5 Things Every Beginner Guitarist Must Learn

Master these and be able to play anything.

Ultimate Guitar
When playing a guitar you are always doing something from one of these five skill categories. The physical demands of playing guitar takes time to develop. Much of the skills used in creating chords relies on developing muscle memory skills. This will require repeated practice over a sustained period of time. With the help of a good teacher and dedication for 12 months to the instrument you should become a proficient and knowledgeable guitarist.


We use notes playing riffs, practicing scales or in guitar solos. This can be done by just hitting a string, known as playing an open string. To create other notes you will need to press a finger down on a string against the fretboard of the guitar. By moving up the string you make the pitch of the note higher.

Placing your finger in the middle of the fret or towards the metal of the fret wire will create the best sound. If you place a finger to far back in the fret you will start to hear a dead sound. Try and play using the tip of your finger rather that the fleshy part. This will create better sound, known as tone.

Power Chords

Playing two or more notes together creates a chord. The easiest chords to create on a guitar are power chords. They can be played using two fingers. While physically easier to create they are not just used for simple guitar playing. Power chords are the sound of rock music.

I recommend learning power chords as the first type of chords you start playing on a guitar. They will help you develop hand strength needed to form more demanding hand shapes.

Open Chords

The next challenge for guitar players is starting using more fingers to create larger chords. Unlike power chords where you have one shape to learn, open chords require learning a combination of different finger shapes.

Open chords are much more physically demanding to learn as we try and form the shapes. It is also a challenge to remember where to place your fingers. I recommend learning open chords over the course of a couple of months. First learn the shapes. Do not be concerned about the sound at this stage, just where to place your fingers. You can not improve the sound of a chord unless you know how to create the correct finger shape. Next concentrate on sound improvements and where to strum from. Finally start trying to change from one chord to another. Look for the smoothest passage between one chord to the next.

Barre Chords

Open chords only give us a limited amount of the chords needed to be played in music. As a guitarists we at least need to learn ways to play all major and minor chords. There are 12 major and 12 minor chords to learn. Barre chords fills the gaps left behind by only learning open chords. Like power chords these shapes are moveable. By learning one shape you can make multiple chords. It will help you to learn the note positions of 6th and 5th strings. This will make finding where to play certain chords simple.

There are four barre chord shapes to learn when playing major and minor chords. Learn major and minor shapes for 6th string and 5th string.

Jazz Chords

This is a miscellaneous category of chords that are created with four or more notes. The way to recognize a jazz chord is when there is a number in the title, such as C major 7. The chords are not only used in jazz songs. These chords can be played with open chords and barre chords skills. Jazz chords add extra color to the sound of major and minor chords. If you are unaware how to create the chord you can remove the numbers associated with the name and play a simple major or minor. This will at least get you through the song you are learning. It will lack the special character associated with the additional notes a jazz chord contains.

Learn about these 5 topic areas and you are well on the way to being a confident guitarist.

