If you’re looking to take up a new hobby, why not pick up an instrument? This guide for beginners will walk you through everything you need to know about learning guitar.
Everyone loves a guitarist, right? Of all the instruments you could pick up at the music store, a guitar is a great choice for beginners who would like to learn to play an instrument. Though guitar sales saw a dip in 2018, they’ve since been rising steadily and continue to do so.
Despite the guitar’s growing popularity, actually sitting down and learning how to play it properly can be a daunting task that puts a lot of people off picking one up in the first place.
If you’re worried about being too old to learn, not having the time or resources, or you just don’t know where to start, you’re in the right place. This article will be your complete beginner’s guide to learning guitar so you can walk into the music store with confidence.
From how to find the right guitar and all the other necessary equipment you will need to the best methods of learning how to play the guitar, we’ve got you covered. So, take it away!
Is There a Correct Age to Learn to Play the Guitar?
As Mike Duffy wrote, “there’s no age restriction on learning a new skill”, and you shouldn’t let worry over whether or not you’re the “correct” age stop you from doing what you want to do.
There’s no way to answer the question of “do children learn instruments quicker than adults” because although this has been suggested due to the ability of many young children to absorb new information at an almost alarming rate, adults are far more prone to consistent practice.
However, the benefits of learning to play a musical instrument, which include exercising your brain, relieving stress, and improving hand-eye coordination, apply to children and adults, so there’s no reason to think there’s less point in starting once you’ve passed a certain age.
Finding the Guitar for You
Seeing as they can be such a big investment, finding the right guitar for you is hugely important. You’ll need to decide which style you prefer and what your maximum budget is.
Your guitar will be your closest companion while you’re learning how to play, so choose the one you’ll find comfortable to use when you’re putting in hours of practice.
While it can be tricky for a beginner guitarist to navigate, this will ultimately come down to your personal preferences and what you’re looking for in a guitar, including what sound you’re hoping to get out of it. Oh, and we’re here to help too, of course.
If you choose to go for an electric guitar, you’ll also need to purchase an amp to go with it. This is a bulky and expensive addition that requires power to produce the sound but it’s one that can be unplugged if you need to keep your practice volume to a minimum.
In terms of performance power, the electric guitar provides ample room for an indulgent solo yet it can be contrastingly and surprisingly gentle on your fingertips as the strings are easy to press down. However, it’s not necessarily the best choice for beginners.
An acoustic guitar, on the other hand, does not require an amp meaning they tend to be more affordable compared to electric guitars. This means you don’t need to connect to any sort of power source in order to play the beautiful sounds these guitars are capable of.
We’d recommend an acoustic guitar for anyone looking to learn how to play, as they’re affordable yet reliable and can be easily transported when you go away or to a gig one day.
Although you should look for a trusty, durable instrument that will be able to withstand the frequent practice that any beginner should be putting in when they’re learning how to play the guitar, it’s also not advisable to spend a huge amount of money on your first one.
Consider the wear and tear your guitar will be put through and how, despite the best of intentions, you may not get your money’s worth of use out of it if your interest in learning how to play doesn’t last. Aim for somewhere between $150 and $300 as a guide budget, and shop around to make sure you’re paying competitive prices and that you’re sure of the style.
Ways to Learn
Knowing where to start when you begin learning a new instrument is often the hardest part, but these three ways to learn are all great jumping-off points for beginners.
The great thing about learning how to play the guitar is there is no right or wrong way to do it - you can simply find the method that works best for you and stick with it. And, as everyone knows, the most important part of learning how to play any instrument is to practice it.
One of the best and most effective ways to learn how to play the guitar is to hire a good instructor who can physically show you what you need to do during a face-to-face session.
This allows the instructor to more easily pick up on and correct any mistakes you make and they can provide enough encouragement to help foster your enjoyment of this instrument.
The only downside associated with hiring a guitar instructor is that private lessons can come at quite a cost, so this isn’t always an affordable option for beginners like the next two ways.
People that have no former experience with guitars might also feel nervous about attempting to play in front of a professional, but try to remember that we all had to start somewhere.
There are a number of guitar lesson apps such as Fender Play which provide you with access to the tools you need, wherever you are. This is great if you don’t want to miss a practice session while you’re traveling and it can enhance or replace an instructor’s lessons.
Another benefit of taking online guitar lessons is that you can develop your skills from the comfort of your own home but still with the help of professional guidance. Plus, there are options for all skill levels, so you can advance as you improve your guitar playing ability.
