Beginner Guitar Basics:Your First Lesson

Maybe you wanted a guitar all your life, and now that you have it. It’s perfect! The size, feel and most of all it looks great. But now what do you do with it? In this Lesson Beginner Guitar Basics We will cover some of the first steps towards playing your guitar.

What to expect in Beginner Guitar Basics? Beginner Guitar Basics:Your First Lesson

  1. The Rudiments of Music
  2. Time Signatures
  3. The Fingerboard
  4. The Correct way to hold the guitar
  5. Pick Position
  6. Left hand and right hand Position
  7. Tuning the Guitar
  8. The Notes on the first string

This might not be what you were expecting. Your probably all excited, and ready to play like your favorite Rock Star. But first things first. Just remember they make it look so easy, but they didn’t start where they are today.

They had to have there first lesson. It is imperative that you learn the basic techniques and fundamentals now. To lay a firm foundation. Before you pick up any bad habits. This will make learning to play guitar a lot easier. If your ready grab your guitar, and lets go through beginner guitar basics.

The Rudiments of Music

Sure you can play a guitar without the fundamentals of music. But like I said previously it will be easier to under stand with a little bit of music knowledge.

Just like you take a pen to write. Usually you take a note pad or binder to write on. Well music is written on what is called a “Staff”. The Staff has five lines, and four spaces between the lines. See a Staff below.


The lines are numbered starting with the lowest, and working up to the top line. Like this 1 2 3 4 5.

Then the spaces are also numbered 1, 2, 3, 4. In the same manner from the lowest space ascending to the top. See what I mean in the picture below.

The lines have letters E G B D F. To remember the letters on the Staff line you can use word association. Which is: Every Good Boy Does Fine.

Every Good Boy Does Fine (EGBDF)

Now let’s see what letters go with the spaces. F A C E. The Word association trick for remembering the letters on the Staff spaces are: FACE. Speaking of face I hope your smiling.

Spaces on Staff FACE

Next to come is the musical Alphabet. Which is A B C D E F G. The notes of the guitar use the musical alphabet. That’s for a little later on, but if you want to take a look at how the notes of the guitar work. Also how to find the notes on the fretboard there is the link.

Whats The Clef

The Clef, which maybe you have seen before. It’s at the beginning of the Staff to symbolize what notes are on the lines and the spaces. There are different Clef’s; Bass Clef, F Clef, Treble or G Clef.

A Treble Clef, or a G Clef is what all guitar music is written in. Take a look at the Treble Clef below.

Treble Clef

The Staff is divided into measures. With vertical lines called Bars.

Take the Review and see how you did!

Basic Guitar Review

Grab a pen and paper, or do it in your head. See how many you can get.

  • Which way are the Lines and spaces numbered, Up or Down?
  • What is Music written on?
  • How many Lines and Spaces does the Staff have?
  • In the Staff the lines are named what; in order?
  • What are the names of the spaces?
  • Name the letters in the Musical Alphabet.
  • What is another name for the Treble Clef?
  • Vertical lines separate the staff into measures. Whats the name of the line?

Now wasn’t that fun? See how much you have already learned. I will leave the answers below. Check it out to see how many you got right.

Notes on Guitar

Take note of the notes! Okay The note can be placed in the Staff. Above the staff, or below the Staff. As Such:

Ledger Line

Where ever the note is on the staff, the name of the note will be the name of the line that it is on. Or the space that it is in. For an example of this look at the Staff below.

Notes on the E string first 3 frets

At the same time if the note is above the Staff, in the Staff or below the Staff, will indicate the pitch of the note.

When we say “pitch” this refers to the highness or lowness of a tone. On your guitar a low tone or pitch is towards the headstock. It is also lower at the thickest string. Which we will cover in a minute.

A high pitch on the guitar is one that is going up the neck towards the bridge or sound hole.

Tone is a musical sound indicated by a note.

