If you’ve got a couple hands and can pick up a guitar, you can play one–it’s not actually that hard. I promise.
Woody Guthrie said, “If you play more than two chords, you’re showing off.” I love that quote. If you learn even just two chords, you can play a song.
So many people dream of playing the guitar, but beginners often get discouraged by the seemingly giant learning curve. If you look for complexities in music, you will definitely find them, but what you need to know to start having fun right NOW is next to nothing!
So, you know what a guitar looks like, it’s got six strings, bla bla bla. Get it on your lap comfortably. I don’t know exactly the proper way to hold the guitar and I’ve been playing for years. I know that there are different ways to hold it for different guitar styles. Definitely find that out if you want, but don’t let not knowing stop you from starting today.
Note: While you’re playing, keep your thumb underneath and parallel to the neck if you can. The pressure on the strings comes mostly from your fingers, not from pressing your thumb against the neck–you’ll hurt your wrist otherwise. Also, strum from your elbow and not from your wrist.
Alright, next. You’ve heard about this “chord” thing, you don’t know what it is and you’re scared to find out.
So, what’s a chord? It’s the name for a collection of notes–or for a sound, if that’s simpler. When you place your fingers in a certain way on the fretboard and strum with your other hand (meaning you strike all the strings at once), it makes a sound and you call it a chord–a D chord, for example. Each chord has specific finger positioning, and having these chord names is what makes it easy to learn someone else’s song.
DON’T get caught up in the theory. It’s interesting, but not important. So many people do and then get discouraged, and it’s just because it seems complicated. It’s really not.
Where do you place your fingers? On the strings, pressing down on the frets. The frets are the little separations that go down the neck. You’ll get a better sound if you press down closer to the bottom of the fret–that is, closer to the raised horizontal bar thinggy that separates them. Your fingertips might get a little sore when you start, but your skin gets used to it pretty quickly, if you play often.
There are million different chords (all variations of A, B, C, D, E, F and G) but you do NOT need to know them all. If you learned A, A minor, C, D, E, E minor, G and F, you could probably play most of your favourite songs (maybe not in the same key as the original recording, but meh), and you’d be good to go for pretty much eternity.
Again, don’t let the letters scare you. If you spend a few minutes learning the positions of each of them, you’re DONE. Google can show you where to put your fingers, and sometimes even which fingers to use so that you don’t get all tangled up!
To get your chords sounding like a song, you strum to a beat. Play a different chord for a different sound, while you keep strumming. Transitioning between chords while strumming takes a bit of practice, but it’s all good. Switch it up, make it up, have fun with it, sing along.
That’s it, my friends.
Learn those, and the guitar will be your joy, your medicine, your expression, your escape, your adventure, your pride, your friend for life. And who couldn’t use more of all of those things!?
Don’t tell yourself all those silly stories about how you aren’t creative, you aren’t talented, you don’t have an ear for music. It’s always BS. Remember Beethoven? Remember how he was deaf?
No one starts out knowing what they’re doing. Everyone plays an icky chord or two or four hundred when they start, but even those don’t have to be anything less than fun. Actually, some of my chords still sound like crap, but I’ve stopped letting it matter.
Music is one of this world’s greatest treasures, and it’s available to you right now. There’s no secret club to join first, there’s no spell to learn, no books to read, no one to impress. Pluck a string, or Google the G chord. Seriously, go now!
It also doesn’t have to be a guitar; pick up whatever makes your heart feel a beat, even if it’s a wooden spoon, and remember what it’s like to have your soul dance. You know you’ve been wanting to for… how many years?