What Should a Beginner Guitarist Learn First?

You just got your first guitar. It’s in your hands, shining, and barely played. Where do you even start? What fundamental skills form the cornerstone to grow from beginner to accomplished player? Let’s walk through the ideal path to launch your life as a guitarist.

Learning proper foundational techniques, essential chords, music theory basics, and real songs provide the core pillars to build upon. Patience and incrementally adding complexity is key – you’re constructing a musical pyramid block-by-block.

Start With Proper Technique

In the excitement of playing, it’s easy for new guitarists to pick up bad habits in hand positioning and posture that hinder progression later on. That’s why properly holding and interacting with the instrument should be the absolute first thing you learn.

Left Hand Position

The ideal left-hand posture balances relaxation and control. Drape your thumb around the middle of the neck – don’t squeeze too tightly. Keep fingers curved and upright, not flat against the strings.

Aim for your knuckles to form a slight diagonal slant rather than collapsing your fingers. This prevents tension that restricts movement. Always use just enough pressure to fret notes cleanly without excessive force.

Right Hand Position

With your picking hand, anchoring your pinky on the guitar body provides stability. Keep your wrist straight, not bent at an angle. Hold the pick between the side of your thumb and index fingertip.

Let the smaller picking motions come mostly from your fingers, not the whole arm. Again, remain relaxed and avoid tension while keeping control. Proper hand geography early on prevents issues.

Guitar player with classical style guitar

Sitting Position

Your sitting position greatly impacts technique and comfort. Face straight forward with shoulders relaxed. Position the guitar on your left leg with the neck tilted up slightly. Support your right arm on the guitar body.

Maintain a straight spine to prevent back pain. Set your amp at ear level so you don’t need to look up and strain your neck. Take breaks to get up and stretch. Proper posture prolongs your playing.

Building these habits from the very start prevents you from needing to re-learn things later to correct issues. Just ask my aching wrists that wish I had known this years ago!

Master Open Position Chords

Once you can hold the guitar properly, it’s time to build calluses and coordination by practicing your first chords. Basic open-position chords are ideal starting points before tackling barre chords.

Power Chords

The simplest major chord is an E power chord. Simply play the two fret notes E – G# on the 6th and 5th strings with the 1st and 3rd fingers. Get used to switching between E and open E minor.

Major and Minor Chords

From power chords, advance to major and minor triad chords you’ll use constantly – G major, C major, A minor, D minor, and so on. Practice changing between chords smoothly and breaking up simple progressions.

For example, cycle between C major and G major 4 times each:

C – G – C – G – C – G – C – G

Then try:

C – Am – C – Am – C – Dm – C – Dm

Get used to locating these essential chords and coordinating switches between them.

Easy Chords for Beginners

Strumming Patterns

Once you have basic chords down, focus on strumming rhythmically with a pick or fingers. Start with gentle downstrokes on the beat. Then add down-up strumming, being sure to think about timing and spacing.

Counting each beat out loud helps internalize rhythm and properly time chord changes. Strumming smoothly maintains song momentum.

Don’t just mindlessly strum – target specific rhythmic goals, even if slow at first. Precise practice precedes faster playing.

Understand Musical Basics

While you certainly can learn plenty of songs by ear, eventually all guitarists benefit deeply from cultivating some basic musical literacy. Don’t worry – understanding fundamentals takes less work than you may think!

Reading Tablature

Tab communicates where to play notes on the guitar using numbered diagrams representing strings and frets. Tablature skips complex music notation for accessible visualization.

Studying tabs teaches hand positions and fingering for scales, licks, chords, and songs. It provides a valuable graphical shortcut to expand your knowledge.

Decoding Chord Charts

Chord charts use chord names like “A minor” or “C7” to indicate what to play over musical bars. Mastering how to translate chord names into actual finger positions unlocks playing countless songs.

Memorize the patterns for major, minor, seventh, suspended, and other core chord types. Then progressions become intuitive.

Learning Musical Alphabet

Understand the sequential notes of the musical alphabet using the mnemonic Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge for lines EGBDF. Combine with FACE for spaces.

This makes finding notes on both tablature and staff intuitive. Connecting fret positions to actual note names deeply informs guitar theory and technique.

Rhythm Essentials

Finally, study core rhythm basics – bars, time signatures, note values, downbeats, syncopation, and so on. Internalizing the skeleton of rhythm boosts your sense of timing and ability to subdivide beats.

Understanding how rhythmic frameworks are constructed allows you to easily slot in new skills like strum patterns, leads, chord progressions, and song components. Theory summarizes what you’re hearing.

Guitar student with teacher

Learn Simple Melodies and Songs

Armed with some essential techniques, chords, and theory knowledge, it’s finally time to apply those skills to actual music. Starting with simple instrumental melodies and songs keeps things achievable as you put everything together.

One-String Melodies

Practice picking single-line melodies on each string to get comfortable finding notes and applying rhythm. For example, a simple I-IV-V-I major scale pattern on the 1st string:

Copy code

E|--8--10--12--10--8------| B|-----------------------| G|-----------------------| D|-----------------------| A|-----------------------| E|-----------------------|

Advance to melodies using multiple strings, like mixing open 1st and 2nd strings:

Copy code

E|--10--8--5--8--10--12~~| B|--10--8--7--5----------| G|-----------------------| D|-----------------------| A|-----------------------| E|-----------------------|

Power Chord Riffs

With some single-note practice, try putting together basic two or three-chord riffs using power chords. For example:

E – G – C – G

Or fun ones like:

E – E – A – C – G – E

Focus on smooth chord changes and keeping in time. Nail simple progressions before tackling more complex songs.

Full Songs

Finally, seek out easy, complete songs to apply all your skills. For beginners, I recommend classics like “Louie Louie”, “Wild Thing”, “La Bamba”, “Hey Joe”, “Stand By Me”, and “Twist and Shout”.

Work slowly through the chord changes while strumming evenly. Get used to playing in time while coordinating both hands. Soon you’ll be ready to jam with friends!

Learning real songs inspires you to continue practicing everything else. Always choose tunes just beyond your skill level to incrementally expand your abilities without frustration.

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Beginner Guitar FAQ

Let’s recap some common questions for starting guitarists:

How long should I practice technique before learning songs?

Focus on proper technique for at least 2-3 weeks. But start attempting simple melodies and riffs within the first month before bad habits set in.

What are the best first 5 chords to learn on guitar?

E minor, E Major, G Major, C Major, D Major. Then A minor, D minor, and E7.

Should I learn to read music or play by ear first?

Ideally both simultaneously, but start with tablature for quick visual fretboard learning before moving to standard notation.

Is private instruction better for beginners than books/videos?

Professional lessons help catch errors and provide accountability but aren’t mandatory. Use all available methods, adjusting based on your pace.

The key is laying a solid technical foundation before accumulating bad habits. Be patient, focus on fundamentals, and expand the toolbox slowly. With commitment and consistency, you’ll be playing your favorite songs sooner than you think!

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