Note Value

The notes on the Staff tell you what note letter to play on your Guitar. It also tells you how long to play it. Here are 4 notes to remember. The Heads of the Notes tells you what note you are playing, and for how long.

The note Value is shown in the note head. Depending if it is solid or open. Showing how long the note will be played.

There are different shapes of notes. The shape of note indicates the length of it’s sound.

  1. The Whole note you can see the head is hollow. With no stem. You hold if for 4 beats.
  2. Next is the Half note. The Head is hollow with a stem.
    It gets two beats.
  3. A Quarter note has a stem, and has a solid head;
    It gets one beat.
  4. Then the Eighth note has a stem with a “flag” on it, and solid head.

Take a look at the Notes in this Staff.

Notes on a Staff

When we go into learning the notes there is some strumming practice. Before you practice strumming, you might want to review the proper way to hold the guitar pick and the guitar. Take a look at 10 things every beginner guitar player Needs know.


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Basic Mechanics of Strumming

When you strum your guitar you have a down strum. When your hand goes down. Then there is an up strum. Your hand goes back up. A down beat is when your hand is strumming down. That is the down beat. The beat “and” is when your hand comes up.

A measure of music in 4/4 time has 4 beats or counts. A Whole Note is 4 counts. One, two, three, four.

When you are playing your guitar. You would Strum down on the first beat. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.
One, two, three, four.

That is 1, 2, 3, 4, When you strum down this is called the down beat. Or just the beat. So the beat is on the numbers.

If you take a Whole Note and break it in Half. You get a Half Note. Actually you would have two half’s. The Half has 2 beats.

Strumming Whole Notes & Half Notes

So the Half Note the beat is on the one and the three. Which means you will strum on 1 & 3. If you were counting it would look like this: 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4.

What I would recommend is to grab your guitar. Practice Strumming the Whole Note. One Two Three Four, One Two Three Four, One Two Three Four.

When you strum you want to keep your arm moving. Down and up. But you are only hitting the strings on the down beat.

After you practice strumming a Whole Note. Then practice strumming a Half Note. Like this: 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4. You are still only hitting the strings on the one and three beats.

Strum at a steady even speed. It will help you keep time if you count out loud. Keep your arm moving, but only play the strings on the 1 and 3.

If you need an in-depth Lesson on Strumming check out How to Get Better at Strumming Guitar

In this example when you strum down your hitting all the strings down. Then bringing your hand back up. Down again, hitting all the strings. But not hitting the strings on the way up.

Strumming Quarter Notes and Eighth Notes

Next is the Quarter Note. Which is One count. 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4. Strumming down 4 times is a quarter note strum. Strumming on every beat, thus “quarter”.

Finally the Eighth Note. The Eighth Note is 2 for one count. That is Eight Notes in the Measure. 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. The

When you play an eighth note you are strumming down and bringing your arm back up to strum down again. You are counting the 1 and the “and”.

You are strumming on the down and on the up strum. 1 and 2 and 3 and 4.

When it is counted the Whole note has been divided 8 times. Making it an Eighth Note.

Now take your guitar and practice playing Quarter Notes and Eighth Notes.

Whats a Rest In Music?

A Rest is a sign that is used to show a period of silence on the Staff. The rest will be the same duration as of the corresponding note. Meaning if you are playing a Whole Note, the corresponding rest is a Whole Rest.

Each Rest Symbol is different depending if it is a Whole Rest, Half Rest, Quarter Rest, or a Eighth Rest. See the four different Rest symbols below:

Rests in a Staff
  1. The first symbol is the Whole Rest. Notice the “REST” is below the line.
  2. Then the Half Rest symbol is above the line.
  3. Next is the Quarter Rest, it looks like a Squiggly line.
  4. Last Rest Symbol shown is the Eighth Rest.
Notes and corresponding Rests

Dots and Ties

There are other ways to extend a note. With a Dot or Tie. The DOT, after a note means the duration of the note has increased by half of the note’s duration. Look at the examples:

  • A Half note with a dot increases the note to: a half note and a quarter note. (They are Equal)
  • A Quarter note with a dot equals a quarter and a eighth note.

