Being able to play any musical instrument like a pro is super fun and extremely satisfying. You must have watched numerous videos of Eric Clapton, Slash, Django Reinhardt creating magic with their fingers, gasping in awe at the sight of how effortlessly they play the most intricate notes.
To be blatantly honest, at the very beginning, you might not be able to play even the Happy Birthday tune properly on your guitar, forget playing like those legends mentioned above. I couldn’t do it either. The learning curve wasn’t easy for me. I felt my fingers were too small and chubby to play even the most basic chords clearly. My fingertips hurt like hell after 20 minutes of practice.
But here I am, after 15 years of relentless practice and conviction, having the time of my life as a lead guitarist in my own band. The point of saying all these is that- if I, with my chubby hands and nearly zero pain thresholds can do it, so can you.
What to Expect from This Guitar Lessons Session?
I cannot stress enough on the importance of practice. It doesn’t matter if you are into acoustic guitars or want to play heavy metal on electric guitar, knowing the fundamentals is the first and foremost step of learning to play any string instrument. I have received countless emails and personal requests from people who have watched me playing guitar to teach them how to do it. So here I am.
There’s no right age or finger structure for making love to your guitar. You will have your fair share of challenges, It will feel frustrating in the beginning, but that will pass.
In this course consisting of 12 lessons, I will try to cover everything, starting from the basic concepts like the structure of a guitar, how to hold a guitar,names of the strings, how to tune and so on. After that, we will start from the learning the easiest chords and strumming pattern, making sure you are able to play some basic tunes instantly.
I strongly urge you to follow the order of the steps and do not skip any step, even it seems boring. I can almost assure you that by the end of this session, you will be able to play some of your most favorite tunes and make your audience go “whoa”!
Here is the summery of our Guitar Lessons:
Guitar Lesson 1: Parts of a Guitar
If you are going to make love to your guitar (figuratively, of course), you need to make sure you know the names and functions of each and every component of a guitar body. In this lesson, I am going to talk about the parts of both acoustic and electric guitars.
While both types share many common parts like head, tuning keys, fretboard, body and neck, the pickups and controls of electric guitars differ hugely from those of an acoustic guitar. We will get into that detail shortly, but before that, let’s throw light upon the common features in both acoustic and electric guitars.
- Guitar Head– Imagine you are a right-handed guitarist holding your instrument, the farthest part to the left would be called the head or headstock of a guitar. It is a flat platform where all the tuning keys, tuning pegs are located. In most standard six string acoustic and electric guitars, there are 6 tuners which you can up and down to tune your guitar.
Understanding the shape of the guitar head is important because the way it vibrates will impact the tone of your guitar. Guitar heads attached at an angle to the end of the neck are susceptible to heavy damage if the instrument falls off your hand.
- Nut– The nut is where the strings rest before they stretch towards the fretboard from the headstock. It is made of plastic, bone, brass, graphite or metal have individual slots for each string. The nut not only keeps the strings in place but also works as a transmitter of vibration to the neck. How the strings rest on the fretboard also depends on the nut. I personally prefer bone nut as they emulate really well-defined tones on an acoustic guitar.
- Neck– The part next to the nut is called the neck of the guitar. The fretboard or fingerboard to glued to the neck. While holding and playing your guitar, your thumb should be firmly placed at the back of the neck.
- Fretboard- The metal strips running across the fretboard are called frets or fret wires. On the fretboard or fingerboard, you press the strings to create different notes and chords. Just to give you a heads-up, your fingertips should be positioned right beside the fret wire of a particular string to produce clear chords and notes.
Most acoustic and electric guitar fretboards are made of either Maplewood or Rosewood. While Rosewood is best for creating mellow notes, Maplewood produces a tighter sound.
- Fret Markers or Inlay Markers- These fret markers serve two purposes. One, it helps you keep track of where your finger is on the fretboard. The second purpose is merely decorative. If your guitar has 24 frets, the inlays or fret markers will be at fret intervals of 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 17, 19,21 and 24.
- Body- The kind of material and quality of craftsmanship used in making the body of a guitar heavily influences the sound quality of the instrument. The first thing you should notice on the body is the pickguard or scratchplate. It prevents you from leaving scratch marks on the guitar body with the pointy end of the pick while you strum.
A sound hole is located right at the middle of the body of most acoustic guitars. The sound comes out from this hole and I often drop my pick in it and cry for 2 minutes for my stupidity.
- Acoustic and Electric Guitar Bridge- On both guitars, the bridge on end of the vibrating length of the string (the other being the nut). It transmits vibration to the body which gives a guitar its unique sound. Bridges have individual saddles through which the strings pass before going into the body.
On an electric guitar as well, the strings are anchored to the body via the bridge. However, many electric guitars have tremolo arms which lets you up and down the bridge to quickly adjust the pitch of the strings in order to produce an effect called “divebomb”. The “taooooooooooooo” thing, to be more precise.
- Strap Buttons– Your guitar may or may not have a strap button. If you are going to play your Guitar Chords standing, make sure your guitar has it. On end of the body attaches to the strap button and another end has to be tied around the neck (provided that the strap comes with a shoelace on one end).
Apart from the bridge, electric guitars have two other features that differ from its acoustic counterpart. The first being the pickups.
Electric Guitar Pickups- The pickups basically pick up the vibrations from the string and translate it into sound by sending them to the amplifier. The pickup located close to the bridge is called bridge pickup and the one close to the neck is called jazz or rhythm pickup.
Pickups are of two types- humbucker or double coil and single coil. The name humbucker is derived from the phrase “buckingthe hum”, meaning it can reduce the buzz from the guitar, thus creating warmer tones than single coil pickups. The latter produces tighter and brighter notes, making it best suited for playing rock music.
Tone and Volume Control Knobs– While most electric guitars have one Master volume and tone knobs for every individual pickup, many high-end guitars feature individual volume knobs for each pickup as well. These volume knobs basically let you adjust how much volume will come out of your pickups.
If you turn the tone knobs down, they decrease higher frequencies and if you turn them up, those frequencies are restored. Turning it down to 0 will significantly reduce the treble as well as some high mids.
Guitar Lessons 2: How to hold the guitar and the pick
The way you hold your guitar and the pick will affect a plethora of things. First of all, not doing it properly will easily and quickly evolve into a habit, and it’s safe to say that you’ll have a tough time breaking it. In essence, it’s not very hard, but there are proper ways to do it and there are bad ways most beginners do it. We’re here to help you figure out the former.
A proper way to hold a guitar
There’s no universal way to hold a guitar properly per se – some people like to grip the neck firmly, others like the extra support that a thumb can provide, but that shouldn’t dissuade you one bit. A proper way to hold your guitar might not feel right at the very beginning, but it will help you avoid making drastic mistakes as you progress.
