What To Learn On Guitar In Order (fastest way to master the guitar!)

What To Learn On Guitar In Order (fastest way to master the guitar!)

Playing the guitar in a famous rock band is almost every kid’s dream, but many never realise that dream. We believe it’s because they never had a decent system in place, things got tough, they never saw any encouraging results, and gave up. To prevent any more shattered dreams, here’s what to learn on guitar in order.

Learning The Basics

Before you try to play a guitar, you’re going to need a guitar to play. Not just any guitar, but the type of guitar that you most want to play. To identify which guitar is the right one for you, think about the type of music you like to listen to. Then check what type of guitar that music is played on, that’s the type of guitar you should buy.

Check out as many guitars as you can, and buy the one you feel most comfortable holding and playing around on. Any guitar is better than not having a guitar but your chances of success are greatly increased if you learn on the type of guitar your idol plays.

Tuning The Guitar

Once you’ve decided on the type of guitar and got it home, it looks great doesn’t it? Now you need to bang out some tunes otherwise you’ll lose heart very quickly. So, you need to learn how to tune it to standard tuning. The notes of the open strings on the guitar running from the bass strings (thickest) and through to the treble strings (thinnest) in order are E, A, D, G, B, E.

The strings are numbered from the high E (thinnest string) to the low E (thickest string) so effectively the numbers run backwards which might seem confusing at first but you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Purists will tell you that the only way to tune a guitar is by ear and in some ways that’s right, but it takes time to recognise the correct pitch. We recommend you invest in a guitar tuner, there are free online tuners, tuning apps or for around $10 (or £6.00 if you’re in the UK) you can buy a chromatic tuner that clips to the headstock of your guitar and indicates when the string is at perfect pitch. Be aware strings have a tendency to go out of tune so you will need to recheck them regularly until they settle in.

Where To Start Chords Or Tabs?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question but, as tabs are more difficult to learn, and you’ll need to play chords anyway, we always advise learning chords first. They help you to find your way around the fretboard, help you to use just the right amount of pressure to the strings to play clear notes and once you’ve mastered a few simple chords, you’ll be able to play quite a few songs. It’s the chords of a song that once played correctly hold the tune, timing and melody together.

Tabs are far more complicated to learn and as they are often worked out by amateur guitarists, tabs are often incorrect. So in many ways it can be counterproductive learning tab because it could stop you from learning the correct way to play that particular song. Tabs in and of themselves are not bad, but it’s far better to learn scales and then work out your own riffs.

Learn Some Basic Chords

Playing The Guitar

Chords are combinations of two or more notes, some of the easiest chords only need two strings held down, on other more advanced chords you need to hold all six strings down at the same time. But don’t worry about that now, just get a few of these basic chords learned and you’ll be able to play lots of songs.

How To Hold The Guitar To Play Chords

The position of the thumb is vitally important when it comes to playing chords. Lightly grip the neck of the guitar with your thumb wrapped around the neck (if possible) making sure that your fingers have easy access to the strings. 

Try to position the thumb around the back of the second fret, this will keep your fingers in the right area for playing open chords. 

Use the tips of your fingers to press the strings down in the correct chord shape positions. This will allow you to exert the right pressure to prevent fret buzz. Also place your fingers directly behind the fret. Don’t press your fingers too hard or too soft. Just use enough pressure to prevent a muted note or a buzzing note (this will come with practise).

Arch your fingers to stop them from touching other, incorrect strings at the same time. Practise chord playing every time you practise on your guitar. Getting the perfect sound time after time and changing chords at the correct speed takes time and practise.

The first chord change to practise is E to Em and back to E, strum the strings up and down for about 30 seconds on the E chord and then change to Em and repeat.

Basic Chord Shapes

The first chord to learn is E minor, once you start playing regularly you’ll see this chord come up time after time. On the chord chart and on songs it won’t have the whole word minor, it’ll just have Em. To see these chord shapes just click on the hyperlink,where you can learn the chords. 