A Tie also increases the note. A tie is above the notes and “ties” them together. This means notes with a tie above them. The notes should be held for the duration of both notes. See the Tie in this Staff tying the two notes together. 


The above Staff shows a Tie or bow tying the two notes together.

What’s a Time Signature?

At the beginning of the Staff after the Clef you will see a Time Signature. The top number indicates the count of the beats in the measure.

The lower number indicates the kind of note that receives the one beat. For example if the lower number is 4. Then the note is a Quarter Note that represents one Count.

Here are some Time Signatures 2/4 3/4 and 4/4.

Although there are several different Time Signatures. In modern music most songs are in 4/4 time. The next popular Time Signature is the 3/4 time.

You may be thinking 3/4 time what is that. But if you have heard a Walt’s. That is 3/4 time. It can be heard in Country music.

Take a look at a 4/4 Time Signature below.

Time Signature

Related Article: A Song in 4×4 timing. Kenny Rogers Lucille Guitar Lesson (Complete)

The Guitar Fingerboard

The Guitar has 6 strings. When you have the guitar sitting on your lap. If you look at the strings. The first string you see at the top is not the first string.

That is actually the 6th string. The first string is the thin string at the bottom. The string in order go from the first string up to the first string is 6 5 4 3 2 1. The 6th string being the thickest string.

The strings are named after the pitch that they make when played open. Meaning if you were to play the string without placing your finger on the fingerboard.

The pitch is a letter out of the musical alphabet. The 6th strings are as follows:

  • The Thickest string is E when played open. It is at the Bottom.
  • Next the 5th string is the A string.
  • 4th string is the D string, played open.
  • 3rd string is the G string.
  • 2nd string is the B string.
  • Then the Top string is the E string. This is the thinnest string.

Here is what it looks like. If you were to hold your guitar up right.

The names of the open strings

Here is a link to learn how to read chord charts.

On the Finger Board there are some things you need to know. In order to know how to hold your fingers on the strings.

Guitar Frets

There are Metal wires going down the guitar fingerboard. These metal wires are called Frets.

Between the first Metal wire, and the Nut of the Guitar is called the first fret. Then Between the First metal wire, and the second metal wire is the second fret.

Between the second metal wire, and the third wire is the third fret. It goes like this down the neck of the guitar.

The number of frets on the finger board depends on the length of the guitar neck.

There are dots on the guitar to help you find your way around the fingerboard.

On most guitars they can be found on the finger board at the 3rd fret. Also at the 5th, 7th, and 9th fret. Then at the 12th fret there are two dots. After the 12th fret. You may find a dot at the 15th and 17th fret.

Related Article: Is it Worth it to Refret a Guitar?

The Proper Way To Hold The Guitar


When holding your guitar. If you are right handed you put the guitar on your right leg. If your left handed everything is just the opposite. I am going to tell you how I hold the guitar. I am right handed.

You need to be upright. Meaning sitting up tall. With your back up right. A lot of new guitarists want to have the guitar tilted back, or almost laying down. This way they think it is easier to see there fingers.

The correct way to hold the guitar is the back of the guitar is against your body. Your right arm is resting on the upper part of the body. At the front of the guitar.

The neck of the guitar is slightly up. Here’s a tip. The higher the neck is up the easier it is to play. There is no set rule, just find what’s comfortable for you and stick with it.

Your left hand is relaxed on the neck of the guitar. Even though holding the guitar is foreign to you. It may feel like you are going to drop it. If your arm is over the top of the body of the guitar, and you are lightly holding the neck your guitar will be safe.

Related Article: What is a Brush Downstroke in Music.

