This guide will cover the 3 most important guitar lessons for beginners so that you can play almost any song. We’ll start with the 8 Chords You Must Know. Then we will learn 5 Essential Strumming patterns so that you can learn how to strum the guitar. Finally we will learn how to play 10 Songs With 4 Chords by using the chords and strumming techniques together. All these beginner guitar lessons apply to both the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar.
These guitar lessons for beginners were put together so that you could learn how to play popular songs right away. If you are looking for a step-by-step series of free video lessons for brand new guitar players you should check out these Beginner Guitar Lessons.
Throughout this guide you will get some tips to help you learn things in the best possible way. This will keep you from picking up any bad habits and getting frustrated. Also, this will give you a great foundation for everything you will learn in future guitar lessons.
8 Guitar Chords You Must Know
The eight important chords we’re going to cover are G major, C major, D major, F major, E major, A major, E minor, and A minor.
The video version of 8 Chords You Must Know.
Chord Tip: Bring your hand up to the guitar and pretend you’re holding something shaped like an apple, which helps you with your posture when making chords. Put your thumb on the back of the guitar, and make sure to relax and release any extra tension you may have.
G Major Chord: When you’re making the G major chord, you can use your first, second, and third fingers, or you can use your second, third, and fourth fingers. I encourage you to start with your second, third, and fourth fingers, and I’ll show you why in a bit. Try it, and if you find it’s too hard for you now, you can always switch.
Put your third finger on the third fret of the low E string, and be sure to come down on the very tip of your finger. Don’t let your fingers get lazy and accidentally brush against any other strings. You also want to make sure that your fingers are placed right behind the fret.
For the second note of the G major chord, place your second finger on the second fret of the A string. To finish the chord, place your fourth finger on the third fret of the high E string, and then strum all six strings. If this is feeling uncomfortable, you can make this shape with your first, second, and third fingers, but I really encourage you to use your second, third, and fourth fingers if you can.
G Major Chord Diagram
C Major Chord: Let’s move on to the C major chord. Place your third finger on the third fret of the A string, your second finger on the second fret of the D string, and your first finger on the first fret of the B string. When you strum, leave the low E string out and just strum the top five strings.
C Major Chord Diagram
Chord Tip: If it’s buzzing or sounds muted, check that your fingers are coming right down on the strings. The C major chord will always be a good way to check if you’re on the tips of your fingers enough.
D Major Chord: The next chord we’ll look at is the D major. Put your first finger on the second fret of the G string, your third finger on the third fret of the B string, and your second finger on the second fret of the high E string. When you strum, leave the low E and A out, and just strum the top four strings.
D Major Chord Diagram
Chord Tip: When it comes to memorizing guitar chord shapes, there are two things you can do to help you memorize chord shapes faster. The first one is to look at the chord when you make it and memorize what it looks like. You’ll probably be looking at the chord shape diagrams on paper or on the computer, but looking at the chord shape as you make it is a great way to help remember it. The second tip is to memorize how the chord shape feels. Look away from the chord shape and think about how the shape feels. If you try to memorize the chord shapes in a few different ways, you’ll have a better chance at remembering them.
F Major Chord: Now let’s look at an F major chord. Some people are scared of the F major chord because many beginners learn it as a bar chord. The F major chord you’ll learn today is much easier because it is only a three-note chord. Place your third finger on the third fret of the D string, second finger on the second fret of the G string, and first finger on the first fret of the B string. When you strum, just hit those three strings.
F Major Chord Diagram
E Major Chord: Next I’ll show you an E major chord. Place your second finger on the second fret of the A string, third finger on the second fret of the D string, and first finger on the first fret of the G string. Remember to come right down on the tips of your fingers and as close behind the frets as you can. For this chord, strum all six strings.
E Major Chord Diagram
A Major Chord: Let’s work on an A major chord next. Put your first finger on the second fret of the D string, your second finger on the second fret of the G string, and your third finger on the second fret of the B string. This chord might be challenging because you have to place your fingers in a small area on the second fret. When you strum this chord, leave the low E string out and strum just the top five strings.
A Major Chord Diagram
Chord Tip: You’ll notice that we’re breaking a rule here because our first and second fingers aren’t right behind the fret, but that can’t really be helped in this chord shape. To help you learn this chord, try making the shape for thirty seconds, shaking it out, and trying that a few times. Once you have this chord down solid, you can try switching between the A major and E major.
E Minor Chord: Start with the E minor chord by making the E major chord shape, and then simply take your index finger off. That’s all you have to do to make your E minor chord.
E Minor Chord Diagram
A Minor Chord: The last chord we’ll look at is an A minor, and this one is neat because it feels like an E major chord that’s just been moved over a string set. Place your second finger on the second fret of D string, third finger on the second fret of the G string, and first finger on the first fret of the B string. Strum the top five strings, leaving the low E string out. Now you can see how this chord shape looks just like the E major shape, but on different strings.
