Getting To Know Your Guitar. Part 2

This lesson is dedicated to playing notes on your guitar and strumming.

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Table of Contents:


1. How to play notes
2. How to strum your guitar
3. Homework assignment: exercises to try
4. Song clips

1. How To Play Notes

Just as with holding the guitar, learning how to play notes properly is vital to becoming an accomplished guitarist. Moreover, developing the right habits is quite important, as bad habits can be hard to break later on down the road. There are only a few basic points to bear in mind regarding how notes should be played:
  • One String At A Time. If you only intend to play one note, make sure your finger is touching just that string. When you start playing chords in future lessons, it will be necessary to touch only the strings that you intend to so that you can generate just the sound you want.
  • Between The Metal Bars. As a reminder, the frets are the regions between the metal bars. As a result, it is important to not press strings down on any of the metal bars on your guitar. Pushing down the string on the metal bar makes the guitar produce a flat, muted sound as opposed to the clearer and richer sound produced when the note is played on the fret.
  • Short Nails. It is a wise idea to keep your nails short when playing guitar. Long nails can cause difficulty in pressing down the string, and can cause other strings to accidentally be touched. As a result, it's best to keep your nails short. Below are pictures showing examples of correct and incorrect ways of playing notes. Incorrect
    click to zoom
    Note how the fingers are touching strings aside from the one being played.








    click to zoom
    In this instance, note how the fingers are only touching the strings that are meant to be played.








    2. How To Strum Your Guitar

    Strumming the guitar is, as it seems, a very simple thing to do. There are, however, certain key items to keep in mind to ensure that you don't develop bad habits, which will ultimately limit the quality of the sound you create:
  • Wrist, Not Elbow. One of the most common mistakes made by guitarists first picking up the guitar is to strum the guitar by using the elbow instead of the wrist. Your wrist is the only joint on your arm that should be moving as you strum across the sound hole/pick ups. Strumming with your elbow -- or even worse, with your shoulder -- will substantially limit the the amount of precision you have when strumming, and hence can hinder the rhythm of your music.
  • Strum The Right Spot. Be sure that you are strumming over the sound hole or pick ups to get the fullest sound. Strumming over the fretboard or back by the end of the body can noticeably limit the richness of your sound.
  • Relax! While the technicalities of how to hold, play, and strum your guitar are important, it's even more important to feel comfortable with your guitar. A stiff position will make it hard for you to really get into your groove -- especially when you're developing your improvisation skills. Below is a video clip showing the correct way to strum the guitar.
    Likewise, below is a video that demonstrates how NOT to strum a guitar -- note how the shoulder and elbow are being used to strum, instead of the preferred method of using the wrist.

    3. Homework Assignment: Exercises To Try

    Below is a video that goes through a simple exercise that is a great introduction to playing notes. Give it a shot and see if you can play along with the video. Remember, the key is to have patience.
    And be sure to check out the songs to try thread -- it's a great introduction to some beginner songs that will have you rockin' in no time.

    4. Song Clips

    After the reviewing and practicing the material in this lesson, it's time to see how it's been implemented. Below are some simple songs that are perfect for those just starting out to try. Star Spangled Banner. [sound clip] The national anthem of the United States, heard at everything ranging from somber memorials to neighborhood sporting events. Note that this is the Jimi Hendrix version, in which Hendrix applies his trademark guitar technique to the song.
    E|-----------0-------4--2-0----------|------4--2-0---------------------------|
    B|--0------0-------------------------|-------------4-----2-4-5--5------------|
    G|---1---1--------------------1-3-4--|--4-4-----------------------4-1--------|
    D|----2------------------------------|--------------------------------2------|
    A|-----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
    E|-----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
            
    E|--2-2-4-5-7--7------5-4-2-4-5--5---|--5-4----2-0---------------------------|
    B|-----------------------------------|-------------4--------2-4-5------------|
    G|-----------------------------------|----------------------------1-3-4------|
    D|-----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
    A|-----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
    E|-----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
            
