Anyone can play guitar.
You don’t need skinny fingers or expensive kit or natural talent to start playing songs quickly.
Because if you learn the right stuff and practice the right way, then you’ll be strumming out your favourite pop song comfortably within a couple of weeks.
In this post today, I’ll be teaching you how to play guitar for beginners and telling you all you need to know to get playing, FAST.
I started playing guitar on an acoustic guitar with a massive hole in it where the body had split in two, with no musical experience whatsoever and definitely no natural talent.
And ya know what? I managed (just). So that shows you that you can play guitar well too.
Inspiration over, let’s get started!
What chords are, for beginners
When teaching beginners how to play guitar, I always start with this. Chords.
They are the basis of almost all music ever created and knowing what they are will help you drastically.
Now I’m going to assume that you have no music theory knowledge at all, like I didn’t when I started, so I’ll keep things to the point…
Chords consist of three notes, and changing one of those notes can change the sound of a chord.
A major chord will sound happy and a minor chord will sound more melancholy.
And sometimes you will see chords with an extra note added like A7, but you don’t need to worry about that yet.
Boom, theory over.
How to play your first chord, E major
So now let’s actually get you playing!
Learning chords is always the best thing for beginners to start with when learning to play guitar.
It’s easy to make them sound good and you can use them everywhere.
However, before we start, you’re gonna need to tune your guitar.
For that I recommend downloading the free app GuitarTuna. Ha… Ha… Ha… Had me in stitches for hours that one…
From there, it will tell you whether to raise or lower the pitch of each string to make it in tune.
Turn clockwise to lower the pitch, anticlockwise to raise the pitch.
Obviously, if you’re one of those fancy people with “perfect pitch”- you know who you are – then you don’t need no app.
Now that you’ve got your guitar tuned, we can start playing. And I actually mean it this time :).
So low and behold… your first ever chord:
Woah, woah, woah, what the %$#@ does that mean!?
No need to be scared, it’s only a chord diagram.
To understand it, place your guitar facing upwards on your lap and get a bird’s eye view of the fretboard…
The six vertical grid lines indicate the six strings of a guitar – thickest on the left, thinnest on the right and the horizontal lines represent the frets.
The hollow, white circles indicate the strings that you should leave open when playing the chord, and the black dots indicate which fret of which string you should place your fingers on to play the chord.
The numbers on these black dots indicate which finger you should use to play each note: 1 – index, 2 – middle, 3 – ring and 4 – pinkie.
Few, so using these guidelines, an E chord should look like this:
Give that a strum and wooooo you’ve just played your first chord!
You may feel like you’ve had to wrestle your fingers to get there but that’s the same for all beginners when they learn to play guitar.
To help with this, practice taking your fingers of the fretboard and then placing them on again to play an E.
Just doing this a few minutes a day will make playing an E chord feel 10x easier within a week’s time.
Either way, give yourself a pat on the back and make sure you understand how these chord diagrams work before we move on, I’ll be throwing more your way shortly…
How to play an A major chord
Now, I love an E chord as much as the next man but let’s face it.
On it’s own, it’s pretty useless.
That’s why we need other chords to help give some sort of direction and emotion to the music.
One of these chords – often paired with E major – is A major:
The reason we place our index finger here is because it makes changing to other chords much easier.
We can use it as an anchor when switching to other chords because it barely has to move.
To change to E, you just have to slide it down a fret, and to change to a D (which you will see soon) you don’t even have to move it.
Now how great is that?
This will definitely help all you beginners out there when you’re learning to play guitar, it’s helped me and many others time and time again
You will notice that there is an X above the low E string.
This means that you shouldn’t play that string when playing this chord.
Lightly touch it with your thumb to mute it or simply avoid playing it to make sure it doesn’t ring out.
Like with the E chord, practice taking your fingers off the fretboard and putting them back on again to start training this shape into your muscle memory.
How to play a D major chord
The third and final chord of today, D major is used all the time with E and A.
