How to learn to play the guitar
How to learn to play the guitar quickly and easily? No way. This business requires patience, diligence, hard work and determination. But as soon as you start, the magic of guitar music will captivate you, drag you in so much that you won’t notice how you will have learned another solo. If you are still in doubt, this article will cover the main aspects of learning. If you get interested – join the community of guitarists.
First you need to decide which guitar you want to learn to play. Some features of the technique, posture, hand position, as well as the choice of the instrument itself depend on this. Which guitar do you like best?
- Acoustic (electroacoustic);
All classical and acoustic guitars have approximately the same – “Spanish” – shape. But there is a huge number of different formats among electric guitars. The most popular are the Fender Stratocaster, Fender Telecaster, Gibson Les Paul and Gibson SG. But other models are just as good.
In order to learn how to play the guitar, one usually buys one of the low-budget options. For example, Fender has Squier electric guitars. If at some point you realize that music is not yours, you will not be sorry for the money spent. For beginners whole sets are also sold: in addition to the instrument itself, they include a cord, an amplifier and a case.
Yes, if you want to learn how to play an electric guitar, you will need an amplifier, a cord, and picks. It is also nice to have headphones to study without disturbing roommates. As for the choice itself, in the store one usually pays attention to how comfortable it is to hold the instrument and how pleasant its sound is. Usually the buyer immediately falls in love with the guitar that suits him/her. It’s like picking a magic wand.
It’s hard to learn how to play the guitar without learning how to tune it. The easiest way to tune is to use the tuner. Such devices are available in the form of pins, boxes, pedals and computer plug-ins. Many acoustic guitars have built-in tuners. There are many applications and sites with online tuners on the Internet, so that the instrument can be tuned even through a smartphone. Here is the standard scale.
- E4 – the first (the thinnest) string;
- B3 – second;
- G3 – third;
- D3 – fourth;
- A2 – fifth;
- E2 – sixth (the thickest).
There are also many alternative tunings. But it is better to experiment with them when you learn to play the guitar in standard tuning. You can twist the tuning pegs according to the standard without a tuner. Press the second string to the fifth fret and pluck the first and second strings at the same time. They should merge, sound in unison. If this does not happen, twist the second peg. Then press the third string to the fourth fret and pluck the second and third strings. Then the fourth string at the fifth fret, the fifth string at the fifth fret and the sixth string at the fifth fret. Pluck the pressed string and the open previous one at the same time.
Fifth fret tuning
Some professional guitarists tune their instruments using harmonics. You can also tune the guitar by ear by song, chord, or intervals. But if you have not yet learned to play the guitar, these methods are unlikely to suit you. For now, just be aware of them.
There is one more important thing to know about the electric guitar. It applies to scale settings, pitch, and fretboard curvature. An open (unpressed) string and the same string pressed at the 12th fret should produce the same note an octave apart. That is, for example, the first one is E4 and E5. If the hit is inaccurate, you need to tighten the saddle with a screwdriver and make sure that the tuner needle is at the center both at the zero fret and at the 12th fret. Otherwise, the guitar will tune up in one place on the fretboard, but will not in another.
It is problematic to learn to play the guitar when the strings touch the fretboard and ring. But you can try to raise the saddles with a thin key or adjust the anchor. Scale setting and pitch adjustment are often left to the luthier. And one more thing. If you got a new set, don’t be afraid if your guitar will get out of tune for the first couple of days. This is fine. After that strings will stretch and keep in tune.
The classic position prescribes to rest the instrument on the left leg, and the leg itself on a special stand. The left hand should be rounded, fingers should be placed perpendicular to the plane of the fretboard. But this is not always convenient. And more often guitarists put the deck on their right foot, and the position of the hand changes depending on the guitar part.
The main thing is that the strings must be pressed with pads at the very tips of the fingers, near the nails (nails should be cut short). Also, excessive tension in the hand should not be allowed, although this cannot be avoided at first. Both the left and right hands should muffle those strings that do not sound, to avoid gritty sounds. At first, this will not work either, but you need to remember about muffling in order to learn how to play the guitar cleanly from the start.
The right hand in the area of the elbow should be in contact with the guitar deck, the hand should hang freely near the bridge. The pick should be held with the thumb and forefinger. You can also use your middle finger and press it against your index finger. This will strengthen your grip. But do not overdo it: there should be no tension here either.
Important point. If you’re planning to perform with a band, you should definitely train while standing, just the way you’ll play at a concert. Sitting and standing positions vary greatly in comfort, feelings, and hand placement. So you need to get used to performing with a guitar on a strap right away.
