I am often asked by those interested in learning to play guitar if it’s possible to teach themselves. And the answer is a resounding yes! With the right resources, effort, and dedication, you can teach yourself how to play the guitar. But even when you plan to be self-taught, it’s still important to have rock-solid fundamentals and follow a learning structure that will teach you the right concepts at the right time.
So, on popular demand, here’s my step-by-step guide on how to learn to play guitar by yourself. I’ve tried to make this article as detailed and comprehensive as possible, and have included all the critical concepts and techniques you need to kick off your guitar journey the right way. You’ll also find a handy list of guitar essentials, as well as do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
1. Start with The Basics
Just like a strong fortress can’t be built on a weak foundation, you need to master the basics to grow into a rock-solid guitarist. Starting with these fundamentals will help to build both your skill and confidence level before you move on to the more advanced concepts. Sure, fundamental concepts are not as glamorous as blistering guitar solos, but even virtuosos like Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen started out with the basics! Here are a couple of basic concepts you should focus on to start:
Properly Set Up Guitar – First things, first – it’s crucial that your guitar is in a good, playable condition. This includes having all 6 strings, properly intonated, and nice playable action. Make sure that the strings are tuned correctly (you can use a guitar tuner or a tuner app) and familiarize yourself with all the different parts of the guitar.
Make sure that the action of your guitar is not too high – the action is the distance between your guitar strings and the fretboard. The higher your action, the more difficult it is to press down the strings. If you think your guitar has high action, you can go to a luthier to have this fixed. If needed, seek the assistance of a guitar tech at your local store. Most guitar shops will have an expert on hand capable of giving your instrument a professional setup.
Identify String Names and Notes – Knowing the names of each of your 6 guitar strings is very important – it will help you understand the notes and playing chords. The guitar has 6 strings, with the leftmost (thickest) string being the 6th string, tuned to the E note, and the rightmost (thinnest) being the 1st string, also tuned to a high E note.
Here’s a quick diagram to explain each open string name in standard tuning:
Understanding Frets – Simply put, frets are the space between two fret bars on the neck of your guitar. These are the spaces that you press down with your fingers to play notes on the instrument. We start counting frets from the top of the guitar neck, with the 1st space between the neck and the fret bar, followed by the 2nd fret, and so on. Here’s a quick visual guide:
Holding The Guitar Pick – Learning the right way to hold your pick will ensure that when it strikes the strings, it creates a pleasant sound, while also making for effortless playing that doesn’t tense up your muscles. There are many types of picks available with varying thicknesses, each creating a different sound depending on their thickness. Here’s a quick video to help:
Fretting The Notes – How To Play Notes Clearly – One of the first things you’ll have to learn how to play your guitar is to figure out where to place your fingers on the frets so that the note produced is loud, clear, and free of any fret buzz. This is also known as ‘fretting the note’.
To do this, place your finger right above the fret. Make sure that you don’t put your fingers on the metal fret bars, but rather in the free space between the two fret bars for a clear, loud note. Touching the metal fret wire would create an annoying ‘fret buzz’ sound that mutes the note.
Here’s a neat little photo showing where to press the fret. As you can see, she is pressing down her finger not on top of the metal fret bars, but in the wooden space between.
2. Learn Basic Guitar Chords
Now let’s get to the juicy part – guitar chords! Chords are a group of musical notes that are strummed together to produce a melodious sound. These are the most basic building blocks of guitar playing, and learning basic guitar chords is a great way to start playing your songs. Yes, you can learn simple chords even as an absolute beginner to start strumming the rhythm of your favorite songs.
Here are some simple guitar chords to get started with:
Also be sure to check out our Basic Guitar Chords for Beginners guide for many more useful chords, charts, videos, and helpful tips.
3. Work on Proper Strumming Patterns
A strumming pattern is basically the technique of playing both upstrokes and downstrokes on your guitar. This is what you do with your right hand to create the rhythm pattern while playing a song. Many popular songs have an alternating strum pattern, which means playing an upstroke and downstroke one after the other. But this is not the only way to strum your guitar – there are many different strumming patterns you can play – depending on the song. Here is our easy guide on the 10 most popular guitar strumming patterns.
