The guitar is one of the world’s most popular instruments. Its timeless appeal comes from its versatility and its romantic appeal, as well as its amplified power in modern music. Light enough to be easily portable, it can be played as a solo instrument or as part of a band or music ensemble. A guitar’s musical tone compliments a singing voice and it has a wide note range so it makes a perfect support instrument for singers. It is entertaining to play and many find a lot of satisfaction in learning this skill.
Before you can learn to play, however, you need a guitar. Contrary to popular belief, just any old guitar you happen to have will not do if you plan to learn correctly and become a competent guitarist. A beginner guitar should be manufactured to play the type of music you want to play and make the type of sound you plan to produce.
Types of Guitars and Guitar Strings
Guitars are constructed in all different sizes and shapes. Some are outfitted with nylon strings and some are outfitted with steel strings. Steel strung guitars have to be built stronger than other types of guitars because their strings put much more force and tension on a guitar’s wood. Whether you play nylon strung or steel strung guitars is a matter of personal choice.
Nylon strings produce a mellower sound tone. They are also easier on the player’s fingers than are steel ones. Because they are composed of a single nylon strand, the first, second and third strings on the nylon strung guitar are the thinnest strings. Because the nylon is wound with bronze plated copper or silver wire, the guitar’s fourth, fifth and sixth strings are thicker.
Steel strings produce a louder, brighter tone. They are much harder on the guitarist’s fingertips until you get accustomed to playing them (and develop some calluses). Made of nickel-plated steel, the first and second strings are the thinnest ones. Sometimes the third one is as well. Because they are wound tightly, the remaining strings are thicker.
The two types of strings are not interchangeable on guitars. Nylon strings, if strung on a steel strung guitar, won’t produce a good sound but instead will sound dead and even make a buzzing sound. Steel strings strung on a classical guitar, which is where you usually find nylon strings, can easily damage the wood because they are too heavy for the guitar.
Steel Strung Guitars with round holes on their soundboards are North America’s best selling acoustic (meaning un-amplified) guitars. This is the best guitar for beginners because it can be used for playing most all the popular guitar music and for accompanying singers. Pick-ups can even be added to them so they can be used with amplifiers. A beginner acoustic guitar can be purchased for an affordable price at any reputable music store.
The Jumbo Guitar is a acoustic with a bass sound produced by its extra large body. The twelve string guitar is similar to the Jumbo but is a much more specialized type of instrument. The twelve string guitar is not a good beginner guitar because of that. Classical and Flamenco Guitars are nylon strung and used specifically for classical music and Flamenco music. If you plan to be a classical guitar player, then you will want to purchase a classical guitar for beginners so you will learn to play on its nylon strings.
Electric Guitars have can only be played with amplifiers. They come in various sizes and shapes as well as colors. Unlike acoustic guitars with their round holes, electric guitars have a solid body. They also offer different pedals and other attachments to alter their sound. Semi-Acoustic Guitars are very slim and actually provide enough acoustic sound for practice purposes but mostly are played with an amplifier. Cello Guitars are similar but with a body that is thicker. Electric guitars are great for jazz, rock, pop and fast paced music. Whether or not this is the best beginner guitar is debatable. If you goal is to play in a rock band, starting on a simple electric guitar may be right for you.
Buying Your First Guitar
Your first guitar should be chosen with two purposes in mind:
• It should be fairly easy for you to tune and to play.
• It should be a versatile enough instrument for you to play
different kinds of music with it.
You are looking for the type of guitar that suits the type of music you want to learn to play. When in doubt, you cannot go wrong with an acoustic guitar for beginners. Do a good bit of window shopping at music stores and on the Internet to see and read about what is available plus check on prices. Become very familiar with the merchandise before you go to play some models. When you do go to music stores to “test drive” some guitars, try to go during the week when sales personnel typically have more time to spend with individual customers. A secondhand guitar may provide an excellent deal but be sure to ask the opinion of an experience guitarist you know before investing in a used one. Avoid heavy acoustic guitars. The lightest models are typically the best.
Beware of pushy sales people. Don’t let anyone pressure you in to a guitar purchase you really don’t want. Be aware that ¾ size guitars are really made for children and not for adults. Never, ever buy a guitar just because it looks good. You buy a guitar because it sounds good and is easy to play. When you do make your purchase, be sure to obtain a full written receipt and keep it in a convenient place. You need it for insurance purposes and to show Customs if you travel. Be sure you also buy the strongest guitar case you can afford to protect and store you instrument when you are not playing it.
