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I have just been given a used guitar by my cousin, and I am trying to learn how to play. I learned one or two easy chords by searching online. However, it is still challenging for me to play other chords.

My question is: What is the best way to learn how to play guitar for the first time? Should I learn the theory first? and if so, what is a good books or website, or how would I find one? Or should I just learn the chords and go with it? What are the benefits and drawbacks to each approach?

  • It it's a nylon strung/classical acoustic and you want to play that style, then theory and so on will pay off. But for rock, pop, and all other modern styles I'd say just find chord arrangements for any song you like and look at the chord charts. Also do a web search for guitar tab (tablature) which shows tunes notated by string and fret number - it's not "proper" music reading but it's really quick for beginners. Practice for a reasonable length of time every day to strengthen up those fingers! – Andy Jul 13 '15 at 8:24
  • Why are you wanting to learn? For your own pleasure? With a view to forming a band for fun? With a view to forming a band for profit? Do you want to be a singer songwriter or do you want to just play the guitar? What sort of styles are you interested in - or don't you know? – Whelkaholism Jul 13 '15 at 12:54
  • @ProbabilityGuy I tried to clarify the questions and remove some of the extra words. Feel free to roll back the changes if I went to far. – Karen Jul 13 '15 at 15:39
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First of all I want to say congratulations on your decision to learn guitar. As I am sure you have already discovered, it is not an easy instrument to master - but once things begin to come together and you start learning to change from chord to chord and play songs, it is very rewarding. And since there is always room for improvement no matter how good you become, it's a lifelong journey of continuing improvement and sense of accomplishment.

Learning the guitar takes patience, desire, and determination. Learning to play your first chords is probably the most challenging part of learning guitar. You must train your brain to tell your fingers and hands and wrist how to contort into very un-natural shapes and positions that you have never had to do before.

This process is tedious and takes repetitive practice. It would be immensely valuable to have an experienced guitarist or teacher show you the correct hand and finger positions for each chord and perhaps tell you what you might be doing wrong.

There are probably some decent self study courses that show some hand/finger positions, but it's not always easy to translate what you see in a picture or video, to the perspective of your eyes looking at your hand from the opposite angle you are watching on the video.

If could find a way to take only enough lessons to learn the correct way to play most of the common chords, you will have a great start. Once you learn to play a particular chord properly, then you can move on to learning the other chords one at a time and then learn the transitions between chords and build from there. You don't need a personal teacher as much for practicing the transitions after you learn the proper fingering and positioning to play the chords. Learning to play smooth transitions is mostly just repetition and practice.

It is my strong belief that you will be more likely to stick with learning the guitar if you learn by learning to play songs you like. The ability to play a passable rendition of a song that you like will give you inspiration to learn more.

If you can learn just three chords that are in the same key, and then master the transition between them, you will be able to play thousands of songs.

For example, in Western music in the key of G major, the most commonly used chords will be G, C, D, Em and Am. Learning just the G, C and D chords will allow you to play thousands of songs in Western music (especially "Country Western music").

It's not easy to learn to play chords. It takes dedication and a great deal of practice. While you are in the beginning stages of learning guitar, keep your practice sessions short but practice several times per day. A good schedule might be 30 minutes in the morning, 30 minutes right after lunch, and 30 minutes in the evening - depending on your personal time constraints.

Shorter sessions will give your finger and hand muscles time to rest before they get too tired - and slowly get used to the stress of using your finger muscles to do things they have not previously been required to do. Shorter practice sessions will keep you from getting frustrated and burned out from too much practice. As you get more experience, you can increase the time you practice gradually.

You will find some other very valuable tips and tricks for beginning guitarist (including how to minimize the pain on tender fingers) by clicking here Tips and Tricks for making it easier to learn guitar

This link will also add to the foregoing and give you more advice on learning to play and transition between chords What to practice before learning to play chords

Just remember, the hardest part comes in the very beginning but if you stick with it and understand that it does take dedication and consistent tedious practice, you will soon start making advances very rapidly. If you can just stick with it until you can play a song you enjoy, you will be hooked for life. You can do it! Good luck.

  • Fantastic answer, and that list of basic common chords is invaluable for a beginner.It's amazing how many beginning guitar books don't make that clear. – Whelkaholism Jul 14 '15 at 9:09
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    Thanks. I think perhaps beginner guitar books are purposefully designed to insure the student must continue to pay for lessons for years instead of quickly getting them to a point where they are experiencing the gratification of playing songs they like and want to play. – Rockin Cowboy Jul 15 '15 at 18:55
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I think it's better you try to understand and study the basic theories and the fret board first. Next, try to learn to play the major scale chords. It'll take some time since your finger tips are smooth, but don't give up. What most of the people do is simply giving up when they start hurting their finger tips. Nothing is easy. You need the dedication to learn a guitar. Keep practicing. You'll find it a greater challenge when you are playing barre chords. Pain will no longer be there once you train your fingers with the strings. First, learn to play rhythm. Next you can switch to learn playing lead. There are lot of video tutorials out there that you can watch and learn easily. Good luck with the guitar playing. :)

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First of all, the "best way" will depend on what you want to get out of it. This answer, is based on my experience as defiantly amateur; I've played for 20-odd years, for myself, purely for relaxation and enjoyment. I've never had a formal lesson, but I do learn specific techniques that take my fancy, and I've had a lot of fun. You may find this useful if your aim is just to play an instrument as a side part of your life.

At the beginning, accept that hell yes it will be challenging to play other chords :)

I had a weird technique when I very first started. I decided to play Hotel California, which I was very into at the time. This is not exactly a beginner's song, but what I'd do is struggle on with basic chord changes and tinkling around, and then every so often I would give Hotel California a bash. After a while, you feel the basic chords becoming easier, and the tricky ones start to seem realistic.

So, tip (1): Pick one song you really like as a target. Learn your chords, but every now and then, try your target. This will remind you why you are doing this - not to learn to play E, A and B, but to create music that you love.

My second tip is far more specific, and is something I do now - five minute practices. If you have one technique that you just can't get, put a timer on for five minutes. Practice just that technique over and over until the timer goes off. Then go back to something you can already do. Do this every day and it works surprisingly quickly.

Stopping when the timer goes is important; it means you go back to something that makes you feel good before you get frustrated and depressed. If you can do five minutes without errors, just start putting that technique into songs.

As an example of the type of thing this is aimed at: If you just can't get the transition from D to A to work, then spend 5 minutes transitioning from D to A - nothing else.

And just to reiterate; you are not doing this to learn how to play E, A and B chords. You are doing this to create music you love.

~~~

To answer a couple of your specific questions:

Theory is always useful, but it's not a be-all and end-all. Theory will give you the confidence to, for example, transpose a song into a key with easier chords.

I think my answer above is pretty much summed up by "yes, you can just learn the chords and go with it" - if that works for you!

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