Your time has finally come!

You’re inspired, yearning, craving to master the art of playing the guitar, yet a part of you keeps asking whether your longing to learn to play this popular instrument is going to last.

And then, you remember the many hours you’ve spent in guitar stores admiring the beautiful stringed instruments lining the walls. And the recollections of you playing air guitar while watching online clips of guitar legends like Prince, and local heroes like Vusi Mahlasela and Dan Patlansky always bring a smile to your face.

If it is your dream to play like a pro, but you don’t know where to find help and how to start to learn guitar, we’re here to guide you.

Some Important Considerations before You Start Playing the Guitar

It is always a good idea to do some research before signing up for guitar lessons. This way, you’ll get a better idea of the music style you’re going to play, and your findings might even nudge you in the right direction when selecting a suitable guitar.

What Style of Guitar Do You Want to Play?

While there is nothing wrong with gearing up before starting your lessons, it is always a good idea to seek some advice from a professional. This way, you’ll avoid having buyer’s remorse in the long run. An accomplished guitarist will also be able to give you tips on how to tune a guitar.

Electric guitar close up
Think about your long-term goals before you start your lessons. ⎢Source: Unsplash

Why the guitar? Do you want to play some of the hits of your idols? Or would you like to master some basic chords and techniques to ultimately sing and play along to your own songs? Are there particular licks or strumming patterns you would like to learn?

And, from a technical perspective, what style would you like to play? There are many options to consider, like blues, classical, pop, country and hard rock.

Once you have clarity on these points, you will be able to find a guitar that's right for you and make further choices to steer you in the right direction.

Guitar Choices for Beginners

It is better to go guitar shopping once you have decided on the music style you would like to pursue.

guitars mounted on wall
Find your musical style before buying your first guitar. ⎢Source: Unsplash

You’ll have three kinds of guitars to choose from: acoustic, classical (also referred to as “dry”) and electric.

No serious, aspiring guitar player would opt for a classical guitar when he really wants to be able to strum an electric guitar like Mark Knopfler. Informed choices will save you lots of energy, time and money.

Finding Guitar Lessons for Beginners

If you’re a complete novice, signing up for guitar lessons is definitely the way to go. After all, you won’t be taken seriously if can’t distinguish your majors from your minors. You’ll want to get a grasp on basic principles of rhythm, solfeggio and scales before hitting the stage.

So what are your options? You could always try an academy, which is likely to follow an academic approach. And there are of course schools where qualified teachers or instructors follow specific methodologies. Or you could ask around in your local community to find out whether there are any workshops, associations or clubs that support aspiring musicians.

guitar propped up againt cushion
An independent guitar teacher could teach you in the comfort of your home. ⎢Source: Unsplash

If you can't find anything that works for you, an independent music teacher might be able to help. Many teachers are happy to do house calls and tailor their lessons according to students’ requirements. A private teacher would also be happy to help you find an inexpensive, but good value for money guitar to start your lessons with.

Different Techniques to Play with Your Right Hand

There are many techniques to master – particularly if you're a right-handed player. Below are just a few of the techniques you may be exposed to:


With plucking, four of your fingers - the ring finger, middle finger, forefinger and thumb - do all the work. These fingers can pluck more than one string at a time. Guitarists play arpeggios using this technique.


An arpeggio basically is a broken chord, where each of the notes is played individually or simultaneously in a sequence that resembles a scale.


Golpe takes a different spin on plucking, with the fingers moving to rest on the next string after plucking. This way, guitar players manage to turn up the volume of the notes they are playing. Flamenco players are known for applying golpe in their music.

hands playing guitar
After a few guitar lessons, you'll quickly find your preferred style. ⎢Source: Unsplash


This method entails tweaking the strings with a right-hand finger.

You're likely to hear picking in country or blues music from North America. A plectrum makes this technique more comfortable and enhances rhythm and sound.