You’ll need to learn these four chords;

  1. G (I)
  2. C (IV)
  3. D (V)
  4. Em (Relative Minor)

These chords are in what’s known as the open position or first position. With these four chords played in this order G, D, Em, C you’ll soon be playing plenty of songs for instance;

  • Don’t Stop Believing (Journey) (See Below)
  • Let It Be (The Beatles)
  • Already Gone (Kelly Clarkson)
  • Take Me Home Country Roads (John Denver)

Understanding Keys

The first four chords are in the key of G major and run I, IV, V and relative minor. The G is the number one chord in G major with the C chord being the fourth and the D the fifth, these one, four and five chords work in all keys so;

Chord Or ScaleRelative Minor
A# / BbGm

Once you understand the various chord groupings along with their relative minors you’ll be able to play most songs.

Other Basic Chords That Will Come In Handy

Along with the four chords we’ve already mentioned, it will be necessary to learn all of the basic open chords which are;

Once you’ve mastered these you’ll be able to play many songs. There are other chords that you’ll need to learn but they’re slightly more difficult to master. Like;

If you look at those last three chords you’ll see you need to block the top fret of the chord, these are known as barre chords and are more difficult to master. Which is why we’ve left them to last.

Learn To Strum

So far we’ve been focusing on the left hand, the one making the chord shapes, now we need to get strumming. This is how you accompany the singing with the chords you’ve learned so far. Strumming is more than just whacking the strings, it’s also how you create a rhythm, a way of keeping the beat just with the guitar.

 There are downward strokes, upward strokes and a combination of both. The only way to learn the correct strumming method for each song is to give it a go and see what fits in best. The best piece of advice we can give you about strumming technique is, take it easy. There’s no need to attack the strings with a great force. 

The chords will ring out with only a light strumming technique and it’s easier to keep strumming for longer periods if you’re not putting all of your power into it. The thing with strumming is, it needs to be in time with the music and it needs to be rhythmic.

Holding The Pick

Guitar Picking

When you first start playing the guitar, you’ll need to get a variety of picks in different thicknesses to see what suits you best. They’re cheap to buy and as they’re small, you’ll find you keep losing them so it’s a good idea to have a few. Some will be too thin and others will definitely be too thick, but you won’t know which is which until you try a few.

We would suggest getting a few of each light, medium and heavy and see how you get on. Whichever pick you select you’ll need to hold it correctly to make it do what it’s supposed to. Grip the pick between your thumb and index finger with just the pointed end protruding. Don’t have too much of the pick sticking out as this will hinder your playing.

Pick Action

You need a fluid motion when strumming so that it sounds natural, that’s not possible if too much of the pick connects with the strings.  What happens is the pick will get caught on one string or another creating an off sound. It needs to glide over the strings and connect with them all.

Learn To Play Scales

It’s important to learn how to play basic scales early on in your guitar playing career especially if you want to play classical or solo guitar later on. There are two main scales to learn on the guitar which are;

  • The Major Scale
    This is the basis of all Western music and runs like do, ray. Me so, fa, ti, la, do. The basic C major scale uses every string at the fifth fret of the guitar, the third, fourth and fifth string on the seventh fret, and the sixth, second and first strings on the eighth fret.
  • The Minor Pentatonic Scale
    This is a simple scale as it basically only has five notes. The minor pentatonic scale is commonly used as a base for pretty much all blues, rock and pop guitar solos. The minor pentatonic in C starts with the third and fourth strings at the fifth fret, the first, second, fifth and sixth strings on the sixth fret and every string on the eighth fret.

These are the first positions of both of these scales and gives you somewhere to start, once you’ve got these down pat, you can move to the next positions further up the fretboard.

Get A Good Guitar Teacher

It’s OK learning a few basic chord shapes, how to tune the guitar, how to hold the pick, strum and even learn the odd song. But to play the guitar correctly, you need someone who knows how to watch you and correct you if, and when you go wrong. You need a good guitar teacher but they need to be the right fit with you. It might not be the first, second or third teacher you try, but eventually you’ll find the right one.