To check out online recommendations of specific names and brands of acoustic guitars check out the Top 10 Best Acoustic Guitars for Beginners List on the website at www.chriswhiter.hubpages.com/hub/Top-10-Best-Acoustic-Guitars-For-Beginners-2013. See further recommendations at www.musicradar.com/us/news/acoustic/25-best-budget-acoustic-guitars-in-the-world-today-582331/25.
Your Guitar and Its Care
When you are not playing your guitar, store it in its case. Place the case in a closet for safe-keeping. Avoid leaving you guitar in places where there will be sudden humidity or temperature changes. Avoid placing your guitar near a radiator, heating outlet, air conditioner, humidifier, and window or in direct sunlight. Extreme dryness and heat can cause splitting of the wood or, at the least, cracking. Extreme cold and dampness can make the guitar’s glues soften. When playing for an outside event, never lay your guitar on the ground. The morning or evening dew can harm the guitar, so put it right back in the case as soon as your playing is finished.
Learn the parts of your guitar. Beginning at the top, the Headstock is the center of the tuning system. Square headstocks are distinguished by having three tuners on each side. Fender style headstocks have all six tuners on the left side. There is a Tuner for each one of the six guitar strings. They turn to tune each string to its correct pitch. The Nuts keep each string in their correct position. The Frets are wire inserts. Located on the head, they mark the neck at the points where passing them on the strings changes to a different note. The Fretboard is a piece of rosewood glued to the neck where passing along on the strings makes those different notes. The strings are the heart of the music made by the instrument. It is important to always use the best possible quality of strings if you want to make beautiful music with your guitar.
The Pick Guard is next to the sound hole on an acoustic guitar to protect it from pick marks and nail scratches. The Soundboard is the top or front piece of wood on the guitar into which the sound hole is cut. Pick-Ups use an electric lead to transmit the sound of the strings to the amplifiers. They are like miniature microphones. The purpose of the guitar’s Bridge is to adjust the string height and pitch. On an electric guitar, the Tone and Volume Control are located to the right of the bridge.
Picks are used to pick the strings to play the notes and also for strumming. Lead guitarists use really hard picks but flexible and soft ones are generally used for strumming chords. Guitar tutors sometimes recommend that beginners use larger picks that are more flexible as them are easier to manipulate until they get used to picking their guitar. They also recommend holding it between the index finger and thumb. Some people find that it is more comfortable for them to hold it between their middle finger and the thumb. Still others use their middle, index and thumb altogether to pick.
Basic Guitar Technique
Learning to play is not enough. You need to learn to play correctly from the beginning if you ever want to become an expert guitarist or even a proficient one. So start out the way you need to continue and develop good habits from the beginning. Learn to sit or stand correctly, learn how to finger chords correctly and learn how to strum and pick the right way.
Let your strap hold your guitar up. Whether you play from a sitting or standing position, you need both arms for playing so let the strap hold the guitar in the proper position. Whatever height you have it adjusted, have it there every time so your arms get used to a consistent position. If you play sitting in a chair, sit upright and leaning forward just slightly. Sit in the same chair every time you play. If you play while standing, stand in the same position every time. Stay relaxed and release tension but at the same time do not slouch. The hand that is on the frets should have its thumb “invisible” in a hitchhiker position on the back of the guitar’s neck.
Beginner Guitar Tabs
Guitar tablature (tabs for short) serves the same purpose for the guitarist as sheet music does for the pianist. Guitar tabs are a visual equivalent that allows anyone to read and play guitar music without knowing how to read sheet music. Beginner guitar tabs is a skill all beginners must learn. Tabs are graphics that show the frets and strings of the fretboard.
Reading the tabs is simple. The six guitar strings are represented from the thickest at the bottom to the thinnest at the top by the lines on the page. If there are numbers, they represent the frets to play on that particular string. A zero stands for an “open string” — one that is played without any of its frets being pressed.
On the left side you notice there are letters naming the strings. In traditional music theory the names of musical notes are represented by the first seven letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F and G. The strings on the guitar are named for their notes. From the bottom up from the thickest string to the thinnest, they are:
• e (first string)
• A (second string)
• D (third string
• G (fourth string)
• B (fifth string)
• E (sixth string)
A simple way to remember their order is with this aid: Every August Dogs Go Biting Elvis. There are also sharps and flats. For an excellent description of comparisons between guitar notes and piano notes, see www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jW1Xx0t3ZI.
With your new knowledge of basic guitar tabs and notes, you can play some guitar songs for beginners. One of the easiest to start with is the classic “Happy Birthday” tune. Played only on the low E string (the thickest sixth string) and no other string, you can simply concentrate on which frets to put your fingers on. Here is the tab for the song:
(No lines are furnished because you are only playing on the low E string.)
