Learn to Play Guitar

Most people in the world are familiar with the sound a guitar makes. But what sets the different types of guitars apart? Do you need to plug the guitar in? And how do you learn where to place your fingers on the fretboard?

This article acts as an introduction to the guitar, allowing you to quickly gain a basic understanding of the instrument. You will get some good advice on how to get started quickly, and some tips on how to find the right tutor for you.

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Table of contents

  1. Choosing the Right Guitar for Your Guitar Lessons
  2. How to Tune Your Guitar
  3. The Fretboard
  4. Practicing, Positioning and Warming Up
  5. Fingerpicking and Picks
  6. Chords
  7. Scales, Solos and Riffs
  8. My First Guitar
  9. Tips for Beginners
  10. Easy Songs To Play On Guitar
  11. Find a Guitar Tutor Near You
  12. Who Are We?

Choosing the Right Guitar for Your Guitar Lessons

There are three main types of guitar to consider when choosing your guitar. Classical guitar, acoustic guitar and electric guitar. Classical guitars have nylon strings as opposed to metal strings, and are said to be good beginner instruments. Acoustic guitars are a slightly different shape to classical guitars and are setup with steel strings. Electric guitars are usually a very different shape to acoustic/classical guitars, with a much smaller body. These too are setup with metal strings. It's useful to figure out with your guitar teacher what type of guitar you want to learn to play before starting your guitar lessons, that way, you can focus in on what kind of styles you want to work with in your guitar lessons. Read more about different types of guitar here...

Classical Guitar

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The classical guitar is often recommended before the acoustic as a beginner instrument for your first guitar lessons. It's thought to be easier to play as it has nylon strings and a wider fretboard, making chords easier to play. As mentioned before, classical and acoustic guitars are quite different. As a beginner, there are two significant differences to take into consideration before choosing this for your guitar lessons.

The classical guitar has a wider fretboard which can make learning chords a little easier, as there's plenty of room for all your fingers and you can easily see what finger goes where. It also has nylon strings which are much softer than steel strings. This means your fingers are less likely to get sore on your first go! Another advantage to starting on a classical guitar is the nylon strings can make it easier to get a great clean sound sooner. One disadvantage though, is while the wide fretboard can be a great help, it can also be a hinderance - if you have small hands, it might be hard to reach more difficult chords.

Of course, classical guitar is perfect if you're wanting to learn to play classical pieces - hence the name! But if you were working towards pop/rock pieces, it would be worth considering moving on to an acoustic or electric guitar if you're using a classical guitar to begin with.

There's no need to amplify a classical guitar, though you can purchase classical guitars with built-in pickups if needed. Without pick-ups, classical guitars are perfect for small settings like singing songs around a camp fire, in the living room or in small venues.

Acoustic Guitar

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The acoustic guitar is equipped with steel strings, which can make it harder on your fingers at first. However, this will pass over time, the more guitar lessons you have. The skin on your fingers will harden and then you won't feel anything! It's a great idea to start building the strength in your fingers from your first guitar lessons, which makes the acoustic guitar a good beginner instrument in that respect. Another advantage of an acoustic guitar is that it has a smaller fretboard which can make it easier to reach difficult chords if you have smaller hands.

Another advantage of the acoustic guitar is the added volume. Acoustic guitars are suitable for small venues as well as bigger audiences. They can also be bought with a pickup fitted to them (this is called an electro-acoustic), which can then be put through a PA system for bigger venues.

Acoustic guitars are often associated with folk/country music, singer-songwriter music and pop.

Electric Guitar

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The electric guitar is equipped with metal strings, much like the acoustic. However, the strings are finer and the action is lower, making it much easier to play than the acoustic. 'Action' refers to the height of the strings from the fretboard - when it's lower, the strings are easier to press, and when the action is higher, pressing them down is more difficult. The fretboard is also thinner, making navigation more manageable. You might find your guitar lessons progress a little quicker with the electric, in that respect.

