Learning the harp - how to take the first steps
Finally being able to play and sing your own favorite songs... Living out your creativity and adding a great hobby to your life... All of this is still appealing for many people. The guitar is one of the most popular instruments. On the one hand, this is of course due to the fact that it has been one of the defining instruments in pop culture over the last 50 years. But the guitar is also very beginner-friendly. The point at which you can already play entire songs is reached quite quickly when learning to play the guitar. In addition, with a guitar you are very mobile and not tied to one spot, as with other instruments.
Anyone who wants to learn a new instrument is first faced with a huge mountain of information and questions. Whether it is about the choice of instrument or the best starting points in terms of content. This article is intended to create a basic overview around the topic of learning guitar.
Which instrument is best to learn to play the guitar is an individual question. In the beginning, three types of guitar are especially interesting: the concert guitar, the Western guitar and the electric guitar.
The classical guitar is strung with nylon strings and usually has a wider neck, unlike the acoustic guitar, which is strung with steel strings. The nylon strings are slightly softer than the steel strings of the acoustic guitar. They are easier to grip and the typical stress on the fingertips is not quite as high because the nylon strings do not cut in as much. However, in the majority of rock or pop songs, it is mostly acoustic guitars that are heard. This is because the treble-heavier sound carries through better in a band setting. Also, the percussive effect of the instrument can be heard better, as the classical guitar sounds much softer in contrast.
If you decide to play an acoustic guitar, you should first decide for yourself which sound you find more beautiful, because the fingers get used to the new stress very quickly. In my opinion, it's different with children, who are still a bit more sensitive and lose motivation much faster. In addition, children often find it very difficult to grasp the notes, especially at the beginning. That's why a classical guitar makes more sense than an acoustic guitar - especially in the beginning you should have as few barriers as possible. For children who want to learn the guitar, the size of the instrument is also very important. If the instrument is too big, it will be very difficult to play well on it. The smallest guitars available are ⅛-guitars.
Of course, there's nothing to be said against starting directly with the electric guitar if that's what you're most interested in. In the end, the whole thing stands and falls with your own motivation and stamina. Also on the electric guitar you can easily learn the first chords and the basics of the guitar. The disadvantage here is that the change to an acoustic guitar is usually more difficult at first. The reason: electric guitars often have a narrower neck and usually much thinner strings, which are therefore easier to grip. Conversely, the changeover from acoustic to electric is accordingly somewhat easier. One advantage is that you can play a much wider range of styles, since electric guitars are more versatile than acoustic guitars. However, you need a lot more equipment right from the start, because an electric guitar can only be heard really well with an amplifier.
If you've got an acoustic guitar, you don't need much else. It's worth having a tuner right from the start so that you can get used to the right tuning right away and distinguish an out-of-tune guitar from a tuned one. A clip tuner that you attach to the top of the headstock is a good idea here. A capo can also be very useful. With its help, you can change keys without having to learn new fingerings - which means you can quickly play a lot of songs with just a few fingerings.
If you want to start with an electric guitar, you'll also need an amplifier and a jack cable that connects the guitar to the amplifier. So ideally, your starting gear will include:
As a beginner who wants to learn the guitar, it is of course best to start with professional teachers so that no basic mistakes creep in. Also, teachers give you a certain structure to learn the basics of the guitar efficiently. Since such teachers are often and rightfully expensive, not everyone can afford the luxury of private lessons. Considering that, there are a lot of ways to get started on your own. For example, there are various apps that can help you to be shown such a structure and have a starting point. Because in the beginning, learning guitar can seem very confusing. For this, there is already an article on the mukken blog, in which we present some of these apps for learning guitar.
