PHIL KEAGGY - Grammy nominated and seven-time Dove Award winner, is one of the world’s great guitar players and a pioneer in contemporary Christian music.
- May 22, 2017
- Guitar 101
Guitar is such a fun instrument that we feel everyone should play a little. It’s great therapy and challenging too. Music is a bit like math, which makes the guitar a mathematical instrument. Half steps and whole steps, 1st fret to the 24th fret, whole notes to 64th notes, it’s all numbers. The fun is in learning songs that people recognize and being rewarded for it. The work comes in as you’re getting your hands to cooperate. Asking your fingers and hands to work together is therapy and music is brain food. Guitar basics is the place where we all start. If you’re going to learn how to play guitar, the guitar basics will help get you running out the gate. Let’s get started.
The physics of playing guitar is somewhat subject to style and preference. Classical guys and gals play with the guitar on their left leg while everyone else is using their right leg. The angle at which you hold the guitar also determines the position of your hands, so sitting up straight and balancing the guitar on your leg matters a great deal.
Never lay your guitar down so you can see it better. Look over the guitar from above, but don’t lay it down in your lap. We all get a little tired of holding the guitar properly in the beginning, but laziness must be avoided. Keep your left or chord hand up and attached to the neck and don’t rest your left elbow on your leg. This puts and strain on your neck and back and ultimately slows you down. Sit up straight and keep your left elbow out away from your body. It’s easy to get lazy and sloppy, but fight the urge.
Correct Hand Technique
The right, or pick, hand is also subject to style and preference. If you use a flat pick, you hold it between your thumb and index finger. Many players also use their 3rd, 4th, and 5th fingers along with the pick. Some people use a thumbpick and their four fingers. Still others only use their thumb and four fingers with no pick at all.
No matter what your right hand combination is, one of the guitar basics that you should know is to keep your right hand wrist loose. If your right elbow is tight or stiff, you’re doing it wrong. You should keep your arm free from the elbow down. It is resting on top of the guitar but make sure it’s loose from the elbow down to the fingers. Fast licks do not require you to stiffen up. If you do, you will slow down or play sloppy. Use your wrist, not your arm.
The left, or chord, hand wrist needs to be down and the left hand thumb in the center of the guitar neck. Wrist down, thumb in the center. This will allow you to reach the notes on the fretboard and stretch your fingers into position. Gripping the guitar neck will make your chord hand hurt and you’ll be very uncomfortable as you play.
Chords - Guitar Basics
Guitar is one of those instruments that if you played for a lifetime, you’d only scratch the surface. Great guitarists learn something new every day. Basically, you’ve gotta get the guitar in your hands and really know it before you can perform well with it. You can spend hours just learning one song. Since we’re talking guitar basics here, there are a few staple guitar chords you can use for playing simple songs. Guitarists think in sharps vs. flats like keyboardists, mainly because the easiest guitar chords are sharp keys. For example, G is probably the most used guitar key. Let’s look at the G Major Chord:
Left hand first finger (index) should be on the 5th, or A, string 2nd fret. The 2nd finger should be on the 6th, or low E, string on the 3rd fret and the 3rd finger should be on the little E, or 1st, string on the 3rd fret. This chord will get you started nicely. It requires good hand position in keeping your wrist down and thumb in the center of the neck. Make sure your fingertips are close to the oncoming fret and not in the middle of the fret, which causes buzzes and bad pitch.
Now let’s look at the basic C Major and D Major chords:
C Major requires the 1st finger on the 2nd, or B, string and 1st fret. The 2nd finger is on the 4th, or D, string and 2nd fret, and the 3rd finger is on the 3rd fret of the 5th, or A, string. Just match the diagram above and make sure your wrist is down and your thumb is in the center of the neck in the back and your notes should be clear. This will take some work. Notice the x on the 6th string. This means you don’t need to strike this note or string with the pick. Mute it and only play the bottom five strings.
Then there’s the D Major chord:
For this D chord, the 1st finger is on the 3rd, or G, string and 2nd fret. The 2nd finger is on the little E string 2nd fret and the 3rd finger is on the 2nd string 3rd fret. Notice the 0 on string 4 and x’s on strings 5 and 6. This means you only strum from the 4th string down.
