The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Playing Guitar

The guitar is one of the most popular instruments in the world, but getting started can be daunting. In this beginners guide to playing guitar, we cover some of the basics of the guitar, including notes and chords, and also some easy beginner songs that you can play today.

Let’s get started by naming the different parts of the guitar, so we know what we are dealing with. The guitar has a few basic parts: the body, neck, strings, bridge, headstock, nut and tuners.

Guitar Basics 101

Guitar String Names

The strings on the guitar are tuned to E A D G B e. An acronym that I find very effective for memorising the string names on guitar is “Eddy Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddy”

The notes that the strings on guitar are tuned to

How to Hold the Guitar

As a beginner, you want to get started in a seated position with the guitar. Rest your guitar on the same side as your fretting hand. If you are playing the frets with your left hand, you want the guitar on your left leg.

You will find it very useful to have a foot stool. This will slightly raise your leg, which holds the guitar very comfortably. You will find that, without a foot stool, the guitar slides off your leg, or you have to hold the guitar on the opposite leg, which is more uncomfortable and is also bad for your technique and posture, as it twists your back and torso.

How to sit holding your electric guitar

When sitting with an electric guitar, you want to keep your back straight, sitting towards the edge of your chair

With foot stools, you don’t need something mega expensive, but you also don’t want something super cheap. Get a foot stool that is either wooden, or metal. If you get a metal one, make sure the rubber mat that holds the foot is riveted on - a glued mat will come off. Also, with metal foot stools, get one that is extra strong, cheap footstools can collapse / buckle with a little time.

How to Play Notes on the Guitar

Now we have covered some of the basics of the instrument, let’s quickly look at the correct way to hold the strings down and play notes on the guitar:

Keep Your Fingers Arched

Beginner guitar players should be vigilant to keep their fingers arched when playing guitar

Thumb Should be Upright on the Back of the Neck

Make sure that you keep your thumb upright, pointing towards the ceiling on the back of your guitar

Wrist Hangs Underneath the Neck

Beginner guitarists need to ensure their wrist hands underneath the guitar neck

Hold the Strings Down With Your Fingertips

You should be holding down the strings with your fingertips

DO NOT hold the strings like this. This is a common mistake that beginner guitar players make

Elbow Stays Close To Your Body

Try and keep your elbow hanging loose and near your body

In this photo, the arm is too tense, causing the elbow to move from the body. This is a common technique mistake beginner electric guitar players make

How to Hold a Guitar Pick

Here is a simple two step process on how to hold a guitar pick:

Step 1 Rest the pick on the side of your first finger

Your finger should be parallel with the centre axis of the pick. Leave around 1/3 of the pick sticking out past your first finger:

Rest your pick on the side of your first finger

Step 2 Gently grip the pick with your thumb

Take your thumb, and place the pad of your thumb on top of the grip, roughly perpendicular to your first finger:

Gently place your thumb over the pick to grip it

Easy Songs to Learn on Guitar

Right! So we’ve covered the basics of guitar string names, how to hold the guitar and how to play notes on the guitar, so next, let’s look at some easy songs to play on guitar! We’ll start off with some simple melodies that we can play, and then move on to playing chords on guitar.

How to Play Ode to Joy on Guitar

This is one of my favourite songs on guitars to teach beginners. It’s really simple, and instantly recognisable. Have a go:

Guitar tab for Ode to Joy

How to Play Dvorak’s New World Symphony on Guitar

This is another beautiful melody that is really fun to play. Get the hang of the melody, memorise it, then try playing along with the orchestra. You will find that to be a very fun challenge!

Tab for Dvorak’s New World Symphony on Guitar

How to Play Greensleeves on Guitar

Greensleeves is a very famous tune. Attributed to Henry VIII, it was probably written by one of his court musicians. Here’s the tab and video to play Greensleeves on guitar:

Tab for Greensleeves on Guitar

How to Play Chords on Guitar

Now we have looked at playing some easy melodies and songs on guitar, it’s time to take a look how to play chords on guitar. We will take a look at some easy to play guitar chords, group them together in a nice chord chart, and then look at some easy songs we can play with chords.

We write down chord shapes using “chord diagrams”.

How to Read Chord Diagrams for Guitar

The black dots (circled in red) show where to hold the strings down.

The numbers inside the dots, indicate the fingers that should be used to hold the strings down.

These circles (circled in red) instruct you to play the open strings.

The strings should be strummed, in addition to the strings that are held down.

The cross indicates an open string that we do not play.

Avoid strumming this string, when playing this chord.

Here are some basic chords you can play on guitar:

Am Chord on Guitar

C Chord on Guitar

G Chord on Guitar

Em Chord on Guitar

D Chord on Guitar

Easy Guitar Songs with Chords

Have a go at strumming a couple of these songs:

Knockin’ On Heavens Door Chords

G D Am

Johnny Cash - Hurt Chords

Am C D

Conclusion and Expectations

While we covered a lot of ground there, this material could take several weeks for you to work through.

Go through everything in order, taking your time to understand and play through the material.

Start with some of the simple songs, then learn those chords and the two easy chord songs.