A Minor Chord Diagram
Bar Chords & Power Chords: These are some of the most important chords you’ll learn as a guitarist. While bar chords and power chords are important too, it’s these open chords that are your moneymakers. As you work on each of these chords, remember to apply all the tips I gave you about making clean sounding chords and smooth transitions.
If you want to learn more about the most important rhythm guitar techniques check out the Rhythm Guitar Quick-Start Series.
5 Essential Strumming Patterns
Now that you know the 8 most important chords, we are going to learn some strumming patterns. The five strumming patterns in this lesson are quite progressive, so each pattern builds off the previous pattern you learned. You may be familiar with a couple of these strumming patterns already, but I encourage you to follow along still because I’ll be giving some tips that are important for your career as a guitarist.
The video version of 5 Essential Strumming Patterns.
Eighth Notes: All of the strumming patterns we’ll cover are eighth note patterns, so I’m going to go over how to count eighth notes first. Most songs you hear are in 4/4 time, which means you count out four even beats. Those four even beats are quarter notes.
To count eighth notes, just put an ‘and’ between each number. You would count out loud “one, and, two, and, three, and, four, and”. You want to space out these notes as evenly as possible when you play.
Strumming Pattern #1: The first strumming pattern we’ll look at is an all downstroke pattern, which may seem simple but it’s very important. You can tell that it is all downstrokes by the upside down ‘u’ looking symbol you see on-screen above each beat. While this pattern may seem easy, don’t discount it, because it’s important as a guitar player to do simple things really well.
It may seem easy, but it’s an essential strumming pattern that will help you develop your timing. Grab a metronome or pull up a jam track and work on the all downstroke strumming pattern using eighth notes. Be sure to watch your timing and keep all the eighth notes evenly spaced.
Another thing to work on with your strumming is dynamic control. With this simple strumming pattern, it’s easy to try getting really soft, getting a bit louder, and getting really loud with your strumming. As guitar players, when we play quietly, we tend to drag a bit, and then we start to rush when we get louder. This will be a good time to start working on your dynamic control.
Strumming Tip: Remember not to lock your wrist and strum just from just your elbow. You need to relax, use some wrist motion, and even pretend that you have something stuck on your finger that you need to shake off.
Strumming Pattern #2: The second strumming pattern we’ll look at is the same rhythm as the first pattern, but instead of using all downstrokes, you’re going to use alternating downstrokes and upstrokes. You can see that we are using upstrokes on every other strum because of the arrows above the ‘and’. As you strum, the numbers are downstrokes and the ‘and’s will be upstrokes. This is an incredibly useful strumming pattern, plus it is the foundation for all the other patterns we’re going over in this lesson.
Strumming Tip: A lot of newer guitar players feel like they need to hit all the strings when they do an upstroke strum, but that’s not the case. When I strum a downstroke, I’ll usually hit all six strings if it’s a six-string chord, but with my upstroke, I tend to only hit the top three or four strings. This makes it easier to play through the upstrokes when you’re doing a lot of strumming.
Try this pattern, relax, don’t lock your wrist, and concentrate on keeping your strumming as even as you can. You can work on this pattern while using a metronome or a jam track if you like.
Strumming Pattern #3: The third strumming pattern is similar to the second pattern, but we’re going to learn a new technique called a muted strum. A muted strum gives you a more percussive sound, almost like a drummer is playing with you. When you hear a drummer play a similar pattern, they’re hitting the snare on beats two and four. That’s the sound of the snare we are emulating.
Before we check out the strumming pattern, let’s learn the muted strum. When you do a downstroke for the muted strum, you’re going to let off the pressure with your fretting hand a little. Right before you strum through the strings, you’re going to mute the strings with the fleshy palm part of your strumming hand.
The strumming pattern we’ll play using the muted strum is a classic alternating eighth note pattern, you’ll use a muted downstroke on beat two. You can repeat this strumming pattern for beats three and four. This is really like a two beat strumming pattern that keeps repeating over again. Looking at the graphic for the strumming pattern, you can see that you’re supposed to use a muted strum by the ‘X’ over the two and four.
If you need to, you can slow this pattern down to practice it, and don’t be afraid to dig into the guitar with the muted strum. Once you have this technique down, you can add in muted strums anywhere.
Strumming Pattern #4: In the fourth strumming pattern, we’re going to start adding in some rests. Until now, we’ve been digging into the strings on every eighth note, but now we’re going to start leaving some of them out.
You may not realize it yet, but up until this point in the lesson, but we’ve been making use of an important skill called the Constant Strumming Technique. Looking back at strumming pattern two, you had a strict alternating pattern so you were constantly strumming. We’re going to continue the constant strumming pattern, but just leave some of the notes out.
Looking at the first ‘&’ on the graphic, you’ll notice there is no symbol above it. This would be played as an upstroke if you were playing with a regular alternating pattern, but this time there’s no strum there. Come back up on the ‘and’, but don’t dig into the strings at all. Keep the upward motion going even though you’re not digging into the strings.
