Guitar lessons for beginners, what you need to know!

The guitar is a great gateway instrument to the wonderful world of music. It is an extremely versatile instrument. The guitar can play both melody and harmony and best of all it's portable! For these reasons, learning guitar is a great way for beginner guitar students to get started with their music education.

Learning guitar can be quite challenging physically. Without proper guidance there is a chance of developing poor guitar technique and this can lead to repetitive strain injury. A great guitar teacher will not only take preventative measures so guitar students do not develop repetitive strain injury but they will also provide guitar students with a solid musical foundation.

Choosing the Right Guitar

There are a number of things to consider when choosing the right guitar for beginner guitar lessons. This depends on a number of factors such as: musical interest, age and physical size, and budget. For instance, a beginner guitar student might be interested in learning to play heavy metal music on the guitar. This playing style or music genre is generally played on an electric guitar so an affordable electric guitar would be the way to go for both in-person guitar lessons and online guitar lessons alike. The main difference between an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar is an acoustic guitar generally produces sound through a sound hole while an electric guitar is amplified with the use of a guitar amplifier. The age and size factor will dictate what size guitar is appropriate for a beginner guitar student. A young guitar student between the ages of 3 to 6 should choose a junior size guitar sometimes called a 1/4 size guitar. Someone between the ages of 6-8 should choose a 1/2 size guitar. Between the ages of 9-12 a 3/4 size guitar is ideal, and for a guitar student between the ages of 12 and up a full size guitar is generally the way to go. Remember, you must consider a guitar student's physical size as the ages are just a general estimate. Having a budget for purchasing a guitar is a great idea. Generally, it's always best not to over spend when purchasing your first guitar. Not only do you want to see if a beginner guitar student is going to stick with the guitar lessons, you also want to them to be able to move up the ranks in terms of guitar quality which is reflected in the price of a guitar.

Tuning and Maintenance

The guitar is a temperamental instrument. It needs to be tuned frequently and is sensitive to fluctuations in temperature. Tuning the guitar is crucial for guitar lessons for beginners. Without a properly tuned guitar students will not develop a good sense of pitch. There are multiple ways to tune a guitar: by ear, using a tuning fork or pitch pipe, or using a tuner. Using a guitar tuner is the easiest method for tuning a guitar for beginners. Tuners provide beginner guitar students with a visual aid via a display that shows students when a guitar is in tune. Using a tuning fork or pitch pipe is more difficult than tuning a guitar with a guitar tuner. There is no visual aid with a pitch pipe or tuning fork. Beginner guitar students need to use their ear to match pitches that are sounded on a tuning fork or pitch pipe with the open string notes of a guitar. Tuning a guitar by ear without the aid of a tuning fork or pitch pipe is by far the most difficult method of tuning. The guitar student must first memorize the sound of one pitch and then match that pitch to an open guitar string. From there a guitar student can match the other pitches on the guitar fret-board to that of the open strings (relative tuning). Ultimately, beginner guitar chords sound great on a well tuned guitar! Keeping your guitar in tune is just one element to guitar maintenance. Acoustic guitars need a guitar humidifier for the winter months or else they may crack. Keeping your guitar in it's case is also a good way to keep it protected and in good condition.

Holding the Guitar and Correct Posture

Holding the guitar correctly and having good body posture is essential for guitar lessons for beginners. Learning guitar is challenging so you want to make sure you are playing correctly. Generally, there are two ways to use your fret-board hand when holding/playing the guitar. The first one is to slightly arch your wrist, curl your fingers, and place your thumb behind the guitar neck in a somewhat vertical position. The second is to hold your wrist somewhat straight while wrapping your thumb around the back of the neck so you can play fretted notes on the bass strings. The picking hand is different. Some people play guitar with a pick while others use their fingers to pick the guitar strings. Generally, when holding a pick try to hold it with your thumb and index fingers. This will free up the other fingers for chicken picking or to use a whammy bar or adjust the volume/tone knobs on an electric guitar. For finger picking try to keep your wrist angled in a slightly downward position. When sitting, make sure to keep your back fairly straight. This will take pressure off of the neck and upper back. Follow these tips in order to prevent possible repetitive strain injuries.