If you are right handed, your left hand (sometimes referred to as the “fretting hand”) should go underneath the neck with your thumb being the only finger left behind (all of your other fingers should be at the fingerboard’s side).
As we’ve mentioned earlier, some people like to grip the neck with the thumb for added stability, but note that this way your finger’s mobility will be somewhat reduced (the thumb locks the hand whereas a floating thumb allows you to move your fingers more easily, for example during solos).
The four fingers aside from the thumb are all supposed to be placed on the fingerboard – not necessarily at the same time, unless you are trying to pull off a chord, for instance.
How to hold the guitar properly
Depending on whether you intend to play your guitar in a seated position or while standing upright, the way you hold your guitar will be different. The main difference is, basically, in the area your fingers and palms will cover.
Holding a guitar while seated
We highly encourage immediate beginners to practice in a seated position – your hands can focus on the actual playing while your knees and thighs will support your guitar.
The first thing you want to do is as follows – find a comfortable chair, preferably without armrests. The reason why you want such a chair is because these arm supports will get in your way (unless your own an electric guitar with very special design, like for example the “Widowmaker”).
It’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to use a guitar strap at this point, as both electric and acoustic guitars can be played without one while you are sitting.
Since your thighs will support the bottom of your guitar, your fingers and palms will position more easily in comparison to the scenario where you’d do it while standing upright.
Holding a guitar while standing upright
Guitar players who stand upright will find out that it’s harder to hold a guitar this way. Needless to say, using a guitar strap is not only recommended, but imperative this time around.
Depending on how you adjust the strap’s length, you might have some difficulties adjusting to this method, but it is possible to make it as short as possible, allowing you to hold your guitar with the same ease as if you were sitting.
Simply put, the lower you are holding your guitar (the longer the strap is), the harder it will be for you to actually position your left hand, let alone play. The angle of your guitar will also be sharper this way, which doesn’t necessarily affect your strumming hand (right hand for right-handed players).
How to hold the pick properly
While holding your guitar seems to be harder than holding a guitar pick, that’s not necessarily true. Namely, there are all kinds of guitar picks (they come in all shapes and sizes), so again, finding the way that feels the best for you might be harder than you’d expect.
You’ve probably noticed that most professional guitarists use the same “pick grip technique” – the thumb and the index finger are holding the pick while the other three are completely straight. The pick should fall onto your index finger and face the strings while your thumb should gently press on it. Some guitarists like to bend the ankle on their strumming hand as it provides a boost to strumming accuracy, but that shouldn’t worry you at the time being.
This feels very uncomfortable to beginners as the muscles in your hand will start to strain, so you’re bound to experience some fatigue.
There is another way which is easier, though, but it will be difficult for you to learn other guitar techniques if you start using it early on, such as palm muting, for example – simply fold your fingers into a semi-clenched fist.
This way you’ll avoid the muscle strains, but do your best to practice the proper way as soon as you start getting the hang of the easier way. In any case, this is, in fact, a proper way to hold your pick if you plan on playing on an acoustic guitar – it’s easier to strum the notes in any case.
Common mistakes of Holding the Pick
There are a couple of mistakes most beginners make which appear as unimportant at the time, but they could severely hinder your progress towards becoming a great guitarist. Some of the most common ones are:
- Using your thumb to fret the notes – most beginners feel like this is the easiest way to hold a guitar, as it appears as most natural. The fact is that this way you’ll start to accumulate a wrong kind of muscle memory in your thumb instead of in your other (actual fretting) fingers.
- Holding your pick too softly – you might be scared of gripping your pick too tight (because you might “pop” your strings this way), and that’s perfectly normal. Gripping the pick too tight is not recommended in any case, as your arm will become rigid, but holding it too softly will almost always result in it slipping out from your hands.
Lesson 3: Learn the fingers, strings and fret numbering system
This time we’re going to talk about what happens on the fingerboard – what each finger should be doing, what strings’ names are, after which we’re going to talk about a bit more delicate matter regarding the fret numbering system.
This lesson will be very helpful if you have absolutely no guitar “training”, as it will help you figure out the basics and avoid making bad habits during the earliest stages.
Most people know the name of each finger, but again, most beginners struggle to figure out “which fingers goes where” on the fingerboard. This section will help you understand the function of each finger in regard to playing a guitar.
Actually, bass guitar players use the thumb to “pop and slap” – traditionally, this finger isn’t used for playing, rather it should support the neck of your guitar. Of course, there’s a special guitar playing style called the “fingerstyle” where a thumb can be used to pluck the E2 string (the thickest one).
So basically, the thumb is the “base” which provides structure and stability to the “playing” fingers. It’s also the only finger on the fretting hand that serves a “passive” function.
The index finger is, basically, your primary finger as a guitar beginner – you’ll use it the most until you get comfortable enough to add the other fingers. The index finger is the “initiator” regardless of whether you intend to play chords or standalone notes – the other fingers follow up.
Now, the middle finger is your second most important finger. Use it in combination with your index finger to dish out power chords (or shortened chords). What’s more, beginners tend to use the index and middle fingers to perform hammer-on and pull-off techniques, whereas professionals can opt between that and middle and ring finger.
The ring finger is a bit less flexible if you’re a beginner guitarist – you might feel as if your other fingers will get out of position if you try to place it on the fingerboard. That’s not a cause for alarm, though, as this feeling will go away as you practice and improve.
Pinky is, without any doubt, the finger you’ll have the most troubles with. It’s the least flexible finger on a human hand (as we use it for only a number of things), but nevertheless, you’ll want to start using it early on.
One of the biggest mistakes beginners make is avoiding to use the pinky finger – some feel uncomfortable, others experience mild pain, but you shouldn’t pay too much heed to these obstacles, as your pinky will be a major weapon in your arsenal of skills later on.
Frets are, basically, tiny metal-made strips found on the fingerboard of a guitar. By pressing a fret and strumming the corresponding string you’ll get a certain tone from your guitar. Generally, normal guitars have between 22 and 24 frets, although exceptions are possible – certain guitars have only 19 frets while there are some with as much as 27.
The first fret is the one which is the closest to a guitar’s head (headstock), which is where the counting starts (each fret after is a semitone higher).
The strings are a very delicate topic, and we’ve decided to stick to the basics so as to not confuse you too much. There are plenty of tunings, as well as different types of strings which you will use once you’ve handled the fundamentals.
A normal guitar has a set of 6 strings – E, A, D, G, B, and E1. Most people think that you should count the strings from top downward, but it’s actually the opposite. The thinnest string and the thickest string represent the same note while plucked openly – the “E” note. The only difference is that the latter is several octaves lower.
A string (once plucked) emits vibrations which resound throughout the guitar’s soundbox (or pickups, if we’re talking about an electric guitar).
The way strings are tuned shows us the guitar’s tuning. The standard tuning is E (all the strings are tuned in accord with their names, for example the A string is tuned into the A note), but there are dozens of other tunings – open tunings, drop tunings, and other “standard” tunings. As a beginner, you shouldn’t experiment too much with different tunings as you might easily get confused.
