Last Updated on July 6, 2023 by Teemu Suomala
How to play the guitar? How to learn the basics of the guitar? Thousands of people wonder these questions. Every Year. And that’s easy to believe because the guitar is an amazing instrument. You can play almost anything with it. But enough with a rambling…you are here for a reason…am I right?
You want to learn the guitar? First of all, that’s awesome! And secondly, you can absolutely do it!
Of course, it will take a real effort, but once you master some basics you will be good to go.
And by the way, learning your favorite songs might be even easier than you thought.
When I started with the guitar in 2009, I had no guidance at all. The Internet didn’t have many in-depth guides back then, but even today, it can be hard to get started with the guitar fast and free…
But that’s exactly what we are going to do today. We will get you started! Fast and for free!
This is ”the article I wish I had when I started”! This post will give you:
- Beginner info about guitar playing
- Basics to get you going
- Direction to go after getting started
Hopefully you are excited…because you are really close to playing your favorite songs with a real instrument!
I recommend that you learn some cool stuff from here, then bookmark this site and go play your guitar. After that, come back to this site and learn more.
Let’s stop the small talk. Now it’s time to learn to play!
Author: Teemu Suomala
I first grabbed the guitar in 2009. I started this website in January 2020 because I couldn’t do window installation anymore due to my health problems. I love guitars and have played dozens and dozens of different guitars through different amps and pedals over the years, and also, building a website interested me, so I decided to just go for it! I got lucky and managed to get awesome people to help me with my website.
I also got lucky because I have you visiting my website right now. Thank you. I do all this for you guys. If you have any recommendations, tips, or feedback, just leave a comment, I would love to chat with you. I have also been fortunate to produce content for several large guitar websites, such as Songsterr, Musicnotes, GuitarGuitar, and Ultimate Guitar.
I spend my spare time exercising and hanging out with my wife and crazy dog (I guess that went the right way…).Hide The Rambling▲
Different parts of guitar/Anatomy of Guitar
Many beginners skip this part, they just want to get playing… and I totally understand that, after all, playing is the main part.
But if you use a couple of minutes to learn guitar anatomy, that will benefit you greatly in the long run. It’s delayed gratification.
You have an idea about where the different parts of the guitar locate for maintenance and troubleshooting. Basic guitar anatomy also makes buying and playing the guitar easier.
I made this photo for you to clear things out:
You can check these articles to learn more about specific parts of guitars:
If that photo didn’t tell you enough, I recommend that you check this video out. Justin does an awesome job teaching the guitar anatomy:
Thanks Justin! Now you are a step ahead of many other guitar players because you took the time to learn some guitar anatomy. Let’s move on…
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How to Hold Your Guitar the Right Way?
If you hold your guitar correctly, playing will be soo much easier for you. Here you can see me 6 years younger, holding my ESP correctly:
Notice my leg which is supporting the guitar. It’s in a slightly upward position. That prevents the guitar from sliding down my leg.
Also, I have a better view of the fretboard thanks to my upwards-pointing leg. You may need to use some kind of stand(for example: books or box or guitar footstool) or lower chair to get your leg like that. But trust me, holding your leg like that helps a lot.
Here’s a video that helps you to get the hang of the guitar holding:
Don’t let the guitar lean anywhere. Sit up straight and pull the guitar close to you and play. Cool. Let’s move on.
How to Tune Your Guitar?
First, learn the name of each string in standard tuning. From lowest to highest pitch(thickest string is the lowest pitch and thinnest the highest):
I learned strings order with standard tuning by making a word out of these letters: EADGBE. This helps me to remember the correct order. You can learn about alternative guitar tunings here. But I recommend sticking with standard tuning when starting out…most songs you are going to learn are using it after all.
When your pick or strum a string, the pitch of it depends from 3 different things:
- Length of the string
- The thickness of the string
- The tension of the string
When you tune your guitar, you adjust the tension of the string.
So, if you want that your guitar sounds like a charm, it needs to be in tune.
If your guitar has tuning stability issues, check this guide we made for you: 7 Reasons Why Your Guitar Won’t Stay in Tune – And How to Fix it!
