Are you wondering how to play an acoustic guitar?
You've come to the right place!
In my latest YMI guide, you will learn the following:
- What Are The Important Parts Of An Acoustic Guitar?
- How Do You Hold A Guitar Properly?
- What Are The Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners?
- What Is The Difference Between Notes And Chords?
- What Are The Easiest Guitar Chords To Play?
And much more!
Acoustic guitars are a really great place to start – but a word of caution, this hobby is pretty addictive!
This article is going to cover all of the fundamentals that you’ll need to get started on your journey.
In fact, if you read all the way through to the end, I’ve even included a couple of my favorite easy acoustic songs to get started with!
What Are The Important Parts Of An Acoustic Guitar?
Before you get started, it’s super important to get to know your guitar inside and out.
With that in mind, I’ll walk you through the major components of your acoustic guitar, and their role in the show!
The body of your acoustic guitar, as you can probably guess is the main bulk of the instrument. It’s made up of the top, back and sides.
The top is the guitar’s soundboard, and it has the biggest influence of all when it comes to the sound your acoustic produces.
This of the body as the acoustic guitar’s amplifier – it takes the signal generated by the strings vibration and turns it into sound.
The fretboard is another key part – this is where notes and chords are formed by pressing your fingers against the strings in between the frets.
The Guitar head itself has little, if any impact on the sound of the guitar, but it does give manufacturers an opportunity to express their creativity on design.
Some of the most iconic designs in music stem from guitar headstocks, from the Fender Tele and Strat Style, to Gibson’s Open Book.
The Machine Heads/Tuning Heads
Machine heads, or tuning heads (different names, same job), are responsible for tightening or slackening your guitar strings to keep them in tune.
They play a massive role in the overall quality and reliability of a guitar.
Good machine heads keep strings in tune even with heavy use – this is known as good tuning stability.
The bridge is the terminus of the strings, where they are either held in by pegs, or with the ball ends of the strings themselves.
Built in to the bridge is the saddle, another important component that essentially transfers the vibrations of the strings into the body of the guitar.
The soundhole projects the sounds created by the vibrations of the strings and body of the guitar. If the body is the amplifier, think of the soundhole as the speaker cab!
Read More >> How Do You Restring An Acoustic Guitar?
How Do You Hold An Acoustic Guitar Properly?
Another important lesson to learn before you pluck your first note is how to properly hold your acoustic guitar.
Learning the right way now will set you up for success for the rest of your playing days. Trust me, it might feel uncomfortable now, but you’ll thank me later.
I recommend that all beginner guitar players start learning to play in a seated position, you’ll have way more control over the guitar this way.
Next, we’ll talk about chair selection.
That’s right – chair selection! Having the right seat makes a huge difference.
So, office chairs, any chair with arms, and couches are all out!
Arms restrict how you’re able to position the guitar, and as people have a tendency to slouch when they’re on sofas, this sets you up with terrible form.
Fortunately, there are purpose-built guitar stools on the market, some even have built-in guitar stands.
If you’re not in the market for a new stool, you may have something at home that will work just fine – dining chairs (armless) and bar stools are both ideal.
If you’re going to use a bar stool, make sure your feet can reach the ground, though.
Once you’re set up with a chair, next you need to think about the placement of your guitar, as in, which leg to rest it on.
Truthfully, there’s no right answer here. It’s all about how comfortable the experience is for you.
Always hold the guitar with the headstock pointing towards the ceiling.
This will give you the best access to the fretboard and will also make it easier to stretch your fingers out for chord shapes.
If you’re struggling to keep the headstock pointing upwards you can always use a footrest.
If your positioning is right, all it will take to secure the guitar is to simply tuck the body under the elbow of the strumming hand.
Your fretting hand shouldn’t be bearing any weight.
Read More >> How Do You Clean An Acoustic Guitar?
What Are The Best Acoustic Guitars For Beginners?
This is one the most frequently asked questions, yet it’s probably the question with the widest variety of answers.
Whoever you ask will have an opinion! One thing that isn’t subjective amongst guitarists, though, is quality.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a great quality guitar, and it’s quality that will keep you picking it up.
If you buy a cheap department store guitar, the playability will be poor, to the point that it becomes uncomfortable and a barrier to progress.
My absolute favorite beginner acoustic guitars all come in at under $500, and you’ll treasure them for decades. Take a look on Amazon at the:
These guitars range from $200 to $500, and are ideal for most beginner budgets.
Remember that premium brands like Taylor tend to hold their value better than other mainstream makers, so if you ever want to trade up, you’ll get the best value.
Although, something I was told, and I’ve lived by – if you can avoid it, never sell your first guitar, you’ll absolutely regret it later in life.
It can be tempting to buy a guitar in a package. Typically they come with a strap, a gig bag, some picks, etc. I’d suggest that you spend the difference on a better guitar.
