Hi! Welcome to my guide to playing guitar! My name is Katie Hurwitz and I’m a senior in high school from Georgia. I started taking guitar lessons in fifth grade.
I started with the basics and eventually worked my way up to performing. I stopped taking lessons in seventh grade and ever since then I’ve been teaching myself! Even if you think you've learned it all, there’s always something more you can do to improve your skills.
Throughout this series, I am going to be teaching you everything from the basics to more advanced material. I will be covering tuning, strumming, chords, tab, and more. If you don’t know what some of those are, it’s okay! I’ll teach you that too!
To get started, I've created a list of things you need and some links to where you can get them:
Download a tuner app (guitartuna is a good one)
Here’s a picture of the parts of a guitar. These are important to know and I reference a few of them throughout this guide:
Now, before we get into playing the guitar, I am going to teach you how to tune it:
First, either grab your tuner or open your tuner app.
Hold your guitar with the neck of it on your left (this is how you should always hold it). The order of the strings, from top to bottom, are: E A D G B E. My guitar teacher gave me a mnemonic device to help remember them. It is: Eddie Ate Dynamite Good Bye Eddie. The top string is usually the thickest and has the lowest sound. The bottom string has the highest sound.
How to tune a guitar:
The letter of the string that you are playing should pop up. If it doesn’t, that string needs a lot of tuning. Along with the letter, you will see some sort of indication as to how tuned it is. Follow the string to the tuning keys (the knobs at the end of the guitar) and slowly turn them. The tuner will indicate if you are going the right way or not. When the string is perfectly tuned, there will be some sort of indicator.
Over the course of this book, you will work your way through beginner, intermediate, and advanced material. The chart below is a suggested schedule as to which chords you should learn each week. Some chords are more challenging than others, so, if you can’t quite perfect it in one week, that's ok! I will be going more into detail on how to place your fingers and play each of these chords throughout this guide.
Week 1: Beginner
I’m so glad that you decided to start your guitar journey with me. You are going to learn so much and have lots of fun doing it too! This week we are going to focus on learning how to read a chord chart, play A, Am, and D, and even start learning some simple songs!
How to Read a Chord Chart
Each of your fingers is assigned a number/letter. When you see a number/letter on a string on a chord chart, that means that you need to push down that string with that finger.
1= index finger
2= middle finger
3= ring finger
4= pinky finger
This is an example of a blank chord chart. The dark line at the top represents the top of the guitar. The vertical lines are the strings and the horizontal lines separates the guitar into separate frets. Refer to the labeled guitar picture if you are confused what any of those words mean. The vertical lines are labeled by string name, E A D G B E. The horizontal area closest to the thick black line is fret one. The one next to that is fret two, and so on.
The chord chart above is labeled for you to play Cmajor. You are welcome to try to play it based on the explanation I will give you below, but it is a more advanced chord. Remember how each of your fingers represented a number? Well, as you can see in the chart, there are circles with numbers on them on different strings.
The circled number one is in the first fret. Since it has the number one on it, you put your index finger on that string, the B string. The number two is on the D string. The number two means that you use your middle finger to hold down that string. The number two is in the second fret meaning that your finger must hold down the D string with your middle finger on the second fret. The three means that you must use your ring finger to hold down the A string on the third fret. The last thing that you should be aware of is the open circles and Xs. One or the other is placed over the strings that don’t have numbers on them. The open circles mean that you should strum that string and the Xs mean that you shouldn’t.
Now, let’s learn your first chords!
We will start with A.
Here is the chord chart that we were talking about above. Next to it there is a picture of the hand placement for extra help. Take your index finger and place it on the D string on the second fret. Now, take your middle finger and place it on the G string on the second fret. Last, put your ring finger on the B string on the second fret. Your fingers should basically be stacked on top of each other as shown in the picture. Press on the strings hard in order to get the clearest sound. Strum the guitar once, making sure to not strum the low E string, as notated by the X. Get used to strumming the guitar and keeping your fingers pressed down firmly. Now, we are going to do a little exercise. I want you to practice putting your fingers in the A chord placement and then strumming the guitar three times. Then, I want you to take your fingers off the guitar and do the whole thing all over again. This will get you used to placing your fingers in the correct position in a timely manner.
Are you a pro at playing the A chord and are ready to move on? Well, now you are going to learn A minor (Am). First start off by placing your index finger on the B string in the first fret. Next. place your middle finger on the D string in the second fret. Place your ring finger just below that on the G string on the second fret. Get used to this hand positioning and start strumming. Do the same exercise as before-strum three times, remove your hands, and start again. After you feel good with that, we are going to combine A and Am. I want you to play this pattern (strum once per chord).
