Kim's Easy Guitar Tutorial
With the overwhelming amount of information published about playing the guitar today, it may seem difficult to know where to start. The beginning is often a good place!
This tutorial uses a “teach yourself" method which assumes you’re a complete beginner with no prior experience playing the guitar. It’s written in simple language with easy instructions to guide you carefully through a series of structured lessons in a logical sequence using a tried and tested lesson plan - with the emphasis on PLAYING the guitar.
Each lesson builds on the previous one, so for best results, start at the beginning and work your way slowly through each page. It doesn't matter if it takes a week to master each example - enjoy the ride! Any terms you don't understand just look up the glossary at the end for an explanation. Forgotten some of the chords? No problem - check out the chords page for a refresher.
For turbocharged results and a more enjoyable learning experience try "Kim's Easy Guitar Tutorial (with Audio)". It's exactly the same as this tutorial plus audio samples embedded right next to each exercise so you can listen and play along making you better, faster! More info here.
Let’s get started…
Buying A Guitar
So you've been thinking of learning how to play the guitar for quite a while and finally decided to take the first step? Great, now you're totally confused about which guitar to buy? If you take the time to become a guitar player it's quite likely that you'll own many guitars over a period of time, so don't lose sleep over which one to buy first - just go out and get one! Here are a few things to think about: What style of music do you like? How much can you afford? Most styles of guitar music can be played on acoustic nylon string, acoustic steel string or electric guitar in the initial stages of learning, but as you develop you'll find it's easier to play on the guitar which is particularly suited to the style of music you are playing.
Nylon String Guitars
Acoustic nylon string guitars are very popular for beginners because they're affordable, have a softer more forgiving sound and are gentler on your fingers. The lower budget models are usually fine to play up to the first four or five frets which will get you through this beginners tutorial no problem. As you progress past that point though I'd suggest spending a bit more and maybe getting an acoustic steel string or electric guitar (unless you're planning on learning classical or flamenco guitar which the high end nylon string guitars are built for).
Steel String Guitars
Steel string acoustic guitars are commonly used for acoustic rock, folk, blues, country, and popular styles. These guitars usually have a truss rod adjustment (to bend the neck concave or convex) so you can adjust the height of the strings above the fret-board. This makes it easier to play further along the neck of the guitar and potentially allowing you play better. These guitars are also quite affordable however you'll get a much better instrument if you spend a bit more and buy one with a solid top. A solid top means the front of the guitar body is made from a single thickness of wood rather than composite or plywood.
Electric guitars are used for rock, blues, heavy metal, country and popular styles of music. They are quite versatile because you can select different sounds from your amplifier and effects pedals. There is also more adjustment possible with the neck and hardware to get the guitar to feel just right for each individual player. The guitar itself will cost no more than an acoustic steel string of the same quality; however you'll need to buy a guitar amplifier to hear what you are playing of course!
Quite often a second hand instrument will be as good as or even better than a new one, however unless you know what you’re looking for you may end up wasting your money. There's more to a guitar than choosing the right colour! My advice would be to buy new, or if you decide to go second-hand, take someone with you who knows something about guitars.
Which one to buy?
Once you've weighed the pros and cons of each type of instrument, spend as much as you can afford. You'll play better and develop quicker on a good quality instrument. If budget is an issue please don’t buy the bottom of the range. These guitars will usually have problems with bad workmanship. Instead, spend a little more and buy the next model up. Talk to the salesman at your local music store. They are musicians themselves and will help you to understand the pros and cons of each instrument. They'll also be able to take into consideration the size of your hands. When you've got yourself a guitar go to the next lesson and I'll show you how to play it!
Starting To Play
OK, you’ve bought yourself a guitar, or borrowed one from a friend. How do you make it sound like your guitar hero? Simple - just take one step at a time, working through this tutorial slowly and methodically. If there's something you don't understand look up the glossary for some help.
Holding the Acoustic Guitar
Firstly, you'll need to find yourself a comfortable chair with no armrests, in which you can sit as upright as possible. (Beanbags or edge of beds are not recommended). Sit so the waist of the guitar rests comfortably in your lap on top of your right leg. For left hand guitars just do the mirror image (your left leg). Your right hand should be positioned over the sound hole so that the crook in your arm rests on the front edge of the guitar. For the moment, just use your left hand to support the neck of the instrument.
Holding the Electric Guitar
The playing position for electric guitar is almost the same as acoustic, except instead of positioning your right hand over the sound hole, position it over the pickups. The crook in your right arm might not sit comfortably on the front edge like it will on an acoustic guitar, so just rest your forearm against the body of the guitar without slouching.
If you want to stand up with your guitar I'd suggest setting the strap so the guitar hangs at the same height as it would when you are sitting down. This might not look as cool as your guitar heroes, but it's much easier to play.
Making a Sound
Your right hand is used to strike the strings of the guitar, while your left hand selects what notes to play on the fret board. Depending on the style of music you’re playing, you might hold a plectrum (or pick) with your right hand to strike the strings or you might use your fingers. I would suggest using a pick for now as this makes the guitar louder and clearer. See the diagram which shows the correct way to hold a plectrum (pick).
If the pick just doesn't feel natural to you then forget it for now and go with bare fingers on your picking hand. There are many ways to play the guitar and each has it's merits.
Exercise 1 (listen here)
Now try strumming (striking the strings from top to bottom smoothly) with your plectrum (or fingers) on your right hand over the sound hole (or pickups if you're using an electric guitar). Make sure your left hand isn't touching against any of the strings.
Click on the link above to listen to Exercise 1 audio track. If your strum doesn't sound like mine don't worry. I haven't told you how to tune up your guitar yet.
