The guitar is one of the most popular musical instruments in the world today. If you think about it for a moment, it's not hard to imagine why. Unlike several other instruments (like the piano), the guitar is quite portable; You can carry it around with you and play it almost anywhere, while you can't play a piano anywhere you go. The guitar is a nice-looking instrument that you can easily hold without having to put anything in your mouth. The guitar is a good solo instrument; Unlike some other instruments which don't sound good by themselves, the guitar sounds great alone, yet it also mixes well in a band with other instruments. It's versatile, as a guitar can be used for virtually any kind of music, inclusing classical, jazz, rock, gospel, and others.
A big downshot is that the guitar is a relatively difficult instrument to learn to play. It's not as easy as it looks; The guitar is a big instrument and you have to get your hands used to wrapping themselves around it so you can get your fingers on the right strings in the right places, and because you're looking down at it sideways, you don't have an excellent lengthwise view of the strings (as you do with a violin). Nonetheless, the guitar is a rewarding instrument for those who make the effort to learn to play it. On this page, I aim to provide the absolute most basic beginning steps to picking up a guitar, so you can start your exploration of what can be done with those six strings.
Although you don't need a lot of specialized equipment to start playing basic guitar, there are a few basic accessories that I recommend you get for yourself to make your guitar-playing experience a lot more positive. Aside from the actual guitar itself, most of these accessories are quite minimal and inexpensive. They include:
This is the most essential part. It's difficult to play a guitar if you don't have a guitar.
Some people like playing with picks, and some people don't. However, picks are so small and cheap that I recommend you get a few with your first guitar just so you can experiment and see how you feel with them. Some picks actually fit around your thumb so they stay in place by themselves and you don't have to hold them, others are simple flat pieces that you need to hold between your thumb and forefinger.
These come in a fairly wide variety of styles, but they mostly differ in terms of their thickness. Thicker bags offer more padding and protection for the guitar, at the cost of being more expensive and also being a bit more bulky. A good carrying bag should also have zippered pockets where you can store things: Big pockets for carrying books and the like, plus smaller ones for accessories like picks.
I highly recommend one of these. If you're standing up, you CAN hold the guitar in place and play it at the same time just with your hands, but you'll quickly grow tired of doing so. The extra few dollars spent on a strap will be well worth it so you don't have to risk dropping your guitar and to save a lot of trouble for your hands and arms.
This is one of those bars which slides over your finger so that you can press down several strings of the guitar more easily. It's not necessary for some styles of music, but if you happen to be playing a lot of chords which involve pressing down several strings at a time in the same place, these can certainly be very helpful.
Guitar strings do sometimes break. When they do, it's nice to have spares. I recommend keeping a spare of each of the six strings in your guitar bag.
You should carry around a variety of music books so you have something to play on your guitar. After all, the guitar is just an instrument; It's not much without the music.
Any time you play a guitar, you should tune it first. Strings routinely loosen over a period of hours or days, making them slightly lower in tone than they're supposed to be. The standard tuning scheme of a guitar encompasses two octaves. The strings are tuned as follows: EADGBE (The standard mnemonic for remembering this is "Eddie Ate Dynamite; Good Bye Eddie".)
The first E is the lowest string of the guitar, tuned to a low E. The next-lowest string is the A above that E, then the third-lowest string is the D above that A, and so on. By the time the guitar is tuned correctly, the highest string will be an E just like the lowest one; However, the high-E string will be two octaves above the low-E string.
It's possible, through the magic of computers, to create a small program that plays the notes that each guitar string should sound like. That's exactly what several people have done, but one good guitar tuner program is this tiny Java application by Lisa Gade. Try it out in your web browser, it'll play all six guitar string notes through your computer's speakers, so you can use it as a reference when tuning.
Dropped-D tuning is a style of tuning used by several modern guitarists, particularly those in grunge rock bands. This tuning was extensively used by bands like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden. (The famous opening chords for Soundgarden's hit "Spoonman" are made using Dropped-D tuning.) However, it's not just for rockers; Even many folk guitarists feel more comfortable with this tuning, as it tends to make your bass chords a lot easier to compose.
Dropped-D tuning is also a good introduction to alternative guitar tunings, because it's quite simple: Only one string is changed, and it's only changed one note. In dropped-D tuning, the lowest string, normally an E, is dropped one note to a D.
There are two ways of doing dropped-D tuning without any external aids. First, you can put your finger on the seventh fret of the lowest string, and drop the string until it sounds like the second-lowest string on the guitar. In standard tuning, the seventh fret on the lowest string produces a B note. However, when you lower the string to the correct tuning, that fret should sound exactly like an A, which is the second-lowest string on the guitar. You can use the A string as a reference, so when that seventh fret sounds the same as A, you know you've got it right, and the lowest string is now a D.