YouTube can also be a good way to teach yourself the first chords and songs. It is advisable to pay close attention to hand posture and movement sequences, especially at the beginning. Of course, in contrast to professional music teachers, YouTube musicians can't respond individually to the problems of students. We have linked the most popular (German-speaking) channel for beginners learning to play the guitar. Feel free to click through and see what you personally like best. Often you reach a plateau on YouTube, because over time you have a few questions that are not clarified in the videos. If you don't have anyone around you who has been playing guitar longer than you, it might be a good idea to take a professional lesson or two. Many teachers offer individual lessons in addition to continuous contracts. For this you can have a look around in the mukken community - maybe there is someone suitable here.
This is another question with answers that depend largely on the individual. Therefore, the following is only a guideline and not the only way that works. In my opinion, it is very important to regularly acquire a sense of achievement in order to keep the motivation and enjoyment of the instrument as high as possible. One way that experience shows works well when learning guitar for beginners is to be able to play a song or part of a song as quickly as possible. But the very first thing you should do is learn basics like the names of the strings. Because this is used in every guitar lesson—whether via app, on YouTube or in music school—to explain where you should pick. After that, you'll know how to tune a guitar. Then you should try to learn a simple melody, or just play a few single fingered notes to internalize the basic technique of fingering first.
Then try to learn the first four simple chords on the guitar (Am, F, C and G would be an example here). Here it is very important to first focus on the fingering hand (the hand that grasps the notes on the guitar neck) and to strike the chords only once with the other hand and not to play a strumming (rhythm of the striking hand) right away. At the beginning you should try to make the chords sound alone and then practice the changes between the different chords. The point here is not to make every chord sound perfect at first, but rather to learn the basic technique and movement. You won't get much out of practicing a single chord until it sounds "perfect," because a single chord doesn't make music.
Once you have mastered the first four chords, you can pick songs that contain these chords and try to play them. Play them by first striking the chords only on the one (in a 4/4 measure we have four beats per measure, the one being the first). Ultimate Guitar is the most popular platform where you can find almost any song and its chords. Further explanations are a bit difficult here in text form. We have already made a few suggestions in the course of this article to help you get started playing guitar.
However, this way doesn't work very well for children who want to learn guitar, because it takes longer to learn the basic technique. Here you start with very simple melodies and few picked notes. It is best to start with a book tailored to the age of the child and professional teachers, because children make many mistakes, especially in the beginning. It is much more time consuming to get rid of bad habits.
First and foremost, you should focus on what you feel most like doing. Because your own motivation and the fun of making music are the most important. With children, you should also make sure that the guitar is not too big, otherwise it will be much more difficult.
Try not to put your instrument back in its case or backpack every time and instead put it in the far corner of your room. Also, you should always have the material you're working with reasonably sorted, so you don't have to gather it all up before you can get started. Otherwise, a lot of time and motivation will be lost.
After you have taken the first steps in learning guitar, you should learn how to read tablature (commonly referred to as "tabs"). This is a very simplified way of guitar music notation. Of course, if you feel like reading sheet music, this can also be very helpful. However, this is very confusing, especially at the beginning on the guitar. Tablatures are very easy to read and you quickly get into making music. In "lead sheets" songs are notated a bit more roughly and not note for note. Mostly the chord names are written above the bars or the lyrics. So when you learn new fingerings, you should quickly internalize what the chords are called. This will give you the opportunity to learn new songs relatively quickly, and you're sure to have a lot of fun making music.
It is very important that you pick up the instrument every day, if possible, so that you get used to the new fingerings. Repeat them as often as possible so that the first fingerings quickly feel natural. It is much more effective to do short practice sessions regularly than to do very long ones irregularly. This will give you a sense of achievement over and over again and you will learn to play the guitar much faster and more motivated.
If you need more tips on how to practice effectively, there's already an article here on mukken that can help you get audible results faster.
If you are looking for musicians or music teachers who can help you learn the guitar, you can have a look at our musicians' board. We connect musicians with those who want to become musicians and offer you the best solutions for your first contacts. For many of our artists, music is much more than a hobby. The guitar is a true passion for many people, which you can share with us. If you are looking for more articles, for example about other instruments, you will also find them on our blog.
Originally published on March 13, 2023, updated on March 13, 2023