Learning acoustic guitar is fun, and acoustic guitar is a great skill to have. It can be daunting to watch an expert, especially one who is adept at fingerpicking, but believe it or not, acoustic guitar is surprisingly accessible. You don’t have to be a musical genius or even super coordinated to learn acoustic guitar. What you will need is patience, determination, and a love for music.
First of all, acoustic guitar is a little different from electric guitar. With an acoustic guitar, there is a sound hole that amplifies the noise from your strings’ vibrations. With an electric guitar, you get the sound amplification from a dedicated external amplifier. I think it’s better to start with acoustic, because you’ll learn to press down hard enough on the strings, build up your calluses, and be able to play wherever you want without having to drag an amp around.
The best way to start learning acoustic guitar is to memorize and play chords. If you have little experience with music, you’ll probably be most comfortable starting with chords. If you do have some musical knowledge, you should also try learning the notes on each string and each fret, and practice scales as well (but this can wait until you’ve learned some chords too). Either way, chords are a basic part of playing acoustic guitar, and they are most frequently used in rhythm guitar parts to accompany a lead guitarist or your own voice if you’re singing along while you play.
In case you aren’t sure, chords are multiple notes (strings) from the same musical key that are produced at the same time. The most basic chords on a guitar are the C, D, G, E minor, and A chords. In order to properly play the acoustic guitar, you’ll need to hold it so that the base of the guitar is resting on your knee (for right-handed players, the right knee), and keep it oriented straight up and down. Curl your fingers around the neck from below so that you can press down on the strings with your fingertips.
It’s important for you to know how to identify the individual strings before you can understand chords. Each string on an average acoustic guitar has a varying gauge, or thickness, that changes the frequency of the sound produced, resulting in a different pitch. From the bottom up, in standard tuning, the strings are E A D G B E. If I am having trouble remembering, I will think of the mnemonic device “Every Adult Dog Growls, Barks, and Eats.” Strings are also referred to in terms of numbers. The lowest, thickest string (the low E string) is called the 6th string, and the top E string is the 1st string.
An example chord would be the E minor chord. For this chord, you hold down the 4th and 5th strings of the second fret (also known as the A and D strings). A fret is the space between the metal bars on your guitar neck. When you play E minor, you’ll hold down the strings as close to that bottom metal bar as you can, and use the tips of your fingers near the nail, not the flat part. With these strings held down, strum all six strings. This is called an open strum. If you hear any “clunks” or buzzing, that means you’re accidentally muting another string or not holding down the A and D strings hard enough. Learning acoustic guitar does take some practice.
Try practicing your chords in every session as you are learning acoustic guitar. Chords are definitely the most logical place to start. In future articles I will go over the chords in greater detail and give some tips on switching between them. Hopefully I can make learning acoustic guitar easier and more fun for you!