You can also pick individual strings with your plectrum one at a time. First we'll clarify a few things. Your left hand fingers are numbered 1 to 4 starting from your index finger, the strings are numbered 1 to 6 from bottom to top, and the frets are numbered from 1 to about 19, 20 or more - depending on the type of guitar you have. Take a look at the diagram below.
Your left hand is used to change the pitch of the strings by fretting (putting your finger next to a fret) the strings. Place the tip of your 1st finger left hand next to the 1st fret on the 1st string. Now pick the 1st string with the pick in your right hand.
Listen to Exercise 2 audio track to get an idea of the sound. Does your guitar sound the same? Maybe, maybe not!
Maybe you're getting a slight buzzing sound instead of the clear sound on the audio track? Look at your left hand 1st finger. Make sure it's right next to the fret on the side closest to the machine heads (tuning keys), and standing upright, bent at the knuckle closest to your fingertip - now try again. It still may not sound identical because your guitar isn't tuned up yet, so don't worry, we'll do that in the next lesson.
Now take your 1st finger off the fret-board and experiment with your other left hand fingers. Try fretting your 2nd finger on one of the strings on another part of the fret board and listen to what it sounds like.
Do the same thing with all your left hand fingers until you can get a clear sound with no buzzing. Once again make sure your finger is next to the fret on the side closest the machine heads (tuning keys) and standing upright, bent at the knuckle closest to your fingertip.
Now that you can get a sound out of your guitar and know how to fret a note, go to the next lesson and I'll show you how to tune your guitar.
Tuning Your Guitar
If you're just starting out, this lesson may be quite a challenge for a while - so feel free to get a friend to tune your guitar for you and skip this lesson until later if you like. Be sure to come back though. Alternatively you can use an electronic tuner or download a tuning app. If you're feeling brave and keen to give this a go then read on...
Tuning the guitar can be more frustrating for the beginning guitarist than actually playing a song. However it's very important that the instrument is in tune before you play it. There are a few different approaches to tuning but the one I'll talk about is called relative tuning. It involves tuning the 6th string to a reference note, then tuning the rest of the strings from the guitar itself.
Pick the open 6th string on your guitar and listen to the sound it makes. (An open string means no notes are fretted with your left hand). Now listen to Exercise 3 audio track. Does your string sound the same? Probably not! Can you tell whether the pitch of your string is sharp (higher) or flat (lower) compared to the one on the audio track?
If your string sounds lower than the one on the audio track then turn the machine head (tuning key) for the 6th string anti-clockwise, so that when you pick the string again it sounds slightly higher in pitch than it did before. Always pick the string with your right hand as you adjust the machine head with your left hand - so you can hear the pitch change as you make the adjustment. You might be turning the wrong way!
Listen to the audio track again, and repeat the process until you think your 6th string tone matches the audio track 6th string tone. If your string sounds higher in pitch than the one on the audio track then adjust the machine head for that string clockwise so it lowers in pitch. Don't forget - always pick the string as you turn the machine head - so you can listen to adjustment as you make it.
Now you've got over the first hurdle let's tune the 5th string. Instead of taking a reference note from the audio track, we'll take it from the guitar itself. Fret the 5th fret of the 6th string (see the diagram below). Pick the string and listen to the sound it makes.
Now pick the open 5th string and listen to it. It should sound the same as the 5th fret 6th string above. If they’re not the same adjust the machine head for the 5th string until they have the same pitch. Don't accidentally adjust the machine head for the 6th string again – you’ve already got that one in tune!
Once your 5th string is in tune repeat the process tuning the open 4th string off the 5th fret 5th string (see the diagram above), then the open 3rd string off the 5th fret 4th string. Now stop!
The open 2nd string is tuned off the 4th fret 3rd string (look carefully at the diagram) just to make things more confusing, and the last one (the open 1st string) is tuned off the 5th fret again on the 2nd string.
Well done – this may have been the hardest part of the tutorial!
Exercise 4 (listen here)
If you've got through that lot without pulling your hair out you can check each string tone one at a time against the ones on the Exercise 4 audio track. You might ask - why didn't we just do that in the first place? - Because it’s important for you to learn to tune up the guitar with no assistance.
I mentioned earlier there are other ways to tune up a guitar but we'll leave those until later. I'd suggest starting at this lesson every time you begin a practice session until you've got the hang of it. If you think your guitar is in tune go to the next lesson. If it’s not in tune, or you’re not sure, take your guitar to a friend who knows how to tune it up, or to a music store, or something - you'll find a way!
Your First Chords
Up until this point in the tutorial we've only played single notes on the guitar at any one time, however most guitar pieces involve playing more than one note simultaneously. This is called a chord. Don't worry, the first chord is easy, just two fingers on your left hand is all you need.
Exercise 5 (listen here)
The illustration below is called a chord diagram or chord window. It represents the guitar fret-board as if your guitar was standing upright on a stand or against the wall (with the headstock on top and the body below). The horizontal lines show the frets numbered 1 to 4 from top to bottom, and the vertical lines are the strings numbered 6 through to 1 from left to right. The black dots show where your fingers are placed and the white dots are the open strings that will sound when you strum the chord with your right hand. This chord diagram has the 1st and 2nd fingers of your left hand holding down the chord called E minor (abbreviated to Em).
Place the tip of the 1st finger of your left hand next to the 2nd fret of the 5th string. Now place the tip of your 2nd finger next to the 2nd fret of the 4th string. Bring your 2nd finger as close to the fret as possible without actually being on top of it. Your 1st finger should rest right next to your 2nd finger (just like on the diagram). Try to support the back of the guitar neck with your thumb directly behind your fingers. Only the tips of your 1st and 2nd fingers and your thumb should be touching the neck of the guitar.
