Advice for the beginning guitarist

Well, not to say that I don’t know how to play at all, but that I suck pretty bad.

I’ve had a beginning course on acoustic, and have been teaching myself further on an electric that my friend gave me. Does anyone have any advice on what I could learn to play to help my skills, or any hints about nifty tricks, or any good web sites with info?

Any help is much appreciated.

Practice. Practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more. There is no substitute for practice. Other than that, watch other guitarists, and note how they finger the chords, how they play in general, etc. But you need to practice at LEAST half an hour a day. An hour would be better. And don’t neglect the very basic lessons. I know that they’re dull, but you want to learn them so thoroughly that you don’t even have to think of what to do, it’s instinctual.

Oh yes, and practice.

I’m assuming that Lynn’s post was about practicing, but that part where she mentioned watching other guitarists threw me off a bit… :smiley:

You shouldn’t practice to the point of making your fingers bleed, but it’s really important to spend a lot of quality time with your guitar and discover how to make it talk. If your fingers aren’t too sore to type, you’re not practicing enough. :smiley:

As Edison once said:

“Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”
You must practice like a dog. You want to get to the point when bar chords are as easy as open string fretting. Make sure to have specific songs to work your left pinkey on the fingerboard.

Consider using light to medium light strings only, especially if you are finger picking. Avoid using a really thick flatpick. I recommend no more than a .070 mm pick thickness. Learn to both fingerpick and flatpick in the long run. However, most electrics do not permit easy finger picking.

As to your electric effects, get a sustain pedal. Your playing will become a lot more fluid when you are able to extend your notes. Also learn to set your delay in time with your music for some fun. Careful use of reverb; use enough for it to make a difference but not dominate the signal.

Keep your guitar’s output turned up full and modify the tone at the amp unless you are going for specific mid-range effects from the pick ups themselves. Record some of what you play and listen to it so that you can assess your progress and sore points.

BUY A TUNER! They pay for themselves instantly in terms of less suffering to all involved. Always tune your guitar switched to the “bridge” (farthest back) pick up position. It allows you to hear the maximum number of overtones. When you tune your strings, if you pass the correct frequency, you must loosen the string to below the desired pitch and “walk” or tighten the string back up to the exact tension and tuning. A loosened string’s tension will slip more easily and take you off pitch in the middle of a song.

For a “Chunky” or “Crunchy” and darker sort of tone, use your forward-most pick up. For screaming metal and distortion work use your bridge position pick up. When trying to duplicate the sound of an acoustic guitar, use the middle pick up (if you have one). Avoid combining pick ups as you learn to play (if you have a three or five way selector switch). It is better to develop clear tone styles before experimenting a lot.

The hard part is playing with enough volume to get any satisfaction. Cranking on a four by twelve cabinet is the cat’s pajamas. My only problem is only being able to turn up my amp to 20% of it’s output before I’m shaking things off of shelves.

If you are using a small practice amp, be sure not overdrive a semiconductor amp’s output as you will suffer distinct clipping of your top-end frequencies. Tubes roll off their high frequency performance a lot more evenly at the top-end of their output and sound so much better for that reason. Avoid the use of excessive special effects. This is known as the “kitchen sink” effect and results in a muddy tone quality.

Get a few tunes down to where you can play through them on a consistent basis. Always play them the same way so as to use them as “standards” by which to judge your progress. Learn how to improvise while you play as well. This is much more difficult but twice as rewarding as just playing from a script.

Best wishes.

You can do all this at once by learning “Little Wing”. :slight_smile:

Learn the basic blues scale and a few string bending tricks but don’t get stuck on them; they can sound tired pretty quick. Some basic music theory will also help: try to learn different chord phrasings and what notes of what scale are used to create a chord.

It’s pretty easy to do some quick and dirty Hendrix-style stuff by fretting partial bar chords with two or three fingers and using your pinkie and maybe your ring finger to play riffs over the chords.

Oh yeah, and listen to your mistakes. You can sometimes get a good idea from how a screwup sounds.

WOW, sounds like marvelous advice!! I’ll take it.

Since I am a beginner too, I have a question.
it is my BIGGEST problem…
I have small hands and fingers, but I cant keep my fingers
off other strings. They will touch the one next to it and of course the song sounds muddled.
HOW IS THIS DONE!!! I see guys with these monster FAT fingers playing and they dont seem to be disurbing the other strings…


First, make sure that your fingernails are as short as physically possible (there is no such thing as too short).
Then, do two things to improve your technique: Make sure your thumb is placed in the middle of the neck. Use the very tips of your fingers, i.e. where your finger nails were before you chopped them off.