Fret numbering system
The most basic fret numbering system is pretty easy to understand – it uses “numbers” instead of notes’ actual names. For example, the fifth fret of the E string could be labeled as “5” or “A”, depending on which system we intend to use.
Since you’re a beginner, we’re going to describe the numbering system, as it will help you figure out the basics and play your first song in an easier way than the latter.
Now, this system starts with a zero – the “0” is an open string, which basically means that you should pluck it without pressing on any fret. The “1” corresponds to the first fret being pressed – if you remember what we talked about in the “frets” section, the first fret is the one which is closest to your guitar’s headstock. The “2”, “3”, “4”, and up are all a semitone away between each other.
Here’s a tip which will hopefully help you – the fifth fret of the last string lets off the same tone as the open A string. The same applies to the entire fingerboard as you go downward with the exception of the B string – the fourth fret of the G string corresponds to the open B string.
This was a relatively simple lesson, but a valuable one nevertheless. Naming the fingers is but a first step to understanding the chords and scales later on, and the fret numbering system will immensely help you with reading tablatures and playing your first songs. With that being said, let’s proceed to the next lesson.
Lesson 4: Guitar string names
Today we’re going to learn the name of each guitar string. Frankly, most beginners don’t think that this is as important as the actual playing and practice, but knowing what you are doing is equally important as actually doing it.
Learning the names of the guitar strings comes right before tuning and learning the names of the notes. In fact, we’re not just going to “name” the strings – we’re going to devise unique means of actually remembering them for good.
Where do we “start”?
Beginners tend to get a bit confused about which string is the “first” one – is it the thinnest or the thickest one? Now, if you have any knowledge about music theory whatsoever, you probably already know that the thinnest string is the “first” string, but the aforementioned misconception is popular for a good reason.
Namely, most guitar tablature programs show us the strings starting at the bottom (the thickest one is usually at the very bottom end). In fact, it’s not just software, sheet music was written with basically the same idea in mind.
So, in a nutshell, the “first” string is “E” – the thinnest string. Don’t be confused when you hear that the thickest string is also called “E”, but it’s sometimes marked as “e”, or “E1” so as to avoid mixing the two terms.
Basically, the string names are E, A, D, G, B, and E1 (or “e”) going from the bottom upward. That means that the thinnest string is called the “E string”, the second-thinnest one is the “B”, and so on, ending with the “e”, or the thickest one.
Now, when we put it as bluntly as we did, most people would think “So, it’s “E-A-D-G-B-E”, what’s so hard about remembering these six letters?”. Try it out, and you’ll see. The logic behind string names isn’t absurd, but it’s not your average 2nd grade math either, which means that we’ll have to devise our own ways to remember the string names.
Ways to help you remember the names of guitar strings
There are several ways, most of which are relatively obscure, but we can assure you that these ways will help you remember the string names. Let’s have a quick overview of these methods:
Come up with your own phrases
The base rule of this method is that each word has to begin with a letter that corresponds to the first letter of the guitar string’s name. For instance, Elaborate All Debby Gave Before Event. Now, this particular sentence doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, but that’s exactly the point – oddities tend to stick in our minds more easily than “heaps of organized files”.
Another thing – you’ll have to do it on your own. What works for your best buddies might not work out for you, as every person has a different mindset, different thought patterns, and we all remember things from our point of view.
In order to find the most successful phrase you’ll have to be creative, but most importantly – write it down after you’ve nailed it.
Learn the notes
This method is, without any doubt, several times more difficult than coming up with a phrase. Why is that? Well, there are plenty of notes for you to remember, and if remembering 6 letters seems hard, learning the notes will be a nightmare.
Regardless, we encourage you to give this method a shot – you’ll need to learn the notes at some point, and by doing it while you try to remember the names of the strings you will have killed two birds with one stone. What’s more, once you start to learn the notes, you’ll understand the logic behind the whole thing.
Namely, the notes begin and end with an “E”, right? Just like the alphabet tells us, after E comes an “F”. So far, so good. Now, the tricky part is that “G” comes right after “F” in alphabet, but the same can’t be said here – it’s F – F# (F-sharp). By now, we have the open E, an F, and an F-sharp, if we exclude the G that comes right after.
It might seem a bit too hard at the time, but all you have to do is remember the first five notes, as the pattern progresses naturally in two directions from there – the sixth fret on an E string is the same as the first fret on an A string. Which means that the “A#” can be found at both frets.
Which method should you use?
Even though the second method is incomparably harder, we think that it will be worth your while to learn the notes at the earliest stage possible. In essence, the string names represent your starting point for the notes that are next in line, so it’s not all that hard.
On another hand, people who wish to start practicing as soon as possible will often feel pretty bummed about all the theory, in which case the first method appears to be a bit better.
A word of advice, though, doing things in a certain way just because it’s easier is seldom beneficial in the world of guitarists. You’ll be faced with the challenges you aim to avoid anyhow, and in all fairness, it gets harder the more you wait and postpone it.
So, let’s summarize the two methods by which you can remember the names of the string.
Method 1 – Pros:
- Easy and fun
- Plenty of room for creativity
- Great for people with absolutely no knowledge regarding music theory
Method 1 – Cons:
- Not as reliable as the second method
- Some people aren’t as creative as others and tend to use the phrases invented by others. This usually doesn’t help.
Method 2 – Pros:
- Exact and impeccably reliable method
- Helps you expand your music theory knowledge
- Next logical step after learning the string names
Method 2 – Cons:
- Hard to grasp
- Takes time and patience
Lesson 5: How to tune your guitar
Now that we’ve learnt the names of the strings, what the basic parts of a guitar are, and such it’s time to learn how to tune your guitar. Before we start, we’ll discuss what a tuning is, what intonation means, after which we’ll proceed to “standard” tuning and the technical part of tuning your guitar.
What does the term “tuning” mean?
Generally, a tuning refers to the pitches of a guitar’s open strings. The machine heads (tuners) on the head-stock of a guitar are used to adjust these pitches, which is basically the tuning process in a nutshell.
The word “tuning” may also refer to a particular form of guitar tuning. For instance, most people are familiar with the standard E-A-D-G-B-E tuning (often referred to as Standard E tuning), but most beginners have never heard about dropped tunings and open tunings. The latter refers to the variations of the standard tuning.
What is “standard” tuning?
The “standard” tuning is called that way because most musicians tune their guitars within the parameters of the, perhaps rightly called, the most convenient E tuning. Therefore, we’ve established that this particular tuning is not only the most popular, but also the easiest in terms of playability – the strings are neither too dense or too loose, so the player gets an all-around experience.
