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5 Things Guitarists Need to Know

Have you been looking at your old guitar sitting in the corner again? Maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions was to learn how to play the guitar for real this time.

If so, you’re in luck, because today we’re going to discuss the first 5 things you need to know to make the learning process easy, fun and effective.


These are the first five things expert instructor and rockstar, Paul Gilbert, goes over with students in his school. Fun and effective online guitar lessons are available here for students of all ability levels.

Getting Your Sound

If you play rock, blues, or any form of electric guitar that uses distortion, you should know that the volume setting of your guitar will greatly affect the sound.

"The volume setting of your guitar will greatly affect the sound"

For example, set your volume knob to 1.5 or 2 and you’ll notice that your guitar sounds “clean,” even on the distortion setting on the amp. Turn the guitar’s volume up to 8 and you’ll quickly notice the difference in distortion and “crunch.”

A similar thing happens when playing fingerstyle guitar; play softly and you’ll get sweetness and clarity of tone, play hard and you’ll get “pop” and a more metallic timbre.


The easiest way to tune your guitar is by using an electronic tuner, a device which clips onto the headstock of the instrument and senses the vibrations of the individual strings.

Always start from below the desired pitch, tuning upward to reach it. When a given string is in tune, the electronic tuner will indicate this by lighting up when the on-screen arrow hits perfectly in the center of the meter.

"Always start below the desired pitch, tuning upward to reach it."

Another tip: don’t pluck the string too hard when tuning, as this will cause the string to go sharp, thereby giving a false reading.

Holding the Pick

Place the pick on the index and middle fingers of the right hand with the point facing away from the palm. Press the thumb against the pick from above, gently stabilizing it against the index and middle fingers.

You may need to bend your middle finger more than the index to balance out the difference in length. The best pick grip for basic strumming is one that is firm, yet allows slight movement so that the pick can “flex” against the strings on both down and up strums.

If you feel any pain, tingling or tightness in the wrist, forearm or shoulder when you strum, that’s a sign that you need to loosen your grip.

"If you feel any pain... loosen your grip."

E Major Chord

Once you’re in tune and comfortable holding the pick, it’s time to play your first chord and try out some simple strumming patterns. Let’s take a look at the E Major Chord, which lends itself very well to the natural tuning of the guitar.

The left hand fingering for the E Major Chord is as follows: 5th string - 2nd fret, 4th string - 2nd fret, 3rd string - 1st fret. Strings 6, 1, and 2 are all played as open strings.

If you’re just starting out, you can practice down strums on the E Major Chord in a simple four beat pattern. Once you’ve got that down, add up strums on the ‘ands’ between each beat. For example, “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and” = “down-up, down-up, down-up, down-up”.

You can easily find guitar lessons in Paul Gilbert's Rock Guitar school to elaborate on different basic strumming patterns when you’re ready for more of a challenge with the E Major Chord, as well as other open position chords.

Moving Chords


Now that we’ve used the E Major Chord with some basic strumming patterns, we’re ready to start exploring how to move chords on the guitar.

First, a note about “position” on the fretboard: Play the E Major Chord, and notice that your index finger is on the first fret. We call that “first position,” which is designated by the index finger.

Next, keep your fingers in the same shape from the E Major Chord, but slide them up the fretboard so that your first finger is on the 8th fret of the 3rd string, and your middle and ring fingers are both on the 9th fret of the 4th and 5th strings.

You just moved from 1st to 8th position. Remember those strumming patterns you just practiced with the E Major chord? The cool thing is that you can now use them in 8th position as well, and even practice shifting between the two positions.

Since your left hand keeps the same chord shape, all you have to do is focus on your rhythm, making sure that you’re landing on the 8th position chord on the downbeat (beat 1), and returning to the E Major Chord on the following downbeat.


So that’s it! Grab that guitar, old or new, string it up and get ready to play for real. When you’re ready for a real challenge, check out Paul Gilbert’s Rock Guitar School to take your playing to the next level!


Read more about how to play the guitar:

Learn to Play Guitar

Mastering Guitar Licks and Phrases

Guitar Tuning Notes: A Rockstar's Guide

Paul Gilbert Live on Facebook

How to Play Guitar for Beginners



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