Learn to Play Acoustic Guitar

A complete and accurate roadmap to build a rock-solid foundation for acoustic guitar
James Delaney BY JAMES DELANEY 14 FEBRUARY 2022
Learn to Play Acoustic Guitar
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There’s a desire in me to express something - to match what I hear in my head. (Eric Clapton)

Some people want to learn to play the guitar just for themselves, others to impress those around them, others want to pursue an artistic career, while others want to express their feelings through music. Whatever the reason, they all have one thing in common: the passion for music and, especially, for the guitar.

There are two major types of guitar: acoustic guitar and electric guitar. Although it doesn't matter too much what you want to start with, starting with an acoustic guitar is the easiest way from a logistical point of view. For example, there's no need for an amp or cables, it doesn't make any extra noise, you don't have to be too concerned about plugging in after playing your instrument, and they're inexpensive to purchase compared to most other instruments. There are no strict technical differences between acoustic and electric guitars (apart from the obvious physical differences in construction). The only difference between acoustic and electric guitars is what you hear when you play them - i.e. the amplified sound that comes out if an electric guitar is played through an amp, while the acoustic guitar has a sound that's appealing and warm to the ear.

In most cases, learning to play the guitar very well takes years of rehearsals, exercises and practice. However, the techniques and methods that have emerged and developed over time can help you learn basic guitar techniques and simple songs much faster. And if you follow a well-established plan, your technique and style of playing will improve significantly and thus you will be able to play the acoustic guitar in a very short time.

Although this well-developed system can take you faster from the beginner stage to a more advanced level, just getting out of the comfort zone and doing constant daily repetitions (even a few minutes a day) can help you become a real guitarist.

Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded. (Jimi Hendrix)

We further present a system developed by a team of studio musicians and acoustic guitar teachers who will show you the best possible way for a beginner to start learning to play the acoustic guitar and evolve quickly. Are you ready to go? Then let's get started!

 

1. Getting to know the basics

Learning to play guitar is like learning a language. If you don't start with the basics, you'll soon be lost in translation. This part of the article will give you a firm grounding to get started on your journey in guitar playing.

 

1.1. Know the component parts of the guitar

Be sure you're familiar with the different parts of an acoustic guitar before you begin to play. In this Guitar Anatomy lesson, we explore the components of the acoustic guitar and learn how the pieces of your instrument work together to make music.

An acoustic guitar generally consists of a wooden body, a neck, and an internal resonating cavity. The body of the guitar has a rounded shape. The guitar has a headstock where the tuning pegs are located for tuning. The nuts hold the strings in place and make laagering the strings easy. Nylon string materials are used to make the neck, and rosewood is used for maple.


A fretboard is a piece of wood with grooves on it that has metal frets tied on top, allowing you to sound sharps or flats by touching them with your fingers. The strings pass over the bridge and attach at the other end to the body of the guitar. The pickguard is on most of the time, not necessary for playability or sound production, but to offer more protection to the body of the acoustic guitar.

 

1.2. Choose the right guitar

The acoustic guitar is present in several shapes and sizes, but there are two main types (acoustic with steel strings and classical with nylon strings), and for a beginner, it is important to know what to choose, depending on the style want to play.

Although acoustic and classic guitars look similar, there are many differences between the two. Acoustic guitars are made with steel strings (made of steel wire wrapped around a core wire), so they can be played more aggressively, and sometimes with nylon strings, the latter being usually used for rhythm purposes. The acoustic (or also called steel string) guitar has larger dimensions allowing it to have more volume and a brighter tone.


For those who want to focus on rock, blues, jazz, or country music, an acoustic guitar with steel strings is the best option.

Classic guitars, on the other hand, are predominantly built with nylon strings. The fretboard of a classic guitar is also wider to accommodate shifting more swiftly from chord to chord. The fretboard of a classical guitar is much wider than the fretboard of an acoustic guitar with steel strings, and the distance between the strings and the fretboard is greater for a classical guitar. Also, the nylon-stringed guitars historically boast a warmer tone.

For those who want to play classical music, Spanish/flamenco music, or other traditional styles, classical guitars with nylon strings are recommended.

However, differences in manufacturing techniques have been able to blur these lines somewhat in recent years, creating some modern acoustic models capable of holding their own against their classic rivals, giving players the best of both worlds.

 

1.3. Proper posture when practicing the guitar

Good posture is important for any musician, allowing him to play for longer periods of time. If the posture is incorrect, you will experience uncomfortable stiffness in your muscles and joints. Proper posture is always important, but when you are sitting at the guitar it becomes even more crucial.

In fact, the wrong posture or position when practicing the guitar for beginners may make you strum incorrectly, or put too much strain on your hands can lead to discomfort.

