When I bought my first guitar, I remember the distinctive scent of a guitar case and wood — and being thrilled about the possibilities that came with my new instrument. After sitting there and inspecting it, I quickly realized that I had no clue what was going on with all the frets, and there were way more note options than the violin (which was the only instrument I’d played before).
It was like someone came in and dumped a jigsaw puzzle on my bed, and I had no idea how to start putting it together or what the end result should be. Luckily, my dad popped in and showed me a few chords (probably to a Creedence Clearwater Revival song), and it gave me a foundation that I could build on slowly. For me, starting small made learning more complex things less daunting.
Being a beginner guitarist is such a fun stage. You’re about to start creating your own unique sound with endless possibilities (my personal goal at the time was to be in School of Rock). But it’s also easy to get overwhelmed or discouraged if you aren’t making progress as quickly as you think you should.
In today’s First Strums Series, I’ll cover everything you need to know to begin your guitar journey — starting from the first moment you pick up your new guitar. Since Orangewood guitars are pre-strung, you won’t need to worry about professional setups just yet (phew!), so let’s unzip your new baby, get it tuned up, and start playing!
Set a Good Mindset
Before you start learning guitar, I think the most important thing is setting a positive mindset and having a spirit of curiosity. Social media is an excellent tool for finding inspiration, but it can get in your head if you think you aren't learning as fast as others. I know I’ve seen YouTube videos titled things like “My First Six Months of Playing Guitar,” and someone is shredding with lots of fancy chords, but this is not real life.
In reality, here’s what my first six months looked like: my fingers always hurt (since I didn’t build up my callouses yet), I played a very sloppy version of Smoke on the Water, and when I finally felt like I had things down, I’d forget my C chord the second I was in a music store.
Comparing yourself to others can take away a lot of the fun and creativity, so remember you’re on a unique path! Give yourself lots of grace, freedom to mess up, and set your mind to doing things that will continually motivate you to stick with your practice.
Make a Plan
One great thing about learning guitar in this day and age is that it couldn’t be easier to teach yourself. There are so many great resources and lessons out there, both online and in-person, it’s just a matter of finding one that fits you.
There are definite pros to doing in-person lessons. You can have the lessons tailored to your style, set up weekly accountability, and get practice jamming with someone in real life. However, that’s not always an option (cue 2020...), and it can sometimes be difficult finding the right teacher or finding lessons that work with your schedule. So if in-person lessons don’t work for you, I would recommend finding an online course (you can see my beginner course here and there are plenty more out there as well). A guitar course is helpful because it gives you structure in your learning and is in chronological order.
YouTube is an excellent option as well, but since there are so many lessons out there, it’s easy to feel a bit lost. I like YouTube if I know a specific topic that I need help with or if there's a channel with a playlist series that I enjoy. Some of my favorite beginner lesson channels are Marty Music, Your Guitar Sage, and Guitar Goddess.
Start Chords and Strumming
At this point, you have the right mindset and are set up with your lessons, so the next step is to get playing! Any teacher will probably start you out on chords and strumming (unless you are like me and your first guitar teacher forced you to learn Mary Had A Little Lamb using single notes on your first lesson...). You will naturally start finding some chords that are less awkward to play (like A, E, and D) than other more stretched out chords (like C, F, and G).
If you find yourself having trouble building your muscle memory at first, know that this is normal for all beginners — and you do have to give yourself more time than you think. To start building your muscle memory, practice putting your fingers on a chord, taking them off, then placing them back on. Repeat this a few times to start remembering the feeling of a chord. As you practice, keep in mind that a lot of learning guitar is about the time you put in and less about natural talent.
Learn a Song
Good news — if you know just one chord, you can play a song! Learning songs is the best way to have fun practicing, start noticing what you like learning, and get better at making your playing flow. If you have trouble playing a song in the beginning, look into apps that can slow down songs (I use the Amazing Slow Downer app).
I also have an ongoing Spotify playlist where I add songs with guitar parts that I love. It’s a great way to have practice material when you sit down to play, and it’s fun to see your progress when you finally learn a song that you initially thought was too difficult. Enjoying your time and staying inspired is great for keeping yourself motivated, and there’s nothing better than playing along to your favorite songs.
Play with Others
The last step I recommend for beginners is to put yourself in situations where you’re playing with other people. When I taught group lessons, we had three women in our group, had snacks and margaritas (woohoo!), and hung out and chatted beforehand. No one had to be at a certain level, and it was a fun way for people to get tips and play songs together. If you have friends who also play guitar, it might be scary to reach out, but it’s so worth it.
The biggest thing to remember is that playing guitar is all about having fun and connecting with others. Learning is a continuous journey, so celebrate the little wins every time you practice. I hope these tips encourage you to pick up the guitar and play today. Thanks for reading!
Haley is a guitar player, blogger, and guitar teacher based out of Nashville, TN. When she's not playing or writing, you can find her in line at her favorite breakfast taco shop, taking her dog hiking at the nearest waterfall, or binging Outer Banks with her hubby.