I see many young, enthusiastic guitarists rushing to learn guitar solos, which is great. But before working on guitar solos, having a solid sense of rhythm is very, very important. Learning a variety of strumming patterns will strengthen your sense of rhythm. As you get more and more used to focusing on the strumming patterns of songs while listening to them, you’ll be able to pick up a lot of types of strumming styles on your own.
4. Understand Guitar Scales
Once your guitar chords and strumming patterns are sorted out, you can move also start building up your knowledge of guitar scales. Learning how to play guitar scales fluidly will open up the world of guitar solos, and also give you the tools needed to create your own guitar solos and melody ideas.
Guitar scales are the notes in a particular key played in an ascending or descending order. If you remember the naming of our strings, you’ll remember that, in standard tuning, the starting note of the 6th string and the 1st string are both E notes. Similarly, every guitar scale starts and ends with the same musical note. Only that the first note of the scale is the low octave version of the note, while the last note of the scale is played one octave higher.
Typically, a guitar scale contains seven notes, but playing that final 8th note, an octave higher version of the first note, lends a sense of completion to your scale.
5. Learn Your Favorite Songs
Now comes the real fun part! Learning to play the guitar should be a fun and enjoyable process. And one of the best ways to have fun learning the instrument is by playing your favorite songs. Doing this also gives you the chase to test out your techniques in a real-world setting and puts your lessons into context. Learning to play songs puts your concepts into application and see what they sound like in an actual song.
If you’re looking for easy songs to start learning on the guitar, check out our blog posts on 30 easy two-chord guitar songs, 23 easy folk guitar songs for beginners, and 21 easy indie guitar songs! These lists will guide you on how to play iconic guitar songs that use simple guitar chords. Plus, these resources include songs from a wide variety of genres – from rock, pop, folk, funk to even metal!
Once you get comfortable with songs that involve a few, simple chords, you can then start learning slightly more challenging songs.
6. Pick up Songs By Ear
Whether you’re a self-taught guitarist or a classically trained one, everyone needs good ear training! Learning to pick up songs, chords, and rhythm patterns by ear is an incredible asset to have. This way, you will be able to figure out a plethora of songs just by focussing on what chords are involved and what key they are on.
Learning songs by ear may seem a bit intimidating at first, but you can learn it with consistent practice. Start with active listening to hunt and look out for the chords and strumming styles being used in a song.
Once you have an idea of the chords being played, take your guitar and play the chords out loud to see if they match. You can play the song at a slower speed (YouTube lets you do that) if you find it tricky to pick out the chords at regular speed. Once you become comfortable with figuring out the rhythm guitars, you can move onto identifying notes played in guitar solos. Or better still, you can start creating solos of your own!
7. Keep Practicing Consistently
If you want to teach yourself guitar this is probably the most important step. We can’t stress this point enough. The only way to get better with your guitar playing is to practice, practice and practice! By doing this, you will be able to cement all the concepts you learn and commit them to muscle memory. Plus, the more you practice, the quicker you’re able to connect different techniques together and build your skill level.
And we don’t mean that you have to spend 4-5 hours every day playing the guitar. Even setting aside 20 minutes a day of dedicated practice can do wonders in improving your proficiency as a guitarist. And believe us, practice for 20 minutes every day is far better than practicing for hours on a single day!
Remember, consistency is key.
And the key for an effective practice session is to always do the following:
- Make sure your guitar is in tune
- Take time to warm up your fingers with some scale or finger exercises.
Carve out regular time every day. Even if it’s for 15-20 minutes, make sure you do it every single day.
8. Practice With Other Guitarists
If you’re learning how to play guitar by yourself, you may not necessarily find yourself surrounded by other musicians doing the same thing as you. This is not a problem, but it’s a good idea to find fellow musicians to exchange notes with. This way, you will be able to discuss everything you’re learning, the challenges you’re facing, and benefit from any advice they have! Sometimes, having like-minded people to motivate you on your musical journey is a blessing.
There are many good guitar-playing forums online that you can sign up on. You can ask and answer questions, encourage each other and even just decompress after a challenging day of practice!
9. Learn How To Read Chord Charts
Chord charts are an easy and quick way for guitarists to learn how to play different chords. They are a visual diagram that shows which frets you should be pressing, which fingers you should be pressing them with, and which strings you should be playing or muting when you play a chord.
Check out this article of ours (scroll to the latter half of the blog) for a quick and easy lesson on how to read chord charts!
