The Best Way to Learn Guitar: Ultimate Roadmap

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If you’re just starting to learn guitar, you may be feeling overwhelmed with how to get started. There’s a quick answer, then a more detailed explanation. First, the quick answer.

  • Start by picking the best guitar for you
  • Learn basic skills like chords and strumming
  • Build on top of those skills by learning songs 
  • Have a strategy for learning, and make sure to stick to that strategy 
  • Be patient with yourself, and learn from your mistakes
  • Practice, practice, and more practice

Learning to play the guitar can seem complicated, and downright frustrating sometimes. But if you have the right approach, you can speed up your learning.

It’s similar to hiking a up hill. You don’t want to start on the jagged side and give up before seeing results. Rather, you want to plan your route and take the easiest and most direct way to the top.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. It takes time, patience, and practice if you want to hone a particular skill. 

In all honesty, there is no actual “best way” to learn guitar. Some people respond well to lessons, whether online or in real life, while others learn better from teaching themselves or taking an online course. It really does depend on you – you’ll have to figure out your learning style and go from there.

However, some tips will help you make progress quicker. If you’re looking for the best way to learn guitar, fret not and read on for some advice and encouragement about learning guitar at any age.

9 Tips to Help Find The Best Way to Learn Guitar for You

1. Find a Suitable Guitar

Rows of guitars in a guitar shop, view of a woman's hand selecting an acoustic guitar

Shopping for a new guitar is an exciting experience for new players. Yet, some newbies get confused by the options available when they try to find a guitar that suits them.

Not all guitars are built the same. It’s best to visit your local music store or read up on a few reviews first. The experts at the store or online will help you find the right guitar.

There is usually an overwhelming variety of guitars in a store, but we typically recommend getting a steel-stringed acoustic guitar for beginners. However, if you want to start with an electric guitar, there’s no definitive reason not to.

It may be tempting to pick a guitar based solely on its looks, but it’s important to weigh several factors when choosing the right guitar for you. Some key factors to consider are:

  • Price – There is no need to spend thousands on your first guitar, but spending just a little extra can help improve your early guitar playing
  • Condition – If you’re looking at second-hand guitars, make sure the neck isn’t warped
  • Style – Decide whether you want an electric guitar, steel-string acoustic, or a nylon string guitar.
  • Size – Smaller people may prefer a smaller guitar. For instance, a child could get a 1/2 size or 3/4 size guitar.

Keep in mind that if you practice more, you could be better than someone who has the best guitar on the planet. It’s the tradesman, not the tools. More than that, it’s the work put in to learn guitar that matters.

2. Start With the Basics

Acoustic guitar leaning on couch

Now that you have your guitar in your hands, you’re well on your way to learn guitar. The first steps are always difficult, but learning the basics will help you advance with confidence.

Familiarize Yourself

Unlike most other instruments, there are many different styles of guitars. These vary from electric to acoustic, but most guitars have the same anatomy, and parts are similar to each other.

Most guitars have six strings. However, variations range between four to twelve-string guitars. Learning to navigate the strings and maneuver around the fretboard is one of the key steps to learning guitar.

Set Up Your Guitar

Starting with your guitar sounding and feeling right is very important. It’s often a good idea to have a luthier or music shop do the initial setup for your guitar.

Make sure your strings are tuned so that your guitar can sound its best. As a beginner, you don’t need to invest in a guitar tuner; you can simply use an app on your smartphone to tune your guitar for free. They make things easier, though, so don’t be afraid to spend some money on a little clip-on tuner.

Learn to replace a string in case the one on your guitar breaks during a session. And make sure to change your strings often enough to keep them sounding and feely snappy.

Learning these little things can have a positive impact on the sound of your guitar if done correctly.

Remembering Guitar Strings

Every Apple Does Go Bad Eventually.

Learn this mnemonic to learn your guitar strings with ease. These are arranged from 6 to 1 (Thickest to thinnest). You can learn the letters and the order of the strings quickly if you do this every session.

There are a variety of other mnemonics and techniques you can use to memorize the string names on your guitar.

