Things You Need to Learn When Starting Guitar

A very basic "roadmap" for anybody just starting our or even thinking about learning guitar.

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Ultimate Guitar
29

Lesson Info

Who is lesson for?

This lesson is for people thinking about learning guitar or just starting. If you don't know anything on guitar yet, this lesson is for you.

What do you need?

You don't even need a guitar to learn from this lesson as this lesson is a simple roadmap to get you started on what to learn.

Introduction

This lesson will briefly look at some basic topics beginners should check out when starting guitar. If you are going to teach yourself, it's hard to know where to start. Many people give up guitar at this stage because they feel it's too hard, don't see any progress or don't know what to practice. If you start on these very basic points you are less likely to get frustrated and give up. As this lesson is a roadmap on what to start on I won't be explaining any techniques. I will simply explain what to start on.

Where to Find Good Lessons

There are countless lessons on the Internet that will teach you everything you need to know. So get used to searching for lessons through Google, Ultimate Guitar, YouTube and whatever else you can find. Just like everything else on the Internet, there are plenty of junk lessons out there and plenty of scams so stick to reputable sites. Lessons on Ultimate Guitar for example are rated by readers so you can start with lessons with a high rating to be sure you are reading quality content.

One more point to make is don't pay for lessons on the Internet. There are sites (which I won't name) that charge for you to access their "premium" lessons. Don't pay for them. There are plenty of people (such as myself) who are willing to give you lessons for free. I guarantee if you search hard enough you will find all the lessons you need without spending a cent.

Understanding Your Guitar

Before you read any lessons you need to learn all the jargon and learn the names for all the parts of the guitar. Lessons will be talking about parts such as frets, bridges, pickups, machine-heads, nuts, necks, sound holes and plenty more. If you don't know what all these parts are you will have a hard time learning. Do a search on Google for learning the parts of the electric and acoustic guitar and learn all the parts. Once you feel comfortable with all the part names, lessons will make a lot more sense.

First Things First

The first lesson you should search for is on how to read tabs or tablature. Tab is a very basic way guitarists write out music. The more formal way of writing music is called standard notation. You can learn this too, but tab is a painless way to get started. It is a very simple system you can learn straight away. So your number one goal is to learn to read tab. Have a search on Google for How to read guitar tab and you will find plenty of lessons.

One Note at a Time

Before you start learning chords or scales or anything else, you must be able to play a single note properly. This may sound obvious but many people get so excited they skip this because it sounds too easy. Skipping the basics is an easy way to create bad habits and bad habits are the number one enemy of beginners. Search for lessons on proper fretting technique or how to fret notes.

Finger Exercises

The number one complaint beginners have is finger pain. Whether it is pain in your fingertips or pain in your hand from stretching it out, you are likely to experience some type of pain at some point. What is happening is you are using your hands in new ways and using muscles that haven't been developed yet. Because the muscles haven't been developed, they get tired easy. So how do we strengthen them up? Finger exercises of course! This may sound silly but every expert guitarist will know the value of finger exercises. You need to warm your hands up with exercises the same way a basketball player warms up before a game.

Search Google and YouTube for simple guitar exercises for beginners. I recommend you search both because you should read up on the lessons as well as watch lessons on YouTube to see the exercises in action. Once you build up your finger strength you will be able to push yourself harder and learn more interesting things.

What's Next?

If you think everything above sounds boring and really basic, you're right. Nobody likes to crawl around, but everybody had to learn to crawl before they could walk, and walk before they could run. This is the same thing. The above topics will teach you to crawl. Then once you can crawl you can start to learn to walk. Here are a couple topics you can work towards to learn to walk on guitar:
  1. Open chords
  2. Major and minor scales
  3. Power chords
  4. Basic techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides and bends
  5. Basic songs and riffs such as "Smoke on the Water" or "Come as You Are"
There's plenty of different things you can learn when starting out, but you must learn the absolute basics first. I hope you can understand what I am saying and work towards these points. It may not be fun but skipping them altogether would be a mistake.

Good luck and if you have any questions feel free to ask!

