Beginning to learn the guitar is tough.
From proper technique to basic theory, there’s so much that beginners need to know that it can be disheartening to even get started.
But it doesn’t have to be like that:
What if I told you there was a set of tips that are guaranteed to kickstart your guitar learning experience?
In this article, I am going to share my top 16 tips that every beginner guitarist needs to get under their belt.
I’ll cover everything from basics like how to hold your guitar to individual chords, songs, and strumming patterns you need to learn.
Finally, I’ll also direct you towards some of my favorite online tools designed to help you take your playing to the next level.
How I Learned To Play The Guitar In Months
Hey, Reggie here.
I’ve been playing the guitar on and off since I was 12.
But it wasn’t until I retired that I finally dedicated myself to the guitar as much as I’ve always dreamed to.
In fact, after college my old 6-string pretty much just laid around gathering dust.
I’d bring it out every 6-12 months or so and promise myself that I’d finally take up lessons and begin playing regularly.
But it never happened…
There was always something else to keep me busy.
Luckily, once I retired I finally had time to focus on the guitar properly.
And, with the help of online lessons and a lot of dedication, I’m playing better than ever before.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Hendrix or Clapton, but I’m proud to say I can finally hold my ground comfortably both as a rhythm and a lead player.
Best of all, I managed to do so just in a few solid months.
But it wasn’t always like this:
When I first started learning the guitar, it felt like there were so many things I needed to know, I didn’t even know where to begin.
So, to help others like myself, I’ve decided to put together this list of my top must-have tips for beginner guitarists.
From how to hold a guitar to the best chords and songs for beginners, this list contains everything I wish someone had told me when I first started playing.
So, get reading and remember to share this post with other beginner guitarists just like yourself!
16 Essential Guitar Tips Every Beginner Needs To Know
- Grip The Guitar Properly
- Learn These 5 Basic Open Chords
- Get A Capo
- Learn This Alternate C Chord
- Learn These 4 Strumming Patterns
- Learn To Mute
- Start With Light Gauge Strings
- Set Up Your Guitar Properly
- Play Plenty Of Covers
- Understand Basic Music Theory
- Don't Go Overboard With Theory
- Play Slow
- Do Finger Exercises
- Play With Other People
- Learn Barre Chords Early
- Follow A Regular Practice Routine
- 1. Grip The Guitar Properly
Let’s be honest:
Gripping and holding a guitar is weird.
It’s not something our body automatically knows how to do.
Hence, its completely normal for beginner guitarists to struggle with holding and gripping the guitar properly.
The way you hold the guitar can have a huge impact on your playing.
Therefore, it’s really important you learn to grip and hold your guitar properly from the get-go.
Here are some tips to help you do so:
- Let your guitar sit comfortably on your right leg (or left, if you’re left-handed).
- Try to keep the neck of the guitar more or less parallel to the floor.
- Keep the thumb on your fretting hand resting behind the neck of the guitar. Don’t let your thumb sneak around the top of the neck as this will make it harder to grip difficult chords.
- Bend the knuckles on your fretting fingers so you fret notes with the tips of your fingers. This will help each note ring clearly.
- Fret notes as close to the fret as possible (but not actually on the fret). This will help avoid fret buzz.
- 2. Learn These 5 Basic Open Chords
Master some easy chords.
Before you get stuck into learning solos or trying to wrap your head around music theory, I suggest you learn these basic open chords:
C D G E minor A minor
If you want to step things up a notch, consider learning these open chords as well:
F (open position) A E D minor
Now, you might think:
“Why should I restrict myself to just these chords?”
Well, the answer’s simple:
These chords will allow you to play hundreds, if not thousands of songs across many different genres.
That’s because these first 5 chords make up majority of the most important chords in the key of G.
Meanwhile, the chords F, A, E, and D minor will help introduce to other popular musical keys, like C and A major.
Need more info on chords: Find 5 Easy Guitar Chords You Can Master In A Week
If you need to play in another key, simply take these chords and move on to the next tip:
- 3. Get A Capo!
Every beginner guitarist needs a capo.
Capos allow you to easily transpose a song without having to learn any new chords.
Here’s how capos work:
Imagine you’re playing a song with this basic chord progression:
G D E minor C
If you’d want to play the same progression in the key of B (either to play along to a recording or to play in key with other musicians), you’d need to learn the following chords:
B F# G# minor E
Now, most beginner players won’t be able to play this progression.
But with a capo, you don’t need to.