Wow, that rhythmed…
This shape may feel a little fiddly at first – we’ve all been there before – but persist and it will serve you well.
So here it is:
As I said earlier, you can leave your 3rd finger in place when switching from A to D to make chord changes easier.
You can also see that the two lowest strings are muted so try not to play them.
Again, practice taking your fingers off the fretboard and back on again to embed it in your muscle memory.
And there you have it!
They’re the top three chords that I recommend all beginners learn when they start to play guitar.
How to practice chords for quick progress
Okay, so I’ve already spoken to your about taking your fingers on and off the fretboard to get train your muscle memory.
This is great when first learning a shape, however, it can be developed.
If we want to be able to use these chords in a song, then we’re gonna have to get good at changing to them from other chords.
To achieve this, we can use what I call The Switch Method.
Alright stop judging, I couldn’t think of any better name.
It’ll half the time it takes you to learn chords and help with those pesky changes:
- First, take two of the chords you’re trying to learn E.g. E and A
- Then switch between them continuously for a few minutes. E.g. E to A to E to A to E
- Have a break and do it again until these changes feel comfortable.
- Add an extra chord to the mix. E.g. D
- Then switch from E to D to A to E to D to A for a few minutes
- BOOM! You’re now epic at chord changes AND these chords are cemented into your muscle memory.
Just do this for a few minutes a day and your progress will be faster than girls running away from my singing voice.
I should’ve just stuck to guitar…
You may notice that your fingers start to hurt and that they have indents in them after playing.
This happens to all of us – yup, even a man as macho as me – and is nothing to be concerned about.
If they hurt, take a break and come back later.
How to do basic strumming
Amazing! You’ve got really good at E, A and D and you now want to start playing some actual music.
However, before we start actually playing, we’ve got to learn how to actually play these chords in a song-like way.
In other words, you’ve got to know how to strum.
On beat strumming is really simple and that’s all that I’ll cover today so that you can get playing asap.
In most music, there are 4 beats in a bar.
On-beat strumming basically means strumming downwards on each of those 4 beats.
It should sound something like this:
Try and keep your strumming arm as relaxed as possible and let it smoothly flow up and down.
If you need to imagine you’re a tree swaying in the breeze or something like that, then fine.
Whatever floats ya boat. Just keep it relaxed.
How to start playing songs
It’s time. The moment you’ve all been waiting for…
Yup, you guessed it, time to start learning the in depth music theory behind chords, scales, modes, the CAGED system and compound meters………..
Ha! I got you then for a second, admit it….
But yes, time to start playing some music.
By now, you should know E, A and D, be good at changing between them and can strum them on the beat.
Very well done *applause*.
There are plenty of songs that you can play using just E, A and D and here are a couple of examples that you can learn, with links to the videos on how to play them:
- Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
- Chasing Cars – Snow Patrol
- Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
- I Have A Dream – ABBA
- Born in the USA – Bruce Springsteen
Now, how nice is that?
You may notice that one or two of these videos tell you to use a “capo“.
This is basically a clamp for your guitar neck that allows you to play the same chord progressions in higher keys, normally to suit the individual’s vocal range.
You will find more and more songs requiring capos the more you learn, so it’s worth getting one at some point if you can spare the cash.
What to learn next?
You now know the basics of how guitar works and can play songs too.
But you may be looking around thinking, “Uhh great. Now what next?”.
Well don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from…
It’s great that you now know E, A and D, but there are still several other chords that are fundamental for guitarists.
I’d suggest learning them and then finding video tutorials of how to play your favourite pop songs so that you can apply these newly learnt chords to songs.
I hope this post has been helpful for you and that you’ve enjoyed your first taste of guitar.
If so then comment, like and subscribe with the notification bell turned on yada yada yada… I’m not even a YouTuber, why did I say that…?
Anyways, have fun!
P.S. I also have a post on how to teach yourself guitar at home which covers how to learn songs and how to read tablature and also provides a structure as to what you should learn and when. Click here to view that.