Due to strains on my hands, I am not able to play guitar as much as I used to. My musical career - which started at 15 and ended two years ago at 19 - was fairly prosperous considering the town I live in (Chattanooga, Tennessee). I really enjoyed coming up with music that people could hear and envision what they wanted and now I would like more people to do the same. This is about all that I am left with in relation to music. I depend now on other people coming up with new songs (hopefully more interesting that N-Sync and crap that I personally loathe) since I have no formal education in music and have as of yet not been able to master another instrument that allows me to express as much as I did with a guitar.

In order to give what little I possibly have left musically I am starting this node to teach people how to play guitar. Now, there won't be much technical information in my posts, but I will show you how I learned to play guitar. Hope it helps someone.

I assume that you own a guitar.

You could use two more things. I am assuming that you will have them also. (Because I am a son of a bitch.)

  • A tuner that can do: E A D G B E (I'll post tuning with E in tune later.)
  • A listing of tab notated chord configurations. You should be able to find these reasonably priced at your local music store.

I am going to start with a graph.


At the top of the guitar neck is a nut where all the strings contact before reaching the tunig pegs. In fig.1, this nut is represented by "-E-A-D-G-B-E-". Right after that nut is a flat space between it and the fret. This is representated with a "|1|". So, the 12th space on the fretboard probably has 2 dots. This is kind of important, remember it. If your guitar doesn't have dots on the fretboard, add one each at the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 15th, 17th, 19th and 21st. Add two dots on the 12th. Memorize where those dots are so that you will be able to find them without looking.

More assumptions: I fucking hope you are right handed because I am incredibly lazy.

Hold up your left hand, palm towards your face. Your index finger from now on will be refered to as "one". Your bird/salutation finger will now be refered to as "two". Your nameless/useless finger will now be refered to as "three". Your pinky finger is now "four".

Here is your first lesson:

Remembering that graph, put your two finger on where the graph represents "A2". Hold it there. Not moving it will be hard at this stage, but don't fret ha.. Put three on "D2" with one still in its position. Put one on "G1". While holding all these fingers in position, strum the strings starting at "E" and going to "e". Keep working on this until you are able to not hear any muffled noises from your fingers dampening the other strings. Congratulations! You just played an e chord!

Now is your time to get excited and tell all of your friends how much of a rock god you are.

Let's try another one.

Put finger two on "E3" (the string. Did that properly node "big top" and "top string" separately?). Place one on "A2". Finally, place four on "e3" (the littlest string). Strum. OMFG! You just played a g chord! Woop! You can now play:

Stay tuned for further updates from me and (hopefully) other noders. And remember, this is a work in progress just like everything on e2. Bookmark it and /msg me if you learned anything.

I'm surprised no one has yet published anything about how to play the guitar on E2. So here's my attempt at trying to convey small parts of the knowledge I acquired about 5 years ago and have been constantly polishing ever since.

The first lesson I ever got was how to play chords. Chords are good. Most songs can be brought down to a number of chords that you can play and sing (or in my case hum) along to. One important thing you should remember before even starting that - your teacher (if you have one) may tell you that you shouldn't use the pinky on your right hand for fingerpicking, and never, ever use the left hand's thumb to barr strings. This was one of the things I was told when I was starting to learn to play, and I ever since I cannot stop regretting I listened to it.

I cannot over-stress this: use every single finger you can to extract sounds from your instrument. Eventually you're going to get to a point where you're trying to play a song, and you feel you need more and more fingers to get that particular chord shape or tune. Then, then you will realise that while the rest of your fingers are well-trained, your pinky and thumb are just there doing nothing. So avoid that.

Back to chords. First learn some open-position chords - for some easy ones I'd recommend Am, A, Em, E, C and perhaps a D, Dm and G. From what I remember, just knowing the first set of those chords will get you through Radiohead's "Street Spirit" quite nicely.

