If you want to learn how to play guitar or you have just started learning guitar, you might feel overwhelmed. There is so many different styles of music you can play and different techniques to learn.
In this guide, I will explain the 8 first steps to start learning guitar. Going through these eight steps will not only speed up the learning process, but you’ll learn some important techniques and topics that are so important for learning songs.
Step 1: Learn the Names of Guitar Parts
Before you start learning how to play chords, riffs, or anything else, you need to have a basic understanding of your guitar.
If you watch a guitar lessons video on YouTube and they tell you to “place your thumb on the neck behind the fifth fret”, it helps if you know what those part names refer to.
Learning the names of different parts of your guitar will make it easier to follow along with lessons, so this should be your first step to learning guitar.
As you can see in the above diagram, there are a lot of parts on a guitar. Acoustic guitars and electric guitars share a lot of part names, but some parts are also different.
Read this Guide on Parts of the Guitar to learn everything you would want to know about guitar parts.
The guide includes diagrams for every type of part along with clear explanations of what each part does. Try to memorize the part names so you know what they are any time you hear somebody mention them.
Step 2: Learn How to Read Guitar TAB and Chord Diagrams
While it is possible to learn how to play guitar without reading Guitar TAB, Standard Notation, or Chord Diagrams, it will take a lot longer.
Learning how to read Guitar TAB and Chord Diagrams will speed up the learning process and you’ll be able to jump into learning songs almost immediately.
Learn How to Read Guitar TAB
Guitar TAB is a simple way of writing out music and you can find TAB (or Tablature) for almost any song you would want to learn online.
While the above example may not make any sense now, once you learn how to read it, you’ll find that it’s a quick and easy way to learn how to play songs.
The guide will explain everything you need to know about Guitar TAB with helpful diagrams and simple explanations.
Learn How to Read Chord Diagrams
If you want to learn a style of music that uses a lot of chords and strumming, then learning how to read Chord Diagrams is important.
Chord diagrams are a simple way of showing you how to play a chord on guitar as shown below:
Once you learn how to read chord diagrams, you’ll immediately be able to start learning how to play some simple open chords.
Step 3: Learn Some Basic Finger Exercises
Before you dive into learning chords or playing some riffs, you need to know how to place your fingers on the guitar properly.
Taking the time to learn some basic finger exercises is a great way to gain some control over the guitar and prevent a lot of finger strain.
The above exercise is one of the most popular finger exercises from beginners all the way up to professional guitarists. Incredibly talented guitarists still use the above exercise as a warm-up before practicing or performing.
The goal of finger exercises when you’re a beginner is to teach you how to properly play one note at a time without any fret buzz. Once you can comfortably play some finger exercises, you will be prepared to learn some basic guitar riffs and chords.
The guide contains a long list of important finger exercises, so save it in your favorites/bookmarks to refer back to it whenever you’re ready to develop new skills.
Tip: aim to practice some of the finger exercises in the above guide every day. While you might feel like once you learn them you can move on, practicing them every day will give you a serious boost to your abilities.
Step 4: Learn Some Basic Guitar Riffs
Once you can comfortably play some of the basic finger exercises covered in the previous step, you’re ready to learn some basic guitar riffs.
Some of the most well-known guitar riffs are actually fairly easy to play. This is great for a beginner as they give you something fun to play that you can learn almost straight away.
The above Guitar TAB shows how to play the intro riff to Come As You Are by Nirvana. It’s a classic riff that is as easy to play as the finger exercises in the previous step.
I have created a List of 14 Easy Guitar Riffs To Learn with Guitar TAB and explanations for each riff.
Check out the list to start learning some basic guitar riffs once you can comfortably play the finger exercises from the previous step.
If you have followed the previous three steps properly, you will find this step easy. If you skipped any of the previous steps or rushed through them, the riffs will feel hard to learn. Keep practicing the finger exercises if you feel any of the riffs in that guide are hard to learn.
Step 5: Learn Some Easy Open Chords
When you start learning guitar, it’s a good idea to split your practice between two areas: riffs and chords.