The other way is to simply drop the natural lowest string (without putting your finger on it) until it sounds one octave lower than the third-lowest string on the guitar. Since that string is a D, this will work fine as well; Just keep in mind that the lowest string will be one octave lower.
The picking hand is the hand which stays on the neck of the guitar and presses down on the strings to form different notes. This is your less dominant hand, so if you are right-handed, your picking hand is your left hand. This is somewhat paradoxical, since the picking hand actually tends to require more dexterity than the other, but that's the way it is.
Along the length of the guitar's neck run several slightly raised ridges which are perpendicular to the neck; These are called frets, and they signify note positions. To form different notes, you press down a string against a fret. Generally speaking, you should not press down a string between the frets. Try pressing a string against a fret and plucking it to see how it sounds, then try it again with your finger half-way between two frets. Typically, you get a cleaner, more resonant note when you press the string directly against the fret. There are some chords where you might not be able to stretch your fingers far enough apart to actually rest directly on the frets, and in those cases you can keep your fingers somewhere in the gaps in between (if you do, the note will correspond to the fret that's on the tonally higher side of the gap), but when possible, you should keep your fingers directly on the frets. For those familiar with music theory, each fret represents one half-step on a scale.
Being able to form different chord combinations on the guitar's strings is trickier than you might think at first. The guitar has six strings, and you only have four fingers (your thumb is usually not used to press down on the strings, but simply sits behind the guitar and supports it against your other fingers). Fingering positions for various chords can sometimes be very intricate, and if your hand isn't used to wrapping around a guitar neck, you may well have a hard time stretching and maneuvering your fingers around to the right positions. It takes practice! Those with sensitive fingertips on their picking hand will also need to get used to pressing those fingertips against the strings. It might not feel like much at first, but keeping your fingers pressed on those thin metal strings for extended periods of time tends to be hard on the fingertips. You'll get used to it in time, but of course, "getting used to it" also means that you'll lose some sensation in those fingers. (There's a reason why most surgeons are not guitarists.) When you're first learning to play the guitar, getting your picking hand used to the physical action of pressing on the strings is one of the hardest things to do. Remember to take it easy; Your hand will be under a lot of stress from the new actions of having to stretch, twist, and press itself the right way around the guitar and onto the strings. There's no sense in cramping your hand when you're learning, so give your hand a rest if it starts to hurt.
When playing guitar, often you are told to play a certain string "muted". This means to touch your finger against the string without actually pushing it down against the body of the guitar. This greatly reduces the sound of the string, and it becomes almost silent. Muting strings in this way can be used for two purposes: It can be used to mostly eliminate the sound of the string (as in cases where you want to play a chord which does not involve that particular string, but it just happens to be in the way), or it can be used simply for the muted, dull effect that it creates.
Inadvertently muting the strings this way is a common problem when you're learning to play. The guitar strings are just too darn close together, and you'll often find yourself pressing down an adjacent string when you really only wanted to press on one. For this reason, you should press down on the strings at a right angle, with your fingers jutting straight out from the fretboard, rather than laying your fingers sideways on the strings, which can easily result in accidentally pressing down more than one string.
Your strumming hand is the other hand besides your picking hand. (You do have only two hands, right?) This is the hand which performs the physical act of actually strumming the strings, creating a sound from them. You can just use the fingers on this hand, or you can use a pick, if you prefer. You'll probably find (depending on what kind of music you play with your guitar) that some songs are better suited to finger-strumming and others are better suited for use with a pick. Strumming is usually fairly straightforward, but there are a lot of techniques that can be used on those six strings. You can twang them with your fingertip, catch them under the edge of your fingernail as you pick them, pluck them with an artificial pick, or just brush the strings lightly so that they sound without the sudden twang of being plucked. None of these techniques affect the actual note that is played, but all of them produce sounds that are different. Try several different strumming techniques on your guitar, and get used to the sound created by each hand position and movement.
That's really all you need to know to start actually making sounds on your guitar; Now the only trick is playing the right notes! You can experiment on your own to see if you can come up with some nice notes and chords to play, but to get you started, I'll specify a few of my favorite strums for the first-time guitar session.
In my opinion, one of the best chord sequences in terms of difficulty-to-payoff ratio (how hard it is to play the notes, as offset by how good they sound) is the first sequence of chords that begin Villains, the title song of a good CD by the Verve Pipe. This is one of my favorite guitar intros ever; It's very simple, but something about it just sounds awesome, especially as an opener to a powerful song that later explodes into a heavier rhythm. The guitar tab for the first chord sequence of this song looks like this:
e - ------------------- B - ------------------- G - ------------------- D - ---6---7---9--12--- A - ---x---x---x---x--- E - ---0---0---0---0---
If this is your first time reading a guitar tab, a bit of explanation is in order. As you've probably fathomed, each horizontal line represents one string on the guitar. The letter on the left side indicate the tuning of the strings; As you can see, here we use the standard EADGBE tuning, but if the song uses some non-standard tuning, that will be reflected there. Each column of characters is a chord to be played (except for the ones which are only hyphens, which simply serve as whitespace to space the chords apart). The numbers in the chords represent which fret should be used for that string. (A number zero (0) indicates that the string should be played open, i.e. without your finger on it.) A letter "x" on a string indicates that the string should be played muted, i.e. with your finger gently resting on it to deaden its sound.