    E|-------------------2--5-4-2--------|----------2-4-5-7------0-2----5-2------|
    B|----5-5-5-4-2-2-2-----------5-5-4--|------5-----------------------------5--|
    G|--4--------------------------------|--4-4----------------------------------|
    D|-----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
    A|-----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
    E|-----------------------------------|---------------------------------------|
    Below is a video clip of the riff being played. Be sure to have your speakers turn on, and please allow a few seconds for the video to load.
    With or Without You. [sound clip] One of U2's most popular songs. The tablature below is played on the bass guitar by U2 bassist Adam Clayton, but can be played on guitar as well.
    E|-------------------------------------------------------------------|
    B|-------------------------------------------------------------------|
    G|-------------------------------------------------------------------|
    D|-------------------------------------------------------------------|
    A|--5-5-5-5-5-5-----0-0-0-0-0-0-----2-2-2-2-2-2-2--------------------|
    E|----------------------------------------------------3-3-3-3-3-3-3--|
    Below is a video clip of the riff being played. Be sure to have your speakers turn on, and please allow a few seconds for the video to load.
    You Really Got Me. [sound clip] Originally by the Kinks, the song was reinserted into mainstream music through a cover version by Van Halen.
    E|--------------|
    B|--------------|
    G|--------------|
    D|--3--5-5-3-5--|
    A|--3--5-5-3-5--|
    E|--1--3-3-1-3--|
    ActoGuitar's purpose is to help people learn to play guitar, and to help experienced guitarists with professional ambitions reach their aspirations. Be sure to check out ActoGuitar website at this location.
  • 47 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      Lisa von yellow
      I've been searching for a good intro for learning the guitar playing on my native russian language for a long time, and i ve not found anything so useful for me !it seemed to be quite complicated!and with visiting this webs site i ve learnt lots of beginner skills !Now i understrand how to play tabs and different akkords! Thank you very much, coz this is really great lesson! i understood everything! and i m very cirious about trying to play something else and to learn more! Tnx!
      ambitiousXP
      Thanks a lot this stuff was useful. BTW does anyone know if theres a correct way to hold the pick?
      Big Tex1
      I am just learning again after 20 years and even then didn't know much. I found just picking it up was enjoyable. I wanted songs to learn so I could get finger speed and coordination down. Everything else would come natural after that. Very good lesson I feel.
      JambaJew
      E|-----0-----4--2-0-----| -----4--2-0-----| B|--0-----0----- |-----4-- ---2-4-5--5-----| G|---1---1-----1-3-4--|-- 4-4--- --4-1-----| D|----2-----|-----2-----| A|-----|-----| E|---- -|-----| i dont understand how to read this
      Fzau
      Nice lesson thanks. I now play electric guitar for two days and Stars and Stripes was no problem for me, I even play Nirvana and Metallica now..
      Scoobie_Snack
      That was a great lesson. I'm not a total newbie to lead lines but that was very useful. Thanks
      moomiekin
      I have a few books and dvds on beginning guitar and have to say that this intro is great. I guess I'm a visual learner because I have seen guitar tabs before and have never understood them. I have only practiced chords but got bored of that. I played the star spangled banner first try after seeing the video. Tabs make sense now and I have a renewed excitement for playing the guitar. It's much more fun when I can play something I recognize. I can't wait to play something else! THANK YOU!!!!
      ClanceyKid
      This was pretty good. Very helpful for a beginner like me. Except for the fact that most of the videos are outdated and dont show up on youtube.
      microtech
      I have just started learning to play and I have the same question as fenris42: Is there an advantage to playing the fifth fret on a string instead of just playing the preceding string open? (Obviously only on single notes)
      Ian_Hendrix
      Thanks. Im not a beginner, but i wanted to learn The Jimmi Hendrix star spangled banner without messing with all the feedback and harmonics he used.
      sweetart_kharen
      thank you so much....for 4 days having my guitar...i can play two songs now.....and im having fun learning guitar now...this site is very useful for me.i dnt need to buy beginners learning books now.thank you !thank you! so much!more power!
      GulfCoasta09
      hey thanks for the lesson! ive been learning off of normal musical notes and i am having trouble understanding the tabs on here ex: E|-----0-----4--2-0-----| -----4--2-0-----| B|--0-----0--- --|-----4-- ---2-4-5--5-----| G|---1---1-----1-3-4--|-- 4 -4-----4-1-----| D|----2-----|-----2-----| A|-----|----- | E|-----|-----| is there an article i can read to comprehend these tabs? thanks
      Joumae
      On Star Spangled Banner I hold down the first G before I play the first note. The note sounds muted though cause my finger is squished and ends up touching the B string. That normal for a newbie like me? Will it get better after I play for a while and my finger tips harden up???
      RichterBelmontD
      im a decent guitarist, except when it comes to chords,because my hand cant take being stretched across2 frets...is there any kind of excercises for that r what? i hate that cramping feeling...
      frettlessIBANEZ
      ive been playing bass for a few years, just picked up a guitar last year. i wish i would have known about this site when i started. so much usefull information all in one spot! THANK YOU!
      sum41rules
      dr woot wrote: I've had a guitar for two years now and I've never touched it. Since I plan on taking lessons soon, this really helped.
