How to play a guitar for beginners A step-by-step guide

How to play a guitar for beginners? A step-by-step guide

Learning how to play the guitar is a super cool journey that can lead you into a world of awesome music. If you’re just starting out, it might feel a bit scary to strum those chords and make tunes, but don’t worry! This guide is here to help you learn all the basics of playing this fantastic instrument.

Whether you dream of playing sweet songs for your friends and family, jamming out with pals, or just really getting into making music, this guide will give you all the important info and skills to kick off your guitar adventure.

We’ll start by understanding all the parts of the guitar and then move on to learning chords, different ways to strum, and even a bit about music theory. This guide will be like your map, guiding you through the early stages of learning guitar.

So, grab your guitar, find a comfy spot, and let’s get started!

Things to know in a guitar before getting started

So before we dive into playing the guitar, it’s super important to familiarize yourself with the various components of the guitar. So first let’s look at those:

Parts of the Guitar:

  • Headstock: Located at the top of the guitar, the headstock houses the tuning pegs or machine heads. These pegs allow you to adjust the tension of the strings, tuning them to the desired pitch.
  • Tuning Pegs: Found on the headstock, these pegs are used to tighten or loosen the strings, altering their pitch to achieve the correct tuning.
  • Nut: Positioned at the top of the fretboard, the nut guides the strings’ spacing and maintains their height as they lead to the tuning pegs.
  • Frets: Metal strips embedded across the fretboard, these divisions assist in creating different notes when strings are pressed against them.
  • Fretboard: The flat surface on the neck of the guitar where the frets are placed. This is where you press down the strings to produce different pitches.
  • Neck: The elongated section connecting the body to the headstock. It supports the fretboard and provides space for your fretting hand to manoeuvre.
  • Body: The main, usually hollow or semi-hollow, part of the guitar. It houses the soundhole (on acoustic guitars) or pickups (on electric guitars) and affects the resonance and volume of the sound.
  • Bridge: Located on the body of the guitar, the bridge holds the strings in place at the lower end of the instrument. It transfers string vibrations to the body, enhancing sound projection.
  • Strings: These are the core of the guitar, producing sound when plucked or strummed. Standard guitars typically have six strings, each tuned to a specific note.

How to play a guitar? A step-by-step guide

Now let’s see how you can actually get started with a guitar:

1: Hold the guitar properly

Holding a guitar correctly is really, really important. It ensures comfort while playing, reducing strain on your body. Proper positioning prevents muscle fatigue or discomfort during extended practice sessions or performances.

Sitting Position: If you are sitting, sit with a straight back. Place the guitar on your dominant leg (right leg for right-handed players, left leg for left-handed players). Rest the curve of the guitar body against your stomach/chest for stability.

holding a guitar while sitting

Standing Position: When standing, use a guitar strap to support the instrument. Adjust the strap’s length to position the guitar comfortably against your body. Keep the neck slightly angled upward for better access to the fretboard.

holding a guitar while standing

Hand Placement: Support the neck with your fretting hand, keeping your thumb behind the neck. Let your strumming hand rest gently on the guitar body, ready for strumming or picking.

2: Tune the Guitar

Tuning the guitar is also very important. Proper tuning ensures that each string produces the correct pitch. When a guitar is in tune, it sounds harmonious and pleasant to the ears. Out-of-tune strings can create dissonance and an unpleasant sound. To tune a guitar, use a tuner:

  • Starting from the thickest string to the thinnest, the strings are usually tuned to the notes EADGBE.
  • Begin with the lowest-pitched string (thickest string), usually the sixth string or E string. Pluck it and observe the tuner’s display.
  • Turn the tuning peg for that string clockwise or counterclockwise until the tuner indicates the correct note (E for the sixth string). The tuner usually shows whether the note is flat, sharp, or in tune.
  • Move to the fifth string (A), fourth string (D), third string (G), second string (B), and first string (E). Pluck each string and adjust its tuning peg until it matches the desired note displayed on the tuner.
  • After tuning all strings, go through them again, as tuning one string can affect the tension of others. Check and fine-tune if needed.

Learn more: How to tune a guitar properly?

3: Learn basic chords: 

After turning the guitar, it is ready to play. But the most important step is learning the chords. In a guitar, chords are made by playing multiple notes together at the same time. 

They’re formed by pressing down on specific strings and frets simultaneously. Chords create harmony and are the building blocks for playing songs on the guitar. 

When you strum or pluck the strings of a guitar while holding down a chord shape, you produce a harmonious blend of sounds. Different combinations of finger placements on the fretboard create various chords, each with its own unique sound and feeling.