Now strum slowly down all the strings of the guitar using the plectrum in your right hand. (Remember the very first sound we made on the guitar was a strum). Listen to Exercise 5 audio track. Don't worry if your chord doesn't sound exactly like mine, we'll find out why in a moment.
If you’re getting a buzzing sound on any of the strings it's probably because your left hand fingers are either not close enough to the frets or not held down hard enough.
If some of the strings sound muffled you're probably not standing your fingers upright enough and they may be interfering with adjacent strings. If this is the case re-position your fingers and then try another strum. Pretty soon you'll have it sounding nice.
Exercise 6 (listen here)
The next chord we'll play is called A minor (written Am). This time you'll use three fingers on your left hand. Notice that the 2nd finger is in the same position for both the Em and the Am chords. Check out the chord window and see if you can find the notes and try to play it.
After you've tried the Am chord a few times hold down the Em chord (the 1st chord you learned) again, then to change to Am like this...
Move your first finger down next to the 1st fret on the 2nd string whilst keeping your 2nd finger in position on the 2nd fret 4th string (as mentioned above – it’s common to both chords) then bring your 3rd finger next to the 2nd fret on the 3rd string. You might have to re-position your 2nd finger just a bit to accommodate your 3rd finger.
When you're ready give it a strum. Listen to the audio Exercise 6 audio track. If you're not happy with your sound then adjust your fingering like you did with Em. The most common reasons why your sound might not be clear are either your fingers are not close enough to the frets or not standing upright enough.
You'll also notice that when playing a chord, not all fingers holding down the chord will sit right next to the frets. This is OK and due to the shape of our hands. On the Em only the 2nd finger will rest against the fret and on the Am only your 1st and 3rd fingers will do the same.
Practice changing between the two chords you've just learned. Each time give the guitar a strum and pretty soon you'll be familiar with the sound of each one.
In the next lesson you'll learn how to use these chords in a chord progression which is the basis for a song accompaniment.
Playing A Chord Progression
A chord progression is a sequence in which a group of chords are played in a song or a piece of music. It can be expressed in words or written down on a chord chart.
Exercise 7 (listen here)
The chord chart below is read from left to right. It shows an Em chord played with four down strums (the arrows pointing down), then an Am chord with four down strums. Listen to Exercise 7 audio track then try it yourself.
Obviously most chord progressions last longer than this one. Whoever heard of a ten second song? Most chord charts are written over more than one line and are read left to right, top to bottom like a book. They are divided up into smaller segments of time called bars, and each bar is divided up into still smaller pieces called beats (rhythmic pulses). The end of each bar is shown by vertical line called a bar line. At the start of the progression there is a time signature which contains timing information for the subsequent bars.
Exercise 8 (listen here)
The chord chart below has a time signature at the start which looks like the fraction of four quarters. In fact it can be interpreted as that in this instance. The top number represents the number of beats within each bar in the progression, and the bottom number represents the length of each beat. At the moment we're only really interested in the top number which tells there are four beats in each bar. This is called four/four time.
In the example above an Em chord is played with a down stroke on each beat for 2 bars then an Am chord for another 2 bars. The second line is just a repetition of the first line. Listen to Exercise 8 audio track and see if you can follow each strum visually on the chord chart (without playing your guitar). You should be able to see and hear the chord changes. You'll notice four clicks on the audio before the first chord comes in. This is called the count in. Now try to play the progression yourself. You may be having a little difficulty changing smoothly between the two chords at the moment so we'll work at that.
Count 1, 2, 3, 4 (count yourself in) then continue playing the rhythm (down strokes with your right hand) while holding down the 1st chord. When it's time to change to the 2nd chord continue to strum in time with your right hand even if your left hand isn't all the way onto the 2nd chord. If you stop the rhythm with your right hand before the new chord is held down then try the whole process again until you can keep perpetual motion with your right hand whilst changing the chord with your left hand. It doesn't matter if the new chord is not sounding perfect on the first beat of the bar. With a bit of practice it will.
If you're new to these chords I’d suggest practicing the last exercise quite a few times over the next few days before you move on. Remember it's the actual time spent on the instrument which improves your skill. When you think you're ready have a look at the next lesson.
As I mentioned in the last lesson, the rhythm of the music is played with your right hand. In the case of the last exercise we played a down stroke on each beat of the bar. We’ll now spice things up a bit and alter the rhythm by including some up strokes as well as down strokes.
Exercise 9 (listen here)
An up stroke (up strum) is made by striking the strings from bottom to top with the plectrum in your right hand. It shouldn't sound as dominant as a down stroke, so instead of strumming across all the strings from bottom to top, just catch the bottom two or three. The diagram below shows an Em chord played with consecutive down up strokes. The up strokes are written as up arrows. When we count the rhythm we use the word "and" for the up stroke, so this would be counted 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & etc.
Listen to Exercise 9 audio track and try it yourself.
Exercise 10 (listen here)
In reality you probably wouldn't use the last rhythm too often in a song because it sounds too busy. We can alter it slightly by taking out every second up stroke (starting with the first one).
Have a look at the diagram below, then listen to Exercise 10 audio track. Notice how it has more of a definite beat to it compared with the last exercise. It's counted as 1 2 & 3 4 & etc. Try it yourself.
Exercise 11 (listen here)
We can use this rhythm in the chord progression we played in Exercise 8 in the last lesson. I mentioned that we weren't too interested in the bottom number of the time signature then - Well we are now. The bottom number tells us the time value of each beat (how long to count it). In this case the number four means a quarter beat. So how long is a quarter beat? At the moment -SLOW!
We played four down strokes (one on each beat of the bar) and each one lasted a duration called a quarter. If we put upstrokes in between the down strokes without altering the tempo (timing) then each stroke will only be half as long - an eighth beat. Are you still with me?
