Quincy Jones says learn your favorite songs note by note!

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Lesson One - Starting Out

Subjects Covered

  • Starting out
  • Holding the guitar
    • Several ways to hold the guitar
  • Left hand
    • Proper positioning and general comments
  • Right hand
    • Proper positioning and general comments
  • How famous people play their guitars
  • Tuning the guitar
    • Using a tuner


  • warm up and stretch before and stretch after playing
  • keep your hands relaxed
  • keep your guitar in tune
  • play in time, with the rhythm
  • musicality always beats technicality
  • practice too slow instead of too fast
  • play along to records whenever you can
  • play with other people whenever you can

Do not strain your hands and stay relaxed

Not straining your hands and arms is accomplished by staying relaxed, taking breaks, following our general advice and understanding principles of ergonomics.

Staying relaxed is important for your hands as well as the rest of your body.

Some disomforts that are normal and okay. Just take a break and come back later:

  • Some discomfort in your finger tips because you are building calluses.
  • Muscle fatigue in your hands because you are using muscles you did not use before.

Some common discomforts that mean you are doing something wrong or are pushing to hard

  • Any sharp pains - whatever you just did is not how to do it. Do not play so hard.
  • Your back is sore - do not hunch over, take more breaks, exercise and stretch.
  • Your hands feels tingly - you are not playing the guitar correctly. You need to relax and play more ergonomically.

Holding the guitar

The main principles of holding the guitar are to stay relaxed and to take care of your hands.

Keep your spine straight

Also, you want to keep a fairly straight spine. You do not want to look like the man in the Picasso painting.

Sitting down

  1. Be comfortable
  2. Keep at least one foot planted
  3. Your left arm should not touch your leg

Standing up

The Left Hand

Stay relaxed

  1. Your playing will sound better
  2. You will be able to play longer
  3. It will be better for your hands

If your hand is not relaxed:

  • Play slower
  • Take a break
  • Play lighter

Playing lightly

Unless your guitar has high action, you hardly need to touch the strings to make a noise.

Find the "sweet" spot:

  1. Start with your finger just touching the string
  2. Playing this note should sound very muffled
  3. Very slowly lower your finger
  4. Each time you lower your finger, pluck the note
  5. keep doing this until the note rings
  6. This is how lightly you need to play

Keep your wrist relatively straight

Keeping your wrist relatively straight is important because:

  1. It is good for wrist not to be constantly bent
  2. Your playing will be more fluid
  3. Your hands will be more relaxed
  4. It does not need to be perfectly straight; it just should not be at a 90 degree angle

Of course, you have to bend your wrist sometimes. Depending on what your are playing, you will need to bend your wrist more often than not. Beginners should keep their wrist straight. Once you have mastered the basic technique, you can break it, but learn correctly when you are starting.

Position your thumb

  • Your thumb should oppose your fingers for leverage when you are playing.
  • Place your thumb so your wrist is straight. If you cannot do this, adjust the way you are holding the guitar.

Arch your fingers

The only part of your four fingers touching the guitar should be the finger tips. Make the letter "O" with your hand. Now grab the guitar. This is about what your grip should be.

The Right Hand

Stay relaxed

Your right hand and arm should be fairly relaxed. If you hold the pick too tight, you get tired very quickly. If you hold the pick too loose, it will probably fall in the guitar.

Keep your wrist relatively straight

You are going to move your wrist somewhat but the motion should be made by either your fingers or the twisting of your arm.

Playing single notes

When you are playing single notes (i.e. a solo), place wrist/forearm on the guitar to stablize your hand. Look at some of the people down below to see where they put there right hand.


The idea of stablizing still remains. You just use the part of your forearm that is closer to your elbow as a plant. Hold the pick lightly and rotate your arm. It will take some practice to get it right.

Holding a pick

  1. between your index and thumb
  2. between your middle finger and thumb
  3. between your first two fingers and thumb

Using your fingers

You can use your thumb instead of a pick. Look at Wes Montgomery below. There are plenty of ways to play guitar but for right now we are going to teach the picking method.

How famous people hold their guitar

Most all of the famous guitar players have good technique. Here are links to a lot different pictures showing good technique. Just click on the picture to the right of google. Sorry, we cannot post the pictures on Guitar Kitchen, there might be copyright issues.

Eric Clapton

Holding the guitar - standing
Holding the guitar - another one standing
Holding the guitar - sitting
Right hand
Left hand - his wrist is pretty straight, for a beginner your thumb does not need to stick out so much.

Paco De Lucia

Various photos

George Harrison

Holding the guitar and right hand
Left hand

Jimi Hendrix

"Right hand"
"Left hand" - if you have fingers that are as long as Jimi's then you should play like this. Again, having the thumb sticking out is not bad, but for right now, try to keep it more behind the neck. The straight wrist is more important in my opinion.

B.B. King

Holding the guitar, left, right hands - B.B. is showing how it is done! This is about ideal technique. Again, for starting out keep your thumb a little bit more behind the neck so your wrist is straighter.

Joe Pass

Left and right hands - this is how it should be done, especially for more technical stuff.

Andres Segovia

Good positioning - this is the classical guitar style to play. Left hand is good for any style.

Eddie Van Halen

Holding the guitar, left and right hands - The left hand wrist is bend a lot. For some chords you have to do this. Try not to bend your wrist this much when you are starting out. This is an example when you might want to stick your thumb out some more so your wrist is straighter.
Holding the guitar, left and right hands - Depending on your hands your thumb may bend back more. Stand farther away from the amps, too!

Ana Vidovic

Live webcast from the Kennedy Center - Go to the bottom of the page. She has really nice technique. Look at how relaxed she is, here straight spine, her straight wrists and how she just barely touches the guitar.

Wes Montgomery

Holding a guitar sitting - try to keep both feet planted
Right hand, thumb style - if you are going to play with the thumb, Wes is the guy to check out.
Left hand

Tuning the Guitar

Remember, this is just for starting out. Eventually you will learn other ways to tune.

IMPORTANT - Make sure you are tuning the correct string when you twist the tuning peg!!! Otherwise you might break a string!!!!

With a tuner

  1. With a tuner like the one we mention, tune your guitar.
  2. Tune the biggest string - the 6th string - to E
  3. 5th string to A
  4. 4th - D
  5. 3rd - G
  6. 2nd - B
  7. 1st - E

Without a tuner

INPORTANT - Make sure you are tuning the correct string when you twist the tuning peg!!! Otherwise you might break a string!!!!

  1. Fret the lower string at the 5th fret (except for the 3rd string at the 4th fret)
  2. Play the lower string and the next lowest string
  3. Decide if the second lowest string is higher in pitch than the first string (sharp) or if it lower in pitch than the first string (flat)
  4. Let the two strings ring together and use your free hand (this should be your right hand) to tune the second lowest string
  5. Change the pitch of the second lowest string in small increments

We suggest starting out by using a tuner because chances are your guitar will be better tuned. But you won't always have a tuner handy. Without a tuner you tune each string so that it is in tune with the next.

Start with the 6th string. Do not tune it but use it to tune the next string. The 5th fret of the sixth string should be the same pitch as the open 5th string.

Do the same for the 5th, 4th and 2nd strings. The only string that is different is the 3rd string. The 4th fret of the 3rd string should match the pitch of the open 2nd string.

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