Also, a great website:


What an AWESOME website!!!

in fact on behalf of ALL the beginning guitarist
reading these post
We Thank You All.

I’ll tell you what advice I got from a friend when I started playing.

Play along to your favorite records. Play along a LOT. Do it constantly. Find some simple tunes that you like and practice along with them. You have to enjoy your practice, and you can always find something you can emulate when playing along, even if you can only hit a few chords or single notes here and there.

Yeah, what they said. :slight_smile: Learn the pentatonic scale too if you ever want to do any kind of solo work. It’s a bit overused, but using it you can play everything from country to blues to thrashy evil metal. Also, if you are going to be playing a lot of rock/metal, learn “power chords” (AKA, 5ths). You’d be suprised how much rock/metal is comprised of almost nothing but power chords. To do one for example, put your index finger on the first fret and the top string and your third (ring) finger on the string below it on the third fret. Here’s a wee diagram…

Top string (aka, 6th string) is on the left, bottom string (aka 1st string) is on the far right

0_||||| 1st fret
|||||| 2nd fret
||| 3rd fret
|||||| 4th fret
||||| 5th fret
|||||| etc…

Your fingers go where the zeros are. You can move this shape all over the guitar (move to different strings too!!)now and begin writing rock/metal tunes.

Also, don’t take it in terms of “Oh it’s 5pm now, i HAVE to practice for an hour…”. That makes it seem like such a chore!!! Have FUN with it and above all experiment. The other thing is to relax and just play. Don’t worry about bad notes some much at first (happy accidents can begin songs ya know…), just play and have fun, and don’t watch the clock. As Yoda said, “Either do or do not, there is no try.” :slight_smile: If there’s any other advice you need or if my explaination is not clear enough, feel free to email me.


I’ll mainly just reinforce advice others gave you and add some of my own:
Practice, practice, practice.
Download some TABs of your favorite songs (keep them simple at first) at Play along with the record and learn to play on your own. Not only does this make you better, but this is a fun part of playing the guitar.
I’m not sure how much of a “beginning guitarist” you are, but I found that purchasing just one beginning guitar book that had simple technique and a few generic tunes in it helped a lot.
Once you get some of the basics, try to figure out some of the stuff by yourself, this will help you become more acquainted with music and will help you in writing and improvisation.
A tuner will save you lots of time, and should probably be used whenever possible, but I recommend learning to tune a guitar to itself with harmonics. This will enable you to tune a guitar in a situation when you don’t have a tuner. It will also help you train your ear which will help in improvisation and figuring songs out.
This I cannot stress enough: Find a friend that either plays the guitar or bass. Learn songs together and play with him/her as much as you practice by yourself. This will help you learn new things and vary your style. You can also “jam” with this person. Learn the simple 12 bar blues chord progression and practice improvisation. This is for a little more advanced players though, two guitar players that don’t know much can’t do much but make noise.
That’s about all I can think of right now. Good luck and have fun with music.

I would only add one thing to all the excellent advice.
Find a bass player to jam with. It will improve your sense of rythym and timing, and when you get good enough to start a band, the bass player will be glad to help you find a rythym guitarist and a drummer.

Old bass player checking in :slight_smile:

Oh boy, I might be the only person who can answer this question. I have an odd genetic trait, I have an exceptionally short pinky finger. It has always caused me trouble playing guitar, until I played up an old decrepit Gibson SB acoustic my little sister bought to take guitar lessons when she was about 8 years old. It was a 3/4 size guitar. It solved all my problems! Whenever I go to used guitar shops, I always ask if they have any 3/4 size guitars, and so far, I have never ever found even ONE, but then, I haven’t really looked that hard. I know they still make them new, but I like the older classics and they’re hard to come by. Anyway, this might not be your problem, in fact, it is quite unlikely you’d have such a weird problem as mine.

Don’t gurn.

Buy “The Guitar Handbook” by Ralph Denyer. Here’s a copy at Amazon:

This is an amazing book and I cannot recommend it enough.
Buy it. Read it from cover to cover. Keep it right next
to your guitar. Refer to it often.

To reiterate some things and make a few more points…

  • If you’re serious and you know for sure you’re going
    to make a lifelong thing of this, buy yourself a decent
    guitar to start with. As Denyer says, “a cheap guitar is
    false economy.” It will be hard to play, hard to make
    sound well, and discourage you from playing. And what
    you do play will sound bad. Guitars are not cheap, good
    ones especially. You can probably buy a decent used
    guitar for not too terribly much. Check out the classifieds
    and shop around local guitar stores. Try and find someone
    with guitar experience to go with you, they know what to
    look for.