You can get your guitar in tune easily by using a tuner or app from your phone. I recommend using Fender Tune-app. The basic tuner features of the app are free and it’s really easy to use:
Here’s a video I made that helps you to use the app:
Now tune each of your string using a tuner or fender app.
If you feel lost, or don’t want to use Fender Tune-app, this video will help you out:
How to Hold Guitar Pick?
Your picking determines the power, rhythm, and which strings you want to play. And because we are at the start of your guitar journey, we are only focusing on using the pick to strum your guitar.
Fingerstyle and hybrid picking(using pick and fingers at the same time) are valuable skills and you should learn those when the time comes. But now, let’s learn how to use a pick!
This video will help you get started with picking (if in hurry, 05:16 is the time when he shows you how to hold a pick):
Now give it a try, and hit your string with your picking hand, each string separately and together. Use different power and rhythms. Make your picking hand loose and relaxed.
Use both, down- and upstrokes. Get a feel for it and warm your picking hand up a little bit.
Awesome! You now know how to hold and use a pick! It’s a good idea to practice using your pick hand regularly.
Let’s move on to your other hand, the fret hand
How to Use Your Fret Hand?
If you want to master the guitar, your fret hand needs to be flexible, fast, and strong. And you will get there, but let’s lay a good foundation first.
First of all, your fret hand doesn’t support the neck of the guitar. Your guitar should be resting on your leg or if you are using a strap, it should support it. That makes your fret hand able to move easily around the neck.
Second of all, cut fingernails from your fret hand. It’s almost impossible to play guitar if you have long fingernails because you will not be able to press the strings correctly. So cut those off.
Now let’s dive deeper. This video will give you a nice head start with your fret hand, you should watch it:
After watching this video, play the guitar, and hit some notes with it. It doesn’t matter how those notes sound together at this point, just make sure that those notes sound clear.
It’s soon about the time to learn something important…the 4 most popular chords.
After learning these, you can play almost any pop-music song. How cool is that! But before that let’s quickly learn how to read chord boxes.
How to read chord charts?
Reading chord charts is one of the first things you should learn when starting out.
- Six vertical lines represent the six strings of the guitar. On the left side is the thickest, and on the right side is the thinnest.
- The first horizontal line is the nut of the guitar(strings go through this piece at the headstock). This line is usually thicker than the others.
- All other horizontal lines represent frets.
- Numbers show which left-hand finger you should use to play the note/press the fret. (1=index finger, 2=middle finger, 3=ring finger and 4=pinky)
- In(or sometimes over)the nut is X and O’s. Meanings are: X=don’t play this string, O=play the open string.
This picture shows you how to read chord charts/chord boxes. I use the D-chord as an example:
You can check our more in-depth guitar chord chart guide here.
Now, it’s time to learn those 4-magic chords.
How to Play 4-Magic Chords?
If you want to see these chords in action watch this video(this whole song is played with only 4 chords)!:
Now let’s learn these 4 ”magic” chords!
Here are pictures of those chords(chord charts) on a fretboard:
Try playing every one of these. Get your hands and brain used to these chords.
Make sure that you can play chords cleanly:
- Place all your fingers on the fretboard to produce a chord
- and then play through each string of the chord.
- If some strings don’t sound right, make sure that you are pressing the string properly and hard enough.
- And check that your hands are not touching any wrong strings or part of the strings.
If you want to learn to play some songs with those chords, this video demonstrates those chords in action with real songs: It also shows you how to play those songs, so you can learn some easy but amazing songs right now!:
You are off to an amazing start with the guitar. I recommend that you take a little break and recap what you have learned. And play your guitar a little bit with these 4 chords. And learn some songs with that video above if you feel like it!
After that, it’s time to learn a couple more chords. These chords are really versatile and you can use them all over the fretboard.
Learn more important beginner chords here: 12 Beginner Guitar Chords You Must Know.
How to Play Barre Chords/Movable Chords?
When you are just starting out, you can add some spice to your playing with barre chords.
Did you know: The Ramones songs are almost exclusively made of barre chords!