Since we are only playing every second upstroke, we have a rhythm like - down... down up, down... down up, etc, which is counted - 1... 2 & 3... 4 &... etc. The time values of the rhythm in each bar are a quarter beat followed by two 8th beats, then another quarter beat followed by another two 8th beats.
Don't worry if you couldn't completely follow my explanation on time values. You'll pick them up soon enough as you play.
Look at the chord chart below. Listen to Exercise 11 audio track and play through it with your guitar. You might have to stop for the chord changes initially, but after a few times through test yourself by continuing playing the rhythm with your right hand even if your left hand is a bit slow at changing the chords.
Exercise 12 (listen here)
We can alter the rhythm yet again by rearranging the sequence of down up strokes. In the chord chart below you can see each bar has a rhythm of down..., down up, down up, down… etc. This is counted 1..., 2 & 3 & 4... etc, and the time values of the strokes in each bar are a quarter beat followed by four 8th beats then another quarter beat.
Notice that not only the rhythm has changed from the last exercise, but also the chord progression is slightly different.
Listen to Exercise 12 audio track. You can hear that the new rhythm has a different feel altogether. Try to play it with your guitar. You may have to stay on one chord for a while until you pick up the rhythm.
Don't be in a rush with any of these exercises. You should feel more or less confident on each one before you move on. When you're ready go to the next lesson and I'll show you some new chords. Pretty soon you'll know enough to play a song.
More Open Chords
An open chord is one which contains one or more open strings as one of it's notes. Both the E minor and A minor are open chords, and so are the most of the first few chords that I'll show you. The next chord is called D dominant seventh (written and commonly referred to as D7) is shown in the chord diagram below.
Hold your left hand fingers down on D7 and give it a strum. Notice the X next to the 6th string on the diagram? This tells us not to strike that string with your right hand when you strum as it won't harmonize very well with the chord. Don't worry too much about this at the moment!
The other thing you may have noticed is that your 1st finger is in the same position on D7 as it is on Am. Hold down an Am chord and change to D7 and then back again whilst keeping your 1st finger down on the fret board. Each time you finger a chord strum it to hear if it sounds right. Try a few down strokes in a row on Am then change to D7 without stopping the rhythm.
When you feel confident do the same between Em and D7. There aren't any common fingers between these two chords so you'll find it a bit harder. Your best bet will be to change to D7 starting with your 1st finger, then 2nd , then 3rd finger. Don't forget to test yourself by continuing the strumming with your right hand as you change chords with your left hand.
Exercise 13 (listen here)
In the following chord progression you're going to use all three chords that you've learnt so far. Have a look at the chord chart below and listen to Exercise 13 audio track.
This sixteen bar progression will test your stamina. Notice the last bar finishes with just a down strum on the first beat. When you play it through yourself make sure you let this chord ring out until the sound fades away just like the on the audio track.
It's OK to stop between the chord changes when you learn a new chord progression initially, but once you've done it a few times try to keep the rhythm flowing between chord changes, then try playing along with the audio track. Make sure you’re happy with your progress before you move on.
The chord in the diagram below is called G Major, and commonly referred to as simply G. It may be a bit of a stretch at first but your hand will soon learn to do this comfortably.
As with all the previous chords, practice changing from each one to the new G chord and back again. The change between G and Em is the easiest because of the common 1st finger.The change between G and D7 is slightly more challenging. Here is one method of doing it:
Whilst holding down a G chord try loosening your fingers off the fret board (but not off the strings), move your whole hand back towards the headstock one fret so your 3rd finger is in place for the D7 chord on the 2nd fret 1st string, then bring your 1st and 2nd fingers into place on the 2nd and 3rd strings. The process is done in reverse to change back to G.
The change between G and Am is the hardest because there are no common elements to link these chords together. The best approach is to move your 1st, 2nd, then 3rd fingers into place one at a time. After a while they'll begin to move together.
Exercise 14 (listen here)
The following chord progression contains all the chords you've learnt so far. Follow the chord chart with your eyes and listen to Exercise 14 audio track before you try it yourself.
The rhythm used in this example tends to make the chord changes a little more demanding than before - because of the up stroke at the end of each bar being an 8th beat, appearing to give you less time to make the chord change.
You can actually start moving from one chord to the next with your left hand a little earlier, while you are playing the last up stroke with your right hand. This might sound a bit odd at first, but it's much smoother. Practice this idea before you play the progression again. Try playing along with the audio track.
When you think you've got the hang of D7 and G move on to the next lesson. We're going to look at a different way to read rhythm from chord charts.
Reading Rhythm Notation
As we progress through this tutorial you'll find there are quite a few different ways to write down music for the guitar. One of these forms is called rhythm notation.
It's very easy to read if you understand the concept of time values which I talked about in the lessons entitled “Playing a Chord Progression” and “Rhythm Variations”.
Instead of using down and up arrows to show your right hand strumming, we show a symbol which represents the time value (quarter or 8th beat), and a separate symbol to show whether you should use a down or an up stroke. Have a look at the diagram below which shows some of the symbols and their meanings.
As you can see, an eighth beat can be drawn on it's own and two 8th beats can also be joined together with a beam. Additional time values above are the half beat (twice as long as a quarter beat), three quarter beat and a whole beat - meaning let the chord ring for four counts (four quarter beats, or a whole bar in all the examples so far). I've also included a repeat last bar sign which is standard in all forms of notation.
Using Rhythm notation, the last exercise on the previous page (Ex 14) would be written like the chord chart below.
The symbols indicating down and up strokes are usually only shown in the first bar if the rhythm remains the same for the remainder of the progression. The timing (1, 2 &, 3, 4 &) is not usually written in at all. I've included it just to help you along.
