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How to Learn Guitar for Beginners – Step by Step Guide

Have you decided that you want to learn to play the guitar, but you don’t know where to start?

First of all, congratulations! A guitar is a fantastic instrument to play, and if you become passionate about it, it will be part of your life forever. I clearly remember those days after I bought my first guitar. I was feeling overwhelmed with all the information that I could find on the internet, and I didn’t know what the right approach to take was.

We are spoiled with so many choices that we risk spending more time searching the web for the perfect method rather than picking up the guitar and actually playing.

Today I’m here to help you!

In this article, you’ll find all the information you need on How to Learn Guitar for Beginners. Once you finish reading, you’ll have all the tools to start your guitar journey in the right way.

Let’s begin with……

The Basics

Before you can start playing, there are a few things that you need to do.

You obviously need a guitar, you have to decide what your learning strategy will be, you have to be able to tune your guitar, and finally, you need to learn how to read chord diagrams and tablature. What are they?

More on this later…

But first of all, we need a guitar!

Which guitar should you buy?

Which guitar should you buy

The first question you might have is whether the guitar will matter when you’re just starting. While it can somehow make the whole experience easier, it is not nearly as important as your motivation. Therefore, if you already have a guitar, there is no need to invest in a new one at this early stage.

But if you need to buy one, there are a few things to consider. There are three main categories of beginner guitars: acoustic, electric, and classical.

Which one is better?

An acoustic guitar should be your choice if you like folk and country music, while an electric is a better option if you prefer rock or metal. A classical guitar instead makes sense only if you’re really into classical music or boss nova.

In terms of playability, an electric guitar is always easier to play because the strings are generally thinner, and the action (the distance between the strings and the neck) is lower.

The action is arguably the most important aspect to consider that could make your learning process more enjoyable. However, the action is something that can be adjusted by a luthier, and I always recommend investing a few bucks to have a professional set up on a new guitar.

Or an acoustic?

The big advantage of an acoustic guitar is that you don’t need an amp, and you can use it easily and quickly or even take it on your camping trips.

It’s worth mentioning that even an electric guitar can be played without an amp. It will not resonate anywhere near as much as an acoustic. However, in the beginning, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially for your neighbors or your flatmates.

Or go classical?

I would never recommend a classical guitar to a beginner because the action is way higher, and the neck is much bigger, and this will make it a lot harder to learn even the most simple chord. However, the tension is lower, which does have its advantages for a beginner.

However, since most guitar players listen to pop, rock, etc. a lot more than classical music (especially classical guitar music) or Flamenco, which are the two styles that use a classical guitar, you are better off with an acoustic or an electric because they will create the ‘sound’ you are used to hearing.

Where should I buy a guitar?

While, as a rule of thumb, it is better to buy a guitar at a local shop to make sure that you get a feel for a particular instrument, it doesn’t really make much sense when you’re an absolute beginner. You wouldn’t be able to play anything, and you wouldn’t know what to look for.

Online retailers are a great place to start your search. A Squier by Fender Bullet Stratocaster is always a good quality product that, with a proper set up will keep you going for years.

If you prefer an acoustic guitar, check out the Yamaha FD01S Solid Body Acoustic Guitar, a good-looking instrument with a solid spruce top and a bargain price. Exactly what you need as a beginner! In fact, more beginners have started off on a Yamaha acoustic than probably any other guitar.

How to Learn Guitar for Beginners – Learning with a teacher vs. teaching yourself

How to Learn Guitar for Beginners

Now that you have a guitar, you just need to decide what your learning strategy will be. Are lessons from a teacher better than teaching yourself with books or YouTube lessons?

The simple answer is yes, but of course, that comes with some downsides, the most obvious of which is the cost. Moreover, unless you clearly know what your goals are, and you probably don’t at this stage, the risk is that you’ll invest months of your life learning something that you’re not interested in.

However, searching for lessons on YouTube can be a nightmare since it’s almost impossible to find a structured course that perfectly suits your needs.

What would I do if I had to relearn the guitar from scratch again?

I would probably invest in a good guitar book to get me started. The Guitar Handbook by Ralph Denyer has been the bible for hundreds of thousands of guitar learners, and even though it’s a bit dated, it is still one of the best resources available.

As soon as you can play the basics, I would recommend finding a local teacher. You don’t need to take more than a couple of lessons every month if you don’t want to. That will be enough to make sure that your technique is up to standard so that you don’t get into any bad habits that will be difficult to correct later on.