A Am Am A A A Am A Am A A Am Am
Continue doing this pattern until you feel comfortable with those chords and switching between them.
After you feel comfortable with the above two chords, you can move onto D. For this chord, I want you to try to figure out the hand positioning. I am going to explain it on the next page, but I want you to try it on your own first.
Did you try it on your own first? Let’s see how you did. To play the D chord, you first need to place your index finger on the G string in the second fret. Next, your middle finger goes on the high E string on the second fret. Your ring finger goes on the B string on the third fret. Do the same exercise as before-strum three times, remove your hands, and start again. Once you got that, try the exercise below that combines all three chords you’ve learned so far.
Am A D D A Am A D Am Am D D
Now we are going to learn the E chord. This is the final chord for this week so give it your all!
The E chord is very similar to Am so make sure to spend some time differentiating between the two. For E. start by putting your index finger on the G string on the first fret. Next, put your middle finger on the D string on the second fret. Your ring finger goes on the D string on the second fret. Note the open circles above the strings that your fingers are not on. If you recall from earlier in this guide, the open circles means you must strum all strings when playing this chord. Do the same exercise as before-strum three times, remove your hands, and start again. Once you got that, try the exercise below that combines all three chords you’ve learned so far.
Am E A D D E A Am E A D E E Am Am E D D
Congratulations!! You’ve officially learned four chords and are on your way to become an excellent guitarist!
Week Two: Beginner
Welcome to week two! This week we will continue to learn new chords and… you get to learn your first song!!!!! So, let’s jump right into it!
First. I want you to take a few minutes and review the chords from last week. Do you remember A from memory? What about Am? D? E? If you don’t take some time and go over them until you know them. If you got that, you get to move on and learn D minor!
D minor (Dm) is shown above. By now, you should be able to interpret the chord chart. But, if not, I will continue to explain how to place your fingers. Your index finger should be placed on the high E string, on the first fret. Your middle finger should be on the G string on the second fret. Your ring finger should be on the B string on the third fret. You definitely have to stretch your fingers a bit for this one!
If this is hard for you, see the hand stretching exercise below!
PLEASE NOTE: If this worsens the pain, then please take a break. If the pain doesn’t go away, then you might want to see a doctor.
Massage your hand/fingers- Take the thumb of your right hand and rub it in a circular motion over your left hand. Repeat this on your right hand. Make sure you also lightly massage your wrists as well.
Now, we are going to learn Em. Em is one of the easier chords and has a beautiful sound.
For Em, you just need your middle and ring fingers. Your middle finger goes on the A string on the second fret. Your ring finger goes on the D string on the second fret. Take a few strums and get used to this chord positioning. Do the same exercises as before to get used to this chord. Try the exercise below to get used to Em and Dm and switching between them.
Em Em Dm Dm Dm Em Dm Em Dm
Now we are going to learn the C chord.
This chord is another one that really stretches your fingers so do the finger stretching exercises above if you need to. Place your index finger on the B string on the first fret. Put your middle finger D string on the second fret. Now, put your ring finger on the A string on the third fret. Once you get the hang of it, practice this exercise:
C Em Em C Dm Dm C Dm Em C C Dm
G is the next chord that we will be learning this week. Before we begin, go back through the chords from week one and the beginning of this week and make sure you got them down pat!
For G, place your index finger on the A string on the second fret. Your middle finger goes on the low E string on the third fret and your ring finger goes on the B string on the third fret. Your pinky finger goes on the high E string on the third fret. Play around with this chord, adding in the other chords as you get more comfortable. Now, try this exercise.
G C Em G Em C G G Dm Dm G G
The last chord we are going to learn this week is F. Get excited because after this, you are going to learn your first song!
F is a partial bar chord meaning that you will be using one of your fingers to cover two strings. Your index finger is going to press down both the B and high E strings on the first fret. Start by just practicing that and make sure to push down hard so that the sound is clear. You can check if you are pushing down hard enough by strumbing each string individually. If the sound is clear, then you are doing it right. If it is muted or bad, then you need to push down harder. Next, add in your middle finger. Your middle finger goes on the G string on the second fret. Your ring finger is on the D string on the third fret. Get used to this chord and the action of pressing down on two strings with your index finger. Next, try the exercise below.