Learning how to play riffs will introduce you to techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, bends, palm-muting, etc. All of these techniques are important to learn and practicing riffs is a great way to learn them.
The other area of guitar to start learning is how to play chords. Chords are a big part of guitar-based music and almost every style of music will use chords.
Learning chords is harder than learning the basic riffs in the previous step because you need to learn how to play multiple notes at the same time.
That’s why you should work on the guitar riffs in the previous step before you try to learn some guitar chords. You need to be able to play one or two notes at a time (riffs) before you try to play five or six notes at a time (chords.
Check out this Lesson on How to Practice Guitar Chords for a thorough look at how to effectively learn and master chords.
The lesson was written for beginners, so you will be able to follow it along to properly learn some basic open chords.
Step 6: Learn Some Easy Strumming Patterns
Once you can play some basic riffs and you have memorized a few basic open chords, you can start learning how to play some strumming based songs.
With some songs, all you need to learn to be able to play them is the chords they use and some strumming patterns.
Some songs use complicated strumming patterns while other songs use simple strumming patterns that anybody can learn in a short time.
Check out this Lesson on Easy Guitar Chord Songs to learn how to play some easy strumming patterns.
The lesson includes simple strumming diagrams (as shown above) so you can easily follow along and learn the strumming patterns.
Step 7: Develop Good Practice Habits
As a guitar teacher, I can tell you what makes the difference between a beginner who sticks with guitar and eventually masters it and a beginner who gives up.
The difference has nothing to do with talent. It’s all to do with how you practice.
Students who develop good practice habits will end up succeeding and be able to enjoy playing the songs they want to play.
Students who don’t develop good practice habits will end up frustrated and quit learning guitar.
It’s as simple as that.
The first thing you need to do is set up a practice area at home. A good practice area will allow you to practice more often and have better quality practice sessions.
Check out this Guide for Examples of Practice Areas and how to set up your own practice area. I’ve included a lot of examples so you can see the difference between a good and bad practice area.
Once your practice area is set up, check out this guide on 5 things to do every time you practice guitar. A few tips can be all that it takes to take an average practice habit into a great practice habit.
Here are some more tips to develop a good practice habit:
- Practice every day. Even if you can only squeeze in five minutes, make sure you don’t finish your day without practicing a few finger exercises, riffs or chords
- Don’t overdo it. A lot of beginners mistakenly think they should have a marathon two-hour practice session. Long practice sessions don’t work. Have short and regular practice sessions for the best results
- Have a plan. Don’t sit down to practice without knowing what you will practice. Know what step you’re up to and work on that step. If you don’t have a practice plan, you’ll end up wasting time
- Don’t give up. The start is always the hardest part when learning guitar. Every new technique will feel hard and some may feel impossible. If you stick with your regular practice, you will improve. If you really want to learn how to play guitar, make a commitment to stick with it. You will get there
- Know your limits. Even if you want to learn really complicated music, take it one step at a time. Learn the basics before you try to play harder techniques. If you ever feel as if something like finger exercises are behind you, you’re heading for trouble. You need to build a solid skill foundation before you can tackle harder songs or skills
If you want to learn more about how to develop a good practice habit, check out my review and summary of the book Zen Guitar. The name of the book may turn some people off, but the principles and approach to learning guitar contain some powerful lessons.
Find out how long you should practice guitar each day in this guide. The guide looks at the science behind how long to practice so you can learn faster with less time practicing.
Step 8: Learn Your First Song
Once you have mastered some basic finger exercises, can play a few chords and some simple strumming patterns, and you have set up a good practice routine, it’s time to set yourself a challenge.
The challenge is to learn a full song from start to finish.
This is an important challenge for a beginner to work towards because it sets an important milestone. Being able to play a full song from start to finish proves to yourself and everyone else that you have what it takes to learn guitar.
While it’s great to be able to play a lot of riffs or strum a few chords, being able to play a full song is a big accomplishment.
