First of all, I'd like to apologize for the lame question. Tried searching both here and on other forums/websites but I couldn't find a sufficient answer... perhaps, it does not exist.

So, the questions is - does a detailed step-by-step electric guitar learning guide for beginners exist? Or can somebody describe the steps?

I guess one should start with some basic chords but then what? I'm confused.

I guess it depends on some personal preferences. In my case, I don't want to compose music or play professionally, it's just a hobby. Learning each song individually and memorizing chords for a particular song seems inadequate. For me, it would be best if I could reach that level, where I'll be able to play the guitar just by listening to the melody and rhythm, focusing on classic rock, but that's just the best case scenario.

And maybe I should explain what exactly I'm looking for. To do that, perhaps it would be better if I tell you how I see things from my perspective. So, I'm a software engineer and if somebody decides to try programming, I can make a detailed roadmap of the steps he/she has to go through in order to become a software engineer. Starting with the basics - printing text, using conditions, loops, functions, function parameters... then we work our way up to more advanced topics, such as classes, inheritance, encapsulation, high-quality code etc., then we involve entire frameworks, working with databases and so on. You get the picture.

Any help, tips, explanations and/or information will be highly appreciated, because I feel kinda lost, the guitar world seems too chaotic to me.

Thank you in advance!

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    Have a look at LCM's exam board - RGT electric guitar exams. 8+ steps. Recommended (by me!) – Tim Feb 15 at 12:28
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    I have once written a basic course for absolute beginners (I’ve taught children from 8-14 years in groups for many years even I was hardly able to play an F barré chord. ) But to poste this course here my answer would be much too long. So I can answer only: Yes, courses for beginners do exist. Unfortunately I gave the manuscript away - this was before I had a computer. But it won’t be a problem to reconstruct it again. If you are honestly interested I could write it again and poste it or mail it as pdf. – Albrecht Hügli Feb 15 at 14:00
  • I’m curious, why electric? You can learn all the same basic stuff on an acoustic, and more, without an amp, cord and power source, as well as the additional variables they bring to the equation. – wabisabied Sep 22 at 0:39

The previous musicians have adequately answered the 'technical' parts of the original question, very nicely. Great stuff! But I would like to respond to the practical, day-to-day aspects of picking up and learning the electric guitar.

This may seem like a capricious answer, but (as a gigging musician myself, and one with over 45 years of experience at that) I can assure that it is not.

Success or failure (as relates to becoming an electric guitar player) is all relative. There are people who pick up the guitar with the ambition to become the next Steve Vai, John Mayer, or Andreas Segovia, and they usually end up horribly disappointed.

Similarly, there are guys who begin playing the guitar with the expressed ambition to become famous, impress others, and get the attention of lots of girls. And with the possible exception of Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, the lion’s share of those fellows also find themselves on the short end of the stick.

I guess what I am saying is that it’s best to set your sights on goals that are reasonable and healthy. “I want to learn how to play this guitar so that I may have a fun, creative outlet” is a fair ambition. “I want to learn how to play this guitar so that I may someday win a music scholarship” is also achievable, though much more difficult. “I want to learn how to play this guitar so that I can become famous and revered throughout the world, and within two years I want to out-play Joe Satriani at Madison Square Garden” is not.

My recommendation is to become that guy who becomes reasonably proficient at the electric guitar, has fun entertaining friends and family at parties, and has the opportunity to sit in on gigs at clubs and bars every now and then.

I also recommend that you not set your sights on becoming a working musician, i.e., a fellow who makes his living purely from the guitar craft. It’s not that becoming a working musician is not a noble endeavor, it’s more an issue that it’s such a long shot. The music industry is extremely competitive, political, and there’s a lot of starving artists out there who have spent years trying to make it big, only to realize that the ‘day job’ is what is ultimately going to pay the bills.