29 comments sorted by best / new / date

    EdguyRule_22
    Echo Dude wrote: thegear wrote: by the way, there are no beginners on this site, everyone here is a shredder like me, and if you dont play shred metal the u dont play guitar Eric Johnson, Jimmy page, Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan You're saying that they can't play guitar? you're saying I can't play guitar? You're stating that players with 20 more years of experience can't and don'g play guitar? There are tons of beginners on this site, I'm not one, But there are several that are. P.S. this little report/page helps out so much, I'm trying to teach my mom how to play guitar and this is helping out a lot. Thank you.
    Sucked in too easy by the troll. Good explanation btw.
    SilverSpurs616
    Shocking how many guitarists dont know these things. I'm in college with some jackass who's played for 6 years and doesn't know any of this, other than power chords
    CarsonStevens
    You know, I think it would have been much better if you'd linked to some decent examples of lessons/tutorials rather than telling the reader to Google them. Sure, there's a lot of free material on the Internet, but a lot of it is really bad... and you need to weed through the crap to find the good stuff.
    Echo Dude
    thegear wrote: by the way, there are no beginners on this site, everyone here is a shredder like me, and if you dont play shred metal the u dont play guitar
    Eric Johnson, Jimmy page, Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan You're saying that they can't play guitar? you're saying I can't play guitar? You're stating that players with 20 more years of experience can't and don'g play guitar? There are tons of beginners on this site, I'm not one, But there are several that are. P.S. this little report/page helps out so much, I'm trying to teach my mom how to play guitar and this is helping out a lot. Thank you.
    HandheldACE
    just wondering when you hold the chord your suppose to press it all the way to the fret or hold it lightly?I only had my guitar for 3 days i dont know anything bout it yet.
    utujeemma1
    I started my guitar lessons 3months back and because of the online videos, i have so much improved en there is pretty much progress.thank you for the posts.
    sachito
    Nice article but why nobody its talking about tempo,metronome or some kind of rythmic sense development when it comes to begginers? do you guys think its not a begginers issue? what do you think?
    vdubplatel
    I'm an absolute beginner and would be nice if there were links to some of the starter lessons that would be ideal for a beginner. Thanks for the article though. I have it bookmarked.
    JoshBVBAA2
    I have been playing the guitar for 4 months and got no where. I still suck, it is great to know where I can start moving towards and getting somewhere now! Thank you, it has helped a ton!
    sonnenfn
    Well written, HOWEVER! I kindly -disagree-. Learning these things first, you miss some of the most important fundamentals of guitar playing. Everyone wants to learn their chords first and play along with somgs they hear on the radio, qhich is great! But that's skipping some very important steps for the sake of instant gratification. The first step that every guitar player needs to make after learning the parts of a guitar, is: 1) Memorize the notes on every string up to the fifth fret. This seems really basic, but it's an important step that most guitarists skip. Some of my friends come over to jam and can't figure out what chord I'm playing based on where the root note is, because they don't know the names of the notes for each fret on each string, even in simple standard tuning. It's such an important concept, not just for that skill... but when beginning to teach yourself chords, you will have a MUCH easier time remembering finger positions for chords (because you actually understand what notes are being played, rather than just guessing or from looking at the numbers on TABS..... *shakes head*...)... it will make you faster, you can teqxh yourself the proper way to hold the neck of a guitar (preventing carpal tunnel), and will be a great foundation for learning your sscales! Thn, you learn all the notes on the fretboard up to the 12th fret and so on. Everyone knows that an A sharp is a B flat, that it comes after the A note and precedes a B note.... (actually, no, sadly many people dont!) ... but even memorizing and olaying every note on every string will help you be able to name them and discover new patterns just by looking at the fretboard my keyboard is effing up, ending this comment
    mbself73
    Are you saying one should memorize all notes on the fretboard before learning some simple chords? I disagree with that if that is what you are trying to say. I didn't require my children to know the alphabet before I allowed them to talk or use completed sentences. The linear approach of "learn this then that and then the next thing" etc...is the cause of many prospective players away from the instrument. My knowledg of the fretboard grew along with my knowledge of chord construction and scales. Not in some marathon memorization session.
    NoStringsGuitar
    HandheldACE, I recently put together a handout for my beginner guitar students that deals with getting clean, clear sound from your playing- how to get rid of string buzz and unintentional muting. There are generally five things to be alert to if your chords aren't sounding good yet. Check out the file if you want- hope it helps! http://nostringsguitar.files.wordpress.c... /troubleshooting-checklist-for-getting-great-sounding-guitar -chords.pdf
    aaron@tmc
    HandheldACE wrote: just wondering when you hold the chord your suppose to press it all the way to the fret or hold it lightly?I only had my guitar for 3 days i dont know anything bout it yet.