Once you're comfortable forming chords with your left hand, try power chords. They are basically 3-string chords that are easy to form and move around the neck. The generic shape of a power chord is as follows:
D --3--
A --3--
E --1--
That above was an F5, and if you shift the shape down a string you will get an A#5. If you move the original shape up to the 4th fret, you'll get a G#5. Move that down a string, and you'll get a C#5. Now posessing that knowledge, you can play along to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit". God help me, what have I unleashed ...

Once you are bored with chords, try getting a simple melody going on one of the strings. The bass line to Nirvana's "Lithium" or Black Sabbath's "Electric Funeral" are a good place to start practicing.

Get more song tabs from the net. www.altavista.com is your friend in finding tabs - try a search string like +"Song Name" +tab and you should come up with at least a few hits.

This post is getting a little to big and I'd like to ask whoever can contribute something to this node to please do so. Thanks!

In my experience, the best way to start learning the guitar is to know the f**king notes.

Yeah, you're an artist. But you've got one thing down on you, you're also a guitarist. Every guitar store in the world is home to the masses of Peruvian monkeys who play Stairway to Heaven on Red Stratocasters. Your friend stopped next to you, at the parking light? He plays guitar. So does your dentist, and your tax collector. Everyone plays guitar.

However, the majority of these people aren't guitarists, they're human tablablature playback devices. The guitar is an instrument of harmony. Each note, even in the same octave, can be played in any number of places on the neck of the guitar. Multiple notes can be played at the same time, with no limit to the amount of variation. So, learn all the [musical scales|scales, all the chords, all the diatonic chords, and all the tricks. Which note is that? It's F#. Does it belong in an A minor scale? No. Can I play Bb major in a F scale? Sure. Don't just fumble around. Know this stuff.

The idea is that the more fluent you are with an instument, the fewer thought cycles it requires for you to remember a chord or a scale, the better will be your ability to make music with the guitar.

The Solo.
To many people (most definitely to me) the most important part of a good song is the solo. Probably the easiest part to learn, one of the hardest parts to master, the solo is crucial. And crucial to good soloing is good picking technique. Finger an Em chord (thats with the second frets down on strings 4 and 5; use your middle and ring fingers). Pick the sixth string with a downstroke (pick moving from the sixth toward the fifth string). Now pick the fifth with an upstroke. Go down the strings like that, slowly. Then do it again. Then do it again, faster. Do it many, many times, until its very, very fast. Then do it backward, i.e. start with an upstroke on the first string. Then put the two together. Then invert it, i.e. start with an upstroke on the sixth string. Then do THAT backwards. Practice all this till you can do it all really, really fast. This will take a while, so when you get bored, keep reading.

I now present to you the pentatonic scale, offa which the vast majority of solos out there in the rock/blues/etc world are based. Let's start with the E minor pentatonic scale, the easiest one to play (I assume you're in standard tuning). It's not worth tabbing this, so I'll use the following convention: string/fret. The Em pentatonic scale looks like this: 6/0 6/3 5/0 5/2 4/0 4/2 3/0 3/2 2/0 2/3 1/0 1/3. Thats two notes per string, so just go down-up on each string. Yeah, you like how that sounds? Cool, isn't it? No, you're not Van Halen yet, but you're closer than you've ever been before! Play around with this (bending 3/2 is fun), see if you can play any licks from your favorite tunes yet. Now let's add in the blue notes. In the appropriate places in the scale, insert the notes 5/1 and 3/3. Play the scale. Now isn't that cool? Now you can sound like B. B. King! Well, not quite. But you're getting there.