That said, here is my heartfelt advice on the technical aspects of ‘learning to play the electric guitar’:

  • Professional lessons are a really good start. Work with the instructor to set reasonable goals though, and do not stick with a teacher with whom you don’t click. You’ll know right away whether you and the guitar instructor are speaking the same language, and if the relationship isn’t working, go find another teacher.

  • Have fun first and foremost. Intersperse scales and chord-transition drills with simple lessons aimed at allowing you to play songs that you know and love. (If I was asked to go home and learn “Old McDonald Had A Farm”, I would find myself a new instructor.) If within a month or two you have learned to play at least two songs that you would enjoy listening to on the radio, then you are going to be enjoying yourself, and you will more likely stick with it.

  • Your basic guitar should be of a reasonable quality, and the action (the effortless playability of your fingers onto the frets up and down the neck of the guitar) is paramount. Way too many beginners scrimp on the cost of the instrument, and cheap guitars are incredibly difficult to form or phrase chords on. If pressing your fingers into the neck becomes a chore, then you will likely give up after a short period of time.

  • Cinch the guitar strap up to where your axe is centered on your navel, not hung low down below your hips. While you are learning the fundamentals, it is important that the angle of your wrist and fingers allows you to play barre chords comfortably and without distortion of your tendons and connective tissue. (Hanging the guitar down low, a la Jimmy Page or Slash may look cool in the rock videos, but it is no way to try and learn the instrument.) If the guitar isn’t comfortably and ergonomically-centered on your body, you just won’t be able to learn the thing.

  • Set aside a certain amount of time each day for practice. Practice and repetition leads to comfortable, instinctive proficiency. Nothing comes easy, and it takes a lot of work at first.

  • Play with as many experienced guitarists as you possibly can. The more players you are exposed to, the more hooks, tricks, and techniques you will learn. Everybody will have advice, and almost everybody will be able to show you something really cool that nobody else thought to show you. Good players will be eager to guide you along, and most are willing to spend time with someone who is genuinely willing to learn.

  • Learn the fundamentals before you become addicted to the toys, effects, stomp boxes, and digital effects processors. There are a LOT of cool toys out there that can alter the sound of the notes coming out of your guitar, but they can become a crutch if you let them. Most great songs are written on a simple acoustic guitar. Later on, they may be recorded as blistering, effects-laden art-rock speed/death-metal anthems, but they usually started out as a good tune on somebody’s old wooden box guitar.

  • If you hit the wall, then put the instrument down for a day or so and walk away from it. If you are doing something wrong, there is no amount of repeating that wrong thing that is going to make it right. Go get some fresh air, seek some advice from anther player, and then go back to it later on with a fresh perspective.

  • Never stop learning. No matter how many songs you eventually write or learn to play, and no matter how many lead-guitar playing hooks and tricks you become proficient at, there is always something else to be learned and absorbed. Read the interviews with the greatest musicians out there; they will all admit that they’ve still got a long way to go to get to where they want to be. Be humble.

Oh well, that’s all I can think of for now.

Have fun with it. I know that it’s been a great source of joy to me (for many decades now).

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  • Thank you for your extensive answer! I have absolutely no ambitions of becoming a professional musician. It's just a hobby. My potential target audience is friends and family :) – haralambov Mar 1 at 12:59

Especially if your interest is just a hobby try starting the the "open" chords: E, A, D, G, C - all major chords. From there you next learn the minor and dominant seventh version of those chords. So, you end up learning E, Em, E7, A, Am, A7...

While you learn those chord types you also want to start learning some harmony theory. I won't try to summarize harmony, but when you learn harmony with practicing chords you will find out why groups of chords like D, G, A or G, C, D work together. As you learn how to play more chords, you expand your harmony knowledge to learn about the minor and dominant seventh chords in groups like Dm, G7, C.

...Learning each song individually and memorizing chords for a particular song seems inadequate.

Your intuition is correct. When harmony knowledge is applied you learn abstracted patterns rather than concrete chord names. The music theory of harmony will give you the abstraction tools. Roman numerals is the usual way. So concrete examples like Dm, G7, C or Em, A7, D are abstracted to ii V7 I.