Based on this, then, you can see that these chords are played using only two strings. The low E string is always played open, and the A string is muted because it's in the way between the two strings you're actually using. Only the note played on the D string changes. You start with your finger on the sixth fret on the D string, you strum a few times, you move your finger to the 7th fret and strum a few more times, and so on. This might seem like a pretty simple chord, but if you try playing it, it should sound pretty good. If you have a little trouble picking only the lowest three strings, you can also put another finger on the G string so that it doesn't make much sound if you pluck it by accident.
What fingers should you use for these chords? That's largely up to you, although I usually keep my middle finger on the D string, my index finger muting the A string, and my ring finger muting the G string. Some guitar tabs indicate what fingers you should use on what strings, and some don't. You should also be aware that the fingers on your picking hand are numbered from one to four: Your index finger is finger 1, your middle finger is finger 2, your ring finger is finger 3, and your little finger is finger 4. Your thumb is not normally used, and thus is not numbered. Note that this numbering scheme can get confusing for those who have been trained in piano, where your thumb is finger 1, your index finger is finger 2, and so on.
Play this tab several times, and get the feel of sliding your fingers along the neck of the guitar. Try different strumming techniques, picking with your fingers, and with different types of picks (if you have several). There are many other good simple guitar tabs that you can play, but at this point, I'd like to jump ahead to a somewhat more difficult chord sequence to play, but one which is quite rewarding when you get the hang of it. It's also perfectly suited to acoustic guitar, since the original song uses an acoustic guitar: Three Angels, by the Headstones.
If you find a Three Angels tablature on the Internet, rather than actually giving you a guitar diagram like the one above, it'll probably just say that you should play the chords "D, G, C, G, C, and D," in that order. That's a start, but it's not too helpful if you're not sure how to play those chords. As such, the chord sequence is illustrated below:
e - ---2---3---0---3---0---2--- B - ---3---0---1---0---1---3--- G - ---2---0---0---0---0---2--- D - ---0---0---2---0---2---0--- A - --------------------------- E - ---------------------------
Those are the aforementioned chords transcribed on a guitar string chart. If you study this chart and then play it, you'll notice a curious truism about musical chords: Although each of these chords is named after a note, in none of these chords is the eponymous note the most prominent one. In other words, the note that stands out the most in each chord (the note that actually forms the melody) is not the one that gives the chord its name. For example, in the first chord, the most prominent note is the F-sharp that you form with the second fret on the E string; Yet this is called a D chord. Similarly, in the third chord, the so-called C chord, the most prominent note is the open E string. Conversely, however, on the second chord, the G chord, the melody note is indeed the G note you're playing on the E string. Notice that the most prominent melody note is always the highest one. In most musical pieces, this is usually the case: The highest notes tend to be the ones that stand out and form the melody, and the lower ones simply round out the chord to make it sound fuller. You could play this whole chord sequence on just the E string, and the melody would sound intact, but if you left out the E string, you'd hear only the background notes.
These chords also work best with a very specific finger arrangement. For the first chord, you should put your index finger on the G string, your ring finger on the B string, and your middle finger on the E string. This finger arrangement will seem clumsy and awkward at first, as it requires you to put your fingers into an unnatural position where your index and middle fingers are hunched close together, and your ring finger is stretched out from them. However, if you try experimenting with other finger positions, you'll quickly find that this one gives you the most comfortable way of playing this chord, as well as the fastest. Speed is important in arranging your fingers, because you can't stop the music to wait for your fingers to get in the right position; You've got to keep the rhythm of the music going, and that means you have to get your fingers into position fast.
That means you'll find the C chord to probably be the toughest of these. The recommended fingering position for this chord is with your ring finger on the D string, and your index finger on the B string. This creates an even more unnatural position for your whole hand, as you're required to twist it so that your ring finger is extending farther over the neck of the guitar than your index finger. At first, you may find it very tough to get your fingers to do this without breaking the rhythm of the music; If you wish, you can "cheat" a little by not playing any note at all on the D string, so that you only use the finger on the B string and you only play the highest three strings on the guitar. This works almost as well, but eventually you'll need to limber up your hand to the point where you can play these chords as they're notated quickly and easily. Practice!
That's it for now... Hopefully I'll add more to this page later. If you have guitar tabs which sound good and are easy to play for beginners that you'd like to see here, let me know. Thanks. :)
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