    It's pretty hard to explain this properly in writing so I recommend that you have search in YouTube for lessons on playing basic chords. As I mentioned in this article, you should learn to play single notes before you move on to chords. This is because a chord is simply a few single noted played together so the technique will be the same. I've written a few simple lessons on this at http://www.tempomusicards.com/lessons/ that should help you out, they also have links to my video lessons on YouTube that demonstrate the basics. Good luck and if you still have trouble feel free to message me for help.
    seemeel
    This is well written, and emphasises the absolute basics. Learning to read music is a good thing as well, additionally to reading tablature. You have to start somewhere. This would have been good info for me when I started playing. I should have learned some stuff before going out and buying a guitar with the assumption that I would be able to play it...
    aaron@tmc
    little_wittman wrote: Thanks for this. I played violin for fifteen years, then got started in band during high school and have gigged as a woodwind specialist in pit orchestras (flute, picc, oboe, eh, sax, clarinet) and as a vibist. I decided about a year ago I wanted to learn guitar and am now trying to learn without lessons. It's a daunting prospect, even with my strong musical background. Can you speak to the utility of the Suzuki method in guitar teaching? I certainly understand if you're reluctant to discuss specifics in an open forum, but as violin was my first instrument, and I started in Suzuki when I was 4, I'm inclined to at least use the books for basics. Would I do as well for myself just using online resources? Thank you very much for the wealth of information here - I'm certain I'll return to it throughout this learning process.
    Althought the Suzuki method is more aimed towards teaching children, there's nothing stopping you using it. Given your violin background, the guitar will be easy to learn. If I were you I would use a combination of books and online resources so you aren't stuck with one view on the instrument. It comes down to what you feel comfortable with. If you find you learn best with a book, then use the books. If you find a website that really connects with you, there's nothing stopping you focusing your learning from that site. Good luck!
    little_wittman
    Thanks for this. I played violin for fifteen years, then got started in band during high school and have gigged as a woodwind specialist in pit orchestras (flute, picc, oboe, eh, sax, clarinet) and as a vibist. I decided about a year ago I wanted to learn guitar and am now trying to learn without lessons. It's a daunting prospect, even with my strong musical background. Can you speak to the utility of the Suzuki method in guitar teaching? I certainly understand if you're reluctant to discuss specifics in an open forum, but as violin was my first instrument, and I started in Suzuki when I was 4, I'm inclined to at least use the books for basics. Would I do as well for myself just using online resources? Thank you very much for the wealth of information here - I'm certain I'll return to it throughout this learning process.
    zheira
    This in not boring at all, I love your advices. Thank you so much!!
    OZLperez11
    Nice set up you got here! The part about the finger pains and all that is true. I got used to it pretty quickly. The part about learning notes first isn't always true. I started off playing chords and learned to play songs quick. I find it harder to play individual notes. Anyways, nice article!
    aaron@tmc
    Thanks for the positive comments everyone. Like SiverSpurs616 mentions there are heaps of beginners who don't know the basics covered in this lesson so that's why I wrote it. @CarsonStevens I considered having links to specific lessons but I thought it would be better for beginners to get used to searching for information on their own. I will continue to write lessons that will have more real examples and exercises.
    occum
    Forgot to include in my earlier post, please google "Exercises for Musicians". A lot of good stuff there, to help develop muscle strength.
    occum
    Good post! Nicely written for the beginner. Simple and to the point. May I add a point that I think you could include with "Finger Exercises" explain that you will develop calluses on your fingertips, they will itch and even curve up at the ends while developing, don't pull them off when they are developing, instead use a fingernail file, to file them down to a comfortable level. That way you are not constantly starting over to develop stable calluses, that will eventually become permanent. Also apply rubbing alcohol (with a Q-tip) to your finger tips, while your calluses are developing, this at times will still the itching and the pain.
    thegear
    by the way, there are no beginners on this site, everyone here is a shredder like me, and if you dont play shred metal the u dont play guitar
    technoguyx
    SilverSpurs616 wrote: Shocking how many guitarists dont know these things. I'm in college with some jackass who's played for 6 years and doesn't know any of this, other than power chords
    WHAT. Nice lesson, like the guy above I'm not a beginner but my friend wants me to teach him some stuff
    p_a_morgan
    Good article man. I'm not a beginner, but this is also good for advanced players who are planning on giving lessons themselves. Sometimes we overlook the simplest things and if we don't teach them to first time players, then they will have a hard time learning or develop bad habits like you said...which is a really good point by the way. When I first started I remember being stubborn about using my pinky because I felt as though I wouldn't really need it. I was wrong. I remember having a time retraining myself to use my 4th finger.
    mohsinqamar
    I came here looking for a program of action.I can read tabs and even play chords however I need a program of practive every day that is appropriate for a beginner.For ex I can play major chords but I want to get better and play in time , how should I practice that ? and how much should I practice that and whether its the right thing to practice as some guitarists emphasise more on the improving the strumming hand.Can you help me design a program please , I will be grateful.