There are numerous “standard” tunings, of course, such as Standard D – you can tune your guitar in this tuning by lowering the pitch of the open strings by two semitones. It’s common knowledge that most people prefer to go “down” (tune their guitars lower when compared to the standard E) rather than “up”. It’s possible, but the playability will suffer in turn.
How often do you need to tune your guitar
Depending on the quality of the tuners and the “freshness” of the strings, you might need to tune your guitar once a week, or once every two days. There are numerous factors that affect how properly a guitar remains in tune, but the strings and machine heads are two of the most important ones. Upgrading your tuners and replacing your strings can significantly help with the issue.
How to tune your guitar?
Tuning your guitar is done by turning the small knobs on the headstock. These “knobs” are called machine gears, machine heads, or plainly tuners.
Essentially, there are three ways by which you can tune your guitar. You could either use a tuner, tune it by ear, or tune your guitar by harmonics (which is, basically, tuning your guitar by ear, but with slight modifications in the method). Let’s see how to do it.
Use a tuner
The tuner is a small device which operates on a battery. It recognizes the notes your guitar makes and gives you a clear overview of which tone you’re playing. There are all kinds of tuners, but some of the finest models usually don’t cost more than $10 – $15. Check some Best Guitar Tuner Apps
All digital tuners are more or less reliable, but you’ll notice that if you use two tuners to tune your guitar, there’s a chance of error (however miniscule). So, how do you use a tuner?
This device should be mounted on your guitar’s headstock. Modern models can swivel, providing you a better field of view. Now, as soon as you placed the tuner on the head, you should turn it on. Some models require several seconds to “warm up”, but most will be ready for use in seconds.
Once you’ve turned the tuner on, pluck the E string (thickest one). Your tuner will tell you how “close” you are to tuning it – usually, the tuner will display a small arc, in most cases the left side will be green and the right side will be red. For as long as your tuner blimps in “green”, you need to turn the knob “up”, as the string in question is in a lower key (and vice versa).
Once you’ve tuned the first string, you have several options at your disposal. Firstly, you can repeat the pattern with the other five strings – pluck and adjust the knobs in accord to what the tuner displays. Your second option is to mix the two tuning methods, as you’ll only need a properly tuned E string to tune your entire guitar by ear.
Alternatively, you don’t even need to have a traditional digital tuner. You can simply download an application on your smart phone and you’ll always have it with you.
Tuning your guitar by ear
This method is seldom recommended for beginners who have underdeveloped sense of “musical hearing”. The reason for that is quite simple – beginner guitarists simply can’t recognize the tiniest details and frequencies, so you’ll often think that you’ve tuned your guitar just fine while, in fact, you didn’t.
Now, even so, you should get acquainted with the method, as it will help you a great deal in the future. As we have mentioned earlier, you’re going to need a properly tuned E string if you want to tune the rest of them. You can listen to songs that are played in E standard tuning, use tablature software to “write” an E note, or any other method at your disposal.
Once you’ve tuned the E string, the process is fairly simple, although it requires patience. The fifth fret of your E string should sound exactly the same as the open A string. The same applies for the, for example, seventh fret of the E string and the second fret of the A string. That means that these fret positions provide the same pitch.
The only exception is the B string, which should be tuned a semitone lower than any other string if you’re using this method.
While relatively complex and delicate, tuning your guitar by ear will help you develop a stronger sense of hearing. Relying on your tuners can be a good thing, especially with that extra punch of accuracy, but you could use this method as an opportunity to further bolster your skills arsenal.
Lesson 6: Learn to read guitar tab
Let’s move on to something a bit more interesting – guitar tabs. In this lesson we are going to talk about what a guitar tab is, but more importantly, we’ll teach you how to understand all the key features of a tab.
What is a guitar tab?
In essence, a guitar tab (or guitar tablature) is a musical notation which contains finger positions along with all the techniques which are to be used (for example, slides, palm muting, and such). A guitar tab typically has 6 lines while a bass tab has 4 (depending on the number of the strings, naturally).
In order to comprehend what a tab truly is, let’s discuss what a tab is comprised of:
- Lines – represent the guitar strings
- Numbers – represent the finger positions and/or chords
- Fractions – represent the time signature (for example 4/4, or 6/4)
- Palm mutes and muted notes – basic strumming techniques labelled with either “P.M” or an “X”
- Lines with an arrow tip – represent legato slides
- Curved or arced lines – represent hammer-ons and pull-offs
- Straight lines – represent the end of a tact
- Straight lines with two dots – represent the point of repetition
- Wiggly lines – vibrato or wide vibrato
Of course, there are other indicators, but these are the most commonly used ones. Tablature programs, such as Guitar Pro for example, have over a hundred features, and understanding them all might take more than a couple of months. As a beginner, you could memorize only the aforementioned nine.
Palm mutes & dead notes
Most tabs you encounter will have palm mutes, dead notes, or both. Basically, these are strumming techniques which are labelled differently – palm mutes are labelled with “P.M” and dead notes are labelled with an “X”.
Palm muting is a guitar technique where certain notes are played at a lower pitch. The player uses the palm of the picking hand to quiet down the vibrations the strings emit.
Dead notes, or sometimes referred to as muted notes aren’t too much different from palm muted notes. Basically, the only difference is that the notes are even more silent – as much as possible, as a matter of fact.
Bended notes are quite common in virtually all music genres, and an easy way of recognizing them in a tab is as follows – the number indicating the finger positioning will have a curved line with an arrow tip going upward. At the end of the arrow tip you’ll see another number or a text indicating how far the bend is supposed to go. For instance, “full” means two semitones, ½ means a single semitone, and so on.
Bend & release, on the other hand, is somewhat less common but still used in certain tabs. When you see a curved line like we’ve just mentioned continuing the path in the opposite direction, you’ll know that this technique is in question.
Again, here we have a popular guitar technique called “sliding”. So, essentially, sliding indicates a “fretting shift” where the fretting hand doesn’t move away from the fingerboard – it slides from one note to the other. Frankly, the only difference between sliding and hammer-ons is in that the latter involves hammering the next note while sliding covers the full range of notes between the first and the last.
Slides are represented by two lines – one is curved and the other straight. The curved line tells you that a slide should be performed within that tact while the straight line represents the direction. A straight line going down is placed when, for example, you should slide down from fifth fret to the third, and vice versa.
Vibrato is a technique which involves bending and releasing the note in rapid fashion. There are two types of vibrato, but both of them are represented by wobbly lines. The normal vibrato will have these lines atop the notes where it should be performed, whereas a wide vibrato will be marked with a thicker, fuller wobbly line.
In case you get confused about this, the lines will go on for as long as the vibrato should be held. If there are several tones you should play with a vibrato, the line will continue on. Vibrato marks are always placed on top of the notes.
Down-strokes and upstrokes
Down-strokes and upstrokes are basically strumming techniques. Downstriking refers to the fretting hand going down on the strings, and vice versa. So, basically downstrokes are represented by an U-shaped sign (a bit rectangular, in fact) while the upstroke is represented by a V-shaped symbol.