Next, let's try moving the pentatonic around: let's go to A minor pentatonic. The trick to moving the pentatonic scale (or any scale, for that matter) around is to find where the root is on the 6th string, and add that fret number to every fret in the scale. A is the 5th fret on the 6th string. This means Am pentatonic is: 6/5 6/8 5/5 5/7 4/5 4/7 3/5 3/7 2/5 2/8 1/5 1/8, and the blue notes are 5/6 and 3/8. I recommend that you fret all the x/5 notes with the index finger and the rest of the notes with the ring finger (except 5/6, obviously). Purists will probably tell you to fret the x/8 notes with your pinky. Take your pick (ooh, I'm so punny). While we're here, let's learn the pull-off and the hammer-on. Both these techniques depend on having your first finger on the 5th fret (change this for different positions, obviously) of whatever string youre on, regardless of which note youre playing. For example, put your index finger on 1/5 and your ring finger on 1/8. Pick the string, then remove your ring finger. As you remove your ring finger, try your best to get a bit of plucking action with it as you go - this'll make the 1/5 much clearer. This is a pull-off. A hammer-on is the same thing in reverse: play 1/5, then hammer your ring finger onto 1/8. Practice this by playing up the scale picking each string only once and using hammer-ons; and playing back down using pull-offs.

No discussion of the pentatonic scale would be complete without mentioning the blues box. People say B. B. King made his whole career offa this (hogwash, but not by too much). The blues box is basically a way to get an extra note in fairly easily. Play the Am pentatonic (no blue notes) till you get to 3/7. Now, slide to 3/9: pick 3/7 and immediately, keeping your third finger on the string the entire time, move up two frets to 3/9. Then pick 2/8 2/10 1/8 1/10. Should sound like a regular pentatonic except youve got an extra note and learnt a little sliding action on the side.

What do you do from here? Practice. Practice in your sleep. Practice till your fingers bleed, get some Band-Aids, and then practice some more. What do you practice? Anything. Improvise. Note: when you're improvising, try and keep rhythm with your feet or a metronome. Learning to play spastically is a bitch to unlearn. One fun thing to do is to record a simple chord progression over and over (like the 12-bar blues), play it back, and improvise to it. Another thing to do is to take a pretty easy solo like, say, Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird solo (which is damn long, but pretty simple) and learn it; you'll pick up some cool licks and impress your friends too! At this point, friends, the world is your oyster; soon you'll be playin' like a mofo.

I should start this WU by pointing out that I am not a good guitarist and have only just started learning to play. "How can I have anything to say here?" You ask. Well I am currently learning and I know that what I find very useful, others may also find useful.

The best way to learn is from another person. If you can get professional tuition, do it. Your tutor will (hopefully) be able to answer all you questions, spot your mistakes before they become bad habits and suggest ideas to help move you forward.

If you cannot find or afford a professional tutor, your next best bet is a friend who plays or is learning to play. They can show you new things and give you tips and just be there to jam with. Learning is much more fun if you have someone to do it with. Besides, playing by yourself is just musical masturbation. Music is to be shared.

Thirdly, look for resources on the internet. If you want to learn specific songs, there is a vast repository of guitar tablature online. Some of the best is in the form of "powertabs" which are tabs, often combined with musical scores that can be played back and edited with a program such as Powertab Editor. There are also more basic tabs in text file format. These range from simply stating the names of the chords, to full chord diagrams and tablature complete with lyrics. Note that many of these are simplified or even inaccurate, and you may need to look at several and judge for yourself which is correct. Currently the largest collection of tabs is the On-Line Guitar Archive (OLGA) although there are many others, as well as websites that search multiple archives for you. Google is your friend. Search for the songname and either "tab" or "powertab."

When using tabs, it often a good idea to listen to the actual track as well. If you don't own a copy, you can download one from a file sharing network although this is illegal. Other online resources include lessons, chord dictionaries, metronomes and guitar and accessory suppliers.

On a slightly more practical note, learning the fretboard is very useful. Fret the E string (the thickest one) at the first fret (counting from the head of the guitar) and pick the string. This note is an F. If you instead fret the second fret you will hear an F# (F sharp) which is a semitone higher than F. The third fret is a G, then a G#, then A etc. Note that there is no E# or B#. After E is F and after B is C. Also, a note a semi tone higher than an A can either be called an A# or a Bb (B flat) and similarly for all other sharps and flats. Carry on playing each note in turn. By the time you get to the 12th fret you should be back to E, which is the same note as when you don't fret the E string at all but an octave higher.

