How To Start Playing Guitar: Top Tips For Beginners (Updated for December 2020)
Published on 10 December 2020
You did it! You looked over the edge and took the brave leap into the uncharted land of guitar playing! Congratulations, that decision is going to continue to reward you forever. You are only ever going to improve on the guitar, you know! Each time you pick it up and have a play, you’ll be getting better, even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.
Persevere. You'll get there.
Ok, that’s all well and good but... how? Where should you go to begin learning to play? What will get you on the road to success quickly? Well, there are a large number of assets out there at your disposal, some free and others not. We’ll talk about some of these here so that you have a handy reference available if things ever get difficult or tough. As ever, small steps will win the race!
So, what's first?
1. Guitar Tuning
Yes, the fundamentals must apply! If you are not in tune, you're ear will not learn to recognise pitches and you will sound 'wrong' all the time. This is no good! Getting into the habit of tuning your guitar before every practice session is a must. It only takes about twenty seconds, so it's not much of a labour!
Now, there are lots of free apps out there for guitar tuners on whichever platform you use, but we do recommend getting a digital tuner of some sort. We offer a huge range of guitar tuners at guitarguitar starting from only £5, that clip on to your guitar's headstock and provide totally accurate tuning. You just switch them on and go for it! Having said that, the internet provides (as we'll see again and again) some free treasure too...
Making sure that you are always in tune ensures that you will always sound your best, and that your ears will start to identify the sounds of notes and chords. Out of tune guitars are not fun to play, so let's just lose that bad habit right away!
2. YouTube Lessons
In 2020 and beyond, YouTube will undoubtedly be your first port of call. There are so many musicians and teachers on here, all striving for your time and attention. As ever with anything online, you may have to wade through the rubbish and time-wasters to get to the good stuff but it is out there! Lots of YouTube musicians offer online classes (including Skype-style one-to-ones) and often the first few lessons are free to entice you in. We advise taking as much of these opportunities as you can get your hands on! YouTube is a level playing field in most respects, so the quality of instruction will vary. There is nearly always something worth learning, though!
We actually have a blog available with some of our favourite online teachers. Have a little look through these teachers as a good starting point for your own YouTube adventures!
Guitar tablature, or TAB for short, is a special language of lines, numbers and symbols used for (more or less) accurately transcribing guitar music for those who do not read the dots and dashes of standard music notation. Tab is really straightforward – the six lines each represent the guitar strings and the numbers appearing on them refer to the fret number to play – fundamentally, that's it! There is a plentiful supply of it out there, too, particularly for the more Classic Rock and Metal genres. If you like Led Zeppelin and Metallica, you are totally sorted. If you don’t like Led Zeppelin and Metallica, maybe you should...
Guitar Tab is available in book form, either in specific album folios or as a collection of songs under a general theme. These are authorised transcriptions and are generally (though, weirdly, not always) accurate.
Guitar Tab is also available online, through official and unofficial means. Depending on the band or artist you search for, you’ll either find absolutely tons or not too much at all. These tabs sites often rate the veracity of the content via logged-in user’s votes. As you’d expect, some of the tab on these sites is wildly incorrect and often unfinished, though much of it is useful and largely correct. Try out some tabs and let your ears decide if the tab is close. Try beginning with Ultimate Guitar for a pretty comprehensive collection of songs tabbed for guitar.
One thing to bear in mind when learning via tab is the song itself. It sounds silly to say, but people often refer to the symbols on the page more than the sounds going in their ears! It can lead to some quite ‘abstract’ interpretations of songs, to say the least! Try reading along the tab page as you listen to the song and continue to do that after you begin to get the song under your fingers. It makes a big difference to not only accuracy but also understanding. A big part of learning is repetition and tab can be a helpful reference.
4. Private Lessons
Nothing can really best private lessons as a way to focus and galvanise your learning experience. Private weekly or fortnightly lessons are not cheap, but they do mean that an experienced player can teach you lessons customised for you, and can motivate and encourage you whilst keeping you on the correct path, correcting mistakes and bad habits.