Unlike vibrato marks (which are placed on top of the notes), you’ll see the markings for downstrokes and upstrokes below each note that should be fretted in a particular way.
In most tabs you’ll see fractions at the very beginning. These fractions represent the time signature of either the entire song, or a part of it. Whenever you see a different fraction mid-way through the song, you’ll know that the time signature has changed.
It’s not uncommon that certain songs have several time signature changes, especially in classical music.
Tempo refers to the speed at which the song is supposed to be played. Just like the case with the time signature, the mark is always placed at the beginning of the tab, usually on top of the time signature fraction.
There are two ways by which you can recognize the tempo indicator – it’s either textual, such as intermezzo, moderate, and such, or it’s a number. The first is theoretical in nature while the second indicates BPM, or beats per minute.
Musicians have all kinds of habits, so it’s not uncommon to see a special marking unique to the tab you’re looking at in that particular moment. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see a tab with nearly all indicators changed – whenever you see something that doesn’t add up, it’s most likely that the musician who made the tab has placed those indicators in order to help himself (or herself) remember a tricky passage.
Lesson 7: Finger positioning
We’ve got the basics, so what’s next? In this lesson we will talk about finger positioning. If you think that simply placing your fingers on the fretboard will result in riffs, chords, and melodies, you’re in for a good time.
Every finger serves its purpose when it comes to playing a guitar, and we’re here to show you how to properly place them on the fretboard.
How to properly position your fingers
In a nutshell, the thumb provides support, the index usually plays the main notes while the other fingers follow up.
However, the proper finger positioning is not as simple as that. Namely, the situation changes in accord to what you play – shredding and arpeggio techniques require you to line up your fingers in a progressive motion whereas chords should be fretted all at the same time. Let’s see what each finger does before moving on.
If you’re an immediate beginner, you might have had the urge to try fretting a note or two with your thumb. It’s quite normal and common, as this finger is the closest and requires the least amount of motion to press on a fret. However, this is a habit you’ll want to avoid and erase as soon as possible.
The thumb should be used as a support – placing it on the neck will relieve some of the stress you put on your wrist, allowing you to position your other fingers more easily.
Now, you might’ve seen professionals move the thumb from behind the neck to the fingerboard – but what you probably didn’t see is that they don’t use it to press on a fret. Certain fast-paced techniques will eventually urge you to move your thumb from its natural position, and that’s completely fine for as long as you compromise the, now lost, support with the palm of your hand.
Index finger position
The index finger is the first finger you want to get into shape. Most people with an average anatomy have increased flexibility when this finger is in question, which is why beginners tend to fret single notes naturally with it.
Of course, the index finger is also the first to grip a chord – doing it any other way is pretty hard to imagine because your fingers would get on top of each other in the process.
An interesting thing about the index finger is that you can pull off certain chords with it alone. These chords are often referred to as bars or bare chords.
Middle finger position
The middle finger’s position is usually in the middle of a chord – while the index and ring finger prance around, the middle finger is usually in the same spot throughout several chords.
Now, the main function of the middle finger comes out into play for guitarists who like to use the vibrato technique. It’s true that this particular technique can be performed with any other finger, but the middle one just does the job more easily.
Ring finger and the pinky
When it comes to chords, the ring finger and the pinky are either completely passive, or they come last. As for the solo and shredding techniques, you can say that these fingers are the extensions which make arpeggios and other fast-paced techniques easier. As a beginner, you’ll probably want to consider practicing with these fingers last.
A few tips to make finger positioning easier
Now that you have a basic idea of each finger’s function, we’ll provide a couple of tips which will hopefully make it even easier for you.
Make sure your wrist is relaxed
Generally, the main reason why you want to make your wrist feel as relaxed as possible is to avoid stressing your hand and fingers. Beginners usually experience mild pain when they first start to feel the strings out, and it’s easy to accumulate the unnecessary tension
You can perform wrist exercises to get rid of the cramped muscle feeling, or you could pause for several minutes until you feel okay again. The only thing that you need to remember is that tense wrist leads to tense grip – poor accuracy and generally bad-sounding notes are sure to follow.
Curl the fingers before you play a note/chord
By curling the fingers, the notes you play will sound more pronounced. This will come naturally as you practice, but it might be worth your while to pay attention to this detail early on.
The main part of your finger which presses down a fret is the fingertip, and there’s simply no better way of positioning it than by curling your fingers.
Keep the fingers as close to the fingerboard as possible
Most beginners focus on nailing down a couple of notes, or even a chord – after that, the fingers are frequently taken off from the fretboard until the guitarist composes himself (or herself) again. While your playing style won’t suffer if you don’t make a habit out of keeping the fingers close to the fingerboard, this will substantially help with your fretting readiness and accuracy.
Rotate the wrist instead of “hunting” the note you want to play
Beginners, especially those who favor practicing songs via tabs, are often in a rush to improve their skills. One of the biggest mistakes when it comes to playing is “hunting” the note you want to play.
For example, imagine that you’re playing a power chord on an open E string and the second fret of the A string. Would it feel natural to rush over to the tenth fret of the A string just to play that harmonic you’ve learned yesterday?
Remember, you can play notes in several ways – frets at the 5th position (usually) sound the same as the string below when played openly. Rotating your wrist will save you time, energy, and will help you make a habit of playing notes in the easiest way possible.
Lesson 8: Learning the basic 7 Guitar chords ( A major, C major,G major, D major, A minor 7, E major and Em (E minor)
What are Guitar chords?
Chords are, essentially, groups of notes played together. Most theoreticians state that a chord should be comprised of at least three notes, although rock and metal musicians would beg to disagree, as they’ve invented a “power chord” which can be played with only two notes strummed together.
Types of Guitar chords
There are different types of chords, but for this lesson we’ve decided to show you how to play the most basic ones, most of which are major. The music theory differentiates major, minor, augmented, and diminished chords. As a beginner, you should know the difference between major and minor chords for start.
Major chords typically sound joyful while minor chords are mellow and somewhat depressing. Technically speaking, a major chord is always comprised of a major 3rd and a perfect 5th, minor chords are comprised of a minor 3rd and a perfect 5th, diminished chords have a minor 3rd and a diminished 5th, and augmented chords have a major 3rd and an augmented 5th.
There are several ways to play the A major chord, but let’s try to simplify this, already simple chord. For starters, you’ll want to try nailing down this one with only three fingers – your index finger, your middle finger, and your ring finger (we’ll call them 1, 2, and 3 respectively).
Use your index finger to cover the first fret of the E, B, and E1 strings – form a bar chord firmly, or your other fingers might lack the strength to produce accurate sounds. Now that you’ve handled the “1”, let’s proceed to the number “2” – your middle finger.