  • Begin with foundational chords: Em, Am, D, G, C, and E. These open chords are vital for playing countless songs across various genres.
  • Practice chord transitions slowly at first, ensuring each note in the chord rings out clearly.
  • Start with chord pairs (e.g., G to C, Em to Am) and practice shifting between them. Focus on accuracy and gradually increase speed as you get more comfortable.
  • Practise changing chords within songs or chord progressions to reinforce transitions.

4: Practice strumming:

Experiment with strumming patterns using a pick or your fingers. Start with simple downstrokes and upstrokes, gradually incorporating patterns like “down-up-down-up” or “down-down-up-up-down.”

Here are a few simple strumming patterns that are commonly used and can be helpful for beginners learning the guitar:

  • Downstroke Strumming: This is the most basic strumming pattern. Strum down across all strings with the pick or your fingers in a steady rhythm. Count 1-2-3-4 in a consistent tempo while strumming down on each count.
  • Down-Up Strumming: Alternating down and up strokes, this pattern adds an extra upstroke after each downstroke. Start with a downstroke followed by an upstroke, maintaining a consistent rhythm. Count 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and while strumming down-up in a steady tempo.
  • Four-Beat Strumming Pattern: Down, down-up, up-down-up. Start with a downstroke, then do a down-up, followed by an up-down-up sequence. This pattern covers four beats and is commonly used in various songs.
  • D-DU-UD Strumming Pattern: This pattern involves playing a downstroke followed by two shorter upstrokes. Start with a downstroke, then follow it with a quick up-down-up motion. It creates a rhythmic variation and can add flavor to your playing.

Remember, practicing these strumming patterns at a slow and comfortable pace is crucial in mastering them. Start slowly, ensure each strum is clear and in rhythm, and gradually increase your speed as you become more comfortable.

4: Practice picking:

Explore fingerpicking by plucking individual strings with your fingers. Start with simple patterns on open chords, like picking the strings in a repeating sequence (e.g., thumb-index-middle-ring).

As a beginner learning fingerpicking techniques on the guitar, I started with some simple patterns that helped me develop coordination and dexterity. Here are a few fingerpicking patterns that I found useful:

Basic Alternating Bass Pattern:

  • Assign your thumb to play the bass notes on the lower strings (E, A, D), while your index, middle, and ring fingers pluck the higher strings (G, B, E).
  • Start with a simple alternating bass pattern: Thumb (on E string) – Index (on G string) – Thumb (on A string) – Middle (on B string).
  • Gradually increase speed and experiment with different chord shapes.

Travis Picking Pattern:

  • Travis picking involves a repeated pattern using thumb and fingers, commonly used in folk and country music.
  • Thumb plays a steady bass note while alternating between thumb (T) and fingers (F) on higher strings. Example: T – F – T – F (Thumb – Finger – Thumb – Finger).
  • Practise this pattern on basic chords, starting slowly and gradually building speed and accuracy.

Simple Arpeggio Pattern:

  • Arpeggios involve plucking individual notes of a chord in a pattern.
  • Start by playing a chord, then pluck the strings individually in a specific order (e.g., 5-4-3-2-3-4). For example, on a C chord: Pluck A string – D string – G string – B string – G string – D string.
  • Practise this pattern on various chords, focusing on clarity and evenness in plucking each note.

Bass-Note Accompaniment:

  • Combine bass notes with chord strumming to create a rhythmic fingerpicking pattern.
  • Play bass notes on the first beat followed by a chord strum on the offbeat. For instance, thumb on the lower strings followed by a chord strum using fingers on the higher strings.

Rolling Pattern:

  • Utilize a rolling motion with your fingers (commonly thumb, index, and middle) to pluck strings sequentially.
  • Start with a three-string rolling pattern (e.g., Thumb – Index – Middle) across different chords to develop finger independence and control.

5. Practice playing some easy-to-play songs:

Playing songs you love, especially those with simple chord progressions, is a rewarding way to reinforce your guitar skills and keep your motivation high. Here’s why practicing easy songs is beneficial:

  1. Application of Learned Techniques: Easy songs typically feature basic chord progressions and strumming patterns. By applying the chords and techniques you’ve learned (such as strumming, chord changes, and fingerpicking), you reinforce these skills in a musical context.
  2. Building Confidence: Mastering easy songs boosts your confidence. Completing a song, no matter how simple, gives a sense of accomplishment and motivates you to tackle more challenging pieces.
  3. Understanding Song Structure: Playing easy songs helps in understanding song structures—verse, chorus, bridge, etc.—and how chords fit into these sections. It’s an opportunity to grasp the arrangement and flow of music.
  4. Fun and Enjoyment: Music is about enjoyment. Playing songs you love, even if they’re straightforward, brings joy and keeps your enthusiasm for playing the guitar alive.
  5. Gradual Progression to More Complex Pieces: Starting with easy songs creates a solid foundation. As you become more comfortable, you can gradually move on to more complex songs, applying the techniques and knowledge gained from practicing easier ones.

