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How to Play Guitar: 12 Steps to Playing the Guitar
Posted on May 5, 2022
If you’ve dreamed of becoming a skilled and adored guitar player, you’re not alone. Countless aspiring guitarists, both young and old, dream of knowing how to play their favorite songs on the guitar. Whether you’re looking to play just for your own pleasure or have your sights set on the big stages, it’s never too late to start playing. The fact that you’ve come here shows that you are ready to start learning how to play guitar.
Congratulations! Now let’s get started on your journey towards playing like your guitar heroes. Our blog has many helpful guides that you can use as you learn how to play the guitar. Follow the links in this article to read more and get better at playing the guitar.
1. Choose between an acoustic and electric guitar
First off, you have to make the decision and choose what kind of guitar you would like to play. When starting, decide first between acoustic and electric guitars. You can find detailed buying guides for both acoustic and electric guitars in our blog.
Acoustic guitars are a great choice for beginner guitar players. An acoustic guitar with nylon strings is probably the most accessible option for beginners. On top of that, an acoustic guitar is fairly affordable. However, if you’re committed to playing the guitar, try not to go for the cheapest possible instrument. Investing in a quality acoustic guitar gets you an instrument that lasts for a long time and is good to play even after you’ve moved beyond the beginner stage.
An electric guitar is likely to be more expensive, but it makes for a more versatile instrument. Especially if you’re looking to play rock music and want to play more than just chords, it’s not a bad idea to invest in an electric guitar in the very beginning. Just remember to also get an amp and maybe a good distortion pedal in case you’re looking to rock out.
2. Get to know the guitar parts
If you want to play the guitar, you should know the parts of the instrument as well. Some of the most important guitar parts include:
- tuning pegs
Depending on your choice between an acoustic and electric guitar, the instrument may also have a sound hole (if it’s an acoustic guitar) and various knobs and plugs (if it’s an electric guitar).
3. Learn how to hold the guitar
How you hold the guitar is another aspect of playing that is affected by your choice between an electric and acoustic instrument. This is up to your personal preference as well. Most often acoustic guitar players hold the instrument on their lap while sitting down. You may place the guitar either against your left or right leg.
You can play sitting down with an electric guitar as well, but some guitarists prefer to play standing up. In this case, you need a guitar strap as well. There are guitar straps available for acoustic guitars too.
Hold the guitar so that the thickest string (that is the low E string) is the one closest to you when looking down. The hand holding the guitar’s neck is known as the fretting hand. The other hand, in this case the right hand, is called the picking hand or the strumming hand. Left-handed guitarists use their left hand for picking.
Left-handed guitar players may also use a regular instrument and play the instrument just like right-handed players. They can also choose to flip the guitar the other way around and use their right hand as the fretting hand. Another option is to look for a left-handed guitar.
4. Learn the guitar strings and fretboard
As we already mentioned, one important part of the guitar is the fretboard and the strings. Starting from the lowest string, the strings are named E, A, D, G, B, and E. The low E string is also the one closest to you when holding the guitar and looking down. Pressing the guitar strings against the fretboard (also known as fretting) may hurt your fingers at first. However, as you play the guitar, your fingers will get stronger and stop hurting after a while.
A nylon string guitar is great for beginners because the strings are easier to press against the fretboard compared to steel strings. If you’re not pressing the strings hard enough, they will not ring properly. Remember to also make sure that you press the string at the right part of the fretboard but not directly on top of the fret.
5. Tune your guitar
Learning guitar is going to be a painful experience if your guitar is not in tune. That’s why we recommend always making sure that your instrument is tuned correctly. As a beginner guitarist, you don’t need to worry about alternate guitar tunings yet; focus on learning the standard EADGBE tuning first. EADGBE refers to the six strings of the guitar from low to high and how you should tune them.
An electric tuner device makes tuning your acoustic or electric guitar easy. However, the easiest (and cheapest) way is to use a free online guitar tuner app, such as GuitarTuna. A guitar tuner app is with you wherever you are. You don’t need to carry a separate device with you; a mobile phone is all you need.
6. Play basic guitar chords
Before jumping headfirst to playing intense guitar solos, let’s start with guitar chords. At this point, you’ll get more familiar with guitar chord charts as they’re an excellent way to visualize how different guitar chords are played. Start off by learning the basic open chords, also known as cowboy chords. These can be divided into major and minor chords.
In case you can’t remember how a specific guitar chord is played, check out our library of guitar chord charts.