And as promised, here are the chord charts for easy, basic guitar chords for beginners.
10. Learn to Read Tabs
Learning how to read guitar tabs is another great asset to your abilities. There are guitar tabs available online for practically every song – and if you can read guitar tabs, you can easily learn how to play them. Here’s what a typical guitar tab looks like:
And while picking up songs by ear is a fantastic skill to have, it can sometimes take a long time – especially if the song is fast, long, and complex with many chord changes or tricky guitar solos. Websites like www.ultimateguitar.com have accurate guitar tabs for countless songs from across genres. You can also see the ratings left behind by fellow guitarists, grading the accuracy of the tabs – this way, you know which tabs are the correct ones.
Here is a 5-minute video lesson on how to read guitar tabs!
11. Watch Guitar Video Tutorials
Since I’m a self-taught guitarist myself, I used a lot of different techniques to learn new concepts, including all of the steps I’ve shared with you above. And guitar video tutorials have been a great addition to that list! Watching guitar tutorial videos of your favorite songs is a great way to learn to play them accurately, especially if you’re a beginner.
Also, if there’s a concept that you’re struggling with, you can watch videos of seasoned musicians playing them to get a better idea of how to go about it. While you may need specialized video tutorials for complex concepts, there are plenty of great video tutorials on YouTube for learning simpler concepts and easy songs.
How hard is it to teach yourself guitar?
Did you know that Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Prince are all self-taught guitarists? Yes! Three of the most iconic guitarist in the music world taught themselves the instrument, alongside many other iconic guitarists. And for what it’s worth, I am a self-taught guitarist myself, so let me tell you from personal experience that it’s not hard to teach yourself guitar and is entirely possible. With consistency, patience, and practice, you can build your skill level and grow leaps and bounds as a guitarist. In fact, being self-taught often gives you a certain degree of creative freedom to explore unique musical ideas.
Learning to play the guitar yourself is a beautiful journey that will teach you things about yourself that you were not even aware of! When I started my guitar journey, YouTube was not yet launched, and the internet itself was taking its first baby steps – so getting access to the right resources took me a bit longer, although I still very much enjoyed the process. But with the explosion of the internet, there are guitar tabs, videos, blogs (like this one!), and many online guitar resources, it’s so much easier to teach yourself guitar today than it was probably 15 years ago.
But although I’ve said that teaching yourself the guitar is easy, there are terms and conditions attached to that. Like anything worthwhile in life, learning the guitar takes consistent effort, time, practice, and dedication. You have to commit yourself to this pursuit and put in the time and commitment needed on a regular basis. And believe me, it will be well worth it!
In fact, being self-taught means you have to enforce discipline by yourself, without someone else sitting over your head to make you practice. This is both a good and a bad thing. The good thing is that you are free to chart your musical journey on your own terms, but it also means you have to hold yourself accountable. But as I said, it will be all worth it once you’re able to play your favorite songs and compose songs on the guitar by yourself!
Essentials You Should Have To Learn Guitar By Yourself
For you to be able to start learning to play the guitar, you need to have some basic essentials. While some are obvious, others maybe not that obvious at first thought. So scroll down to find out more:
Getting a Good Guitar – Now, that’s pretty much the first thing you need to get hold of before starting your lessons! As a beginner, choosing the right starter guitar is essential but also quite confusing. You might find yourself drawn to a particular model because of its appearance, but keep a few things in mind before you buy one. Do you want an acoustic or an electric guitar (we’ve got some good recommendations here)? A classical nylon string or a steel-string acoustic?
In most cases, beginners end up getting an acoustic as their first guitar, and for a good reason- a standard acoustic is easier to maneuver and gives a consistent tone when compared to an electric which with its controls, channels, and onboard effects can befuddle a novice. Like an electric, the classical guitar proves to be a tricky affair for absolute beginners due to thicker necks getting in the way of forming chord shapes. In short, it’s easiest to familiarize yourself with an acoustic before graduating with an electric guitar or classical guitar.
Once you’ve decided on the type of guitar you want, zero down on a few makes and models that suit your budget. Rate each according to feel and sound quotient, which you can check by strumming an easy chord.
