Teaching yourself guitar can be a daunting task, without someone to guide you through the instruments necessary skills and techniques it is very easy to get lost. The easiest way to avoid this is by getting a guitar tutor; you will not only get guidance on what to learn next but will have someone to point out your mistakes and help you in correcting those mistakes. However, guitar tuition is not cheap and being one of those people who could not afford lessons I had to circumnavigate the world of guitar with little more than a variety of different online learning materials and books. What I wish I had then was a simple guide to point towards which basics I should have learnt to become a guitar player instead of two years of experimentation and mistakes. So this week I have done just that, what follows are the essential steps required to pick up the basics of guitar. Some of the steps will take little more than a few minutes to learn, some will take weeks to accomplish but, these steps can serve as a good guide through the basics of playing guitar.
1: Learn the parts of the guitar
A simple and easy step but none the less important. By learning the different parts of the guitar you can become familiar with how it works and can therefore understand how to play it. A guitar has three sections…
-Headstock: The is the top of the guitar where you will find the tuning pegs and nut
-Neck: This is the part the guitar which right handed players hold with there left hand
-Body: This is the part of the guitar which on an electric houses the pick ups and controls and on the acoustic allows the sound from the strings to resonate.
Each section of the guitar has different parts that do different jobs…
-Strings: You will find the thickest and lowest pitched string at the top of the guitar and the thinnest and highest pitched strings on the bottom of the guitar. Going from the top string to the bottom the strings are the following notes.
E A D G B E
This can remembered using the following Acronym…
Eat All Day Get Big Easy
-Tuning Pegs: Here is where you tighten or loosen the guitar so each string can achieve the correct pitch. To increase the pitch of the string turn the tuning peg anti-clockwise, to lower the pitch of the string turn the tuning peg clockwise. To help you do this properly use a guitar tuner, you will find many are available on your phone’s app store.
-Nut: This is where the strings rest over at the headstock and helps keep the strings at the correct height.
-Frets: These are the metal bars you will find running across the top of the neck. By pushing the string down onto these you will change the pitch of the string.
-Sound hole: This allows the sound produced from a vibrating string to enter, resonate, amplify and escape the body of an acoustic guitar.
-Pickups: Found on an electric guitar, they turn the vibration of the strings into an electric signal which can travel down a cable and be amplified.
-Bridge: This is where the strings rest over the body and helps keep the strings at the correct height.
-Volume and Tone Controls: From here you can change the tone or loudness of the electric signal by turning the knobs.
-Pickup Selector: This is a switch on electric guitars where you can pick which pickup or combination of pickups you are going to use to get slightly different tones and timbre’s from your instrument.
2: How to hold a plectrum and guitar
To many this would seem like the simplest step and in many ways it is however, not learning and mastering this step correctly can have serious consequences for your playing and can result in injury in the long run. To get a basic guide on how to hold the guitar follow this link. Despite this step being simple many people still do it incorrectly. This is probably due to their being multiple ways to hold the instrument however, there are some very clear things that you should avoid when learning how to hold a guitar…
1. Do not grip the neck of a guitar like you would a sword. You want to hold the neck lightly, just enough to support its weight, with you thumb in the middle of the neck.
2. You do not want to bend the wrist of the hand that is on the neck too much. This can result in a lot of tension and potentially cause injury.
3. You will want to hold the plectrum between you thumb and index finger, firmly enough that you are unlikely to drop it but lightly enough that it gives slightly when you hit a string or strum.
4.You want to be very relaxed when holding the instrument. If you feel any tension or you are having to strain to achieve something you are either need to relax or you are holding the instrument incorrectly. If you feel any pain, stop playing immediately; I repeat…
IF YOU FEEL ANY PAIN STOP PLAYING IMMEDIATELY…
Stop, do some research and diagnose what you are doing wrong so you can correct your mistakes.
3: Learn how to read tab and practice tabs
Learning tab can serve as a useful tool for learning riffs, solos, unusual chord patterns and are great for beginners as they will allow you to become familiar with the sound and layout of the guitar. Tabs are made up of 6 lines. The lowest line is the thickest string at the top of the Guitar, the low E string, the line next to that is the A string and so on until we reach the top line representing the thinnest string on the bottom of the Guitar, the high E.
We read the tab from left to right and whenever we see a number on one of the lines we play that number fret on that string on the guitar, 0 represents open strings. So if we saw a 3 on the third line from the top we would know that the tab is telling us to push down on the third fret of the G string and to pluck it.
Tab does not depict rhythm so you will have to make sure you pick tablature that is representing songs that you can find recordings of. For further information on how to read tab follow this link. And for some easy tabs to get you started click here.
4: Learn the notes of the chromatic scale and apply it to the fretboard
This is the first step in understanding the underlying theory that forms music. By knowing the notes of the chromatic scale you will know all the notes and you will be able to communicate more easily with other musicians should you choose to perform with other players. The chromatic scale is made up of 12 notes in a given octave (what is an octave? read on, you will find out). The Chromatic Scale is read like so…
C C#/D♭ D D#/E♭ E F F#/G♭ G G#/A♭ A A#/B♭ B C
As you can see the scale goes from C to C. After it has reached the next C the scale repeats itself, however when you hear the scale repeat you will hear that the notes are much higher in pitch; this is because you are playing the same notes but an octave above. As you can see some of the notes have either # or ♭ symbol next to them. # represents sharp notes and can be found on the note above a normal letter, for example the note above C is C#. ♭ represent flat notes can be found on the note below a normal letter, for example the note below D is D♭. Now it is worth noting that the notes between the normal letters are exactly the same, we just happen to have two names for it, for example the note between C and D could be called C# or D♭. You will find these sharps and flats between all the notes except for B and C, and E and F.