First of all, we should practice on a chair that allows us a posture with the back straight and the shoulders aligned, preferably low on the ground. The back position is a necessary thing when you repeat for a long time, but a correct position will be achieved in time, because most beginners (if not all) will sit bent over the guitar, to see where the keys are.

For the right-handed (who are most guitarists), the classical position is based on the guitar held on the left leg (usually placed on a footstool), and the guitar held obliquely upwards, while the normal position is based on the guitar held on the right leg, and the guitar will be held in an approximately horizontal position. If you are left-handed, the position will be reversed.

Tip: In order to monitor and make sure that you maintain (or try to maintain) a correct position, it would be ideal to see yourself in a mirror while repeating on the guitar.

In the end, these are just some tips, the ideal position for everyone is to feel comfortable when practicing the guitar and to be able to maintain that position effortlessly throughout the rehearsal.

These are the basic tips regarding the correct posture when you learn to play the acoustic guitar, if you are interested in more details, check here how to hold the guitar.

 

2. Fundamental skills to learn to play guitar

Through easy-to-follow steps, this module will help you play basic guitar and understand music, by teaching you how to hold a guitar pick and basic open chords, notes on the fretboard, strumming patterns at different times signatures, or read tabs.


Of course, learning to play guitar without having any guidance from an instructor or anyone else can make it difficult to do things properly, especially if you're a beginner. Here we are teaching you the basic stuff, but the most effective way to learn guitar is online video lessons with a program that's designed by experts. Here you can check the top online guitar courses options available in 2022.

Also, in each section of this module, we will recommend you the best video courses for each technique presented.

 

2.1. Learn how to hold the guitar pick

When you're just starting to learn how to play the guitar, one of the most important things you will have to learn is how to hold a pick. You see, as a beginner, you have not yet developed the manual dexterity or finger strength needed to perform many basic tasks with ease. Learning how to hold a guitar pick properly is another challenge that must be conquered in order to become a better and more well-rounded guitarist.

Gripping the pick too loosely will not produce a well-defined sound while gripping it too tightly with hurt your playing.

The pick should be held between the thumb and index finger, with the thumb over the top of it and the pad of the thumb resting lightly on top. Proper hand position isn't particularly comfortable at first, but when you play for any length of time, you'll find that your fourth finger automatically locks into place.

When holding a guitar pick, there are 2 very important factors to keep in mind. First, the thumb must be placed on top of the pick - near the tip - rather than underneath as most people mistakenly assume. Next, the index finger should lightly hold down the pick against the thumb and maintain this light pressure throughout playing, also acting as a spring to keep some tension on the pick, so that it doesn't slip out from under your thumb. This is critical because your index finger will control the thickness of the sound of the music.

When playing a string, with a pick, you have 3 things to consider:

1) Thickness of motion (how hard you strum);

2) Angle of motion (where you strum);

3) Contact point (where you strike/place your fingertip).

For a better understanding and to find a series of tips & tricks, you can check our dedicated article about how to hold a pick for guitar.

 

2.2. Learn the basic open chords

Open chords are among the first chord progressions you'll learn as a beginner guitarist, and among the most important ones, you'll use. By knowing only the open chords chords, and moving between them freely, you can play hundreds of songs in many different musical styles.

A chord is a group of three or more notes that are played in one single rhythmically sound sweep. Basic open chords are all chords that use any number of guitar strings but that don't require a barre.

There are lots of open chords, so don't let their simplicity deceive you into thinking that they aren't powerful and versatile. Basic open chords are used to play many popular songs and make up the foundation for many other more advanced pieces of music.

There are thirteen basic open guitar chords, but most can be broken down into only eight variations for ease of learning. From the eight basic chord shapes, five of them are open major chords, and three of them are open minor chords.

The five open major chords represented below are E (Mi), A (La), D (Re), G (Sol), C (Do).

The three open minor chords represented below are Em (Mi Minor), Am (La Minor), Dm  (Re Minor).

Reading a chord diagram is fairly straightforward. The vertical lines are the strings of your guitar (E, A, D, G, B, E). The horizontal lines are the frets on the fretboard (I, II, and III). The numbered black dots in between each horizontal line are the fret you should use to hold down the chord. The black dots signify which notes to play. If there's a number inside a dot then you should play that string or fret with your right hand (1: first (index) finger, 2: second (middle) finger, 3: third (ring) finger) If there's a zero inside a dot then strum the string without fretting. And finally, an X above a string means that the chord must not be played.

 

2.3. Learn the fretboard notes

Fretboard notes and patterns is the most important aspect of learning guitar. The guitar fretboard is the map of your instrument, it's where you'll find all the notes and chords that make up songs.