For beginners, the general rule of thumb is to go for a guitar that scores high on playability (as long as it has a decent sound). That’s not to say a guitar’s sound quality is not one of the deciding factors, it certainly is, but you do realize this is not the only guitar you’ll buy. As a first guitar, get one that’s comfortable to play, fits your budget, and sounds okay if not brilliant. Here’s our guide on different types of acoustic guitars to help you zero in the one you’ll like.
Tuner – Whether you own an acoustic or electric guitar, you’ll need to make sure the strings stay in tune all the time. There’s nothing worse than playing on an out-of-tune guitar! You can start by tuning your instrument to the most popular tuning profiling- standard tuning, which goes E-A-D-G-B-E from thickest to thinnest string. Many proficient players simply rely on harmonics to tune the guitar by ear, but this can be challenging to those just getting started. Thankfully, there are many different ways with which we can tune guitars, such as as a digital tuner or a smartphone app.
We recommend getting a good electronic tuner as they are easy to use, fast and accurate. While buying an electronic tuner, you can either go for clip-on tuners or pedal tuners. A clip-on tuner works well for an acoustic as it can be slapped to the headstock and detects even the slightest of vibrations. Pedal tuners, on the other hand, are geared towards electric or electric-acoustic. These are super accurate and need to be plugged into your guitar using a jack lead.
Metronome – Learning the guitar will become a whole lot easier if you get one of these! A metronome is a fantastic device that keeps your rhythm and tempo in check by producing a “click” sound at regular intervals or the speed you set it to. And we cannot emphasize enough the importance of honing your rhythm skills and staying on the beat as a guitarist, whether you play solo or with a band. A metronome will help you do just that!
Spare Strings – This is a must-have accessory for a guitarist. As durable as some of the best ones might be, strings break, and even if they don’t, you’ll still need to replace them after a few months of use to maintain consistency in sound quality. There are two factors to consider before buying a set of strings- gauge and material. Strings come in different thicknesses or gauges. You should pick a string gauge that goes with your playing style.
Guitarists who employ aggressive attack, slides, or seek louder sound pick heavier gauge strings. Beginners and those whose style involves intricate fingerpicking or bending and vibratos tend to opt for a light gauge set.
Most commonly used strings on an acoustic are made from brass, bronze, or phosphor bronze, while steel and nickel strings are typically found on electric guitars. Also, each pick of material is known for producing a distinct sound, so don’t hesitate to explore different makes, models, materials, and gauges as you go along your guitar journey.
Picks – Just like strings, picks are also available in a range of different options to choose from. The ideal ones for a guitarist of beginner skill level are light picks with thickness less than 0.6 mm that work great for acoustic strumming. Once you move towards scales and rhythm riffs, you might want to buy picks with a medium thickness in the range of 0.60mm to 0.80mm. The Thickest picks have deeper, mellower tones making them perfect for electric solos and aggressive, heavy attack.
Comfortable chair or stool – Pretty much a basic requirement if you’re starting with guitar lessons. You need to be comfortable and settled while playing. Acquire an ergonomic chair or guitar stool that’s padded, easy to carry around, and facilitates good posture. You’d have noticed how most guitar chairs come without an armrest. It’s mainly to avoid any obstruction while strumming and accessing all the frets on the fretboard.
Quiet environment – Once you’ve got all of the above sorted, find yourself a disruption-free, quiet space where you can jam to your heart’s content. Make sure you get yourself a good pair of headphones to practice privately and keep cribbing neighbors and roommates at bay!
Way to record your practices – Recording your practice sessions is vital to keep track of your progress. You don’t need any fancy equipment for this – you can simply use your phone to record yourself playing the guitar. Once you’re done, review the sessions to see your posture, fretting, and strumming technique to see if there’s anything you’d like to tweak.
Nice to Have Tools Before Teaching Yourself The Guitar
Capo – Getting a capo is not an absolute necessity but good to have should some of the songs require it. Once you start playing songs, you’ll come across some that might need you to retune your guitar from the standard tuning, and this often lands new learners in a pickle. A capo lets you alter the pitch of the song without having to retune. So why not keep it handy?
Guitar strap – You might not always be sitting down on your favorite comfy stool while playing. This is when having a good guitar strap will come to your rescue. Not just the comfort factor but straps are also used by musicians to make a statement about their playing style and individuality. You can get a good old solid black strap or choose from a range of materials and designs that suit your personality.
