How To Play The Guitar: A 10-Step Programme For Beginners

Wondering how to play the guitar? Follow this 10-step roadmap to get started quickly.

how to play the guitar

In this guide you’ll learn everything you need to get off to a perfect start.

  • Guitar gear boot camp: Guitars, picks, tuners etc.
  • How to learn chords at lightning speed with a ‘secret’ technique
  • The correct way to hold a pick
  • 10 simple songs for guitar beginners
  • Learn how to strum with musicality and rhythm.
  • Learn the most effective way to practice
  • How to avoid frustration & stay positive!

Learning how to play the guitar can be confusing, but after reading this lesson you will understand exactly what the guitar journey looks like and what you should do next. Let’s get stuck in!

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how to play the guitar

How to play the guitar step 1: Learn with a guitar that suits YOU

Some guitars are easy to play and some are very difficult to play.

The guitar you choose to learn with has a huge influence on your chances of successfully learning the instrument. Any guitar is better than ‘no guitar’ of course, but ideally, you want a guitar that suits your body shape and size.

This will make a profound and long-lasting difference to your guitar journey, so treat it seriously.

This article will help you:

How To Choose The Perfect Beginner Guitar

how to play the guitar

‘How much should I spend on my guitar?’

Not much, but as a beginner you need a guitar that is EASY to play and is in good working order.

  • A crappy guitar is going to sound crappy, no matter how much you practice.
  • As a general rule don’t pay less than $150 / £120 for a guitar. You should never buy a guitar without playing first.

The Fenders and Epiphones of the world are well established brands. Their guitars are good, but pricey. There’s some affordable guitar brands that offer amazing value like Yamaha, Redwood, Squier, Farida and Ibanez.

‘Do I have to buy my own guitar?’

You can borrow a guitar, sure, but this should be a temporary thing. If you’re serious about wanting to know how to play the guitar you need to buy your own hardware.

The Essentials…

You need a tuner. The Korg GA-1 is fantastic:

how to play the guitar for beginners

You also need a capo. These trigger capos from Jim Dunlop are brilliant:

Best Beginner Capo

What else? You need a strap and a few picks (thickness of 0.65-0.73 is ideal for  newbies).

If you’re rocking on electric guitar then you’ll need an amp and a cable.

how to play the guitar

How to play the guitar step 2: Tune up right. Stay in tune.

A quality tuner is a smart investment. There are 4 types of tuner:

  1. Microphone-based tuners
  2. Vibration-based tuners
  3. Pedal tuners
  4. Smartphone apps

Microphone-based tuners have to ‘listen’ to the notes to be able to tune. (You can also plug in an electric or electro-acoustic.)

how to play the guitar easily

Vibration-based tuners clip on the neck of the guitar. The Snark is my favourite.

how to play the guitar for dummies

Pedal tuners are for bass, electric and electro-acoustic guitars. They are super-accurate and robust.

guitar tuner

Smartphone apps help you tune your guitar for cheapz! They are mostly free and some of them are ok.

To learn more about tuners and the different ways to tune (and STAY in tune) check out Rob’s article:

How To Tune A Guitar: A Beginner’s Guide

Here’s a fast demo of how to use an electric tuner.

Some amps and guitars have built-in tuners. They’re never as good as dedicated tuners but they are sometimes handy.

As a beginner, having a tuner is essential. As you progress you’ll eventually be able to tune by ear, without needing a tuner at all.

learn how to play the guitar

How to play the guitar step 3: Learn the numbers and letters of your strings

I have this conversation with new students all the time:

Me: Pluck your open ‘A’ string please.

Student: Uhm… Which string is the ‘A’ string?

Me: The ‘A’ string is the 5th string.

Student: Uhm…. Can you explain the string numbers again please?

Don’t worry if this is you, this is common! 🙂

You must know which string is which if you want to know how to play the guitar! You need to be able to communicate clearly with your teacher and other musicians.

From the thickest to the thinnest strings this is the order: E A D G B E.

Understanding Guitar String Numbers

You can remember this is loads of ways. These are my favourites:

Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie.

Or….

Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears.

You choose!

‘The 1-6 should be the other way round, surely?’

The strings are numbered 1 to 6 from thinnest to thickest. This can be weird for beginners to understand because we strum the thickest string first, so people usually think that’s the 1st of the strings.

Sorry amigo, but this is just one of those funny idiosyncrasies that you need to get used to. 🙂

To learn a lot more about the notes of the fretboard and the musical alphabet (& ‘sharps’ and ‘flats’) check this out:

Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners

How to play the guitar step 4: Master basic chords

You MUST know basic chords, regardless of your guitar aims and regardless of your genre preferences.