Basically, you just have to fret the 2nd fret of the G string without losing the grip on the bar chord we just mentioned. Lastly, you’ll have to pull another bar chord over the 3rd fret of the A, and D strings – don’t worry, this bar chord will be significantly easier to grasp and hold.
It’s no wonder you’ve wasted time searching for a C major fingering position online – there’s a famous coding program called C sharp, which just happens to be the synonym for this chord. Jokes aside, this chord is relatively harder to pull off when compared to A sharp, but it’s still pretty basic and easy.
Again, start with a bar chord over the first frets of the E1 and G strings, but this time skip the B string. You could press on it as well, but there’s no need to, as your middle finger will press on the second fret on that string.
The reason why we’ve said that this chord is a bit harder than A sharp is because you’ll have to use your pinky as well. Your ring finger is supposed to be placed on the third fret of the D string, and your pinky should fall onto the fourth fret of the A string. Notice that your fingers will be pretty far apart, but don’t feel discouraged if you don’t manage to do it straight off the bat.
We’re moving on up the fingerboard. The G sharp chord begins with a barre chord on the fourth fret of the E, A, D, and G strings and progresses further with the index finger pressing on the fifth fret of the G string.
Now you might want to practice that particular finger positioning, as what follows isn’t exactly a breeze. Press on the sixth fret of the A string, and follow up with your ring finger on the sixth fret of the D string. So far, so good, right? If you want to break this chord down and play note by note, your number “1” is the bar chord, the number “2” is the fifth fret of the G string, after which the number “3” is the sixth fret of the A string, and your “4” is the sixth fret of the D string.
There are several ways to play the D major chord, but the simplest way is to begin at the third frets on the G and E1 strings. Add your middle finger on the fourth fret of the B string and your pinky on the fifth fret of the D string.
Another way would be to play two bar chords – form the first bar chord on the sixth fret of the E, A, and E1 strings, and the second one on the eight fret of the D, G, and B strings.
To play the A minor chord, play the A string open, press on the second fret of the D and G strings, and press on the first fret of the B string. Alternatively, form a bar chord on the fifth fret of E, G, B, and E1 strings and press on the seventh fret of the A and D strings.
E major is, perhaps, the easiest chord to play. Simply play the E, B, and E1 strings openly, press on the second fret of the A and D strings, and press the first fret of the G string. If this feels hard for you, feel free to exclude the B and E1 strings (although they are open).
On the other hand, if you think that the first variation of the Emaj chord is too easy, you can try starting on the 2nd fret of the D string, press on the 4th frets of the G and E strings, and end with the 5th fret on the B string.
This is, without any doubt, the easiest chord in every guitarist’s arsenal. Simply play the E string openly and press on the second frets of the A and D strings. Alternatively, start at the seventh fret of the A string while holding the same fret of the E1 string. Press on the eighth fret of the B string and the ninth fret of the D and G strings.
Lesson 9: Changing Guitar chords
Now that you’ve learnt how to play some of the most basic chords, it’s time to put theory into practice. What does “changing chords” mean? Simply put, it means that you’re going to play several chords, one after another. This is definitely the hardest part of your road as a beginner, but once you get the hang of it, there will be no stopping you.
Changing chords – basics
Changing chords means breaking your fingers – you should be as flexible as possible here, as the difficulty of this lesson depends solely on you. Now, we’ve ran over the basic 7 chords, and if we’re to play them together, you should probably invest a week or two of constant practice, as playing them consecutively requires quite a lot of effort.
If you feel confident enough that you can proceed, let’s go straight to the fundamentals of changing chords.
Take it slow
We’ve mentioned several times that beginners usually have the urge to get over the “boring” starting lessons, fueled by rockstar dreams and such. If you really want to master changing chords (let alone more delicate guitar techniques), you’ll need patience. A lot of it.
Take one chord and don’t proceed onto the next until you’ve managed to play it perfectly at least three or four times in a row. After that, take another chord and repeat the process. This might as well be your first exercises which you can upgrade with as many chords as you like – for as long as you remember to take it slow.
Practice consistently, as repetition builds up muscle memory
As a beginner, you’ll mainly rely on your “brain” memory. You probably have a notebook or use your PC to “study” chords and other guitar techniques, but that’s not all there is to “changing chords”. Namely, most professional guitarists will tell you that they know over hundreds of chord variations by “heart” – we’re talking about muscle memory.
For as long as you practice, this muscle memory will grow. This means that you’ll have to “think less while achieving the same goals”.
If you miss out on a day or two of practice, you’ll probably have to consult with our “Basic Chords Lesson” while trying to remember which finger goes where. If you miss out on a week or two, you’ll have to take another step back. By practicing constantly, you will manage to actually remember more and more chords, which will make the entire “changing chords” part substantially easier.
Don’t be afraid to try different finger positioning
If you remember our previous lesson, most chords can be played in several ways while still sounding the same (although in a different key). You will end up “breaking your fingers” in a metaphorical sense if you try to do everything by the book.
You shouldn’t be afraid to experiment and try out different finger positioning, as certain ways of fingering the chords will either feel more comfortable or natural.
Practice your timing – get a metronome
No matter how talented you are, most beginners have a sloppy chord changing technique. You’re likely to play some chords faster (the ones you’ve practiced for countless hours) and some slower (the ones that you didn’t particularly like), so if you really get your chord changing technique into shape, we suggest that you buy a metronome.
This is, basically, a small device that emits ticks in regular intervals with pinpoint accuracy. You can customize the speed of beats-per-minute yourself, but we suggest that you don’t go faster than 80 or 90 for start. Later on, you can go as far as 120 beats per minute, or even higher.
Basic chord changing exercises
There are a couple of exercises we would like to recommend to you. All of them aim to help improve your technique, reduce the sloppiness, and increase your fretting accuracy.
1. Time attack
During this exercise you’ll try to pull off as many pre-determined chords as possible. Pick out two, maybe three chords that you feel familiar with and get a timer. Set the time somewhere in between thirty seconds and one minute and start.
Either count the number of chords you managed to play during the time gap or ask a friend to do it for you. Write the number down, as it will be your personal high score. You can customize this exercise further by adding more chords or by reducing (or adding) the time. The point is that you’ll have a score which you should aim to beat on a daily basis.
2. Tempo shift
For the previous exercise you needed a timer, and now you will need a metronome. If you don’t know how to download a metronome app and if you don’t have one at home, installing a tablature software might help, as most modern programs have them.
Now, this exercise branches off in two variations – you’ll need a friend to help you out either way. First, set a pre-determined tempo and try to stick with it for as long as possible. If you manage to pull off five (or more) chords, you can say that this exercise is completed successfully.
Now, the second part of this exercise is trickier. Teach your friend how to use a metronome if he (or she) doesn’t know already, and instruct him (or her) to change the tempo at random intervals. For instance, you will play at 90 beats per minute for approximately 10 seconds, then you’ll slow down the pace at 60 beats per minute for 8 seconds after which you can speed up to 100 beats, and so on.