Pick Position 

Should I use a Pick playing guitar? A perfect question read why you should. When you hold the pick. The proper way is between your first finger and thumb. See the picture below.

Holding the guitar pick

The pick should be facing the strings. When you pick a string it should come to a rest so it doesn’t hit the next string.

Left Hand and Right Hand Position

Your left hand this your fretting hand. That is if you are right handed. If you are left handed then your fretting hand is your right hand.

You want to place your fingers firmly on the strings. Directly behind the fret wire. For a more in-depth look at Guitar Technique and Finger Strengthening.

Tuning The Guitar

You could get a guitar tuner there are several different kinds. There are ones that clip on the guitar. They work off of string vibration. There are some that are digital. That have a built in Metronome. Which comes in handy for practicing.

Even if you have a guitar tuner. It is a good idea to learn how to tune your guitar without a tuner. This way you get the fundamentals of it.

The Notes On The First String

Earlier we covered the notes. Let’s look at the notes on the first string. Remember we learned the first string is the E string. Also it is the thinnest string.

Your Fretting hand fingers are 1 2 3 4, starting with your index finger. When you play the string. Your fingers stay with the fret that you are playing.

For an example if you play the first fret. Then you will use your first finger. Second fret; Second finger. Third fret, guess what finger. If you said third you would be correct.

On the first fret place your finger firmly behind the first fret. That is an F note. Here is what it looks like on the Staff.

Notes on the Staff &E string 3 frets

If you place your finger on the third fret. Still on the first string. You will be using your third finger. Above is a picture of the G note on the Staff. Which is the note you would be playing at the third fret of the first string.

When you practice go slow and remember to count. Here’s 11 tips for learning the guitar notes.

Here are some Notes to practice. Remember you need to know the letters of the lines and spaces.

Whole Notes & Half Notes on the E String

Whole notes on a Staff
  • A Whole Note receives 4 Beats.
  • Count One- Two – Three – Four.
Half Notes
  • A Half Note Receives two beats.
  • Remember to count 1 2 3 4

A Quarter Note receives one beat. You count it 1 2 3 4.

If you liked this lesson take a look at some of these other beginner guitar lessons you might like them too.

Basic Guitar Review: Answers

  1. Up
  2. Staff
  3. 5 Lines and 4 Spaces
  4. E G B D F
  5. FACE
  6. A B C D E F G
  7. G Clef
  8. BAR

Related Questions

Beginner Guitar Basics PDF

It is always a good idea to learn a little music theory. You can learn guitar without it. But to know the basics just makes learning the guitar make more sense. I have made a PDF just for you if your interested in the basics of music. Here is a PDF with the Beginner Guitar Basics.

Beginner Guitar Chords

To start playing chords may seem a little overwhelming. Knowing where to place your fingers for the chords. Every beginner guitarist should start with the open chords.

These are the first position chords that are located at the first three frets of the guitar. The great thing about these chords once you learn where to place your fingers to learn the chords. Then you can play hundreds of songs.

That is why I made a list of first position chords for you to practice with. Learn them Step By Step. Here is the complete list of first Position chords to practice your chords.

Beginner Guitar Songs

That’s what our ultimate goals should be. That is to learn a song. When your starting out playing guitar you need a song with two or three chords.

This will make it easier to accomplish that goal of playing a song. Take a look at this list off songs that I have compiled. The songs have all the chords, chord progressions, and strumming pattern.

Everything you need to play the songs. Well almost everything. You need to bring your guitar. If you don’t have one yet check out the Gear Page. If you already have a guitar here is the 11 easy songs on guitar for beginners.

Basic Guitar Chords Chart

I have a page dedicated to the first position chords. Which has more chords that are on this list of beginner guitar chords. There are also step by step instruction where to place your fingers.

Maybe you are proficient with a chord diagram, and you just want to see the chords. If that’s the case here is the downloadable basic guitar chords chart. Try them both out!

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