Learning to Play the Guitar: 11-Step Programme for Beginners

How to learn guitar step 6: Learn how to hold your pick properly

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a good idea to buy several different picks to experiment with. (Picks are cheap and small and they get lost all the time, so buy plenty of them.)

Most people find that when they’re first figuring out how to learn guitar they choose a softer pick. Then, as they progress they switch to a heavier pick as they want more control and accuracy.

As a beginner, a pick thickness of 0.65-0.73 is perfect. Any thicker and it becomes much harder to strum with fluidity.

Whatever pick you choose, don’t hold it like it’s some weird object you’d rather not be holding. Grip it between your thumb and forefinger so just the pointy bit is sticking out.

A big part of understanding how to learn guitar is understanding how you make contact with the guitar. This seems like a small detail, but it’s huge.

In this picture, the pick is being held too far back.

how to hold a pick

This is much better.

holding a guitar pick

Lots of beginners find picks difficult to use so they take the path of least resistance and start strumming with their fingers or (heaven forbid) their thumb.

This might feel easier to begin with, but playing with your thumb is a terrible, limiting habit. Playing with your fingers is fine, of course.

As a guitarist, you need to be able to play with a pick AND your fingers. Practice with both, but do not abandon the pick.

If you want to know how to learn guitar, you must be comfortable using a guitar pick.

how to learn guitar programme

How to learn guitar step 7: Make a list of songs you love

Here are 3 objective facts you need to have on your radar as a guitar-learner:

  • Fact 1) You’re much more likely to successfully learn the guitar if you practice a lot.
  • Fact 2) You’re much more likely to practice if you enjoy practicing.
  • Fact 3) You’re much more likely to enjoy practicing if you LOVE the music you play during your practice time.

Playing music you love isn’t a luxury for a guitar learner. It’s required. So forget about learning stuff like ‘happy birthday’ and ‘twinkle twinkle little star’. If your teacher wants you to play that stuff you should fire him immediately! 🙂

Tilt the scales in your favour by learning music you love.

Whenever I take on a new student I try to get them to throw as many song titles, band/artist names and genres at me as possible. The more I know about their taste in music, the more likely I am to be able to find a good song or two for us to start off with.

Obviously some songs might be a bit difficult to begin with, but it’s still good to let your teacher know you want to learn them. They will be able to simplify them a bit for you.

This article of ours will be a big help and a good source of ideas:

10 Easy Songs For Beginners

A big part of understanding how to learn guitar is understanding what motivates you to pick the guitar up and play. (Nothing will give you a bigger boost for this habit-forming than practicing music you love.)

how to learn electric guitar

How to learn guitar step 8: Find a good teacher

I alluded to this in the previous point. It’s important when learning any new skill to have the support and guidance of someone who is an expert.

Don’t rely on YouTube tutorials! There’s lots of great guitarists on YouTube, but not many great guitar teachers. (And there’s a huge difference between those two things.)

It can take a few attempts to find the teacher that’s right for you. That’s normal and you should expect it. It’s all part of understanding how to learn guitar.

A good guitar teacher will totally transform your chances of successfully learning the instrument, so keep looking and don’t get discouraged if after 3 or 4 teachers you still haven’t found one that ‘clicks’ with you.

When enquiring about lessons it’s good to have a list of goals in mind so your potential teacher knows what you want to learn. For example:

  • Are there any songs you’re particularly keen to play?
  • Do you one day hope to play gigs or open mic nights?
  • Do you dream of playing in a band?

Don’t be vague. Guitar is different things to different people. You need to explicitly specify what ‘success’ looks like to you. Figuring out how to learn guitar can be tough, but with a teacher who has a clear idea of what you want to achieve, it’s a lot easier.

  • For example, don’t just say ‘I want to learn guitar’.
  • It would be much better to say something like ‘I want to learn blues lead guitar and sound like B.B King on ‘Every Day I Have The Blues” or, ‘I want to learn to write acoustic songs and sound like Bob Dylan playing Subterranean Homesick Blues’.

You get the idea. Give specific examples and cite specific artists.


How to learn guitar step 9: Practice in a smart way

The more I’ve played and the more I’ve taught there’s one thing I’ve been increasingly convinced of.

The difference between good guitarists and not-so-good guitarists is not whether they have long fingers or short fingers or whether they have big hands or small hands or whether they come from a musical family or not. ‘Talent’ is a tiny part of the equation.

The thing that makes a difference is practice. If you want to know how to learn guitar you need to be smart about how you approach practicing.

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‘How much should I practice?’

Ideally you want to practice your guitar for about fifteen minutes per day, but even five minutes a day will see you make clear & satisfying progress.

Occasionally I’ve had students who say things like, “I’m afraid I didn’t get any practice in this week. I set aside a few hours on Sunday, but then something came up.”

Don’t try and cram all your practice into one day.

For one thing, life being what it is, things often WILL come up. (That’s life, right?)

Perhaps more importantly though, even if you’re 100% certain you have that day free, you’re giving yourself a HUGE workload.

It’s much better to keep things bitesize. Fifteen minutes a day is manageable, won’t stress you out too much and if something comes up, it’s ok. (Losing 15 minutes practice time is no big drama.)

learn guitar easy

How to learn guitar step 10: Be patient with yourself

Whenever we start learning a new skill we all want to be good straight away, but of course it doesn’t work like that.

As you move forward in your journey of figuring out how to learn guitar there will be ups and downs.

If you’re struggling with a certain chord or technique or with tuning your guitar or anything else, know that this is completely normal. Never, ever, nourish the thought that you ‘should’ be better than you are. (Or that you ‘should’ be further along than you are.)

Take a deep breath. Stay calm and don’t get frustrated with yourself or with your instrument. I know this is easier said than done, but the fact is, it is the only way to get past these inevitable hurdles.

free how to learn guitar

Impatience not only doesn’t help, it often makes things worse. When we’re impatient we don’t think clearly and we can become careless. (Whatever mistake you’ve been making, you’ll likely make it even more often if you allow impatience/frustration to get the better of you!)

This is also why I recommend fifteen minutes practice a day rather than a couple of hours on your day off. If you ask too much of yourself of course you will lose patience with yourself.

How to learn guitar step 11: Don’t be discouraged by other people

When I was learning guitar there were two types of people who I found to be off-putting.

  1. Other guitarists who were further along with their playing than me.
  2. Armchair critics – ie. people who couldn’t play guitar at all but felt their opinion of my playing needed to be heard.

Regarding other guitarists, what you have to remember is they most likely didn’t get good at guitar to make you feel bad about yourself. More likely they got good at guitar because they wanted to feel good about themselves.

With this in mind, try and focus on doing the same. Don’t view other guitarists as your competition and don’t be distracted by what they’re doing. Concentrate on what you’re doing and try and enjoy yourself.

 how to play guitar for beginners

Regarding armchair critics, simply ignore them. They don’t know what they’re talking about. If they did, they’d be playing guitar themselves, not critiquing other people’s guitar playing. As you figure out how to learn guitar you can simply let their comments wash over you. 🙂

This is another good reason to find a good teacher. Your teacher will be able to give you an accurate and helpful critique of your playing that will inspire you to keep practicing.

Download this lesson’s worksheet

To download a summary of these 11 steps to print off and put in your practice space click here: How To Learn Guitar In 11 Steps

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