Category Archives: Guitar Basics

Don’t Beat Yourself Up Over It

One thing that I always say to a new student is “whatever new thing I show you when we get together… you’re not suppose to get it the first day.”  I think learning any instrument (or anything at all) requires time.   There are probably only a few people in the world who can pick up an instrument and just play it.  If you’re one of them, then pin a rose on your nose.  😛

If you’re new to an instrument, whether it’s the guitar or something else, don’t beat yourself up because it doesn’t seem like you’re getting it quick enough.  We all learn in our own way and at our own rate.  Don’t get discouraged because it’s not sounding the way you expect it to the first day.. or the second day.. or even after a week.  And don’t give up.  Sometimes, you might know in your mind how it should sound or what you’d like it to sound like but it takes your fingers/hands/body some time to catch up.

When it comes to technique, I don’t believe there’s “right” or wrong” or “good” or “bad”.  Although, there is “clean” and “sloppy”.  (But then again, maybe sloppy is what you’re going for.)  In any case, the point is that everyone’s fingers work differently.  What’s important is if the technique is serving you.  Does it produce the sound you want?  Does it allow you to play at the speed you want?  Does it create the feel you want?  And, probably most important, does it hurt?

On the other hand, analyzing the details and figuring out what exactly is keeping you from being able to play a certain part or lick is a great practice to have.  I think every great musician has to do this one time or another.  And once you find that little piece that’s giving you a hard time, just practice that short passage until you get it and then add it to the rest.  Or maybe there are a few parts that are difficult.  Practice them individually then string them together.

But if you don’t have that kind of time or just don’t want to spend the time, maybe the situation you’re in doesn’t really require you to play something exactly the way you’re thinking.  For guitarists, maybe it doesn’t have to be that particular position or that particular lick.  Sometimes it might be (more) appropriate to ask the question “this person played it this way to make this particular expression, how would I play this to express the same thing or something similar?”

But whatever you do, don’t beat yourself up over it.  It’s not worth it.

Guitar Lesson – Back to Basics – Barre Chords

Alright, so let’s see how we can put all this theory to practical use!

You might notice that we only looked at a few chords in the Basics section.  Now, let’s get into barre chords.

How to play barre chords
In the chart below, you’ll see lines going across.  This means that those notes are meant to be held by 1 finger.  Normally, you would use your index finger (1) to hold the “barre”.

TIP 1 :- In reality, your index finger will not be perfectly straight and probably won’t actually hold down the A and D strings very much (not enough to hear notes).

TIP 2 :- The minor shape on the 1st row below requires the index finger to hold down the low-E, G, B, and E strings.  This is too hard for me to do with just my index finger.  So I use my middle finger on top of my index finger to give it extra support.

Take a look at the “major” and “minor” shapes on this chart.

You might notice that this chart is not specific to any particular chord.  That’s because the same shape can be applied to any note.

Looking at the figure on the upper-left, you might notice that it looks a lot like the E chord.  That’s because it is!

One way to look at it is that the E chord is like having the barre at the 0th fret (ie you’re not playing it, the nut is).

Now, if you shift the whole shape down by 1 fret and hold the 1st fret (all of it) using your index finger, you’ll be playing the F note on the low-E and high-E strings as well as the C note on the B string.  Then place your middle finger (2), ring finger (3), and pinky (4) into position.  Now you’re holding F (major)!

Shift this shape down again to the 3rd fret (ie index on the 3rd fret).  Now you’re holding G (major).
As you can imagine, you can shift this shape up and down the fretboard.
In the last lesson, I mentioned that it’s important to remember where the root note is for each shape and this is why…  
So, let’s say you need to play C# (major).  Well, you have a few choices.  Looking at this chart, there are 2 ways of playing a major chord.
One way is to use the “E” shape (figure at upper-left corner).  The other way is to use the “A” shape (3rd row left).  
If you remember, for the “E” shape, the root note is on the E-string.  And by counting steps, you will find the C# note on the E-string on the 9th fret.  So if you use the “E” shape on the 9th fret, you’ll be playing C# (major).

But you can also use the “A” shape which has the root note on the A-string.  The C# on the A-string on the 4th fret.  So if you hold the “A” shape on on the 4th fret, you’ll also play C# (major).

Let’s use one more example.  How about Bm (B minor)?
You can use the “Em” shape (1st row center) or the “Am” shape (3rd row center).

Again, for the “Em” shape, the root note is on the E-string.  The B note is on the 7th fret on the E-string.  So hold the shape there.  For the “Am” shape, the root note is on the A-string and the B note is on the 2nd fret on the A-string.  So hold it there.

So… by learning 4 shapes (E, Em, A, Am), remembering where the notes are on 2 strings, and applying a little bit of theory, you can now play all major and minor chords in 2 positions!  Cool huh?

