while learning new ones along the way. We also covered things to do to get you started with the electric guitar, things like playing power chords. Power chords are a great path to being able to perform lots of famous songs by bands like Green Day, Offspring and others as well as composing your own songs or playing in a band. Then there are barre chords which are difficult at first but unlock quite a few possibilities on the instrument. Those techniques and concepts right there are strong enough foundations for a rhythm guitar player. You could be playing any genre really as with power chords, barre chords and open string chords you got it all covered!

This is the perfect time to have fun with the guitar. Learn how to play famous songs, learn acoustic chord songs to play with friends by the campfire, join a band, shoot guitar videos and post them on Youtube - everything is possible now! You'll notice that we have also touched upon techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs and slides. These techniques are your intro and ticket towards making first steps in the lead guitar world. Have you always dreamed of playing cool blues, metal, jazz or country solos? Does it feel difficult or impossible? Let me tell you something, those goals are perfectly achievable and you don't need to wait for a lifetime to get there. You can have fun right now, just with a bit of practice and correct guidance.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide and that it has provided you with helpful information. I know that there is a ton of information out there on how to play the guitar, so it is really easy to get lost. This guide presents my personal guitar learning path and hopefully just a bit makes the journey smoother for you. Everyone is different and there is no strict path you should take. Please remember that the most important thing is that you always stay inspired and have fun with the instrument. That will make you pick up the guitar day after day and when you do it - you are bound to make progress no matter what you play or practice.

First time playing in a studio with a full band and big amps - I was hooked!

Further learning

At this point I'd suggest exploring the GMC lessons archive and learning the lessons which sound cool yet doable to you. You can also challenge more difficult lessons at a slower tempo or just learn specific parts of the lessons, parts which feel doable. I'm sharing below links to some useful areas of the site and beginner lesson series that you could review as they all contain cool and informative materials.

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