In the meanwhile, you can use YouTube or any other online resources to further explore any aspect that you can’t really grasp from the book.

How to tune your guitar

Learning how to tune your guitar is crucial. I’ve met so many people that, after years of practice, would still constantly play out of tune, just because they didn’t get into the habit of tuning their guitar.

You should never play the guitar if it is out of tune, not even when you just practice a few simple chords in your room.

Get yourself a tuner…

The most accurate way to do it is using a digital tuner. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, and it should last forever. The Martian clip-on tuner is a great example of what you need: affordable, accurate, and easy to use. Or check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Guitar Tuners currently on the market.

Over time you should develop the ability to tune the guitar by ear; it’s a fantastic skill but takes a long time to master. However, bear in mind that even professional players use a tuner every single time that they play with other musicians or record, so a tuner really is the best first option.

How to read those charts

Whether you want to learn to read standard notation is a decision that you’ll take later on. It will require you to invest a lot of time and energy, and it’s something that, to be honest, most guitar players never get around to.

However, the ability to read tablatures and chords diagrams has to be mastered, but luckily they are much easier to understand.

What are they?

Basically, they are simplified methods to notate music, and it takes literally just a few hours (at most) to learn how to read them. They show exactly where to place your fingers (and in most cases which finger) on the neck of the guitar to form a chord or to play single notes.

Every beginner guitar book will teach you how to read them in one of the first chapters. Tablature and chord charts will give you less information than standard notation, but they are way more practical and easy to use.

Let’s play

Let's play

You’re finally home with your new guitar properly set up and tuned.

What’s next?

Essential guitar knowledge

There are still a couple of things to learn before you can actually strum your first chord.

How do I hold the guitar? Do I use a pick or not? Where do I position my hands?

You can get all this information from your book, on the internet, or from your teacher. Moreover, it will depend on the guitar that you’re playing and the style you’re more interested in.

However, make sure you don’t skip this part and that you keep working to correct any mistakes. For example, it takes much more effort to correct a bad posture than to learn the proper one in the first place.

Your first chords

The first thing you want to learn is some basic chords. But why is it important to start with chords?

Well, that’s because they are the fundamentals of music, and just by knowing a few shapes, you’ll be able to play hundreds of songs. And playing songs is the whole point of learning guitar! When you can play songs, you have fun, and when you have fun, you’re motivated to get better and better.

But which ones?

I would suggest that you start with the A major, D major, and E major chords. Not only are they some of the easiest, but also they are in the same key.

For now, don’t worry if you don’t know what it means. Just remember that they will always sound good together, and with just these three chords, you’ll be able to play tons of tunes. Check out our article on the 10 Easy Songs to Learn on the Electric Guitar for some great options.

Don’t be discouraged if you find it impossible to hold the shape when you first try! We’ve all been there, and I promise that it will become easier and easier every day.

Train your fingers

But practice is not just playing songs and having fun. Your fingers need strength, flexibility, and lots of repetition before they’ll be able to react quickly and effectively to what you ask them to do.

There are countless exercises to train your fingers, for both the right and the left hand. Pick the ones that you prefer from your book, look them up on the internet, or check out our article on Tips for Better Finger Dexterity.

Keep in mind that variety is the key. Choose three or four exercises and practice each of them for a couple of minutes every time you pick up your guitar. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll see the results!

Theory is important

Theory is important

Most of the beginners don’t even want to hear the word theory. Music theory is scary, and as long as we don’t appreciate its benefits, it looks useless. But few basic concepts will help you immensely on your guitar learning journey.

I’m not suggesting buying a jazz theory book and studying it for hours every day. Twenty minutes twice per week is more than enough to understand all that you need as a beginner. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll find it so interesting that you’ll invest much more time than that without even noticing it.

Where to start?

Start with studying what a major scale is, what intervals are, how to use them to form chords, and how to apply this information to the guitar.

This should keep you occupied for a few months, and everything beyond will come naturally as you need it.

Learn a few songs

As already mentioned, learning songs should be your main goal, even at a beginner stage. A lot of people make the mistake of putting too much effort into learning shapes and practicing exercises without leaving enough time to apply in a musical context what they’ve learned.

As soon as you’re able to play a couple of chords and easily switch between them, make sure you learn a song that you like that uses those chords. And every time that you practice your guitar, spend at least five to ten minutes playing the songs that you’ve learned.