Note: Barre chords are harder than 4-pop chords, so take your time. Keep using 4-pop chords and play songs with them. But challenge yourself once in a while with barre chords. Don’t lose hope if you have to practice these a lot more than other chords you have learned, you will get there.
Next, watch this video to learn beginner barre chords yourself:
Here are pictures of bar chords on a fretboard(chord charts):
Note: When playing bar chords, your thumb placement is really important. When your index finger is covering all the frets, your thumb should be in the bottom half of the neck. Straight below your middle finger. This forces you to press all the strings correctly.
Wow! You have laid a solid foundation.
Now again, I recommend that you have a little fun with your guitar. Play it. Use those 4-chords and barre chords that you just learned.
After that, I believe that you might feel some of those chords were a bit hard…and maybe you have some pain on your fingers. So let’s deal with these problems next.
Beginner Problems/How to Deal With Finger Pain?
Some chords will feel a little bit hard to play…and especially shifting fast between chords can be an issue when starting.
But you know what? Everyone faces these problems when starting out.
So these issues don’t mean that guitar playing is not for you.
For me, barre chords were especially hard, because I broke my index finger when I was a kid, and it’s not working properly. But I didn’t let that stop me. I practiced. I showed up, I showed effort….
And now, I’m pretty comfortable with the fast shifts between chords. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen after a lot of practice.
You will probably feel like doing something easier sometimes. Maybe you would want to play some video games or watch a series instead of practicing the guitar…
But think about which one is more useful in the long run. Watching TV for a couple of hours or developing a real skill. Every time you practice guitar, you will get better.
Mastering the guitar is not about one big step, it’s about taking small steps consistently. That’s how you master the guitar. And you can absolutely do that!
When practicing feels hard or boring, watch some amazing guitarists playing or listen to your favorite guitar music. That should give you a nice motivation boost. After that, practice.
But what about finger and hand pain?
Every time you start making some new physically, there will be some issues with your muscles and physics. So these should stop with time, if you keep practicing. But you can do something to make things easier.
This video includes 3 tips that help when your fingers are hurting:
Now it’s time to do something cool. Let’s look at how you can learn to play real songs with your guitar.
This is the best part of guitar playing. You can play your favorite songs! It’s soo much fun!
Here’s a repeatable process that helps you master song after song after song:
- When you are learning a song, start of so slow that you are able to play everything correctly.
- Then you can speed up slowly.
- When you are at the right speed, try to get used to the right rhythm.
- Play parts at real speed and rhythm correctly(if this causes problems, play so slow that you are able to play everything correctly).
It’s always not easy, but it’s 100% worth it. Trust me. All we need is a little patient.
But you probably need some help with learning to play songs correctly…
Now I’ll give you a couple of ways to learn your favorite songs!
You can use Google or Youtube to find the right chords for specific songs. For example: I wanna learn chords for the song, ‘’Let it Be’’ by The Beatles. I write ‘’Let it be Beatles Chords’’- to Google(or just ‘’Let it be chords’’). And BOOM! Click one of the first sites or videos and you can start learning.
Wanna make things easier? Google ‘’´´song name´´ -chords easy’’ or ‘’´´song name´´-4 chords’’. For example: ”Let it Be chords easy” or Let it Be 4 chords”. This helps you to find the easiest way to play that specific song.
If you found some unfamiliar chords, just write ‘’´´chord name´´ -chord on guitar’’ and you can found out how to play that specific chord. For example: ”G chord on guitar”.
If you don’t know how to read tabs, check this guide to find out.
You can do exactly the same thing with tabs as with chords. Just use Google or Youtube. This time write ‘’´´song name´´ -tabs’’. For example: ”Let it be tabs”. It’s really that simple! Now you basically can learn any song you want! You just have to practice.
If you want to learn songs by using chords and tabs, check this post I made: Easy Guitar Songs For Beginners From Every Genre – 70 Songs. It gives you a ton of easy and awesome songs to learn.
One way of learning songs is by ear. And this will be really beneficial in the long run. I recommend that you try to learn at least some songs by ear. The best way is to start with some really easy and familiar songs.
