Step 1: To learn to play guitar the obvious first step is to own a guitar. You can find a good deal on a guitar on EBay or other auction sites. You can also find a cheap guitar with decent sound quality at Costco. If you are already relatively serious about learning to play guitar however, it is probably a good idea to buy a well-made guitar. It is always nice to have a guitar around to pick up and play. And even if you play infrequently, guitars are good to have around for parties or just hanging out with friends. For the guys out there: girls love guitars. For the girls: guys love guitars. There is nothing better than being able to play a recognizable anthemic ballad (think Tom Petty’s “Freefallin” or Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”) for your friends after a drink or three.
*Tip: A decent guitar will cost you from $75 to $200. A very nice guitar will cost you upward or $300. Seagull is the company that made my guitar. They make excellent guitars for all levels of players.
Step 2: Learn basic “open chords.” These are chords like open C, G, A, and D. There is a joke that rock and roll songs in general follow the G-C-D chord progression. So once you learn how to play a few basic chords you will be able to bang out a decent rendition of hundreds of songs. There are several ways to do this. You can buy a book that shows you where to place your fingers on the strings to play certain chords. Or, you can ask a friend to show you how to play the basic chords. Once you learn these chords you are well on your way in your quest to learn to play guitar. You will be playing basic songs on your first day.
*Tip: If you like to be taught, try to get a friend to show you the basics. Sometimes this is the easiest way to learn.
Step 3: Many people these days, me included, learned to play guitar by looking at tablature of songs on the Internet. Tablature is very helpful because it shows you where to put your fingers to play the chords to a song, when to make chord changes, and where the words fall with the music. You can find tablature for tens of thousands of songs on the Internet to help you learn to play guitar. It is a great way for people who can’t read music to teach themselves to play. If you don’t have Internet access or it is otherwise inconvenient to look up “tabs” online, you can also buy books of tablature by your favorite artists. Download or play a CD of the song you want to learn and try to play along with it while looking at the tablature.
*Tip: Do a google search like this: “Tom Petty Freefalling tab” or “Red Hot Chili Peppers” tabs and you should get a bunch of sites to go check out.
Step 4: Learn to play barre chords. For me, this was the next step when I started to learn to play guitar. Barre chords are basically chord “shapes” that can be moved up and down the neck of the guitar. For example, the A shape and the E shape barre chords require the same fingering as the open A and open E chords, but you just need to hold down the open strings with your index finger. When you “barre” a chord with your index finger you are moving the top fret down in order to get in a different key. The best way to learn barre chords is by either using a book and practicing the shapes on your guitar and moving them up and down the neck. Another good way to learn is to look online at tabs of a song you know. Often the author of the tab will include a diagram of a barre chord used in the song.
*Tip: In the beginning, your hands will get cramps and your fingers will be sore, but your hands will soon get stronger and your fingers will develop calluses. It just takes time.
Step 5: Practice. Learning to play guitar can be very rewarding-if you put the time in. Practice playing songs that you like and listen to and it will be more fun. The best way to learn is to play songs, because with a recorded song you have a frame of reference to compare your playing to. And it will help you exponentially if you learn how to play the entire song, not just part of the song. Keep your guitar on a stand and easily accessible so that you can pick it up and practice fingering the fretboard anytime. Pick it up while you are watching TV and silently strum out some chords.
*Tip: Literally every second of practice time you put into playing the guitar will make you a better player. After a while, you will be able to effortlessly slide between chords and hit the right notes.
Learn to play guitar Step 6: Learn to finger pick. Some songs are entirely composed of finger picking. There are many different styles of finger picking. It takes some time to get comfortable with how your fingers are supposed to move, but once you get it down, its like clock-work and your fingers will almost pick by themselves. I recently found some videotaped lessons in fingerpicking on www.youtube.com. Search on the site under “guitar playing,” “finger picking guitar” or “learn to play guitar” and you should find some helpful videos that show you how songs are played. It is very helpful to actually see how a song is played.
*Tip: Practice makes perfect when you are learning to play guitar, or any instrument for that matter. Great songs to learn picking to are “The Boxer” by Paul Simon and “Cal fornication” by Red Hot Chili Peppers.
My last bit of advice: Learn to play guitar! You will not regret the time you spend on it.