The electric guitar doesn't make much sound on its own - you will need to connect it to an amplifier to get the sound you want. It's also important to choose the right amplifier, so make sure to ask advice from your teacher on a good beginner amp. One of the advantages of the electric guitar is also the wide variation of sound you can achieve - there is almost an infinite array of effects pedals to choose from which can make your guitar sound completely different! You can even build a 'pedal board' with your favourite pedals on it so you can quickly switch sounds for different parts of a song. This is something you can learn about in your guitar lessons.

Parents take note!

There is often some fear around a child wishing to take guitar lessons with electric guitar. It is important to remember that your child may have been inspired by listening to or watching their favourite band. This inspiration is gold dust as it provides a steady stream of motivation – even when the going gets tough! For some students, an acoustic or classical guitar simply won’t cut it. Modern production of amplifiers also means the sound can be controlled. Many beginner amps also come with headphone jacks, enabling near silent practice!

Pedals, effects pedals and all manner of potential accessories are also be a draw for the electric guitar. It's worth saving some room in your budget for some accessories a little way down the line to keep interest levels high! This is in contrast to the simplicity of a well-made classical or acoustic guitar. If classical/acoustic guitar is the instrument of choice, set the best budget you can and use it on an instrument of quality. Well-made instruments by well known brands will hold value, and selling second-hand will be an option should things not work out as planned. Similarly, when searching for an instrument within your price range, the second hand market (with the help of an expert) is an option worth exploring. Ask your guitar teacher in your guitar lessons for advice.

Whichever guitar you choose, it is recommended that you have a professional set-up your guitar before your first guitar lessons. Setting up includes adjusting screws and various elements inside the guitar which can make it more comfortable to play. Get a recommendation from your tutor or a local music shop for the right person to do this for you.

Remember: the most important thing is to find an instrument you are comfortable with since you will be spending many, many hours with it!

How to Tune Your Guitar

In order to play the common chords - not to mention being able to play with others - the guitar must be in tune. There is a standard tuning which is used in most of the world. It is found by using either a tuning fork or an electric tuner, available as either a handheld unit, a stomp box or as a mobile app. It is also possible to tune the guitar by using a piano, if you know how the notes are laid out.

An electric guitar tuner

By twisting the tuning keys (also known as tuning machines or tuning pegs), the pitch of the strings is either raised or lowered as the string is made more tight or more slack. From thickest to thinnest string, the notes should be: E-A-D-G-B-E. Once this is done, the thickest and thinnest strings will play the same note, albeit two octaves apart, meaning that the thickest string will sound much deeper than the thinnest string.

Although standard tuning is the most common, many songs utilize one of many "open tunings", such as "DADGAF" or "Open G". This makes it easier to utilize a slide (also called a bottleneck). It is also possible to use a capo in order to raise the tuning of all six strings at once, making it easy to play a song in any key without having to change chord fingerings.

A guitar capo
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Brass slide

The Fretboard

The notes on a string are in the same sequence as they would be on a piano (C-C#-D-D#-E-F-F#-G-G#-A-A#-B). The difference in pitch between one string and the next is one fourth, with the exception of the two thinnest strings. The difference in pitch between these two is a third.

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The fretboard of an electric guitar

Practicing, Positioning and Warming Up

Before playing or practicing, it is important to always warm up. This prevents straining the muscles, and greatly reduces the risk of getting Tenosynovitis. For this reason it is also important to take frequent breaks when practicing, allowing the muscles to relax. Playing becomes much more comfortable if the guitar is positioned correctly on the thigh while seated, and if the neck is held at an angle which allows the wrist to bend. When playing while standing, it is important to adjust the strap so that the guitar is positioned at the same point on your body as it would be if you were seated. Remember to put down the guitar during breaks, as the weight of the instrument may strain your shoulders.

Fingerpicking and Picks

Fingerpicking and playing with a pick are by far the most common means of playing the guitar. When fingerpicking, either the nails or the fingertips are used to hit the strings, creating a soft, warm and dynamic sound. The pick is a small piece of plastic, used as a substitute for the fingernail. It creates a sound with more volume and precision, and it makes it possible to use a number of techniques which are not possible when fingerpicking. Picks come in many shapes and sizes, and are often very cheap.