This video will help you to get started learning songs by ear:
This can be a great free method to learn some songs or other stuff. Just go to Youtube and search for ‘’How to play ´´song name´´ -on guitar’’. For example ”How to play Let it Be on guitar”.
Or you can even watch the band’s live performances and try to find out how to makers of the song play it.
What to do Next
I hope that this is the start. Start for your guitar journey.
You learned a couple of easy chords and ways to learn songs using chord charts or guitar tabs. You have a solid foundation, now the only sky is the limit!
But remember that if you want to improve your skills, you have to continue practicing. Show effort. Show up. That’s the secret. That’s how you learn to play guitar.
From now on, continue doing these:
- Learn new chords
- Learn new songs
- Go out of your comfort zone when playing and practicing
- Learn guitar scales
Now, I’ll give you a couple of directions to go. These directions help you along your guitar journey.
The Free Route.
Look, almost all the information is available on the internet for free, but sometimes the quality of this info is low or it’s hard to find.
So it’s true that you can learn to play guitar for free. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to learn next. And I decided to help you out…
I searched for the best of the best guitar videos and lessons on Youtube. And then I organized those videos in the right order for you and composed those videos into the one killer playlist. It’s a complete beginner roadmap. It helps you to learn guitar using Youtube videos 100% free.
If you want to check this playlist out, click here. Also, remember to subscribe to my channel, so you don’t miss out on any of my videos. It helps me a lot. Thanks!
Check our picks for the top 11 Youtube channels for free guitar lessons!
If you want to learn faster and with more high-quality lessons, investing some money will help you.
This is not a must. But it helps. Personally, I have paid for some software and lessons online(online lessons are much more affordable than getting guitar lessons from a live teacher), but mostly, I have learned from free sources.
Songsterr is one tool that I have used a lot, and you can use it for free on your browser! It’s not always the most accurate, but hey, it’s free!
I mainly use it on my PC via browser, but you can test the Songsterr-app on your tablet or phone too.
Follow my guitar road map-playlist to learn more basics. Then use Songsterr or Youtube to learn your favorite songs.
These things will make your guitar journey much easier and help you to maintain your motivation, and eventually, you will master the art of guitar playing!
What Mistakes to Avoid?
While practicing and playing your favorite songs are the most important things when learning the guitar, it’s a good idea to know what mistakes to avoid too.
Here are my top 5 common mistakes to avoid:
- Don’t force yourself to just learn the theory. Learn your favorite songs too. You get that wonderful ”I can really play something” feeling from doing so. This motivates you to play and practice every single day. And that’s how you master the guitar. By practicing consistently.
- Of course, don’t skip the basic theory either. Learning some chords and scales at the start gives you a solid foundation on your guitar journey, and help you in the long run.
- Don’t quit easily. Sometimes practicing can be frustrating and overwhelming. That sucks. But every guitar player goes through that phase. Remember that learning the guitar is not one huge step. It consists of many small steps. And by not giving up and practicing often, you take those small steps.
- If it feels too hard, don’t try to do it alone. Get help. Someone can teach you online or offline. Someone can lead you in the right direction and make learning easier, faster, and more fun for you. Be ready to invest a little bit when you are developing this real skill of playing the guitar.
- Don’t learn with hard to play guitar. You can learn to play with any guitar. Absolutely. But it’s true that some guitars are easier to play than others. Comfortable and easy the play guitar can make playing more enjoyable and learning faster.
When you avoid these 5 things, learning will be easier, faster, and more fun.
Conclusion on How to Play Guitar
This is ”the post I wish I had when I started”. I really tried to include everything you need to learn the basics of guitar. This is The Complete How to Play Guitar guide that guides you on the same route with the greatest guitarists of all time.
And now, it’s up to you. You either choose to practice or not… I hope that you do tho…
Guitar playing is an amazing hobby, and you will feel the same when you practice and make progress. Go and play the guitar, my friend!
I hope that this post really helped you to get started with guitar playing. And if you have any questions, just leave a comment down below!
I wish you all the best and keep rocking!
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