The strap and gig bag are likely quite flimsy, picks will get lost, and you’ll miss out on a better guitar.
Read More >> How Do You Record An Acoustic Guitar?
What Is The Difference Between Notes And Chords?
Learning guitar means learning the notes and combinations of notes that make up chords. Let’s start with the open strings.
A standard acoustic guitar has six strings; the thinnest is known as the 1st string, and the thickest is called the 6th string.
They are tuned to the following notes:
- 6th String (thickest) is tuned to E, and is referred to as the low E string.
- 5th String is tuned to A
- 4th String is tuned to D
- 3rd String is tuned to G
- 2nd String is tuned to B
- 1st String (thinnest) is also tuned to E, but is referred to as the high E as it is tuned one octave above the 6th string
There are some fun mnemonics for remembering the order of strings – some of my favorites include:
- Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie
- Every Amp Deserves Guitars/Basses Everyday
- Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually
Once you’re comfortable with the open strings, you can start working out the positions of the notes based on the fretboard. The below diagram shows exactly where each of the notes are.
Notes are typically plucked with a pick or picked with your fingers.
Music theory isn’t for everyone. In fact, I actively disliked it when I was learning guitar, I just wanted to play.
This attitude has hampered my growth significantly over the years.
You don’t need to learn sheet music by heart, but at least become familiar with scales and their importance in music.
If you ever hope to write your own songs one day, this is a must.
You might find yourself asking, “what are scales?” In a nutshell, scales are a series of notes played in order based on their frequency.
The scales are named for the root note - The root is the first, and lowest note in the sequence.
Guitar solos are built around scales, so if you ever see yourself shredding over a band, learn your scales!
The key is accuracy, speed is good, but not at the expense of dead notes.
Over time you’ll build muscle memory in your fingers that will help you sweep over the fretboard with ease.
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What Are The Easiest Chords To Play?
So, we know our notes, now it’s time to figure out chords.
A chord is 2 or more notes played simultaneously, with the chord being named after the root. The root is the first, and most often the lowest, note in the chord.
As with notes, there are 7 names for basic chords, A chord through G chord, but each chord has dozens of variants, adding up to a total of 2341 playable chords!
Though the vast majority of these are wildly difficult to play, and seldom feature in popular music.
Beginners should get comfortable with the group of chords known as the ‘Cowboy Chords’.
These are open, simple chords named for their simple structure and their use by cowboys strumming around the campfire.
Cowboy chords only require 3 fingers and are all played above the third fret, so they don’t require too much in the way of finger acrobatics and don’t require too much movement to transition between them.
Once you’ve gotten these chords under your belt, there are literally hundreds of popular songs from all genres that you’ll be able to play with ease!
Even if you just learn a few riffs from tablature, you'll be able to jam with friends and play along to tons of tunes.
The first 5 major chords you need to learn are the E, A, D, G, and C chords. On the below diagrams, the black dots represent where you need to place your fingers to form the chord.
The thick black line is the nut, and the thin horizontal lines represent frets 1, 2, 3, and 4 moving from top to bottom.
The Xs represent strings that are not played, and the Os represent open strings.
To complement these major chords, you’ll also need to learn these three minor chords.
Chords can be strummed with your fingers, but I recommend starting with a pick from the beginning. Chords can also be arpeggiated, this is where you pick each note of the chord individually for a bright, clear sound.
Once you've mastered the cowboy chords, try and learn some barre chords.
They're a little tricky at first, but once you've got your fingers stretched out, they give you real flexibility and allow fast transitions between chords, making you're playing super smooth.
Barre chords share a similar structure, so once you've got them down, all you've got to do is move that shape up and down the fretboard.
The majority of barre chords require you to be able to stretch your index finger across the entire width of the fingerboard, and your free fingers fret the other notes.
Read More >> How Do You Set Up An Acoustic Guitar?
My Final Thoughts On Learning To Play Acoustic Guitar
Even if you haven’t bought your first guitar yet, just by reading this post, you’ve started your journey.
Once you’ve got that ax in hand, things will never be the same!
I know there are tons of "teach yourself guitar" resources online, and many of them are fantastic, others on the other hand aren’t.
If possible, get professional guitar lessons from a qualified and reputable guitar teacher, and use online resources as a secondary aid.
If you can’t find lessons where you live, check google!
If you still can't find anything, I’d recommend Yousician, Guitar Tricks, and Fender Play as the best app-based training tools.
Finally, don’t give up! You’ll inevitably hit hurdles and roadblocks. Your fingers will hurt, frets will buzz and you’ll miss notes in your chords.
It happens to all of us! Keep playing, build up those callouses and the areas you struggle with will eventually click.
I’ve been playing acoustic and electric guitar since the mid ’90s and I’m still having breakthrough moments!
Here are some easy and popular songs you can try out today!