14 comments sorted by best / new / date

    A couple of corrections - "When playing a guitar you are always doing something from one of these five skill categories", sure, you're always playing notes. But 4 of these categories are basically only about chords and could be condensed to one category, "chords". While chords are useful and all, only learning chords is pretty one-sided practice. Melody and rhythm are huge areas of music that should not be ignored, especially by a beginner guitarist. "Playing two or more notes together creates a chord." - Not really, you do need three notes to establish a chord. Two notes make up an interval, a power chord for example is usually a fifth. Just a nitpick. Overall, I'm not a huge fan of articles like this. Instead of teaching something, you just type a list about things you should learn. I don't think a lesson like this teaches anything, it just gives some pointers. Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, I'd just like to see some proper lessons and not these list articles.
    Rhys Lett ESSM
    This is an introduction article for people that either haven't played guitar or have just started learning. It introduces someone to the language that they will hear in lessons, on YouTube or articles they look up. No probs, you can call them power intervals if you like!!!
    What bothered me is calling all chords with four or more notes "jazz chords." Seventh chords go all the way back to Bach. And ninth chords go back almost as far. Now Gmin7 add b11 is definitely a jazz chord, but not CM7. It IS jazz notation I guess, but not a jazz chord. Another nitpick, sorry!
    Rhys Lett ESSM
    It is a generalisation I use as a miscellaneous collection of chords that are 4 notes or more. It is not a label that means these are only used in jazz, but do give a more complex harmonic value like used in jazz. Much like the label of Blues scale.
    Thanks for the Jazz Chord tip of dropping the number and just playing the major or minor. As someone who knows little-to-no theory, this clarifies those chords with numbers.
    The one thing that really unlocked theory for me was realising that chords are named for the scale numbers of the notes in them. So if you're in C major, you've got the 8 white keys on the piano: 1- C 2- D 3- E 4- F 5- G 6- A 7- B 8- C (octave) And a major chord - in this case C major - is made up of the root (1- C), the major 3rd (3- E) and the 5th (5- G). If you've got the Cmajor7 (normally abbreviated to Cmaj7 or CM7) from the article, you just add the 7th note to the chord, in this case B. So your Cmaj7 chord is: C, E, G, B. If you wanted a Cb5 (C major with a flattened 5th), you flatten the 5th note (5- G) down a semitone to Gb, and your Cb5 chord is C, E, Gb. (this isn't quite what this chord is called, but the distinction isn't really important atm) And if you wanted a Csus4 chord, you're obviously going to have the 4th note (4- D) in there. For reasons that aren't really clear from just this numbers idea, the fact that it's a sus chord means it's suspended, and the note that gets suspended is the note that gives a chord its character - the 3rd. So in this case you suspend the third (3- E) and use the 4th (4- D) in its place. So your Csus4 chord is C, D, G. Hopefully that makes a bit of sense, because the concept's really useful for pretty much every part of your playing if you're getting by on your ear at the moment. When it comes to the other chords in a key, for example, you know that the 6th chord in the key of C is going to be some kind of A chord, because the 6th note in the key of C is A. And, if you go a bit further, you'll know that it's an Am chord, because the 3rd note up from A in the key of C is C, and the 5th note up is E (remember from before when C major was made up of the root note, the 3rd note and the 5th note?). A, C and E make an Am chord. So if you're writing a song in C major (or trying to figur one out) you'd know that Am is in the same key and is pretty much always open to use. And you'd also know that the other chords in C major must be based on the notes in that key, so the other chords will be some kind of D, E, F, G and B chords. Aaaand if you counted up the 3rd and 5th notes from all *those* notes, you'd find that it's D, Em, F, G and Bdim, but I think this is long enough. Hopefully the basic concept of that makes sense, once you start thinking about what you're playing in those terms it becomes pretty ingrained.
    Thank you Damascus, That is priceless information for the self taught. Music theory has always been greek to me, and now after reading this,I feel like I just started beginning to understand it a little. Some people have a problem processing information properly, and I feel that you just simplified it a little..Thank You
    As a newer player kevathuri makes a great point. It's nice to hear from you players out there what we need to learn but posting a small lesson is much appreciated if that's possible or at least give me a quick link you've seen that's actually good & instructive. Thanks to all you players for taking the time to post stuff that helps us new guys. It's really cool stuff for us!
    I agree. It's good for us new guys to hear some of the most basic stuff. Just knowing it took two months to manage some cords will make me keep playing. Thanks....
    It's really true that you should spend a few months on the open chords, I don't even know how long it took me. And I still can't barre on my acoustic in anything like an acceptable manner. Advice: stick with it, don't get discouraged. Also, if you have a $50 guitar you're probably making it too hard on yourself, because having a bad guitar makes playing harder. Then it's less fun and more discouraging and just takes longer. More advice: use your fingers to play chords (well, not power chords). It will hurt at first, but so will fretting the guitar. Let both hands share in the pain! You'll thank me later when it improves your strumming tone.You get the nicest sound from an acoustic when you use your fingers, and you won't be tethered to your pick if you can pick up any guitar and start playing.
    I think it's a good introduction for the newbie. Starting out can be very frustrating, between calasses, rist cramps, finger cramps, tenden cramps, learning how to change chords,and all that wonderful stuff. it feels rewarding in the beginning when you can make something sound good, and it gives you the incentive to push forward. it's one of those things where you do something over and over and you just can't seem to get it right, and then you wake up one day, and wahla..you got it.