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How to Get Started Playing the Guitar

The guitar is one of the most versatile and sought-after instruments in modern music. It features a range of notes, is capable of playing both rhythms and melodies, and of course, is prominently featured in rock songs and pop songs from the last 75 years. 

When you first pick up a guitar, you may feel overwhelmed, or like you’ll never be able to master the instrument on your own. But getting started playing the guitar is actually easier than you think. 

Choose the Right Guitar

Choosing your first guitar is an incredibly important decision. This will be the instrument you learn everything on; if you enjoy this guitar and like the way it feels and sounds, you’re going to love practicing, and have a much better overall experience. If you end up with something shoddy or something you don’t like, you’ll hate practicing, and may quit before you polish your skills. 

That said, there isn’t a single guitar that’s right for everybody. Many new students should start out on an acoustic guitar; while acoustic guitars are generally slightly harder to play than their electric counterparts, they’re also simpler instruments overall. You won’t have to worry about onboard electronics or other complexities when learning the basics of the instrument. You can also switch to an electric guitar later at any time. 

Taylor, Martin, Yamaha, Fender, Gibson, and Ibanez are all well-established brand names in the realm of acoustic guitars. Within these brands, you’ll find hundreds of different models, made from different woods, featuring different components, and being sold at different price ranges. While you certainly don’t need to splurge on your first guitar, you also shouldn’t be overly frugal, either. A $1,000 guitar from a reliable brand will play smooth and easily, with a great tone, while a $50 or $100 guitar may be very difficult to play, and sound much worse. 

Make the investment in a higher-quality instrument if you can. It’s going to be much better for learning how to play. Guitars tend to hold their resale value pretty consistently, so you can always sell it if you decide to walk away. 

Get to Know Terminology and Anatomy 

You can learn terminology and the anatomy of a guitar during a formal lesson, but you can also learn the basics in a few minutes on your own. This will help you understand the function of a guitar, and allow you to learn from online guides more easily. 

  • Body. The body of the guitar is the “main” part, responsible for holding the neck in place and sitting on your leg while playing. 
  • Neck. The neck is the long (usually wood) component that extends from the body and keeps the strings aligned. 
  • Fretboard (and frets). The face of the neck is called the fretboard, which contains the “frets,” or the marked sections of the board that indicate where to press your finger to shorten each string of the guitar. 
  • Head and tuning pegs. The neck leads to the head of the guitar, which is usually where you’ll find the tuning pegs. Turn these one way to make strings higher (sharper) and the other to make them lower (flatter). 
  • Bridge. The bridge is a section that keeps the strings in place, located toward the bottom of the body. 

Should You Take Lessons? 

Many new guitar players wonder if the best route is to take lessons with a professional. There are some advantages to this approach; working with a pro-one-on-one can help you learn about your strengths and weaknesses and get personalized coaching. You’ll also have formal lesson structures that keep you committed to a fixed schedule. 

However, lessons aren’t a strict necessity. They cost money, and you can get most of the information you’d learn in a lesson online for free. 

Get the Form Down

If you choose to learn on your own, your first step should be mastering the form—how to hold a guitar and strum it properly. It may feel awkward at first, but getting used to the form early is going to be essential in learning how to play. 

Learn Notes and Basic Chords 

From there, you can start learning about notes along the neck, and how to play basic chord shapes. If you’ve never played an instrument before, this would also be a good time to learn the basics of music theory. Once you get more comfortable with the basics, you can start investing time into reading tablatures (basic musical notation for guitar) and sheet music (advanced musical notation). 

Practice Every Day

The most important ingredient in learning the guitar is practicing every day. Even if you feel like you aren’t getting better, and even if you’re not particularly in the mood, it’s important to dedicate at least 15 minutes a day to play. Over time, you’ll get more comfortable with the feel of the instrument and more familiar with the placement of notes along the fretboard. Even the most legendary guitar players started out completely unfamiliar with the instrument, and they only got to the top because they invested time in practice.