How to Play the Guitar For Beginners – Pt. 1: Beavis-to-Keaggy Mastery Awaits You!

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners

Ever since Elvis Presley appeared in 1956, flailing and rhythmically beating up the guitar that was strapped just above his undulating hips, guitars have been one of the best-selling instruments among youth in America.

Currently, it’s the second most popular instrument for students taking private music lessons in America, dancing only behind the ubiquitous piano.

In my studio, the charm, charisma and iconic flash of the guitar is always represented by dozens and dozens of starry-eyed youth, wanting to emulate the latest axe-slinging guitar star, and trying not to think about how their fingertips hurt.

The question of how to play guitar for beginners is one that has many answers. Like any instrument, there’s so much to learn when you first pick it up that it seems ridiculous to believe you’ll ever be more than a hack.

Also, there are so many ways to play the guitar that one could get stuck just considering which educational direction to take on the instrument.

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners

If you’re just looking into it, you might feel confused and uncertain; you may feel like taking the Beavis route – pick up a guitar, strum any old place on the neck, start singing radical, crazy guitar licks and then proceed to demolish the guitar in true Pete Townsend fashion all over the floor. You may have even already tried that and now need a new guitar!

It might not be a great guitar performance, but I’ll give ya points for Hendrix flair.  😉

Instead of pretending and being a laughable poser like Beavis, let’s look at the best first steps to take as a beginner that will help you make the most of this radically esteemed instrument with such a rich, inspiring history, and put you in the footsteps of the masters. Let’s rock!

The Right Tool for the Job

Legendary stories abound of many guitar slingers, Elvis included, who started out on a guitar that was so hard to play their technique suffered horribly and they couldn’t progress. This is why it’s important to have an instrument that’s not so hard to play it feels like Steve Martin’s “Cruel Shoes”.

After all, who wants to play an instrument that uses a vice and razor blades to hold their hands in place?!

You want to make it so that the guitar is inviting, and fun to spend time with. If you’re spending less than $100 on some “new” guitar, you’re probably going to be sorry you even tried. Instead, if you don’t have much cash to initially invest in your new interest, try CraigsList or Music-Go-Round.

CraigsList will show you people in your local area who want to get rid of guitars in their homes, and sometimes these are really good instruments that are stupid cheap because the person selling it has no idea of its worth.

Music-Go-Round is a store that specializes in used gear. I personally have saved hundreds of dollars buying from them, and all the gear they’ve provided me with is still in excellent shape.

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners
Would YOU play a baseball bat guitar?

If money is no object and you’re looking to buy new, my recommendation is to spend at least $250. Then you’re pretty much assured that you’re not going to go home with a baseball bat that has strings on it.

If you want an electric guitar, get one of THESE ELECTRICS FOR UNDER $200!

If you’re feeling called more towards acoustic guitar, any of THESE ACOUSTICS will cost little and work great!

Also, before you buy be sure you play quite a few guitars. This will give you an idea of how they all feel. Make sure one of them is a really expensive model, over a $1,000. This will let you experience what a quality instrument should feel like. Then try to buy the closest thing to that that doesn’t keep you from making your rent payment.

It all comes down to this: buy the very best instrument you can afford, and stay away from anything that feels incredibly hard to play. Got one? Ok, let’s move on…

Dream On, Dream Until Your Dream Comes True…

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners

Before you strike a note, imagine the instrument you just bought… years, even decades from now.

There it is… still delivering great sound. It’s been constant in its tonal friendship. Inspiring you to greatness in soloing, rhythm chording, melody-writing… all the things you’ve come to love and be quite good at in music.

It’s been with you in your room, with your friends, on your first stages, into the spotlights… and the glory.

You’ve written dozens, maybe hundreds of songs on it. Some of them can still make you laugh out loud, or still bring you to tears. Its sound, through those decades, was the magic, the glue, that held every song together. Always just a reach away, it has become… like an extension of your soul.

There’s a reason why guitarists often name their guitars – they become so familiar and cherished through the years and gigs that they’re almost like a dear friend; a part of the family.

This now is your opportunity; the chance to discover the power and alchemy of your new companion. And if you invest time in this symbiotic partnership, I promise you it will take you and your aspirations to places you never thought possible. Dreams come alive and stay alive through one thing…

All Hands On Neck!

Practice. It’s the best next step. Spending time with your new instrument like a friend will start unlocking its secrets, and reveal to you understandings you never knew were even there.

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners

Like any great relationship tho’, it shouldn’t be forced. Don’t wanna play today? Then don’t. Would your girlfriend or boyfriend want you to be with them because you “should”? Or because you want to? We all know the answer to that.

And don’t view your new instrument like the U.S. Mint, locking all the greatest treasures away, and mocking you – just daring you to try to get in. It’s not at all like that!

