How To Learn The Guitar – The Beginner Guitar Guide

playing guitar in front of beach

By learning to play the guitar, you could be taking the first big steps in your musical journey. This instrument can be intimidating at first, but it is normal to be overwhelmed with everything to learn in the beginning.

By following our helpful tips and tricks, and with plenty of practice, you can get started on the right foot.

Girl playing guitar by tree

Can I Play the Guitar?

Of course, you can play the guitar! No matter how old you are, you are never “too old” to learn a new instrument. Often, children learn quicker than adults, but adults can do just as well with enough practice.

Practice is the most important aspect of learning the guitar. After working on the basics for three to five hours, it may be possible for you to play a basic song. While the song will not sound perfect, it could be at least recognizable. Over time, the song will sound more and more familiar as your skills get increasingly natural.

No matter how frustrated you may be, don’t give up on this instrument. There are so many online resources available to help you, including fluent players who can help! Remember to stay focused when you practice and persevere through any challenges you face.

How to Teach Yourself to Play the Guitar — The Basics

When you pick up a guitar for the first time, you should know the fundamentals. Holding the guitar, as well as the three basic numbering systems, are simple facts you should know.

1) Holding the Guitar

There are many ways you can correctly hold a guitar, but this is the most common way. If you are right-handed, all you do is place the guitar on your right leg and hold it very close to your body.

Left-handed people should do the opposite by placing the guitar on their left leg. Note that specialist left-handed guitars will be needed so that the strings are the right way up.

New guitar players may be tempted to let the guitar slide down their legs, so they can see better, but this will do more harm than good. Remember to sit up straight and hold that guitar close to build confidence.

2) Frets

Frets make up one of the three basic numbering systems of the guitar. They are located along the neck of the guitar on the metal strips. The first fret, for right-handed people, is the one farthest to the left. The fret next to the first is the second one, and so on. This is a simple concept, but you must understand it to properly play scales or chords.

3) Fingers

It is also crucial to remember the second numbering system for the guitar, which is for your fingers. Your index finger is known as your first finger, your middle finger is your second, and so on. This system is especially helpful when you are learning where to place your fingers to play chords.

4) Strings

The third numbering system of the guitar, which is also simplest, is strings. The thinnest string on the instrument is called the first string and the thickest string is called the sixth string.

5) Choosing the Right Pick

One of the most common questions guitar players ask is what pick they should use. You should start with a standard-shaped pick with medium thickness, around 0.73 mm. From there, you can try out picks that are thinner or thicker to find out your preference. However, using a pick is not necessary. Your thumb, or your thumb with your index finger, can work just as well.

6) Holding the Pick

The way you hold the pick is really up to you. You could start with the most generic grip and see what you like from there. To do this, put the pick on the pad of the thumb of your dominant hand and hold with your index finger. Try staying relaxed as newer musicians tend to struggle with or drop the pick while strumming. To get a better grip, you can even use both your middle and index finger to hold onto the pick. No matter how you hold your pick, make sure to pick the grip that is right for you.

hand with ring and braclet playing an electric guitar

Guitar Techniques, Tips, and Practices

Once you master the art of strumming, you can become a great rhythm guitarist. Strumming is how you bring your music to life and create a “groove.” Here are some of the most useful tips for strumming like a pro:

1) Use Strings That are Extra Light Gauge

If you are a beginner, try installing extra light gauge strings on your guitar. If you are not sure how to do this, visit your local guitar shop as they can do it for you for a low price. They can make your life so much easier by creating chords that much better than other types of strings. Since it is easier to play chords with these strings, you can focus on other important aspects of your technique, like strumming.

2) Use Your Wrist

When you strum, most of that motion should come from your wrist. To check your technique, strum a chord, and see if you have the right form. You should only use your elbow to strum when you want to strike a special chord or two.

man in plaid shirt playing acoustic guitar

How Do I Get the Right Technique?

Anyone can play a few basic chords or notes after some practice, but technique makes all the difference. Someone with the proper technique while playing guitar can easily recreate music that sounds great. Here are some tips to perfect your technique for beginner guitarists:

1) Avoid Gripping the Guitar too Tightly

As a beginner, one of the first realizations you have is that pressing strings against the fretboard can be difficult and make your wrist hurt. Many guitarists deal with this by hooking their thumb in front of the fretboard to have leverage on the guitar. However, this does more harm than good because this causes you to press the strings with the pad of your finger rather than your fingertip.

Remember, proper technique is always having your thumb on the back of the guitar. Though this position feels unnatural at first, stick with it and your music will thank you in the end.

2) Practice While Standing and Sitting

Practicing in different positions, including while standing and sitting, can do wonders for your musical ability. If you dream of playing on stage one day, it is important to remember that you need a different posture with the guitar standing up than you need sitting down. To establish the best posture, get a reliable guitar strap that is the right length and regularly play while standing.

plugged in app and guitar

3) Take it Slow

One of the biggest mistake beginner guitarists can make is rushing into the guitar too quickly. In the beginning, you need to focus on the correct fingerings, techniques, and posture while playing. You have to hit the right notes before you can learn complicated riffs or songs. Once you learn to play properly, the music will come soon after.

4) Discipline Yourself

If you really want to learn to play the guitar, make yourself practice for at least 10 or 20 minutes per day. This way, you can hold yourself accountable if you do not practice. Regular practice, no matter how short the session, is key when learning a new instrument.

Guitar Exercises to Improve your Music

There are many exercises you can do to improve the quality of your sound and music overall. You can play different musical scales to improve various skills.

1) Correct Left-Hand Position

When playing musical exercises, ask yourself if you are hitting each individual l note with the tip of your finger. If not, it could be a source of choppy music. You should also ask yourself if the music is playing smoothly, or if there are small silences between each note.

Woman holiding guitar in field

2) Correct Right-Hand Position

If you are having trouble finding the right strings easily, you should sit down and practice. If you find yourself struggling with open strings, it is time to focus more on your right hand.

3) Left and Right-Hand Synchronization

Synchronization between your left and right hands is key when creating quality music. When playing, consider if one of your hands has to catch up with the other. If so, focus more on the slower hand. Taking care of this small detail can make a world of difference in your musical journey.

4) Playing on Time

One of the most useful exercises you can do is playing with a metronome. Metronomes keep you on time when you’re playing and can help you identify problems if you are speeding up or slowing down a song. Remember not to play the metronome too fast, since hitting each note at the correct time is key.

How to Get Better at Playing the Guitar

Becoming an expert guitarist does not happen overnight. Many hours of practice, including the fundamentals, are required to understand and play music correctly.

However, if you are passionate about music and love the guitar, never give up on this instrument. There are countless Internet resources to help you on this life-changing adventure.

You can check out our article on the best online guitar lessons to find a course that will take you through everything you need to know.  Or head right to our top beginner recommended courses Guitar Tricks or JamPlay (a slightly more affordable option).