Tips for Learning the Guitar on Your Own

So you want to play the guitar? Whether you want to be a rock god like Dave Navarro or just want to be a decent player to whip up a song during family reunions, learning to play the guitars is an admirable skill to have. But remember that no guitar player, great or not, was born knowing how to play. They too, started somewhere. And so can you.

Where to find your teacher

You can pay someone to teach you personally or you can learn on your own. Simply buy an instructional book or video and learn from them. You can even take lessons from online sites, where there hundreds of free or paid instructions. Whichever way you choose, all you’ll need is a lot of interest and patience. Ready? Here’s how to begin to play:

Get your own guitar.

You can always borrow, but if you’re serious about playing, might as well have your very own strings to practice on instead of sneaking in your brother’s room and using his precious instrument. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive guitar – as long as it’s durable and playable, you can learn with it.

Now whether you should use an acoustic or an electric is really a matter of personal choice and budget. Most purists would probably recommend you learn with an acoustic first and then progress to an electric guitar. Either way, make sure it’s a six-string guitar that’s well-tuned.

Know your guitar.

The guitar has several different parts. They are:

the head – which includes the tuning keys

fingerboard – includes the frets, fret bars and position marks

the body – includes the sound hole (with an acoustic), pick guard and bridge

So where are the strings? They start from the head tied tightly to the head and adjusted using the tuning keys. They run parallel to each other over the fingerboard and body where they are held in place by the bridge.

Learn how all the parts work by themselves and together to create the guitar sounds. See how pressing on the strings and adjusting the string tension with the tuning keys change the sounds and effects. Fifteen to 30 minutes spent getting acquainted with your guitar will prove very useful later on.

Get a chord book.

Buy a good chord book from your local music shop or bookstore. It will contain all the guitar chords you’ll need to play the instrument. You can even rip off a page from one of those music magazines that include a complete chord chart in their issues and use that instead. It will look strange to you at first, but as you learn, every little dot and letter you find there will slowly make sense.

Learn the numbers.

The thumb is labeled ‘T’, forefinger is #1, middle finger is #2, ring finger is #3 and little finger is #4. The chord book uses these figures to indicate finger positioning on the guitar. A played string is called an open string and is usually indicated by ‘O’ while an unplayed string is called a dead string and is usually marked ‘X’.

The six strings are numbered from 1 to 6 but they also have names – the thickest and lowest in pitch is ‘E’. The next ones are A, D, G, B and the thinnest one with the highest pitch is the higher E, usually indicated as a small letter ‘e’. Once you know these, you can start learning from your book, video, online lesson or on your own.


This isn’t the tricky part – it’s actually the fun part. Learning the guitar means practicing everyday or at least 5 days each week for at least 30 minutes. You’ll grow calluses on your fingers, especially on the fret hand, but this is necessary to help you play effortlessly. Learn about changing hand positions, strumming and finger picking.

Build the muscles of your hands for flexibility and strength and learn to position your body properly for proper coordination. Learning to play the guitar is about teaching your hand and body muscles how to work with memory. Have fun and play beautiful music.