F F G C F Em F G Em C F G G F F
Now you get to learn your first song!! The song we are going to learn is called Brighter than the Sun by Colbie Caillat. When I took guitar lessons, this was the first song I learned as well.
To listen to the song go to this link.
For the lyrics/chords go to this link.
***don’t play the A# because you haven’t learned it yet
A few notes for this song:
Take your capo and place it on the second fret. It should cover all six strings. When playing your chords, you will play to the right of the capo. If your finger is supposed to go on the first fret, it will be the fret just to the right of the capo. If it is supposed to go on the second fret, then it will be two to the right of the capo and so on.
Start by just learning the first verse. Make sure you know the chords first and then move on to learning the tune of the song. You don’t have to sing if you don’t want to but it is encouraged.
You can strum however you feel like strumming. A good place to start is by listening to the song and strum with the beat. It’s not easy to do but, like with everything, practice makes perfect!
Work your way through the song slowly and voila! You learned your first song!
Week Three: Intermediate
This week we are going to work on harder chords and songs! We are going to start with the chord A7. Since you should be able to read the chord charts by now, I am going to shorten the explanations on how to place your fingers. Now, get excited and let’s get started!
Index finger= D string/second fret
Ring finger= B string/second fret
I want you to practice putting your fingers in the A7 chord placement and then strumming the guitar three times. Then, I want you to take your fingers off the guitar and do the whole thing all over again.
Now, we are going to learn B.
I know this is a different chord chart but you read it the same way.
Index finger= high E string/second fret
Middle finger= D string/fourth fret
Ring finger= G string/fourth fret
Pinky finger= B string/fourth fret
You definitely need to stretch your fingers for this one! Don’t forget to do the finger stretching exercises when needed. Practice this chord until it feels comfortable. Then try this:
A7 B B A7 A7 A7 B A7 B B
Now we are going to learn Bm.
Index finger= high E string/second fret
Middle finger= B string/third fret
Ring finger= D string/ fourth fret
Pinky finger= G string/ fourth fret
Once you are comfortable with Bm, try this exercise.
Bm A7 B Bm Bm B A7 Bm A7 Bm A7
The next chord you are going to learn is Cm.
Index finger= high E string/first fret
Middle finger= B string/second fret
Ring finger= D string/third fret
Pinky finger= G string/third fret
Like always, try this exercise once you're comfortable with this chord
Bm Cm Cm A7 B Bm Cm Bm Cm Cm B Cm
The last chord for this week is C7. After you learn this chord, I am going to give you two songs to work on.
Index finger= B string/first fret
Middle finger= D string/second fret
Ring finger= A string/third fret
Pinky finger= G string/third fret
And, once you get the hang of it, practice this exercise.
C7 Bm A7 B Cm C7 C7 Cm C7 A7 B C7 Bm A7
Now you can move on to learning some more songs!
We are going to work on the song Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day.
This link is to the chords/lyrics.
This link is to the lyric video
***Some of the chord charts may look different than what you’ve seen on this document. That’s ok! There are different ways to play each chord, some of which you’ll learn later in this document.***
Listen to the song a few times (I suggest using the link above because the music video includes talking parts)
Try strumming to the beat for a little bit
Practice the chords that the song uses
Play the chords in the order shown in the song along with the strumming pattern
Add the singing and voila! You’ve learned another song!
Week 4: Intermediate
Hello and welcome back for week four! If you are staying on schedule and this is your fourth week then good for you! If you are slowing down or speeding up and switching the schedule up, then good for you too! This week we are going to learn a few more chords and get started on learning tab. It’s going to be a busy, fun-filled week, so grab your guitar and let’s get started.
We are going to start off by learning B7.
Index finger= D string/first fret
Middle finger= A string/second fret
Ring finger= G string/second fret
Pinky finger= High E string/second fret
Once you can place your fingers in that position easily, you can move on to learning D7.
D7 looks like this.
Index finger= B string/first fret
Middle finger= G string/second fret
Ring finger= High E string/second fret
Practice this pattern once you get comfortable with D7.
D7 D7 B7 D7 B7 B7 D7
Now we are going to learn E7
Index finger= G string/first fret
Middle finger= A string/second fret
Now try this: E7 B7 D7 D7 E7 B7 E7
Next, we are going to learn G7
Index finger= high E string/first fret
Middle finger= A string/second fret
Ring finger= Low E string/third fret
Once you get comfortable with that, try this:
G7 E7 B7 D7 G7 B7 G7
Great job!! You’ve learned four more chords! The next task we are going to work on is tablature (tab).
