HOW TO PLAY GUITAR

It’s never too early or too late to learn to play the guitar. From chords to scales to songs you can learn in just minutes, check out these free resources from Fender Play to get you started.

“It takes a lot of courage to learn something new.”

- JEN TRANI, FENDER PLAY INSTRUCTOR

IN THIS CHAPTER

  • Can I teach myself to play guitar?
  • Learn how to play basic guitar chords
  • Learn your first song on guitar
  • Learn basic guitar strumming
  • Learn to play basic guitar scales
  • Learn finger exercises for guitar
  • Learn basic guitar techniques

CAN I TEACH MYSELF TO
PLAY GUITAR?

Many people ask, “Can I teach myself how to play guitar?” Our answer? Yes…and no.

Check out all the free resources we have to offer on this page and throughout our site. We’ve compiled some of our favorite articles and videos for you to explore right here. You’ll learn the basics the right way from instructors with years of experience playing guitar. You can see for yourself how we approach online guitar lessons for beginners and why we recommend that you try out Fender Play. We’ve gotten great feedback on the app and want to help you on your journey of learning guitar.

Ready to learn more? Let’s go step-by-step through some key components of how to learn guitar.

“There’s a desire in me to express something—to match what I hear in my head.”

- ERIC CLAPTON

LEARN HOW TO PLAY BASIC GUITAR CHORDS

WHAT ARE CHORD CHARTS?

Chords are a group of notes strummed together to produce a harmonious sound. Chord charts are one way for new guitarists to learn chords. These charts are a visual way to learn which strings and frets are used to form the notes to play a specific chord. They also show you where to place your fingers on the fretboard to strum a particular chord.

Even if you can’t play a lightning fast solo like your favorite guitarist, you can still strum along and play the rhythm parts if you know chords. Learn more about chord charts here.

WHAT ARE SOME EASY CHORDS
FOR BEGINNERS?

While there are dozens of chords, some of the most memorable songs have been written using only a handful of easy-to-play open chords.

Listen to Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl.” ”Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears.” “Clay” by Grace VanderWaal. They all contain some combination of the following chords:

  • C Major
  • D Major
  • G Major
  • E Minor

Not only are these chords easy to play, they play a major (pun unintended) role in building so many memorable songs.

WATCH VIDEO

LEARN HOW TO PLAY THE G AND C CHORDS

Watched the video? Feel more confident about playing chords? Good! Because chords are such an important part of learning to play guitar, we’ve put together a comprehensive hub of free chord lessons. From power chords to minor chords and everything in between, you’ll learn more about the structure behind different types of chords and discover how to play them.

“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded”

- JIMI HENDRIX

LEARN YOUR FIRST SONG
ON GUITAR

One of the main reasons a person picks up a guitar is to play a song they love. Learning your first song is a milestone moment for beginner guitarists. It’s exciting to play along with a song you know and inspires you to keep learning more.

Learning to play your first song on guitar is a micro-education in itself. It gives you an opportunity to apply the chords you’ve learned to a song you enjoy. You get to learn more about the structure of a song and different techniques to make a piece of music come alive.

“She Loves You” by The Beatles includes both the G and C chords you learned in the chord lesson above, plus the E minor chord and an A chord—more easy chords for beginners. Check out the video below to learn how to play “She Loves You” and strum along with a simple chord progression.

WATCH VIDEO

HOW TO PLAY "SHE LOVES YOU"
BY THE BEATLES

Learning to play your first song on the guitar instills a level of confidence in beginner guitarists. While chords are important, it’s a lot more fun to see what those chords can do when arranged in different ways. With just a few minutes and a few chords, you can begin playing a complete song—from start to finish. Ready to pick up some new tricks and learn more songs? Check out a playlist full of free song lessons below.

LEARN BASIC GUITAR STRUMMING


WHAT ARE STRUMMING PATTERNS?

A strumming pattern is a specific way of playing up and down strokes on your guitar. While a number of songs call for you to strum chords in an alternating pattern—switching between upward and downward strokes, other songs call for an irregular strumming pattern. For instance, an irregular strumming pattern may have you play a chord in an “up-up-down-up” pattern repeatedly.

The more you train your ear to listen to how different a chord sounds when played upwards versus downwards, the easier it will be for you to develop your own internal rhythm and dissect strumming patterns on your own.

Play the free video lesson below and check out the different strum patterns in Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising."

WATCH VIDEO

STRUM ALONG TO "BAD MOON RISING"
BY CREDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL

BEGINNER TIPS FOR
GUITAR STRUMMING

Now that you know a little more about strumming, here are some tips for perfecting your technique:

  • Keep your wrist loose: When you’re strumming a chord, you want your motions to feel fluid. Not hard and choppy. Keeping a loose wrist will not only help your chord progressions sound smoother, but also minimize any potential for wrist pain after a particularly vigorous session.
  • Angle your pick: In line with keeping your wrist loose, you also want to avoid being too rigid with your pick when strumming. Holding your pick at a slight angle can help you create a more pleasing sound when you strike a chord.
  • Vary the strength of your strike: It takes a little while to develop your ear, but it also takes time to learn to “feel” the music. With time and practice, you’ll learn when you want to strum a chord with a hard stroke for emphasis, or when to play with soft, light strokes to create a more mellow feel.

“I had to be reminded that the guitar is infinite. It never stops teaching you.”

