Your first step to learning how to play the guitar is to actually own one right?

You might already have a Fender, Gibson Les Paul, Cort, Epipone, Jumbo, Telecaster, Stratocaster, Yamaha - or any others. Your guitar options are extensive - however, even for the best guitar players, learning is not always easy!

One of the reasons that even skilled guitar players once took lessons, is because apart from being able to follow a metronome to stay in tune, guitar lessons will also teach you basic techniques, as well as teach you how to tune your guitar and of course read music.

As a beginner, there is much to wrap one’s head around before your guitar music actually begins to sound like something. But don’t let that put you off your journey to becoming even an ultimate guitar player which should be really fun.

In your lessons, expect to learn things like scales, melody playing, chords, and notation. In fact, all of these basics are actually essential elements for learning just about any other instrument, whether that’s the flute, bass, or piano.

So grab your amp, your electric guitar, and your tuner, it’s time to be inspired about how to make great guitar music!

guitarist playing electric guitar at concert
Even skilled guitarists will have taken lessons at some stage. | Source: Unsplash

Playing guitar music, whether that’s acoustic, bass or electric guitar means practice and motivation. Of course, it is also really helpful to have a guitar teacher. There are so many ways to find a guitar teacher that suits you, one of them that could really be useful in South Africa is checking out the Superprof website which is host to guitar teachers from all over the country. You could search by location and even find one near your suburb, alternatively, you could opt for online lessons if you have a reliable internet connection and webcam.

When it comes to making great guitar music, there are many techniques to achieve different sounds with the same music. The same guitar notes can actually sound completely different depending on how you decide to play them! You could play the same song on an acoustic or electric guitar, depending on whether you would like to give it a heavy metal, jazz, blues, or rock sound.

Having a tutor to help you actually study guitar methods and teach you sheet music, is one of the best ways to begin your journey to becoming an ultimate guitar player!

Don't fret if you haven't mastered the art of playing the guitar one-handed after only a few lessons. Remember that musical progress takes time, so commit to the process and have patience.

Whether you want to become one of the best guitar players in the world, or whether you just want to feel proficient playing your electric guitar at home, it takes time and practice to learn techniques that you will eventually not even need to think about!

Making guitar music is one of the most rewarding and enjoyable skills one could have, so start somewhere, and who knows, you could be the next Bob Dylan or Ben Howard!

The Beginner’s Guide to Playing Guitar Music

One of the first techniques your guitar teacher will take you through is the alternate picking technique.  You will need a few important accessories to get this one, and a few other techniques, right.

Your first step when it comes to equipment is obviously the guitar itself!

Choosing the right guitar is so important, so take your time, do your research and talk to people who can really advise you.

Firstly, consider what type of guitar music you want to play. If you are into folk music and aim to sing while strumming your guitar, don’t be led astray by the sleek beauty of an electric guitar! If you are already talking to a potential guitar tutor, they will definitely be able to help you. Alternatively, visit your local music shop and have a chat with the staff, you’ll probably find that they will be as excited as you are about beginning your guitar lessons.

Did you know that the guitar as an instrument has evolved over time?

In fact, the overall construction of the guitar that you end up choosing is going to play a huge role in the guitar notes that you achieve.

wall-mounted electric guitars
Learning to tune your electric guitar is an important part of your music education. | Source: Unsplash

For instance, the electric guitar is made mostly of steel which is very different to the wooden classic guitar with its nylon strings which typically produces those soft, relaxing, melodic guitar notes.

When it comes to strings, these are also important for learning fingerpicking and strumming techniques. As a beginner player, you must learn how to tune your guitar and play with guitar picks, the small triangular bits of plastic used to strum correctly. These are skills that even the best guitar players in the world still use!

Chords and Power Chord Techniques for Beginner Rhythm Guitar Players

One of the first techniques you will need to master in learning how to make guitar music, is finding your way around chords. Whether you are learning to play jazz, classical, or the electric guitar, the chords, which are the different guitar notes played together, are going to be one of your most basic tools.

When it comes to guitar chords, they usually take the first, then the third, then the fifth note of any scale. Therefore, with any major scale – take C major scale, for instance, you could have C, E and G. And with a G chord, you could have G, B, and D.

The chord shapes for guitar music are not as easy to navigate as they are on a piano for instance. This is mainly due to where the notes are placed on the frets and the strings. This is why pop and rock music guitarists use what is called the power chord. This is using the first and fifth note of any scale. It means putting your finger on the top string’s first fret and then placing your third finger on the string below its third fret. This is the shape of a power chord and it’s easy moved on the fretboard.