When you’re first learning strumming patterns like this, it’s important to count out loud as you play so you can keep track of where you are. Sometimes it can help to exaggerate the motions to help keep track as well.
Work on this pattern, and stay relaxed. Remember to stay loose and work on keeping a constant motion with your strumming hand as you play. Remember that your upstrokes don’t have to go through all six strings either.
Strumming Pattern #5: The last strumming pattern is a bit more complex than the other patterns, and it uses the Constant Strumming Technique as well. In this pattern, you can see that the rest is on the third beat, and it’s a downstroke this time. As you play this pattern, leave out the downstroke on beat three, but continue to make the downward motion. The rest of your strumming is regular alternating downstrokes and upstrokes using eighth notes.
As you work on this pattern, remember to keep your strumming arm going and leave out the downstroke on beat three.
As a newer guitar player, you’ll probably want to find a good balance between holding on to the pick tightly enough so it doesn’t fly out of your hands and holding on to it loosely enough that you don’t tense up.
Applying The Strumming Patterns: You’ve now got five basic strumming patterns to use. It may take you a while to get them down perfectly, but once you can play these patterns and understand the Constant Strumming Technique, you’ll be closer to being able to pick out the strumming patterns in your favorite songs. You’ll also be able to start making up your own strumming patterns.
If you want to dress these strumming patterns up, you can put in accents, muted strums, or even take out notes using the Constant Strumming Technique. When you practice, make you sure you play along with a metronome, or better yet, a jam track. It is always helpful to apply what you’re working on to real music.
If you want to improve your strumming watch this lesson on Developing Timing And Feel.
Play 10 Songs With 4 Chords
We are going to learn how to play 10 popular songs on the guitar with 4 of the chords we learned earlier. The chords we will use are G Major, C Major, D Major, and E Minor.
The video version of Play 10 Songs With 4 Chords.
Changing Chords Smoothly
Before jumping into the songs. Let’s go over a few tips for smoothly transitioning between the chords we know.
Visualize The Chord: The first thing you can do to help you with changing chords, is to visualize the shape of the chord before you change to it. This can help your mind to stay ahead of your hand, and allow you to be ready when it’s time to move to the next chord.
Remember The Feel Of The Chord: Remember the way that the chord feels under your fingers. The muscles in your hand will remember the shape of the chord once you’ve practiced it enough. This “Muscle Memory” will help your hand to move without you having to think about it.
Chord Changing Tip: Try making a chord shape on the fretboard, then removing it, put it back on, take it off, etc. over and over, making sure you place all your fingers down at once and not one at a time. Do this with all the different chord shapes you know. Eventually the muscle memory will kick in, and when you start going from one chord to another it will be a lot easier.
For a more in-depth lesson on getting your chord changes smooth watch Changing Chords Smoothly.
Using A Capo: A Capo will allow you to play in any key using only a few chords. It’s like a movable nut for the guitar. For example when I put it on the fifth fret and play the G chord shape, it becomes a C chord. That way you can play along to a huge number of popular songs just by moving your capo around and playing only the 4 chords in the key of G.
Capo Tip: Just like when you’re placing your fingers on the strings, the capo must be placed very close to the fret. If you place the capo in the middle of two frets your strings won’t ring out properly and they may sound out of tune.
The 10 Songs
For each song, I’ll tell you which key it’s in, which fret to put your capo on, and the chord progression. To figure out the strumming pattern of each song either listen to the original version, or to the video above. The info for each song will follow this format:
Key | Capo Position | Chord Progression
“Peace Of Mind” – Boston
E | Fret 9 | Em – C – G – D
“If I Were A Boy” – Beyonce
F# | Fret 11 | Em – C – G – D
“When I Come Around” – Green Day
F# | Fret 11 | G – D – Em – C
“It’s My Life” – Bon Jovi
Eb | Fret 8 | Em – C – G – Em – C – D
“No Woman No Cry” – Bob Marley
C | Fret 5 | G – D – Em – C – G – C – G – D
“Let It Be” – The Beatles
C | Fret 5 | Em – D – C – G – D – C – G
“Save The Night” – Eagle Eye Cherry
C | Fret 5 | Em – C – G – D
“Cryin” – Aerosmith
A | Fret 2 | G – D – Em – C – G – D – C
“Country Roads” – John Denver
A | Fret 2 | G – D – Em – C – G – D – C – G
“One Of Us” – Joan Osborne
A | Fret 2 | D – Em – C – G – D – Em – C – G – D
Being able to play this many songs is great motivation because you can play real music, and it provides some great practice for you to work on your chord transitions too. Out of these ten songs, pick a few of your favorites, and go back to those songs. Put them into your practice time and work on getting your chord transitions smooth.
Now that you’re playing real songs, you can move onto some more advanced rhythm guitar techniques. You can check out the Rhythm Guitar Quick-Start Series for video lessons on playing bar chords, power chords, and more strumming techniques. If you are looking for a better way to learn songs, check out our guide on How To Read Guitar Tabs.
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