When I first started to play the guitar, many years ago, my “Bible” was Bert Weedon’s “Play in a Day”. The basics covered in that little gem are still relevant today.
So, once you get your hands on that beautiful instrument, where do you start? Familiarise yourself with the parts of your guitar – and start strumming!
The body, hollow in an acoustic guitar, is where the sound resonates. The neck supports the fretboard, which holds the frets with strings passing over them. The headstock contains the tuners, one for each string. Turn the tuners to tighten or slacken the strings in order to obtain the correct tone.
You can play the guitar sitting or standing. In a sitting position, rest the curve in the guitar body on your thigh. When standing, use a strap to take the weight of the guitar.
If you are right-handed, you will finger the guitar strings with your left hand. Press against the back of the neck with your thumb so that you apply sufficient pressure to the strings with the tips of your fingers, just behind the frets. It’s a good idea to keep the nails on your left hand as short as possible, so they don’t interfere with the pressure on the strings.
The right hand is used to play the strings, either fingerstyle, with your fingernails, or with a pick, often called a plectrum. There are as many types of pick as there are guitar players. With some experimenting, you’ll find the type that suits your playing. A thin pick will produce a bright tone, whereas a thicker pick will sound fuller. Picks are normally made from tortoiseshell or a composite material, though in emergency even a piece cut from an old credit card will do.
Start by playing chords and strumming along to various songs. Chords are formed by holding down different strings at different frets with your left hand, while you strum the strings over the soundhole (or pickups in case you have an electric guitar), with the pick held in your right hand.
Strumming techniques will vary according to the type of music you play. Basically, the pick is moved down across the strings in a relatively firm, easy stroke, striking each string with an equal force. More advanced techniques will involve strumming both on the down and up strokes to produce rhythmical patterns.
For an absolute beginner, guitar lessons are a must. These need not be expensive and can prevent you from forming bad habits, which are very difficult to eradicate later on.
So there, you have the basics. The ultimate key to success is to practice, practice, and practice some more. Despite Bert’s claim, you won’t learn to play in a day, but you will enjoy yourself every single day.