Guitar Fundamentals

The very basics in a nutshell

You want to start playing the guitar but you don't know much about it? Our guitar fundamentals will give you a quick overview on everything you need to know to get started. This is the very basic stuff to get you to your first song as quickly as possible. For more knowledge visit our basics section!

I. Your Guitar

Basically we can differentiate between acoustic and electric guitars. Typical acoustic guitars either have nylon strings (concert guitars) or steel strings (western guitars). Electric guitars have thinner strings, which are closer to the fretboard. They need an amplifier and a speaker to reproduce the sound. Acoustic guitars are designed to be played without an amp. The sound is projected acoustically in its hollow body.
 

Here's the basic anatomy of an acoustic guitar. It's useful to remember the terms since you'll encounter them frequently.

So which is the best guitar to learn on?
 

There's no perfect answer to this question. Electric guitars have a smaller body and a thinner neck which makes them physically easier to play. The amp and the pickups will do the work of projecting the sound. But an electric guitar is generally more expensive since you'll need an amp and other accessories. Also you always need to be somewhere near an outlet. Acoustic guitars are much simpler. You can always grab them and have a quick play, you can easily carry them to the park - it's just the basic instrument, all you need is our hands and maybe a pick.

All we can advice is to choose the type of guitar you are really excited about playing. AC/DC's Back In Black is your favourite album and you always wanted to learn to play Hells Bells? Well, get yourself an electric guitar and go for it! It doesn't have to be Angus Young's Gibson SG, we're pretty sure even he started from the scratch.

And don't worry - it's not a lifetime decision you'll be taking here. Most longtime guitarists are playing both, acoustic and electric guitar. You'll be able to easily adapt your knowlegdge from one to the other in the future.

II. Posture

Sure, slumping down into the sofa and playing a smooth 12 bar blues is a cool thing to do - and don't worry, we'll get there - but as a beginner you should set the scene to achieve the best results when practicing. This means you need to have good access on your guitar. Make sure your posture always assures that.

Basically, you can sit on anything you want if you can manage to bend your knees in a 90 degree angle. Put your guitar on your lap so that its bulge lays on your thigh. Place one hand on the body of the guitar, the other one under the fretboard. Make sure there's nothing around you that prevents you from freely moving your arms.

III. The Strings

It is essential to know the strings of your guitar. Don't worry, it's quite simple.

Have a quick look at this graphic. You can see a few frets of a guitar. The white vertical lines on the fretboard represent the strings. The purple-marked string is called the 6th string. It is the thickest string of your guitar. In standard guitar tuning it is tuned to E, so it's often referred to as the E string. The other strings are tuned to A, D, G, H and e again. Yes, both the first and the sixth string are tuned to E. To tell them apart the first (and thinnest) string is often visualized with a lowercased e.

Attrition & replacement

You should replace your strings regularly since they're wearing off when being played. It really depends on how much you are playing and other factors like humidity. As a basic rule we recommend to do so every 2 to 3 months. If you want to know how to change strings, have a look at our guide here.

IV. Tuning

Always make sure your instrument is tuned before you start playing. For guitars, there are several tuning profiles, but the most popular one is the standard tuning you got to know earlier. Let's call to mind: The sixth (and thickest) string gets tuned to E, the fifth one to A, the fourth string to D, the third string to G, the second one to B and the first (and thinnest one) to e again.

A  D  G  B  e

Let's have a look at the headstock of the guitar. There are 6 tuning pegs you can turn, each with a string attached to it. By turning a peg you can tighten or loosen the string in order to change the pitch it's tuned to.

Now, let's try to get your guitar into standard tuning.

So how do we know whether a string is in tune?

There are several ways to check that. For the start let’s focus on the easiest one: the electronic tuner. You can get these for just a few bucks and they're really easy to use. If you own a smartphone there are apps like gstrings that’ll do the job. We recommend using one of these two options since they’re so simple. 

How to use an electronic tuner/tuning apps?

The interfaces of these tuners are mainly the same for all devices:

                       Electronic tuner                                                    gstring smartphone app

Most tuners will auto-detect the strings you pluck. They'll tell you which string it is you're plucking and if it's in tune. Therefore the needle needs to be exactly in the middle (like in both of the pictures above).