Instead, you can simply put the capo on the 4th fret and play the same chords you played originally (G, D, E minor, and C).
Capos come in extremely handy when you need to play along to a recording or when you’re playing with other musicians.
Hence, I highly recommend you begin using a capo until you’ve built up the dexterity and strength to play more complicated progressions and chords.
- 4. Learn This Alternate C Chord
One thing many guitarists struggle with is chord changes.
One common change many players struggle with is G to C, for example.
And it’s not hard to see why:
Changing from one to the other involves literally taking all your fingers from the fretboard and rearranging them.
But did you know there’s a way to make this change by only moving 2 fingers?
If you’re a beginner, you probably learned to play G like this:
Meanwhile, you were probably taught to play C like this:
However, you can also play a C like this:
Notice that the only difference between the above C and the a regular G that I mentioned earlier is 2 notes.
If you’re a beginner struggling with the G to C chord change, I recommend you try this alternate C chord until you build up your skills.
This will save you a bunch of headaches especially in your early guitar days.
- 5. Learn These 4 Strumming Patterns
Rhythm is a huge component of music, and learning new strumming patterns is a great way to make your playing more rhythmic and exciting.
Unfortunately, learning new strumming patterns can be extremely difficult for beginner guitarists.
Luckily, there are 4 simple strumming patterns any beginner can learn and use to spice up his/her playing.
These patterns are:
The Hard Rock Strum
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |
D D D D D D D D
The Reggae Strum
1 & A 2 & A 3 & A 4 & A |
D U D U D U D U
The Country Strum
1 & A 2 & A 3 & A 4 & A |
B D U B D U B D U B D U
The Classic Pop Strum
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & |
D D U U D U
D: Down strum
U: Up strum
B: Bass note pluck
In fact, I learned these 4 patterns in just 1 week and they completely changed my playing.
Check out my complete article: 4 Easy Strumming Patterns You Can Learn In 7 Days
- 6. Learn To Mute
As beginner guitarists, we put a lot of focus on playing.
What we hardly think about, however, is muting.
Muting is a very powerful rhythmic tool that can help add groove and rhythm to your playing.
Luckily, muting isn’t very difficult, and most beginners should be able to incorporate muting into their playing with a bit of practice.
Here are some different ways to use muting to add flavour and depth to your playing:
A strategic rest beat can be a great way to make a song or composition more interesting.
Try adding them to song bridges or using them as transitions from a verse to chorus, for example.
Palm muting is probably considered a more advanced guitar technique, but there’s no reason beginners can’t learn it early on.
It involves simply gently resting your strumming hand over the string/s you play.
The key is just finding the right pressure so that the note is slightly muted but still produces a sound.
- 7. Start With Light Gauge Strings
One of the most common problems beginner guitarists struggle with is finger pain.
This is because beginner players usually don’t have calluses on their fingers, making playing guitar (especially on a steel string) extremely painful.
Hence, I always recommend players start with light gauge strings (like .10s, for example).
Light gauge strings are much easier to fret and usually are less tense than heavier strings, reducing their effect on your fingers.
If you’re completely new to the guitar and struggle with finger pain, throw some light gauge strings on your axe and check out this guide to building guitar calluses fast: The Ultimate Guide To Building Guitar Calluses
- 8. Set Up Your Guitar Properly
Unfortunately, most store brand-new guitars aren’t ready for playing.
I know that seems counterintuitive, but it is true.
This is because most brand-new guitars you buy online or see in music stores haven’t been undergone a proper set-up.
Setting up a guitar involves a bunch of processes that increase the playability of the instrument.
- Adjusting intonation
- Raising/lowering action
- Straightening the neck of the guitar
- Sanding frets
If you’re new to guitars, I usually recommend getting your guitar set up by a professional at a local music store.
If not, you can try setting up your guitar yourself.
Either way, make sure your guitar is setup before you start learning to adjust any playability issues and make practicing/playing as easy and enjoyable as possible.
- 9. Play Plenty Of Covers
I can’t stress this enough:
Playing covers is one of the best ways to learn to play the guitar.
Not only is playing covers a lot of fun, but it also helps introduce you to the elements that make your favorite songs work.
Greg put together a great resource on easy guitar riffs here: 40 Easy Guitar Riffs To Turn Beginners Into Rock Stars
From chord progressions or strumming patterns to riffs and licks, learning covers exposes you to powerful musical tools that’ll help you understand what makes specific songs so special.
Best of all, learning covers is simple.
