I'm an aspiring musician and have self-taught myself a few rock riffs but was wondering what the best way of actually learning to play is. I've looked around a bit at a few online lessons but none seemed to really click so I've resorted to asking on here.

I'm looking for tips on learning to play rock or heavy rock and I would also like some of the very basics. I want to start from scratch but I don't have money to pay for lessons.

  • 1
    Dr. Mayhem has got it, but just to drive it home: The best way to start playing is to pick up a guitar and play it to the best of your ability and keep doing that every day. Before you know it, the best of your ability will be actually not bad and then pretty good and then great. Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 21:36
  • For any instrument, it's often useful to mix up your practice and do technical exercises as well as playing songs you want to learn. Find a way to structure your practice sessions, like warm up with some technical exercises then play some songs. There are plenty of great online resources (youtube tutorials etc.) for useful techniques. If you can, record yourself (even a simple dictaphone/smartphone recording can be invaluable!) to monitor your progress. Commented Jun 25, 2016 at 21:51

4 Answers 4


If you can't afford lessons, then you may well start off with some bad habits. That said, rock is a genre which can be accepting of bad technique.

YouTube is a good way to begin, but I'd really suggest finding some tracks that you really like and getting the tab for them, and just start playing along. Be aware that a lot of tabs online show a possible way to play each song, but they may not be correct - you can play so many chord inversions on a guitar.

There is no short-cut to playing well. Practice - hours a day - doing the right things (whether from YouTube, books or a teacher) is what you need.

Have a look at all the questions in the Related sidebar to the right, especially Learning the guitar from basics

  • I agree with all you say, with the proviso that the OP uses the tabs as a guide, BUT then tries to play riff etc. in different places on the neck - self learning ; that tab is only one person's take on how it should be played, and is often inaccurate or not the best alternative.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 26, 2016 at 8:14
  • That's absolutely spot on, Tim -- I'll update my answer.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Jun 26, 2016 at 8:29

The best way to start playing guitar is to slowly walk around a piano, looking at it from all sides, and telling it "you are fat and you are ugly". It's important to do that before you start buying the first amplifiers/speakers weighing in excess of 500lbs. So don't get to it too late.

Now there is no king's road to musicianship, like there isn't one into mathematics. Your progress must be your own, but of course there are guides who might save you a lot of time hacking circles into the underwood.

Don't listen to people stating "That said, rock is a genre which can be accepting of bad technique.": that's nonsensical. In a creative band setting, you may be competing on more than great reproduction. But technique is not self-serving: its sole purpose is to make the production of music on your instrument an efficient and natural endeavor enjoyable to listener and player. To that effect "good technique" on a classical guitar and in rock guitar may significantly differ but of course there is also significant overlap.

The more focused you are working on improving, the greater the chance that you'll navigate yourself into dead ends which require assistance (or putting aside the instrument for longer than you want) to get out of.

Guitar players with arm braces are not exactly a rare sight. You don't want to reach the limits of your physiology at a level of music not satisfactory to you.

So it makes sense to arrange for your progress to have a bit of supervision. A lot of misunderstandings between humans and guitars are rooted in fundamental differences and consequently are recurring problems for which more often than not well-tested approaches to reaching a mutually rewarding relationship exist.

Even if it turns out that books are sufficient for making most of your progress on your own initiative, an occasional lookover might make quite a difference in time and effort truly lost.

  • So to precis - get a teacher - if only occasionally!
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 26, 2016 at 14:03

PRACTICE "It takes a lot of devotion and work, or maybe I should say play, because if you love it, that's what it amounts to. I haven't found any shortcuts and I've been looking for a long time." __ Chet Atkins


I bought my first guitar and chord book when I was 18, stuffed around for 10 years trying to play (admitting putting in about 100 hrs in total) and learn all chords in the book until they burgaled by home and stole my equipment. I gave up, and 10 years later tried again, with a different approach.

I have been at it for a year now, it is a difficult road now building speed and strenght specially after a couple of ops on my left arm and hand and now almost at 40, but this time I'm really putting in the efforts and hours. In 21 years, alot have changed, specially the amount of info you get today on the net. When I first started and not having money, the best info I had was my chord book with tons of chords. Today, if you have money to pay your internet connection, you are basically A for away.

I must say, my whole approach changed a lot and it really helped me. What is important to me, is getting the basics right. What I have learned, there really is no use in just learning a bunch of chords or a bunch of songs. It is really important to know how chords are build and how they fit together and how they fit into songs, learn how to play alternatives, and learn your fretboard and scales. What I have done is take for instance the A major scale, and then map all those 7 notes (A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#) out on a diagram of the entire fretboard (this helps later with embellishing chords), also the 5 notes of the pentatonic scale (helps with soloing and laying lead guitar), and then I separately took each chord (A, Bmin, C#min, D, E, F#min and G#dim) and mapped out the three notes that makes up the chord across the entire fretboard. This is great way to learn alternative voicings to a particular chord, you can also play around here with alternative fingerings to a specific chord and voicing to a chord, and have a great way to play any chord at any given position up and down the fretboard. There really are so much info on this on the net, so you should not have difficulty with this.


  • Learning to play guitar like your idol is not easy, it takes time and effort and pain, never give up. Becoming a good guitarist takes years. I've read that it takes at least 10 000 hours to be master in anything you learn, the road is long and rocky

    NEVER EVER give up, no matter what. The best guitarist in the world did not get where they are today by giving up. In even they baddest day, they rocked on

  • There really is no short cuts in learning, and I do think that if there is shortcuts, they are usually the wrong way out.

  • One can never over-emphasize the importance of knowing the 8 open (cowboy) chords. They are the basis of almost each rock, pop and country song you will ever learn. Once you have them covered and you have build finger strength, you can move over to much harder chords like barre chords

  • Set aside time and force youself to have at least an hour practice time each day. I think this still remain the most important thing in learning anything in life. Nothing comes without practice

  • There is no real right or wrong way, the most important is that it sound good. At the very core, this is what music is all about

  • It really help a lot to learn the theory behind the practice

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