Three Essential Tips For Every Beginner Guitarist

When you start to learn guitar, there’s a lot of information to take in. Technique, chords, reading TAB, fretting, picking… What you learn also depends on the kind of music you want to play. It makes a difference whether you want to learn acoustic folk or heavy metal. But there are a couple of things that can benefit pretty much every beginner guitarist. Tips that make your learning experience easier, more fun and most importantly, will help you stay motivated to play. Here are those tips!

1. Adopt a growth mindset

There’s something of a secret ingredient when it comes to learning guitar. It’s not some technique or a piece of music theory, but a concept coined by Stanford professor Carol Dweck: a growth mindset. Simply put, when you have a growth mindset, you believe that your abilities can be developed over time through the right kind of training. The opposite is a ‘fixed’ mindset, where you believe that ability is the result of natural, inborn talent.

Here’s how Carol Dweck explains it herself:

The reason this matters for musicians is that our growth mindset influences our learning journey in subtle but impactful ways. Here are the two most important ones for beginner players.

First, people with a fixed mindset, think “talented people don’t need to work hard”. As such, they’re less likely to put in the work that will help them improve. But with a growth mindset, you’re more likely to practice, because you know it will help you achieve your musical goals.

Second, when you believe that skill is the result of practice, you’ll be more persistent. You understand that making mistakes is part of the learning process and not as the result of your lack of talent. This means that when you’re having a hard time mastering something, you don’t see it as failing but as ‘not succeeding yet’. Because you’re more likely to keep practicing, you’re also more likely to overcome challenges.

2. Learn a few chords and unlock a world of songs

There is no shortage of challenges when you first start playing guitar. Your fingers will hurt at first from pressing the strings, practice takes time and patience, and everything feels unfamiliar -- from just holding the guitar to strumming a chord.

That’s why it’s important to focus on what got you excited in the first place: playing music! Playing the music you love is a lot of fun, and that fun can fuel your motivation to keep practicing and keep learning. The great thing about the guitar is that learning new songs doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, by learning just a few key chords you can unlock tons and tons of songs.

For example, here’s a demonstration by Steve Stine on how you can play 7 different songs with only a G, C, and D chord.

There are more songs of course! With those three chords, you can also play:

- Sublime - What I Got
- Ben Harper - Please Me Like You Want To
- Eric Clapton - Tulsa Time
- Robin Thicke – Blurred Lines
- The Beatles - Paperback Writer

With all these songs, don’t try to strum along with the recording straight away. It’s better to build up the difficulty gradually. Here’s what I’d recommend:

- Learn to grab the chords individually.
- Practice transitioning between them smoothly.
- Play along to the song, but simply strum each chord once. Slow down the song at first if you can.
- Play along to the song, adding a strumming pattern as well.

Remember, this is just with three chords. When we add a fourth chord into the mix, that expands our options dramatically. That’s what’s so great about learning a couple of guitar chords!

3. Don’t be afraid to use your ears

You might’ve heard that developing your ears is really important for musicians. I remember hearing that a lot in my first couple of years of playing music, but never truly understanding what it meant. In fact, what I later realised, people are actually talking about three closely related, but different things:

1. The ability to listen to music and hear what’s going on in great detail
2. The ability to hear music in your head and to get that sound out of your instrument (aka playing by ear)
3. The ability to recognize certain sounds in music and know what those sounds are called

These skills are all really useful. But when you’re first starting out, I find that the first two skills are really motivating to get better at, because you use them pretty much anytime you pick up an instrument. They are both skills you can start developing from day one and immediately benefit from.

So, what does that mean for where you should start with ear training? Many teachers start with identifying intervals, but that trains the third skill, which you won’t need as much when you’re starting out. So a better approach is to start by learning simple songs by ear.

I know that this can seem a little daunting at first. Many people think that playing guitar by ear is reserved for only the most talented musicians. But that’s not the case at all. It’s a skill that you can improve with practice, just like any other skill. And the sooner you get to it, the better. These aural skills form the core of your musicianship, so it makes sense to begin developing them as soon as possible. What’s more, picking up the ability to hear something in your head and get that sound of your instrument is very rewarding. It gives you a sense of control over your instrument and music that simply feels great.

So, how then do you figure out a song by ear? The process is actually pretty simple. You listen to the first note and try to find that note on your guitar. This might take some time at first, but you’ll get faster at it with practice. A great place to start practicing this are guitar songs that are played on just one string. It simplifies the learning by ear process, because you don’t have to worry about switching between strings.


When you see one of your guitar heroes play, it might be hard to imagine that they were once a beginner too. But they were! And the thing that made them better was practice. Sure there there are plenty of challenges along the way. But with the tips in this article, I hope you get going, put in the practice and stay motivated to become the guitarist you want to be!

Just Rijna is the founder of StringKick, a site focused on helping you learn the skills you need to explore your own taste and become the musician you want to be.

Just Rijna