Learning how to play guitar is a long journey, but you have to start somewhere. As you learn to play guitar, you’ll likely run into some challenges, but don’t worry, the beginning is always the hardest. If you stick to it, you’ll learn one of the greatest musical instruments in the world and discover what a fun, rewarding, and fulfilling experience playing the guitar is.

This guide will teach you the basics of how to play guitar, so keep reading.

The Anatomy of a Guitar

Before you start learning how to play guitar, you need to know the anatomy of the instrument. You’ll find it hard to understand the instrument if you can’t tell the headstock from the bridge. As a beginner, you’ll most likely work with an electric or acoustic guitar, and they both have the same parts (pretty much).

The parts of the guitar include:

  • Body: This is the big curvy part made of wood. The body of an acoustic guitar is bigger and more hollow than that of an electric guitar. This design enables the acoustic guitar to amplify sound.
  • Neck: This part, also made of wood, connects the guitar’s body and the headstock. The neck is long and thin, and it is where you’ll find the frets and fretboard/fingerboard. 
  • Headstock: The headstock or head (in short) is the bit connected to the top of the tail. Here, you’ll find the machine heads, which are used to tune the guitar.
  • Machine heads: These are located on the headstock and are also known as the tuner pegs. Guitars usually have six machine heads, and one end of a string is attached to each of them. Depending on the direction you turn their knobs, you either tighten or loosen the string. Tightening a tuner peg raises the pitch of the attached string, while loosening will lower the pitch.
  • Fretboard: The fretboard is the wooden material on the front of the neck between the nut and bridge. It contains the frets, which create notes when you press a string against them.
  • Frets: Frets are the spaces between the thin strips of metal distributed across the fretboard. Each fret represents a musical note.
  • Nut: You’ll find the nut at the end of the neck. It supports the strings and leads them into the headstock and machine heads. The grooves on the nut evenly space the strings and hold them in place.
  • Strings: These are the long strands of wires, usually made from steel, that run from the bridge to the tuner pegs. A standard guitar usually has six of them. The guitar strings are arranged in order of thickness, from the thinnest to the thickest.
  • Bridge: The bridge is located on the soundboard. You’ll find the other end of the strings attached to the saddle (bridge nut) on the bridge.
  • Soundhole: If your guitar is acoustic, it will have a soundhole. The hole amplifies the sound of the guitar.
  • Soundboard: This is the top part of the guitar’s body. This thin wooden plate is responsible for projecting the guitar’s sound. The soundboard resonates with the vibrations received from the strings.

Learning Guitar Terms

While discussing the anatomy of a guitar, we have already covered some of the essential terms. Here are a few more that you need to understand to make guitar learning a little easier:

  • Chord: A combination of notes. Such as A major, E major, and E minor
  • Chord symbol: Characters used to identify chords, e.g., A for A major and Cm for C minor.
  • Chord diagram: A graphic that shows you where to place your fingers on the fretboard to create a particular chord.
  • Open string: A string plucked without placing a finger on a fret.
  • Barre chord: You play most chords by placing the tip of your fingers on specific frets. A barre chord is when you put one or more fingers flat or barre across 5-6 strings on the fretboard.
  • Tuning: Tuning is the acting of fixing the guitar’s tune (when it is off) by tightening and loosening the tuner pegs.
  • Picking: Plucking an individual string with your fingers or a guitar pick.
  • Strumming: A sweeping motion with your fingers or guitar pick, allowing you to play several strings.
  • Action: The distance between the fretboard and the bottom of the string. The more action, the more pressure it takes to make the string come in full contact with a fret. 

How Guitars Work

To learn how to play guitar, you need to understand how the instrument works. When you strum the guitar, its strings begin to vibrate. In an acoustic guitar, the vibrations travel to the bridge, which channels them into the soundhole, making the soundboard vibrate. The vibrations then travel out the soundhole again, producing the guitar sound we know and love.

Electric guitars have pickups, small microphones attached to the guitar’s body underneath the strings. Once these devices “pick up” the vibrations, they convert them into electric energy. This energy is then transferred to amplifiers to produce the intense sound of an electric guitar.

How to Hold a Guitar

You can’t learn how to play guitar if you don’t know how to hold one. Holding a guitar might seem easy, but knowing the proper technique will eliminate bad habits that can lead to frustrations, as well as back and neck pain.

To hold a guitar correctly, you need to place it on your right leg, making sure you’re stabilizing it with your dominant hand. For an acoustic guitar, the first half of your arm, where the biceps are, should rest over the hip of the guitar in such a way that the forearm is hanging loose over the soundboard.

As you learn how to play guitar, keep in mind that the other hand is for fretting. If it is helping you stabilize the guitar, you won’t be able to freely move it up and down the neck. This movement is vital because that is how you play different chords. Also, make sure the guitar is straight on your leg; don’t lean it forward or backward. Making the guitar lean forward or backward will add extra tension to your arm, which you don’t want.

Posture is also crucial when holding a guitar. Always make sure your back is straight. You might feel the urge to bend over so you can see what is going on with your hands. Resist that urge — your back and neck will thank you.

Knowing the Strings

To learn how to play guitar, you also need to be able to identify the strings. The bottom string (the thinnest) is the first string, and the top (the thickest) is the sixth. From top to bottom, the guitar’s strings are named E, A, D, G, B, and E. Why are there two Es? Well, Top E is the low version, while the bottom E is the high version.

The names of the guitar strings can be hard to remember for beginners. Luckily, there are some helpful mnemonics that you can use. The easiest and most popular one is Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie. You can even make up your own if that helps.

Tips for Buying Your First Guitar

Know that you know the basics; it’s time you learned how to pick the right guitar. While the types of guitar you get largely depends on preference, here are some tips that will help you avoid common guitar-buying pitfalls:

  • Make sure you buy the guitar at your local music shop or reputable retailer online; avoid flea markets, yard sales, and pawn shops.
  • Bring someone along (if you can) who knows a thing or two about guitars and how to play them so they can give you advice.
  • If buying at a shop, make sure the guitar is in tune; the salesperson should have a tuner on hand and be delighted to test it out for you.
  • Make sure that the guitar remains in tune by strumming a few times and measuring the strings’ pitch.
  • You don’t always need to purchase an expensive guitar for $300-$500, as you can find a quality guitar for $100-$200.
  • Look for package deals, e.g., a guitar that comes with a tuner and case, or buy the accessories you need separately.
  • Don’t buy a guitar because of the brand. Some big-name brands produce the worst beginner guitars.
  • For a beginner, the recommended action for acoustic guitars is 2-2.7mm and 2-2.3mm for electric.

About BYJU’S FutureSchool Music Program

BYJU’S FutureSchool music curriculum was developed to empower the next generation of guitar players. It introduces children to the wondrous world of music and instills them with a passion that will last a lifetime. Through research-based teaching methods that range from live sessions to 1:1 challenges to interactive projects, kids learn to unleash their musical creativity in a fun and nurturing environment.

About the Author

More than just Coding and Math! Our proprietary, activity-based curriculum with live, real-time instruction facilitates: Problem Solving. Creative Thinking. Grit. Confidence. Communication