Learning the guitar takes a lot of practice and commitment. While it is by no means the most difficult instrument, there is a definite learning curve for beginners. Many aspiring guitarists lose faith in the first few months of learning the guitar and give up. But with the right techniques and habits, you should be able to progress from a beginner to an intermediate guitarist in the first year of playing.
In this guide, I will go over my top 11 tips for beginner guitarists. This list includes practice techniques and advice to make you a better guitarist in the future.
Use a light string gauge
One thing that really trips up beginner guitarists is string gauge. String gauge is simply the thickness of your guitar strings. On electric guitars, you have several options from “super extra light” to “heavy” gauge. Beginner guitarists should start with a lighter string gauge as it is easier to play on and will hurt your fingers less, and then move up to thicker strings as you build calluses. It is also worth noting that acoustic guitar strings tend to be thicker and have more tension than electric guitar strings.
Building calluses is another important thing for beginner guitarists to do. Without calluses, you won’t be able to shred like the pros. It takes time and a lot of practice to build calluses, but eventually, you will notice that your fingers have adapted to the guitar. Things that used to hurt your fingers won’t hurt anymore, and your fingertips will have a layer of hard skin. If you start off playing steel string acoustic guitar, you will build thick calluses much faster than with classical or electric guitar.
Use the correct posture and hand grip
This is something many beginner, intermediate, and even advanced guitarists slack on. Using the correct posture and hand positioning are very important for a number of reasons. For one, your hand grip and posture make playing fast and intricate riffs easier. Also, if you grip the guitar too tightly, your hand will hurt after playing for long periods, which can lead to carpal tunnel and other hand or wrist issues. So, practice in front of a mirror and be strict with yourself to maintain the proper hand position and posture while playing.
It is hard not to rush into learning riffs and guitar solos from your favorite songs. But beginner guitarists need to invest in the future of their playing and learn the basics. Trust me, I know the pain of repeatedly playing simple scales, chords, and drills, but you have to learn to walk before you run. Building a solid foundation of your guitar playing will allow you to be a much better guitarist as you progress.
Learn to read music
You’d be surprised by how few guitarists can read sheet music. Unless you are a classical or jazz guitarist, you may not be forced to learn to read music as many songs are translated to tabs, which is much easier and simpler to learn. However, tabs do not generally have rhythm notations, so only half of the information is there. You can undoubtedly get by only learning to read guitar tabs, but you handicap yourself if you ever want to learn other guitar styles. And, in my opinion, it is a good idea for every musician to read music because it gives you a broader understanding of music as a whole.
Check out my top picks for guitar learning resources for beginners that include sheet music and tablature.
Learn to read tablature
Every guitarist should learn to read tabs. Tablature is the way most beginner guitarists learn songs, as it is easy to read and accessible. Most modern music is translated into tabs, and it is a great way to discover new chords and riffs if you are not quite comfortable with sheet music. But don’t let the fact that tabs are easier make you slack on learning to read music!
Looking for some fun beginner-friendly tablature? Check out my list of the best easy electric guitar songs!
Train your ear
Learning to read music and train your hands are two fundamental ways to learn your guitar, but you also need to train your musician ear. The ability to pick up a song just by listening and the ability to distinguish a chord progression are both VERY valuable skills that every serious guitarist should be able to do. Try playing along to music and playing riffs or chords without looking up tabs or sheet music.
Use a metronome
I see beginner guitarists making the mistake of not practicing with a metronome all the time. I know it is annoying to have something “ticking” while you play, but ingraining a sense of rhythm into your playing is imperative. Without a good understanding of rhythm, your playing will sound sloppy, regardless of how technical your riffing is. Playing with a metronome early in your training will make playing complex guitar parts easier as you advance as a guitarist.
Hold your guitar pick the right way
Holding your guitar pick correctly will ensure that it doesn’t fly out of your hands and that you have control over the pick as you play. You don’t want to hold it too tightly, or you’ll risk cramping your hand, and if you hold it too loose, it may fall out of your hand. Check out my article that covers how to hold a guitar pick in depth.
Learn to fingerpick
Fingerpicking is generally a skill that is reserved for classical, flamenco, and folk guitar. That being said, it is a good skill for any guitarist to learn. Even heavy metal guitarists in Metallica and Iron Maiden have utilized fingerpicking in songs. So, make sure to put down the guitar pick every now and then and practice using your right hand to pluck the strings.
Learn barre chords
Barre chords are very difficult to learn when first starting on guitar. Without calluses and finger strength pressing down on all six strings and getting a clear sound is almost impossible. But, after learning the basic open chords, building some calluses, and strengthening your hands and fingers, you can start attempting barre chords. Barre chords open you up to many more songs and sounds and are essential for every good guitarist to learn.
Practice makes permanent
My last tip is to practice well. A saying that a guitar teacher told me years ago was, “practice makes permanent. Only good practice makes perfect”. Practicing the wrong things often will ingrain bad playing habits into you. It is better to practice the right way and focus on hand positioning, playing on time, and playing correctly. This may seem brutal at first, but you will thank yourself later when you have fantastic playing habits and impeccable technique!
Feel free to reach out to me if you have any more questions about learning guitar. I am always happy to help!