There are more notation signs which I'll show you later in the tutorial. Play through Exercise 14 again, this time using the rhythm notation chord chart above to follow the chord progression then go to the next lesson to learn some more chords.
Still More Open Chords
The chord below is called C Major (abbreviated to C). If you hold down an Am chord first, all you have to do to change to C is swing your 3rd finger around to the 3rd fret 5th string. The other two fingers are common to both chords. You may also have to shift your second finger a little bit closer to the 2nd fret 4th string. Look at the chord diagram below and try to hold down the chord.
C Major also shares a common first finger with D7. Practice changing between C Major and all the other chords learnt so far, always moving your fingers slowly and looking for common links between chords.
Exercise 15 (listen here)
In this exercise you'll use the new C Major chord, and play a different rhythm as well. The rhythm is shown using rhythm notation as explained on the previous page.
Listen to Exercise 15 audio track whilst following with your eyes on the chord chart below, then pick up your guitar and try to play it yourself. You'll notice a common finger linking together all the chord changes.
The next chord is called D Major (D). It shares no common fingers with any of the chords learnt so far, but it's relatively easy to hold down. Have a look at the chord diagram below and then practice changing between D and all the other chords.
As you progress through the tutorial you’ll find some of the chord changes will be more demanding than others because there won't always be common positions shared between chords. We're at the stage where we'll have to have a different look at how to move from one to the other. You may have noticed that with some of the easier chords your fingers automatically move into position almost at the same time. Well that's what you need to achieve with all the chords eventually.
Try holding down an E minor chord, then slowly move your fingers off the fret board and form an A minor chord in mid air before placing your fingers down on the fret-board in the A minor position. The aim is to try to make each finger touch the fret board at the same time. It won't happen overnight but it will happen!
Practice changing between all the chords learnt so far by slowly forming the chord in mid air then placing your fingers into position on the fret-board (all fingers at the same time). It might seem impossible for some chords at the moment, but the more you practice the easier it becomes. After you've experimented a bit using this method, go back and play all the chord progressions we've done so far, whilst concentrating on this new way to change chords. (I bet you don't!)
Exercise 16 (listen here)
You're going to use the new D Major chord in this next exercise. There's also a new sign at the end of bar four (the double bar line with two dots). This is a repeat sign. It tells you to play the chord progression until you come to the repeat sign, then repeat from the beginning again. I'm going to use a lot of repeat signs from now on so I don't have to write out so much music. As in all the exercises so far, look at the chord chart below whilst listening to Exercise 16 audio track, then try to play through it yourself. Don't forget to repeat the top line.
There's quite a jump from G to D chords, so remember to try the chord change using the method I talked about in this lesson.
Up to this point in the program every progression has had four quarter beats in each bar (shown on the time signature), and we've played variations on a rhythm with four beats. Now we're going to look at some new rhythms based on other time signatures.
Exercise 17 (listen here)
The most common of these is called three/four time and often referred to as waltz time. It has three quarter beats in each bar and is counted 1, 2, 3, etc... Like four/four time, there are various rhythms which can be played to this time signature. One of these rhythms is used in this exercise. Listen to Exercise 17 audio track to see what it sounds like, then try the chord progression above.
Exercise 18 (listen here)
Another common time signature is twelve/eighth time. It has twelve eighth beats in each bar which are felt as four groups of three beats. When you count this rhythm, rather than count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, etc..., try counting as four groups of three - like 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, etc..
The exercise above shows a popular rhythm played in twelve/eighth time. This is known as a shuffle or swing rhythm. Each down strum lasts twice as long as the following up strum. Listen to Exercise 18 audio track whilst following the chord chart above, then try to play it on your guitar.
Notice how lazy this rhythm sounds. That's exactly how your right arm should feel when you play it, so don't be in a rush with the up stroke, and watch out for the chord change half way through bar seven. The curved line at the end of the last bar is called a tie. It joins the last two beats together as one, so only the first one is played and held for the time value of both of them (three 8th beats).
Exercise 19 (listen here)
The next example uses a tie to show another common four/four rhythm. The up stroke after the second beat lasts for a quarter beat (two 8th notes tied), and is then followed by another up stroke. Listen to Exercise 19 audio track and follow the chord chart below, then try it yourself. Don't forget the repeat sign at the end of bar four.
If you're having trouble finding this rhythm, try to keep your right hand moving continuously in time, with a down stroke on each of the quarter beats. Even though you don't play anything on the 3rd beat of the bar, your right hand still does a down stroke but doesn't strike the strings.
Picking Single Notes
All the exercises so far have been concerned with playing chords (harmony) for the purpose of accompanying a singer or another lead instrument. The guitar can also be used to play single notes as a lead instrument (melody), or single notes to make an accompaniment more interesting.
You already played single notes in the lessons entitled “Starting to Play” and “Tuning Your Guitar”, so you know how to place the tip of your 1st finger close to the 1st fret on the 1st string – right?
Back in the good old days (before my time) musicians starting out would read standard music notation when playing single notes on the guitar. In today’s fast paced world however it's been largely pushed aside in favour of guitar tablature (TAB for short). Although TAB is by far the most popular method for reading guitar music, it has it downfalls, one of them being usually the absence of any timing information.
In music timing is everything! Knowing where to put your fingers on the fret-board is only half the story so I've included rhythm notation underneath each note you give you an idea how long to hold each one down.
If you decide that you'd like to continue playing guitar and you're in it for the long haul I'd suggest at some stage to learn to read standard music notation (which isn’t covered here). Don't get side tracked now though - just get through this tutorial for the basics then worry about the serious stuff later.