Tab has six lines and letters, representing the six strings on the guitar. On those lines you’ll see numbers. Those numbers represent the different frets. When playing tab, you read it left to right, just as you would read a book. If there is more than one number stacked vertically on top of each other, then you would pluck those strings, on those frets, at the same time. Refer to the photo below for clarification on what I said.
We are going to start by learning Happy Birthday.
The first number that you should see is 0. 0 means that the string is played open, as in you don’t need to place a finger on any fret. So, just pluck the G string.
The next string is also played open so just pluck the G string again, as it tells you to
The 2 means that you need to place your finger on the G string on the second fret.
Go slowly at first and get used to playing tab. As you practice, you’ll get faster and faster at it until you can play along with the song!
The next song that we are going to learn combines both tab and chords. The introduction of the song uses tab while the rest of the song uses chords. You are going to learn how to play Stand By Me by Ben E. King.
The link to the chords/tab is here.
The link to the song is here.
Listen to the song if you are not familiar with it
Put your capo on two
Try the picking sequence. Go slow for the first few times and then speed up as you get more comfortable with it
Listen to the strumming pattern provided at the top of the website page
Practice that strumming pattern
Go through and make sure you remember the chords
Use the strumming pattern and add in the chords
Play through the whole song with the tab and the chords and practice!
Week 5: Advanced
Before moving on to the advanced level, take a few moments and review all the chords you’ve learned so far.
Once you know you remember it all, you can move onto this week's challenge: barre chords. Barre chords allow you to play chords that would normally be higher up on the neck of the guitar. Instead, you use your fingers to completely cover a fret in order to play the chord lower on the neck of the guitar. The cool thing about barre chords is that a lot of them have the same hand positioning just on different frets. The page that I am going to give you has the chords with the same hand positioning highlighted. I’m giving you part of the sheet to work on this week and the rest to work on next week.
On each chord chart, you will see an arrow with a number next to it pointing to the dark line. The number tells you which fret you are going to bar. The dark line means that you must cover all the strings with your finger on the specified fret. These chords are difficult so don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t sound right at first. It takes a lot of practice to be able to hold down the strings as well as place your other fingers into position. This week’s focus is to introduce you to these first set of barre chords and to get you used to seeing and playing them. Go though this sheet as much as you need to to feel comfortable with it. The only assignment you have for this week is to practice these chords and get them to sound how they should. Next week, which is the final week, we are going to learn the rest of the barre chords and some new songs.
Here are a few chord patterns to practice:
A G F B B F A F G G B (first collum)
D Eb Eb F E F D D F Eb (second collum)
Eb F A E G A B B D E Eb F (combined)
Week 6: Advanced
Last week you learned some of the barre chords. This week, I’m giving you the rest to practice plus a few songs to learn! Work through the chords below at your own pace. Once you get the hang of it, scroll down to learn some songs!
Here are some patterns to work on:
C B E Bb F#m Am Gm E Bb Fm Am
Bm Em Dm Cm C Gm Fm F#m Am
The first song we are going to work on is Trampoline by SHAED
The song can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=he4gEgMcQYQ
The chords can be found here: https://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/tab/shaed/trampoline-chords-2530953
Listen to the song a few times if you aren’t familiar with it (and if you are)
Go though the chords that this song uses (they are at the top of the page)
Listen to the strumming pattern that the website provides
Combine the strumming pattern with the order that the chords are found in the song
Start with the first verse and work your way through the song
Sing, play, and have fun with it! You can place your creative spin (whatever that means to you) on this song and any song you play!
The next song you can learn is I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. This song requires your capo so place that on the third fret.
The song can be found here.
The chords can be found here.
Listen to the song a few times and you can sing along if you want to!
Go through the chords that this song needs (A E F#M D B)
Listen to the strumming pattern and then add in the chords when you feel ready
Go through the song a few times and then play it all out!
Here are a couple more songs you can explore and learn:
"All I Want" from High School Musical the Musical the Series
"Let Her Go" by Passenger- this is a song with both chords and tab
It’s time for you to move on from this guide and explore the world of acoustic guitar!! Have a song that you love and want to learn how to play? Go to https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/ They have pretty much every single song there is with chords/tab. Thank you so much for letting me teach everything there is to know about playing guitar. You’ve learned an incredible amount of information and I’m so proud of you!!!
You are officially a licensed rockstar!