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners

Rather, see your new guitar like the very best teacher you ever had; you know, the one that showed you endless ways to enjoy the subject at hand, that kindled a real fire inside about the possibilities and wonders that are latent in its study and tools. THAT is this new companion. And that is just a glimpse into the time treasures to come.

With all this in mind, keep your guitar out of the case, in arm’s reach, somewhere that you will be often on a daily basis. If you keep your instrument accessible, just seeing it will remind you of its devotion to your happiness, which will in turn prompt you to pick it up. If you can get it in your hands just ten minutes a day, you will see real progress.

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners

As I type this, one of my guitars is right next to my table on the right, ready at a moment’s notice to deliver the goods. 

It’s my oldest guitar, and it has been put through the ringer. It’s not expensive. It doesn’t even have a recognizable brand. It was my first acoustic and remains what it was when I bought it: a cheap beater.

Good thing too, because one time going to a gig in Idaho from L.A. our drummer fell asleep at the wheel at 5 a.m. and all of our luggage, instruments… and myself were thrown headlong into the Arizona desert plain!

None of us were hurt (read that as “miracle”) but the truck was totaled. One of this guitar’s seams, along the back bottom edge, was cracked open. It still is today. I leave it that way to remind me of how blessed I am to still be here writing this.

Nail it!

There are few feelings more awesome than that of accomplishing something very difficult, that took a lot of commitment, time, energy and patience to bring to fruition, and that you now see happening in front of your very eyes. When you have practiced something enough this will happen to you, again and again. And just like any human… you’re gonna love it!

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners

To get there, make sure you spend at least half of your practice time focusing on a specific song and trying to play it as exactly as you can. This teaches you technique, and after doing this with many songs, you will naturally have many techniques to draw from.

Some you will play more than others, and this is partly what becomes your “style”. Thus, learning music by others actually unlocks your own music, and one day… a student will be excited to learn your songs!

The other half of your time you can mess around on your instrument. Do crazy things. Pretend you can play things you can’t. Get in front of big windows or mirrors with your favorite songs on and mimic being the guitarist. It’s FUN! And it helps you visualize yourself actually being an accomplished player.

Basically, if you’re playing your instrument at all, it’s a good thing, but mix it up with half free-play and half applied study on some tune. This will mature your playing quickly and be entertaining at the same time.

Was it You That Said, “How Long….?!”

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners

How long will it take ’til you’re any good? Depends on how much you’re hangin’ with your new friend. The more your fingers on the fretboard the faster you’ll progress.

Oh, yea, and if you do, don’t be surprised if times just flies! Countless times I’ve picked up one of my instruments to practice “just a few minutes” and found myself still there, digging, searching, pushing, plaaaaaaying… hours later.

That’s because music is so much fun, and so rewarding that it never gets old. If you treat it like the gift it is, and go it with anticipation, never in drudgery, you’ll be amazed at the bond you’ll create.

As for what to play, that’s also up to you. Got a favorite song? Google it with “how to play…” in front of the title. You’ll find hundreds of websites and YouTube videos showing you how to play it.

Especially when you’re first beginning, just learn songs you like. Don’t try to play something you hate but someone else recommends. Life’s too short. Investigate what you’re interested in and you’ll have an absolute blast!

… And Be a Juke Box Hero!

One guitarist that I’ve always looked up to and is still, in my opinion, the best guitarist alive today, is Phil Keaggy.

I’ve seen him play countless types of music: rock, classical, country, roots, medieval, pop… and he not only plays them adequately, he excels in each of them!

How to Play the Guitar For Beginners
Phil Keaggy with Paul McCartney

Here’s what he says about playing guitar:

“There are times when I am able to free myself from concerns about technique, and suddenly my spirit soars and the music just flows through my hands spontaneously. That comes with living with the guitar for a long time.”

Take it from my hero Phil and I: enrich yourself with quality and quantity time with your new axe. Do so, and you won’t have to try to be good at your instrument – you will simply become so.

Explore, attempt, stay curious & inspired, and practice like a boss. You’ll be pleased with how easily progress comes.

Oh, and if you’re ready… HERE IS PART TWO of how to play guitar for beginners… all about focusing your efforts to make quicker progress.

Now, go… make… sounds!


Teaj in the storm fields!

12 Replies to “How to Play the Guitar For Beginners – Pt. 1: Beavis-to-Keaggy Mastery Awaits You!”

  1. @J52 Inspiration is such a crucial ingredient for anything we want to accomplish in life, it’s true.

    And having a good instrument helps a lot! I was just over at a friend’s house, saw he had a bass, played it and told him, “Dude – this thing needs some work! It’s really hard to play since the strings are WAY too high off of the fretboard…”

    Sounds like you know what that feels like!  😉    But it’s never too late! I’ve taught plenty of adults who’ve said the same, but they took the instrument up, practiced on it like a friend, and climbed new heights.