Guitar string names

Learning to Hold a Guitar Pick

Learning to hold a guitar pick can have a significant impact on achieving a quality sound. Guitar picks have varying thickness and can impact the tone of your guitar too. Thin ones are better for strumming, so perhaps start with a lighter gauge.

To use a guitar pick, slide your pick between your thumb and the middle of your index finger. Keep a firm yet relaxed grip on the guitar pick while keeping the pointed end of the guitar pick sticking out away from your hand. 

You should hold the pick under your thumb, and it should stick out, typically about 1/2 inch.

How to hold a guitar pick

Learn Chords on Your Guitar to Get Started Playing

Learning chords is often the first thing you’ll do once you get used to holding your new instrument.

Start by learning easy open chords, and a fun chord progression or two. You can learn to play a ton of new songs with just a few simple chords.

Learn Single Notes on Your Guitar to Master the Fretboard

Single notes are one concept you should start to learn early. Think of notes as the language for playing the guitar. Everything from chords to melodies use notes.

In the beginning, you won’t know about chord placements. However, knowing where the notes are can help you learn to play chords with ease.

The notes on the guitar fretboard

Knowing where to place your fingers on the fretboard and being confident that the notes will ring out is key to becoming a good guitar player. A basic understanding of music theory can make the notes on a guitar seem like second nature.

Learning to Strum

Female hand strumming an acoustic guitar using a guitar pick

Playing chords and single notes takes care of your left hand playing (unless you’re left handed like Jimi Hendrix). But what do you do with your right hand? Strumming and picking.

For beginner guitarists, we recommend using a pick  (also called a plectrum). Picks make strumming much less taxing on the soft fingers of a new player. Later on, when you feel comfortable, you can always switch to strumming with your fingers.

Figuring out strumming patterns as a beginner guitarist can be super frustrating. But, as you start getting better at it, it will become easier because you will recognize the recurring patterns. Try not to get discouraged, as it’s all part of the learning process.

Continuously playing the guitar with your wrist overbent can compress the median nerve in the middle of your wrist, and this can lead to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Take care and keep a loose wrist.

Seemingly little things like keeping your wrist loose while strumming will help you achieve fluidity in the way you strum guitar chords.

Feeling comfortable will also help you to nail those basic strumming patterns in no time.

3. Setup an Ideal Practice Space (and practice often)

Girl sitting comfortably in the corner of her room playing an acoustic guitar

Having an ideal learning environment that motivates you to practice is crucial to having a positive attitude towards guitar learning. 

The practice room itself helps you practice more often, and the truly best way to learn guitar is to practice consistently.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when setting up a practice space.

A Quiet Place

It’s best to set up a space where you won’t be interrupted while you practice guitar. If you have the resources, it’s best to soundproof the walls of your practice space. You’ll want to make sure you don’t get disturbed by external noise or disturb others during your practice sessions.

Maintain Optimal Temperature

Temperature fluctuations can impact the performance of your guitar. It’s best to play in a well-ventilated room so that you may feel comfortable practicing your guitar. Avoid storing your guitar near the bathroom or windows during wet weather or dry winds.

Proudly Display Your Guitar

Keeping your guitar in your sight is a great way to prompt you to play it more often. You can opt for buying a guitar stand to show off your guitar proudly.

Use a Comfortable Chair

The place where you sit down to practice is essential. Make sure you have a chair that encourages good posture. Chairs with arms may get in the way when playing the guitar.

4. Build Skills by Learning Songs and Riffs You Love

Man playing acoustic guitar

Now that you know the fundamentals of the guitar, you should jump in and start to play songs. This is a great way to practice chords and integrate all the skills that you’ve been learning.

Incorporating your favorite songs into your guitar learning regime can help you remember chord shapes, and they’re a great way to apply the things you have already learned actively.

Learning songs is a lot more fun way to play guitar than just practicing chords on their own. You’re more likely to stay on top of your practice if you enjoy it, and picking your favorite song to learn is a great way to achieve this.

You don’t need to have a lot of playing time under your belt before you start playing songs. You can start with some easy guitar songs for beginners with just two or three chords.

You can also start by learning simplified versions of the songs you enjoy where you can play chords you already know and slowly advance to a higher level.

