How to Learn to Play the Guitar for Beginners

By Cara Batema
Understanding a few basic aspects of the guitar and notation can help you learn simple songs.

Learning to play the guitar can be a daunting task. The guitar is a complicated instrument that requires practice. You may not be able to play a song right away, which can be discouraging. Once you learn a few basic things about the guitar, you will have what you need to play some simple songs.

Learn the names of the six strings of the guitar. The names are E-A-D-G-B-e, from lowest to highest. You can use a phrase to help you memorize their names, such as “Every Apple Does Good Being eaten.” String number 1 is the highest string, and string 6 is the lowest sounding string.

Tune your guitar before playing anything. For beginners, it may be helpful to use a tuner.

Memorize the different parts of the guitar, particularly the body, neck and head. Hold your guitar so that the bottom curve of the body of the guitar rests on your right thigh. Allow your right arm to rest on the top side of the body. Curve the fingers of your left hand around the bottom of the fret board, making sure that your thumb rests on the back of the neck.

Look at a chord chart and figure out what all the symbols mean. The six lines going down represent the six strings, and the lines going across represent the frets. You can play a simple chord by playing the first three strings (e, B and G) open, meaning you do not put any finger down in your left hand. This is an E minor chord. Place your ring finger of your left hand on the third fret of the first string and play the first three strings—this is a G chord. On a chord chart, a dot will be drawn on the line at the far right on the third space (third fret) to show you where to put your finger for a G chord. Play the first three strings together with one downward stroke with a pick. You can play many songs by learning a few simple chords.

Find a simple song you would like to learn that is notated in tablature. Each line across the page represents a string, and the number on the line tells you which fret to play. You can play a simple melody, such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” on the first string. Use the pick to play the melodies, and practice any song slowly until you are able to speed it up.

Tip

Learn simplified chords (ones played on the first three strings only) before learning the full chords. Practice using the fingers of your left hand except your thumb on the fretboard to build calluses and improve your fine motor control.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.