Learning how to play your favourite guitar songs with two hands is not exactly easy, but of course, this is very common! And surely we all agree that to play basic guitar chords and scales, be those major, minor or pentatonic you need two hands!

As a new guitar player with enough motivation, it could only take a few months to have you playing easy guitar songs for beginners. Not only that but with enough time and practice, you could progress in your musical ability in no time. In no time at all, you could be navigating that fretboard and playing faster and faster.

You would really think that would be enough for most people?

To be able to play your favourite guitar songs for friends and family, or as a professional, must be an amazing feeling. But for some people that is really just not enough. You would be surprised to learn how many people actually ask their guitar teachers to teach them how to play with just one hand!

Of course, this raises other questions about guitar playing techniques and posture. The questions are endless:  how do I hold my guitar, what are the purpose of guitar picks, do I only need a guitar strap if performing standing up, where will I find easy songs to play on guitar?

When it comes to playing chords, of course, that is a whole other issue. But believe it or not, it is  definitely possible to master all kinds of chord combinations with only one hand. If you found the right guitar tutor, this is really something you could tick off your bucket list!

How to Hold a Guitar with One Hand

To learn how to play one-handed there are a few basic things you could implement.

Firstly, make sure you choose the easy songs to play on guitar! Next, you need something that gives your guitar stability. This could be your knees, or this could actually be your guitar strap!

There’s actually a handy guitarist’s accessory that is called a bottleneck. It’s a small glass or metal tube worn around one of the fingers of a guitarist's left hand (presuming they are right-handed). Not only does it make a certain metallic sound, but it could also act as a support if you are not using the guitar strap. Blues and country guitar players are fond of this little bottleneck gadget.

If you would like to try this sort of technique, just keep an eye on your posture. In fact, whether you are playing with one or two hands, you should always keep an eye on your posture. The idea is to keep your back straight, perpendicular to the stool on which you are sitting. Also, make sure you always keep the guitar flat and close to your body.

Using Guitar Picks to Play with One Hand

guitarist playing white guitar with guitar picks
Using guitar picks can make learning to play guitar even easier. | Source: Unsplash

For many beginners, easy songs to play on guitar are made even easier when they use guitar picks.

This is because it helps them to distinguish the notes they are playing. So unless you are into fingerpicking, guitar picks are necessary, even though accomplished players can certainly do both.

So, what are guitar picks? Guitar picks are triangular in shape and are useful in plucking individual notes or to strum a chord (when your guitar is actually tuned).

As an accessory, guitar picks are essential but they are cheap and easily available online or at any music store. To use it, pinch it between your index finger and thumb and keep your fist loose. The secret to holding guitar picks is it hold them perpendicular to the strings and leave about half a centimetre for your strumming action.

Alternate Picking

Another way to practice learning how to play the guitar with one hand is to use what is called the back and forth technique which is also known as alternate picking and used in many different styles of music.

To do this, you play the strings without holding any of them down. The method is simple – using one of your guitar picks, you hit the strings from above and then change the action to hit them from below. It may sound simple, but actually this exercise requires much practice, wrist flexibility, and attention to the sound that is made by each individual string.

guitar on bed
Find a teacher to help you perfect the one-handed guitar playing technique. | Source: Unsplash | Source: Unsplash

Using guitar picks to practice this technique will increase your precision and fluidity, just remember when doing this, to always choose easy guitar songs for beginners.

The String Skipping, One-Handed Technique

It’s totally possible to create a different guitar sound even when you are playing with one hand. Once again, this is achieved by using one of your guitar picks in the back and forth technique. Basically, you skip some of the strings with as much precision as you can. This technique will increase your ability to comfortably transition between strings – especially when the strings you are aiming for are not next to each other.

It may sound simple, but it’s an exercise that takes much dexterity.

Use your guitar strap to stabilise everything so that you can concentrate on skipping strings with only one hand!

Other Tips for Alternate Picking

There’s actually quite a lot more to the back and forth technique, so choose some guitar songs that are easy to play and practice these tips:

  • Be mindful that it is all about the back and forth; one stroke down, one stroke up.
  • Start slowly and only increase the tempo as you become more comfortable.
  • Try a few consecutive downward strokes and then a few consecutive upward strokes.
  • Make sure your guitar picks are more than 3mm in thickness.
  • Always use your wrist and not your elbow to control your guitar picks.
  • Use a metronome to help you practice your strumming rhythm, if possible.

All of these tips and more are actually exercises that you can expect to get from a guitar teacher. In fact, if you are serious about learning how to play your favourite guitar songs, whether that’s just for a special occasion or whether you want to call yourself a guitar player, finding a guitar tutor is highly recommended.

In South Africa, there are hundreds of good guitar teachers who are willing to teach using easy songs to play on guitar, it’s just a matter of finding the right one. You could try a platform like Superprof and search for a guitar tutor by location. Face-to-face lessons are always fantastic but you could even find a tutor from further away and do online guitar lessons.

Make sure that before you commit to lessons with your guitar teacher that they know of your wish to know how to play the guitar with one hand!

Playing One-Handed Legato   

We’ll say it again, when it comes to the more ambitious techniques, choose easy guitar songs!

A great example of this is ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC where Angus Young seems to be using one hand to slide across his guitar.

person playing guitar one-handed
Choose songs that are easy to play on guitar. | Source: Unsplash

This amazing technique, where notes seem to flow through the air, is called the legato. Technically, it’s actually a combination of two other techniques, the pull-off, and the hammer. The legato, which means ‘bound’ in Italian produces a very melodic and fluid sound, not dissimilar to sound made by a saxophone.

Some of the famous guitarists who use this technique include Joe Satriani, Shawn Lane who played with the Eagles, and of course Dweezil Zappa.

The One-Handed Touch Technique

To learn this technique, which is mostly played with both hands using easy guitar songs for beginners, connect an electric guitar to an amp to achieve some distortion. Hammer the strings with your right hand. This kind of tapping achieves fast melodic lines and allows you to play further up the neck to reach those high notes.

Tapping with One Hand

This is a great exercise, but once again choose guitar songs that you won’t get tired of, but that are known to be easy guitar songs for beginners!

Touch a string with your middle or index finger. Using guitar picks, as a rule, is not essential, though certain pieces alternate phrasing and tapping. If so, tap with your middle finger, keeping your pick between your forefinger and thumb.

Both precious and force will make a sound. When releasing pressure off the string, be sure to give a little downward or upward pressure. This produces a nice, saturated sound. The key to this one-handed tapping is to place your palm on the strings to create an even sharper sound. This way, you will prevent the vibration of the other strings and avoid unwanted secondary sounds.

If you want to hear this technique in action listen to Eddie van Halen playing the song ‘Eruption’ or some of the music by Joe Satriani or Jennifer Batton.

Finally, as you can tell, there are some challenging techniques to playing the guitar one-handed. Choose some easy songs to play on guitar, make sure you have a guitar strap, a good tutor and a few guitar picks and you will be on the road to one-handed guitar playing before you even know it!

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Niki is a content writer from Cape Town, South Africa, who is passionate about words, strategic communication and using words to help create and maintain brand personas. Niki has a PR and marketing background, but her happiest place is when she is bringing a story to life on a page.