    You can do it too, J52! Read this whole series of posts and then GO GET ‘EM!!

  2. 50 years ago my mother was a big fan of folk music like Peter, Paul and Mary, Dylan, the Kingston Trio and the Brothers Four.  She bought the bottom of the line Gibson spanish guitar, taught herself to play and became a folk singer herself.  I was in band and choir at school and had some musical talent.  I gave a shot at the guitar at that time off and on for a few years, but didn’t maintain the discipline necessary.  My mom’s guitar was difficult to fret and I had no mentors or instruction or any friends to play with and just fell away from it.  I often regret it.  Too bad I didn’t have an inspiring player like you to guide me.

  3. Ahhh, Canada…. Home to my favorite female songwriter of all time! Can you guess who it is??

    You will LOVE the joy you can bring to people with a guitar around a campfire, Dale. I’m telling ya… it’s awesome. I’ve done it so many times and every time it adds SO much to the event. People remember it like a concert!

    Learning those types of songs are not hard. When you start lessons keep coming back here for inspiration and further posts. This series now has FOUR articles. I’ll do a 5th soon.

    I once went to college in Vancouver. LOVE your country!!!

  4. Brian, I have taught lessons to many an adult saying the same thing. It’s NEVER too late!! Get yourself an inexpensive guitar to start on, and just spend time enjoying it. No pressure. Just fun.

    Check back here for more lessons and encouragement. tO Read part 2 of this series GO HERE.

    I also played trumpet in middle and high school. Still have it and use it to this day!

    I’ve been a musician since I can remember. It started with singing and has never let up.

    Join me in this merry quest – to let music sing through us! Onward, ho!!  😉

  5. C’est une bonne idée, Nathalie!  J’enseigne aussi. On peut toujours bénéficier d’inspiration!  😉

    I have played guitar on the couch… COUNTLESS times. I especially like to pick it up after watching a bit of the telly, right before bed. The shadows and my family gather round to sing us all along into sleep… 

    Can’t wait to meet your husband here on our site!!  😉

  6. Exactly, Jayde. Always approach an instrument as one of the best ways to have FUN in life and you’ll go far. 

    It also brings out the fun in other people when you play music. The better you get, the more you bring them to life. It’s inspiring to watch and witness!

    Definitely find yourself a starter guitar and start learning! GO HERE to my follow-up article and find more inspiration for your journey.

    Hope to see you ’round here!  😉

  7. Hey Teaj,

    Great article! I love it when you say “Spending time with your new instrument like a friend will start unlocking its secrets, and reveal to you understandings you never knew were even there.” That is sooooo true! When my husband started learning to play the guitar he would just hang out everywhere with his guitar. He even played it lying down on couches. Not great for technics but excellent for a natural style! 

    The recommendations you give would actually fit many new endeavors… not just learning to play the guitar. I may actually use your article when I teach French and ask my students to find similarities with learning a foreign language…



  8. My wife and I have seriously been talking about taking lessons together.  We never anticipate being a Hendrix or Presley.

    However, we want to be able to strum around the camp fire and have everyone singing along.

    We really need to learn from someone like yourself that has so much energy.  Unfortunately we are in Alberta Canada.  However your energy is giving us the courage to look around and see what we can find here.

    Thank you for the great article.

  9. One of the biggest regrets I have is not learning to play a musical instrument. I did briefly try the trumpet when I was 5th grade, but I quickly lost interest as band just wasn’t my thing. I have always imagined at one time or another what it would be like to play the guitar and after reading your article about to play for beginners, I’m really interested now. I like how you say that it shouldn’t be forced. Desire and want is very important and it makes perfect sense when it comes to playing the guitar. Did you always enjoy playing the guitar or other instruments?

  10. if I was to get into playing an instrument it was be the guitar now ive read this article. it looks like such a fun hobby to get into to. I see theres a lot I would need to remember but if we have the passion for it, they’ll be no problem in putting my time into learning this. 

  11. Anh, I wish you were closer so you could be my student. We could find that magic combination of songs, time and fun that would have you pickin’ and grinnin’ fast as a rimshot!

    Let me know if you come across any questions. I’ve been doing this for decades and can probably guide you towards effectiveness and efficiency.

    So, you have a guitar now, right??

    If you’re looking into acoustic guitars, as opposed to the electric variety, here’s an interesting post about getting one made. Nothing like it!

  12. Hey there,

    I just have to say that I love your writing style, it sounds very fun and not intimidating at all. I’ve been wanting to take up a new hobby this year and learning a musical instrument is pretty high up that wish list. I’ve dabbled with a guitar before but gave up halfway through. What you said about having fun with it and forgetting time is so inspiring it makes me want to pull out my guitar and try again. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!


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