How To Play Guitar

Identify the parts of the guitar

The obvious Step before purchasing or learning to play the guitar is to familiarize yourself with its anatomy and the associated basic terminology. Both electric and acoustic guitars have three basic parts - body, headstock, and neck. Each of these is further made up of a variety of components.

You strum or fingerpick the guitar strings at the body of the guitar. The tonal properties of any guitar are defined by the design of its body to a great extent. The body of an acoustic guitar is hollow and made up of a soundboard, back & sides. Electric guitars can have solid, semi-hollow, or hollow bodies.

The neck acts as the connection between the guitar body and the headstock. The fingerboard, frets, and truss rods are placed on the neck, which is designed to influence tonality, playability, resist warping, and withstand the tension of the strings.

Nut and tuning machines are mounted on the headstock which is itself located at the top of the neck.

Parts of a Guitar

Main Parts Of A Guitar

  1. 1
    The body of an acoustic guitar - Bouts & the waist, soundboard or the Top, soundhole, acoustic bridge, bridge plate & the pins, saddle, pickguard, and strap buttons.
  2. 2
    The body of an electric guitar - Pickups, pickup selector switch, volume and tone knobs, whammy bars.
  3. 3
    Guitar Neck - Neck, truss rod, fingerboard or fretboard, frets, inlays, strings, and the nut.
  4. 4
    Guitar Headstock - Headstock & the tuners.

We have examined each of these guitar parts in detail in our article on parts of a guitar.

Buying A Guitar For Beginners

The first question that needs to be addressed before you start learning to play the guitar is the choice of type of guitar out of acoustic, electric, or classical guitar. Each of these choices has its own pros and cons.

The relative advantages and disadvantages and the comparisons are detailed in our articles on Acoustic Vs Electric guitars and Classical Vs Acoustic guitars. While the final decision is usually governed by your own goals and aspirations, generally, an acoustic instrument is preferred more over others by beginners, due to its ease of use, versatility, and price range.

Some may prefer a classical guitar due to soft and thicker strings (requiring less pressure from your fingertips), lesser weight, smaller body, and wider neck.

You can get a very good beginner guitar in the $300 to #500 price range. There are even plenty of decent guitar package options in the $150 to $300 range that include essential accessories like a gig bag, tuners in addition to the guitar.

In any case, choose a guitar that is comfortable to hold for your size. Go for a short-scale guitar if you have short arms or small hands.

How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar

So by now, you have your first guitar and recognize all the important parts. At this stage, you should make a road map of what to learn first and how long will it take to learn? No standard method of learning how to play guitar exists and the time taken by beginner guitarists depends on several different factors. What really matters is the way you practice or what you learn. Always keep the following things in mind:

  1. 1
    The timelines for learning may be different for you than guitar players, depending on practice hours per week, dedication level, styles or genres, the target level of expertise. You must customize your practice schedule to suit your goals.
  2. 2
    The time of your practice sessions matters a lot as the retention is maximum during the beginning and the very end of the session.
  3. 3
    While it is essential to know what to learn and in which sequence, it is particularly important to have an idea of how much time to spend for each phase. You can go through our guide on the average time required to reach important milestones in playing guitar.
  4. 4
    Develop the ability to optimize your learning by creating a great and comfortable environment, learn what you love like your favorite songs, and record your practice sessions to know your shortcomings.
  5. 5
    Have an effective guitar instructor.
  6. 6
    Set realistic short-term and long-term goals and develop a practice plan to achieve them.

Holding The Guitar Correctly

As highlighted in the section on buying the beginner guitar, the instrument you select should be comfortable to hold depending on your age, shape, and size. You should be particularly careful if you have short arms or small hands. In such cases, the short-scale guitar is more comfortable to learn on.

Players with shorter arms may find it difficult to reach the frets closer to the guitar's neck whereas players with shorter fingers may find it difficult to fret on a full-size guitar. It will be difficult to play if your fretting hand cannot comfortably go around the neck. If you have larger hands and longer fingers, choose a thicker neck.

If you have selected an acoustic guitar, your arm must rest on the lower bout. Some new guitar players may find this uncomfortable. Some acoustic instruments come with built-in armrests.

When you are new to playing guitar, experts recommend practicing in the sitting-down position, as this makes playing a lot easier. Select the right type of chair with no arms and without a heavy cushion. Sit in a good posture with your back straight and not leaning on the back of the chair. Balance the lower bout on your thigh. It is much easier to play with a guitar strap but not absolutely necessary.

Your dominant hand must be in front of the soundhole or in the middle of the pickups, depending on the type of guitar. Your non-dominant hand will equip the neck of the instrument. Some guitar instructors recommend holding the guitar in a position that its neck is a 45° angle to the ground, particularly for beginners as this makes fretting much easier.

Some instructors recommend holding the neck parallel to the ground. you may try both methods and ultimately select the easier one. We recommend going through our detailed article on holding the guitar correctly.