When first learning how to play guitar, it’s good to start things slow. Start off by learning a few basic chords. Just a few simple guitar chords are enough to play an entire song! A few good major chords to learn first are the A, D, C, and E chords. Here’s an example of the guitar chord chart for the major E chord:
Great minor chords for beginner guitarists, on the other hand, include the minor A and minor E chords. Minor chords are written with a lowercase letter “m” next to them. In other words, these two chords are written as Am and Em. Here’s how you can play the minor E chord:
You can tell the difference between major and minor chords by their sound: A minor chord sounds darker and sadder than major chords which have a brighter and happier sound to them.
7. Learn how to strum guitar chords
To play a guitar chord, you need to strum multiple strings at the same time. However, some guitar chords, like D and C, require you to not play one or more of the guitar strings. Because of this, some chords are easier to play than others. In addition to not playing certain strings, you need to make sure that you don’t accidentally mute any of the strings that should be played by laying your hand on top of the strings.
Once you get the hang of strumming some of the basic open chords, you can start experimenting with up- and downstrokes as well as more complex strumming patterns and chord progressions.
8. Read guitar tablature
When you want to play more than just guitar chords, guitar tablatures or “tabs” will come in handy. Guitar tabs are an easy way to read musical notation and learn guitar. Individual notes are visualized as numbers that are located on horizontal lines that represent the strings of a guitar. Open strings are represented with a zero (0) while the letter X stands for muted strings. The line at the bottom stands for the lowest E string and the one on top is the high E string.
Guitar tabs can be used to play chords as well. However, tabs are a more versatile tool for guitarists of all skill levels as they can show slides, bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs, double stops, and so much more. These techniques may not be the first ones to learn as a beginner, but it’s good to start practicing them as you develop and improve as a guitarist. If you want to play more complex melodies in addition to just chords, make sure to learn how to read guitar tabs too.
9. Practice picking and using a guitar pick
Playing individual notes is possible with your thumb and other fingers. This is known as fingerpicking. However, a guitar pick will come in handy, especially if you’re playing an electric guitar. A guitar pick is a great tool for strumming chords on an acoustic guitar as well. Guitar picks come in many sizes and materials, but the most important aspect of a guitar pick is probably how thick it is.
When picking individual strings with a guitar pick, hold the pick between your thumb and index finger. Leave the three other fingers free, and don’t hold the pick too tightly. The pick should stick out of the side of your thumb with the nail of your thumb facing towards you. Pick individual strings slowly at first. Then start increasing the speed and pick both up and down. Don’t get discouraged if you pick some of the incorrect strings as you’re still getting used to playing with a pick.
10. Learn minor and major scales
Guitar scales may feel a bit intimidating when starting to get more familiar with them. However, as you’ll soon notice, they’re a great way to explore the guitar fretboard and understand where to find different notes. Guitar scales are also helpful when you want to improvise a guitar solo or start writing your own songs for the guitar. Just like chords, there are both major and minor scales.
Yousician has great workouts for learning and mastering different scales on the guitar. Playing the scales up and down is an effective way to help memorize scales. As your fingers get used to playing the scale, try playing the scale faster to develop dexterity and improve your playing.
11. Start playing your favorite songs
Now let’s get to the part you’ve probably been waiting for — playing your favorite song on the guitar. The days of carrying around massive books full of guitar notes and chords are over as the internet offers guitar tabs for pretty much any song you can think of. Just Google the song title and add the word “tab,” and if you’re lucky, someone else has taken the effort of transcribing the song into guitar tablature.
In addition to normal guitar tabs and chords, you can use an interactive music-learning app like Yousician to play guitar songs. Go ahead and check out Yousician’s full library of popular songs where you’ll find different artists, bands, and musical genres of your liking. Perhaps your favorite guitar song is waiting there too.
12. Practice, practice, practice
After you’ve got the hang of how to play guitar chords, tune your instrument, navigate the fretboard, and read guitar tablature, it’s hard practice and repetition from there. Make playing the guitar and practicing a daily routine. Although you may experience some pain in your fingertips at first, your hands will get used to playing the guitar as you gain finger strength and develop muscle memory.
Learn how to play the guitar with Yousician!
Although practicing your guitar playing skills is important, don’t forget that playing should be fun. Your motivation will run out soon if you take things too seriously and don’t make playing the guitar enjoyable for yourself. That’s where Yousician comes in.
Yousician is your personal guitar teacher that helps you master the art of playing the guitar. Follow Yousician’s interactive guitar lessons at your own pace as you gradually learn more and more new skills. Yousician’s song library contains hundreds of popular songs that you can play with the guitar. A practice session with Yousician makes for a fun and motivating guitar lesson as the app gives you real-time feedback that motivates you to improve your guitar playing skills even more.
Sign up here or download Yousician on your computer or mobile device to start playing and get started on your musical journey today.
Unleash your inner musician with Yousician. We offer thousands of songs, exercises, and teacher-crafted lessons all in one app. Learn more