Basic Chords and Strumming Patterns

Guitar lessons for beginners usually start by learning how to play beginner guitar chords. Em, G, D, and C are great beginner guitar chords to learn. Not only are they common chords but the fingering and hand placement make them ideal for beginner guitar students learning guitar. The tricky thing to remember is there are two different common fingerings for the Em and G chords. There are also two different ways to play a G chord on the guitar. Knowing what fingerings to use is essential. Always remember to choose a fingering that is going to make your chord transitions easier and this is almost always determined by the context of a song. For example, Em can be played with your index and middle fingers or your middle and ring fingers. If you are changing from Em to G then you would use your index and middle fingers to fret the Em chord and this would set up a smooth transition with your index and middle fingers on the G chord. The only thing left to do would be to place your ring finger or your ring and pinky fingers on the e and b strings to complete the G chord.

Strumming beginner guitar chords can be challenging as well. Always make sure to associate rhythms with counting and strumming. Also, use arrows for the direction of the strums. Common syncopation patterns such as 1 2 & (3) & 4 & or 1 2 & (3) & 4 are used quite frequently in many songs.

A great way to help build muscle memory and smooth chord transitions is repetition with the use of a timer. Practice strumming between two or three chords to start with. Only strum each chord once and time yourself for 2-5 minutes without stopping. See how many times you can strum each chord. We offer both in-person guitar lessons at our Toronto High Park studio or online guitar lessons.

Essential Techniques

There are many essential guitar techniques that students will learn. The idea is to not only give beginner guitar students a solid foundation in guitar technique but also to introduce students to multiple different musical genres by choosing an eclectic assortment of guitar techniques. One essential guitar technique is finger picking. This covers a wide range of music genres from folk and classical to rock, country, blues, pop and more! There are two schools of thought for finger picking: The first method is used mainly in folk and classical while the second method is used more often in blues, country, rock, pop... It should be noted that both finger picking methods can be used in any music genre. It all depends on the context of the musical piece or song. The main difference between the two finger picking methods is the number of fingers used. Finger picking method one (folk & classical) uses the thumb (p), index (i), middle (m), and ring (a) fingers to pick the guitar strings. Finger picking method two (blues, country, rock, pop) omits using the ring (a) and pinky fingers. Finger picking method two only uses the thumb (p), index (i), and middle (m) fingers. The pinky finger is not used for finger picking guitar technique. Guitar lessons for beginners should include at the very least, an introduction to finger picking when learning guitar. Good basic finger picking exercises are as follows:

Method One:

1: (p) (i) (m) (a) on the thick 'E', 'g', 'b', and thin 'e' strings.

2: (p) (i) (m) (a) (m) (i) on the thick 'E', 'g', 'b', thin 'e', 'b', 'g' strings.

3: (p) (i) (m) (i) (a) (m) on the thick 'E', 'g', 'b', 'g', thin 'e', 'b' strings.

Method Two:

1: (p) (i) (m) on the 'g', 'b' and thin 'e' strings.

2: (m) (i) (p) on the thin 'e', 'b', 'g' strings.

3: (p) (m) (i) on the 'g', thin 'e', and 'b' strings.

While not a technique per se, power chords are essential building blocks for rhythm guitar and playing beginner guitar chords. Power chords are essentially two or three string music intervals on the guitar: The perfect 5th and the perfect octave. The perfect 4th also sounds good as a power chord. Power chords are predominantly used in rock and metal but also show up in country, blues, folk, and even classical guitar.

Learning how to play guitar usually includes learning how to play basic single note melodies. Here, beginner guitar students learn how to read traditional music notation while essentially learning how to program their fret-board hand fingers within a specific guitar position. Starting in open position (1st three frets) is a great place to begin learning to read basic single note melodies.

