Tips For Guitar Beginners

Beginners Tips For The Budding Guitarist

Useful Tips For Absolute Beginners

If you want to learn a little more up front before buying your first guitar or investing any money, then this page I have put together for you will help you avoid common errors when learning how to play and set you on the right path at the beginning of your playing career.

Putting this page together was fun for me, it was like a trip down memory lane. I have put together a random list of tips, advice and observations that may hopefully help you along and save you some trial and error. I know it's a lot of to read but I have tried to make it fun and packed it with nuggets so you don't fall asleep :-)

Sore Fingers are Unavoidable!

When you first start practising, the tips of your fingers will get sore, and it will take 2 – 3 weeks for the skin on your fingers to harden up making playing more comfortable, don't be tempted to use Band-aids on your fingers they will damp the strings.

You must practice through the temporary discomfort of throbbing fingertips, as often as you can, every day if possible, for at least an hour or until it hurts too much :-)

I use to rub surgical alcohol over my fingers to help the hardening process, do this at your own risk though, and if you get some in a cut, don't blame me!

With some acoustic guitars the sore finger problem is not as bad because the strings are or may be, made from softer Nylon and not steel wire.

Picks and Plectrums

Most electric guitarists use a flat pick or plectrum to strike the strings, if you want to start 'fingerstyle'  that's fine especially for playing accoustics, you just need a set of 3 finger picks that fit on your first and second fingers and thumb.

Because a plectrum is held between finger and thumb you have much more 'feel' and control over it, thus it is easier to learn with when starting out mainly because you will be concentrating so much on positioning your fretting hand.

Fingerstyle with plastic fingerpicks attached to the fingers and thumb is more difficult for beginners because you cannot 'feel' the strings with the actual tips of your fingers, but once learned it's a good skill to have.

Some accoustic players grow their fingernails and thumbnail of their picking hand so they don't need to use picks, this is fine for the quiet, gentle songs they may like to play, for more volume, picks or a plectrum are required.

Buy or try several different plectrum shapes and try each one in turn, see which type you feel the most comfortable with.

The Fender type are largish triangular shaped with rounded corners, Gibson types are much smaller and more teardrop shaped, there is no best plectrum shape, stick with what suits you personally.

Plectrums also come in different thicknesses for different styles of playing, try several.

Fingering The Strings

 Most beginners will find themselves guilty of pressing too hard on the strings, press them just hard enough to sound the fretted note clearly, with your fingertips as close to the fret as possible, after a little practice you will soon know just how hard to press, eventually it will become second nature and you will do it without thinking.

Because you are concentrating hard on your strumming hand it's all too easy to press much harder than you need too, more pain, less gain!

The Guitarist's Golden Rule

When trying to play scales (or anything) go as slow as you need to go without making a mistake, and yeah... I know it sounds like crap to begin with, don't worry speed will come with practice.

Guitarist's NEVER practice mistakes – remember that it's rule number 1, and it's very important, you must train your fingers to play each note and finger each chord correctly.

Motivational Phenomena

Here's a really great phenomenon that will help motivate you...

You might spend a week or two practising a chord shape, a riff or technique, and you just cannot get it right, it will do your head in, and will frustrate you a lot, then one day, right out of blue, Bang! you WILL nail it –

That's how you can 'see' yourself progressing – Trust me, it's a great feeling nailing your favorite riff, it gives you a real buzz and a gee-up to play more cool stuff.

You must practice carefully and methodically; 15 minutes dedicated to playing a Pentatonic scale, will help you progress more quickly than trying to thrash out a Metallica riff using power chords because it sounds cool.
But hey,  learning should be fun, so have a thrash first if you want to get it out your system, then practice properly!

The Pro's Big Secret:

Here's a big inside secret for you that the top professional guitarists in the world's best bands don't want you to know...
they PRACTICE like hell... it's just not cool to tell anyone, so keep it to yourself :-)

String Bending

String bending is one of the most difficult guitar techniques to master. Lightning fast repetitive string bends with vibrato will take you a loooong time to get right, so don't get discouraged, practice every day, it will come eventually.

 Start practising string bends as soon as your skin hardens up, and concentrate on bending to the correct pitch of the note first, speed and multiple fast bends will only come with lots and lots of practice, so don't expect miracles from yourself.

One way to get to the correct pitch of a note with a bend is to first stike the note you want to bend up to on an unused string and then quickly bend the active string to this struck note, your ears should tell you when you have right, when the sounds resonate.

When you get good at bending single strings, try playing two strings together, usually with the first and third fingers, then bend one string to the pitch of the lower note, this is called a unison bend.


