How to learn guitar

How to learn Guitar

In this article I’m going to discuss how to learn guitar at the very beginning of your journey and how to learn guitar chords.  How to learn to play guitar and how to learn to play guitar by yourself or with a teacher it doesn’t matter. Here you will find some interesting points and a guide as to what you need to spend your time on, to get you playing and to get you through the tricky first steps.

By David Hattersley

With younger children I tend to take a bit of a different approach to how I teach them. This is another great topic and I will be writing another article about this which I will link here.

Visit the link above for a guitar course specifically tailored for kids.

One thing to keep in mind is that even the best guitarists in the world at some point didn't play guitar. They still had to go through the first stages just like you are.

I have been teaching guitar for many years now and there is always one question I ask all of my students in there first lesson.

Why do you want to play guitar?

This may seem like a very simple question but its important.

I ask this question to understand what your goals are. The more you understand your goals the easier it is to make a clear path of how to get you there. I do find that thinking about this can help you get results faster and more efficiently.

I'm not going to spend much time on these first two points.

Tune your guitar.

There are tons of resources out there about tuning your guitar. All I am going to say here is that it is very important to make sure you guitar is in tune. They go out of tune all the time so check it regularly.

Here are links to 2 of the tuners I own.

Holding the guitar.

It is important to be comfortable when holding the guitar, but its also important to make sure you are holding it correctly too. If you make sure you get this right at the beginning then it will save you a lot of problems further down the line.

The 3 steps to work on.

3 points to think of when learning pretty much anything on guitar. This is to make sure you don't overload and try to focus on all 3 things all at once. I've found learning like this works. You have 3 things to get to grips with when learning something new on the guitar.

1. The freting hand. 2. The strumming hand. 3. Putting the 2 together.

1. The freting hand.

We all have to learn something to get us pressing our fingers against the strings.
Open chords are the best place to start. Open chords (cowboy chords) are chords that contain open strings within the chords.

I usually start people off with the E, A and D chords.
You can learn whichever chords you like first but it is important that you learn whichever chords you choose in the correct way.

I would start with the E chord (E major). Make sure you are fretting the notes correctly.
First of all make sure you are using you figertips.
The pads of your fingers have a much bigger surface area than the tips, if you use the pads the chances are that you are going cover strings that you should not be covering. Meaning you are playing notes that should not be in the chord or you will be deadening notes that you should be hearing.
If you are doing this correctly you should have a nice arch to your fingers.

Make the shape of the chord and play every string individually to make sure you are getting the right sound from each of the strings.
By doing this you will find out if you are accidentally covering a string that you shouldn't be.
If you are you will need to make adjustments to get this right.

Everyones fingers are different so you will need to find what works for you.

E major chord

When you have got your chord shapes right, get used to hearing how they sound and used to the fingering. So, just play them and enjoy the sounds of them.

You don't need to learn all the chords at once. It's best to learn 2 or 3 chords at a time. You can keep adding more and more chords to your repertoir as you move through your journey.

Learning something incorrectly will lead to many frustrating hours further down the road correcting your mistakes . Don't tell yourself “I'll work on that later”. At the beginning you have to get the basics correct (I can tell you from experience, it really isn't worth taking shortcuts).

2. Your strumming hand.

Rhythm is the most important aspect about playing an instrument.

From being a guitarist for the majority of my life and from years of teaching experience, I can tell you that guitarists tend to be incredibly lazy when it comes to rhythm.

The best guitarists and musicians in the world, ALWAYS have great rhythm. Having good basic timing will get you a very long way.

I have put together a 3 part series of videos that are designed to get you playing rhythm guitar.

It's important to get to grips with the beat or pulse and to have complete control of how to play on any subdivision of the beat.

In the first video I cover the first 3 chords I teach to beginners, strumming exercises and changing chords.

There are links in the video to lots of useful resources which include chord sheets, tabs and backing tracks at variety of different tempos.