6: Establishing a practice routine:

Consistent practice is the key to making progress on the guitar. Establishing a regular practice routine not only aids improvement but also fosters a deeper connection with the instrument.

Regular practice builds muscle memory, enhancing your ability to switch chords smoothly, play strumming patterns, and execute fingerpicking techniques effectively.

As a beginner, aim for shorter, focused practice sessions rather than extended periods. Begin with 15-30 minutes per day.Shorter sessions allow for better concentration and prevent burnout, making it easier to stay motivated.

As you become more comfortable and your endurance builds, gradually extend your practice sessions. Aim for 30-60 minutes or longer if your schedule permits

How do I learn to play guitar? My experience

Learning guitar was quite a journey for me, and it all began with finding some solid resources. I grabbed beginner guitar books, scoured online tutorials, and even took a few courses. These really helped me get the basics down – you know, chords, strumming, fingerpicking, and a bit of music theory.

But let me tell you, nothing beats good ol’ practice. I made it a habit to pick up the guitar every day. I focused on nailing those chords, scales, and exercises, building up the finger strength and muscle memory. It wasn’t always easy, but the more I practiced, the better I got.

One thing that kept me going was playing songs I absolutely loved. Starting with simple ones, I gradually worked my way up to more complex pieces. Breaking them down into smaller parts helped me grasp different techniques used in real music.

Oh, and I didn’t stick to just one style. I dabbled in various genres, tried out different techniques like fingerpicking and alternate tunings – it was like a whole new world opened up to me!

Getting tips and guidance from experienced guitarists was a game-changer. I took lessons, attended workshops, and watched live performances whenever I could. The inspiration and new ideas I got from these experiences really pushed my playing skills to the next level.

What’s cool is that even as I got better, I always had this hunger to improve. I kept pushing myself to learn new stuff, refine my techniques, and explore advanced methods.

But hey, patience was key in all of this. It’s not a race, you know? Progress can be slow at times, but sticking with it and being persistent pays off big time.

So yeah, that’s pretty much how I learned to play the guitar – a mix of practice, learning from others, experimenting, and tons of patience and persistence

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. How can you teach guitar to yourself?

Teaching yourself guitar requires dedication and a structured approach:

Start with online resources, beginner’s books, or instructional videos for basic chord shapes, strumming patterns, and finger exercises.
Set a practice routine, focusing on consistency and gradual progression.
Break down songs you love into manageable sections to practise and learn new techniques.
Seek guidance from online forums and guitar communities
Stay patient, embrace challenges, and celebrate small milestones in your learning journey.

Q2. What is the first thing a beginner guitarist should learn?

The first thing for a beginner guitarist is to learn basic open chords (like E, A, D, G, C, and Em) and how to switch between them smoothly. This foundational skill forms the

Q3. What is the easiest thing to play on guitar?

One of the easiest things to play on the guitar as a beginner is songs with simple chord progressions, like many folk or pop songs. Tracks with basic strumming patterns and easy-to-play chords allow beginners to start making music relatively quickly

Q4. What is the hardest thing to play on guitar?

Some of the hardest things to play on the guitar include the six-string F chord, barre chords that challenge even experienced players, Francisco Tárrega’s “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” due to its intricate tremolo technique, keys with many sharps or flats like C# major or Db major, classical guitar for its technical complexity, and metal guitar solos known for their extreme technical demands.

Q5. How long does it take to learn guitar?

The time it takes to learn guitar varies greatly depending on individual dedication, practice habits, and goals. Basic proficiency in playing simple songs can be achieved in a few months with regular practice, but mastering the instrument is an ongoing journey that can take years. It takes me nearly a year to learn guitar.

Q6. Is it better to play with a pick or fingers?

Whether you should play guitar with a pick or your fingers isn’t about right or wrong—it’s more about the style of guitar playing you prefer. I personally like playing with a pick.

Q7. Is an electric guitar easier than an acoustic?

Electric guitars are generally considered easier to play than acoustic guitars.

Q8. What are the 3 basic guitar chords?

The three basic guitar chords often taught to beginners are:
G major
C major
D major
These chords are foundational and are commonly used in many songs across various genres.


  • Alex Harmon

    Meet Alex Harmon, a passionate guitarist with over 20 years of unwavering dedication to mastering the strings. His love affair with music began at the age of 10 when he picked up his first guitar, starting a musical journey that has seen him strumming, picking, and shredding across a multitude of genres. From classical serenades to electric riffs, Alex has delved into various styles, charming audiences with over 100 live performances and captivating compositions. As an instructor, he's shared his expertise with more than 500 enthusiastic students, guiding them through the intricacies of guitar playing.

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