Turn on your tuning device. Make sure it is set to standard tuning. We want to tune the thickest string to E. Pluck the string with a finger or a pick. The needle should be pointing directly in the middle. If this is not the case turn the tuning peg in one way. Pluck again and observe which way the needle went. If it went away from the middle, turn the peg in the opposite direction and try to get the needle in the middle. Do this with all six strings. Remember, from the thickest to the thinnest:

A  D  G  B  e

Tip: There are many factors that can get your instrument out of tune - humidity, warmth, cold - and a even slightly untuned guitar can be frustrating to play on. So make sure your guitar is tuned everytime you start practicing.

V. Notes & Chords

It is very useful to understand the difference between notes and chords. It’s as easy as a pie: A note is a solitary sound. When multiple notes are combined and played simultaneously, a chord occurs.

Listen to this single E note:

It is just the thickest string plugged in standard guitar tuning.

This is what an E major chord sounds like:

The chord sounds much fuller than the single note. That's because several notes are being played simultaneously.

You don't have to understand all the notes on the fretboard in the beginning. Focus on the chords. You'll only need to know a few of these combinations to be able to play a lot of songs.

VI. Your First Chords

Chords are essential for beginners. This is why we recommend to spend your energy on learning how to fret basic chords and alternate between them. So let's get right started and have a closer look at that E major chord we just listened to.

Put your index finger on the A string of the second fret and your middle finger on the D string of the same fret.

All the other strings remain open, which means that they're not touched at all but also being strummed. When all six strings are strummed together, we get our E major chord.

 

Now look at this visualization of the chord. The dots indicate which string in what fret you need to press. The numbers represent the fingers you are using to do so.

 

Try to fret the strings to get the E major chord. Make sure you don't touch the open strings. Then strum all the strings from the thickest to the thinnest one with a pick or the thumb of your right hand. Here's how it should sound like again:

Got it? Let's get to another chord then. This also is a really simple one and it's used in quite a lot of songs, the A minor chord:

 

The most important thing is being able to alternate between chords. This can be fairly tough in the beginning since you'll need to be confident in fretting the single chords, but practice makes perfect. Here are 3 more basic chords that are used in a lot of songs. How about learning a new one every week?

 

Tip: When tieing your shoelaces, you won't think about how tieing shoeloaces actually works. You'll just do it. This also applies for fretting chords. When repeating a physical task again and again, you can turn this task into an unconscious action that can be employed automatically with seemingly no concious effort. You're building muscle memory. When learning your first chords, hold them for 15 seconds, then release. If you do this a couple of times whenever you're practicing, you'll quickly improve your muscle memory.

VII. Strumming

Sweeping the thumb or a plectrum up or down across the strings in order to set them into motion is called strumming. Doing this in a particular way creates a rhythm. Strumming patterns are preset patterns, often visualized with up and down arrows:

↑ ↓ ↓    ↑ ↓ ↓          (up down down    up down down)

For practicing, keeping your strumming always going and having a constant up-down motion, whether you're hitting the strings or not, will help you to stay in the rhythm of your song.

Tip: Playing along the actual song is a helpful way to practice rhythm and strumming.

VIII. Your First Song

Allright! Now that you know some of the basic chords and how to fret them, you can venture on your first song. These three pieces can be played using only a few of the basic chords. Choose one and let the teacher show you how it's done! The lesson page provides all the information about the song you'll need.

 

Ben King - Stand By Me

A   D   E

Jump to lesson page!

 

Bob Dylan - Knocking On Heavens Door

G   D   C   Am

Jump to lesson page!

 

The Troggs - Wild Thing

A   D   E

Jump to lesson page!

IX. Frustation & Motivation

Lastly we want to emphasize one more thing: frustration and motivation.

We’ve all been there: the chords don’t sound like they should, fingers start hurting, you feel like you're not improving quickly enough. Learning an instrument always has frustrating parts aswell. But sticking with it pays off. With a bit of passion and a little discipline you'll quickly get to satisfying results. Just don't take it too seriously and always remember enjoying yourself and the music!

We hope our fundamentals will help you having a good start on your own guitar journey. Feel free to contact us if you have suggestions for this guide or other parts of our website. For further information and tips and tricks have a look at our basics section!