Exercise 20 (listen here)
Have a look at the diagram below:
This exercise is easy to read. The six horizontal lines represent the six guitar strings. Everything is upside because as if you're looking down onto your guitar fret-board. The 1st string (the thin one) is on the top of the TAB and the 6th string (the thick one) is on the bottom. The numbers simply represent the fret numbers. (0 means open string, 1 means 1st fret, 2 means 2nd fret, etc.) Everything else you've seen before (The time signature, bar lines and rhythm notation symbols etc.)
The TAB tells us to play the open 1st string four times, then the 1st fret 1st string four times etc. Listen to Exercise 20 audio track and then try to play it yourself. No wait! I forgot to tell you which left hand fingers to use. Use the same finger as fret number (ie: 1st fret= 1st finger, 2nd fret= 2nd finger etc). OK try it now.
Exercise 21 (listen here)
Here's something a bit more challenging. This is a good warm up exercise for single note playing. You're using all the strings, starting from the 6th string and working your way through to the 1st string. Every two bars is a repetition of the last two, only on the adjacent string.
Listen to Exercise 21 audio track then try to play it on your guitar.
Now come back the other way like this:
You may have found this exercise pretty tricky with your right hand. Picking single notes on the guitar is generally more demanding with your right hand than strumming chords (because of the accuracy needed to strike only one string), and physically less demanding with your left hand (less pressure to hold one finger down than two or three).
Try going through Exercise 21 again, this time slowly, make sure you use down strokes with your right hand, and keep your left hand fingers standing upright (use the tips only) next to the fret. Like I said before, this is a good warm up for any single note playing on the guitar.
More Chords and Rhythms
The chord diagram below shows how to hold an A Major (or A) chord. Your first three fingers are squashed together next to the 2nd fret. It looks a bit like a squashed in D7 chord only across one string. It shares a common 1st finger with the previous chord you learned - D Major although you'll have to move it across a little closer to the 1st fret to get the other fingers in.
There are a few alternative fingerings for the A chord (as there are with most chords). I've chosen this fingering because it has common links to many of the chords in this tutorial. If you've learned a different way to play it previously that's fine - carry on any way you like. Whichever fingering you decide to use, practice changing between the A Major chord and all the other chords you've learnt, then try the exercise below.
Exercise 22 (listen here)
This exercise introduces the A Major chord with a rhythm similar to the last one in the chapter entitled “New Rhythms”. Listen to Exercise 22 audio track whilst following the chord chart below, then pick up your guitar and play it yourself.
Notice that the A Major chord shares a common 2nd finger with Em and C chords as well as a common 1st finger with D Major as mentioned above. Try to think about this as you link the chord changes together. getting to G chord may be your biggest challenge.
The chord diagram below shows another major chord - E Major (written as E). It's very easy to hold down because you've already played A minor which is exactly the same shape, only played one string lower on the fret board. Try it...
As I said, E Major is the same shape as A minor, so practice changing between the two chords by lifting your fingers off one chord whilst maintaining the shape in mid air, then lower them down together on the other chord. When you practice changing between chords always look for a common link between them. For example, when changing from D Major or A Major to E Major your 1st finger should slide back from the 2nd fret 3rd string to the 1st fret 3rd string, then move the other two fingers into position. Practice these chord changes before you play the next exercise.
Exercise 23 (listen here)
This exercise uses the new E Major chord with yet another rhythmic variation. If you look at the chord chart below you'll see the bottom line has five bars instead of four. These bars are squashed together and appear smaller than on the lines above, however they are played with exactly the same timing as in the rest of the exercise. When you're ready listen to Exercise 23 audio track then try to play it yourself.
Two more chords you won't have much trouble with are E seventh, (written and commonly referred to as E7), and A seventh (A7). To play E7 just hold down an E Major chord then lift off your 3rd finger. Here it is in the chord chart below:
You can do the same with A7 by holding down an A Major chord then lifting off your 1st finger. See below...
Exercise 24 (listen here)
In this exercise you'll use all four new chords (E Major, E7, A Major and A7) with the swing rhythm you learnt in the chapter entitled “New Rhythms”. Once again, listen to the audio track then try it yourself. Don't forget the repeat sign at the end of the second last bar.
Notice the sound of all the seventh chords as you move from the major chord before each one? They have a bluesy sound. In fact each chord type has it’s own characteristic sound. The two minor chords you learnt (Em and Am) have a sad or dark sound, and the major chords have a slightly uplifting or happier sound.
Play around with these different chord types and see if you can hear their characteristic sound as you strum each one, then when you're ready move on to the next lesson.
An arpeggio is a chord played one note after another, rather than simultaneously (strumming). Strumming and arpeggios can both be written using TAB. A strum is shown with the notes stacked on top of each other vertically, while an arpeggio has them spread out one after the other.
Exercise 25 (listen here)
The TAB below shows an E minor chord strummed for two bars, an E minor arpeggio played for two bars, and then repeated. Listen to the audio track and try it yourself using down strokes for both strumming and picking the arpeggio.
Exercise 26 (listen here)
When playing an arpeggio it's not always necessary to use all the notes of the chord. Most arpeggio sequences or patterns start on the deepest note within the chord. In this case it's called the root note and is the strongest sounding note in a chord. In this exercise you'll see the chords written above the TAB to make it easier to read. Once again listen to the exercise on the audio track then play it yourself - and don't forget the repeat sign.
You may have found that trickier than the previous exercise. The hard part is missing strings between the first two eighth beats in most bars. Isolate each part you're having difficulty with and practice it slowly, then try the whole exercise again.
Also a couple of new symbols used are: (1) The half beat (the last strum on E minor in the last bar) is held for two counts, or twice as long as a quarter beat, and (2) the double bar line (at the end of the last bar) shows the end of a section of music.
