How Do You Get Started Playing?

I get this question a lot – how do you get started playing guitar?

Learn From the Best

Well, I’m clearly no expert – I didn’t really get started until I was 33. Luckily, there are numerous experts. One of the best is Justin Sandercoe, an Aussie living in London. His site,, is one of the most comprehensive and held highest in esteem on learning to play. It has over 450 video lessons segmented into phases of your learning, from the very beginning through scales and techniques to more advanced stuff like arpeggios and licks. And it costs exactly what it’s worth – you decide what you want to pay through an honor system with donations. If you use the lessons, I urge you to donate!

Here’s a sample – the first lesson, teaching you how to play a D chord:


My Best Tips

  1. Stay motivated – your biggest enemy is losing motivation. If you don’t want to play anymore, you won’t. You are going to find obstacles and times where your development levels out. Know where you want to go: learn three chords and play popular songs around a campfire – great goal! If you aim for something more advanced – great too, as long as you realize it requires a lot more time and motivation. A friend gave me the best advice: make sure you are having fun while learning, and the time will never be wasted. For me motivation comes from learning songs (when I’ve focused too much on techniques), recording covers and playing with others.
  2. Use your ears – if you can’t hear what sounds good and what doesn’t, you will never improve. Also trust your ears, if it sounds good it is good. Never play on a guitar that is out of tune! That will sabotage your musical ear. A tuner is dirt cheap, and on most smartphones you can download a tuner app for free.
  3. Learn to read tabs – tabs is a specialized and simplified form of musical notation for guitar players. With it you will teach yourself new songs in no time. Justin above has lessons on how to read tabs. Ultimate Guitar has one of the most impressive international tab archives with 300 000 songs from every genre. Svenska Ackord is a Swedish one. I’d be surprised if there aren’t specialized sites in numerous other languages.
  4. Don’t be intimidated – I used to think there were musicians and non-musicians. I don’t think that anymore. Some people seem to have what you would refer to as talent where learning to play is just easier. But I’m certain anyone can learn to play songs. It’s all a question of wanting to and being willing to put down the time. There is no magical threshold you cross and then you can suddenly play. Anyone who plays an instrument continuously goes through cycles where they feel like the worst and the best player on earth.

Others’ Tips

One the forum’s I frequent there are threads like “name your three best tips for a beginner”, this is my shortlist summary (all tips are not relevant for everyone of course – some might even contradict each other):

  • If you can’t play something slowly, you can’t play it fast (even if you might think that speed hides your mistakes). Learn difficult parts slowly by using a metronome and gradually increase speed. Dull as doornails, but you will thank yourself later.
  • Learn basic music theory. Keys and scales will let you improvise and write your own songs.
  • Practice to a rhythm or beat, so you don’t end up rhythmically challenged. :-)
  • Play the instrument you want to play. If you want to play acoustic, get an acoustic (usually not a problem). If you want to play electric, get an electric (you don’t need to learn acoustic first, you’ll probably just lose motivation).
  • Play songs you want to play. Don’t get stuck playing childrens songs or traditional songs because that’s suitable for beginners. There are easy songs in every genre.
  • Try to learn songs by listening, not by tabs or notation. This will train your musical ear.
  • Find someone to ask. This will save you a ton of wasted time.
  • Play together with others.
  • If you are playing electric guitar with distortion, learn dampening (i.e. how to mute strings that you are not playing with both left and right hand to remove unwanted noise).
Good luck! If you are a guitar player, supply your best tips for beginners in the comments!