Just starting to learn guitar and I have access to a good number of beginner material. In almost every single one they start with various chords at the low end - typically frets 1, 2 and 3. Also, they tend to focus on the EADG strings.

To me, as a beginner, all this seems like going for the hardest possible things up front. The frets at the low end are harder to press without buzzing, and the EADG strings are harder to reach and take more strength to press (thickness).

It's like you want to start weightlifting and they all say to start benchpressing 300 lbs on day 1, just keep at it and you'll eventually do 1 press and move on up.

Is this indeed the correct method for learning? Take for example these two scenarios:

Scenario 1: Play a couple chords for 5 minutes (been two weeks, edging closer to 10min now).

Scenario 2: Play scales near the 10-12th frets for 20-30 minutes.

In either case my fingers still hurt, but it just feels like I'm getting more out of the easier to play side.


  1. Strings

  2. Proper action

Turns out that the type of strings the guitar came with had a huge factor on the comfort. The people at the local guitar place let me try a few different strings to find the easiest one for me - they said it is part personal preference. They also did something to the neck while lowering the action - the frets near the nut had a too high action but the high frets where I was doing scales were just fine.

  • The lower strings normally are lower tension and don't cut into your fingers like the higher strings, but I do see your point about playing up higher on the fretboard. That had never occurred to me before.
    – user28
    Sep 21, 2011 at 5:09

2 Answers 2


Interesting question WSkid. Your question got me thinking, so now I'll try to give an answer that, hopefully, will be useful to you.

I can see your point about playing on the higher end. In fact, most exercises would be easier to do at the higher end, because the frets are spaced closer to each other. However, I think there is a reason why most beginner books/methods start at the lower end. The reason is that beginning at the low end allows the student to learn chords quicker. These beginner books/methods usually want to keep the lessons interesting for a beginner. For most people, it is much more satisfying to be able to play a three chord song then to play scales at the 10-12th frets. Also, its easier for a beginner to apply the things learnt on the lower end (open chord, open scales).

As to the correct method of learning, my answer is: probably a mix of both. Learn open chords at the lower end to give you something fun to play, and practice scales at the upper end to build finger strength and independence, and slowly move the scales to the lower end to increase flexibility and reach. When I first started learning the guitar, I started at the lower end, and gradually learned to move up the fretboard. But had I known what I know now, I probably would have done both.

One more thing, have your guitar checked by more experienced guitarist or a repairman, to make sure the the action on your guitar is not too high. If the action is too high, i.e., the strings are too far away from the frets, it would explain why you find it difficult to to press the lower strings. Quick tip: if the action is too high, or you still want learn at the higher end, then a capo would be a great tool. If the action is too high, just put a capo on the 1st or 2nd fret and the strings will be much easier to press down.

  • Thank you for the input, I think you may be on to something about keeping it interesting. I've been looking for easy riffs in that area and found several but nothing really to show friends. Towards the action, I raised it a bit to eliminate buzz from playing open strings - at the 12th fret they are now 1mm from the board (from an answer at this site) and everything seems okay. I will take it to a shop though, just in case!
    – WSkid
    Sep 21, 2011 at 6:50
  • Took it to the repair shop, it was a combination of several things, which I've added to my answer but this lead me down the right path for sure.
    – WSkid
    Sep 22, 2011 at 3:13

Learning is much easier at the nut end of the neck for a couple of reasons:

  • there is a lot of room between frets, so you have a lot of leeway as to where your finger goes. Up at, say, the 17th fret, you really need to get your fingers tightly packed to play some chords, and that can be slow and difficult for a beginner
  • most beginners find it hard to use the same pressure on each finger, so strings may be pressed harder or bent slightly - the temper of the neck makes it easier to be in tune down at the first fret, or using open chords, then up high where tuning is more sensitive to these issues

In terms of good technique - to play the low E string comfortably at the first fret almost forces the student to use a proper hand shape, which makes life a lot easier later.

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