If all of this sounds daunting and you are thinking you will never become the ultimate guitar player of your dreams, do not worry. The right tutor will take you through all these important aspects needed to make fantastic guitar music.

Alternate Picking Techniques for Beginners

One of the first techniques you will learn is actually the most prevalent in guitar playing, so whether you are a beginner, or whether you are one of the best guitar players in the world, learning the alternate picking technique is a step you will not want to skip!

To do this, take one of your guitar picks in your right hand (that’s if you are right-handed). Don’t worry about your left hand at this stage. Then, picking a string, just move it away from the fretboard. It’s a good idea to start with the highest-pitched string, which will be the lowest one. Make a downward stroke and then one upward stroke! Keep on doing this. Down then up, down then up, down then up.

This technique is actually as simple as it seems, but do take your time as regularly practicing this exercise will teach you to learn the reflex. Once you have mastered this on an open string, your teacher will help you to add a finger from your left hand.

If you are into learning the electric guitar, take special note, as this alternate picking technique has important roots in electric guitar playing!

When performing this movement, it’s important that the movement comes from your wrist and not your fingers or elbow. If it seems tricky at first, don’t worry, keep practicing, even just for a few minutes every day, until it starts to feel really natural and you won’t have to think about it. You'll eventually be performing this technique with speed.

wooden electric guitar with white accents
Over time you'll start inventing your own guitar techniques. | Source: Unsplash

Even the best guitar players in the world actually practice this daily as a kind of a warm-up as it helps to avoid tendinitis.

Another tip for alternate picking is to avoid using very thick guitar picks. Choose one that is under one millimetre if possible. Especially on an electric guitar, it really helps to strum the strings without the movement becoming stiff.

Remember that you have the option of using a metronome too, to help you practice your rhythm.

If you don’t have a guitar tutor yet, you could check out some of the tutorials on YouTube which will provide a great introduction to these techniques so that by the time you get to your private guitar lessons you are already orientated!

How to Play Legato with Your Left Hand

So you have mastered the alternate picking technique, what’s next? Have you ever heard of Legato? This sounds daunting, but actually it’s something that is easily mastered by beginners and continued by ultimate guitar players throughout their careers!

Legato is wonderful because it allows you to play in any one of your preferred styles! To do this, you simply take one of your guitar picks and play one note. The other notes will ring through your left hand. Now, you have two options, either do a hammer-on or a pull-off!

To do the hammer-on, hit the strings on the neck, with your left hand! But for a pull-off, you also use the left hand but ease up on the plucked string with either a downward or upward stroke.

It’s important that all of these guitar notes have the same intensity and duration.

To really produce a fantastic overall sound, simply block the notes you are not playing using the palm of your hand that is nearest to the bridge.

When it comes to producing rock and metal guitar notes, these are the techniques that you will use to achieve those licks and guitar solos. Remember that if you are going to make guitar music through an amplifier, you don’t have to pick up every note. This will help you to achieve a staccato tone.

amp next to man playing electric guitar
You will learn about chords, scales, melodies, and music notation in your electric guitar lessons. | Source: Unsplash

Next time you are enjoying the sound of smoothly played, solo guitar music, you can be sure that the player is using the legato!

Sweep Picking to Achieve More Advanced Guitar Music

Once you have mastered using your guitar picks, you could move onto the sweep picking technique – and this is one that applies when creating guitar music for all genres, whether that’s folk, metal, jazz, or pop!

This technique is really useful for playing arpeggios. This is when you play several guitar notes by sweeping several strings with your pick. The movement could be ascending or descending and this is how those beautiful guitar licks are produced. This is actually something that every ultimate guitar player needs to master.

To achieve sweep picking, you will need to have progressed in your lessons to some point. Firstly, you should be able to play in a coordinated way without making interfering noises that could spoil your guitar notes. Using your palm can muffle strings once they are played, and this will cancel out that unwanted vibration. Learning arpeggio is one of the most exciting ways to take your guitar music to another level!

The angle of your pick when playing arpeggio is important, and each string is played one at a time. By now your hands already possess good reflexes, so mastering this technique should be relatively easy.

The Best Guitar Players Have their Own Techniques

These are just a few of the basic techniques that you can expect to learn in your guitar lessons for beginners, but as you progress, remember that the best guitar players actually invent their own techniques and this is true creativity. This is how you would use guitar music to become a songwriter!

Whether you have chosen to express your musical journey using an acoustic or electric guitar, you could combine your guitar notes to literally create music that is completely original to any other musician, even the most ultimate guitar player that you know.

So be inspired by your idols and then be inventive, you never know where it could lead you!

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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.