O O 2 O 5 4
O O 2 O 7 5
O O 9 5 4 4 2
10 10 9 5 7 5
One major different between guitar tabs and a music note is that guitar tabs don’t tell you anything about the timing of the notes. They tell what note to play but not how long to play it. For that reason, guitar tabs are only helpful for songs you know. Since you know “Happy Birthday”, you know how to pace the notes and you know how the rhythm of the music should go.
For more guitar songs for beginners that include the guitar tabs, simple sheet music and videos of the song being played just as the tab writes it out, check out www.guitarnick.com/index.html. Another wonderful source of easy songs in chords only or easy guitar tab music for absolute beginners is www.chordie.com/publicbooks.php?cat=Absolute+beginner.
Guitar Chords for Beginners
Playing a chord is not as difficult as you might think. It involves using your pick or thumb to strum or strike at least two notes (usually more) simultaneously. The three most common and easiest to play guitar chords beginner guitarists learn to play first are the C Major, G Major and D Major chords.
The guitar fingerings for these chords are easy to describe. The C Major Chord, usually referred to as the C chord, is fingered this way:
• Put your index finger on the first fret on the second string
• Put your middle finger on the second fret on the fourth
string (D string).
• Put your ring finger on the third fret of the fifth string (A
• The first (e) string and the third (G) string are played open.
• The sixth (E) string is not played at all.
To strum this chord use downstrokes and only strum five out of the six strings. Evenly count off sets of four as you carefully strum in downstrokes. This diagram uses a D to indicate when to strum while you count.
D + D + D + D
1 + 2 + 3 + 4
The fingerings for the G Major, or G chord, are:
• Index finger on the second fret on the fifth (A) string
• Middle finger on the third fret on the bottom (E) string
• Ring finger on the third fret on the first (e) string
• Keep your middle and index fingers arched so they won’t brush
against other strings.
The fingerings for the D Major, or D chord, are:
• Index finger on the second fret of the fourth (G) string
• Middle finger on the second fret of the sixth (e) string
• Ring finger on the third fret of the fifth (B) string
This is the first chord that is a little more difficult to finger but mastering this one will make it easier to progress to the F Major Chord. The F Chord is hard to finger but harmonizes well with the other three. Mastery of all four of these beginner guitar chords will allow you to play hundreds of songs. For a basic guitar chord chart with all the main chords on it, go to www.bigpictureguitar.com/downloads/basic_chord_chart_lo.jpg.
Mastering the tricky F chord will allow you to move forward in your progress much faster. The F chord fingering is:
• Index finger across the first fret on ALL of the strings
• Middle finger on the second fret on the third (G) string
• Ring finger on the third fret on the fifth (A) string
• Pinky finger on the third fret on the fourth (D) string
Once you have mastered this chord, you are ready to start practising how to play chords on guitar while switching back and forth between them. To our earlier strumming and counting exercise, we now add the letters of the two chords. Count out loud while carefully and cleanly strumming in downstrokes in first one chord and then the other. Go slowly at first. You are aiming for a clear sound, smooth transition and accuracy. As the chord change becomes easier and more natural, you can work on increasing your speed.
C F C
D + D + D + D + D + D + D + D + D + D + D + D
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4
General Guitar Tips for Beginners
There is a wealth of information, fingering exercises, great video lessons and other information for newcomers to the guitar on the internet. Take advantage of the knowledge and help of those who know more than you do. Be sure to progress at your own rate. Take your time to learn one skill or technique and really master it before going on to another one. It will make all the difference in the world to how fast you can become a proficient guitarist. If you develop sloppy habits now, it may take you years to overcome them.
Set manageable goals. Give yourself two weeks to master the first four major chords and learn to finger them and strum them very well. Then advance during the next two weeks to switching between chords until you can make the changes smoothly and the sounds are clear and nice. That way you’ll build your progress layer upon layer in an organized way that prepares you for the next stage.
A good benchmark for daily practice is an hour a day. If that is not possible in your schedule though just remember that regular practice is more important that the amount of practice. You will learn more from thirty minutes every day of the week than you will from four hours all over the weekend. Be sure you don’t count the time you just fool around “noodling” with the guitar and jamming as practice. You know the difference.
Spend time in practice on both theory and technique. Reading tabs and chords is theory. Practising fingerings and chords is technique. You need a balance of both. If you get impatient with yourself or frustrated to the point that you’re ready to bash your guitar to pieces, stop and do something else for a while. You are not racing or competing with anyone. Take a step back and figure out what is bothering you. If it is a particular skill, slow down and practice it some more, slowly and carefully.
Take your time and remember to have fun while you are playing your guitar. The ultimate goal of learning to play the guitar is so you can enjoy yourself by expressing your uniqueness through music.