When you dreamed of playing guitar, you likely imagined yourself on stage shredding some sick riffs. Nothing is stopping you from learning some easy riffs in the early days of learning guitar. 

Smoke on the water is a classic riff to learn for beginners. Check it out here:

YouTube is full of online guitar lessons that tackle the basics.

5. Playing Guitar by Ear

After working with some beginner songs, the next step in your guitar journey should be developing your ear. 

Consistent practice and repetition of notes and chords will help train your ear, but you need to take some time for dedicated practice towards training your ear.

When you play guitar consistently, you will learn to identify the notes and patterns in your playing and hear them in other pieces of music. Learning to play the guitar becomes easier when you can pick out notes in a song and the chords involved just by listening.

Sure, a great guitarist has excellent finger dexterity, but their ear helps them learn faster and jam with other musicians. They are also likely to pick up other stringed instruments much quicker as they can listen to the notes as they play.

Although learning to play guitar by ear may sound like an impossible way to learn guitar, with continued practice and active listening, soon you will be able to pick up songs by ear better.

Start learning which chords make up a specific tune. You will become more advanced and will be able to perform improvised guitar solos in no time – if you also understand some music theory.

6. Learn the Language of Music

Guitar neck and music notes cutout on wooden background

Any good guitar teacher will tell you that guitar education is not just about physically playing guitar. Learning the how and why behind your guitar playing will improve your skill dramatically. You’ll also find it much easier to write your own songs when the time comes.

But there’s a reason why music theory is not at the top of this list – by itself, music theory is not the best way to learn guitar, and can even feel intimidating for beginners. It’s important to get started with chords, strumming, and your favorite songs first, so that you can connect the theory to the practical skills when you play guitar.

7. Have a Strategy to Play Guitar Consistently

Determining your strategy depends on a ton of variables. For some people, it can be tough to find enough time while learning guitar.

It doesn’t matter if you can only play for 10 minutes at a time. Sticking to a routine is a big deal and will help you immensely.

We can’t stress this enough: Stay consistent!

8. Practice Makes Perfect

If you’re a beginner, you might feel overwhelmed with all of the information. We get it, and we can all relate to when we started and couldn’t even hold our guitars properly. Even our favorite guitar legends started from zero!

Choose a specific area that interests you and cover it for an entire week. Learn to practice all the exercises and learn all the principles. Make sure you feel comfortable before you move on. This way, every lesson learned is made permanent.

But no matter how you go about your practice sessions, consistent, structured practice is by far the best way to learn guitar.

9. Be Patient With Yourself When Learning Guitar

You have the potential to be great! But having unrealistic expectations will only hamper your guitar learning. Remember, patience is critical, and every player has good and bad days. 

When starting, it may even seem like you aren’t making any progress at all.

Don’t let your frustrations overshadow your potential. Learn from your mistakes and keep practicing. Eventually, you will feel yourself getting better. In a few months, you’ll be glad that you didn’t lose hope and kept going.

Growth Factors

Woman with a guitar writing notes while having guitar lessons online

Even with excellent guidance, there are some things you need to pay attention to when deciding on the best way to learn guitar for you. Read these few tips to help you avoid these mistakes.

Structured Learning

While YouTube or random sites are great for learning simple chords or specific songs, you may face a massive problem with their lessons: a lack of structure.

Faced with all the guitar learning options on the internet, a beginner guitarist can quickly become overwhelmed. Direction is very important to finding the best way to learn guitar, and you will need someone to give you that direction as you start off your guitar journey.

As a beginner, finding a good guitar teacher, or a well-structured online course with video lessons will help flatten out the initial learning curve. It’s better to do a little bit of research and start on the right foot.

Quality of Your Roadmap

With a good roadmap, you’ll learn to play the guitar in a logical musical way and then start to learn your basic chords. It may sound obvious, but it’s just a matter of taking the most logical route to your destination.

Without a roadmap, you’re making uninformed decisions about the best way to learn guitar. It’s like walking up a sheer cliff; you’re just going the wrong way. 

Maybe take some private lessons at first. It’s a very effective way to learn to play the guitar, but can be super expensive. But even just a few classes in the beginning can help you figure out the direction you should take.

