Our Blog

Guitar for Beginners – What Should I Learn First?

If you want to learn how to play the guitar after a few Google searches you can see that guitar is a vast subject. There are so many different styles, methods, opinions, and approaches to learning the guitar. After 35 years of teaching the guitar, I can see how a beginner can be overwhelmed and confused! There’s a lot of great videos and information available online but it can sometimes be difficult to know where to begin.

Learning how to play the guitar can actually be much easier than you thought it would be. The old school way of learning was to start with a guitar method book. Mel Bay Book One and Hal Leonard Book One are great books for learning to read music but not a practical way of learning the instrument. You don’t need to know anything about music theory or how to read music to begin learning how to play the guitar. Below are some of the most important things that every beginner should know.

By far the most important thing for every beginning guitarist is to learn the basic chords and some strumming patterns.

For some guitarists,  that might be all they ever need or want to learn on the guitar. Many great singers and songwriters only use a handful of chords and strumming patterns. Their creativity comes more from the melodies and lyrics that they craft. You might be surprised to learn that most styles of music including thousands of popular songs are using nothing more than the basic chords and strumming. After you learn the basic chords, strumming patterns, and some easy songs you will naturally want to learn more.

If you want to learn how to play rock music on the guitar you will also need to learn how to play power chords.

Power chords are simple two-finger chords that can be played anywhere on the guitar neck. Lots of famous rock bands have built successful careers by playing power chords throughout most of their songs – Green Day, White Stripes, Black Sabbath, Bad Religion, Nirvana, AC/DC, Metallica to name a few. 

Once you have a handle on the basic chords and power chords the next step is to learn how to play barre chords.

Barre chords are played by one or more of your fingers laying down flat on the guitar neck across multiple strings. Barre chords are physically more difficult to play than the basic chords. Once you get past the hand cramping from holding down a barre chord, you will be able to play songs all over the neck of the guitar.

Learning to read guitar tab is another important step in learning how to play rock songs on the guitar.

For a beginner, guitar tab is much easier to learn and more practical than reading music. Guitar tab has six lines that represent each string on the guitar and numbers representing the frets. Reading guitar tab is useful for songs that involve guitar riffs. Many classic rock songs are based around a guitar riff more than a chord progression. A guitar riff is usually a short phrase of several notes repeated throughout a song. Sometimes these guitar riffs are the main hook of the song and can be even more important than the lead vocal. These riffs can be memorized from the guitar tab without ever knowing how to read actual guitar music.

If you want to learn more than strumming songs on your acoustic guitar, you will also need to learn fingerpicking or fingerstyle.

Fingerpicking/fingerstyle is learning to play with the fingers of your right hand rather than a pick. There are lots of classic fingerpicking/fingerstyle songs to learn on the guitar, for example, Blackbird, Dust In The Wind, and Landslide. Some acoustic guitar players play exclusively with their fingers. Learning to use fingerpicking/fingerstyle will make you a much more versatile guitarist.

If you want to be able to improvise and play guitar solos you will need to learn some scales.

Learning to play scales is one of the fundamentals of every musical instrument. For guitarists, learning to play pentatonic scales is key to improvisation and solos. Most rock and blues guitar solos are based on the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale is a simple five-note scale used by every lead guitarist. Even if you don’t plan on being the lead guitarist in a band, practicing these scales will give your fingers great overall dexterity.

Find a good teacher!

Instead of getting frustrated by all of the videos and information out there, I suggest you start by finding a good teacher. Here at Learn Guitar Online our teachers will simplify the process of learning how to play the guitar and make it enjoyable and fun. Playing the guitar can be a lifetime of learning and achievement. Remember that no guitarist knows it all. The more you practice and play your guitar the more you will see how much more there is to learn.

I hope this helps you in your quest to learn how to play the guitar!

Please feel free to email us any of your questions at howto@learnguitaronline.com.

Thanks for reading!

Andrew Morrison,
Learnguitaronline.com  (co-founder)