There are few things in life that match the excitement of purchasing and receiving your very first guitar. The world is open to possibilities of making sweet music and rocking your heart out!
At the same time, beginning to learn how to play the guitar can be overwhelming. It can be difficult to know where to begin. Diving in too deep in the beginning could set yourself up for frustration and disappointment. With a little guidance, however, learning to play guitar can be a fun and enjoyable experience.
So, what is the first thing to learn on guitar?
The First Thing to Learn on Guitar
Before you dig into learning chords or strumming patterns, true beginners will need to know all the parts of the guitar and some basic lingo you will encounter with various guitar learning resources.
Parts of the Guitar
Surprisingly, there are over 20 parts to a guitar! Don’t worry, you don’t need to memorize all the over 20 parts right away. For beginners, there are a few key parts to know the name of and understand their role in learning to play guitar.
The body is the largest and main part of the guitar. It houses the base for the strings to attach and is where your right hand will strum. An an acoustic guitar, the sound vibrates with the body of the guitar to produce the sound.
The neck of the guitar is the longest piece of the guitar. This is where the left hand creates the chords or single notes.
At the top of the neck, opposite the body, is the head stock. This is where the string attach to the guitar. The head stock is an important piece to learn because it is also how you tune the guitar.
On a guitar there are six strings that attach to the head stock and the body of the guitar. Guitar strings typically have a steel metal core with some kind of coating.
Frets. Frets are the raised lines along the neck of the guitar. The frets help guide you to proper finger placements to make the variety of chords available on the guitar.
Learn to Tune the Guitar
Tuning is a critical component to learning to play the guitar. This should be a starting point for beginners before diving into learning chords, strumming patterns, or songs.
Standard Tuning for Guitar Strings
For the purpose of visualization, this explanation of tuning the guitar will start with the “first” (1st) string on the guitar. The first string is the highest tuned on the guitar and if you are looking at the neck of the guitar while holding the guitar, the first string is lowest and closest to the ground. The numbers of the strings go up from the bottom to the top, one through six.
Standard tuning for the guitar goes as follows:
1st String – E
2nd String – A
3rd String – D
4th String – G
5th String – B
6th String – E
The two E strings are an octave apart from each other.
The easiest way to learn to tune the guitar is with an electronic tuner. There are several types of tuners including handheld tuners, tuners that clip onto the stock head, and you can even find tuning apps on your phone (although these can sometimes not be as accurate). A solid tuner is a valuable investment for beginner guitar players.
You can tune a guitar by ear with a piano or pitch pipe, but that is a more advanced skill that can come later.
Basic Guitar Skills for Beginners
Once you have your guitar tuned correctly, it is time to dig into actually playing! You will want to get familiar with certain terms and techniques that you will build upon as you learn more about the guitar. The following are a few basic skills and terminology for beginner guitar players.
Strumming. Strumming on the guitar is traditionally done with the right hand on the body of the guitar. Strumming can be done with a pick (a triangle piece of equipment, usually plastic) or with your bare hands. When strumming, you are playing multiple strings and notes simultaneously to create a chord (more on that in a bit).
Strumming Pattern. The term strumming pattern refers to the rhythm and movements of the strums. These are created with various combinations of up and down motions with the strumming hand. Tackling strumming patterns can be a challenging part of learning to play guitar, but can be accomplished with dedicated practice.
Chords. As mentioned before, chords are the sounds of multiple complimentary notes being played simultaneously. Chords provide the fuller and more complex sound that you have come to love from the guitar.
Finger Placements. Finger placements with the left hand on the neck of the guitar is how players create chords on the instrument. Each finger placed on different parts of the neck will create different sounds. This is another challenging part of learning the guitar, but with practice you will find your muscles remember where to place your fingers. Before long, it becomes an almost automatic movement.
Picking. Picking the guitar, like strumming, can be done with a pick or bare hands. When picking the guitar, the player only plays one string at a time. This produces a single note, rather than an entire chord. Picking is the process that lead guitarists and soloists use create dramatic, moving melodies. Strumming is used more often for keeping rhythm in a song.
Basic Chords for Beginners
One of the easiest ways to burn yourself out when trying to learn guitar is to forget to have fun. Practicing chords and strumming patterns is important, but doing the technical exercises over and over can be brutally boring.
What can enhance the experience is to work towards learning songs at each level of your practice. Start with three to four chords to practice and then find a few songs that only use those chords. You will be pleasantly surprised just how many songs you can play with only a few chords.
Many professional guitar teachers agree that the four best chords for beginners to learn on guitar are:
- E Minor (Em)
- C Major (C)
- G Major (G)
- D Major (D)
There are literally thousands (maybe even millions) of songs that utilize these four chords. Practice making the finger placements and then moving between the different chords. Then find a song you like that uses those four chords and start learning it. Having entire songs you can play will be more motivating than running through just exercises.
Have a great time learning!
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.