Here are the steps to learning an entire song on guitar:
Step 1: Pick a song that sounds fairly easy and you would be happy to dedicate time to learning.
The song can be chord-based or it can be riff-based. It only depends on what style of song you want to learn. It doesn’t have to be your favorite song, but you need to like it enough to be willing to stick with it until you can play the entire song.
Step 2: Find the Guitar TAB for the song and print it off.
You can find the Guitar TAB for the song on any of the Best Guitar TAB Websites here.
Once you find the Guitar TAB by following the advice in that guide, print it off. It might seem old-fashioned to print off something you can easily see on your device, but I highly recommend it.
Having a printed copy of the entire Guitar TAB not only makes it quicker and easier to practice, but you can make notes on the paper as you go. You can write down what parts of the song you’ve already learned, highlight what techniques or chords you need to learn or make any other note you want to help you learn the song.
Step 3: Break the song up into parts.
Look through the entire Guitar TAB and split the song into sections. You might split it into verse-chorus sections, or you might split it up based on each riff you need to learn.
While you might be tempted to start at the start of the song and work your way through it, sometimes it makes more sense to start elsewhere.
Start by learning the easiest riff or chords. Then you can gradually work your way to the harder sections of the song.
Step 4: Practice each part over and over.
You get good as a guitarist by practicing what you learn over and over. Not only does repeating parts over and over help you memorize the parts, but every time you practice it you will strengthen your abilities.
Whenever you see or hear a guitarist play a complicated part, you can guarantee that they’ve played that part over and over. Even amazing guitarists need to practice the parts they play regularly or else they may start to slip in their abilities.
Step 5: Play along with the song or play along with backing tracks.
Once you have learned all of the parts of a song, it’s time to put it all together and try to play it in time. This will take a lot of practice, but once you can play along with the song and keep up, it’s a great feeling.
A great way to build up your speed and eventually be able to play along with a song is to use a program called Guitar Pro.
Guitar Pro loads Guitar TAB files you can download and it will play the song back to you. You can even slow the song down, loop parts you want to practice, or anything else to help you learn the parts faster.
You can use Guitar Pro to practice playing along with the song at half-speed, then once that feels easy, gradually increase it until you can play along with the song at full speed.
Find out more about Guitar Pro in this thorough review. Guitar Pro is the most useful program you can use as a guitarist and I highly recommend it.
To see how you can use Guitar Pro to help you learn songs, check out this tutorial on how to use Guitar Pro to improve your skills.
Next Step: Learn About Guitar Effects, Tone and Gear
If you can play a full song from start to finish, congratulations! That’s quite an achievement and something you should be proud of. A lot of people give up before they reach that milestone, so you should be confident that you will succeed.
Once you learn how to play one song, you can repeat the steps to learn another song. Some songs will be easier to learn than others, but the more songs you learn, the easier everything gets.
A good starting point to learning about tone is to learn about the gear other guitarists use. Finding out what amps, guitars, and pedals a guitarist uses will help you understand how they’re able to create the sounds that make them interesting to listen to.
A great example is Jimi Hendrix. He continues to inspire guitarists today with his creative use of effects. His tone was iconic at the time and still inspires guitarists today.
Find out about Jimi Hendix in my Ultimate Guide to Jimi Hendrix here. The guide walks through the amps, guitars, and gear he used and how he used the gear to create music that inspired countless guitarists.
A more recent example is Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave. He has an interesting approach to gear and has come up with some extreme sounds from a small number of pedals.
Find out about Tom Morello’s Gear and Effects in this guide. Learning how he uses his gear will help you understand how to use your own gear.
Finally, if you really want to learn about all the different types of guitar effects you can use as a guitarist or how to dial in different guitar tones on your amp, I have created a comprehensive Guitar Effects and Tone Course.
The course walks you through all the types of guitar pedals you may ever want to play. You’ll hear examples of how each pedal sounds, how to use them, how to combine them with other pedals, and how to dial in different guitar tones.
If you’re learning to play electric guitar or want to learn about guitar effects, check out the course here.
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