Chords are a grouping of notes which, when played together, sound harmonious. There are several ways to play chords on the guitar, providing a great deal of variety.

Open chords require very few fingers to be used, as the strings that are not fretted (pressed down) are still played. Below you can see diagrams of six very common chords.

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Barre chords are based on fixed fingerings, and can be moved up and down the neck. This makes it possible to play semitone intervals, which is not possible with the open chords. Barre chords require more finger strength, making them a hurdle for many new players, but once they have been learned they are immensely practical and logical.

Scales, Solos and Riffs

A scale is a fixed sequence of intervals between notes, and it can be described as an alphabet for writing melodies. The scale also determines whether the key is major or minor, though it should be noted that although these are the most popular modes, there are many others which have their own sound. Examples of this include the blues scale and the scales commonly used in Indian music. Learning a scale will allow you to know which chords to use with it, and how to improvise over those chords. The more scales you know, the greater your musical vocabulary, so to speak.

A riff is a relatively short rhythmic and melodic figure, which can be played instead of or during chords. Riffs are commonly repeated at fixed points throughout a song, and often function as the hook of a song. A riff is built on the appropriate scale of the song, and is a good basis for learning to improvise and solo.

My First Guitar

When you start learning the guitar it is important to find a model which is comfortable for you to play, both seated and standing. Playing guitar becomes much more fun when you have the right instrument, and we recommend that you visit your local music shop and get expert help in selecting the right instrument. This will also prevent you from wasting money on a guitar which may be too large, too small, or unnecessarily expensive. If you choose to find a guitar teacher through MusicTutors, he or she will also be able to give you sound advice when choosing a guitar.

Tips for Beginners

Here are some good tips for new guitar players.

1. Practice daily

Practicing for ten minutes every day will yield better results than practicing for one hour once a week. It also helps to strengthen your fingers and build muscle memory. If possible, keep your guitar within reach so you don't have to waste time unpacking it for each session.

2. Build callouses and more finger muscles

The skin on your fingers needs to get used to the pressure of the strings, and it is not uncommon to get sore fingers and perhaps even blisters if your play for too long at a time. On the other hand, if you don't practice frequently enough, you won't build up the necessary callouses.

It is also important that you get used to using your finger muscles without tensing your wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder. If you start to feel discomfort in your hand or your arm, it is important to either change your position or take a break. In the beginning it may feel like a challenge to build up the necessary hardiness, but it will come quicker than you think if you simply persevere. Anyone can achieve it, regardless of age, build or physical strength.

3. Take care of your guitar

A guitar is a delicate instrument, and deserves its own box or gig bag (A specially made rucksack, made of a thick, protective material). Do not lean it against the wall or place it on the floor. Instead, purchase a guitarstand so that it is secure and within reach.

4. Have extra strings

Always keep at least one extra set of strings in your guitar box or gig bag. When a string breaks it should be replaced immediately, so that the guitar stays in tune and the wood is not warped due to the change in pressure from the strings.

5. Stay motivated

Make sure to play songs that you like, so that practicing does not start to feel like a chore. Make sure to tell your teacher what YOU want to learn, so that you can work together on planning the teaching so that it suits you. There is nothing quite like the feeling of success when you have learned to play one of your favourite songs.

Easy Songs To Play On Guitar

If you already own a guitar, and simply want to start playing some songs, then take a look at some of our tutorials for easy guitar songs here:

Find Guitar Lessons Near You

Do you want to learn how to play the guitar? Maybe you already know, but you want to improve your abilities? We have lots of talented and experienced teachers all over the country. Find a teacher in your city today!

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Who Are We?

The office team of MusicTutors are all professional musicians and educators. We also believe that we have the best job in the world. We get to spend our day talking to students across the country about how much they love music and we have helped hundreds of people connect with the perfect, professional tutor for them. We'd love to help you too! Please get in touch with us and tell us your story. 07946125613 Or send us a mail to [email protected]. We can't wait to hear from you!

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