Category Archives: Beginners Lessons

Some free online guitar lessons to help you get started. Advice on buying a guitar, basic techique, chords, and scales.

How To Read Guitar Tab

Guitar tab is a method of getting guitar music on paper without having to read music. The advantage of tab is it is relatively easy to learn and you can be learning songs very soon after learning to read it. The disadvantage is tab has no rhythm notation so can be tricky to learn songs you are not familiar with.

Example 1

The horizontal lines represent the six strings on the guitar. The thickest E string is at the bottom up to the thinnest E string at the top. You read tab from left to right so the first three notes in the above example would be played one at a time.

The numbers on the lines tell you which fret to play. The first note you would play on the above example is the 3rd fret on the A String.

A zero represents an open string, so the second note on the above example is an open D string. The third note would be the second fret on the G string.

When the notes are stacked on top of each other like at the end of the above example this means you play the notes at the same time. Hopefully if you play the last stack of notes together you should end up with an A Major chord.

There are many more symbols associated with tab but we will learn these as we go along.

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Guitar Chords For Beginners

These are some of the most commonly used beginners chords.  You will often see these chords on sheet music and guitar tabs.  The chords are the same on acoustic and electric guitar.  The fingerings I have put on them are the ones I normally use and teach but feel free to use your own if you prefer.

Next: How to read guitar tab

How To Read Chord Boxes

A chord is a group of notes played together to create a certain type of sound. The type of sound the chord makes depends upon the notes used in the chord. There are many diferent types of chord with Major and Minor chords being the most common. When you learn a new chord listen carefully to the sound and mood it creates. The following chord is a D Major.

D major chord box

The Chord Box

The horizontal lines on the diagram represent the frets with the double one at the top being the nut. The vertical lines represent the strings with the thickest on the left. The black dots tell you where to put your fingers and the numbers next to them tell you which finger to use. An “X” next to a string means dont play it and an “O” next to a string means pluck the string without fretting any notes, this is called an open string.

When playing chords first of all make sure you are only plucking the strings you should be doing. Then pluck the strings one at a time starting with the thickest and make sure each note rings out clearly with no unwanted buzzing or muting. If the chord isn’t sounding right you will have to adjust your fingers and sometimes press a little bit harder. Check your fingers are only on the string they should be and are not resting on the fret wire. When you are happy the chord is correct it is time to strum the chord. Strumming means playing all the notes at virtually the same time plucking the strums using a downward sweeping motion.

Next:  Beginners Chords

Thoughts on Guitar Practice

In this lesson I will show you how to master the guitar in twenty minutes. Learn all the tricks , techniques and scales the pro’s use.
We have all seen the ads that claim to show you how to do this.  Well here I am going to show you how to do it for free.
OK now for the truth.
You cant master the guitar in twenty minutes.  To learn to play an instrument takes time, a lifetime in fact, there will always be something that you can do better.  You will reach different levels of playing along the way but once you reach one level you will find there is a higher level to aim for.
The only way you will improve your playing is practice,and good quality practice. Speak to guitarists you admire, the guitarist in you favourite local band, your teacher, or read articles by your guitar heroes and you will find one common thread running between them. They all practiced, a lot.

Some thoughts on practicing. 

You should practice as often as you can.  Twenty minutes a day is better than two hours every Sunday.  If you practice infrequently you may find that the improvement you made in your last session is gone by the next time you pick your guitar up.
Order Your Practice. Put together a routine with your teacher which focuses on the areas you want to improve on and sustains the areas you are currently happy with.  If you practice nothing but sweep arpeggios for six months you may find the rest of your playing suffers.
Set Targets.  By setting targets you can clearly see how much your playing is improving over time.  Seeing your improvement provides good motivation for further practice.
Practice Slowly and Accurately.  If you practice at a speed which is too high for you, you will end up making more mistakes and playing sloppily.  In the long term you will succeed in becoming a very good sloppy guitarist who makes lots of mistakes.
So there you go.  Master the guitar in twenty minutes….a day.

Choosing your first guitar

Buying your first guitar can be a daunting prospect so I have put together some tips and advice to make that purchase easier and also thrown in a few of my favourite beginners guitars.  

Electric or Acoustic, this is the first decision you have to make.

Electric guitars are solid bodied guitars and require some form of amplification to make a noise.  There are many different shapes of electric guitar, some of the most common ones are the “Stratocaster” as used by Jimi Hendrix and the “Les Paul” as used by Slash.  They are used in metal, rock, pop, and blues styles to name a few.  Some famous electric guitarists are, Jimi Hendrix,  Slash, and Steve Vai.

