Beginner Lesson I: The Basics

This particular series, as the title implies, is going to be on beginner guitar; The Basics.

Ultimate Guitar
This particular series, as the title implies, is going to be on beginner guitar; The Basics. Please keep in mind, this is the very beginning. There will be no theory, no fretboard work, or ridiculous fingering going on. I will keep that for a later day once you are comfortable.

So, you have your tuner, metronome, and your guitar. Tune your guitar, (I'll talk about tuning in a different article), sit up straight and let's get started!

The very first thing I want a beginner to keep in mind is that when learning guitar please keep two very important things in mind:

1) You will get what you put into it
2) Be patient

Believe me, with some practice and some patience, you will persevere.

Now with a student that has been doodling around or needs some direction, I would start simple and go from there. Some students pick up faster than others, so depending on progress I would move forward and challenge them.

I) Strings and Frets

Can you name them? In my first article I did talk a little about this, however for the sake of this lesson, I will go into this a little more. (If you know this, please skip ahead).

Your strings (learn more about strings at UG Wiki here) are labeled one thru six. The thinnest being one and the thickest being six. Now, one is your top string and six is your bottom. Simple, right? Let us put a name to the strings. Starting with first string or string one if you will:
1 = E (Thinnest)
2 = B
3 = G
4 = D
5 = A
6 = E (Thickest)
Here is my little acronym starting from bottom to top:
Elephants (6) - Always (5) - Do (4) - Good (3) - Before(2) - Eating (1)

As I said before, adults will laugh at it because it sounds silly and children will laugh because it is silly. Say it out loud! Remember, guitar is fun and learning should be fun as well.

On the neck of guitar you will notice the metal strips that divide the guitar neck into blocks. These blocks are frets (learn more about frets at UG Wiki here). Starting from the first just count up: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc...

II) Tab and chord charts

You must know how to read tabs and chord charts at the very least. I do teach notation as well, however I will save that for a later lesson. (Again, if you know this part, skip ahead). (Again, check out more about tabs at UG Wiki).

I am a bit limited as far as graphics go, however, if you google a chord chart or if you have one, you will notice it is a grid. The vertical lines are the strings and the horizontal lines are the frets. Usually a chord chart will just have circles and X's. The circles show what to play and X show you what NOT to play.

Tablature or tab is a collection or horizontal lines that signify your strings from high to low.

Example 1:
Now, when you see numbers on these lines that signifies the frets. If you see a 0 (zero), that just means you play the string open.

Example 2:
Make sense so far?

In the next example you will notice two chords. Actually, it is the same chord, but played differently. On the left you would play all the notes together and on the right you would play each note separately.

Example 3:

III) Simple Chords

The first chord I would like to start with is E minor. Why? Because the fingering is so simple. Start by placing your middle finger on the A string, second fret and your ring finger, second fret. Play each string individually. You must be able to hear each string.

Example 4:
E |------------0--------------
B |----------0----------------
G |--------0------------------
D |------2--------------------
A |-----2----------------------
E |---0------------------------
Some tips:
  • Play on your finger tips, not the pads. Sometimes your fingers will touch the other strings. That is useful on some occasion, but not for this chord.
  • Make sure your finger nails are cut short. I have had student not able to do anything because their finger nails are so long that they touch the fretboard instead of their fingers.
  • Take it slow.
  • Now, this is the hardest to do...relax.
Remember, you are new and you do not have calluses built up on your fingers tips. That will happen over time and your grip will loosen up.

Let us try another.

This is A major. Same concept as before; place your middle finger on the D string, second fret; ring finger on the G string, second fret; and your pinky on the B string, second fret. With this chord however, you will NOT play the low E string. What I want you to do is place your thumb over the neck, just touching the low E. This will mute that string so when playing the A major chord you will not hear the low E.

Example 5:

IV) Practice

Play each chord until you have each note sounding correctly. Once you have mastered each chord, try switching between them. E minor to A major back to E minor. Remember practice slowly.

V) Conclusion

Today we talked about:
  • I) Strings and frets
  • II) Chord and tab charts
  • III) E minor and A major chords
I know that this lesson is very generic, however it is very difficult to gauge everyone that is not in front of you. Each student I teach is always different; 6 years old or 20, big hands, small hands, but the concepts are the same.

One thing I would like to say and this is advice I give all my students. Have fun with your instrument. Take time out to explore and experiment. If you play electric guitar, turn it up and make noise! Most great ideas come from such moments.

Take your time, slow down and have fun!

Any questions or comments?
Contact me. I would be more than happy to answer your questions.


21 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This is great, thank you so much! I'm absolutely new and this is a welcoming, and easy to follow way to begin! I look forward to progressing thorough your other posts Thanks a bunch friend!
    That was so Awesome. I've been playing for 5 days and that was the first time I ever managed to play a chord successfully. No only was I able to play both Chords successfully, but I was able to switch between them. Thank you ever so much!
    SeaGalo wrote: Wow... just what I need now. Im starting and this tutorial was 'perfect' to me. Tks for posting and for the time. Very appreciate !!! And of course... I will keep reading ur others lessons. Thkx again !!
    You are so very welcome! Thank you for the compliment! -ancientson
    Wow... just what I need now. Im starting and this tutorial was 'perfect' to me. Tks for posting and for the time. Very appreciate !!! And of course... I will keep reading ur others lessons. Thkx again !!
    when counting frets do I start from where the neck meets the guitar and count up? or do I start and the end of the neck and count up to the guitar? When playing on the second fret I feel like my hand is too far down the neck of the guitar.
    Hey I'm a beginner and i find these lessons extremely easy to understand and follow!! Thanks! Just a quick question, i have small hands so when i play A major what is the best way to silence the low E? its rather uncomfortable trying to get my thumb around the neck Thanks
    Rocker-Hena wrote: do you place the thumb on the back of the neck?
    Very good question! In all honestly, it really depends on the size of your hands. I have very large hands so my thumb is always over the top. With smaller hands, yes. Your thumb should be opposite your fingers, NOT stretched out even with the neck.
    Noc662 wrote: Thanx for the lessons....Im starting back trying to play. Hopefully I can keep it going this time.
    Awesome! Let me know if I can help.
    Thanx for the lessons....Im starting back trying to play. Hopefully I can keep it going this time.
    Guitar is almost backwards. The low E is your 6th string, however the high E is your 1st string. When go from 6 to 1 you are ascending, therefore 1 is the top. Physically however the low E is the top.
    SiK 1 wrote: When talking about the string numbers, wouldn't the top one be the 6th?
    SiK 1
    When talking about the string numbers, wouldn't the top one be the 6th?
    Hey great lesson. A silly way my uncle taught me to remember the tuning for E standard was Easter Bunny Gets Drunk Around Easter.. EBGDAE..
    This is a great supplement to some lessons I've been taking. Thanks for taking the time to put this together for us beginners :
    Wow I actually feel like I understand the basic concept to playing the guitar now. Thank you so much, you're a wonderful teacher. I'm taking notes from this and drawing out my own chord charts right now, this definitely has helped me SO much!
    Thank you! I am glad you liked it! Check out part II out now and part III coming Monday.
    Thanks so much!! This is a lifesaver and explained things perfectly without making me feel stupid... I'm completly inexperienced and this was perfect for me. I've just got one question: Do you start counting the frets from the bottom of the neck up or the top down? Despite that one thing this was perfectly clear and hopefully I'll be able to get off to a good start because of it. Thank you so much!