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How to Play Guitar

How to Play Guitar

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

You can use a Guitar to play death metal to country to classical and everything in between. The guitar is more approachable than many other instruments, once you master a few basics. It may take you years to get the basics down, and you may need formal instruction at some point to exploit the instrument's full potential. For those who have significant difficulty forming chord shapes with their fingers, it may be better to start off learning songs which utilize single notes or power chords. This will help build finger strength, dexterity, and familiarity with the guitar, hopefully with less stress and frustration.


  1. Consider buying a Tuner. Tuners make playing sound better, but it'll also familiarize you with which string and fret combinations correspond with which notes. There should be one anywhere guitars or guitar music is sold. A useful mnemonic to remember the string arrangement is "'Every Body Gets Dinner At Eight" or "Easter Bunny G o Dancing At Easter (going from high E to low E) or even "Eat All Day Get Big Easy" (low to High)E'very , A,Doug,Gets .Bugged. You should try to make up your own acronym, it will help you remember more easily. If you cannot afford a Tuner, you can also tune your guitar without one.
  2. Learn how to read guitar tabs. Guitarists have their own system of music notation called guitar tablature, or "guitar tabs" for short. The basic idea is to look at the tab in the same way you look at your guitar; each line corresponds to a string, and each number tells you which fret to hold down when plucking that string.
  3. Place your fingers correctly on the frets. Right-handed players use their left hand for fretting and use their right hand for picking. The frets are the metal strips that run perpendicular to the strings. You actually press your finger down between the metal strips, not on them. For example, if you're playing the third fret, you place your finger on the string between the second and third metal strip. Hold the string down firmly so that it only vibrates between your finger and your strumming hand. Do not forget that you must play on your fingertips and not on the soft part of your finger. This requires cutting your nails to avoid scratching the fretboard. Place your finger as close to the fret as possible to create a good sound.

    • When you hold down multiple strings at once at different frets (to play chords), it can be a little tricky (especially if you have short, inflexible fingers). There are usually several different ways to position your fingers for the same chord, so research them and experiment to find which one feels most comfortable for you.
    • Keep in mind that every time you move from one fret to another, the resulting pitch will be half a step higher or lower (i.e. "sharp" or "flat"). This is important for if you want to eventually read and play from sheet music.
    • Some people find that placing the thumb in the middle of the back of the neck, not coming over the top, leads to better finger placement because it allows better reach and strength of the fingers on the frets. Ultimately, however, do what feels best for you.
    • The most important thing is to achieve a clean sound for each open chord when you are practicing. After you had placed all your fingers on the fretboard, play through each of the strings of the chords. Make sure that the strings that are supposed to ring all not muffled or muted. If the notes are not ringing out properly, find out why. Chances are that you are not pressing hard enough or parts of your fingers are touching that string which prevents it from sounding out clearly. Are any unused fingers touching strings?[1]
  4. Strum with your other hand. This can be the most difficult part to learn without having a teacher demonstrate. Strumming consists of downstrokes and upstrokes in various combinations. Count every beat and off-beat as "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and..." (every "and" is an offbeat). Each beat and offbeat can be an upstroke, downstroke, or no stroke. No matter which direction you use, make an effort to sweep across all of the strings with even pressure and steady speed. You don't want to strum some strings a little harder than others, or start off fast then slow down as you get to the last few strings. The motion should come mostly from the wrist, not the forearm.

    • You can do this with a pick or with your fingertips. There are various kinds of picks you can use, but beginners are usually advised to start with a thin pick, held between the thumb and the side of the index finger.[2]
    • Keep your arm going in a constant up-and-down motion, sticking with a rhythm whether or not you're actually strumming. This motion functions as a metronome for beginners. As you get better at strumming, you can tap your foot, bob your head, or jerk your knee like Elvis instead.[3]
  5. Practice chords. A chord is a group of notes that sound good together. The reason they sound good together lies in music theory, but for now, learning how to play a few key chords will suffice. Practice until you can move comfortably between them without losing your rhythm.

    • The most commonly used chords in Western music are the major chords, which can be remembered with the word "CAGED". Click on any of the following links for specific instructions on how to play each chord:

  6. Learn to play some songs. Start off with easier songs - ones with fewer chords in simpler arrangements. Listen to the song being played properly with guitar so you know what kind of sound and rhythm to aim for. Start off slow and speed up gradually, singing along (if applicable) to stick with the rhythm. As you master easier songs, move on to more complex pieces. Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd is an example of an easier song to start with. It's basically a repetition of the same three chords in the following order: D, C, G, D, C, G, D, C, G.
  7. Have Fun!



  • Although price is not a great indicator of quality, most very inexpensive guitars will have issues that can make play more difficult. For example, frets can be raised too high resulting in buzz as the string contacts them inappropriately. Or a neck that has excessive or too little curve. If possible, take an experienced guitarist with you when going to buy a guitar and make sure you play before you buy, get one that feels right for you.
  • Most guitars have many hand-made parts, no matter what the price range. So, quality can vary between guitars of the same model. Once you decide on a particular model, be sure to inspect each guitar of that model in the store and choose the best one.
  • Practice fingerpicking. Look up some fingerpicking patterns online, or, for bonus points, try to figure out the patterns of some of your favorite guitar songs.
  • Find songs that you want to play, get the tab for that song, and practice that song. It makes it more interesting to play guitar.
  • Do consider different aspects of learning the guitar such as ear training and learning basic music theory. Good references can be found here at Guitar Player World.[4]


  • Depending on written or video tutorials without the help of lessons from an experienced teacher could lead to bad habits that are difficult to reverse. While you may learn just as effectively without formal lessons, they may be useful to correct any personal playing problems.
  • Most guitarists eventually have a low point or a time they feel like quitting. Don't do that, instead realize that you'll probably be learning a lot of experience from riding through the harsh storm of criticism and hardship.

Things You'll Need

  • A guitar that you feel will be suitable
  • A pick (optional)

Related wikiHows

Sources and Citations

  1. http://guitarplayerworld.com/Open_Chords.html
  2. http://www.heartwoodguitar.com/WordPressBlog/?p=10
  3. http://www.heartwoodguitar.com/WordPressBlog/?p=10
  4. http://www.guitarplayerworld.com
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Hildogo Jones