Just picked up the guitar. Where do I start?

Broken Ibanez Tubescreamer
Image Courtesy of Efectos Cluster

So you just bought a guitar, have it in your hands and now you have absolutely no idea what to do.

We’ve all been there.

If you need to, you can refer to this link for a quick rundown of parts, positioning and holding the guitar.

So for some basic direction and guidance on what you need to do first, we’ll go through some of the “starter material” for the first few weeks with your guitar.

  • Basic Chords
  • Basic Scales
  • Practice Strategy
  • Practice Frequency
  • Dealing with Pain
  • Where to Go Next
  • Other Resources

Another thing I’m not going to cover in this post, but that I’ll link to here is tuning your guitar.

Aside from that, I’m assuming you’ve got a tuned guitar in your hand, but you’re just kind of at a loss as to what to do next.

Here are a few nudges in the right direction.

Basic Open Chords

For starters, you want to get the hang of a few basic open chords, which would include the following: G, C, D, E, Em, Am, A Major, B and F.

C Major

E Minor
A Minor

A Major

If you need some help with the diagrams, try this article on the process of learning guitar chords.

Basic Scales

The initial scales you learn should not be complex, but just enough of a challenge to get your fingers moving and to prepare you for other scales that you’ll be tackling in the future. In this case, you’ll start off with just two.

1. Basic Blues Pattern

2. Pentatonic Pattern in the Key of C

When reading these diagrams you read left to right, treating the horizontal lines as strings and the vertical lines as fret dividers. Essentially, it’s like looking right down on top of the fretboard

So what should you be focusing on as you play through them? In the early stages, scales serve a lot of purposes in addition to helping you learn patterns and tonal qualities.

Scale work should focus on the following areas:
  • Strengthening your fingers individually.
  • Helping to stretch fingers.
  • Helping them to move fingers independently of one another
  • Developing dexterity.
  • Setting the foundation for other scales and soloing patterns.

Practice Frequency

If you’ve just started playing through these chords and scales, you’re probably wondering how much time you’ll need to take before moving on. When you’re first starting out, giving it as much time as possible is fine and preferable, but make sure you go for quality and consistency above quantity.

So when you do practice, make sure it’s solid practice time where you devote yourself to learning these chords and scales, polishing them and improving your technique so that you can move on to other topics.

Practicing daily is definitely encouraged, even if you can only do so for a short period of time. Only 15 or 20 minutes is far better than playing once a week for two hours.

Here’s some more reading on how often you should practice guitar.

Dealing with Pain

Finger Tips

As you play and progress you’re probably going to experience a fair amount of pain in your fingers, particularly the tips of them. Pain and soreness in your forearms are also a possibility, though it’s most likely to occur in only your strumming hand.

Dealing with this pain can be tough, but know that in just about every case where the pain is in your fingertips, it’s just your body developing callouses and getting used to pressing down the strings.

Part of addressing the issue is just giving it time. You’ll need to give your fingers short breaks once in awhile and allow roughly three to five weeks for callouses to develop. After that period your fingers will toughen up and you’ll be able to play with a lot more comfort.

Eventually, the pain in your fingers will disappear completely.

Finger Stretching 

The other most typical cause of pain in your fingers is when they begin to stretch and develop greater dexterity. Again, this is completely normal and should be expected in the first few weeks, or even months.

You’ll be challenging your fingers to stretch based on what chords and scales you learn, what exercises you do and how often you play. Your fingers will have a max “wingspan” so to speak, but you aren’t likely to reach that threshold until you’ve been playing for several months.

If your fingers do feel sore from stretching, just take a break from the guitar and come back a couple days later.

Where to Go Next

What I’ve given you here is simply a starter kit for getting off the runway with your guitar. It’s not meant to be the end all; rather it’s meant to provide you with a direction to go in without having to wade through a ton of information.

Once you’re off the runway and in the air, you’ll have a lot of decisions to make and directions to go.

I’ll leave you with a few follow up articles for that you can utilize after you’ve gotten these concepts under your belt.




Other Resources

You’ve got a lot of different material at your disposal from all around the web, so it can definitely get confusing if you don’t know where to go with your instrument. Hopefully I’ve been able to take some of the guess work out of it for you and give you a place to start with the guitar.

To finish up, I’ll leave you with just a few extra resource links from Guitar Chalk.

Thanks for reading.

Recommend Reading and Resources

Rocksmith: All-New 2014 Edition -- by Ubisoft

Guitar for Absolute Beginners -- by Daniel Emery

Want to learn more guitar?

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You know, the depth topics and specifics that are hard to come by without a personal tutor.

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Such is available to you via a Guitar Tricks 14-day free trial. Having begun in 1997, they keep a massive library of material with professional instructors that take you through each concept step-by-step. It’s more then you could ever possibly get through in two weeks.

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About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
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