Online lessons don't always just involve video, audio, or written courses - you can also find personalized instruction online. Takelessons is a great site that allows you to review the teacher’s prices, bios, reviews, and more before selection or even call a concierge for help. If you are looking for local lessons, they can match you with an instructor at the click of a button. Additionally, they offer live online classes, making personalized learning accessible to students throughout the world.
It’s important to make sure that you’ve done thorough research if you’re considering taking online guitar lessons as there are hundreds of options available, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re paying competitive prices for lessons from a reputable instructor.
You should check out some of the best guitar lesson channels on YouTube if you’re worried about the costs and pressures of having a guitar instructor or paying for online lessons, as this is a way you can learn how to play the guitar at your own pace, completely for free!
For the dedicated guitarist, you could even supplement your in-person or online lessons with extra self-taught practice through watching online tutorials on Youtube between sessions.
This will help you work on things you’ve been learning in your lessons so the next time you have a session booked in, you can focus on something new to improve your overall skills.
Another benefit of learning via Youtube videos is that if you’re embarrassed about not being able to nail down a certain set of chord progressions, you can practice on your own until you’re confident showing other people the new guitar skills you’ve managed to master.
If you presumed that finding the right guitar was all you needed to do before you could start learning to play this instrument then you were sorely mistaken, as these are actually a few beginner essentials that you will need if you want to successfully learn to play the guitar.
Although only a bad musician blames their instruments for their failings, having the right equipment can make or break a performance and there are many tools to enhance your sound. While you can explore these in full as a more mature player, as a beginner you’ll need the following few bits of essential equipment to help you learn your new musical craft.
Held between your pointer finger and your thumb, a guitar pick is what you use to strum the strings of your guitar as you play. Comfort is key when you’re choosing a pick as a beginner, so you should try to opt for something lightweight that is easy to hold and to use.
There is a huge range of shapes, sizes, styles, and thicknesses to choose from, and as you progress through the stages of guitar playing you’ll benefit from experimenting with a few different ones to find your preferred type of pick. For now, however, we’d recommend plastic.
Because they’re small in size and easy to lose, most places will sell picks in packs, like this Fender Premium Picks sample set which contains twenty-four different picks for you to try.
You’ll need a strap to help stabilize the instrument while you’re playing, especially if you won’t be seated during the performance. Like with picks, there is a multitude of choices available to you and the final one will largely come down to your personal preference.
Keeping our former advice in mind, which is that comfort should be your main focus when you’re still learning to play the guitar, it’s recommended that you look for a strap that’s at least two inches wide with neoprene padding to prevent rubbing or neck and shoulder pain.
If you’re shopping for an electric guitar strap, you’ll need to make sure you purchase the right type of strap by factoring in the two endpins that aren’t found on acoustic guitars. In order to secure the strap to the headstock, you will also need a strap button or a piece of string.
Using a tuner can help get your guitar performance-ready faster and with greater accuracy, but there are different types of tuners available for you to choose from, such as the following:
- Microphone Based Tuners: These are a more old-fashioned type of guitar tuner that can be known to pick up ambient noise in the background.
- Vibration-Based Tuners: For a higher level of precision, vibration-based tuners offer more accuracy thanks to a sensor that detects and adjusts to the pitch of a string.
- Pedal Tuners: These are a great option for beginners as they usually tune one string at a time and can even detect which string is off if you strum them all at once.
- Smartphone Apps: These days, you can even tune your guitar using your smartphone device as there are apps that will listen to the sound of your strings and tell you which ones need tuning and to what extent.
No matter which type of tuning device you use for your guitar, it’s best to make sure you tune your guitar regularly to ensure the instrument is well-maintained and that it’s producing the best sound it is possibly capable of.
With the power to cut your sound as quickly as it delivers it, you should aim for a cable length that’s no shorter than 186 feet long. Reinforced ends are also good indications of quality, as this helps to reduce handling noise and prevents interference with the signal.
Whatever you’re doing, just make sure you don’t try over your cable while you’re playing!
Although not always a necessity for beginners, some songs benefit from being played with a capo. This can be clamped to the neck of a guitar in order to hold the strings in place while you play, and it affects the pitch and sound of the notes your guitar produces.
It can be useful for beginners, however, when playing a song that requires a full range of notes. If you’re struggling with the scope of the notes, a capo allows you to move the song’s range slightly by a note or two to avoid the lowest or highest notes.
