You want to learn to play the guitar, but you don’t have the money to take lessons with a music teacher. Luckily, there are plenty of free resources that will help you learn to play along with your favorite songs! This article will walk you through how to buy a good starter guitar, how to read tabs, and how to practice a beginner’s scale to improve your finger strength and dexterity.
Buying a Starter Guitar
1Determine your budget. Depending on what caliber instrument you want to buy, a guitar can cost as little as $30, or it may run you several thousand dollars. Obviously, you get what you pay for. How seriously do you plan to take this new hobby? If you’re very serious about learning to play the guitar, it will be worth your while to invest a little more money in your first instrument, as the sound quality will be significantly better, and you’ll be happier with your purchase in the long run. However, if you’re just looking for something to keep you occupied for a little while, you might as well buy a cheaper instrument.
- Any guitar you purchase new and unused that costs less than $100 will probably fall squarely into the “toy” or “novelty” guitar category. Only purchase guitars that cheap if you aren’t taking this hobby very seriously.
- A mediocre starter guitar will likely cost around $150-$200.
- A guitar between $200 and $300 is a good investment for a starter guitar; even if you purchase a higher quality instrument later, this first instrument will likely be of a quality that will stand the test of time.
- A good rule of thumb is to stick to cheaper models produced by the big, reliable brands. A partial list of reliable brands includes Gibson, Fender, Epiphone, Yamaha, and Ibanez, but there are many more.
- Note that an electric guitar will also require the purchasing of an amplifier, which will be a significant additional cost, depending on quality.
- You can also look for used guitars in pawn stores, where you might find a high quality instrument at a much lower price.
2Decide if you want an acoustic or an electric guitar. Some people say that because acoustics are larger, have thicker strings, and are generally more difficult to play, beginners should start with acoustic guitars to build up their finger strength and agility. Others say that beginners should buy electric guitars because they’re thinner and easier to play. All you should worry about is the sound you want to produce with your guitar.
- Acoustic guitars produce sound through the vibrations produced by the strings. The strings themselves make very little sound; play an electric guitar without an amplifier and it’s the first thing you’ll notice.Instead, the vibration of the strings travels through the saddle and bridge (located toward the bottom of the guitar) to the flat upper surface of the guitar, called the soundboard. The vibration of the soundboard, combined with the subsequent vibration of the air inside the hollow body of the guitar, produce a sound that comes out through the center hole in the body.
- Electric guitars have solid bodies, so they can’t produce sound through the vibration of the air inside. They rely, instead, on a set of “pickups,” which are magnets, wrapped in copper wire, that convert the vibration of each string into an electrical current. That current travels through a cord to an amplifier, producing the pitch produced by the vibration of each specific cord.  Because the sound is produced electrically through an amplifier, you can manipulate the sound of an electric guitar far more than you can an acoustic guitar, which creates its sound through its own body.
- When buying a guitar, think about the style of music you plan to play. Acoustic guitars are well-suited to folk, country, and much rock music, but hard rock, jazz, etc. will likely sound better on an electric guitar.
3Buy your guitar in a music store, not online. If you buy a guitar online, you won’t know anything about its most important aspects: the sound it produces, how it feels in your hands, how it fits against your body, etc. You should always try out several guitars in-store before you make a decision about which one you want to invest in.
- Make sure you find a guitar that is right-handed if you’re right-handed, and left-handed if you’re left-handed.
- Buy a guitar that’s sized appropriately for you. You’re going to give up easily if your instrument doesn’t feel comfortable on your body.
- Buy a guitar with a low “action,” if possible. The action is the height of the strings off the fingerboard; the higher the action, the higher the strings stand off the fingerboard, where you’ll be pushing them down to play different notes. If the strings are too high off the fingerboard, the strings will cut more deeply into your fingers as you push on them, and the result can be quite painful until you build up callouses.
- Even if you don’t know what you’re doing, press some random frets and strum the guitar. Can you comfortably play the guitar without it creating an irritating buzzing sound? Don’t buy a buzzy guitar!
- Don’t be afraid to ask the staff at the music store for guidance. They’re there to help, and they love talking about instruments!
4Buy the necessary accessories. If you want to play while standing, you’ll need a guitar strap to hang the guitar from your neck and shoulders. You probably also want to buy some guitar picks, which are very inexpensive. Both of these items can be found in any music store, or online. If an employee at a music store tries to sell you additional accessories (like capos, tuners, etc.), politely decline; you can purchase those later when you know your way around a guitar better, but for now, this is all you need.
- If you buy an electric guitar, you’ll need to purchase an amplifier as well.