Guitar stand – When you’re not playing, where would you put down that beauty? Not just anywhere, we hope! You can lean it against the wall, but ideally, if your guitar is not in your hands, it would be safest to stash it in a gig bag or place it on a stand to save it from damage. You can get a basic guitar stand that does the job or invest in one that grips the neck and keeps it well-protected against slips and falls. You can also go for wall-mounted guitar stands and wall hangers.
Guitar case – Chances are you’ll not just be playing your guitar at home and would want to carry it around to your friend’s place or take it along when you’re traveling. It’ll be very challenging to lug it safely without a gig bag or case. Some guitars already come with one on the purchase, but if yours didn’t, invest in a sturdy hardshell or a plush gig bag for long-lasting protection.
Do’s And Don’ts Of Teaching Yourself Guitar
Remember To Warm-Up – Always a good idea to warm up your fingers by working on a few scales or doing some finger exercising before kickstarting your lesson.
Practice Regularly – As a self-taught guitarist, you’ll not be taking structured, regular lessons from anyone. Therefore, it becomes all the more important to set up a practice routine to hone your fundamentals and brush up on any recently acquired techniques. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes, practicing every day is certainly better than leaving it all for the weekend.
Be Patient – It sounds clichéd, but patience is key when you’re learning any new skill. The first few lessons and practice sessions will be challenging and might make you feel like giving up. Don’t! Even the most legendary guitarists have struggled with the instrument at one point or another. Celebrate every little win, learn from your mistakes, and keep practicing!
Start Easy and Master the Basics – Don’t reach too high too early. Set smaller goals and pace yourself. Work on nailing basic songs, chords, and strumming patterns first. Pick easy songs, riffs, and solos so as to avoid frustration and getting overwhelmed. Starting slow and working on simpler pieces will build confidence to take on more challenging parts later. Even if you’re learning a particularly tricky song, break it down, play it on a slower tempo than the recording, tackle one part before moving on to another.
Record Yourself – We mentioned just how easily you could record your sessions. Keep running through these recordings time and again to figure out how well you are doing and what you need to work on.
Try New Things – Keep exploring different scales, chords, and techniques. Start easy but don’t skip challenging lessons. Learning trickier things like barre chords, hammer-ons, pull-offs, fretting, bends, and guitar theory will take heaps of practice but will be worth every bit of your time and effort in the end.
Practice With Metronome – By practicing your scales and exercises with a metronome, you will learn how to play in rhythm and on time. It will ensure that you don’t drag or rush your playing too much. This sense of timing is crucial to be a well-rounded and skillful guitarist. You can start by setting your metronome at a comfortable tempo where you don’t find yourself struggling to do the exercises. As you get more and more comfortable with the exercises, you can practice them at higher tempos or BPMs (beats per minute).
Jam With Others – Make your learning a super fun experience by jamming with your buddies. Choose duet tracks or tunes which have lead and rhythm parts. You’ll make great strides by practicing with someone more proficient than you. Seek their help in nailing down techniques that you’ve found troublesome or beyond your skill level.
Learn Favorite Songs – Stay inspired by learning your favorite tunes. First – this will keep learning enjoyable – rather than dull, boring songs you don’t have an emotional connection with. Tune into videos and YouTube channels of your guitar idols to keep yourself motivated.
If you have any questions about how to teach yourself guitar let us know in the comments below. There are few things as rewarding as pursuing a creative journey yourself. Learning the guitar is a fantastic way to express yourself, and it’s easy to teach yourself how to play the guitar by keeping a few important points in mind. We hope our blog gives you the tools and motivation needed to learn this iconic instrument. Keep the music going!
My name is Chris and I’ve had a passion for music and guitars for as long as I can remember. I started this website with some of my friends who are musicians, music teachers, gear heads, and music enthusiasts so we could provide high-quality guitar and music-related content.
I’ve been playing guitar since I was 13 years old and am an avid collector. Amps, pedals, guitars, bass, drums, microphones, studio, and recording gear, I love it all.
I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania. My background is in Electrical Engineering, earning a Bachelor’s degree from Youngstown State University. With my engineering experience, I’ve developed as a designer of guitar amplifiers and effects. A true passion of mine, I’ve designed, built, and repaired a wide range of guitar amps and electronics. Here at the Guitar Lobby, our aim is to share our passion for Music and gear with the rest of the music community.