All About Strings
Your choice of guitar strings will hugely influence your sound as well as having a direct impact on how well you are able to build strength in your hands and fingers while you learn.
A useful tip is that beginners often do better using thinner strings with a lighter or lower gauge, as these help to reduce soreness in your hands after your first few practice sessions.
You’ll also need different strings depending on which type of guitar you get, as due to the way they pick up the string vibrations, electric and acoustic guitars require the correct corresponding strings else you risk ruining the overall sound you’re trying to achieve.
Electric Guitar Strings
Electric guitar strings are typically made of steel, nickel, or another type of metal. They usually feature three plain steel strings on the top and then three bottom strings with a steel core, usually wrapped with nickel, but this can vary depending on the manufacturer.
Nickel-plated steel is the most popular due to its snappy, smooth sound and even playing. For a warmer tone and smooth feeling, you could opt for a pure nickel wrap, or stainless steel will provide a snappier, brighter sound.
|A General Guide to Electric Guitar String Gauges|
|Extra Light||.008, .010, .015, .021, .030, .038|
|Light||.009, .016, .024, .032, .042|
|Medium||.010, .013, .017, .026, .036, 0.46|
|Heavy||.011, .015, .022, .030, .042, .054|
|Extra Heavy||.012, .016, .020, .034, .046, .060|
Acoustic Guitar Strings
Also made from metal are acoustic guitar strings, typically fashioned out of bronze, phosphor bronze, brass, steel, or nickel, with the top two strings usually being plain steel and the bottom four steel core bronze wrapped strings.
Selecting a good set of strings for your acoustic guitar can make you forget that it’s technically the cheaper instrument compared to an electric version, as it can greatly enhance the quality of the music you play when you get the right ones.
|A General Guide to Acoustic Guitar String Gauges|
|Extra Light ||.010, .014, .023, .030, .039, .047|
|Custom Light||.011, .015, .023, .032, .042, .052|
|Light||.012 .016 .025 .032 .042 .054|
|Medium||.013 .017 .026 .035 .045 .056|
|Heavy||.014 .018 .027 .039 .049 .059|
Things Every Beginner Guitarist Should Know
It’s easy to become overwhelmed thinking about all of the different elements of playing guitar and how you’ll need to learn them in order to master this instrument, but it’s important to remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even Beethoven had to start somewhere.
The following section will walk you through some of the key things that every beginner guitarist should know, with links that will help you to find out more.
How to Hold a Guitar Pick
One of the most important things to get to grips with when you’re learning is how to comfortably hold the guitar and all of its different components while you’re playing.
This includes learning how to hold the pick correctly, which should be between your thumb and forefinger extended along but not exceeding the pointed end pointing toward the strings. You’ll need a firm grip, but don’t squeeze the pick too tightly in your hand.
If you are having trouble with holding your pick, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials you could watch, or alternatively, use your picking hand’s middle finger to strum the strings.
How to Strum
Learning the correct chord progressions is important, but it will be in vain if you haven’t got any rhythm to combine these chords. It’s therefore just as important to learn how to strum, and with a little practice, you’ll be able to play actual songs instead of just chords in no time!
To learn how to strum, you’ll need to know how to hold the guitar in the correct position, how to hold the pick and be familiar with the guitar’s responses which can all be found here.
The main thing is to get to a point where you can comfortably hold the guitar in your hand and strum the correct chords without having to put too much effort into thinking about what it is you’re doing. This is where your muscle memory will come in, so practice is important!
Learning the Names and Numbers of the Strings
The more you play, the more you’ll learn the names of your open strings, but putting in some practice to memorize them early so you already know them can help you progress further and faster in your guitar playing. Take this one string at a time until you know all six strings.
One of the best tips for learning the names and numbers of the strings is to come up with a catchy rhyme or acronym that will help you remember which is which. For example, starting from the thinnest string to the thickest, you’d have E-A-D-G-B-E.
This can be remembered as the following:
- Eat All Day Get Big Easy
- Ed Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Ed
- Or our personal favorite, which applies to this situation perfectly; Every Amateur Does Get Better Eventually
There’s much more to learning how to play the guitar than just picking up the instrument and learning how to physically play it, which is why studying music theory and being able to read music is also something that every beginner guitarist should know or be trying to learn.
Some people believe that they don’t need to learn how to read music as long as they know how to play by ear and can work out the chord progressions from playing them yourself, but this will limit you in a number of ways when it comes to playing the guitar.
