This lesson is for absolute beginners, which introduces you to the down-home guitar basics, such as the parts of the guitar, its strings, tuning, and the basics of standard staff notations and tablature (or TABS).
So let’s dive in.
Parts of a Guitar
Before you take the plunge into the exciting (and at times challenging) new world of guitar learning, you must have a fair idea about the instrument itself and its components. Well, for a complete beginner, knowing the parts of a standard steel-string acoustic guitar is more than sufficient. However, if you are still wondering how an electric guitar is different from an acoustic, it has additional parts like the pickups, tremolo arm (whammy bar), and volume, pick up and tone controls etc, which you need not know right now. The following picture will offer a fantastic idea about the different parts of an acoustic guitar. The pic is self-explanatory.
(Image Taken From GuitarNick.com)
Guitar String Names
A guitar has six strings, the 1st string is denoted by a small “e”, which is the thinnest and the closest to the ground when you place the guitar on your lap. And the 6th string is also an E (but denoted in capital) – and it is the thickest string and the farthest from the ground while placing the guitar on your lap. Although both the strings are ‘E’, they differ in the pitches, the thinnest ‘e’ will have a lower pitch and the thicker ‘E’ will have a higher pitch. Put differently, ‘e’ is in a higher octave than the ‘E’. That’s the only difference. This graphical representation will give you a better idea about it.
How to Tune your Guitar?
You can tune the guitar either manually or by using an electronic tuner (that you can grab from any music store) or by using a keyboard. But I would always recommend tuning your guitar using a guitar tuner. Manual tuning must be attempted only if you have no other tuners available at that time. Nowadays you can get these tiny electronic tuners that easily clips on to the headstock of your guitar. This is ideal when you are on stage. They won’t cost you much. You can get one under 10 or 12 dollars.
Manual or relative tuning – In manual tuning you use the 6th string (E) as a reference point to tune the rest of the strings. But make sure the 6th string is in tune – first!
- Tuning the 5th string(A) – Place your finger on the 5th fret of the 6th string and play the 6th string and open 5th; listen carefully to see if they sound the same, if not then adjust – loosen or tighten – the tuning peg of the 5th string until it sounds exactly like the 6th string. By the way, ‘open string’ just means that you need not press any fret while plucking the string.
- Tuning the 4th string(D) – Place your finger on the 5th fret of the 5th string and play the 5th string and open 4th; listen carefully to see if they sound the same, if not then adjust – loosen or tighten – the tuning peg of the 4th string until it sounds exactly like the 5th string.
- Tuning the 3rd string(G) – Place your finger on the 5th fret of the 4th string and play the 4th string and open 3rd string; listen carefully to see if they sound the same, if not then adjust – loosen or tighten – the tuning peg of the 3rd string until it sounds exactly like the 4th string.
- Tuning the 2nd string (B) – Here there is a slight difference, instead of the 5th fret you have to place your finger on the 4th fret of the 3rd string and play the 3rd string and open 2nd string; listen carefully to see if they sound the same, if not then adjust – loosen or tighten – the tuning peg of the 2nd string until it sounds exactly like the 3rd string.
- Tuning the 1st string (e) – Place your finger on the 5th fret of the 2nd string and play the 2nd string and open 1st; listen carefully to see if they sound the same, if not then adjust – loosen or tighten – the tuning peg of the 1st string until it sounds exactly like the 2nd string.
This video should make the above descriptions make more sense to you,
These days you can easily tune your guitar using a smartphone app. The one that I use is named Chromatic Guitar Tuner which can be downloaded from Play Store or App Store. Of course, there are many others that you can choose from on the app stores!
Playing the Guitar
The guitar can be played using a plectrum or pick – a small triangular plastic piece – or using your fingertips of your right hand (left hand if you are a leftie). By the way, if you are a leftie, you must buy a guitar suited for left-handed people.
Introduction to Guitar Tablature and Standard Musical Notations
Developed exclusively for guitar players, guitar tablature is an alternative to traditional staff notations and a less-technical and graphical way to depict musical notes. The guitar tablature will have six lines representing the 6 strings of the guitar on which numbers are used to denote the frets. But never treat TABS as a substitution for traditional musical notations and an excuse for not learning it. The understanding of standard notations is a must to become a complete musician. I would suggest using the tablature along with the standard notations as far as possible as the tablature when used alone, has a few drawbacks that I will discuss later.
In traditional western musical notation, the musical symbols or notes are placed on a staff or a stave which is a set of 5 horizontal lines and spaces representing different musical pitches. The staff starts with a clef sign and a time signature. A G-Clef or the treble clef is used to represent notes meant for guitar players. An F-Clef or Bass (pronounced Base) represent notes of the bass notes (left-hand notes) of a piano.
The below pictures demonstrate the musical and tablature notations of the six open strings in a guitar. I will be covering more on reading traditional music notations in a future lesson.
Open String = If a string is played without pressing any fret, then it is an open string.
Standard Notation for guitar with a G-Clef sign
Please note that the guitar tablature is usually known as just a TAB.
‘0’ on the 6th string indicates that you have to play the open 6th string.
‘1’ on the 6th string indicates that you have to play the 1st fret on the 6th string (preferably with your index finger).
‘2’ on the 5th string indicates that you have to play the 2nd fret on the 5th string (preferably with your middle finger).
‘3’ on the 6th string indicates that you have to play the 3rd fret on the 6th string (preferably with your ring finger).
If you encounter ‘4’ on any string on a TAB, then 4th fret of that string must be played (pinky finger is recommended if the previous note was on the 1st or 2nd or 3rd fret of the same string or any of the adjacent strings).
The above figure shows how a chord is notated on a guitar TAB. This is the TAB notation of ‘C Major’ chord. If the fret numbers are stacked one above the other, then you need to play them all at once. To play this chord, the 3rd fret of the 5th string must be pressed with your ring finger, 2nd fret of the 4th string with your middle finger and 1st fret of the 2nd string with your index finger. Please note that the 3rd and 1st strings are open, which means no frets are to be pressed on those strings. Once you have placed the fingers, strum them all at once to play the C Major chord.
In this lesson, you need to just practice the open strings again and again until you are comfortable and have total control over them. Try playing the open strings without looking at them. If you want you can even try out with frets. But I would recommend sticking with the open strings for now.
Tips to Buy The Right Guitar That Suits Your Structure
Visit a guitar store, grab one guitar, keep it on your lap and see if you can reach out to the strings with your hands easily and comfortably. If not, try another one. The acoustic guitars come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. So pick the right one by trying it out first before spending money on it. And of course, acoustic guitars also come in different price ranges. You can grab one for as low as $100 or splurge as high as $1000 or more on it! The budget part is totally up to your pocket and preferences.
Hope this article helped you obtain a fair idea about the bare guitar basics. Have more queries? Please let me know via a comment below. Happy guitaring!