  • Again quoting Denyer, “guitars go out of tune all the
    time.” Pluck a string or strum a chord too hard and the
    string stretches and goes out of tune. I have a crappy
    electric that goes out of tune after my hourly session
    each night. I have to re-tune it every single day! I’m
    trashing the stupid thing as soon as I can afford something
    decent. Get yourself a decent tuner (needn’t be fancy,
    just accurate) and USE IT!

  • If you’re serious about this, consider lessons. Really.
    There’s a mountain of stuff to learn at first, and although
    it’s simple in comparison to later stuff it can still be
    hard to absorb. A teacher can really help. You don’t have
    to go to them forever, but for the first couple months it
    might not be a bad idea.

  • Play scales. Play them forwards, backwards, etc…
    Lots of people don’t, but it’s a great thing to do for
    two reasons. One, you’ll learn what a C (or A, or G)
    note sounds like which will help you emulate stuff you
    hear on the radio. Two, if someone says “Play A, A, C, G, D”
    and you’ve really practiced your scales, you’ll probably
    be able to do it just like that. It’s a great way to get
    used to the fingerboard and it’s a good way to warm up at
    the beginning of a practice session. It’s a bit monotonous,
    but that’s the point - you want this to be reflex.

  • Going along with the last item, learn the strings
    notes of the guitar cold. The strings go “E, A, D, G, B, E”
    from the thickest to thinnest. Remember “Elephants Are
    Dumb, Got Big Ears.” The fingering pattern to play the notes
    inbetween these are in the Denyer book. They are not easy
    to learn, you pretty much have to memorize them brute
    force, and practice until they become ingrained.

  • Learn to read guitar tabs, and if you can, sheet music.
    The Denyer book helps a tremendous amount with this. Guitar
    tabs are shorthand notations that will help you learn where
    to put your fingers to play certain songs. They aren’t
    complete diagrams on the songs (that would be sheet
    music) but they are a great help. And, there are a ton
    of them out there on the net. I heard Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” the other day. I said, “gee, that sounds simple
    enough that I can probably play at least part of it.” So
    I went and got a guitar tab for it off the net. Now I’m
    starting to play it. It’s highly gratifying and it makes
    you want to play more.

  • As someone else said, the fingernails of the hand you
    use to press the strings can’t be short enough. Also, the
    Denyer book has a tip about building callouses - you can
    dab a bit of rubbing alcohol on the tips of your fingers
    and let it evaporate. This will dry out the skin and make
    it harden. Don’t overdo it, but this will help.
    I’ll say it one last time: Get the Denyer book. Read it.
    Keep it by your guitar. Just do it.

Bass player here, too, but I am a young one. :slight_smile:

I hate to disagree with everyone here, and I don’t really, but nobody seems to have mentioned having fun. No, that’s not right. I’ll try again:

Have fun! Have fun! Have fun!

Oh, and did I mention, “Have fun!”?

Yes, practice is important but in my experience I practice a lot more when I’m having fun. Find yourself a book with songs you enjoy. Find some easy ones you can play, even if it’s just strum, strum, strum, look, move your fingers one at a time, strum, strum, strum. Sing along. Enjoy yourself.

Every time I’ve improved my guitar playing it was because I wanted to play a particular song or in a particular style. So I didn’t mind practicing. I enjoyed it. If someone had told me I had to spend X hours a day practicing I’d have lasted almost a week.

I enjoy playing the guitar. It’s soothing. I’ll never be a professional guitar player, but I have no intention of becoming one. I don’t want to work that hard. I only want to have fun.

Not much to add to what everyone else has posted, except that it’s all good advice. If you do decide to pick up an effect pedal, a digital delay is the most fun for the money. Pretty cool to be able to harmonise with yourself. I sound like a really lame Brian May with mine, but parts of Brighton Rock are slowly but surely starting to emerge. Also great for Steve Reich-type phase monstrosities.

I have to disagree with that bit about cheap guitars not being any good. True, many are, but there are plenty of great guitars out there with tiny price-tags. I had this Hondo flying-V that sounded great, played easy, and was an all-around great guitar. I had a friend who had a $1500 Jackson who preferred my guitar to his (he wasn’t dumb enough for a permanent trade, though).

Sadly, it was stolen by a friend’s roommate. It really burns me up that the guitar would probably not get more than $20 in a pawnshop, it was a cheap brand and was rather beat-up (part of the head had been broken off and reattached with Liquid Nails), while it was worth so much to me.