So you’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of Steve Vai, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and the rest of the guitar gods. Or maybe you simply want to take on a new hobby that you can pursue in your free time. Perhaps you want to express yourself artistically through music. Whatever the reasons you have for wanting to learn guitar, you have to start with the basics. Let’s begin with a look at the guitar strings.
The basic guitar has six strings. Like most other instruments these strings can be tuned to various musical notes. Each string has a thickness (known as the gauge) that makes it suitable for a certain note. A guitar is typically tuned from low to high with the following notes: E, A, D, G, B, and E (shown below).
Guitars players use a combination of open notes and fretted notes (achieved by pressing one’s fingers onto a string on a specific part of the fret board) to produce sound. Guitar strings can be strummed in succession (usually from low notes to high notes) or picked one by one. There’s an exciting world of guitar playing techniques out there, and many are still being developed, so feel free to be creative and experiment with different styles.
It helps to know a bit about musical notes when starting to learn an instrument – and guitar is no exception. This information can be somewhat boring, but try to let it sink in. It will be foundational to the rest of your guitar learning journey.
There are 12 musical notes. Starting with the C note, the notes ascend in the following order (note that the lower case “b” is pronounced “flat”):
Applying pressure on a guitar string in between one of the frets (the metal strips that divide the fret board) produces different notes when the guitar string is played. When you play higher on the fret board (closer to the wide part of the guitar) the notes become successively higher. For example, playing the open bass E string (the lowest string) produces an E note. As you play higher up the fret board, the notes produced follow this order:
Playing three or more notes at the same time creates a chord. Each chord is made up of three unique notes. For example, a C chord is played with the notes C, E, and G. Follow these steps to play a C chord:
- Place your left index finger on the B string at the first fret and apply pressure.
- Apply pressure with your left middle finger on the D string at the second fret.
- Apply pressure with your left ring finger on the A string at the third fret.
- Using your right hand (I recommend a pick held between your thumb and index finger), strum the strings from the low note to the high note.
Congratulations! You’ve played your first chord. Quick, let’s hear your cleanest rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.” I’m kidding of course, but you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can develop the techniques necessary to play challenging songs if you put forth some effort.
Guitar playing is an art form. I recommend experimenting with different notes and chords at this point. Try playing “Jingle Bells” by playing single fretted notes. Experimentation is the quickest way to get familiar with your guitar’s fret board. Once you’ve played around a bit, try moving onto other chords or scales.