Note that both of these exercises are meant to be as hard or as easy as you want them to be. If you want to improve, don’t stick with the pattern for too long – add additional elements, pick up the pace, and add as many chords as possible once you start to get a hang of it. Remember, whenever it starts to feel easy, it’s time to change the level of difficulty.
Lesson 10: Two basic chord progressions
Now, in this lesson, we are going to learn all about the chord progression and everything that goes with it. For starters, you should know that there are more than just two chord progressions when it comes to guitar playing.
Besides that, as a beginner, you really don’t need to worry about learning all the chord progressions since you probably wouldn’t be even able to master them all. In that light, let’s talk about the two basic chord progressions that you can start with.
Let’s start with the basics, and later on, we will discuss everything that you need to know about two basic chord progressions.
About Chord Progression in General
In order to learn about basic chord progressions, you first need to know what exactly a chord progression is. Anyhow, a chord progression is also known as a harmonic progression and it indicates the succession of musical chords.
This succession of musical chords is usually made out of the two or more notes that are sounded simultaneously. So, this means that chord progression actually is a set of tones and notes that are played simultaneously in order to make music.
To understand this stuff better, you should also know that chord progressions are one of the main foundation of Westren popular music styles and genres. Since there are lots of different genres and styles in today’s music work, we can come to a conclusion that chord progressions are the defining feature that describes the melody and rhythm in the songs.
Learn the Basics
The most important thing to understand when it comes to chords is that they can be built upon any note that can be found on a musical scale. This means that a seven-note scale will have seven basic chords. Also, we should mention that a chord that is built upon the G note is actually a G chord that belongs to the same type.
So, a chord progression actually is quite complex, but, everyone can learn about it and master it after some time.
Two Easy Guitar Chord Progressions for Beginners
First of all, you need to tune your guitar perfectly. Don’t even start learning about the chord progression if your guitar is even slightly out of tune. You will actually need to work with both your hands and your ears in order to learn these chord progressions. So, let’s start.
It is recommendable to start with the ‘’first position’’ or so called ‘’open chords’’. This is especially good for beginners since these chords are quite close to the nut and they utilize a regular number of strings. You will actually be able to learn the basics with these chords in no time. Also, remember that the best chords to play when you are in the learning process are Em, C, G, and D.
The next chord that you need to learn in order to fully master chord progression is the C minor chord. Now, this chord is easy to play since you only need to strum the top five strings that are actually making the highest-sound. It goes like this.
Now, when practicing this exact chord, you should definitely have these next few things on your mind.
- The notes of the chord should be played individually. This means that you need to make sure that all the notes are perfectly clear and that they sound crisp and loud.
- When practicing these chords, you should switch between them and keep a steady beat and rhythm. The goal is to keep playing and not to stop. Switching chords while playing will definitely help you to learn these chords in no time.
After you learned how to hit these chords, you are now ready to learn about chord progression.
Chord progression and roman numerals
If you’re interested in music theory, the chord progressions and their natural order can be easily understood by implementing the roman numerals system:
For major key chord progressions, the numerals are as follows:
I – Major
ii – minor
iii – minor
IV – Major
V – Major
vi – minor
For minor key chord progressions, the numerals are as follows:
i – minor
ii – diminished
III – major
Iv – minor
v – minor
VI – major
VII – major
Chord Progression in a major key – C
Basically, this is one of the easiest chord progressions you could practice if you’re not too fond of repetition (an easier example would simply be C-Dm-C-Em, played in a loop). The C Major chord progression starts off with a C chord, progressing into D minor, onto E minor, later at F, G, A minor, and ending with the B diminished chord. To put it simply, it would go like this: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim.
Chord progressions in a major key are in no way harder to play than chord progressions in a minor key, although the finger positions are relatively less demanding, in a sense. That’s just one of the reasons why you should start with this exercise before proceeding to the next example.
Chord Progression in a minor key – Am
Since A minor is one of the easiest and most versatile chords, we’ll use it as a base for our next chord progression exercise. Basically, you should start off with the Am, than continue with a diminished B chord, later onto the C and D minor, progressing further into E minor, F, and ending with a G. So, it would look like Am, Bdim, C, Dm, Em, F, and G.
This is a popular chord progression which could not only serve as a good exercise, but you’re bound to learn at least a dozen songs this way. Essentially, the only difference between the chord progression sequence found in the minor keys and the major keys can be seen in their order. The similarity, on the other hand, is that both chord progression systems are comprised of three Majors, three minors, and a single diminished chord group.
Lesson 11: Beginner strumming lessons
We’re nearing to the stage where you will be able to play your very first song. This lesson will help you improve your strumming technique, where we will talk about what strumming is in general, the difference between the strumming and the fretting hand, after which we’ll go over a few easy exercises.
What is strumming in general?
The word “strumming” refers to the most basic guitar playing technique. It refers to plucking the strings with your strumming hand, and there are several ways by which you can do it (which we mentioned in the previous lessons). Downstrokes refer to strumming down the strings, upstrokes refer to the opposite, and there’s the palm mute technique which refers to strumming the strings a bit more silently.
Difference between a strumming and fretting hand
The strumming hand is your right hand if you’re a right-handed person while the fretting hand is the one which presses the frets, it’s quite self-explanatory. While strumming is naturally performed with the hand which is holding a pick, there are certain techniques where this does not apply – for instance, hammer-ons, pull-offs, sliding, and tapping techniques produce notes without the use of the fretting hand.
Strumming symbols used in tabs
There are three symbols you need to remember – the inverse “U” stands for a downstroke, the “V” stands for upstroke, and the “P.M” stands for palm muted notes. You might encounter “X” shaped symbols which refer to dead notes, but you won’t need it for the exercises we’ve prepared for you.
Strumming exercises for beginners
The beginner strumming exercises you’ll see below will help you master the most basic strumming techniques – upstrokes, downstrokes, and palm muting. Keep in mind that these exercises are meant for immediate beginners and players who have the least bit of strumming knowledge.
1. Downstroke strumming
Ideally, you should use only the open E string for start. Strum down the string four times in regular intervals using fourth notes (1/4). Repeat this a couple of times before it starts to feel natural. You will probably get bored pretty quickly, so spice it up by breaking fourths into eights without changing the tempo.
Again, when this starts to feel natural and cozy, try picking up the pace a bit by some 5-10 beats per minute. Continue speeding up the tempo until you’ve reached a point when you need to strain your brain to keep up with the metronome.
Once you feel like you’ve mastered the downstroke strumming technique on an open string, try doing it while pressing onto different frets. For example, start with four fourths on an open E string, than play four notes on the 3rd fret of the E string, four notes on the 5th fret of the E string, and four notes on the 7th fret of the E string. Always try to practice with either 4/4, 8/4, 12/4, or 16/4.