Guitar Lesson – Basics Part 4 – Left Hand, Right Hand

If you are a beginner and you’ve looked through the first few lessons, hopefully at this point you’ve memorized a few of the chord shapes.  Holding chords and notes are basically left hand technique (if you’re a right-handed player like most).

Tip for Left-Hand

One of the things I often forget to point out is that even though you learned to hold the chords one finger at a time, in practice you’d want to fret them all at the same time.  You can think of it kind of like putting your fingers into the correct shape and applying or stamping it down on the fretboard.

Right-Hand Technique – Strumming

Now let’s talk about what to do with your right-hand or strumming hand.  For this lesson, we’ll assume that you’re using a guitar pick.  So let’s look at how to hold the pick.

(Disclaimer – these are not my hands)

This is the way I usually hold the pick.  I try to get the pick pointing down almost perfectly perpendicular to the thumb.  And I usually allow my other 3 fingers to spread out a little (comfortably).  I find that this works well for me when strumming chords and getting the right feel.  I also like having my middle finger out ready for tapping.

But I’ve since learned that this is not necessarily the best or recommended way to hold the pick.

It seems that the way most people recommend is to hold curl your fingers back (almost like holding a fist).  Again, the pick is held perpendicular to the thumb.

I’ve been using this technique a bit more when I need to play faster licks.  The other fingers don’t get in the way as much.

Previously, when we talked about chords and notes, we were talking about pitch.  In music notation, this would be the “vertical” axis.

When we talk about strumming, we are talking abot rhythm which would be the “horizontal” or “time” axis.

There will probably be future lessons on how to read music where we’ll talk specifically about whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, etc.

Playing The Beats

For now, let’s just talk about quarter notes.  In other words, we’ll take a “measure” (some block of time) and divide it into 4 equal parts.  At the start of each part, we’d count: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Let’s call these the “down beats”.

When you first practice, try playing just the down beats using a down stroke (play the strings from top to bottom).

Let’s use this simple progression:  

            ||E       |A     :||

And we’ll repeat this over and over.

So you’ll play: 
       |E  E  E  E  |A  A  A  A  |     (and repeat)

Once you get the hang of this, try playing the strings while moving your hands up (play strings from bottom to top).  This is the up stroke.

In guitar notation, the down stroke is noted by a down arrow head while the up stroke looks like a box without a bottom (or an “n”?).

Let’s split the measure up even further into eighths.  But instead of counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, we’ll count: 1 n 2 n 3 n 4 n (“n” = “and”).  To write this out so that each “n” is associated with a specific beat, you can think of it as:

     1  1n  2  2n  3  3n  4  4n

     D  U   D  U   D  U   D  U   <— D = down stroke, U = up stroke

Now, let’s play a more interesting rhythm.  Instead of playing just downs like before, we’ll mix them up like this:

     1      2  2n    3n  4 

     D  —  D  U  — U   D —     

In this case, we’re only playing the beats: 1, 2, 2n, 3n, 4.

If you try to play this with a electronic metronome, set the metronome to 4-beats per measure.  Each time it beeps of flashes, it’s the down beat.  Some metronomes will beep/flash differently once.  I usually use this as the 4th beat (ie “about to change measure!”).

You should find yourself playing down strokes with the first 2 beeps/flashes (1, 2), playing an up stroke between the 2nd and 3rd beep/flash, skipping the 3rd beep/flash, then playing an up stroke before the 4th beep/flash and finally down stroke with the 4th beep/flash.  Try to play the up strokes equally between beeps/flashes (otherwise, you’re not playing the “n” beat!).

Right-Hand Technique Tips
Here are some tips for practicing:

  • Start SlowWhen you first start playing, you might find that it takes you a long time to shift from one chord/shape to the next.  The temptation will be to play the 4 beats quick, then change chord slowly, then play the next set of chords quick again.  Try not to do this.  🙂  Instead, try to space each strum out evenly.  If you have to play slow at first (each measure is taking more time), then do that.  In fact, you might want to use a metronome to keep pace.
  • Keep Your Hand Moving — Another habit that I see some players get into is not moving their hands during the beats that they don’t play.  I find that many players with this habit also have timing problems.  The easiest way I find to overcome this is to simple keep your hands moving up and down.  In the example above, your hand should move down at each down beat and move up in between.  Also, try to move in an even pace.  For instance, instead of strumming down and up quickly and waiting, imagine your hand is a pendulum that swings back and forth evenly and smoothly.  I’m not sure about everyone else but when I strum, I allow my wrist to move a little.
  • Down/Up Exercise — One way to practice is to mute the strings with your left hand and just practice down/up strokes.  First, try all downs.  Then all ups.  Then all downs and ups.  Then try any combination you can think of.  Once you get the hang of this and you see how each down/up stroke corresponds with a particular beat, then playing any rhythm is only a matter of figuring out which downs/ups to play and which ones to “skip”.

