Learning the basics
In this guide we will be teaching you how to play the guitar. Sadly, I am going to start by bursting your bubble. You cannot learn how to play the guitar in one day, one week, or even one year. When you see the professionals playing lightning fast and making awesome music on their guitars, you must know that they did it over the course of several years. You will be able to play a few difficult songs after one year of playing, but you won’t be able to master the guitar until you get a few years worth of experience under your belt.
In order to play perfectly you must take things slow and build muscle strength in your fingers. Practicing every day at blazing fast speeds will not help you to play faster if you still have weak fingers, in fact it will most likely make your technique sound sloppy. But don’t worry, you’ll get there eventually. Don’t be intimidated, there is a lot to learn but you can do it. Practice makes perfect, so if you study hard and play every day you will be a pro in no time. For those that are new to playing the guitar, no matter which type, it is always good to know proper terminology so that you will know what you will be looking for while learning. Starting from the top of the guitar and working our way down there is the:
- 1. The Headstock: This is where the tuning pegs and posts are located and most likely the guitar maker’s logo. For classical guitars this is also where the string rollers are located.
- 2. The Nut: The Nut is just below the Headstock and has small grooves to hold the strings into place.
- 3. The Neck and fretboard: The Frets are the metal wires you see going down the Neck of the instrument.
- 4. The sound hole: This is probably the most obvious part of the guitar. The sound hole is located in the center of the body and just as the name implies it is where the sound comes from. It normally has a black pick guard that either surrounds the sound hole or is located just below the sound hole. In case you were wondering, the pick guard is used to protect your guitar from scratches.
- 5. The Pickups: For Electric guitars only. Electric guitars don’t have sound holes, instead they have magnetic pickups that are used to capture the vibrations of the strings and converts it into sound, but it works the same way as the Sound hole.
- 6. Input adapter jack: This is only for Electric and acoustic/electric hybrid guitars. They have a small hole, normally near the volume controls or at the bottom of the guitar, so that you can plug them into amps or your computer.
- 7. The Bridge and saddle: The bridge is the wooden part at the bottom of the guitar, and the saddle is the part that holds the strings into place, think of it as the Nut but at the bottom of the guitar. Electric guitar’s bridge and saddles are normally made of metal.
- 8. Pickup selector: A small switch near the volume controls used to switch between the guitar’s pickups on Electric guitars.
- 9. Volume/tone controls: For electric guitars only. This is used to adjust the tone of your guitar and how loud it is.
- 10. Whammy/Tremolo bar: Used to generate vibrato and tremolo on electric guitars. This is also how the pros perform dive bombs.
Now that you know the parts of the guitar, let us get into tuning it.
Tuning your guitar
You can’t play if the guitar is out of tune. Attempting to play any instrument while it is out of tune will be very frustrating and the songs will never come out sounding right. I highly recommend that beginners buy an electronic tuner to tune the guitar for the first time. Trying to explain how to get your strings in tune is almost impossible, and even with the help of audio or videos it is still very difficult for a new player to be able to tune their guitar properly without breaking a string. Most guitar books will teach you how to tune each string by ear and work your way down to the next string, but if you don’t know how the strings should sound it makes tuning a very difficult task.
As you get better with the guitar you will slowly develop an ear for how the strings should sound when they are in tune, and you will be able to tune your guitar just by listening to see if it is in perfect pitch. But for now, an electronic tuner will slowly help you get there. You can buy a cheap tuner for about $10 at a music store; I normally wouldn’t go any higher than $12 because most are all the same. You can also use a pitch pipe to tune your guitar, but if you are tone deaf pitch pipes aren’t any good. When you tune your guitar, always loosen the string first to release the tension and then slowly tune it back up to pitch.
But before you can tune the guitar, you need to first know which string you are tuning.
Going down elevators makes learning easy!
The guitar’s standard form of tuning, from the thickest string to the thinnest is:
6E, 5A, 4D, 3G, 2B, 1E. The thickest top string is the 6th string, which is why it is named 6E. If you have an electronic tuner some will actually read the string as 6E and the light will turn green so that you will know the E string is properly tuned.
It is very important that you memorize each open string name so that for later lessons you will know which string to play and where it is located on your guitar without even having to look at it. An easy way to remember each string name is to say them in the opposite order from first thinnest string to the sixth thickest string: 1E, 2B, 3G, 4D, 5A, 6E.
To help you remember it better I came up with a little saying that goes:
Every Boy Goes Down A Elevator- E, B, G, D, A, E.
Repeat “Every Boy Goes Down A Elevator “, over and over again until you memorize that little saying, and before you know it you will know all the basic tuning notes.
Before we end our first lesson there are a few things you should consider buying to help you learn how to play the guitar:
- 1. A Metronome: Used to help you keep tempo. Instead of buying one, there are free Internet metronomes that work just as well, if you search around a bit you can find a good one. However, you can’t take the Internet ones with you.
- 2. Electric tuner: As named above this will be a must have to help keep your instrument in tune.
- 3. Pick/Plectrum: Classical guitars have soft strings and you don’t need a pick, but a pick will be useful for electric guitars and steel string acoustic guitars. The strings can hurt your fingers when you first start out, but some players play with their fingers anyways. Single picks can be as cheap as 25 cents, or as much as $5 for a full pack.
- 4. Capo: Used to clamp across all six strings to raise the pitch of the guitar. You can get a good one for as low as $4 and as expensive as $12 or higher.
- 5. Music stand and stool: Useful, but a good armless chair and table will do just fine.
In our next lesson we will learn some basic finger exercises and how to fret strings.
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