How To Hold The Pick

While pick is a small piece of gear, it is one of the most important things for a guitar player. So you must carefully select one with the correct shape and size to suit your playing technique and genre.

Picks usually come in three sizes - thin (0.4 to 0.6 mm), medium (0.6 to 0.8 mm) and heavy (0.8 to 1.2 mm). Thin picks produce a flappier sound whereas a thicker pick will produce a clear sound with powerful low end suitable for playing leads.

If you tend to sweat a lot, you may go for an indented or a textured grip. Also, thinner picks tend to wear out faster. If you are new to guitar playing, you can pick a sampler pack of thin, medium, and thick picks and try them to figure out the one that suits you best.

Make yourself comfortable in a sitting or standing position with your guitar. The pick has to be pinched between your index finger and the thumb. To do this, place the pick on the curled index finger of your dominant hand with its point facing away from you your palm.

Make sure that the pick rests on the side of your index finger and not on its pad. Pick resting on the pad of the index finger will affect the accuracy and tire down your picking hand much faster. Once the pick rests properly on your index finger, bend your thumb downward to make a decent clip with your thumb pad.

Pressing too hard will make your hand tense and will increase the pick noise. The middle finger should not have any contact with the pick. The middle and ring finger should have a comfortable separation from your index finger that makes playing easier for you. Many strummers keep their fingers curled towards the palm to avoid hitting the strings and unwanted noise.

Strummers tend to keep a little more pointy end of the pick exposed, whereas the players should have a little less pick visible. This results in a cleaner sound and allows you to pick individual notes easily.

Learn Basic Guitar Chords

One of the most exciting elements in learning how to play guitar is the guitar chords. They can really add life to your playing. All your favorite songs are made up of a few basic chords.

To form a chord, you have to strum at least two notes together, to create a harmonious sound. Most chords contain three or four notes, certain genres of music like jazz have chords with even five or six notes. Chords are divided into two basic types - The first position chords and the barre chords (or bar chords).

The first position chords are a combination of open strings and pressed strings in the first three frets. In Western music, the primary chords are the major triads and the minor triads, also known as the major chords and the minor chords. These triads are built on a specific degree of major and minor scales.

A major chord has a natural third, that's the third degree of the chord's respective major scale. Whereas the minor chord has a minor or a flat third, which is the third degree of the chord's respective minor scale. All major chords are referred to by their letter name. So, a G chord is denoted as "G". Any minor chord has a small "m" after its letter name. For example, E minor chord is denoted as "Em".

All major chords produce a bright and happy sound while all minor chords have a dark, sad, moody, and mournful sound associated with them.

Some of the most memorable songs use some combination of the following, easy to play open chords - C chord, D chord, G chord, and an E minor chord.

Learn Finger Placement For Chords

One of the most common methods for you to learn playing chords and remember them is by using chord charts. This chart visually depicts a fretboard with circles used to show you where to place the fingers of your left hand on the fret board for playing any one chord. The X's on the chord diagrams represent the muted strings or the strings that you will not strum, while the O's denote an open string that you will not fret.

Let us quickly learn how to play the C chord by using the chord chart shown below. Many instructors want their students to start playing chords with C major as their first chords as so many songs have been written in the key of C major.

To Play The C Major Chord

  1. 1
    Place your index finger at the first fret of the second string (B), your middle finger at the second fret of the fourth string (D), and your ring finger at the third fret of the fifth string (A ).
  2. 2
    Notice 'X' above the sixth string (low E) on the chord diagram, which indicates that you don't play the lowest E string when you strum the chord.
  3. 3
    Note 'O' above the first and the third-string, which means that you do not fret the strings while playing the particular chord.

You can use the chord diagrams as explained above to practice other important chords. After placing your fingers on the fretboard, play each of the strings forming the chord. If any of the string is muted or gives a muffled sound, chances are that either some part of your finger or unused fingers are touching the string or you are not pressing the string hard enough. Your fingers must be curled about the fretboard to leave enough space for open strings to ring out.

Learn Barre Chords

Once you're comfortable with playing chords and feel you are ready to play your first song, there are still a few steps before you can do so. The first of them is learning guitar barre chords also known as the movable chords. They can be a real stumbling block in your progression to the intermediate level. It is very important to build the required strength in your hand by regularly practicing daily.

F barre chord (or bar chord) is the barre chord in the first position and is played by placing your index finger at the first fret across the entire fretboard. Thus, the first finger is barring all the notes of a single fret. Place your middle finger at the second fret of the third string (G), your ring finger on the third fret of the fifth string (A), and your pinky on the third fret of the fourth string (D).

While these are difficult positions to learn, you can easily start playing chords for any pop or rock song once you're comfortable with them.

Jimi Hendrix and John Frusciante wrapped their arms around the neck to play the low E string. This gave them more freedom with their other fingers. Others feel this particular technique to be confining as it requires bigger hands and twisting of the wrist, which may be uncomfortable.

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