What is the best way to learn guitar?

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With so many different choices out there it’s difficult to figure out where to begin learning guitar. In this article I’m going to point out some of the different paths you can take and try to answer the question: “What is the best way to learn guitar?”

While this may seem like a shameless plug for our site, I’m going to recommend you start by spending a little time familiarising yourself with Guitar Noise. David and I have been using this site to teach guitar to beginners for more than fifteen years. In that time we’ve gotten better at what we do, and in the process, hopefully, shortened the learning curve for you. So let’s get started.

Buying a Guitar

First of all, what level of beginner are you? Do you even have a guitar yet? If not, you’re going to need a little support and guidance when it comes to buying your first guitar. Guitar Noise resources you should immediately check out include:

And if you find you still have more questions, check out the Buying a Guitar FAQ.

Getting in Tune

Now that you have your own guitar to work with, the very first thing you need to do is get it in tune. Tuning a guitar is the single most important concept for a beginning guitarist to learn. If your guitar is not in tune, it will never sound good. Rather than having someone else tune your guitar all the time you should learn how to tune it by yourself.

Graham Merry has written a wonderful lesson called The First Time Ever I Tuned My Axe which lays out the step-by-step process to tuning a guitar with a guitar tuner. If you don’t have an electronic tuner (consider getting one), head over to the article How to Tune a Guitar.

There is a lot more to tuning than what is known as standard tuning. If this topic interests you may want to dive into some lessons on alternate tunings or go through the Guitar Tuning FAQ.

First Steps

Once you’ve got a guitar in tune the next step is to learn some chords. Learning chords is all about figuring out where to put your fingers on the strings. If this is totally new to you we have it covered. Take a look at the lesson Absolute Beginners Part 1: Chords. This lesson gets you started on “first position” or “open position” chords. You can call them “beginner chords” too, if you like.

Since there are quite a few chords to learn you may want to read Which chords should I begin learning?

If you just want to see a chart of the most common beginner chords, we have that too: Ultimate Guitar Chord Chart.

As you’re getting started with chords you may also want to learn how to read guitar tab. Guitar tab is a simplified form of reading music for guitar which places numbers on a line to show you where to put your fingers. It’s a useful way of learning to play songs and you can find transcriptions for millions songs of songs, either in books or on “guitar tab sites.”

Since chords are an important part of playing guitar, we’ve got a lot of more lessons on Guitar Chords here: Learn about Guitar Chords.

Standard Notation

If you’re planning on playing guitar for a long time and making it a big part of your life, it’s never too early to start learning how to read standard notation. We won’t lie to you – learning to read standard notation on the guitar is a lot of work. It also takes tons of practicing. Tom Serb has written a series of lessons that give you the basics, along with exercises for each new concept. If you put in the effort, there won’t be any music you can’t understand or adapt to the guitar, even if you’ve never heard it before. That series on Standard Notation begins here: Standard Notation Part 1.

Beyond standard notation you can also dive into the wonderful world of music theory. Music theory is not rocket science and we’ve got many, many lessons that make this a digestible topic. I recommend starting with:

There is also have a Guitar Music Theory FAQ that covers some of the more common questions.

Building a Repertoire of Songs

At this point you’re probably ready to jump in and start learning your first song, if you haven’t done so already. Many teach yourself to play guitar books will start you off with simple strumming patterns on some rather old songs. Guitar Noise has licensed some popular rock and classic rock songs to create Easy Songs for Beginners Lessons. Each lesson takes an easy and well known song and presents it in the form of a lesson. Not only do you learn to play the song well enough to impress other people, you will also learn some useful theory and techniques that you’ll need later on.

Our easy songs for beginners series begins with some very basic two chord songs so you don’t have to learn a lot of chords before playing. Some of the songs you might want to start with are:

Check out all the latest Easy Songs for Beginners.

Training Your Ear

After working your way through most of the easy guitar songs, you probably won’t need to learn specific songs from us anymore. If you are interested in figuring out songs by yourself you can take a stab at Ear Training. This three part series on learning songs by ear is a good place to start:

Practice Makes Permanent

By now you’ve realised that Guitar Noise has hundreds of lessons. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all this free information. A good next step is to set up a practice routine. Choose a specific area that interests you and do one lesson each week. To do it properly, you’ll need to practice all the exercises and absorb all the principles. It is best to do one lesson and week so everything is made permanent.

Here are some of the lessons we have on the best ways to practice.

If you’re stuck for ideas, take a look at the Hot Lessons page to see what other people are working on. You can also work your way through every single one of David’s guitar columns, if you’ve got a couple of years of free time.

Where to go next?

After you’ve been here for a while and no longer feel like a beginner, we have a lot of other resources to keep you interested and busy. You can learn to play bass guitar, learn about amplifiers and effects, or get some tips for writing your own songs. We also have a dedicated section for women learning guitar called the Other Side.

Need to ask a question? The best way to get a quick response and find a new source of help is the Guitar Noise Forums.

Parting thoughts

Your success with guitar is going to depend entirely on what you put into it. Don’t believe that because you spend money on something that it’s going to get you anywhere faster or easier than locking yourself in a room and going through the information that is already right here.

But if you do want a guitar book in your hands or on your device to work from, David Hodge has written seven instructional guitar books already. They are all highly recommended as they carry on the excellent work he has produced here on Guitar Noise.

And if you don’t think any of these ideas brings you closer to the best way to learn guitar, you could try at least one more of our lesson called Where Do I Begin?

Good luck.