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How to Play Electric Guitar Notes for Beginners

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I’m guessing you’re here because you’re bored of chords and you want to get playing some real stuff!

You wanna play melodies, riffs and solos rather than causing your neighbour to seek support therapy by playing Wonderwall again…

Hey, we’ve all been there before.

So today I’m going to show you how to play actual notes on electric guitar, so you can start tearing up the dance floor.

Why would you have a guitar on the dance floor?

You’re asking the wrong person. Anyway let’s begin!

Using an Anchor Point To Increase Accuracy

Having an anchor point is the best way to increase your picking accuracy when playing single notes.

It also helps your muscle memory get tuned in to the distance between each string faster.

To do this, rest your picking wrist on the bridge of your guitar, but make sure it doesn’t mute any of the strings.

You want it to rest just so, like this:

Wrist on bridge anchor position

The pick I’m using here is a Jim Dunlop .88 Max Grip. It’s a fantastic guitar pick for both chords and single-notes, and I can only recommend it.

It’ll still be difficult to hit the string you want every time in the beginning, however it will make a huge difference.

Just think of it like the anchors you use in chord changes.

You don’t have to move your index finger between an Am and C chord, so you can use it as an anchor point between chord changes.

As a result, they’re much easier to play and faster to learn.

It’s the exact same idea here.

If you don’t know all the basic chords on guitar, then you can view my post on that by clicking here.

Implement this wrist anchor into your playing, and you’ll be en route to single note success.

Developing an Efficient Pick Grip

My first guitar teacher wanted me to put all 15 of my fingers onto the pick at once – apparently it stops the pick from slipping when playing chords.

And as great an idea as that may be, it’s frickin annoying when you want to play single notes as it just feels really cumbersome.

No me gusta.

After lots of experimentation I found that the best way to hold a pick for me was like this:

How to hold a pick on guitar

You want it to feel like an extension of your index finger so that you can be as accurate as possible.

But you also want to keep a good grip of the pick so that it doesn’t fling out your hand mid-gig and knock someone unconscious.

You may have found something that works for you already, if that’s the case then great, you can skip this part.

But if you haven’t, then you can be confident that this pick grip won’t let you down.

Setting Up the Fretting Hand For Success

If the fretting hand doesn’t feel comfortable, then nothing will.

Your fingers will either fly around like spaghetti in a blender or stay as rigid as The Rock’s left nipple if you don’t get this part right.

Thankfully, that’s not too hard.

There are two main grips you should be aware of….

The blues grip and the classical grip.

The blues grip is pretty similar to how you would play chords… your thumb over the top of the neck a bit, fingers at a slight angle, overall a very natural and solid feeling position:

The blues guitar neck grip

But the classical grip is a lot more based on precision and efficiency, rather than comfort and strength.

You keep your thumb flat on the underside of the neck and your fingers parallel to the frets even as you go up onto the higher strings.

It’s typically described as a very “fast” position and looks like this:

The classical guitar neck grip

You’ll see both positions a lot, but the bluesy one is the most common.

Bending and electric guitar notes just feel a bit more comfortable to play.

But in my opinion, a mix of both is the best way.

I tend to have to have my thumb flat on the underside of the neck when playing two thickest strings because they’re easier to reach that way.

But as I go up higher across the strings, I’ll gradually slide my thumb upwards into the bluesy position.

This works a treat for me and is actually the way most guitarists do it – thumb flat for the strings that are hard to reach, thumb round for everything else.

How to Do Alternate Picking

Nice one, you’ve got the technique down.

But if you want to play licks and solos, you’re gonna want to learn how to alternate pick.

It’s let you play at twice the speed that you could pick at normally and will make life as a guitarist 50.3x easier.

Take the low E string (the thickest/lowest string) and play it by picking downwards, ideally to some kind of slow metronome pulse.

Now try picking the string back upwards in between each of these down strokes.

Boom! Just like that you can now do alternate picking.

But as you navigate across more strings it’ll get a bit more difficult.

That’s why I’ve created a couple of exercises down below to help you with that.

You can thank me later 😉

Alternate Picking Exercises & Synchronizing Your Hands

Great! You now know what both hands need to do.

But the most important part is getting them to do these moves in sync together.

Otherwise, everything’s gonna sounds as messy as a cat in a hair-dryer.

So when having a go at these exercises, try to keep everything as clean and buzz-less as possible. No beehives today please.

Remember to implement everything I’ve gone through today as you play these, wrist anchored, pick feeling comfortable, fretting grip nailed and alternate picking ready to fire.

Here’s the first one:

Alternate picking exercise 1 - A minor pentatonic

Just a simple rising A minor Pentatonic scale.

It’s a handy one because you’ll be using this scale more times than you’ve had hot (or lukewarm) dinners, in the years to come.

Make sure the first note on each string a downstroke and the second note on each string is an upstroke.

That way you’re getting your alternate picking into shape.

And you there’s also the descending version:

Alternate picking exercise 1 descending - A minor pentatonic

If you don’t know how to read guitar tablature, then you can view my post on that by clicking here, it’s an essential skill for guitar players.

Here’s the second exercise, with every note doubled to help you become even more comfortable with alternate picking:

Alternate picking exercise 2 - A minor pentatonic doubled

And the descending version:

Alternate picking exercise 2 descending - A minor pentatonic doubled

It looks kinda crazy, but its actually pretty simple.

Make sure you are happy with those two before you have a crack at the last exercise which is slightly more complex.

This is the ultimate hand sync + alternate picking practice lick:

Alternate picking exercise 3 - A minor pentatonic lick

Woah woah woah… Sam, you cannot expect me to play that, it looks insane!

Ok, fine. It looks insane but in reality, it’s not that bad.

By the time you’ve played that the whole way through, all electric guitar notes are gonna feel way easier to play, and you’ll feel epic.

Especially if you can play it descending too:

Alternate picking exercise 3 descending - A minor pentatonic lick

Wrapping It Up

There we have it!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you learn to play notes on electric guitar.

After this I recommend going and learning a few of your favourite riffs to put this all into practice and have some fun whilst you’re at it.

It’ll probably feel really awkward to begin with but stick with it, you’ll have good habits for the rest of eternity.

Whilst the rest of your mates are struggling to play a scale, there you are ripping the world to shreds and getting all the chicks.

Have fun!

P.S. If you want to learn more on the best technique for picking and strumming, then click here to view my post on that.


Sam is a guitar teacher and educator, with his main goal being to give people advice that they can truly rely on. He strives to teach through modern and effective techniques that actually provide results. Getting good at guitar was always his dream, and this blog outlines the steps he took to achieve total guitar freedom from scratch.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Chris B.

    Thank you! I’m trying to learn the Ride the Lightning intro atm and this has helped a lot 🙂

    1. Sam

      Epic! Good luck with that.

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