3. Putting the 2 together. The most overlooked part. “I can do this hand, and I can do this hand, but I just can't do them together”.

You've learned the chord shape and your learned how to strum a pattern.

What you will be likely to experience when you first start changing chords. You will be strumming away at the first chord, then you stop whilst getting fingers into the next position and then strumming again, and back and forth.

This is not the best method for learning to change chords.
By doing this you take away all of the flow of what you are playing.

I find the best method is to make it simple (see video).

Use a metronome or a drum track if you can (something that keeps time and won't deviate from the actual pulse).
Strum the first chord on beat 1 that will leave you the remaining 3 beats to get you fingers ready for the next chord which you also strum on beat 1.

If its too fast slow down your metronome or drum track.
Gradually increase the tempo when you're getting it perfectly in time.

Then move on to strumming on beats 1 and 3 with the first chord and then the same on the second chord.
This will now only give you just the 4th beat to get your fingers into the next chord postion making you have to change quicker but still keeping in time.

Start at a tempo that you can do and again gradually build up the tempo.

Next you can do the same exercise strumming on each one of the beats and then changing chord.
This will give you not much time to change chords.

If you follow this process you will learn how to change chords and to keep the timing solid which can be a very tricky thing to do at first. Be sure not to rush this step.

When it comes to practicing with the more continuous strumming patterns (for example the ones with upstrums) its important to keep the strumming hand moving like a pendulum. When your strumming hand becomes repetative (meaning you are keeping the timing solid) you can focus purely on the finger placements as you change chords.

Even if you don't get the chord changes correct straight alway make sure you keep strumming.
The changes will get easier and more fluent but only if your rhythm doesn't deviate from the repetative pattern.

Get creative.

It is incredibly enjoyable to put some chords together and just play. You never know you might just write yourself a hit song.

Learning songs.

This is the goal for most people.

Its incredibly satisfying to be able to play your favourite songs.

Start simple.

There are places all over the internet that tell you about easy 2, 3 and 4 chord songs.

Have a look around and find a song you like the look of.
You can practice the chord changes using the above method if it has chords you have not already been practicing.
If it feels too hard or something that you will struggle with, its not a problem, come back to that song later.

Sometimes your first song can take a while. But when you learn more and more songs it becomes a quicker process.

I have a system that I never treat a song as learnt until I can play the full song along with the recording of the song without the chords in front of me.
This means you have learned the whole song and committed it to memory.

Dont be afraid of taking a break from a song and coming back to it later. It's better to do this than overworking on a song and maybe even starting to dislike the song because it starts to feel like a chore.
If this starts to happen feel free to break away from it and try something else.
But be sure to come back to it at some point so its not just another half or quarter of song that you started to learn.

When you come back to it, it's likely you may find it easier, not just because it has a renewed freshness but because you have gained more experience from learning a differtent song in the mean time.

Here are some beginner song books you may want to look at.


The term practice can sometimes seem like the wrong word.

The word practice doesn't sound enjoyable.
Whereas the word play or playing does.

Here's the big question......

How long should I practice?

There is no definitive answer to this.
Everyone is different and everyone has different commitments that dictate how much time they can practice.

Make sure you aren't practcing when your fingers and arms are fatigued.
If your playing when your fingers are tired because you have been practicing too long you will probable find yourself making mistakes that you might not normally make.
If you start making mistakes and you repeat the same mistake over and over again, you are essentially teaching yourself to make that same mistake over and over again.
So know when enough is enough.

Take regular breaks.
You will get more out of a practice session if you take a good break and keep yourself refreshed.

If you don't use it you can loose it.
If you don't practice regular then the chances are you will forget everything you have learned or you will have to reteach your fingers to do the same things over and over again.

If you keep it up and enjoying yourself there's no limitations to what you can learn.

If you fancy getting started with lead guitar, give this a try.

Adult Guitar Lessons - Guitar Lessons Specificaly tailored to adults

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