There are a few different approaches to right hand technique especially when playing arpeggios. One of these involves playing finger-style (without the plectrum). This method opens up many new possibilities on the guitar. Finger-style guitar isn’t covered in this tutorial however once you get the basics you can branch out in any direction you like. Until then try to stay focused and finish this tutorial!
How Many Chords Are There?
By now you're probably asking yourself how many chords there are? The answer to that is hundreds, and each of those chords can be played many ways, however most popular styles of guitar playing can be covered by only learning half a dozen more than you already know.
The two chords below share a common 1st finger on the 1st fret 1st string. The first one is D minor (Dm). You may find it difficult to tuck your 3rd finger up onto the 3rd fret 2nd string. Some guitar players use their 4th finger instead. Have a look at the chord diagram below and experiment with your fingering.
The next chord is called G seventh (G7), and as I said, shares a common first finger with Dm. It's a bit of a stretch but your fingers will soon get used to it.
Practice changing between Dm, G7 and all the other chords then try the next exercise.
Exercise 27 (listen here)
This exercise uses the Dm and G7 chords as well as introducing a rhythm which reoccurs every two bars instead of every single bar as before. You may have to practice this separately until you get the hang of it.
Another new concept you'll see is the first and second endings signified above the last three bars. The third and second last bars (first ending) should be played the first time only, then repeat back to the beginning. The next time skip the third and second last bars (first ending) and go directly to the last bar (second ending). Have a listen to Exercise 27 audio track then try it yourself.
Another chord that's used quite often with the Dm and G7 chords is called F Major (F). For many beginning guitarists this is the most difficult of the first chords to get a clear sound from, so please be patient. Here it is...
The main challenge will be to lie your first finger down to cover the 1st frets on both the 1st and 2nd strings whilst keeping your 2nd and 3rd fingers standing up out of the way of the bottom two strings.
If this is a problem try to push the head stock of the guitar out in front of you and tuck your left elbow in towards your stomach (a bit like holding a rifle although I wouldn't really know). The idea is that your 1st finger will roll over on it's side and your 2nd and 3rd fingers will stand up.
The other annoying thing about F Major is that you only get to hit the bottom four strings. The top two sound terrible. Practice changing between the other chords and look for common fingers to link them together. You might not get it to sound perfect for a while but it's a very common chord, so try the next exercise anyway.
Exercise 28 (listen here)
F Major shares a common first finger with Am and C Major in this exercise, so practice changing between those chords, then listen to Exercise 28 audio track and try it yourself.
Although the F Major is the most challenging chord so far, you should keep working at it rather than avoiding it. Be sure to read the text before Exercise 28 and get your hand in the correct position in order to give yourself the best possible chance to get this chord to come to life.
The Bass-Strum Style
You already combined chords with single notes in the lesson entitled “Playing Arpeggios”. Another way to play chords and single notes together is the bass-strum style. This style of playing is exactly as the name sounds. First you pick the bass note of the chord then you strum the chord.
Exercise 29 (listen here)
The main thing to watch for in this exercise is to hit the correct bass note. It's the deepest sounding note in each chord (remember when you look at the chord diagram the strings marked with an X are not part of the chord). After you've picked the bass note try to strum from about the next string down. It's not necessary to strum exactly the right number of strings. More importantly concentrate on getting an even flowing rhythm. Listen to Exercise 29 audio track then have a go yourself.
I hope you didn't forget the first and second endings and the repeat. Another thing to look out for is the rhythm notation symbol of a three quarter beat. It's the half beat symbol with a dot after it in the last bar. A dot after a rhythm symbol or music note means to add half again (in time) to what you just played.
Exercise 30 (listen here)
A common technique used in the bass-strum style is called alternating bass. It's used mainly in country and folk styles of music but also pops up from time to time in rock ballads. This exercise is in four/four time with the bass note alternating between the first and the third quarter beat in each bar. Listen to Exercise 30 audio track then pick up your guitar and try it.
Exercise 31 (listen here)
Now try the same chord progression using an up stroke after each down stroke. Listen to Exercise 31 audio track to hear the difference.
That may have been slightly harder than the previous exercise because it's harder to accurately pin point the bass note after each up stroke as there's less time to do it. The sound should be fuller than without the up stroke so it's worth the effort.
Four Finger Chords
It's time to get your 4th finger into action. The chords on this page are all four finger chords but shouldn't pose too many problems. The first one is called B seventh (that's B7). See the diagram below:
As usual practice changing between B7 and all the other chords you know before you try the next exercise.
Exercise 32 (listen here)
The first chord change in this exercise is from Em to B7. You may want to try holding Em down with your 2nd and 3rd fingers instead of 1st and 2nd. That way you share a common 2nd finger with both chords. Listen to Exercise 32 audio track then pick up your guitar and play it yourself.
The chord diagram below shows a C seventh chord (C7). All you need to do is hold down a C Major chord then add your 4th finger to the 3rd fret on the 3rd string. Try it...
Unfortunately you won't always have the luxury of changing from C Major to C7, so it might be a good idea to practice changing to and from some other chords as well.
Exercise 33 (listen here)
This exercise uses the C7 chord, firstly with an easy chord change from C Major, then with a not quite as easy change from D7 (with a common first finger). Another new music symbol appears at the start of bar nine. This is the front repeat sign. It means that when you get to the end repeat sign at the end of the second last bar, only go back as far as the front repeat sign when you start to repeat. Don't forget the first and second endings. You'll know what I mean if you listen to Exercise 33 audio track and follow through the chord chart with your eyes. Now try to play it.
You might find that your fourth finger sometimes won't go exactly where it's told to. That's quite normal. It's the weakest finger of all and it takes some time to gain complete control. Just keep using it and the muscles will become stronger.
The B minor (Bm) is quite a challenging chord to play. It's not an open chord because no open strings should sound when you strum it (see the X next to the fifth and sixth strings). Here it is...