One of the most common techniques in guitar-playing is strumming. Using sweeping motions, the guitarist plays strings of a chord rhythmically with quick, up and down strokes.

It is easy to form a melody with strumming, and by far the easiest way to play the guitar, especially at volume or as accompaniment.

Back and Forth

Guitar players employ the back and forth technique by using a plectrum with upward and downward strokes. This causes the strings to vibrate and brings out a very distinct sound.

guitar and amplifier
Setting an electric guitar up correctly is essential for a successful learning experience. ⎢Source: Unsplash

You’re likely to hear lots of back and forth with electric guitars.

Working the Strings with Your Fingers

There are three clear-cut ways to make music with a guitar: You can play the strings with your fingers, nails or a plectrum.

It is up to you to figure out what works best for you, especially once you have more insight into the degree of your ability, your style and your level of playing. And the beauty of it all is that you’ll produce different sounds with different techniques.  Ultimately your choice of style comes down to a matter of taste.

Finger Placement and Movement for Learning Guitar

If you don’t like using plectrums, you can play the guitar by using your forefinger and thumb together.

Your index fingernail will do the picking when motioning downwards, and the thumb fingernail will stroke over them when motioning upwards.

Mastering this technique is not all that easy, and is entirely dependent on a flexible wrist and control over your movements. Movements should originate from the wrist, not the arm. But, be warned, this technique usually results in calluses on your fingers.

Tips for Playing Guitar with Your Right Hand

Fingernails always seem to be a focal point with guitar players. It is interesting to note that the length of the players' nails does not really matter – but it is crucial to maintain the same nail length. As you position your hand on the strings, turn it until your index finger touches the strings and avoid having your thumb touching them.

There is also no need to raise your wrist, you simply need to maintain the back of your hand at the same level as your forearm, and use your wrist for the movements.

Playing Guitar with Your Nails

The length of the other hand's nails does not really matter, but if they are very long, they might get in the way when holding down a string. You will also need to avoid scratching the strings, and remember to keep your instrument tuned.

If you’re playing with your right hand, you can have clipped, short or long nails. You will be using your right hand for playing notes and causing them to vibrate. Your preferred nail length will not impact on the sound of your instrument.

guitarist strumming
Will you use a plectrum or your nails? ⎢Source: Unsplash

For Manicured Nails

If you have manicured nails, they won't necessarily affect your guitar sound. You can consider playing with your fingertips, or a plectrum if you would like to achieve a softer sound.

For Long Nails

Long nails are particularly handy for helping you achieve a sharper sound. You can do this by using them for plucking the stings in combination with your fingertips – a style that's quite common with flamenco and classical guitarists. The sound is very distinct. However, there is a catch: You will have to cut and file your nails regularly.

Playing Guitar with a Plectrum

You can hold your plectrum whichever way you like, starting between your index finger and thumb. Just remember that getting the movement right is not that easy and perfecting it requires some practice.

You will also need to focus on precision and rhythms while staying flexible. If you would like a clearer sound, strike the strings with some force: it just might do the trick.

guitar close up
Strumming is one of the easiest ways to play the guitar. ⎢ Source: Unsplash

Relaxing the Wrist

Playing with a plectrum is very dependent on the wrist. The rest of your forearm or elbow should not be moving, you should only be using your wrist.

Tips for Playing Guitar with a Plectrum

Avoid raising your hand.

Soften your wrist; this is crucial for effective use of the plectrum.

Concentrate on symmetry with your movements.

You can reduce the volume by tilting your plectrum.

Start slowly, and then gradually up your tempo.

If you have a tendency to strain your neck, you can use a mirror to see your movement better and correct your errors.

guitar and notebook
Keep practising outside of lessons in order to perfect your technique. ⎢Source: Unsplash

There’s no time to waste, connect with your ideal guitar teacher today, and start strumming those beautiful chords.

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A South African in France who loves to travel and discover new cultures, is passionate about photography, and who is happiest near the ocean.