Not only will learning how to read music make you a better musician in your own right, but you’ll also find it much easier to play as part of a band or with other people, which makes you a better musician overall. This opens more opportunities just because you read music.
It’s widely accepted that there are 10 chords every beginner guitarist should know in order to become a better guitar player. After learning these and storing them in your muscle memory, you’ll be able to work on improving your playing skills and adding more to your repertoire.
Eventually, you’ll be able to turn these chords and progressions into flowing pieces of music that you (and hopefully other people) will be able to recognize! This will allow you to take on more of your favorite songs. Up for a game of guess the song, anyone?
Practice Makes Perfect
Despite being one of the most widely known and commonly used phrases, it’s surprising how many people fail to remember to heed this expression when it comes to learning how to play an instrument like the guitar. It might not be very rock ‘n roll, but it’ll get you results.
Several articles on “things every beginner guitarist should know” stress the importance of being steady and consistent with your practice to ensure greater accuracy in your playing. It’s not a race, so don’t expect to be on stage a week after first picking up your guitar!
Easy Songs to Learn
Learning to play the guitar can be a long, painful process that requires a lot of practice and even more patients. It’s not uncommon for people to run out of the latter and rush to try and play something that resembles more of a tune than a chord, only to be disappointed.
This can put a dent in your progress as it might be disheartening to struggle with the same songs every time you attempt to play them, which can make you reluctant to put in the practice. However, it's important to remember that it’s just the song and not your ability.
Soon enough and you’ll be playing songs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton, but to help you get started with something more suited to your skill level, here are some of the best songs to try and learn if you’re still a beginner guitarist.
Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen
Whatever your instrument of choice is, Leanard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is a great starter song for beginners to learn while they’re still getting used to their playing style and techniques.
The majority of the song consists of the same five chords and four strings that are strummed consecutively to a rhythmic beat. This is perfect for helping you practice repeated movements which will improve your muscle memory, but it’s slow enough that you can take care to ensure each movement is correct without rushing your hand and finger placements.
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
If you’ve heard the song before, its upbeat pace and fast rhythm might be why you didn’t think to try learning how to play it in the first place, but its brilliance is in its simplicity.
Using only five chords, you should be able to follow the tune with relative ease despite being a speedier song than some of the other recommended songs for beginner guitarists.
Three Little Birds - Bob Marley
Another great song for beginners to try their hand at is ‘Three Little Birds’ by the man Bob Marley himself. Not only is it a great song with a soothing tune, which in itself should be enough to entice you, but it features a relatively simple chord progression for beginners.
It should be easy to learn thanks to only having three chords, but seeing as these are three of the chords that make up the foundation of guitar playing, they’re important ones to master.
Achy Breaky Heart - Billy Ray Cyrus
There ain’t nothing like a little bit of country music to make you appreciate the instrument you’re attempting to learn in a new light, so why not start with this classic from Billy Ray Cyrus, his hit song ‘Achy Breaky Heart’.
Its catchy tune makes it easy enough to pick up and remember the chords and the correct positioning for your fingers so it’s therefore an excellent song to play during practice sessions. The chord progressions are also quite simple in nature which makes them easier.
Sweet Home Alabama - Lynyrd Skynyrd
The great thing about this song is how it’s based around three basic open chords which you’ll need to learn as you progress in your guitar playing anyway.
Practicing with this song allows you to practice these chords, and you can alter your playing style between verses rather than actually altering what you’re doing and becoming confused.
Eleanor Rigby - The Beatles
If you’re looking to practice when you’re low on time, then a song to consider that’s short and sweet and perfect for beginners to learn to play is ‘Eleanor Rigby’ by the Beatles. It’s also repetitive in many ways, which is what makes it such a great option for beginners.
This allows you to focus on your individual movements and the fluid chord progressions are easy to get to grips with, so practicing this song to have in your arsenal is a good idea.
It can be incredibly intimidating to think about one day picking up an instrument and learning how to play it, but after reaching the end of this article, we hope that you feel a little less daunted by the prospect of picking out and learning how to play the guitar.
As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into it, but with the right information and the determination to practice until you’re playing perfectly, there’s nothing that will be able to stop you from realizing your dreams. You could be on stage before you know it.
Why not start with one of the songs we’ve suggested as these are all great options for beginner guitar players. If you do, let us know how you got on with learning them in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you!