Lesson For The Absolute Beginner

Teaching the very basics to people who have never played a guitar ever before.

Ultimate Guitar
This lesson is, as the name suggests, for the ABSOLUTE beginner who knows nothing whatsoever about the guitar.

Step 1 - Holding The Guitar

The spot for placing the guitar on the thighs could be a bit different for different shapes of guitars, but the basic positioning stays the same - the inward curve of the surface of the guitar (the side towards the thinnest string) should be placed on the right thigh (if you are a righty) or the left (if you are a lefty). The picking hand should be placed with the elbow in such a position that the fingers reach the strings (near the pickups for an electric or the middle of the sound hole in an acoustic). The hand position must be such that the guitar stays with the neck horizontal even without holding with the left hand, the elbow kinda "balances" the guitar in a horizontal position.

Step 2 - Holding The Plectrum (a.k.a. Pick)

Holding the plectrum is a key point in which most beginners make a mistake. You should NOT hold the plectrum the way you hold a pencil. Rather, you must hold it between the outside surface (NOT the front surface) of your index finger and the front surface of your thumb. The pointy end of the plectrum (if you are using the general "teardrop" shaped plectrum) must be protruding (sticking out) about 5-7 mm from the fingers.

Step 3 - Placing The Picking Hand On The Guitar

There are two techniques of doing this: EITHER 1. Anchoring the pinky, ring finger and middle finger on the guitar's body. OR 2. Keeping the hand floating in air in a loose fist form. I've heard people say that the second technique is way better, but I tried them both and found they were about the same in terms of efficiency. As a beginner, tech. 1 would be easier. I can name pro's using either technique - Michael Angelo Batio uses tech. 1 (when he is playing with one hand XD) and Paul Gilbert uses tech. 2.

Some Basic Terms And Their Meanings:

  • Note - A note is a single sound (produced by a single picking motion) from one of the strings.
  • Chord - A chord is when you play many notes together with a strum (but not a collection of random notes! Chords follow some specific patterns and scales which you would learn later).
  • Open - when you play (pick / strum) without "holding" any note with your left hand (or right hand if you are a lefty), it's called "playing on an open string".
  • Fret - the area between two raised metallic bars. These are the places where you hold down.

    Exercise 1. - Learning To Pick

    This exercise is aimed at developing your otherwise untrained right hand in order to make it know the position of the strings. You won't be using your left hand for now. (NOTE - the following exercise is in tab (tablature) form, if you don't know how to read tabs, try googling it up)
    (NOTE - don't play the ascending and descending first part in a strumming manner, pick each note separately, one in a downstroke and the next one in an upstroke and so on)

    Exercise 2. - Learning A Bit To "Alternate Pick"

    People refer to this as an advanced technique sometimes, but if you practise it from the very beginning you will get good at it with no "Extra" effort. By the way, still no left hand in this one, sorry :) Play this:
    (NOTE - DO NOT try to play blazingly fast from the very beginning, it will mess you up big time. Start slow and gradually raise your speed, but only till you can control the strings. Don't try to play uncontrollably fast.)

    Step 4 - Fingering Basics

    This is the part where your left hand comes to play. Rest your left hand on the neck in such a manner that the thumb is at the middle of the second fret (but not touching the sixth string, the thumb must be on the upper surface), and then hand your hand down, putting the weight on the thumb. You must let it hang freely, don't "hold" onto the neck. As you advance in learning, you will find that the fretting fingers (index, middle, ring and pinky) would come closer to the neck in order to reduce time delay. Hold onto the 1st fret of the 6th string with your index finger and pick the 6th string (the uppermost and fattest one). You sound hear a pure sound with no noise. If you hear a noise, or a dull "thump"-ish sound, it is because you are not applying enough pressure on the string. Correct that error if it happens. Try this with all the fretting fingers on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th frets respectively. (NOTE - DO NOT neglect the pinky, it is the most basic and the biggest mistake. Take extra care to develop it)

    Exercise 3. - Strengthening The Fretting Fingers

    This is the MOST BASIC and MOST USEFUL exercise that is out there. Make sure you can do this effortlessly and fast, until you proceed any further and learn anything else.
    (NOTE: use the "Alternate picking" technique here too, it is a great exercise. You must use some variations, like 1-3-2-4 or 1-4-2-3, etc., they are great too. Strengthen the pinky.) Okay so this is the end of my first lesson, thanks for taking the time to read it, be sure to let me know if you have problems/suggestions. Comment to let me know what you think about the lesson.
  • 29 comments sorted by best / new / date

      I liked how the section on alternate picking didn't even begin to describe what alternate picking is.
      thanks for pointing it out looks like i completely forgot to explain what is alternate picking :p , but stuff like this won't happen in my later posts , i promise .
      Rebel Scum
      Great lesson but pictures for holding the plectrum would've been a great aid to beginners.
      thanks for the feedback , i'll try to include pictures in the next lessons .
      Good lesson, though i'd sort of disagree with the plectrum holding part. I've been playing for about 7 years and I hold my plectrum with two fingers and my thumb and it does not effect my playing in any way. I don't suffer because I hold it with two fingers. In fact I feel I have less control over what I am doing if I just use my index and thumb. Lots of famous guitarists in fact do not hold a plectrum in this "official" way. James Hetfield supposedly holds his with three fingers and his thumb. My point is, it isn't something that I'd say to get too bogged down in. As long as you hold it the right way up and pick with the correct part of the plectrum, with how many fingers doesn't matter, as long as it is comfortable for you to play with. Though in retrospect - SRV uses the rounded edge of his plectrum to play.
      to each his own , buddy . people play what they are comfortable with . I just explained the most widely used method .
      Well explained. There are already tons of lessons saying exactly this, but you can't say no to free knowledge!
      Ouch! Ouch! I am very new to the guitar so I tried the above exercises. No one told me my left fingers will hurt like hell! Lol! Anyways, great explaination. Very clear to newbie like me.
      Great lesson, I have always wanted to learn how to play the guitar and your lesson has helped me a lot when it comes to muscle memory. I wish you would have included a picture when it comes to the left handed parts. This is my biggest problem when it come to learning how to play.
      it is nice having dis kind of tutorial...bt d language should b more easy...like d tablature form exercise... is not clear...
      how cud u make d language easier than that ? tablature not clear ? what do u mean by that ? do u even know how to read tabs ?
      Nice tips. Didnt even know about that holdin your hand there makes it anchor. I play like that
      ben nixon
      I want to see what the top of that egg shell in the picture looks like...
      sorry for the plugin, but justinguitar.com should be your one-stop resource for this stuff.. hate to sound negative but don't we have too many of these articles on this site already?
      well i had to write my first article of all time so i was looking for a nice topic that doesn't get flamed too much , and so here we are . XD