So, you finally brought your first guitar? Congrats friend! But do you even know what to do next? If you are lucky, you have a friend or a good and friendly teacher nearby to help you out. However, we are not all that fortunate. When you are all alone with your instrument, you gotta learn alone.
Still, you won’t struggle as much as you think, as the guitar is one of the most documented instrument, there are hundreds of books and websites about it.
Even so, I’ve prepared this series of posts to concentrate everything you need to know in one single place, how nice isn’t it? Let’s get to it.
Guitar Strings and Fretboard
A guitar is a string instrument, most of them have 6 strings, some have 4 strings (bass) and others can have up to 14 strings! Most beginners will start with a 6 strings guitar, it is more convenient and more accessible.
These strings have names, for a 6 strings guitar, they are E A D G B E from the 6th (the boldest) to the 1st (the thinnest), these are the notes you play when you strum them without touching the neck. Here is a mnemonic sentence to help you remember them: Eat All Day Get Big Easy.
Notes are played on the fretboard, or neck, of the guitar with the left hand (the right for lefties) and strummed or plucked with the right hand (left for lefties). The fretboard is composed of frets, the metal strips attached to your guitar neck; they are numbered from 1 to 22 and more (it depends on your guitar).
That’s quite much, to help you locating a fret faster, watch for the inlays, they are set on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th, 15th, 17th and 19th frets and so on (they look like dots most of the time), they are set on the side of the neck so you are able to see them, even when you play. Finally, if you press a string against a fret (slightly behind it) and pluck the string, you will play a note.
Now, you will have to choose with which picking tool you will start: plectrum or fingers. To play with a plectrum, you have to hold it between your thumb and your index firmly enough to not loose it but not too much so you can keep a smooth movement, slightly bend your index, keep your wrist loose, do a downstroke on any string with less movement as possible, move only your hand not your arm, you will be faster that way, then try to do an upstroke just the exact same way. Play with the angle of the plectrum to modulate the sound. Finally, you can close (slightly) your hand or let it open, as long as your fingers does not touch the strings when you play and you are comfortable.
Fingerpicking, or playing with your fingers, is somewhat different, you will have to associate each finger to the strings: your thumb to the 6th and the 5th strings, your index to the 4th, and so on. To strum all the strings, put your thumb on the head of your index, to do a downstroke (strumming toward the floor), you should touch the strings with the top of your index, and with the top your thumb on the upstroke.
This is critical, if you can’t play clear notes, you won’t go far. Here is an exercise to help you practice your newly acquired skills:
Fret the 6th string (the boldest) at the 5th fret (the second dotted fret) with your fretting hand index, pluck the string, then with your middle finger play the same string at the 6th fret, next the 7th fret with your ring finger and last the 8th fret with your pinky.
When that’s done, move to the 5th string 5th fret, start again and so on until you reach the 1st string and the 8th fret. Now, go backward: 1st string 8th fret, 1st string 7th fret… to the 6th string 5th fret. Go slowly until you learned the proper movement, do not change the fingers, especially when you go backward, you have to use your pinky, yes, I know it is hard and it may hurt but it’ll get better.
Once you feel more comfortable, try to go all the way down the fretboard: finish the 5th fret run (down and up), go on the 6th fret and do the same exercise, then continue on the 7th and so on. Speed is built gradually, add 10 bpm or 5 bpm when you feel ready and you should soon reach god like speed!
I can’t stress it enough: start slowly and practice with a metronome or a steady rhythm as a) if you try to speed up too early, you may learn bad habits, and they are hard to loose, b) being able to follow a constant rhythm for an extended period is a necessary skill if you wish to play with musicians and minimal if you want people to appreciate what you play.
We are done with the first post, see you in Part 2, rock on!