There are no common fingers between Bm and any of the chords you have learnt so far. Practice changing very slowly to and from Bm, firstly placing your fingers on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th then try forming the chord in mid air before placing all your fingers down together (as you learnt in the lesson entitled “Still More Open Chords”).
Exercise 34 (listen here)
All the chords you have learnt in this lesson appear in this exercise. If you listen to Exercise 34 audio track you'll notice there's plenty of time to get from one chord to the next (remember the half beat rhythm notation symbols I talked about in the lesson entitled “Playing Arpeggios”?) There are nine different chords here so it'll really test your memory. Give it a go.
Congratulations! You made it to the end of the tutorial. Hopefully this isn’t also the end of your guitar playing journey – rather your beginning.
Now for a reality check:
If you'd never played a guitar before and it took you less than a month from the time you started to get to this page you either:
- Didn't start from the beginning... or...
- Didn't pay all the exercises... or...
- Played all the exercises through only once or twice... or...
- Lied about never having played guitar before... or...
- Are very talented!
If your answer was either - 1, 2 or 3 I'd suggest you either:
- Go back to the beginning and start again...or...
- Do the tutorial with audio and give yourself a better chance.
Anyway, that’s about all from me for now. I wish you all the best with the guitar in the future. In the meantime I can recommend the following things to continue your guitar learning adventure.
- Play the guitar every single day of your life! It’s the hours you put in that will make the difference.
- Did I mention guitar tutorial with audio?
Appendix A - Chords
Appendix B - Glossary
Here you'll find a description of some of the terms used in the tutorial. It's not necessary to read this from start to finish. Just look up a word when you need to as you work through the lessons.
The height of the strings above the fret-board.
- Alternating bass
A style of playing where the right hand alternates between two or more strings.
A chord played one note at a time.
A sub-division of time in music.
- Bar line
A vertical line which shows the end of a bar of music.
- Bass-strum style
A right hand technique which involves picking a bass note then strumming the rest of the chord.
A horizontal line which shows two eighth or sixteenth notes belonging to the beat shown on the bottom of the time signature.
A sub-division of time usually felt as the pulse within a piece of music.
The main part of a guitar (not the neck).
A group of three or more notes played simultaneously.
- Chord chart
A diagram which shows a chord progression.
- Chord progression
A sequence of chords played one after another.
- Count in
A count at the start of a piece of music to show when to start and how fast to play (usually the top number on the time signature).
- Double bar line
Two vertical lines which show the end of a section or piece of music.
- Down stroke
Right hand movement from top to bottom.
- Effects pedals
Electronic foot pedals for altering the sound of an electric guitar.
- Eighth beat
A beat half as long in time as a quarter beat.
- Electric guitar
A guitar (with solid or semi-solid body) which can be electrically amplified.
A right hand technique which involves using some or all your right hand fingers.
Lower in pitch.
- Four/four time
A time signature of four quarter beats in one bar of music.
- Fret board
The front of a guitar neck which contains the frets.
The vertical metal bars on a guitar fret-board.
Placing a finger next to a fret.
- Guitar tablature
A system of reading and writing guitar music (abbreviated to TAB).
- Half beat
A beat twice as long as a quarter beat.
To bring two or more notes together in harmony.
Two or more notes sounding simultaneously.
The part of a guitar situated on the end of the neck which houses the machine heads (tuning keys).
- Machine heads
Used for tuning up each string and housed on the headstock (sometimes referred to as tuning heads or tuning keys).
A succession of musical notes played one after another (usually the most recognizable tune of a song).
The part of a guitar which houses the fret-board.
- Nylon string guitar
An acoustic guitar which has three nylon strings.
A string played with no left hand fingers fretting any note.
- Open chord
A chord which contains open strings.
An electromagnet housed underneath the strings on an electric guitar which produces a signal to be amplified by a guitar amplifier.
A small triangular shaped piece of plastic used for striking the guitar strings with the right hand.
- Quarter beat
A sub-division of time in music twice as long as an eighth beat.
- Repeat sign
Two dots placed before a double line indicating the repeat of a section of music.
A sequence of events played with the right hand on a guitar which gives a piece of music a distinct beat.
- Rhythm notation
A system of reading and writing music which shows rhythm.
- Root note
The note by which a chord or scale is named (Usually the deepest note in the chord, and always the first note in a scale).
Higher in pitch.
A rhythm of which each main beat is divided into three smaller beats (prominent in blues music).
- Sound hole
The hole in the front of an acoustic guitar body from which the sound is projected.
- Steel string guitar
An acoustic guitar which has all steel strings (usually four wound and two plain ones).
The vertical line in music or rhythm notation which appears above or below a note or rhythm.
Used to hold the guitar while in standing position.
A technique where the right hand plays the notes of a chord simultaneously either with down or up strokes.
A rhythm in music in which the down beat is felt slightly longer than the up beat (sometimes called a shuffle).
The speed of a piece of music.
- Three/four time
A time signature of three quarter beats in one bar of music.
- Three quarter beat
A beat which is one and a half times as long as a half beat.
A curved line which shows two notes of the same pitch joined together and played as one with the time value of both.
- Time signature
A sign at the beginning of a piece of music (looks like a fraction) which shows how many beats in each bar (top number) and how long each beat lasts (bottom number).
- Truss rod
A curved metal bar implanted into the neck of a guitar used to adjust the amount and direction of bend in the neck.
- Twelve/eighth time
A time signature of twelve eighth beats in one bar of music.
- Up stroke
Right hand movement from bottom to top.
Part of the body of a guitar which is narrowest.
- Whole beat
A beat in music which lasts for a whole bar in music with a time signature of four/four.