 

Acoustic guitars come in two main types, nylon strung or steel strung, and have hollow bodies. Nylon strung guitars are used mainly in classical and flamenco music and steel strung guitars are used for popular music styles such as folk, blues, blue grass, and fingerstyle guitar.  Some well known Nylon strung guitarists are John Williams and Julian Bream.  Examples of steel strung guitarists are Joni Mitchell,  Newton Faulkner, and, Tommy Emmanuel.  Most people learning acoustic guitar for fun choose a steel strung guitar.

Have a look at the artists listed above to get an idea of how the various guitars sound.

Acoustic guitars and electric guitars are usually tuned in the same way and the basic skills from one type to another are easily transferable.  An electric guitarist can play acoustic and vice versa.

The action is the distance between the strings and the frets on the neck of the guitar.   This is important when choosing your first guitar.  If the action is too high the guitar will be difficult to play and your fingertips will hurt more than they should.  If the action is too low the strings will buzz.  Either of these problems could really put you off playing.  However if you have purchased a guitar with these issues they are easily rectified.  Music shops should check these things before selling you the guitar.

Choosing an electric guitar

We are lucky today that the quality of entry-level guitars is much higher that when I was a lad.  I would recommend getting a guitar package, these usually come with a guitar, amplifier, lead, picks, and a strap.  Pretty much everything you need to get started.  I would also recommend going to your local music shop to try/view guitars.  If you can play it is important to play your prospective guitar and find out how it feels.  Make sure the guitar is tuned to concert pitch as some music shops have been known to tune down the guitars to make them easier to play.  If you can’t play ask someone in the shop to play the guitar for you so you can see and hear the guitar being played.  Check the action and ask the shop if the guitar has been properly set up.  Ask them to show you how the controls work on the guitar, volume pots, pickup selectors etc.

Some beginner guitars that I recommend are the Fender Squier and Tanglewood electric guitars.  Encore also make a decent starter pack for a slightly lower price.

Choosing an Acoustic guitar

Once again the quality of entry-level acoustic is very high now and the advice is similar to above.  Go to your local music store and have a good look round.  Play the guitar if possible or ask someone to play it for you.  It is really important to hear your acoustic guitar being played as the tone of different styles of acoustic guitars varies greatly.  Check the guitar has been set up to a reasonable standard and is tuned to concert pitch.  It is not as important to buy a pack with an acoustic guitar but you may want to consider getting a tuner, capo and a strap.  Some acoustic guitars come with pickups built-in, these are called electro-acoustic guitars.  If you think you may want to record or amplify your acoustic guitar get one with a pickup installed, it does not add too much to the cost of the guitar.

Some acoustic guitars I recommend are Tanglewood and Crafter.

Take your time choosing your guitar.  You may have it for a long time and getting the right one first time will save time and money.

Once you have purchased your guitar why not come back here and try some of the free lessons on my website.

Why Learn Guitar Anyway?

There has never been a better time than now to take up the guitar.

My first electric guitar was a white strat copy.  At the time it was a reasonable quality beginners guitar.  The action was so high you could have driven a truck between them and the neck, the frets so flat it had a fret less feel to it, and tuning pegs that Arnie at his prime would have struggled with and I loved it.  The choice of beginners guitars was quite limited and amps were almost impossible to find at an affordable price.
My amplifier was a RSC combo 5.  Never seen another one like it. It was a 5 watt practice amp with an oval speaker.  I poked holes in the speaker as I heard this would make it distort. It did, but in a rubbish way.  I also used this as a bass amp, it distorted well enough with a bass plugged into it.  It finally died when I stuck a switched on soldering iron into the back of it in an attempt to re solder the speaker wire back on.  I had neglected to turn the amp off and when the iron hit a live wire it went bang.  Thankfully I survived.

This was replaced with a Carlsbro Cobra amplifier.  This was certainly a step up from my RSC as it had two gain controls and a parametric eq and would produce an almost respectable distortion.    It had one channel so a clean sound was produced by backing the guitars volume control off.  I kept this amp until I left music school and started getting some professional playing work when I replaced it with my first Mesa/Boogie.
My next guitar was a Washburn WP50 Les Paul purchased from spectre sound in Bingley.  This was a cool guitar.  I learned to play on this guitar by trying to figure out Mark Knopfler phrases off a old cassette recording of sultans of swing.  Even now my left shoulder is slightly lower than my right due to the hours stood practising with this heavy beast round my shoulder.

Next up came the Ibanez Jem which is still my mainstay.  We used to stand and stare at this Guitar in Peps music shop window in true Wayne’s world fashion.  I couldn’t believe that this guitar was mine after I had bought it.


The point of all this rambling is this.  For around £200 now you can have a starter guitar and amp of good quality compared to the beginners instruments of yesterday.  You no longer have to struggle learning to play on instruments with dubious action, low quality materials, and dodgy finishes.  If you are thinking of taking up the guitar, whatever age you are, get down the music shop or the online store and get yourself a starter pack.  Find a teacher or try some free online lessons and get on with it.  You wont regret it