How to Learn Guitar for Beginners – How to practice

Practice is what makes the difference between someone that will learn to play and someone who will eventually quit because they don’t see any improvement.

Having an effective practice routine and being able to stick to it will save you a lot of time. Don’t even pick up a guitar if you don’t know what you’re going to practice. You’ll end up wasting hours repeating things that you already know or searching on YouTube for new ideas.

How long should I practice?

For the first few weeks, take it really slow. Your finger joints are weak, and tendinitis is quite common when people play for hours without being prepared for it. Moreover, your fingertips will be sore until you build up calluses.

My recommendation is to play for no more than 10 minutes at a time for the first couple of weeks and slowly increase over time. Stop practicing as soon as you feel discomfort in your fingers, ideally before it gets painful. But you don’t have to limit it to 10 minutes per day; you can plan two practicing sessions, once in the morning and once in the evening.

Constant improvement…

Even when your fingertips will allow you to play for hours, it’s way better to practice for 20 minutes every day than skipping the whole week and play for an entire day on your day off. The keyword to remember is consistency. 

In fact, 20 minutes sessions are the longest I would recommend for practicing at any stage of learning. The thing that most players do wrong is that they practice things that they can already play. If you can play it, you can not practice it, so find 20 minutes’ worth of things that you either can’t play or need improving, and that is your ‘practice.’ If you want to jam on songs that you can already play afterward, no problem, but don’t count it as practice.

Like any other physical skill, learning guitar is a matter of repetition and muscle memory. If you practice it every day, you’ll see quick improvements!

How to structure a practice routine

How to structure a practice routine

As soon as you’re able to practice for 20 minutes, you need to have a routine. There are four main areas that you should ideally work on every time you practice at this stage: finger mobility, right and left hand technique, chords, and songs. 

Allocate an equal amount of time to each one of them and don’t neglect any of them, even if you only practice for one 20 minute session a day. I guarantee it is enough time when you know how to use it!

I personally recommend a number of three minutes sessions on the different aspects of guitar playing, varying them on a per session and daily basis.

Where to go from here?

After a few months of practicing, you’re now able to comfortably switch between the basic chords, you can play a few songs, you know some theory, and your fingers are not painful anymore. You’ve seen a lot of improvements, and your motivation is high.

So, what should you learn next?

It’s now time to make some decisions and to figure out what kind of player you want to be. Do you want to play blues, country, rock, jazz? Or maybe your goal is to become a complete guitarist!

You’ll still have plenty of time to change your mind later on, but the sooner you decide which way to go, the more enjoyable will be the journey.

Find out what it’s better for you and use the learning resources that will take you closer to your goal. There is no point learning hundreds of complicated chords, scales, and modes when blues is all that you’re interested in.

Looking for a superb first guitar?

Well, check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Cheap Acoustic Guitars Under $200, the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $500, the Best Classical Guitars, the Best Acoustic Guitars Under $600, or the Best Hollow And Semi-Hollow Guitars on the market in 2021.

Also, take a look at our comprehensive reviews of the Best Electric Guitar For Beginners, the Best Blues Guitars, as well as the Best 12-String Guitars you can buy.

And don’t miss our helpful guides on the Types of GuitarsEverything You Need to Know About Guitar Sizes, and the Best Guitar Brands for more useful guitar information.

How to Learn Guitar for Beginners – Final Thoughts

The process of learning guitar should be enjoyable and rewarding to guarantee that you don’t lose enthusiasm during the journey. Knowing what you need and where to start is a crucial aspect that should be clear from the very beginning.

If you search online for info on guitar for beginners, the amount of information you get can be overwhelming and discourage even the most motivated learner. However, the simple tips in this article will put you on the right track to reach your goals.

Happy playing!

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About Jennifer Bell

Jennifer is a freelance writer from Montana. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and English, as well as an Associate of Applied Science in Computer Games and Simulation Design.

Her passions include guitar, bass, ukulele, and piano, as well as a range of classical instruments she has been playing since at school. She also enjoys reading fantasy and sci-fi novels, yoga, eating well, and spending time with her two cats, Rocky and Jasper.

Jennifer enjoys writing articles on all types of musical instruments and is always extending her understanding and appreciation of music. She also writes science fiction and fantasy short stories for various websites and hopes to get her first book published in the very near future.

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