At the beginning of this article I told you to learn 5 basic open chords.
And guess what?
You can use those 5 chords to play hundreds of popular songs, including:
- No Woman No Cry, Bob Marley And The Wailers
- Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Bob Dylan
- Love Me Do, The Beatles
- Horse With No Name, America
- Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond
- With or Without You, U2
- Brown Eyed Girl, Van Morrison
- I’m Yours, Jason Mraz
A great resource I’ve used to learn thousands of songs across all kinds of genres (including everything from Jazz to Hard Rock) is Guitar Tricks.
This site features an amazing song library with comprehensive video lessons that teach you to play all your favorite songs at your own pace.
Plus, it also features a bunch of other lessons designed to introduce you to specific techniques, genres and more. Discover the 5 reasons why me, Steve and Greg highly recommend Guitar Tricks for beginners.
- 10. Understand Basic Music Theory
Music theory is a really intimidating topic for beginner guitarists.
And it’s not hard to see why:
Music theory encompasses so many complex areas that it can be hard to figure out where to start and harder still to apply what you’re learning.
And so, many guitarists put theory aside and simply focus on playing.
And while many world-class guitarists didn’t learn theory until the later stages of their careers, I still recommend all beginner guitarists get a good grip on at least some theory basics.
Some important areas of music theory all beginners should start with include:
- The musical alphabet (note names)
- Intervals, scales, and musical keys
- Chord theory and progressions
- Melody, harmony, and theory
I could dedicate entire book to exploring each of these topics in detail, and I might do so in the future. For more information, check out my full guide here: A Guide To Learning Music Theory At Home For Beginner Guitarists
However, if you’re serious about learning music theory, I recommend you get online guitar lessons.
I know there’s a ton of free information available on the Internet, and trust me, I’ve tried to sift through it myself.
But there’s nothing like getting professional lessons from a real guitar teacher.
Some of my favorite websites for online guitar lessons are Truefire, JamPlay, and Guitar Tricks.
All 3 of these sites combine top quality material (produced by professional guitarists and teachers) with vibrant communities.
Best of all, they have plenty of material on guitar theory that’s well curated and easy to understand, especially for beginners like you and me.
TrueFire, for example, has a special introductory theory course called Street Theory for Guitarists, taught by Jeff Scheetz.
The course contains 45 individual video lessons exploring everything from the basics of the musical alphabet and the major scale to chord inversions, harmony, soloing, and much more.
JamPlay has a similar course called Music Theory: Square One.
Taught by David Wallimann, this is a 10-week intensive course with individual lessons covering the foundations of music theory for beginners.
I highly recommended you check out the above courses for more in-depth lessons on all things music theory. Me, Steve and Greg have reviewed them all here: The Best Online Lessons For Beginners
- 11. But Don’t Go Overboard
So learning theory is important, and there’s plenty of music theory to keep you busy.
After all, that’s why there are entire university degrees dedicated to learning and understanding music.
And while it's good to understand at least the basics of theory as a beginner (like the areas I listed above), it’s also important you don’t focus on theory too much, at least not in the early stages.
Let’s be honest:
No amount of theory knowledge is going to make you a good guitarist if you don’t apply any practice to what you know.
Hence, make sure you always apply a balance of theory and practical learning to your practice routine.
- 12. Play Slow!
This is another tip I can’t stress enough.
So many beginner guitarists want to dive into the deep end and learn to play upbeat songs or lightning fast solos.
And I get why.
Unfortunately, if you try to play songs or riffs at full speed, you’re doing your practice more bad than good.
Learning material at full speed just adds another level of difficulty to an already difficult process, which usually just slows down your overall progress.
Hence, I recommend all beginner guitarists take whatever they’re learning (be it a song, scale, or chord progression) and slow it right down.
Then, once you wrap your head around it, feel free to speed things up a little.
Here are some tips to help you play and practice slower:
- Use a metronome.
- Break songs into several parts and learn them separately. Then, once you’ve got all the different parts down, slowly bring them together.
- Try slow down apps like the Amazing Slow Downer to slow down entire songs and play along to them.
- 13. Do Finger Exercises
If you’ve ever taken a music lesson, you’re probably already familiar with finger exercises.
If not, finger exercises are basically simple exercises designed to help you improve your playing technique while also helping you build up strength and stamina in your hands.
While they’re not exactly exciting, these exercises can help you quickly train your hands to getting used to the guitar and will help you get a clean, clear sound when playing.
There are hundreds of finger exercises out there.