So how do these notes apply to the fretboard of the guitar. Well every time we climb up one note on the Chromatic scale we go up the scale by what is known as a semitone. Every fret you climb on the guitar also climbs a semitone. Knowing this, we can start with the notes of the open strings and with every fret ascend up the neck, we climb one note (or one semitone) up the chromatic scale.
5: Learn G, Em, C and D chords and song using these chords
Chords are when you play three or more strings on the guitar at the same time. By learning chords you can begin to play songs. You may have heard that most songs in popular music rely on 4 simple chords. By learning these chords, you will be able to play a large range of songs. The chords are…
G, Em, C and D.
You can find a guide to these chords here. These chords are known as open chords; they are known as such because the chords have open strings in them. Now the key to learning and getting good at changing these chords is patience, chords will seem very hard at first but if you practice them everyday making sure that each note rings out nicely and then you can practice changing between chords.
You will find that some songs are in a different to these chords despite instructions saying that these are the chords you use. This is likely because the same chords are being used however, they are being played in a different key. This is where a Capo comes in. A Capo essentially acts as a moveable nut raising the tuning of your guitar by a set amount depending on what fret you place it on. You should see an instruction telling you which fret to place the Capo on and then you treat where the Capo is as an open string, the fret one up from the Capo as the 1st fret as so on.
6: Learn Am, A, E Dm and songs using these chords
So now that you have learnt these basic open chords it is time to learn the other basic major and minor open chords. By learning these you will have opened a number of other songs that use these. Again like the previous chords you can change their key by using a Capo. Once again these will be challenging and will require patience and dedication. Here are the shapes of these chords and here is a long list of songs that use these chords.
7: Learn sus chords and songs using these chords
Sus stands for Suspension. These can be used to help spice up your chord progressions by adding a small amount of tension to a simple Minor or Major chord. So for example if you are playing A you could play an Asus4 before moving to the A. You will find many basic songs will use Sus chords in this way. So what Sus chords should you learn…
Csus4, Dsus4, Dsus2, Esus4, Esus2, Gsus4, Asus4, Asus2
You can find a link to the shapes of these chords here.
8: 7th chords
The final set of open chords you should open your eyes to are 7th chords. These are slightly different to the previous chords you have learnt so far. Where as the previous chords only use 3 notes, 7th chords use 4. This add a little extra spice and timbre to the ordinary chord. The three 7th chord types that you should learn as a beginner are the Major 7th chord, the Minor 7th Chord and the Dominant 7th chord. The Major and Minor 7th chords are very similar to their smaller brothers the Major and Minor chord however they sound a little lusher, bright and full. The Dominant 7th is a very different beast. The Dominant 7 chord is at its heart a Major chord however, the new note added to creates a feeling of tension, this makes the new chord great for adding tension to chord progressions.
-For a link to open Major 7 chords click here
-For a link to open Minor 7 chords click here
-For a link to open Dominant 7 chords click here
9: The Major, Minor and Pentatonic Scales
Now that you can play a few tabs and are familiar with all the basic chords it is time to learn some scales. Scales are the building blocks from which we base music, create melodies and makes chords, believe it not you are probably already familiar with one already. The major scale is often sung like so…
Do, Ray, Me, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do
By learning these scales, you can begin to see how some of the tabs you have played were formed and can start to come up with your own melodies and play your own solos. Start by learning the scale shapes and then try finding different ways to practice these scales: Try singing the scales as you play them to ingrain them into your mind, try ascending the scales in sets of threes, fours, try ascending by skipping notes, there are endless way to practice them. By doing this you will ingrain the scale and its sound into your brain and this is very useful for later in your playing.
-To learn basic scales click here
-For different ways to practice these scales click here
10: Learn barre chords
This for many beginners is a mark of their move onto intermediate playing techniques. By learning barre chords you begin to open up the entire fretboard for your playing, you will be able to play the basic chords to the vast majority of songs in popular music and you will have mastered a technique used in across a lot of different playing styles. A barre essentially allows you to play some basic open chord shapes across such as E, Em, A and Am anywhere on the fretboard. By placing one finger across all the strings you can essentially create a moveable nut and change root of the said chord. It will also open up the ability to play a bunch chords which may have seemed elusive up until now such as F, Gm, B, and Bmin. So how do you learn to play these chords. They essentially require two stages, the first is learning to barre across all the strings. You will want to practice barring the all the strings from the high E to the low E across any fret of choice and have every note ring out. Once you have mastered this you can try mastering the E barre chord shape at the first fret for an F chord and the A barre chord shape at the second fret for a B chord. Again like chords this will require a lot patience, dedication and diligent practice but with that you can master these shapes. To learn these shapes click here.
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