Guitar Lesson – Basics Part 3 – Am, Em, Dm

So far, we’ve gone over some of the major, open string chords.  Now, we’re going to look at some open string minor chords.
As we look at each minor chords, you may want to look at the major chords of the same root (ie A major vs A minor, etc.)

Make a note of which notes is different.  This will help you gain a better understanding of these shapes and what notes are being played.

We’ll also go over these differences again when we talk about music theory (don’t fall asleep on me yet!!).

We’ll start with Am (A minor).  You can look at this chord as the same shape as the E major except shift by 1 string.  The Am is very similar to A except for 1 note.  Instead of playing the C# on the B-string on the 2nd fret, play the C on the B-string on the 1st fret.

Use your index finger on the B-string, your middle finger on the D-string 2nd fret to play the E, and your ring finger on the G-string 2nd fret to play the A.

Next, let’s look at Em (E minor).  Again, there’s just 1 note different from the major.  Instead of playing the G# on the G-string at the 1st fret, let go over your index finger and allow the G-string to be played open.  Use your middle finger on the A-string at the 2nd fret to play the B and your finger finger on the D-string at the 2nd fret to play the E.

And finally, we get to Dm (D minor).  This time, the note that’s different from D (major) is on the high E-string.  Instead of playing F# on the 2nd fret, play F on the 1st fret using your index finger.  Use your middle finger on the 2nd fret of the G-string to play A and ring finger on the 3rd fret of the B-string to play D.

TIP :- Try playing the majors and minor chords back-to-back and see if you can hear the differences.  You may notice that major chords seem “brighter”, “happier”, “more energetic” while minor chords are “darker” and “sad” (“mean” even?).

Guitar Lesson – Basics Part 2 – G, C

Here’s part 2 of basic chords. We’ll look at open chords for G and C.

C Major and G Major

We’re going to use this chart again for C and G.

And, again, when you’re practicing these chords, try playing the strings one at a time to make sure the ones that should be ringing are not muted and the ones that should not be ringing are.

Variation on G Major

The above way of playing G seems to be the standard (using fingers 1, 2, and 3). My preferred way of playing G is using fingers 2, 3, and 4 instead. Try holding the low-E string on the 3rd fret using your ring finger (2), the A string on the 2nd fret using your middle finger (3), and the high-E string on the 3rd fret using your pinky (4).

Using this method, you can switch between G and C (which happens a lot) faster. All you need to do is move fingers (2) and (3) over by 1 string and let go of your pinky. You’ll notice that when you do this, your wrist position does not have to change.

The G Cadd9 Thing
Continuing with the idea of only switching 2 fingers to go between G and C. Here’s another very (very, very, very, very…) popular/common set of chords.

Here, the D is played on the B string for G. Use your middle finger (2) to hold the low-E string on the 3rd fret, your index finger (1) to hold the A string on the 2nd fret, your ring finger on the B string no the 3rd fret, and your pinky also on the 3rd fret on the high-E string.

Cadd9 means that the 9(th) note (of the C major scale… will get into scales soon…) is played. In this case, that’s also the D played on the B string. To hold this chord, use your middle finger (2) to hold the A string on the 3rd fret, your index finger (1) to hold the D string on the 2nd fret, your ring finger on the B string no the 3rd fret, and your pinky also on the 3rd fret on the high-E string.

You’ll notice that as you switch between these chords, you only need to move your (1) and (2) fingers from holding the low-E and A strings to the A and D strings.

And as mentioned in Part 1, you’ll want to mute the low-E string with your thumb.

A well-known song that uses this is Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison. But there are plenty of other examples as well.

Guitar Lesson – Basics Part 1 – E, A, D

Here’s 1st installment of basic chords. We’ll be starting with “open” chords meaning that these chords are played which strings that are opened (“not fretted”).

When practicing holding chords, play strings one at a time and make sure each string rings nicely. If a string is meant to be played, it should not sound muted.

But muting (with your thumb) can be helpful when playing the A (major) and D (major) to keep the low-E string from ringing.

E Major

The numbers in the block circles shows which fingers to use:
1 = index
2 = middle
3 = ring
4 = pinky

In the top of this chart, the top is showing the particular note being played/held on that string.

The numbers on the side indicate fret number.

A Major and D Major

This chart shows how to hold the A (major) and D (major).

X = don’t play
O = open (don’t hold string, play, and let ring)

This chart also shows C (major) and G (major).

* I put “major” in () because it’s implied.

Another way to hold the A, which is my preferred way, is to use just the 1st and 2nd fingers by holding the D and G strings with the 1st finger and the B string with the 2nd finger. I prefer this method because it’s easier to get my fingers where they need to be. Sometimes, depending on the width of the neck, it can be hard to get 3 fingers next to each other on the same fret.

Try to curl your fingers so that the tips of your fingers are holding the strings down. This will help them to not accidentally touch an adjacent string.

Also try placing your thumb lightly/gently on the low-E string to try muting it. This, with combination of practicing playing only the strings you want, will help you avoid playing unwanted notes.