Here are 2 of my favorites:
The 1-2-3-4 Exercise:
Start by playing an open E string.
Next, use your index finger to fret the 1st fret.
Follow up with your middle finger on the 2nd fret, followed by your ring finger on the 3rd and your pinky finger on the 4th fret.
Repeat on the next string, working your way up and down all 6 strings.
This is really similar to the last exercise but starts on the 7th fret and requires you to stretch a little more.
To start, play the 7th fret with your index finger, then the 9th with your middle finger, the 10th with your ring finger, followed by the 12th fret with your pinky.
- 14. Play With Other People
Many guitar players like to hide out in a quiet room when they’re practicing.
And I get it, I did the same when I first started playing.
In fact, it wasn’t until at least a few months into learning the guitar that I finally had the courage to jam with other musicians.
However, could I go back to my early days of practicing, I would have tried to swallow this fear early.
Playing with other musicians is extremely important for learning.
Not only does it help build confidence but it also serves as a valuable learning opportunity.
Regardless of the playing ability of the other musicians you jam with, I can ensure you that you’ll always learn something by jamming with other guitarists and musicians.
- 15. Learn Barre Chords Early
I know at the beginning of this article I stressed the importance of learning open chords.
And it’s true, open chords are a great way for beginner guitarists to learn their way around their instrument and quickly start playing songs.
However, barre chords are also really important.
In fact, almost every guitarist will tell you that learning barre chords changed their playing forever.
Hence, it's important you don’t neglect learning barre chords (something that many beginner guitarists tend to do).
Try to focus on barre chords early and dedicate a solid part of your practice routine to them.
Start by learning minor barre chords on both the 6th and 5th string.
Once you’ve got those down, move on to the more difficult major chords.
- 16. Follow A Regular Practice Routine
I’ve mentioned the term “practice routine” various times above.
That’s because every beginner guitarist needs to follow a structured practice routine.
Sure, there are plenty of stories about musicians teaching themselves to play the guitar from their bedroom following YouTube videos, blog posts, or something similar.
But trust me, those people are a minority.
I tried to teach myself some guitar basics using information I found online.
And while I did learn something, I struggled with the lack of structure.
If you really want to take your playing to the next level, I highly recommend you followed a structured practice routine.
The best way to do that is by taking online guitar lessons via Truefire, JamPlay, and Guitar Tricks.
These 3 websites offer top-shelf guitar material for all kinds of players.
Learning online allows you to take your time and build your own routine tailored to your lifestyle and playing level.
For more information on each of these platforms, remember to check out their respective websites:
Bonus: Common Beginner Guitar Mistakes You Must Avoid
So, I’ve covered my top 16 tips for beginner guitarists.
Follow these tips and I guarantee you’ll make a lot more progress in a lot less time.
To finish off, I’d like to leave you with a list of guitar mistakes every guitarists needs to avoid.
I’ve seen so many beginners make these mistakes (including myself) and want to ensure you can avoid them so you can improve your playing quickly.
Here they are:
- Practicing What You Already Know
It's important to put your learned skills to use. However, not during practice. Make sure the majority of your practice routine focuses on learning new skills.
- Consulting Too Many Sources
Going from one tutorial video to another or reading hundreds of guitar blog posts makes it hard to focus and puts you at risk of information overload. Pick 1 or 2 reputable sources (like those mentioned above) and stick to them.
- Sticking To A Single Genre
A lot of guitarists focus on learning to play a specific style of music (be it metal, jazz, or folk). But remember, the key to being a good player is being versatile. Hence, always keep an open mind and try exploring genres you wouldn’t normally listen too.
- Neglecting Rhythm
Rhythm is essential to all music, and the guitar is a very rhythmic instrument. Always keep rhythm on your mind, regardless of what you’re playing.
- Hiding Behind FX
Remember, guitar pedals won’t help you become a better player. At best, they’ll enhance your sound by making it more interesting, but they won’t help you master your instrument.
- Forgetting About Timing
Holding a steady beat is key to good playing. Never get too focused on licks, riffs, or other techniques to forget about timing.
- Expecting Mircacles
A lot of beginner’s seem to think that if they can manage to wrap their head around a particularly challenging concept they’ll finally master the guitar. That’s not true. For most players, playing the guitar is a constant learning curve.
- Being Impatient
Remember, learning the guitar takes time. In fact, most guitarists probably admit they never stop learning, no matter how advanced they are. Hence, keep at it, no matter how tough it seems!