For single string vibrato most students, to begin with, 'wobble' their finger on the string, but this produces little to no movement of the string, thus there is no vibrato effect, you need to be able to move the string very slightly from side-to-side using just the first joint on a finger.

Your final aim is to be able to apply string vibrato equally with all four fingers, yes, even your pinkie!

Know Your Fretboard

Memorize each note on the fretboard as soon as you can, so that you can identify every note instantly, without thinking about it,  also train your ears to the pitch of a note, so if you close your eyes and pluck a random note, you know immediately whether it is an A, B flat of F sharp or whatever. this is important, so don't neglect it,

Memorizing the notes on a string is not too hard as each scale repeats along each string and the high and low E strings are the same on a 6-string electric, so you only have to learn 5! Learn the notes on the fretboard here.

Open Tuning

Standard tuning (which are the notes of all unfretted strings) for an electric or an acoustic guitar, starting at the nut and repeating at the 12th fret is E,A,D,G,B,E from low to high, (thick to thin strings).

Notice the thickest and thinnest strings are both tuned to an E note, the same note but 2 octaves apart in pitch.

Note: there are many other possible ways to tune a guitar depending on what is being played, don't mess around with different tunings or you may get confused, all beginners theory assumes standard tuning is used.

The notes going down the neck physically (musically it's going up) on the low E string from the nut to the 12th fret is thus:

 Open E - F - F# - G - G#  - A - A# - B - C - C# - D - D# and E (the octave)
A total of 12 different notes only.

# is the musical notation symbol for a 'sharp' note, notice there is no sharp note between E and F or B and C,

Now if this scale was shown in reverse starting from the 12th fret and going down in pitch to the open E, it would usually be shown with flat notes (symbol b) instead of sharps.

So it would read E - Eb (D#) - D - Db (C#) - C - B - Bb (A#) - A - Ab (G#) - G - Gb (F#) - F - E

This means that the notes shown above have 2 names (technical term enharmonic) and can be notated as a sharp or a flat depending on where or how they are used.

Those 12 notes form the Chromatic Music Scale which is the scale used in all Western music. (there are many others used in other cultures).

At the 12th fret (the double-dotted one) the notes repeat exactly the same for any string, but one octave higher, they keep on repeating until you run out of frets!

Just to be clear, this chromatic pattern of notes repeat along every string, again, the starting note is the note of the open string, thus the B string will start...B, C, C#, D D#, E etc

Practicing Scales

At this point you may not know what a scale is, much less a musical 'key', don't worry this is the tips section you can read all about scales and keys, explained as simply as possible in the guitar theory pages

Don't be overwhelmed by the seemingly hundreds of scales, all you have to do is memorize the patterns, they are the same for each key you play in, so, for example once you have learned the 5 major scale patterns, you can use each of these 5 patterns in any key you like.

Practice all the scales in all 12 keys until you know them by heart, when you have mastered that you will be well on your way to becoming a good player.

Practising scales is very boring but very necessary if you want to become a competent player, not only will knowing them make you a better player than you thought possible, but practising all of them will increase the dexterity of your fingers and keep them super-supple.

For added difficulty name the notes as you play them.

Do You Need To Read Music?

That's an emphatic no! and one of the great joys of learning how to play the guitar, do you think the world's greatest guitar players have their blistering solos written down? No way, it's all played by ear using their fretboard knowledge.

So you definitely don't need to read any music to play a guitar, (sheet music is often referred to as fly-shit in the trade) although it may help you down the line.

B.B. King could not read a note of music, it didn't hurt his career any!

Although you don't need to be able to read music, you do however need to learn a little music theory, it will help you tremendously to understand how chords are constructed for instance, and this will put you far beyond other self-taught players without this knowledge.

Play With Your Ears!

I don't advise trying that headline it will make your lobes bleed!
I mean train your ears early on, actually listen hard to the pitch of the notes learn to identify notes and chords by sound alone.

Master ear training you will be able to play almost anything you hear without referring to music or tab. (playing by ear)

Tuning Up

Early on, I say forget about trying to tune up the strings yourself, unless you have a really keen ear, get yourself a cheap electronic tuner like the Korg TM50BK for about $20 to save time faffing about, these battery powered tuners may plug into the guitar via output lead, or they may also built-in microphones for tuning acoustics, playing an instrument that is out of tune will be of no help at all.  There is a method for tuning a guitar to itself , (relative tuning) but in order to do that you need one perfectly in-tune note and a keen ear.

Practice Amplifiers

If you are going with an electric axe, a 10 Watt or less practice amplifier like the Marshal MG10CD, will be perfectly adequate for all your practising needs, you will sound terrible at first so there's no point in letting the whole street know this with a 300 Watt  Stack that will blow your windows out and make your teeth rattle!