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar1Tune your guitar. This is the most important thing to do when you begin learning. Once the guitar is ready, it’s fairly easy to keep it in tune, but tuning it the first time can be difficult if you haven’t yet developed an ear for it. If you’re buying a guitar at a music store, as a store employee to tune it for you before you leave the store. If not, you should ask an acquaintance more familiar with the guitar to tune it for you, or take it to a music store and ask an employee to quickly tune it, as a favor. You might buy something small, like a pack of picks, to make up for it. Once the guitar is in tune, you should check to make sure it remains in tune before every practice session.
- Purchase a tuning app on your phone. gStrings is a popular app for Android devices, whereas Guitar Tuna is a popular iPhone app. 
- Play each string individually, making sure to pluck the string loudly and clearly without holding any frets down.
- Adjust the corresponding tuning peg up or down until the tuning app lets you know that string is in tune.
- Repeat this process for all of the strings until your whole guitar is in tune.
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar2Study and number your strings and frets. Hold your guitar as though you’re going to play it, and look down at the neckboard.
- The string that’s pointing up at you is the E string. The strings, starting with E and moving down to the bottom of the neckboard, are E, A, D, G, B, and e.
- The fret closest to the head (furthest away from the body) is your first fret. The next one down the board is the second, the next the third, and so on.
- Almost all guitars have symbols on specific frets to help players see where they are on the neckboard without having to count. Usually, there is a symbol of some sort on every odd-numbered fret, beginning with the third.
3Study a blank tablature chart. The easiest way to learn how to play a song on the guitar is to find a tablature chart — or “tabs” — for it. An empty tablature chart will simply show the six strings of the guitar, labeled as though you were holding your guitar face-up in your lap: the E string is on the bottom, and the e string is on the top.
- e ————————
- B ————————
- G ————————
- D ————————
- A ————————
- E ————————
- Alternately, the six strings may just be numbered, with the E string being string 6 and the e string being string 1.
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar4Learn how fret positions are symbolized. Tabs use numbers placed on the line of the tab charts to indicate which fret should be played on each string. If a line has a 0 on it, that means that you should pluck that string “open,” without holding down any frets. So, for example, in the following tab chart, you should only play the third fret on the sixth string:
- e ————————
- B ————————
- G ————————
- D ————————
- A ————————
- E —-3——————-
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar5Read the tab from left to right. Just like reading a sentence, you read a tab from left to right, playing each note one after the other. So, in the following tab, you should play the third fret on string E, then play string An open, then play the second fret on string D.
- e ————————
- B ————————
- G ————————
- D ————-2———-
- A ———0————–
- E —-3——————-
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar6Play multiple notes in a vertical alignment simultaneously. To indicate a chord, tabs line up all the frets and strings that should be played in the same vertical alignment. Any strings that should be muted (left unplayed) are marked by an X. So, for example, an A chord would be symbolized like this:
- e ——-0—————–
- B ——2——————
- G ——2——————
- D ——2——————
- A ——0——————
- E ——X——————
- In this chord, the 6th string is left unplayed, the 5th is played open, the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd are all played with their second fret held down, and the 1st string is played open. With your fingers in that position, you would strum all strings together.
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar7
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar8Practice regularly. You’ll likely get frustrated the first few times you try to play a song from tabs. There are a lot of numbers to keep track of, and it will take your brain some time to get used to matching up what’s on the tab with the guitar that you’re looking at. Don’t give up, though! With time and practice, you’ll be able to play the guitar like a pro!
Learning Your Scales
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar1Practice a pentatonic scale. Like the root “penta” implies, a pentatonic scale has five notes rather than the normal seven; this results in “a more open and less linear sound.” The pentatonic scale is usually the first scale taught to beginning guitar students, so it’s where you, too, should begin. Use the following tablature to practice an E major pentatonic scale:
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar2Practice your pentatonic scale until it’s perfect. Even accomplished guitar players often practice their scales, because going up and down the scales improves finger strength, speed, and agility. You might memorize the finger placements fairly easily, but it will take a lot of practice to be able to play the notes perfectly without having to look at your fingers on the neckboard. It will take even longer to be able to play the scales as fast as the pros, so keep practicing!
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar3Practice an A Minor scale in 5th position. By 5th position, we mean that you treat the fifth fret as though it were the first fret on the neckboard:
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar4Practice shape scales. These scales help get your fingers used to moving up and down the six strings of the guitar. If you practice them enough, your fingers will get used to the feeling of transitioning from one string to the next without having to look down at the neckboard.:
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar5Practice string-skipping scales. These scales force you to skip strings instead of moving through them by progression. This will help your fingers memorize not only where frets are located, but where strings are located without having to look at the neckboard.
to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar6Find and practice more scales. There are hundreds of different scales and exercises that you can practice to train your ear to pick up on musical cues and train your hands to move faster. Learn and practice all of your scales until you have them ingrained in your mind and fingers; these scales are the foundation of all the music you know and love! The more familiar you grow with the scales, the better you’ll be at picking up songs by ear and creating new songs of your own.
How to Teach Yourself to Play Guitar