A decent guitar teacher will increase your success rate by a 1000%, but you have to know what you’re looking for too. Don’t contact a guitar teacher and say “I want to play the guitar”. You need a list of your objectives, things like;

  • A Particular Song You Want To Learn
  • Maybe You Want To Play In A Band
  • Maybe You Want To Be A classical Soloist

Whatever your ultimate goal is, share it with the teacher, some won’t have the skill set needed to get you where you want to be. That’s fine, move onto a different teacher until you find the perfect one.

Practise Makes Perfect

The only way to get good at anything, is to practise, and so it is with the guitar too. You need to set aside a period of time every day to practise your guitar work. The only difference between a good guitarist and a poor guitarist is the amount of practise they put into their guitar.

How To Practise

Little and often is the best way we’ve found for guitar practise. 10 to 20 minutes at least once a day will see you progress very quickly. Don’t set yourself an unrealistic target of say an hour on a saturday every week, because if anything happens then you’ve not had any practise that week at all. When practising chords, make sure every note rings out clearly, then and only then can you say you have mastered it.

Go Easy On Yourself

When you first start out, it’s going to be hard work, you won’t press the strings correctly, and you’ll get fret buzz, your strumming will be at the wrong pace, the strings will be out of tune and you didn’t notice it. There are a million little things that you’ll think you’ve done wrong but give yourself a break.

Everybody that has ever picked up a guitar has gone through the exact same problems as you are having. The ones that got good, were the ones that kept their cool, gave themselves some slack and kept going. That old wartime phrase “Keep calm and carry on” has never been more apt than with a newbie guitarist.

Don’t Let The Opinion Of Others Put You Off

There are often two types of off putters you’ll encounter when first learning the guitar they are;

  • People who can’t play the guitar but think their opinion is going to help you
  • Other guitarists who are far more advanced than you

The first group are like unmarried marriage guidance counsellors, how can they give you advice when they have no actual idea of how to play the guitar? The guitarists who are better than you, had to start somewhere and were in your position at some point. They just persevered until they got to where they’re at, and that’s what you need to do.

This is why a decent guitar teacher is your best bet. They’ll correct you and criticise you only when you need it and let’s face it, their opinion is worth having. Otherwise why are you paying for their time?

Example Of A Guitar Tab With Chords

This tab actually works using just the four open chords we showed you at the beginning. Try it out and see how you get on.

Don’t Stop Believing (In The Key Of G)

G          D                    Em            C

Just a small town girl, Livin’ in a lonely world

G                D                                  Em          C

   She took the midnight train goin’ anywhere

G        C           Em                        C

Just a city boy born and raised in south detroit

G                D                               Em

 He took the midnight train going anywhere

Interlude and next verse….


G              D          Em                       C

Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard

       G            D                          Em  C

Their shadows searching in the night

G                D         Em              C    

Streetlight, people living just to find emotion

G         D                           Em  C

Hiding somewhere in the night

And so on. You can have some fun playing around with that, and using the same chords you’ll easily work out the other songs and many we haven’t mentioned. By starting this way, you’ll soon have something that you can actually play. This will keep you going because nothing inspires more than success.

Moving Forward

Once you have successfully learned and mastered all of the above there are other skills and techniques you can learn to move your guitar playing forward. These include;

  • Learning To Read Tab
  • Learning Scales
  • Learning To Play Lead Guitar
  • Reading Sheet Music

Above all else, have fun, enjoy yourself. Yes some aspects of learning the guitar are painful and hard work, but overall it should be an enjoyable experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I learn first on guitar?

The first thing you should learn on the guitar is how to tune it. Then after that open chords.

What is the best order to learn guitar chords?

The best order to learn guitar chords is to start with Em then progress to C, G, and D.

Can I teach myself guitar?

You can teach yourself guitar, but you will progress faster and more accurately if you have a competent guitar teacher to point out where you’re going wrong.

Should I learn chords first on guitar?

Chords should be learned second, after learning how to tune the guitar. Then learn chords.

Is learning guitar hard?

Learning to play the guitar is quite hard at first, but like everything else, it becomes easier once you understand the basics.

What’s the easiest chord to play on a guitar?

The easiest chord to play on the guitar is Em.

Should I learn chords or tabs?

You should learn chords and then scales and only refer to tabs if you can’t work out a tune for yourself.

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