Also, when starting by learning the strings, then learning chords, the moving on to learn songs, having a private teacher will help point out your mistakes before those bad practices get embedded in your brain.

Practice, or Lack Thereof

Without practice, you can’t succeed.  A diligent guitarist is always better than a talented guitarist. As with anything worthwhile in life, learning the guitar takes dedication. Your time practicing the guitar is a vital indicator of how quickly you’ll learn to play the guitar.

Practice regularly, and be targeted with what you cover in your practice sessions. Don’t avoid the more difficult things, or things that may seem tricky. You can’t pick up things like barre chords and guitar theory in a day. Complex skills need time and dedication. Strategize your practice time and stick to your lesson plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take To Learn Guitar?

Guitar neck and roman numeral clock

Every individual is different. We all learn at our own pace, and everyone puts a varied amount of time into their instruments.

Many might think about the time it takes to learn an instrument in terms of months or years, and this time can vary significantly based on how often you practice and how long you practice for, not to mention how effective that practice is.

Generally, it takes around six months for a beginner to sound good and feel comfortable on the guitar. You would be able to play most basic chords and follow rhythm patterns. Getting “good” at guitar tends to take around two to three years of consistent practice.

Do I Need an Expensive Guitar?

No, you don’t. But a garbage guitar may also impact your practice. Some people are also more likely to use their guitar more often with a bigger initial investment.

A good rule of thumb is to get the nicest guitar you can afford within the beginner to intermediate range. While you can buy the $150 “learn to play” guitar pack at the big box store, the guitar often isn’t very good. Having a guitar that’s more difficult to play or doesn’t sound great may de-motivate you.

If you can afford it, spend a few hundred dollars more on a great beginner guitar like the Seagull S6 Original. Then have it set up properly by a luthier or guitar shop. You’ll be much more likely to stick with it.

If that’s out of your budget, there are some decent guitars at a lower price range. But again, make sure to have them setup properly. A good setup can take a bargain guitar and make it at least playable, which is super important.

How Can I Be the Best Guitarist I Can Be?

The best way to learn guitar is all about consistency. What does that mean?

Practice, practice, practice, and more practice.

Whichever route you take on your musical journey, whether that be online guitar lessons, YouTube, or learning to play songs on your own – nothing beats banging out chords and riffs over and over in your spare time to accompany those lessons.

Should I Learn Guitar Online?

These days, beginner guitarists can find thousands upon thousands of video lessons of learning guitar online. It’s entirely possible to learn to play guitar through an online course with well-structured lesson plan.

But is this the best way to learn guitar? If you want to become a good guitarist, online courses are a great way to learn the basics inexpensively. But while they do have lesson plans, these courses may also lack structure and accountability, meaning you have to keep yourself motivated.

Should I Take Private Guitar Lessons?

Guitar teacher giving lessons to pupil

Although you can successfully learn guitar online, it’s far from the only way. Taking lessons from an actual guitar teach can be a great idea, especially for beginner guitarists, or if you feel like you’ve plateaued in your guitar learning.

Nothing can substitute the insight and direction you can receive from someone who has years of experience teaching guitar. You can even take a hybrid approach by taking online guitar lessons from a teacher, rather than going to a local music store.

What Is the Difference Between Steel String and Nylon String Guitars?

A steel-string guitar has a brighter sound than a nylon string guitar and is more common than the nylon string guitar. Steel-string guitars are preferred by country, rock, blues, and folk guitarists. Nylon string guitars have a soft and pretty sound and are preferred by classical or flamenco guitarists and fingerstyle guitarists.

Chances are, unless you’re specifically trying to learn classical guitar, that you’ll want to go with a steel string, which is used in most other genres. Picking the right instrument for the music you’ll be playing is the best way to learn guitar in a way that accommodates your desired playing style.

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about the author
Gerrick Cass
Gerrick is nuts about all things guitar. From acoustic to electric, fingerstyle to metal, he's played it all, and can show you how to play it too. When he doesn't have a guitar in his hands, he spends his time writing, teaching, and hiking with his dog.