Chords are the building blocks of the guitar world. If you want to know how to play the guitar then you must master basic chords.

There’s a whole area dedicated to beginner chords here, so take some time to poke around. Chords are an essential part of understanding how to play the guitar.

how to play the guitar for beginners

The secret to learning chords fast is to follow Mike’s stepping-stone approach.

There is an easy version of every chord.

As a beginner, you won’t be able to play a B chord or an F chord in the standard way.

So, you have 2 options:

  1. Bite off your fingers in a frustrated rage.
  2. Learn the easy version.

Choosing the second option lets you enjoy playing music while you improve your finger control and dexterity.

You can then ‘graduate’ to the more difficult chord versions.

4 easiest chords for beginners how to play the guitar

If you don’t understand these diagrams read this: How To Read Chordboxes In 60 Seconds

(Figuring out how to play the guitar will not be possible if you don’t know how to read chordboxes.)

Download a free beginner chord guide and learn easy versions of every chord

 Say goodbye to frustration and twisted fingers. Say hello to MAKING MUSIC.

  Learn beginner-friendly versions of every chord.

  This is one of our most popular guides and will improve your chord ability quickly. Click here to download the guide.

Why perseverance is so important

Your chords will sound clunky to begin with. That’s normal. If you use easy chords you will get better quickly.

If your chords don’t sound right you’re probably not pressing correctly. We fret chords with the absolute tips of our fingers. (Not the fleshy pads of your fingerprints.)

Understanding how to play the guitar ultimately comes down to two things: using your left hand correctly and using your right hand correctly.

  • Chords = Left hand
  • Strumming = Right hand

Let’s spend a bit of time talking about the all-important right hand: the music maker!

National Guitar Academy

How to play the guitar step 5: Learn to strum the guitar properly

If you want to know how to play the guitar, you must be able to strum rhythmically. The most important element of music is the RHYTHM.

If you can’t strum with rhythm then you can’t make music. This is crucial folks, so read carefully!

how to play the guitar

I often see beginners trying to put too much power into their strums. Calm down amigo, you don’t need to strum powerfully to play loud.

Pete Townsend wrote some great songs, but his windmilling approach convinced a lot of learners that that’s how it’s done. Check out 4 mins 30 seconds into this vid. Awesome! 🙂

This is fun entertainment, but it’s not going to help you as you learn how to play the guitar.

Learning to strum with rhythm and in time should be your primary goal as a guitar learner.

Check out this article, it will help you a lot:

How To Strum A Guitar: A Beginner’s Guide

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How to play the guitar step 6: Hold your pick properly

Picks are cheap and get lost all the time, so it’s a good idea to buy lots of them.

Most people prefer to start with a softer pick and after figuring out how to play the guitar they progress to a thicker pick for a little more control.

A pick thickness of 0.65-0.73 is perfect for a beginner. Any thicker and it gets a lot harder to fluidly strum.

Whatever pick you pick(!) make sure you hold it right: Grab it between your forefinger and thumb so only the pointy bit can be seen sticking out.

A huge part of understanding how to play the guitar is understanding how you make contact with the instrument. This can seem like a minor detail, but it’s very important.

In this image, the pick is being held too far back:

how to hold a pick

This is much more like it:

holding a guitar pick

Most beginners find picks are difficult to use initially. Some beginner then follow the path of least resistance and choose to strum with their fingers or even their thumb.

This might feel easier at the time, but strumming with your thumb is an awful and limiting habit for a guitarist. Using your fingers is fine.

You need to be able to strum with your fingers AND a pick. Practice with both, but do not abandon the pick.

If you want to learn how to play the guitar, you have to be able to use a guitar pick.

how to play the guitar

 

How to play the guitar step 7: Play songs you adore

These are 3 objective facts:

  • You are more likely to successfully learn the guitar if you practice a lot.
  • You are more likely to practice if you enjoy practicing.
  • You are more likely to enjoy practicing if you ADORE the music you play during your practice time.

Forget about learning ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ and ‘happy birthday’!

You can tilt the scales in your favour if you learn music that you adore.

Whenever I take on a new student I ask them for a list of their favourite bands/artists/songs. The more I know about their musical taste the easier it is for me to find a song they love and that they can use as a VEHICLE to progress as a guitarist.

Some songs might be too hard, but you should still tell your guitar teacher you want to learn them. Your teacher will be able to simplify the tracks for you.

