The Many Ways to Play


Most people pick up the guitar in order to play a song. Not necessarily a specific song, but rather the idea of playing a song on the guitar. Maybe the guitarist is also singing the song. Or someone else is, should the guitarist not be all that comfortable singing.

Or maybe it’s learning just a part (the guitar part, of course!) of a particular song, like the solo of “Stairway to Heaven” or the intro to “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” that inspires someone to take up guitar.

Whatever the reason or inspiration, and whatever the song, the question that usually comes up next is that of what, to you, constitutes “playing a song?” For some, it’s as simple as strumming a few chords. Others may decide that nothing less than a perfect note-for-note duplication of the original recording will suffice. And, of course, there are no end to the arrangement possibilities between those two points.

With our various Guitar Noise song lessons, we try to give you as broad a range of choices as possible. We have lessons where our arrangements are fairly close to note-for-note transcriptions, such as “Hey There, Delilah,” or “Three Marlenas” or the first of our two lessons on “Scarborough Fair.”

Then there are those such as “Ventura Highway” or “Cat’s in the Cradle” or “Wake Me Up When September End,” where the arrangement has been created to allow the guitarist to be a little more creative, while still giving the listener enough of the flavor of the original song to appreciate. Our three R.E.M. song lessons (“Man on the Moon,” “Driver 8,” and “Losing My Religion“) definitely fall into this category.

And we also encourage you to be even more creative with your guitar accompaniment in our two latest lessons, “The Circle Game” and, especially “Crazy Love,” where the spare guitar accompaniment compliments the vocal much in the way a pianist might.

The bottom line is that regardless of what song you want to play, remember that there are all sorts of ways to play it. Don’t settle for learning just one. Use whatever happens to be your first arrangement as a starting point and explore as many possible variations as you can. That’s what playing guitar (and music) is supposed to be about.


About David Hodge

Since joining Guitar Noise in November 1999, David has written over a thousand articles, lessons, interviews and reviews. He also serves as the site's Managing Editor, supervising all content in addition to the continued writing of his own lessons and articles. In April 2013, David joined the writing staff of, heading up their Guitar Pages. And if that wasn't enough to keep him busy, David contributes to regularly Acoustic Guitar Magazine. He is also the author of six instructional books, the most recent being Idiot’s Guide: Playing Guitar.

Comments [8]

  1. This is great advice. When I first started playing, I would get frustrated that I could only play the coolest sounding parts of a song. You’ve got some really helpful lessons here for playing full songs, and I appreciate the advice on learning how to play songs in different arrangements. Thanks.

  2. This is a great piece of advice, especially for those just starting out. Sometimes the idea of having to play a whole song note for note can be daunting. Remembering that there are many ways to play a song can ease off some of that beginner pressure.

  3. Thanks for the advice, I get stuck on playing a song perfectly when I learn it and this sometimes gets very frustrating especially because I enjoy metal and the metal songs I listen to are very complicated with extremely fast solos. Learning to play in different ways have been something I have wanted to do because I want to cover some songs to improve my vocal skills and am sick of getting stuck on the guitar. I will be trying this tonight with the latest song I am working on and see if I can get it all down on record.

  4. I have been playing guitar for a very long time but I still try to play a song note for note until I get bored, then make up my own silly notes and finally give up learning the rest of the song. Lately, I have started trying to make mini compositions of my own but when it comes to learning someone else’s song, I still try learning them note for note. Thanks for shedding light that a song can be played in different ways.

  5. I alway encourage my students to learn a song all the way through. I think it is important to learn at least all the sections in a song, intro, verse, chorus, bridge, outro, etc as this helps with the understanding of the music on a much bigger scale than just learning the riff.

    With strumming type songs there is definite freedom to have some creative license in terms of strum patterns or picking the notes out which is a lot of fun.

  6. I know a few guitar teachers and they often say many of their students just want to play the basics of the song i.e the chord pattern, and nothing more. As soon as they show them how to improvise or play something more advanced, they put up a wall and say it’s too hard, without really trying. I guess for some guitar students, just playing the chord progression is often enough. Martyn =>

  7. You touch on a great point, and that is that you really have to make music your own. I grew up playing classical music, which is the last thing I wanted to play as a kid. Every time I tried to learn in my own way, I was “corrected.” This led to a couple year long hatred for music in general before I picked it back up on my own terms. I wish I had you as my teacher!!! Keep up the great work.

    Guitar Strings Reviews

  8. You know one of the things I love doing is using a looper pedal (I personally use a Line6) as a way to take that “first arrangement” and learn to add to it. In this way I’m actually creating my own song, something which inspires me to play even more!

Leave a Comment