The last part of this exercise involves two strings. Play the first 8 notes like in the previous part of the exercise, and instead of pressing onto the 5th fret of the E string, press the 3rd fret of the A string, and finish up with the 5th fret on the A string. You could repeat the entire exercise with upstrokes instead of downstrokes.
Ideally, you should try out each string to feel how they vibrate, but that’s the part where we talk about accuracy, and not strumming in general.
2. Downstrokes and upstrokes
Downstrokes feel easier than upstrokes, more natural, which is just one of the reasons why this exercise is somewhat harder.
Just like in the previous exercise, begin with an open string. Pluck it with a downstroke, than with an upstroke, and follow the pattern until you’ve gotten it right several times. Make sure to alternate between downstrokes and upstrokes 1-for-1, as any other way will eventually confuse you.
The second part of this exercise involves open E and open A string. Pluck the E string with a downstroke and the A string with an upstroke. Repeat until you feel like you can proceed.
For the third part of this exercise, use an open E string and the 3rd fret of the A string while everything else should remain the same – downstroke E, upstroke A. This should help improve your hand coordination.
The last part of this exercise involves fretting both E and A strings. You’ll notice that it’s harder to alternate between downstrokes and upstrokes while you focus on pressing the right frets. This part will require a bit more time and concentration, but it will help you improve both your fretting and your strumming accuracy.
3. Palm mutes
The last strumming exercise is based on palm muted notes. Now, in order to properly mute the strings with your palm, you should adjust your strumming hand’s position if you didn’t pay attention to our first lessons – the thumb and the index finger should hold the pick while your other fingers should be extended towards the floor.
To palm mute, place your palm on the strings and let it gently fall in its most natural position. You should pivot your hand a bit until you find the correct spot. Now that you know how to palm mute, let’s get straight to the exercise.
Since palm muting is easier if you do it on fretted notes, we will skip the open strings part. Press on the notes you feel most comfortable with (for example, 1st fret of the E string and 3rd fret of the A string). Pluck the strings a bit until you no longer need to focus on your fretting arm.
Now, without pausing focus on your strumming hand. Pivot it back and forth until you can maintain the palm muting position without losing your fretting accuracy. This should be enough to get you going, but if you manage to handle this exercise relatively quick, you can add more notes to the chain – each note will significantly increase the difficulty of this exercise.
Lesson 12: Let’s play our first song!
We’re done with the basics – by now you have all the knowledge necessary to use the fundamental guitar techniques, so it’s safe to say that you are ready to play your very first song. Since you already have what it takes, you should consider this lesson as a guide, rather than instructions.
Step 1 – pick an easy song
Most guitarists have taken up their instrument in hopes that the first song they’ll play will be the one that inspired them to actually buy the guitar. Sadly, this is hardly the case – the awe-inspiring solos and slick riffs require years of experience. That’s the reason why your first song should be an easy one.
Ideally, pick a song with repetitive chords or riffs where guitars are pronounced (for an example, most people start off with “Smoke on the water”). Additionally, this song shouldn’t be too fast-paced, as playing along the song is much harder than playing with a metronome.
Lastly, you should avoid songs which were composed in odd tunings – open, dropped, or exceptionally low tunings such as, for example A standard.
Step 2 – recognize the chords, or at least the tuning
Now that you’ve selected the song you want to play, it’s time to put your hearing to the test. Believe it or not, you’ve completed a series of exercises by now and your sense of “musical” hearing has developed in turn.
If you have indeed picked an easy song, recognizing the chords shouldn’t be too much of an issue for you. In the case that you can’t figure out which chords are used, just find a YouTube video and look at the guitarist’s fingers. Even if you can’t see the fingers, you should be at least capable of figuring out the tuning.
Step 2* – find a tab
In case that you can neither recognize the chords or find a proper video online, you have to rely on tablatures. There are online sites which specialize in hosting guitar tablatures which could either be downloaded or browsed directly, such as Ultimate Guitar for example.
Step 3 – re-tune your guitar
Even if you have followed our advice in regard to tuning your guitar, there’s a chance that the song you’ve picked isn’t in the Standard E tuning. If that’s the case, use a tuner and re-tune it. The best case scenario is that both your guitar is still in tune and the song you’ve picked is in the E standard, in which case you can skip this step.
Step 4 – break the song into fragments and learn how to play each one separately
Since all things are in order so far, you should break down the song you’ve picked into several smaller fragments. Most songs start off with an intro riff, after which comes the verse, an optional passage, than refrain, then it’s verse again, the second refrain, and the end. Of course, there are songs that are comprised of a single riff, but the chances are that you didn’t pick out a song that features a single chord.
In the best case scenario where the song actually has only one chord progression, break it into chords and play them separately. Harder songs have different lines for each passage.
Step 5 – play the first two fragments, than add the third, and so on
The easiest songs which are comprised of a single riff have at least one chord progression. Play the first two chords and repeat them until you can play them by heart. Once you feel comfortable enough to proceed, play the third and fourth chord in the same fashion and continue doing so until you’ve completed the entire progression.
If the song you’ve picked is neither too easy or too hard, you’ll have to deal with several chord progressions, to say the very least. Once you’re done with the first, take some time and stay focused until you’ve learnt the second, the third, and as many progressions the song features.
Step 6 – close the tab, shut the song off, play it in its entirety by yourself
Now that you’ve come so close to the finishing line, it’s time to test yourself. Close the tab and pause the song – try playing it from the beginning to the end. Even if you fail to remember certain parts, that’s completely alright, as it happens even to the best of guitarists. The key here is to remain persistent and to finish what you’ve started.
To check if you’ve done it properly, unpause the song and try to play along. You’ll notice that it’s easier with the backing instruments, but even so, you’re now skilled enough to play a song. Congratulations, you can now consider yourself as a proper guitarist!
You’ve learned how to play a song – what now?
The road to become a great musician is a long one, and it’s safe to say that the more you know, the more you’ll have to learn. Playing your very first song is a huge step forward, and it’s up to you to decide which path you’ll take to improve your skills – you’ve got the basics down, but there’s still plenty of things that await you.
After learning your first song, the second will fall at least twice as easy, and by the time you’ve picked out your third song you’ll probably be able to master it within a couple of hours, if not less.
Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The songs you learn to play will appear more difficult as you practice and get more skilled. You’ll start to notice details you otherwise didn’t (or couldn’t) – these details are usually techniques you are still unfamiliar with.
We’ve given you the know-how regarding the basics of strumming, fretting, finger positioning, chords, and chord progression, so the next logical step would be to move on to the advanced level. Hammer-ons, pull-offs, sliding, vibrato, tapping, fingerstyle, shredding, divebombs – these are all advanced-level techniques which await you on your way of becoming a great guitarist.