This article will be a big help! 10 Easy Songs For Beginners

A huge part of understanding how to play the guitar is understanding what makes you want to pick the guitar up and play. (There is nothing that will boost this motivation more than learning music that you adore.)

how to play electric guitar

How to play the guitar step 8: Get a brilliant teacher

Don’t rely on YouTube! There are many good guitarists on YouTube, but very few good guitar teachers.

It can take a while to find a teacher that’s a good fit for you. You may have to try 5, 6 or 7 teachers before you find a good fit.

The right guitar teacher will transform your chances of learning how to play the guitar. Don’t be discouraged if it takes a while to find one that ‘clicks’ with you.

When chatting with guitar teachers be clear on your goals:

  • What songs do you want to play? What genres/bands?
  • Do you want to play at open mic nights or gigs in the future?
  • Do you want to play in a band one day?

Be clear. “I want to know how to play the guitar” means different things to different people. You should specify what ‘success’ looks like in your eyes.

Learning how to play the guitar can be hard, but with a good teacher who understands clearly what you want to achieve, it becomes easy.

  • Don’t say ‘I want to know how to play the guitar’.
  • It would be better to be specific: ‘I want to learn rock lead guitar and sound like Dave Gilmour on ‘Comfortably Numb’ or, ‘I want to be able to write acoustic songs and sound like Neil Young playing ‘Harvest Moon’.

Use clear examples and specific bands/artists/songs.

how-to-play-the-guitar

How to play the guitar step 9: Practice the right way

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s this…

‘Talent’ counts for very little. The difference between strong guitarists and poor guitarists is nothing to do with finger length or hand size or whether they have a ‘musical family’.

What makes the difference is practice. If you want to learn how to play the guitar you need to be clever about how you practice.

National Guitar Academy

‘How often should I practice?’

Ideally 15 minutes a day, but 5 minutes a day will work.

I sometimes hear students say: “Sorry, I didn’t practice this week. I blocked a few hours on Saturday for practice, but then something came up.”

Don’t put all your practice into 1 day.

Life gets in the way. That’s life. Things WILL come up!

But even if you know you’ll have that day free, you’re creating a HUGE workload for yourself.

It’s far better to go bite-size. 15 minutes a day is manageable, not at all stressful and if something comes up, it’s alright. (Losing 15 minutes of practice isn’t a big deal.)

how to play the guitar easily

How to play the guitar step 10: Be kind to yourself. Permit failure. Have patience.

There will be ups and downs as you move along your journey and figure out how to play the guitar.

There will be times when you struggle with a certain song or a certain chord. Know that this is normal. Don’t think that you ‘should’ be better than you are. (Or that you ‘should’ be further along than you are.) ‘Should’ is a dangerous and subjective word.

Breathe. Be calm. There will be inevitable hurdles. That’s normal. We want progress not perfection.

how to play the guitar for dummies

Getting impatient doesn’t help. In fact it makes things worse. It clouds your thoughts and can make you careless.

This is another reason that I suggest 15 minutes as the ideal practice time. It helps lower stress because if you ask too much of yourself you are bound to lose patience. Think: ‘small wins, often’.

Download this lesson’s worksheet

To download a summary of these steps to print off and put in your practice space click here: how to play the guitar in 10 steps

Find Out What You Should Learn Next With Our Guitar Map

If you want to understand where you’re up to in your guitar journey you should take a look at our Guitar Map. It will show you what you ‘should’ know by now (and also what you need to learn next to move forward as a guitarist).

Most people find that the Guitar Map shows them how everything fits together and best of all, it will help you identify gaps in your knowledge that are holding you back.

(There is often just one piece of information that holds people back, 1 key insight that they need to know so they can continue moving forward and improving in their guitar journey.)

I made the Guitar Map so people like you can quickly identify what you don’t know, that you need to know next. I hope that makes sense!?

NOTE: The Guitar Map is now included in our free special report: 'The 7 Steps To Guitar Mastery'.

Want free guitar tips and video lessons delivered to your inbox?

Join over 30,000 other guitar learners and subscribe to our guitar-tips-by-email service. (It's free.)

We'll send you a series of lessons that will move you to the next level of your guitar journey.

Learn how everything fits together quickly, easily and effectively. We share ninja tips (for instant fun!) but also timeless fundamentals that will deepen your understanding.

NGAEM

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How To Learn Guitar: An 11-Step Programme For Beginners

10 Easy Songs For Beginners

How To Strum A Guitar

How To Choose The Perfect Beginner Guitar

Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners

How To Play Lead Guitar

3 Easy Ways To Play Bm

 

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