20 top guitar tips for beginners
Millions of people around the world play guitar, and when you have an instrument that is just So. Darn. Popular… you get to choose from loads of guitar tips to help you on your way.
Here are the best twenty.
1. Start slowly
Most first time learners will try to play chords as fast as they can. Don’t be tempted to do this.
Instead, learn each chord slowly, one at a time. Once you’ve mastered a few chord shapes slowly, try moving between them more quickly. This helps you avoid bad habits that come with trying to run before you can walk.
2. Avoid the habit of looking at your hands
For beginners, that urge to look at your hands while playing is almost irresistible.
Although to begin with, it’s important to look at your hands when changing chord, avoid watching your hands constantly.
Looking away from your hands will help you connect to the feeling of a correct chord placement as well as the visual.
To further develop this, try practising looking away or closing your eyes while playing and only look at your hands once in a while to confirm you’re in the right place.
3. Practice difficult chords
By just sticking to the chords you’ve already mastered, you could end up in a rut.
Always challenge yourself with new chords and spend time learning them instead of playing it safe with the easy ones.
Remember, some of the all-time greats (The Beatles included) used variations of chords rather than their basic counterparts, to get their distinctive sounds.
4. Rehearse standing up
Wha!? No really, this is one of the best guitar tips.
Standing up while practising helps break you out of that habit of looking at your hands while playing because—you guessed it—it’s harder for you to look at your hands while you’re standing.
Also, if you wish to play in bands in the future, playing standing up is a must, so get this one in the bag.
5. Use a metronome
To train your rhythm and timing, use a metronome so you can practice with the correct timing.
This is the key to playing with other musicians; being able to keep time is essential if you want to be in a band.
Try our free online metronome which is one of the most popular online.
6. Start with an affordable guitar
It might be tempting to buy a pricey high-end guitar when you’re just learning but reign in those dreams of glory and learn the basics on an affordable (but not super cheap) guitar first.
Master the basics then consider buying an expensive guitar.
The reason for this is that you won’t know what guitar you feel most comfortable with until you’ve played for a little while.
Getting a comfortable guitar that you love is worth the wait.
It’s also a great incentive to get past that difficult absolute beginner stage.
7. Use thin strings
To avoid sore fingers as a beginner while practicing, try a thinner gauge string than the standard.
For acoustics, try strings starting with .011 gauge, and .009 for electric guitars.
Thinner strings require less hand-strength to hold the chords, which means you won’t need such thick callouses on your fingertips to avoid soreness.
8. Get a tuner (and learn to use it)
No two ways about it: get an electronic tuner or an app. Then learn how to tune using our guide to standard guitar tuning.
Practising with an out of tune instrument is worse than not practising at all.
9. Learn how to hold the guitar properly
As far as guitar tips go, learning how to hold the guitar correctly is one of the fundamentals.
Here’s a basic guide to holding an acoustic guitar (if you have a left-handed guitar, reverse left and right in these steps):
- Let the guitar rest on your right leg
- Hold the neck of the guitar between the thumb and first finger of your fretting hand (the hand which will hold the strings onto the frets) with your thumb behind the neck and your fingers in front of the strings
- Ensure the neck of the guitar is parallel to the floor
- Rest the bicep of your right arm on the top of the guitar body. Your right hand should be floating above the sound hole and your forearm should be free to move up and down without rubbing.
If you have an electric guitar, the above steps still apply except you won’t be able to rest your arm on the top as the body will likely be too small for this.
10. Practise palm muting
Palm muting is an important skill that can help add rhythm to your playing. It’s used on both electric and acoustic guitars but is most prevalent on electrics.
Palm muting is done by lightly placing the side of the picking hand palm across the strings as you strum or pluck.
The hand should touch the strings close to the bridge and be quite light so the strings can still vibrate but not as much as normal.
This produces a dampened or muted sound in which the notes can still be heard.
If you’re getting no notes at all when palm muting, you’re pressing down too hard or are not close enough to the bridge.
11. Learn covers
Learning covers is a lot of fun.
It helps you become familiar with the elements that make your favourite songs work.
Learning covers also teaches you how to master chord progressions, strumming patterns, as well as riffs and licks.
On top of all of this, it’s great for motivation, being able to play the songs you’ve always dreamed of playing.
12. Play with other people
This is another great motivator.
Playing with other people also helps with playing in time, developing more practical rhythm understanding and learning about the dynamics of making music as part of a group (which is very different from playing solo).
13. Learn barre chords
Barre chords are played by using one or more fingers to press on multiple strings across a single fret on the fingerboard.
Learning this early on opens up a range of skills you can use to enrich your guitar experience.
Having said this, don’t jump into barre chords until you’ve mastered most of the open chords, because they require much more hand strength and flexibility.
14. Learn hand exercises
Hand stretching exercises are definitely going to benefit your playing.
Here’s a good starter: make a fist and hold it for 60 seconds then release and spread your fingers wide.
Repeat with both hands, at least four times. You can do this exercise several times throughout the day to increase your hand-strength.
15. Develop calluses
Thin strings or no thing strings (see tip 7), calluses are the hallmark of a guitarist who plays the guitar a lot.
Just by playing regularly, you’ll develop calluses, which will then ease the pain associated with playing.
Calluses also reduce fret buzz as they enable you to apply more precise pressure on exactly the right point on a fret, with less force. Trust us, calluses are a guitarist’s best friend.
16. Use visualisation
Whenever you’re idle and away from your guitar (and also not on your phone—put that thing down!) you can still improve your guitar playing. How?
You can imagine, or visualise, yourself playing scales, chords, songs, tuning your guitar and holding the guitar properly.
Additionally, you can cement the chord progressions of songs in your mind using this technique, by seeing yourself playing through the chords to the verse and chorus in the correct order.
This is surprisingly effective! Try it and see.
17. Put your guitar where it's visible
This one’s a no-brainer.
Seeing your guitar regularly makes it easier for you to start practising.
18. Practise often, not longer
Practicing for 10 minutes a day is better than a lengthy 1-hour practice session once a week.
Of course, one hour a day is even better.
19. Train your ear every time you practise
This means listening not only for the sound but also for the notes and pitch while you play.
Instead of just practising by rote, pay attention to each note and try to pick up if the notes and percussive sounds combine as they’re meant to, or if something needs improving.
20. Most important of all guitar tips: have fun!
Enjoying practising guitar is pretty essential to learning the instrument successfully.
Try to eliminate unnecessary and unattainable goals, and be realistic so you don’t get frustrated and throw in the towel.
Try to set up your practise and goals so you achieve a lot of small wins, stay motivated, and recognise your success as you improve.
Final thoughts on guitar tips for beginners
There’s a lot to take away from this article and if only one or two tips stick you’ll be off to a great start.
Do you know any other great tips for beginners? Please leave them in the comments.