“The time I burned my guitar it was like a sacrifice. You sacrifice the things you love. I love my guitar.” - Jimi Hendrix
You might feel like you’re at a crossroads when it comes to starting to play the guitar. You need to choose your guitar (acoustic guitar, folk guitar, electro-acoustic guitar, or electric guitar), learn how to hold, play, and maintain it.
In 2019, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd auctioned off 126 guitars and raised £16.5 million for charity. His black Stratocaster sold for £3m.
Initially valued at £75,000, the instrument bought in May 1970 became the world’s most expensive musical instrument and surpassed the Stradivarius Hammer from 1707 which sold for £2.7m in 2006. The stars’ guitars are worth their weight in gold.
Are you just learning to play a few chords?
Here’s what you need to know about playing the guitar!
Choosing Between a Folk Guitar and a Classical Guitar
To get started, you’ll need to pick the type of guitar you'll play.
Which type of guitar will you play? What’s the difference between a folk guitar and a classical guitar?
The answer depends on the type of music that you’ll want to play with it.
You can recognise classical guitars from their strings; they’re made of nylon. The three highest-pitched strings are made of nylon while the three lowest strings are made of nylon wrapped in metal. There’s also a difference in terms of the sound box’s size: a classical guitar's soundbox is bigger than that of folk and electro-acoustic guitars.
Classical guitars, also known as Spanish guitars, have the strings farther apart, meaning your fingers won’t be as close together when playing.
Classical guitars are great for playing classical guitar music and flamenco, for example.
On the other hand, a folk guitar is more imposing than a flamenco guitar. While the soundbox is smaller, it’s bigger overall and has six metallic strings. While this might hurt your fingers at first, you’ll very quickly gain callouses. A folk guitar has 14 frets on the neck and 7 on the body itself whereas there are only 12 on a classical guitar.
The different strings will also make a very different sound. These strings are better for playing rock, pop, blues, or jazz music. Of course, there’s also some subjectivity at play here and you’ll need to decide what you like.
It’s recommended that you start with a classical guitar as the sound is initially more pleasing and you’ll be able to learn about fingering, strumming, and arpeggios.
Nevertheless, the sound of a folk guitar is more percussive; opt for this if you want to play barre chords or sing along with popular styles of contemporary music (blues, pop, rock).
How to Hold a Guitar
After you’ve picked up your guitar, you’ll have to learn how to hold it.
How can you hold your guitar and play some chords, melodies, or arpeggios? Classical position, relaxed, sitting, standing, how do you hold a guitar?
The first thing you need to know about playing your acoustic or electric guitar is that you need to be relaxed. Playing in the classical position will quickly make you sore if you’re not doing it right.
Finding the right position means stabilising your guitar and having it in the right position for both your right and left hands.
As a general rule, beginners will learn sitting down. There are a few benefits to sitting down:
- You don’t have to support the guitar’s weight as much.
- You can focus on your dexterity more.
- You can play chords without stretching as much.
Here’s how you should sit down to play the guitar at home when you’re having a private guitar lesson.
You need to learn more than just how to play. You also need to learn how to play properly.
There are two main seated positions for guitarists:
- Classical position
- Relaxed position
In the “classical” position, a right-handed guitar is positioned between the player's legs with the guitar resting on their left leg. The guitar is played with the neck pointing upwards and the guitarist’s back straight.
In the relaxed position, the guitar is placed on the right leg with the neck about 45° towards the ceiling. This is the position that most novices adopt when learning their first chords.
Guitarists using the classical position will rest their left foot on a small stool or footrest in order to slightly elevate it above the other leg. This position frees up notes on the neck, making them easier to access.
In the relaxed position, you may want to consider raising your right leg slightly. This will make the neck slightly more accessible but it will make the guitar slightly less stable.
Most guitarists performing live will play the guitar whilst standing. Sometimes they’ll play with just a strap supporting their guitar.
That said, there are three main positions for where you wear your guitar:
- The high position with the guitar above your hips.
- The intermediate position with the guitar by your hips.
- The low position with the guitar below your hips.
The intermediate position is the most common amongst musicians as it allows you to strum comfortably with a plectrum. The low position isn’t very natural and the weight of the guitar is free to swing around.
How to Clean a Guitar
It’s not enough knowing how to play scales, read tablature, learn music theory, and play whatever song you want...
You also need to keep your guitar in good condition to keep it sounding good. You can maintain your guitar on a daily basis, change the strings once a month, polish the body, protect the mechanisms, clean the bridge and the nut, etc. This will ensure that your guitar lasts longer and plays better.
It’s a good idea to clean the guitar with a soft cloth before playing. Store your guitar in a dry place out of sunlight and away from humidity. Humidity and heat can be disastrous for the wood.
A quick dusting off with a cloth will keep your guitar in good condition.
Cleaning it can get rid of sweat and acid. The latter can cause metal strings to rust.
So what do you need to clean your guitar?
Here are a few things you can pick up:
- A cloth.
- Rubbing alcohol (if your guitar is varnished).
- Linseed oil to make unfinished wood shine.
- A tuner for new strings.
- Wire cutters for cutting new strings.
- A string winder.
- A pin remover for acoustic guitars.
Loosen the strings one by one to clean the neck and fretboard.
Clean all the nooks and crannies from the fretboard, head, bridge, and machine heads.
Then clean the body.
After putting the strings back on, the sound should have improved.
Learning the Notes on a Guitar Neck
Plenty of guitarists haven’t learnt the notes off by heart.
Some don’t even know how to read tabs. However, that doesn’t stop them from becoming virtuosos. Nevertheless, you should know your way around the fretboard as it’ll help you with your playing.
Knowing your way around the fretboard will help with improvisation, too, without having to look at chord dictionaries when learning new songs.
You need to learn about intervals between notes. Each fret is a semitone apart which includes sharps and flats as well as naturals.
First, learn the notes on the deepest string’s first three frets. We know that the open string is tuned to E which makes the following three frets F, F#, and G. The third fret is G, the fifth is A, the seventh is B, and the twelfth is E. Thus, you can transpose this to other strings.
Here’s a general rule to help you:
- There are no semitones between E and F and B and C.
- All the other notes have a semitone between them.
Scales are a great way to learn your way around a guitar’s neck.
Would you like to learn even more?
If you'd like to learn more about how to play the guitar, there are plenty of useful resources online. You can find tablature sites to show you how to play certain songs as well as video tutorials on sites like YouTube. However, if you prefer to be taught how to play, you should consider getting in touch with one of the many talented and experienced guitar tutors on Superprof.
There are three types of guitar tutorial available: face-to-face, online, and group. Each of these come with their pros and cons and it's really up to you to choose which one works best with your learning style and your budget.