In order to learn the fretboard, you have to master one thing: A FRETBOARD MAP!

A Fretboard Map (also known as FretBoard Memorization) is basically a way to visualize all the notes on the fretboard in a way that will help you remember them. It's very useful for visual learners, who can learn much more efficiently with pictures instead of words and numbers. A simple image shows you exactly what you need to know, rather than forcing you to decipher all those numbers and letters, which can be super confusing.

 

With this kind of map, you'll be able to see the entire fretboard at a glance, and quickly name any note on the guitar. In short it's an incredibly effective way to memorize all of your fretboard notes!

Bellow, you have a Fretboard Map for a six-string guitar, in standard tuning.

Memorizing the fretboard notes is essential if you want to play guitar. We have a comprehensive guide that will give you a few methods and tips on how to learn the fretboard and help you build muscle memory.

 

2.4. Learn some basic strumming patterns and rhythms

Pop, jazz, and rock seem like they belong in separate musical worlds, but all three have one thing in common: rhythm. Without rhythm and strumming patterns, music would be unstructured, disorganized, and sound sloppy. Whether you play acoustic, electric, or bass - or all three - you're bound to enjoy exploring the many different ways to sound great on the strings.

Rhythm is the beat or pattern of notes in a song. To play rhythm guitar, you need to know how to play chords and strum or pick the strings. Playing rhythm guitar is similar to accompanying a singer or other musicians by keeping time with your chordal playing.

A guitar strumming pattern it's the way you strum a guitar, in which the 'beat' of the music is set by your strums.

Now that you know how to hold basic chords on the guitar, let's move on to learning some common strumming patterns.

When you're learning how to strum on a guitar, you're going to want to learn some simple patterns. People often learn with eighth notes. An eighth note is just half of a quarter note. So, to have an eighth note, we'll count out loud on each strum "one, and, two, and, three, and, four, and".

#1 Strumming Pattern: All Downstroke

If you’re a beginner, then the first strumming pattern you should learn is an all downstroke pattern which may seem simple but it’s very important. This means that in each measure you play all downstrokes i.e. no upstrokes or alternate picking. You can see that this pattern is all downstrokes by the upside-down 'u' looking symbol you see on the image below, above each beat. This 'u' shape is a classic symbol for all downstrokes when you’re learning to read rhythms and tabs.

Familiarizing yourself with the basic downstroke strumming pattern is a key component to being able to move on to more advanced strumming patterns and eventually play songs. It may seem easy, but the all-down stroke strumming pattern is essential to your progression on the guitar.

#2 Strumming Pattern: Downstrokes & Upstrokes

This strumming pattern is similar to our first example but instead of using all downstrokes, we’re going to use alternating downstrokes and upstrokes. We do this based on the v-shapes (the classic symbol for upstrokes) above the "and"s.

The pattern is pretty straightforward, and it is the same rhythm as the previous downstrokes only you’re using an upstroke on every other count instead of a downstroke. This pattern can be a little difficult to get the hang of at first, but once you do you’ll find yourself using it in all sorts of songs because it is a very useful strumming pattern.

There is a lot to talk about strumming patterns on guitar. There are different types of rhythms and it's important to know each one of them in order to make the most out of your guitar. Guitar Fellow is preparing for you a more detailed article that features a large number of strumming patterns and rhythms, along with details about every one of them, each clearly numbered and accompanied by a diagram representing the fretboard and strings for easy comprehension.

 

Final thoughts

Learning to play acoustic guitar can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be frustrating. The learning curve is high and it takes time, patience, and practice to develop your skills. You will need to invest a lot of time into the process if you want to become a good player. However, despite the difficulty involved, with the right guidance and enough practice, anyone can learn how to play the acoustic guitar in no time.

Learning to play acoustic guitar is a long journey, but playing the guitar is definitely one of the most rewarding things someone can do.

Is it impossible to learn how to play the guitar with all the many distractions in today’s world? Of course not! Today’s electronic world has made many things possible through the internet. And this clearly shows that we are not just limited to text and images when it comes to learning. Yes, we can still learn by reading off a blog post or an article on the web. But when it comes to playing the guitar and developing special skills, the video lessons are more powerful.


Along with this article, we made in-depth research on online guitar lessons platforms trying, testing, and researching what works best to learn and play acoustic guitar, and our strong recommendation is JamPlay, that's a fantastic choice, with an excellent selection of acoustic guitar lessons. Also, if you want to see what platform suits you better, you can check here the Top 6 Online Guitar Courses in 2022.

 

Hopefully, this article has helped give you the foundation you need to learn how to play acoustic guitar. We hope that this inspires you to get out there and practice. The guitar is a fun instrument, and learning to play it can be highly rewarding - so get out there and do it!