Learning to play the guitar means mastering a set of tricks and techniques. Here are some of them. Take note and try to master them all gradually.
- Legato – a smooth bunch of notes, when one note flows into another without being cut off;
- Staccato – on the contrary, abrupt striking;
- Hammer-on is also a kind of legato, you play the first note with a pick, and the next – only by hitting the fret with your left finger, without using your right hand;
- Pull-off – the reverse movement, when you hold your index and ring fingers, for example, at the fifth and seventh frets, pluck the string so that it sounds at the seventh fret, and then, loosen the ring finger, and the fifth fret starts to sound;
- Variable stroke – movement of the pick up and down;
- Downstroke picking – movement of the pick only down;
- Tremolo – fast repetitive movement of the pick up and down;
- Vibrato – shifting the finger of the left hand up and down the fret for a rhythmic change in tone with a small amplitude, learning to play a quality vibrato guitar is a difficult task;
- Harmonic is a specific light sound of a note, obtained only in certain places on the fretboard, if you do not press the string, but only lightly touch it with your left hand finger;
- Tapping – playing by tapping the frets with the fingers, without picking;
- Arpeggio – fingerpicking the strings in a certain order, creating a specific rhythmic and melodic pattern;
- Strumming – rhythmically repeated strikes on the entire string canvas at once;
- Slide – sliding from one fret to another;
- Bending – pulling the string up with your finger to the next note, similar in sounding to a slide, in technique – to vibrato;
- Palm muting – playing with muting using the edge of the palm of the right hand.
These and other interesting tricks you will learn during training. As for knowing the notes, the first thing to do is to learn how to play the pentatonic scale, the chromatic scale, the minor and major scales on the guitar, and then all the others: Phrygian, Dorian, etc. But the simplest thing that everyone usually starts with is chords.
Chords can be conventionally divided into open and barre. The open ones are pressed on the first three frets. At the same time, unpressed strings sound in them. For example, in Am, the second, third and fourth are pressed, while the first, fifth and sixth sound open. To put a barre, you need to hold all six strings with your index finger, and put a chord with your middle, ring and little fingers.
To learn how to play guitar chords, beginner guitarists use diagrams. Here are the chord charts in A minor. The same chords contain the C major key. The dots indicate the places that need to be pressed. The top line is the thinnest string, the bottom line is the thickest. Most of them are open. In other keys you will find more barre. When you master the basic chords, you can learn more beautiful harmonies – seventh chords.
Barre has four main forms (seventh chords are not included yet). These are F, Fm, B, Bm. By moving these forms along the fretboard, we get different chords, but we have the same fingerings. So actually learning to play guitar chords is not difficult at all. The main thing is to work out the rearrangement of the fingers and let your hands get used to it. For the first few months, you will feel discomfort, your hands will hurt. This is normal, it will get much easier later on.
Chords are also indicated using tablature. Here are the same chords in the form of tabs. Six lines correspond to six strings (the top one is the thinnest). The numbers indicate the frets on which you need to put your fingers. With the help of tabs, you can learn to play not only chords, but also any parts: solos, fills, interval combinations.
Am, F, C, G in tablature
You can easily find chords for specific songs on the Internet. At first, everyone uses only such records. But the selection of chords by ear is more useful. Just listen to the song and play different chords, looking for the ones that blend with the sound of the music. In the same way pick out and learn solos, plunks, guitar fills, or even parts of other instruments.
For beginners learning how to play complex phrases on the guitar can be problematic. Just practice them at a slow pace several times in a row. Gradually increase the pace. Sometimes the slow-motion feature on the player is useful. In this case, it is important not only to determine the chord progression, but also to work out the rhythm accurately, and then hit the beat.
In famous songs, the strikes on the strings create unique rhythms that are consistent with the drums, vocals and other parts of only those specific songs. But in order to learn how to play the guitar, one usually takes simpler rhythmic variants of strikes with a pick. These are combinations of movements up and down. Here are some examples.
Ska rhythm, pauses on each strong beat, upbeats on each weak beat
Reggae rhythm, quick up and down strikes in every two beats
Two strong strikes at the beginning and oscillatory movement at the end
Something like tango, rhythm with strong accents
You can play chords not only with the strumming technique. If you hold down a chord and pluck the strings alternately, repeating the same pattern, you get arpeggio. To begin with, it is recommended to learn how to play simple arpeggios on the guitar. Hold, for example, the Am chord and pluck the indicated strings in order.
When you master the basic arpeggios and understand the logic, you will be able to create your own sequences, rearrange chords, do solo inserts, add strokes and much more beauty.
