In this day and age, most people who decide to learn guitar want the ability to play their favorite songs while they or someone else sings.
This level of guitar is called rhythm guitar and really doesn't take that much knowledge to fully learn, so beginners can start practicing it within the first couple hours of bringing home their first guitar.
This method is designed for everyday people and kids who are busy, who sometimes have to miss practice time because of life's curveballs.
Aim for 10 minutes of practice per day, and find solace in the fact that 3-4 days a week seems to be fairly average among guitar students.
It's even worth it to only pick it up for just five minutes while water is boiling, the table is getting set or kids are putting on their shoes, as players often become pretty satisfied with their progress after about 20 total hours of practice time.
The powerful thing about this method is that you don't have to learn anything else to have the ability to play thousands of songs, and you can go to a site like ultimate-guitar.com, find a song you like, and start trying to play it on the first day (tip: use the 'chords' version with the highest rating number).
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Rhythm guitar consists of two main skills: switching guitar chords with the left hand and strumming with the right (opposite for lefties.)
There's nothing more important for the beginner guitar player to do first than to learn how to read a chord chart, considering that it tells you where to place your fingers in order to create a guitar chord.
Watch a couple of videos or read a couple of tutorials, then find a resource that contains about 10-15 basic guitar chords.
While there are countless guitar chords available, the most valuable chords to learn first are G, Em C, and D, which are the essential chords of the key of G.
Starting with the G chord, place fingertips on the guitar fretboard according to the chord chart. If you aren't sure if you've placed your fingers correctly, check your work by watching a video or looking at a photo.
Then repeat the process for Em, C and D. These four chords are so common that you can play hundreds of songs with them alone.
Next, it's time to learn how to strum to a count. The count is the backbone of every song and helps us know when to switch from one chord to another. The most common count in music is to 4, and songs are essentially just a repetitive series of 4-counts from start to finish:
1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and REPEAT UNTIL END OF SONG
To apply the 4-count to guitar, place any chord — say G — and strum down on any number and strum up on all the 'ands':
1 (strum down)
a (strum up)
2 (strum down)
a (strum up)
3 (strum down)
a (strum up)
4 (strum down)
a (strum up)
Be easy on the strings; graze every one on the way down as well as on the way up.
If you ever need a 3-count, just chop off the last '4 and', but don't focus on it too much in practice because it doesn't really come up that often.
Songs typically consist of a group of around 3-5 chords, called a chord progression. The crux of playing songs on guitar is switching between these chords somewhere along the repetitive series of 4-counts.
To know when to switch chords, first and foremost know that you never switch on an 'and.' From there, you can follow 3 common rules of thumb:
For example, this is what it looks like if you strum a 4-count while using the chord progression of G Em C D and change to the next chord every time you return to 1:
start with G on 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
change to Em on 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
change to C on 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
change to D on 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
change back to G to start again on 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and...
Using the same progression, switching on the 1 and the 3 beat looks like this:
start with G on 1 and 2 and
change to Em on 3 and 4 and
change to C on 1 and 2 and
change to D on 3 and 4 and
change back to G to start again on 1 and 2 and...
Finally, this is what it looks like to change on every beat:
start with G on 1 and
change to Em on 2 and
change to C on 3 and
change to D on 4 and
change back to G to start again on 1 and...
While a lot of songs will follow either rule 1 or 2 the whole way through, you'll often see a mixture of both in some type of repetitive pattern.
Rule 3 is more of an emphasis technique, but it's a great way to get faster at switching chords, so use it often in practice.
A few weeks in, after you've played some songs and gotten comfortable with the key of G chords, it's time to add one more chord to your arsenal, Am, and then start the first real test of your commitment to learning: the F chord.
By this time, the Am chord will seem really easy, but the F chord is far and away the most difficult chord for beginners, as it takes a certain hand strength coupled with finding personal leverage tricks to make it work.
It's every beginner's rite of passage and while it's maddeningly frustrating, with enough trial and error you'll eventually get it.
The best piece of advice is to not avoid working on it and also to remember in times of frustration that every single guitar player has had to go through this dark time.
While you wrestle with F, feel free to learn other chords as they come up in songs. Note that in the beginning, it's perfectly okay to substitute chords like G7 or Cadd9, Dsus for G, C and D. Just don't do it if you see a # or ♭ sign, though.
When figuring out how to play and sing songs at the same time, start by just talking the words over your repetitive 4-count to get used to doing both at the same time. Also, chord and lyric sheets aren't perfect, so you might have to move a chord over to a different word that lines up with the count. The words should always somehow fit over the count — not the other way around.
The last piece of the puzzle to accompany guitar is to learn how to use a capo by watching some videos, which really makes it easy to use chords you are most familiar with to play just about every song in the book.
Taking guitar lessons provides an outside perspective that helps polish skills and navigate the miles and miles of information available to a student. Plus, guitar teachers encourage people through setbacks and toward progress.
Contact Approachable Guitar today if you are interested working with an experienced player to help you learn or get better at guitar.
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While getting started with guitar can seem daunting, the truth is, once you know which tools to focus on to play songs, the rest is all about getting experience using them.
In under 10 steps (and only 12 pages), this free guide walks you through a straightforward approach to learning all the skills necessary for a lifetime of singing and playing songs on guitar.