Guitar is one of the first instruments many beginning musicians play. The guitar is an ideal instrument for learning both harmony and rhythm. While different people learn to play guitar in different ways, and what works well for one person may not work for another, there are some basic approaches that anybody can take that will make the learning process easier.
Select a good-quality instrument. While it's not impossible to learn how to play guitar on a low-quality instrument, it can be difficult and frustrating. Look for a guitar that is easy to fret (push the strings down with your fingers) and one that stays in tune. The best way to test a guitar for these qualities is to visit a music store that will let you play before you buy.
Tune your guitar. Regardless of how much you practice, an out-of-tune instrument will prevent you from learning anything. For a beginner, a digital tuner is the best way to tune your guitar until you begin to develop an ear for the notes. To tune your guitar strings with a digital tuner, play one string at a time and watch the digital tuner's display. Adjust the tension on the string until the tuner indicates that the string is in tune.
Purchase a chord book and familiarize yourself with guitar chord diagrams. You can also find a guitar chord dictionary online at no charge (see resources). Learning chords is the easiest way to begin playing songs on a guitar. The more chords you know, the more songs you will be able to play. Start with a few basic first position (or "open") chords such as C, D, E G, A, Em and Am. A guitar chord dictionary will illustrate how to finger chords using a chord diagram representing the strings of the guitar and numbers showing you where to place your fingers. This type of diagram is called 'tablature'. The chord method is a popular teaching method, and many beginning guitarists use it exclusively to learn the structure of their favorite songs.
Focus on strum patterns. Many guitar players put forth so much effort learning chords that they forget how important strumming is. Learning to play guitar well requires attention to the fingers that hold down the strings to form chords as well as the hand that moves a pick across the strings to create rhythm. As you learn new chords, work on different strumming patterns using the new chords. A simple strum pattern is down, up, down up. Vary this pattern by strumming down twice, then down-up two times.
Play songs. The best way to stay interested and to improve your skills quickly is to play songs you enjoy. You can find chords and lyrics to songs of all types online at no charge (see resources). Pick something fun and try to sing along. Singing along can help you to establish your rhythm and timing.
There are numerous chords in music and several ways to play those chords on guitar. You can't learn them all in a short time. Try learning just two or three new chords a week to increase the number of songs you can play.