Going back down the string, towards the head, each fret will be a semitone lower than the previous one. Try naming all the flats instead of sharps, but remember that there is no Cb or Fb. Do this for each string (EADGBe), saying each note as you play it until you have memorised them all. Try using alternate picking (down, up, down, up...) and playing in time to a metronome.

It may seem counter-intuitive that going up the neck of the guitar towards the head the notes get lower and that strings positioned lower on the guitar are higher. You have to get used to thinking in terms of pitch. When a musician talks about moving up a fret or string they are always talking about pitch.

However frustrated you get, just remember that practice makes perfect. Enjoy your music.


So, you've got the itch. Your roomate has a guitar. Maybe your best friend has a guitar. Maybe you've gotten a guitar for your birthday or some special occasion. At any rate, you've decided to embark upon a task that is often embarked upon by many college students, and quit by just about as many.

You want to learn guitar.

Everyone has their reasons. You might think yours are unique, but chances are there is a large population of people that learn it for the exact same reason that you have decided to learn it for.

I hate to break it to you, but even though your reason is likely on this list, chances are you wont fulfill your goal. If you stick with it long enough, your reasons for playing will likely change to one or more different reasons on that list. At any rate, these reasons though everyone tends to start with them nobody sticks with it for them.

    More Likely:
  • The girl/guy you are trying to impress won't interest you by the time you get good enough to impress them. It will be a different person, with more of an interest in yodelling or harmonica.
  • By the time you get good enough to put your poetry to music, you will think the poetry you wrote before is ridiculous, and you will have lost the touch for writing it, as all your time has been spent learning guitar.
  • If you're learning an instrument to join a band... you're asking for even more trouble. Your buddies will get frustrated with attempting to teach you, and likely you will find yourself kicked out before you get good enough to truly jam.
  • Just face it: The muse will never sing to you when the time is convienient. If you're bored, you're bored for a reason. Its because you don't feel like playing your guitar. In fact, after a few months, the times you will feel most like playing guitar are the times you are supremely stressed. This is because once you are good enough, it's relaxing.
  • If money this is your motivation, take your money you would spend on all your equipment, and buy lottery tickets. You have more of a chance of striking it rich that way.
  • Campfire: if you're good enough, you won't want to take your guitar. If you're bad enough, nobody will want to sing. Drunk: By the time you're good enough, you will have outgrown your drinking phase.

So dreams dashed against the rocks, if you still want to learn how to play guitar, then thats great. I still consider myself a beginner, but I've reached the point I set out to reach. That being said, what follows is a guide to learning to play guitar:

First thing is first. Familiarize yourself with the guitar. Figure out where everything is. Read on which strings are which (I could get into tunings and teach you myself, but I'm teaching you how to learn guitar, not how to play it.

Next: I recommend highly that you learn on an acoustic guitar. There is nothing wrong with learning on an electric, but (even if you want to play electric in the future) your technical guitar skill will rise much quicker on an acoustic. The reason for this is the higher action of the strings, and unlike an electric, you must force an acoustic to make a sound.

I won't lie. Your first week of playing guitar will be the most painful experience of your life. At the same time however, this is your one real chance to play until your fingers bleed. The reasoning behind both of these statements is that you are developing callouses on your left fingertips. After about a week, you will not be able to feel anything with the tips of your fingers. Believe me, it is a welcome feeling.

So how to get started? Well thats really simple actually. Pick a song. Pick a song you like, that isn't classical gas (or anything by Eric Clapton.) Spend all day learning this song. Tabsites online will provide you with the music to just about any song out there. Just keep google-searching for "name of song" tab. Chances are, by the third or fourth attempt, you will find the song you are looking for. I started on Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers. But the two most common beginner songs are Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin and Nothing Else Matters by Metallica.
By the next day, you will have forgotten the song. No bother, just learn it again. You will pick it up much faster this time, and likely improve. During the beginning of your playing career, don't worry about chord structures, or the correct way to position your left hand in order to stay in key. Just find the notes, and do whatever you need to do the pick them out. Stare at the fretboard constantly. You will look ridiculous I promise, but every person who has ever played a guitar has been there, and anyone who hasn't played one doesn't deserve to criticize you.