- KAKI KING

LEARN TO PLAY BASIC GUITAR SCALES


WHAT ARE GUITAR SCALES

Guitar scales are a series of notes played in ascending or descending order. These notes form a “musical alphabet.” (If you’ve ever heard “Do-Re-Mi,” that’s just the ascending form of the C Major scale, which includes the notes C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.)

Just as the strings on your guitar start with a low E and end with a high E, the notes in a scale begin with a low version of that first note. (In this case, it’s a low C.) And they end with the same note, played one octave higher. (In this instance, it’s a high C.)

Technically, a scale only includes seven notes. However, playing just seven notes leaves it feeling incomplete. The term “octave” contains the Latin root for “eight.” It’s that eighth note—the higher version of the root note for each scale—that makes every scale sound complete.

Check out this short video and learn to play a C major scale—the musical alphabet we just talked about—on your guitar.

WATCH VIDEO

HOW TO LEARN THE
MUSICAL ALPHABET

WHY LEARN TO PLAY SCALES?

Practicing guitar scales can help you become more familiar with the notes on your fretboard and train your ear to recognize individual notes. You can learn how individual notes sound together and better understand chord composition. Learning to play scales can also help you build speed, dexterity, and finger strength.

There are many more reasons to learn to play scales and a handful of scales that beginners should know. Learning scales can set you on the path to gaining a stronger understanding of music theory and writing your own songs. Better yet, once you learn the rules, you can figure out how to break them. Have fun experimenting with scales!

LEARN FINGER EXERCISES FOR GUITAR


BEGINNER TIPS FOR FINGER EXERCISES

Like scales, exercises can help you learn more about music theory and improve your speed, strength, and dexterity along the fretboard. Here are some examples of finger exercises that you can practice to help you level up:

  • Practice scales: Practicing a simple C major scale, moving up and down the neck can help make your fingers more nimble.
  • Play notes slowly, then build speed: Start by playing a series of notes slowly. Allow your fingers to get used to where they should go and which frets they need to land on in order for a note to ring true. Once you feel like you’re hitting each fret with precision, start playing those notes faster. Soon, it’ll be second nature!

  • Repeat: No matter what you’re learning, play it over and over again. Repetition will ingrain it in your mind and muscle memory. Play those notes. Then play them some more. And then, play them again!
  • Stretch your fingers: Being able to shred or transition between chords takes practice -- and strong fingers. If you’re a beginner, have small hands, or just want to limber up your fingers, try splaying your fingers out and forming wide “V”s between each of your fingers. This can help you increase your finger span so when you have to stretch across strings, it ain’t no thang!

“Give me a guitar, give me a piano, give me a broom and a string. I wouldn’t get bored anywhere.”

- KEITH RICHARDS, THE ROLLING STONES

LEARN BASIC GUITAR TECHNIQUES


HOW GUITAR TECHNIQUES MAKE YOU BETTER

While chords and scales are some of the basic building blocks of musical theory, techniques are important too. They help you play those chords and scales in a way that sounds and feels good.

Learning new guitar skills and techniques can be fun. They allow you to uncover some of the tricks that help make songs sound unique. Different genres make use of different techniques. Practicing them gives you a better appreciation for the skill levels of your own favorite guitarists.

A guitar technique that may sound complicated is usually easier than it seems at first. Guitar techniques can be as simple as learning how to properly fret a note to slightly more complex skills like the hammer-on and pull-off techniques.

LEARN THE HAMMER-ON AND
PULL-OFF TECHNIQUES

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are a two-step technique on your fretboard. To try it, bring your finger down hard and fast on the appropriate fret and then pull it away. This sounds the note in a subtle, yet effective way. It’s a common technique, whether you’re a fan of folk, hard rock or heavy metal.

Watch this quick video to learn the hammer-on and pull-off technique. Then start listening for it in some of your favorite songs and practicing it on your own!

WATCH VIDEO

HOW TO PLAY HAMMER-ONS
AND PULL-OFFS

THAT'S A WRAP


HOW DO YOU FEEL?

Now that we’ve gone through a series of guitar basics, do you feel more confident in your ability to learn to play guitar? The principles covered here apply to both acoustic or electric guitar and can be built upon over time. Take it note by note, chord by chord and you’ll discover that learning to play guitar is a lot easier than you think.

Practicing and repeating simple chords, scales, and exercises can help you build your confidence and skill level. Repeat these free lessons as many times as you like. And if you want to learn more, Fender Play gives you access to more lessons to help you get playing songs you love even faster.

REMEMBER:

  • Chords are a cornerstone of your guitar education. Many songs contain simple chords such as the C, D, G, and E minor chords.
  • Strumming patterns and accents can help make chord progressions sound more dynamic and exciting.
  • Many of your favorite songs contain just three or four simple chords. Better yet, you can learn to play a song in just minutes.
  • Scales are a great way to train your ear and help you deconstruct the notes in songs and chords.
  • Practicing finger exercises are a great way to build speed, strength, dexterity, and accuracy.
  • Even guitar techniques that seem complicated—like the hammer-on and pull-off—can be easy to execute with a little practice.

MORE CHAPTERS IN THIS GUIDE


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HOME:
THE BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO GUITAR

Find everything you need to learn to begin playing guitar, all in one place. New guitarists of all ages can find what they need to start playing.

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CHAPTER 1:
HOW TO BUY A GUITAR

Get tips and advice on finding the right guitar for you. Learn how to shop for a guitar in-person, online, or how to buy used.

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CHAPTER 2:
HOW TO SET UP YOUR GUITAR & EQUIPMENT

Learn how to properly maintain your guitar. From tuning to changing your strings, to setting up your amp, pedals and practice space.