Valve amps are, and always will be, superior in tone to solid-state digital circuit types, but they are much more expensive, and of course the valves go bang (fail) now and again and need replacement, until you can really play stick with a standard amp.

Amps sometimes don't come with a lead, so you may need to get one at the same time. Don't get a very short lead, they are a pain in the assa good quality 10 foot lead silicone lead will last you for years, and give you some freedom of movement.

Strengthen Your Fingers

You can get a small spring-loaded device made especially for guitar players, these are for strengthening your fingers, one of these will help you a lot, as you can use them anywhere, in school, on a bus, or walking along etc. The D'Addario Varigrip Adjustable Hand Exerciser is a good model for guitarists get them on for about $15.

The little finger on your left hand (if you are right handed) is weak and useless for guitar playing, as you will discover when you start trying to use it, you need to pump up the muscles in your pinkie so it is a strong as your other fingers.

Hand stretching exercise will also help, you need your fingers to span 7 frets or more, and you need to be able to hammer-on (sound a note by tapping down on it with your finger) a string on a fifth fret with your pinkie very fast and without fatigue.

Get A Strap On!

The only other thing you need is a decent guitar strap, a wide custom strap is best for a heavy guitar such as a Gibson as it will cause less fatigue to your shoulder.

Always put the strap on even when sitting down in case of mishaps, the last thing you want to do is drop an expensive instrument on the floor as it could ruin it.

Taking a strap on and off the guitar will eventually wear the leather thong that slips over the strap button fixed to the body, this can cause ithe strap to actually come off at an inopportune moment, fortunately someone thought of this and invented a strap lock which will prevent it happening. There are various designs like the silicon donut type that form a tight fit over the existing button, or replacement buttons like the Dunlop SLS1031N Straplok® that will hold any strap firmly in place.

Storing A Guitar

Always store your guitar properly; on a stand, upright, on a neck hanging bracket or in a hard case, do not leave it leaning at an angle, never stand it near any form of heating or in areas of high humidity. Try and keep it stored where the temperature is relatively constant.

Changing temperatures will put it out of tune, which is no problem except you need to keep on tuning it up.
A guitar with a warped neck is an ornament not an instrument.

If storing a guitar for long periods, loosen off the strings by about a note's worth (a semitone) so A becomes A flat etc, this keeps sufficient tension on the neck to prevent twisting or warping.

Checking For A Twisted Neck

No not your vertabrae!

When buying a guitar secondhand, (or even a new one) hold it up to the light at an angle and look along the neck from the nut to the bridge, angle it so that you can see all the frets, but no bits of fretboard.
Every fret should be completely in-line with each other across their tops, if any are sticking up higher than the others, it will be obvious and indicate the neck is twisted, don't buy it - ever!

This is the most important check you can do with a guitar, everything else can be fixed.

Note: Guitar necks are not straight, when strung, the string tension puts a slight curve along the neck, this ensures proper string clearance above every single fret, this and adjustment of the bridge affect the intonation of a guitar.

If the intonation is incorrect the string will not play one or more notes clearly and cause them to buzz or rattle when played. Do not mess around with a guitar's intonation.


Learn how to restring your guitar yourself, as shops may charge you for this service which is quite simple to do without much skill. A small plastic string winder crank which fits over the machine heads will speed up the process if you have 6 to do.

The tricky part is getting the coils to butt neatly side-by-side against each other, take your time, anyhow won't do!

Buy yourself a spare set of strings you are bound to break one after a time, this will usually be the B or high E string, but you have to buy strings in complete sets. You cannot buy just one. (well I never could).

New strings will stretch after some use and may require several re-tunings before they bed in and stretch to their maximum length.

Don't take them all off at once, renew one string at a time.

Draw Up A Practice Schedule

Consistent, focused practice is your key to success.

Don't  practice blindly, draft out a practice schedule for yourself based and give each section a time limit, as you master one section, reduce the alotted time for that then add another to the schedule.
Make sure you include plenty of scale/finger drills.

Miscellaneous Tips

Try and master a few of those seemingly impossible 5 and 6 string Jazz chords early on, these are very difficult to play, but master these and other chords will be a breeze to finger.

One last tip for chord playing... trim your fingernails short or they will interfere with your string fretting.

Always buy the best instrument you can afford and try and stick with a well known make, famous brands have a reputation to protect, and they don't make poor quality instruments. Very cheap guitars with a name you've never heard of should be avoided.

Hello, are you still awake? you have reached the end at last :-)