Using these three basic guitar chords, you can strum and sing hundreds of songs and start to sound like a real guitar player. Start with simple Americana and familiar tunes like “You Are My Sunshine” or something you’ve known since you were a child. Then, gradually add newer songs as you improve like, “Lean On Me” or “Wild Horses.”
This A Major Chord is doable for pretty much anyone. The 2nd finger goes on the 4th, or D, string 2nd fret. The 3rd finger goes on the 3rd, or G, string 2nd fret and the 4th finger goes on the 2nd, or B, string 2nd fret. You mute the top, or low E, string and strum from the A string, or 5th string down. Learning to avoid the muted strings and strumming only the required strings is tricky, but keep at it and you'll accomplish one of the important things to learn in guitar basics.
Our final chord for this blog is this E Major chord. Put your 1st finger on the 3rd, or G, string 1st fret, the 2nd finger on the 5th, or A, string 2nd fret, and the 3rd finger on the 4th, or D, string 2nd fret and strum all six strings. You’ll love the fullness of this big-sounding chord.
There are many other chords, but this completes the CAGED theory chords and gets you started in the right direction. Work on your posture and clearness of these chords and strum till you can keep good time.
Basic Strumming Technique
The right hand, or pick hand, doesn’t have to be overly complicated. Using the chords above, let’s work on the guitar basics of strumming patterns. Start with our G chord. Get your hand in position, sit up straight, make sure your pick is between your thumb and index finger, and the tip of the pick is just sticking out about an 1/8 of an inch from your fingers. On the G chord, you can strum all the strings. Start by strumming the G chord four times. Count out loud and keep them consistent. You should tap your foot too. Count 1, 2, 3, 4… over and over and strum for each number you count.
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
G / / / / G / / / / G / / / / G / / / /
Do this until you’re smooth and each strum is consistent. then do the same thing for the C chord. Remember not to strike the big E string, only the bottom five strings.
C / / / / C / / / / C / / / / C / / / /
Now try it with D. Don’t strike the A and E strings, only the bottom four.
Ok, now that you’ve strummed through these exercises, let’s mix it up a little. Changing the chords while strumming takes a lot of practice, but this is guitar basics 101. Let’s give it a go.
G / / / / G / / / / C / / / / G / / / / C / / / / G / / / / G / / D / / G / / / /
Practice counting and change these chords slowly until you can strum all the way through and you can play to “You Are My Sunshine.” Do it again and sing along if you like.
G / / / / G / / / / C / / / / G / / / /
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are grey.
C / / / / G / / / / G / / D / / G / / / /
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.
What you should know is that guitar basics start with keeping good time. Do this simple song until you sing it and your friends or family smile and say, “Hey, that’s good.” Hopefully, you’re grasping the basic guitar concept of chords and strumming. You can download dozens of simple songs to play in the keys you’ve learned and just keep strumming and singing until you are really making music,
Melody - Guitar Basics
So far we’ve been helping you with the basic chords. There are dozens more you’ll need to learn, but let’s talk melody for a minute. When you play one note or one string at a time, it’s called melody. It’s when you start soloing or playing the lead line or riff etc. Most beginner guitarists like to start with a minor pentatonic scale and play around with soloing from that scale because it sounds like the blues or rock guitarists they love.
Let’s toss in a G minor pentatonic scale and see how you do. In the key of G, this scale will only feature five notes, thus the term pentatonic. G, Bb, C, D, and F are those notes. We’ll show you two octaves and you can have fun playing around with these notes.
Play this G minor pentatonic scale from the big E string down to the little E string and back. The numbers indicate the finger pattern. Start with finger 1, skip 2 frets and add the little finger. Then move to the next string and do 1, 3, and so on. Work your way down and back over and over again until it sounds smooth to your ears. Then, play around with these notes to make a bluesy melody. There are dozens of scales like this you need to learn and know, but this basic guitar scale is a lot of fun and you’ll sound cool.
We hope you now have a better grasp of the guitar basics you’ll need to excel at playing music. Eventually, you’ll need to move beyond the basics, though. That’s where online guitar lessons come in. At Pro Lessons, our instructors come from a variety of different bands and each teaches from a different perspective. With affordable rates and lesson plans covering each skill level, this just might be what you’ve been missing. Find out how you can be our next student by clicking below.