The set of "open" chords I listed number only 15 (and they follow certain patterns, so it is 15 completely different things) but with that relatively small number of chords you can play a lot of classic rock.

At first you learn to just strum the chords, but lots of rhythm techniques are used to dress them up. Fingerpicking & flatpicking. Playing fragments of chords. Varying them with little slides, hammers, and pull offs. Basically, getting your fingers to dance around those basic open chords.

Barre chords comes after learning open chords.

Methods for lots of instruments usually teach chords and scales together. In the case of classic rock guitar the scale you want to learn about first is the pentatonic scale and how rock music relates that scale to the blues. Especially important in rock is learning to bend notes when playing from scales.

Diatonic (major & minor) scales apply to rock too, but in a more theoretical way. Chord theory makes lots of references to diatonic scales (basically, chords belong to major and minor keys or scales.) You will want to understand those scales, but you won't necessarily play them as much as pentatonic scales.

So, open chords, barre chords, pentatonic scales. Harmony theory applied as you learn. Fingering and pick techniques applied to give it all rhythm.

Obviously, this is only an overview and not an actual method. I listed out some important things that everyone learns. If you are going to study on your own, look over various methods for these elements and pick some that feel right for you. One method might organize the theory well and provide drills and patterns. Another might focus more on how things are applied in real songs. Etc. Etc. I would choose a few different methods to compliment one another. There isn't one perfect method.

Another thing you might do is list out some songs that represent what you want to be able to play. 10 or 20 songs. You can use them as actual performance goals or to guide the kind of methods to use. An interesting possibility in the Internet age is to take your list and look up some good tutorials for those songs at Youtube. Not to learn all of them right now, but to get an introduction into what techniques and theory knowledge goes into those songs. It might help to see a big picture review of a set of songs so you know what is important to focus on.

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  • Thank you for your answer! I already know the mentioned "open" chords and some other basic stuff. I guess I'll have to build some kind of a roadmap, based on all the answers I got and follow it. – haralambov Mar 1 at 13:14

What I meant to say with my comment is: If you know the basics of music-theory and how a guitar functions you are able to learn as an autodidact and you are also able to write a basic course for beginners. What you need is also a good ear to tune the instrument - but even this won’t be a problem with the tuning apps you can have on your mobile.

To write a custom course you need a questionnaire to know the study requirements, what the students already know and what are their purpose.

And if you start with the course you’d need some one (teacher or friend) with the competence to give you a feed back. (I had this as in the 60ies almost everybody had an idea of guitar playing.)

So the main problems and questions you’ll encounter probably can’t be solved and answered by a help as such as Stack-Exchange.

Surely there are many detailed question and answers here to find. I know that a beginner’s greatest difficulty is: What and how to ask.

But to answer your basic question: Yes, a course like this exists.

So the very first thing you’d have to learn is the name of the most important parts of the guitar, the number and names of strings, the tuning the strings and how to hold the instrument, to understand the language of the guitarists ... what they mean when speaking about strings, frets, neck etc.

Next step would be to find some simple songs you’d like to play with a root chord and only one chord change, easy chord shapes, first patterns that easy but sound cool.

By playing simple melodies you would learn to notate them as tab notation and so you would be able to read songs notated in tabs and you will also understand the chord patterns by notating the most simple ones you have already learnt.

Rhythm, beats, picking will also be developed from the first lesson.

We will go on by deciding which direction you choose, which song style, E-guitar or classic. (Until now this was not a criteria).

But what always would have been and will be is learning the basics of music theory - scales, triads, minor, major, chords, functions, circle of fifths, blues and rock pattern, and for this you don’t even need a guitar, but you will understand everything much easier with an instrument. And even you want to play guitar I would always use the keyboard and the staff to illustrate what is happening when you are playing guitar.

