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Learning to Play the Guitar

“Someone told me the smile on my face gets bigger when I play the guitar.” - Niall Horan

We’re here to put the smile on your face! So, you have first guitar. Now what? Your next step is to learn to play your acoustic guitar. Play those first chords. Break your first string (just kidding). In this article we will walk you through every step of learning how to play your first guitar.

How do You Learn Best?

Everyone has a different learning style. Some like to hear things for the first time, some like to watch a demonstration.  Whichever style works best for you, there are options available for learning to play the guitar for the first time.

  • Watch How-To DVDs or Videos – YouTube isn’t necessarily a nexus of factual information, but there are some amazing step-by-step videos on not only how to play a guitar, but how to string, tune and properly hold your specific guitar.

You can do what I did, and buy a how-to DVD, but I found mine very dry and not easy to navigate if I wanted to back up to watch something again. There are better ones out there, and even DVD series that progressively work you up from starting to playing complex songs.

  • Read a guitar book and look at step-by-step manuals – For those of you who learn by reading, this is the way to go. At some point everyone will need to learn tablature and we suggest learning a little bit of guitar theory, too. Not sure if you will like reading about it as a learning tool? Go to your local library and pick up a few books to borrow for free.
  • Get an instructor - Community colleges often offer classes or you can see a private instructor.
  • No matter what, your most important step is to start practicing!

What are the Basics Steps of Playing for the First Time?

Play until your fingers hurt.

  1. It’s going to take practice. A lot of practice.  You will be a rockstar – just not the first day. Your finger joints will get tired from the new positions, your fingertips will get sore and maybe develop calluses.  Keep a pick at hand if your fingers are too sore after a while. Get used to pressing your strings firmly down to reduce buzzing and vibration in the strings. Also, your wrist and hand will need to get used to half open position.
  2. Set a Schedule. Sounds boring, right? Jamming out should be fun!  It is fun, but you need to make sure you fit it into your schedule so you don’t lose the new information you just picked up! (Get it, pick?) Try training your hand in chord positions while watching a movie so you learn by touch instead of sight.
  3. Learn your frets and strings. Your strings may be numbered 1-6, or lettered E-e. Practice learning string placement and frets on your guitar.  The frets are the raised bars on the neck of your guitar and they are numbered. The first fret numbered 1 located at the highest part of the neck, and goes down in numerical order to the body of your guitar. There are symbols or dots normally on every other fret to help you visually identify which fret you are using.
  4. Learn to read tablature and play scales. You will need to learn to read a tablature chart which shows you the string placement and which frets you should press down on to create a certain sound. WikiHow offers some good information on “tabs” and playing scales at
  5. Learn the basic positions for chords and practice, practice, practice. Look at a diagram or videos of the finger positions and place your hands in position several times to create muscle memory before you try to play them.
  6. Don’t be a punk rocker. That means learn more than 3 chords! Take the time to learn note patterns, major scales, minor scales, power chords, and even delve into some guitar theory. When you have the techniques down, learning songs or writing them will be a breeze.
  7. Guitar Maintenance. It may seem silly to state this, but keep your strings in tune! You can get awesome tuning apps on smartphones, standalone tuners and pitch tools to carry with you in your guitar case.

Are You Ready to Play Your Guitar for the First Time?

Just do it!

Don’t be nervous! If it sounds bad, keep trying until it doesn’t! Learning to play the guitar for the first time is like learning any new skill; tying your shoes or making your first batch of pancakes. It doesn’t always happen perfectly the first time. Once you have those first few hours under your fingertips you are opening yourself up to a whole new world of music to explore, create and enjoy.

About the Author Joe

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