You don’t necessarily have to use chords to play the guitar. You can come up with a solo or build a part on riffs. Riff is a short melodic pattern that is repeated throughout a section of a song, such as a verse. As a rule, the riff has a clear rhythmic basis, which gives energy to the song. Music of heavy styles, different types of metal and rock are based on riffs. Although repetitive patterns in pop music can also be considered riffs.
Powerful guitar riffs are played in fifths, fourths or power chords. A power chord usually includes both a fifth and a fourth. The rest of the strings are muted when playing riffs. It is also important that the riffs are played with overdrive or distortion effects. Otherwise, the sound will be rather strange stylistically.
Learning how to play guitar riffs does not mean that you only need to practice fifths and fourths. Thirds may also be included in your practice. An assertive riff can also consist of octaves. And even a pattern played by single notes will sound energetic on overdrive. Musicians who write songs with aggressive sound even insert dissonant intervals, such as tritones, into their riffs.
Riffs as a rule are played in the lower and middle tessitura, that is, on thick strings. This is where the phrase gets more power, more bass. But you need to make sure that the guitar part does not conflict with the bass guitar part. At the same time the bass part usually duplicates the guitar in riffs. This harmonization gives more energy.
A great way to learn how to play the guitar at home on your own is to disassemble and practice chords, arpeggios, riffs, solos from popular songs. Practicing in this mode you enjoy your favorite music, figure out how it is built, and improve your technique. In this process it is also useful to pay attention to the nuances and touches. Try to repeat all features of the sound, all vibrato, slides, bends, rustles and squeals.
The second type of training for guitarists is learning and mastering scales. The minor, major, blues and pentatonic scales will be very useful to you. Also, the skill of playing chords will help. When your fingers remember how to play it all, you will be easily able to improvise in any key. And adding tones from other scales will no longer be a difficult task. Scales also help to develop speed.
The third form of training is exercises without a melodic basis. Here it doesn’t matter what you play. The main thing is not to learn how to play the guitar, but to increase the stretch, develop finger coordination, and increase the speed of playing. A good example would be playing the sequence 1-2-3-4. Play the notes on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th frets with your index, middle, ring, and little fingers, respectively. First on the sixth string, then on the fifth, and so on, then you can move one fret and go in reverse order. Then modify the sequence, it will be more difficult.
Play through the options, but run each pattern through all the strings and the entire fretboard. This exercise is good for developing coordination. When you start, you will feel like your brain is blowing up. But then you will be able to play any melody. Look for other exercises: for example, stretching (1-3-5).
You can also learn how to play the guitar practicing various techniques and tricks. Take a hammer-on and play: from the index finger to the middle, from the middle to the ring finger, etc. Take a pull-off and work it out: from the ring finger to the index, from the middle to the index, etc. Take a tremolo – just beat the pick up and down, increasing the tempo. And the same thing it is with all methods. Methodically, rhythmically, at a slow pace.
How to practice?
Use the metronome. This is a very important condition. It forces you to play evenly, improve your exercises and develop a sense of rhythm. In the future it will be easier for you to interact with the band, your recordings will not need to be heavily edited, and you will learn how to play the guitar smoothly without the support ticking.
Slow pace. Oddly enough, hitting beats at a slow pace is more difficult than at a fast pace. The higher the pace, the shorter the intervals between beats. You need to move your arms faster, but small mistakes are not very noticeable. The better you train yourself to hit wide-spaced beats, the more accurately you will hit frequent, fast beats.
Every day. You loose your skill without constant training. Therefore, it is better to exercise just 15 minutes, but every day, than to sit for two hours, but do it once a week. In the performing arts, as in sports, it is important to keep the muscles and mind in good shape. At the same time regular practice will help you learn to play the guitar faster.
Concentration. It is enough to allocate just one hour a day. But this should be such an hour when no one bothers you, when you are not distracted by other things. Immerse in classes, listen to yourself, practice techniques with diligence. If necessary, record yourself playing and sort out the mistakes.
Enjoy it. But do not overdo it with vigor. If you feel that the exercises are starting to get boring, switch to something else. The most exciting thing is to study and learn popular songs. If you like scales more – play scales. But do not force yourself, otherwise you will completely lose interest in music.
Good luck with your learning! We recommend at least for the first time to find a teacher who will tune your equipment. If you want to learn how to play the guitar on your own – well, this path is quite real. Don’t wait for the right time, start right now. Practice, but only for pleasure. And in a while, try to play with a band – this is a completely different experience and different sensations.