3: guitar fundamentals

You’ve chosen your guitar, so let’s get started right?! 

Woah there! There are a few things you need to understand about the guitar before you can begin learning.

These are: what the different parts of the guitar are called, how to hold it, how to pick the strings and how to strum. We’ll also teach you the names of the strings and your fingers.

All this information is vital for your guitar journey, so make sure you give it a read!

What are the different parts of the guitar called?

Below is a diagram highlighting all of the different parts of the guitar.

How to hold a guitar

The best way to hold your guitar is to sit with your back straight and your legs slightly apart at 90 degrees to your body. 

Place the curve of the guitar body on your right thigh (left if you are playing a left-handed guitar).

Support the neck with your left hand and let your right arm rest so your hand sits over the strings at the soundhole or pickups.

  • Sit on an armless chair—this avoids you bashing the guitar or being uncomfortable.
  • Don’t slouch—this can make it hard to see or reach the strings. Plus, it’s bad for your posture.

How to pick the guitar

Form a ‘thumbs up’ with your right hand and place the pick on your curled pointer finger. 

Now clasp your thumb down on the pick. Now point the tip towards the guitar strings. 

I actually find it more comfortable to hold the pick on the middle finger and use the pointer to help grip the pick.

Hold your pick as described above and keep your forearm in line with the body of the guitar. Avoid bending your wrist as this makes playing harder.

Gently push the pick through the string so that it rings clear and smooth. This is known as a ‘downstroke’. Now do the same, but push the pick back up through the same string. This is an ‘upstroke’. 

Next, create a basic rhythm by repeatedly counting to four in even intervals. Hit the downstrokes on one and three and hit the upstrokes on two and four. Practice this on different strings and try playing it faster and slower until you get the hang of it.

How to strum the guitar

Here’s a step-by-step guide to good strumming technique:

  1. Hold the pick as described above.
  2. Move your arm up and down and pass the pick over all of the strings using fluid movements. Keep your wrist straight and pivot your whole arm from the elbow. Strike the strings with the tip of the pick and push through them, allowing the pick to slide over them.
  3. The sound of open strings doesn’t sound great—but don’t worry about that for now. Focus on getting your strumming technique down. Do a similar exercise as you did with picking. You’re going to repeatedly count four beats again. But this time, we’re going to do a downstroke ‘on the beat’ that is, when you say the number and the upstroke is ‘off the beat’, in other words, in between the numbers. This means you’ll be strumming eight times per count.
  4. Only hit the first two or three strings on the upstroke (the three thinnest ones that are furthest away from you. This makes your guitar playing sound more relaxed.

What are the guitar strings called?

In our next lesson we’re going to open a whole world of guitar-playing opportunities by teaching you how to read guitar tabs!

But before you do, you’ll need to know the names of the different strings and the names of your fingers.

Hold your guitar as described above and look down at the strings. On a standard guitar that is in standard tuning, the thickest string that is closest to your eyeline is the low E. 

The next is A, then D, G, B and finally, high E. 

Here’s how it looks on a chord chart (see our guide to chord charts).

What are your fingers called on guitar?

Your fingers are numbered in guitar lessons. The numbers are:

Pointer/index finger = 1st

Middle finger = 2nd

Ring finger = 3rd

Pinky/little finger = 4th 

Thumb = T

Your thumb is rarely used on your fretting hand. However, it plays a crucial role on your strumming hand when playing finger style.

Next: learn how to read guitar tabs

You’re now armed with the basics you need to begin learning guitar. In our next article we’ll show you how to read guitar tabs!

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