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How to Play Guitar

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 18 Oct 2013 | comments*Discuss
Guitar Chord Fretboard Machine Head

It's quite simple to learn to play the guitar. Mastering it, and becoming a good guitarist, is something that can take years, however, requiring dedication and practice. But anyone can learn the basics in a short period of time.

How to Start

First of all, your guitar needs to be in tune. From thickest to thinnest, the strings should be EADGBE. A simple way to remember this is by a making up a mnemonic. The easiest way to tune is using an electronic tuner, which is cheap, very accurate and easy to use. Reach the correct note by tightening or loosening the string as needed on the machine heads.

The thin metal bars on the guitar neck are frets. You make chords by holding down the appropriate shape on the fret with your left hand and strumming on plucking the strings above the sound hole on the body of the guitar.

Initially you'll find the fingertips of your left hand hurt from the pressure of the strings. But after a few weeks they'll harden and you'll be able to play more easily.

The First Chords

The first three chords to learn are C, G and F. One you can manage those you'll be able to play a number of songs, and your fingers will be adept at changing. Don't worry if it takes you a while to make each chord. That will become faster with practice.
First Chord
This is the basic C shape. Use the first finger on the second string from the top, middle finger on the fourth string. Practice making and holding the chord whilst strumming with the right hand, trying to keep an even rhythm (use a plectrum to strum, holding it between the thumb and first finger). Then try moving to a G chord:
G Chord
The middle finger holds the bottom string, the first finger the fifth string, and the ring finger the top string. Again, practice making and strumming the chord, then changing from C to G. It will seem difficult and frustrating at first, but with time you'll manage it easily.

For the third chord, add F. This is a little different, since the first finger holds down the top two strings at the first fret, which means you hold it at an angle. That's hard at first, but persevere.

G Chord
Take a few days just playing those chords, learning how to move your fingers smoothly and quickly from one to the next, and keeping an even rhythm with your right hand. Once you have those, it's time to add three more chords, beginning with D
G Chord
All the chords so far have been major chords, with a bright sound. Minor chords have a sadder feel, bringing a different mood to the music, as with Em (E minor) and Am.
E Minor ChordA Minor Chord
With these chords you can manage most of the basic songs, and from there add other chords to your arsenal. Then, with E and A major, you have virtually all the essentials
E Minor ChordA Minor Chord


Once you've learned how to strum properly, varying the rhythms to add to the melody, you should learn how to fingerpick. That involves using the fingers of your right hand to pick out the notes of the chord you're making. It's generally a repeated, rhythmic patter, with the thumb playing the bass strings and the first (or first and middle) playing the upper strings. Again, it takes time to learn, and even longer for it to sound comfortable and natural.

More Advanced

The more you learn, you'll realise there are different ways to make the same chord. One of them is using barred chords, With that, your first finger covers the fret entirely, and you make the chord shape (either E or A, major and minor) with your other three fingers. It makes for faster chord changes, and works with both major and minor chords.

Making quick, smooth chord changes will take several months. Don't become discouraged when it doesn't happen overnight. The more you play, the easier it will become, until it's second nature and you don't' even need to look at the fretboard.

There's no guarantee you'll become a great guitarist; that depends not only on practice, but also talent. However, you will have years of pleasure ahead playing the guitar.

Kids Keen to Learn?

The guitar is a great instrument to inspire children; those three-chord melodies go a long way in the early stages! The guitar can be hard work for small hands, so you might also need to look at alternative instruments.

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