Introduction to Music Theory

Guitar lessons for beginners often include learning music theory at some point or another. The musical alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) is the gateway to music theory and therefore a great starting point for guitar lessons for beginners. The musical alphabet simply consists of seven different letters and then it repeats as you go up the octave. The letters of the musical alphabet are note names for pitches. These letters/notes need to be memorized on the guitar fret-board so students can then learn to read traditional sheet music notation.

Scales are crucial to the progress and development of all guitar students. Scales are the foundation of harmony and are absolutely essential to learn. Most music is based on some type of scale. Knowledge of scales will help with music theory, song writing, composition, and improvisation.

Learning to read music for guitar students is quite valuable since it will help students understand music theory. You could argue that music is a language. The notes or letters are the words and music theory are the rules. There are three different types of notation for guitar: Guitar Tablature, Chord Frames or Charts , and Traditional Sheet Music. Learning to read all three is important. Guitar Tablature and Chord Frames are excellent ways to learn how to play guitar. They are intuitive and easier to learn than traditional music notation. That being said, Guitar Tablature and Chord Frames do not teach guitarists how to read music. Learning guitar should include learning how to read traditional music notation since it will help a great deal with music theory. Music is a language. If you cannot read it how are you going to understand it?

Rhythm and Timing

Rhythm and timing are crucial to becoming a good guitar player and musician. Usually, it is quite noticeable when a musician misses a beat and falls behind or jumps ahead of the music. For this reason, it is imperative for beginner guitar students to develop a strong sense of rhythm and timing. Learning guitar should include valuable learning aids such as using a metronome or backing tracks and songs to play along with. Using a metronome will help build a strong sense of timing and for this reason it is invaluable for guitar lessons for beginners. When using a metronome, beginner guitar students should start by playing quarter notes (1 note per 1 click) with the metronome. As students progress, they can then move on to eighth notes (2 notes per 1 click), and then sixteenth notes (4 notes per 1 click), and so on. This approach will definitely help guitar students to develop a strong sense of timing. Backing tracks are also an important tool for developing rhythm and timing as well as improvising. Here, beginner guitar students must try to keep up with the backing track while improvising. Playing along with songs is also a great way to help develop good rhythm and timing.

Building a Practice Routine

Consistency is everything when learning guitar. With daily practice beginner guitar students will progress at a fairly good rate. Practice makes progress! Learning music regardless of the instrument, requires hard work and disciplined practice in order to progress. Guitar lessons for beginners should include a structured practice routine, one that is eclectic and realistic. Learning guitar is challenging so most students need a plan. Here are some helpful tips for structuring an effective practice routine:

  1. Create three or four categories including: Technique, Studies, Improvisation, Repertoire.
  2. Assign a time limit for each category.
  3. Set goals.
  4. Track your progress.

For technique, using a metronome is quite beneficial. The metronome is an excellent way to track your progress. As you learn to play faster and faster you can write down the fastest and slowest tempo you have achieved for that day. Playing slowly can be quite challenging so remember to play at multiple different tempos (moderate, slow, fast speeds). For studies and repertoire a good goal to set could be learning one particular phrase at a time or memorizing that particular phrase until the entire musical composition is learned. You could aim to memorize one phrase per week. For improvisation, goal setting could include learning to play with one or two different back tracks per week.


Learning guitar can be a wonderful experience. The guitar is portable, versatile, and is simply just cool! The guitar is a gateway instrument to the world of music. The guitar can provide a love of music that can last a lifetime. For these reasons the guitar is an excellent choice as a starting instrument. Hopefully this article has encouraged people to learn to play guitar. Learning guitar is a wonderful journey that should be embraced with open arms. So go ahead and enjoy learning the guitar! Our guitar lessons Toronto includes online guitar lessons and in-person guitar lessons.