Continue this pattern until you have two or three songs that you can wake up and play. You shouldn't expect to be able to play them the entire way through, as most songs consist of rhythmic parts as well as picked parts. Once you have a few riffs down however, its time to get serious about playing. Your new exercize (to be repeated until you have the fretboard memorized) is to once a day, lay your guitar in front of you. Close your eyes. Randomly pick a point on the fretboard. Find some way to figure out what note that is. (A good strategy for this is that every fret is 1/2 of a step. So if you are on the 1st fret on your D string, you have found a D#.) Find every occurence of that note on the fretboard (look for patterns. Most strings are five half-steps away from the next string up.) Memorize where each is. Find its octaves. Play each one, and repeat the note name until it is engrained in your head. Repeat this every day ad nauseum.

Naturally during your time of fretboard familiarization, you should still be learning songs. Push yourself. Up the difficulty. Bleed your playing into songs that require some strumming and some chord-work. Most of all however, do not get discouraged. This is the time each guitar player is given that he/she is allowed to play slowly. After a few months, you will have no excuse, so get it out of your system now.

After roughly a month, (or a month's worth of playing days) begin to learn chords. Begin with your standard, open chords. Begin with the major chords. Memorize these, memorize the shapes your hands make while playing them. If you have musical background, attempt to discern the root note, and the 5th and the 7th, this will help you to create a picture of it in your mind. If you lack such experience, put what I just said out of your head.

A good rule of thumb when learning chords: You are ready to move on to the next set (say for instance, minor chords) when you are able to play each chord strummed four times, at 60bpm (or one beat per second) consecutively. So for your first excersize, when you are able to strum each of the major chords (A-F) four times in 28 seconds immediately after picking up the guitar, you are ready to move on. You will begin to notice major breaking points in your guitar learning by this point. Everyone experiences these plateaus and it is a great feeling when you hit them. Just realize that you won't be improving for a while after you've hit one.

After you have learned the major, minor, 7th's 5th's (power), it is time to move on to the most challenging chords there are: Barre chords. These will hurt. You will not be able to play these for months. You are destined to pull a muscle in your finger while learning these. Do finger strengthening excersizes. Essentially what you will be doing is holding your forefinger across the entire fretboard, thus shortening the overall length of the strings. Don't believe me that its hard? Try it. Try holding your forefinger over all six strings, and pluck each one. Chances are, you got sound out of three. This is the hardest thing you will learn, but it is also the most powerful as it allows you to play any chord on any root string. Once you know a few basic barre chords (learn F#, and learn Bb) You will be able to play any Major, Minor, 7th, or 5th in existance with relative ease.

Set aside a few weeks to learn this. Find songs that accomodate them. Most songs with a basic rhythmic guitar part will use these at some point. At the outset try to find songs that use only one. Soon, you will prefer to see songs using barre chords as it means you don't have to look up a new shape, or contort your fingers to some odd angle; for now one barre chord to get you used to switching to them during songs will suffice.

Three solid months. Ninety days. Ninety days of playing, and you will be able to play most anything on the radio with a slight bit of practice. Naturally as you become more comfortable with a guitar in your lap, you will realize the exact style of music you enjoy playing most. You will gravitate towards those songs and shape your learning style to accomodate them. However once you have learned the basics of chord shapes, and strum patterns (something not covered, but these are impossible to write about. Best bet here is to find someone who knows how to play, and have them show you.) Not many people will be able to improve on you. This guide was quick, this guide was dirty, but if you learn each subject mentioned, you will be able to complete any of the aformentioned goals with little problem.

Bottom line for beginning guitar: Keep in mind that you aren't going to learn to write masterpieces right off the bat. Leave that to the professionals at first. Learn already existing songs. Learn how to sing and play at the same time (very difficult at first). The only thing that will make you better is training your brain to accept that you are playing an instrument, and that the instrument won't play itself.

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