Beginning Guitar Lesson 1 (Pick Version) - Part 2

Playing Your First Notes On The Guitar

Many methods begin after explaining the generalities of positioning the guitar and holding the pick with learning to read the notes on string 1. This is coupled with learning to understand the staff and the rhythmic value of notes. All of this can be overwhelming. Here, the method will begin with the act of getting each hand comfortable with playing the strings as quickly as possible. Though there will be notation and tablature presented, the patterns will be easily memorized to focus more clearly on the habits to be formed by each hand and their coordination. If you need a refresher on positioning the guitar and holding the pick, then review Beginning Guitar Lesson 1 (Pick Version) - Part 1.

Understanding The Notation/Tablature

The following example (Example 1) is the type of notation/tablature that is used throughout the rest of this lesson. It is an excerpt from a later exercise that will be practiced toward the end of the lesson. The top five lines create what is known as a musical staff. The bottom six lines create what is known as tablature (tab for short). They are connected by a large bar at the far left. This indicates that the tablature represents the notation and vice versa. For our purposes, this lesson will only require the understanding of the tablature and a number of markings in the music notation but without having to read the notes themselves.

The six lines of the tablature represent the six strings of the guitar. The top line is string 1 (the string closest to the floor) and the bottom line is string 6 (the string closest to the player’s head). The numbers on the lines indicate what fret should be held down by a finger. Frets are the metal bars running perpendicular to the strings. Fret 1 is located the farthest away from the body of the guitar and then are counted toward the opposite end until reaching the last one on the fretboard. Only the string indicated by a finger held down should be played. In Example 1, only one string will be played for each note represented on the staff, not all six strings. For the purposes of the majority of this lesson the fret number is the same as the finger number of the fretting hand (usually the left hand). The number of the left hand fingers begin with the index having the number 1 and ending with the pinky having the number 4.

Example 1

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Two other observations are important to understanding Example 1. Above the musical notation (the top five lines) there are two symbols. The first looks like a table and is followed by a “V” symbol. The table indicates that the pick should play the string moving down toward the ground (downstroke) and the V indicates playing the string up (upstroke). Throughout the entirety of this lesson the downstrokes and upstrokes will alternate for each note (alternate picking).

Exercise 1

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There is no better place to begin playing the guitar than in learning to play the open strings. Open strings means that the string does not have any of the frets pressed down by the fretting hand and can ring freely. In Exercise 1, the number 0 is used to indicate that the string does not have any fingers placed on it when it is sounded. Begin by playing string 6 four times while alternating the picking (up/down/up/down). Each time there is a number the string should be played. Next the 0s move to the next string, string 5, and again the string is played four times. This continues all the way to string 1 until returning to string 6. At the end of the exercise is a dark double bar line with two vertical dots. This is a repeat sign and tells the player to repeat back to the opposite facing repeat sign at the beginning of the exercise.

The goal of Exercise 1 is to maintain a relaxed feeling in the picking hand as the feeling of playing the string begins to become a habit. The movement of the wrist should be small and the picking are should remain relatively straight. The best description for the movement when playing is move like you are shaking water off your hands after washing them. It should be a small and relaxed movement. Keep the wrist in the midrange of motion just like the description above for the left hand (fretting hand). Do not move on to Exercise 2 until this exercise feels extremely comfortable.

Exercise 2

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Now that a good feel for playing the strings without using the left hand (fretting hand) has been developed, it is time to begin pressing down the frets to create different tones. Place the left hand thumb on the back of the guitar neck just behind fret number 1 (Example 2). Play string 3 open with a downstroke of the pick. Then place the first finger (index) of the left hand just behind fret 1 on string 3 (Example 3). Hold the string down and play the string with an upstroke of the pick. 

If a buzz is heard, then compress the string a bit harder or move your finger closer to the backside of the fret. Also, notice in Example 9 the space between the palm of the hand and the neck. The palm should almost always have space between it and the neck. Be careful not to use too much pressure because it is counterproductive tension. Continue through the rest of the exercise by next using finger 2 on fret 2, etc.

Example 2

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Example 3

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Exercise 3

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After Exercise 2 has been thoroughly mastered, then attention should be given to playing the ascending (notes moving higher in pitch) without returning to an open string (Exercise 3). All the previous principles will apply to this exercise. Continue to double check the technique of the right and left hands. It is in this stage that many habits will be forming and can cause delayed success down the road of guitar playing.

Many beginning guitarists fail to start with the very basic movements of the hands. There is a feeling of wanting to jump right into playing chords or learning a recognizable song. These are all pursuits that will be achieved. However, without mastering the basics of hand movement there will be much more struggle than is necessary to achieving the desired goals.


I encourage you to help support this education work by purchasing a downloadable pdf of this entire lesson (Part 1 & 2). It includes:

  • All the information in Part 1 & 2 plus,

  • Beginning to move the fingers across strings,

  • Working up the fretboard while moving across strings

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