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  • Thank you for your answer! – haralambov Mar 1 at 12:56

www.Justinguitar.com has an extensive program at his website and on his app from beginner to advanced with the majority of it being free. I just started 4 weeks ago and that's what I'm using, along with the Fender Play app, which is $10/month. It's a good secondary learning tool. AFAIK, Fender has a lot more on their website to go along with the Play app, I believe, but I haven't really checked.

Producer Rick Beato on YouTube has a good book that's available, also. It's around $50, IIRC. There's tons of resources available for little to no money, though. Justinguitar being one of them.

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    I think that the Beato book might be a bit too advanced for beginners, going into scales, modes, etc. – mkorman Feb 17 at 10:07
  • I guess that's my fault. It didn't dawn on me that not everyone will pick up on it as easily as I am, nor learn as quickly. I forget that people learn at different paces, etc...so what may be OK for me might be considered too advanced for someone else. – RB91340 Feb 17 at 10:30
  • Thanks! This Justin Guitar website looks quite interesting. – haralambov Mar 1 at 12:53

Learning each song individually and memorizing chords for a particular song seems inadequate. For me, it would be best if I could reach that level, where I'll be able to play the guitar just by listening to the melody and rhythm

Unfortunately, that level is quite hard to achieve. Unless you're blessed with a naturally good musical hearing, there's a lot of work you need to do to hear a tune and be able to translate it to the guitar.

Learning the basics of the electric guitar is not too different from learning the acoustic / Spanish guitar. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I would say it could go like this:

  • Start with learning the basic minor and major open chords (A, E, D). Some of them are only "easy" in the major mode (C, G).

  • Learn the dominant 7th alterations to the chords above (A7, E7, D7, C7, G7)

  • Move on to the first barre chord: F (both major, minor and 7th). This opens the floodgates to be able to play any chord on the fretboard. Learn to transpose the chord (some musical theory is needed here: you need to know about key signatures and how a chord is created, which is not too difficult)

  • Second barre chord: B (major, minor and 7th). Learn to create different chord by transposing it up the fretboard

  • Start with scales. Probably you may want to start with the pentatonic minor if you want to do rock. You will need to do a lot of boring, repetitive fingering exercises to get the scales right. Also, more music theory might be needed to play with the scales.

  • Learn the 5 "boxes" of the pentatonic, so you can play a scale up and down the fretboard

  • This is where some electric guitar specific things come in: work with expressivity (bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs) to add feeling to your solos.

  • In parallel with all of the above, explore your tone. That is, the sound you get from your guitar and your amp by fiddling with the settings and with effects pedals. Watch "That pedal show" on YouTube for some ideas :)

  • Once you know chords and scales it's time to solo to a backing track or over your own chords (use a looper for that!)

I am not a guitar teacher, but the above reflects my own personal history through the guitar. I wish that there were so many amazing resources as there are nowadays when I started learning.

Bear in mind that music is not just about "learning stuff" but also about developing your musical perception. Be able to hear something and translate it to "this is a pentatonic sound" or "that was a V - I chord progression", etc. That is in my opinion much harder (I also come from a software background as you). Good luck!

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  • Thank you for your answer! It definitely seems like a lot of work. As suggested, I will start with the basics and work my way up. – haralambov Mar 1 at 12:51

From experience, I recommend first having 4-5 lessons with a professional guitar tutor. They can help you start producing a road map of what to learn over the first couple of months of learning guitar.

Once you got some knowledge and playing under your belt from the professional guitar tutor, you can either stick with him/her, or join a popular guitar web site, e.g. JamPlay.com, and start learning from videos. You can also learn from YouTube videos (though they might not be as accurate on the teaching of some songs).

One bit of advice is, 'stick at it!'. We all have different abilities, some guitarist learn faster than others, some new guitarists have more time to learn than others! Don't despair if you cannot play a complicated song in your first couple of years of learning (or even your first 5 years!). Keep at it. Learning a music instrument is very rewarding.

Good luck.

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