Teaching yourself how to play guitar can be tough.
Is it better to learn chords, tabs, strumming, or a whole song first?
With the amount of information online these days, it’s hard to know where to start!
However, once you have some clear guidelines to follow, you should be able to make some good progress.
In this article, I outline the best pathway to teach yourself how to play guitar.
Move through these 9 steps at your own pace, and you’ll quickly get the hang of it.
If you make it to the end, I’ll recommend some great online guitar lessons if you need that extra boost.
Exclusive Report: Click here to download The Insider's Guide to Online Guitar Lessons, which reveals the best resources for learning guitar online.
Proper Preparation Will Make or Break Your Practice
Before you jump into your practice, there are 3 important things to straighten out: your guitar, tuning, and grip.
Everyone who learned guitar has different advice about what guitar to start with.
Some recommend buying one in the upper limit of your range: If it’s a good investment, that guitar will last way beyond your training months and can make it easier to play in the first place.
Others recommend a hand-me-down or antique: If you can learn on a mediocre guitar, you will sound like a genius when you finally buy a shiny new toy.
Either choice is fine as long as the guitar is in good shape with a straight neck and good sound.
Once you’ve picked a guitar, keep it in tune, and grip the neck correctly with your left hand.
It’s easy to over-press the strings when you’re just starting out.
Some people develop a “death grip,” where their left thumb curls over the top of the neck.
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Keep your grip loose and press the strings with the tips of your fingers, not the pads.
Practice These 9 Things Every Day and Learn Guitar in Just 10 Hours
What if I told you that you could be playing pretty decent guitar in just 10 hours?
Would you try it?
I know that I would.
In fact, I already have.
No, you can’t sit down for a 10-hour lesson with your brand new guitar. You won’t absorb anything, and your fingers will be trashed.
Instead, take one month and practice these 9 things for just 20 minutes a day.
I dare ya.
1. Learn Open Chords Before Anything Else
Open chords are the backbone of guitar playing.
They’re also the easiest thing to start with when teaching yourself guitar.
Today, most song sites also have chord diagrams embedded on the page. With some guitar learning websites like GuitarTricks, the chord diagrams are built into some of the video lessons:
You can learn the chords as you go or even transpose songs if new chords are too difficult for you.
Here are just a few things to remember:
Chord diagrams look down at the neck of your guitar.
The lowest string on the diagram is the low E on your guitar. In the diagram to the right, the low E is to the right.
Horizontal lines indicate frets, which start from the top of the neck at the 1st fret. Again, sometimes the diagrams are rotated where the fret lines are vertical.
Honestly, you’ll know if you’re playing it wrong because it just won’t sound right.
But here’s another example from a screenshot of the lesson dashboard from my GuitarTricks membership account:
2. Strum Patterns: Change Things Up and Master Your Right Hand
Do you want to spice up any song and make your lessons more fun?
Try exploring new strum patterns.
While I advise starting with a down or down-up strum, it’s good to switch things up.
There are lots of more complicated strum patterns out there that will help you master control of your right hand.
Eventually, you’ll be able to play any strum without thinking.
3. Don’t Let Transitions Break You
In the beginning, transitioning between chords will be hard.
Songs will have lots of long pauses between them.
Don’t let this put you off.
Transitioning quickly is something that can only be learned from lots of practice. As you improve muscle memory, it will be easier to switch between chords. Eventually, you’ll be able to do it without looking!
Some people even practice silent rehearsing to help them switch between chords.
All you have to do is change chords without any strumming.
Just pay attention to your left hand for a while until you can switch quickly. (it’s really easy to do this while watching TV.)
If you need more guidance with improving your timing and rhythm, check out these strategies you can implement in the next 5 minutes.
4. Tabs Show You The Secret to Complicated Riffs
The last main thing to learn in order to play decent guitar is this:
How to read tabs.
Tabs, or tablature, are diagrams that help you learn songs with more single-note plucking.
Tabs are written in string format like chords. However, they don’t include fret lines. Instead tabs use numbers to note which fret to press on each string.
Though it’s easy to play any song with open chords, tabs will help you learn more complex songs with solos.
With a little practice, you could use them to learn anything including bluegrass, flamenco, or Stairway to Heaven.
5. Improve Your Form With More Individual Note Playing
If you’ve already taught yourself the four major points of guitar, you can bring your playing to another level by practicing these 5 things.
Remember that “death grip” I mentioned earlier?
It’s simply bad form. If you practice bad form, you will eventually realize that your notes are being muted.
There’s an easy fix: practice songs that involve more picking.
Check out these 5 songs to consider learning – We also mention 5 songs you should definitely avoid!
When focusing on individual notes, you’ll quickly realize when the notes are muted and you’ll be able to fix them. It also helps to strum a chord one string at a time.
6. Scales Aren’t Just for Snakes
Why did you learn guitar?
To play a few popular songs at family parties or to eventually pull out some killer riffs right out of thin air?
Let’s be honest:
We all want to be rock gods.
To become a great solo guitarist, start practicing your scales. It will be painful and monotonous at first, but after a while, scales become easier and faster.
Before long, you’ll be playing improv blues riffs in your sleep. Just keep practicing.
If you want to really master this area of the guitar, I recommend a course called Music Theory Square One from JamPlay.com.
7. Your Practice Will Be 200% Better if You Go Slowly
Take any song and slow it way down.
Practice transitions, picking, and finger work until they’re perfect.
Don’t let the speed-demon mentality sacrifice precision.
8. Teaching Yourself Guitar Has Its Up and Downs, Literally
To be a true guitar hero, there’s one last thing you need to master.
Can you play your guitar standing up and sitting down?
Buy a strap and get practicing.
9. You Won’t Learn Anything If You Don’t Push Yourself
My last tip is to not shy away from the difficult things.
Right now, just learning a few chords might seem like the hardest thing in the world. Remember that learning anything takes time.
Stay dedicated and keep practicing these 9 things for a little bit every day. Always push yourself a little further and continue learning.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you can’t master the guitar in a few weeks.
The Secret Extra Step: Ask for Help
While it’s possible to teach yourself guitar these days, you may need a little extra help.
Don’t be worried if you do!
I’ve reviewed loads of online courses. You can find my top 6 choices here.
Most of them have a free trial option, so you get to test them out first.
If you hit some road bumps while blazing your own trail, never be afraid to ask for help. That could mean signing up for online lessons or teaming up with a friend who knows how to play guitar.
But like I said before, keep practicing!
If you do want to take that extra step, consider a 14 day free trial with Guitar Tricks >> Click here. This is one of my favourite guitar learning websites right now.