What private teachers cannot do is make you play or practice: that is on you! Playing for ten minutes every day will improve your playing MASSIVELY over ignoring your guitar all week and then sitting down for two hours at the weekend. Little and often, just like taking exercise and eating vegetables. Consistency will win far greater battles than sporadic shifts of playing.
A good private guitar teacher can make learning fast, fun and something to look forward to, but they are not essential: it CAN most certainly be done without formal teaching! Some people can really benefit from a few lessons: some need lots. Some people learn better and faster without a teacher: more power to all of you, we say!
Where to find a teacher? Well, you can always ask the staff at your local guitarguitar, since teachers visit us all the time! Also, social media pages are handy and dedicated websites like tutorful, which can narrow down the search significantly. One famous internet teacher is Justin Guitar. He has a lot of content up online to use, including a free introduction course! Try him out without having to spend any cash, and you can see how effective his methods are for you.
5. Fender Play
Guitar giants Fender have a whole system of online videos available for subscription. These can be bought as cards to activate online so you can buy them and give them out as gifts too. Fender Play consists of a large series of videos that can be watched and re-watched until the lesson is successfully completed. The nice thing about this is that you can easily fit the lessons around your day, and of course, rewatch them to make sure what you're learning is properly sinking in! They do start from complete beginners, so you'll be able to jump in at the start and get learning and improving quickly.
Fender Play often offer free trial periods to let you have a little taste of their system. Click through here to read more about their free Fender Play online lessons! The more resources you have at your fingertips, the more able you'll be to discover whart works for you in terms of learning, and what fits into your life more. Try many things! Stick to what brings reults and ditch the rest!
6. Record Your Playing
One tip we’d like to share is to record your playing. Use your smartphone or any other device you may have handy and simply record a run through of whichever exercise or songs you are playing. It’s startling how different things sound when you are passively (yet critically) listening rather than hearing as-you-play. Mistakes and faux pas like speeding up (use a free metronome or drum machine app, no excuses! Let’s start the good habits NOW!) will be far more obvious to you when retrospectively listening back to your performance. You will laugh, you will cringe, you will be horrified for a while, but the point is, you will learn. And you will improve. And that makes it all worth it.
So...how do you record your playing? Well, if you have a reasonably current smartphone (as in, it has a colour touchscreen and isn't from 1997...), you'll likely have a recording app pre-installed. If you are an Andriod user, it'll be called 'Recorder', and if you have an iPhone, it's called 'Voice Memos'. These apps are easy to use, and you needn't worry much about where oyu place your phone as long as it's reasonably close to your amp (if you are playing electric) or the guitar itself (if you are playing acoustic). Record whenever you're playing and listen back to see how you sound.
iOS users can go for with Garageband for iOS, a simple yet powerful app that lets you build up drum patterns and other instruments as well as being able to record audio (ie you playing) and put them all togehte rinto cohesive recordings. It can be a bit of a fiddle, but the results are well worth it.
Also, as timekeeping is everything with guitar playing, getting a reliable metronome is very important. Free metronome apps are plentiful: just type 'free metronome' into the appropriate app store for your device and try a few out. Some come with simple drum machine features, so you can play along to a beat instead of just a click. Some manufacturers like Korg go further in terms of bringing you apps that are loads of famous, classic drum machine sounds and are super-easy to use. Have a look on Korg's website for apps like the Electribe drum machine and the Step Master, which teaches you about rhythm!
Keep playing. It’s that simple. If you just want to play two chords and leap around your living room, we salute you. If you want to diligently practise until you are playing a selection of your favourite songs, more power to you.
If you want to be the next Vai/Satch/Malmsteen/Petrucci-style shredder, you have our respect. It’s a long way to the top if you wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll!
Now you’ve started on the path, you’re one step closer. Congratulations! Now keep going! It's only going to get better, and we're here to help you all the way. If you need help or advice about anything guitar related, the chances are, we've gone through it ourselves in the past! Our staff will be more than happy to offer friendly guidance and counsel. From all of us at guitarguitar, good luck and don't give up!