      why hvnt u touched it? iv never had any lessons n i can play good. te say self-teachis the best way 2 learn, just checkout the other lessons here.
      Spacetoad
      It should be mentioned in the "Strum in the Right Spot" section that you can strum in different areas to get different sounds. Strumming near the bridge gives you a clean sound suited for classic rock, whereas strumming closer to the neck gives a dirty sound suited for metal or blues. So you don't HAVE to strum in just one area.
      AvrilFanUK
      "If you only intend to play one note, make sure your finger is touching just that string. When you start playing chords in future lessons, it will be necessary to touch only the strings that you intend to so that you can generate just the sound you want" What about muting strings? You need to dampen certain strings with your finger to mute them.
      Glen'sHeroicAct
      ^ do you really think beginners that are learning how to play a chord and the star spangled banner are going to be playing chords and riffs where they need to mute strings with their fretting fingers?
      G5Man
      On muting....no beginners won't be muting strings; however, it is in a beginners best interest to learn correctly from the beginning. I should be discussed at a minimum with some examples of artists like Dave Matthews who mutes half his guitar half the time ; hehe Thanks.
      Jesus_Guitarist
      I have been playing for 4 years, but I found that the Star Spangled Banner was quite useful! Thanks a bunch! I agree with G5Man... beginners aren't going to play by muting stinks with their fret finger. Jesus_Guitarist
      ZombieModeRocks
      very good acticle. but one thing is strumming with wrist? i thought the correct way is to use elbow as pivot and your wrist is to control where to hit. i think its better to learn to strum that way tho its harder, but after awhile strumming with elbow can achieve great speed. as least in my case. anyway, just thought this input might be helpful.
      euge453
      ZombieMode, that's exactly what I was thinking. You can't gain endurance or real speed using the wrist. Then again, using the shoulder would be the stupidest way to play guitar ever.
      paradoc
      I AM a real beginner. And i found this to be really helpful. Although I admit that after listening to the star spangled banner...im a lil intimidated, but undaunted.
      Azhariel
      Hey, that was really great, thanks for this! I just began playing guitar (yes, today) and found this (and part 1) very, very useful. Though Star Spangled Banner is a bit intimidating by it's size, and You Really Got Me by it's speed, With or Without You' riff was beautiful to play. Once again, thanks a lot.
      detranova
      ZombieModeRocks wrote: very good acticle. but one thing is strumming with wrist? i thought the correct way is to use elbow as pivot and your wrist is to control where to hit. i think its better to learn to strum that way tho its harder, but after awhile strumming with elbow can achieve great speed. as least in my case. anyway, just thought this input might be helpful.
      I must agree, though I'm not sure if this is really applicable to strumming. For anything else, the elbow is truly essential, although sometimes adding the shoulder can increase your picking speed even more. The only problem with this is that you could get tendonitis or arthritis, so don't do it.
      strumalong
      I found it very usefull. I would say instead of learning songs right off bat learn all the basic chords and become more familiar with the fret board.Other than that the article was pretty fun.
      brettoxx
      Im just picking th eguitar up again for the first time in about 7 years in which i never knew anything to begin with and i found this article very helpful.good job
      polarbear1
      Thanks have been playing guitar on and off for five years and eventually now see how to stum properly will have to practice.
      dr woot
      I've had a guitar for two years now and I've never touched it. Since I plan on taking lessons soon, this really helped.
      snowyguitar
      These are great ways to start learning. Thanks!. However, you really got me is a little not so easy to play.
      Stringtastic!!
      Great lesson 4 sure!! The last 1 is difficult, gonna try that 1 again in the near future. Star Spangled Banner sounds mint on electric, gained right out!!! Like on the vid clip u can play the 4th fret G on the b string open! its easier 4 beginners. And the very end is 024 (4) is needed 52 then 5 on b string.
      Fenris42
      This is my first day playing guitar and have been reading the how to posts for hours. This lesson was a great help. I was just wondering about using a different string 'open' instead of the string called for in the tabs. The video does this a lot, and it's a bit confusing. I was wondering if there was any reason why tabs are written to call for frets 5+ when most can (from what I can tell) be played with a fret closer to the headstock on a different string? In the video the guitarist only uses fret 1 through 4. Using ssmith101's 'basic guitar knowledge' tutorial I can figure out how the person is actually playing the notes the tab calls for, but it seems like a very difficult thing to ask a beginner to do.
      strumma_maid
      Am very excited to be on my way to learning to play properly. I've learnt quite a few chords but never tried scales and now understand that it's essential... managed the Star Spangled banner, Just! After a few practices am really getting the feel. Must say that I found "You really got me" the hardest. Playing an acoustic so my fingers are sore from the steel strings but is worth the pain.... "SHOW NO FEAR"!!
      gaberdineangus
      great lesson thnx, iv been a drummer for 6 years and a guitarist for about 50 minutes, but yeah it was really helpful altho hendrix vid wont work and the kinks is too feking fast