Beginning Guitar Lesson 1 (Pick Version) – Part 2

Many methods begin after explaining the generalities of positioning the guitar and holding the pick with learning to read the notes on string 1. This is coupled with learning to understand the staff and the rhythmic value of notes. All of this can be overwhelming. Here, the method will begin with the act of getting
each hand comfortable with playing the strings as quickly as possible. Though there will be notation and tablature presented, the patterns will be easily memorized to focus more clearly on the habits to be formed by each hand and their coordination. If you need a refresher on positioning the guitar and holding the pick, then review Beginning Guitar Lesson 1 (Pick Version) – Part 1.

Understanding The Notation/Tablature

The following example (Example 1) is the type of notation/tablature that is used throughout the rest of this lesson. It is an excerpt from a later exercise that will be practiced toward the end of the lesson. The top five lines create what is known as a musical staff. The bottom six lines create what is known as tablature (tab for short). They are connected by a large bar at the far left. This indicates that the tablature represents the notation and vice versa. For our purposes, this lesson will only require the understanding of the tablature and a number of markings in the music notation but without having to read the notes themselves.

The six lines of the tablature represent the six strings of the guitar. The top line is string 1 (the string closest to the floor) and the bottom line is string 6 (the string closest to the player’s head). The numbers on the lines indicate what fret should be held down by a finger. Frets are the metal bars running perpendicular to the strings. Fret 1 is located the farthest away from the body of the guitar and then are counted toward the opposite end until reaching the last one on the fretboard. Only the string indicated by a finger held down should be played.

In Example 1, only one string will be played for each note represented on the staff, hence not all six strings. For the purposes of the majority of this lesson the fret number is the same as the finger number of the fretting hand (usually the left hand). The number of the left hand fingers begin with the index having the number 1 and ending with the pinky having the number 4.

Example 1


First Notes On Guitar

Two other observations are important to understanding Example 1. Above the musical notation (the top five lines) there are two symbols. The first looks like a table and is followed by a “V” symbol. The table indicates that the pick should play the string moving down toward the ground (downstroke) and the V indicates playing the string up (upstroke). Throughout the entirety of this lesson the downstrokes and upstrokes will alternate for each note (alternate picking).

Exercise 1


There is no better place to begin playing the guitar than in learning to play the open strings. Open strings means that the string does not have any of the frets pressed down by the fretting hand. Therefore, the string can ring freely.

In Exercise 1, the number 0 is used to indicate that the string does not have any fingers placed on it when it is sounded. Begin by playing string 6 four times while alternating the picking (up/down/up/down). Each time there is a number the string should be played. Next the 0s move to the next string, string 5, and again the string is played four times. This continues all the way to string 1 until returning to string 6. At the end of the exercise is a dark double bar line with two vertical dots. This is a repeat sign and tells the player to repeat back to the opposite facing repeat sign at the beginning of the exercise.

The goal of Exercise 1 is to maintain a relaxed feeling in the picking hand as the feeling of playing the string begins to become a habit. The movement of the wrist should be small and the picking are should remain relatively straight. The best description for the movement when playing is move like you are shaking water off your hands after washing them. It should be a small and relaxed movement. Keep the wrist in the midrange of motion just like the description above for the left hand (fretting hand). Do not move on to Exercise 2 until this exercise feels extremely comfortable.

Exercise 2

beginning guitar pick exercise 2

A good feel for playing the strings without using the left hand (fretting hand) has been developed. Therefore, it is time to begin pressing down the frets to create different tones. Place the left hand thumb on the back of the guitar neck just behind fret number 1 (Example 2). Play string 3 open with a downstroke of the pick. Then place the first finger (index) of the left hand just behind fret 1 on string 3 (Example 3). Hold the string down and play the string with an upstroke of the pick.

If a buzz is heard, then compress the string a bit harder or move your finger closer to the backside of the fret. Also, notice in Example 9 the space between the palm of the hand and the neck. The palm should almost always have space between it and the neck. Be careful not to use too much pressure because it is counterproductive tension. Continue through the rest of the exercise by next using finger 2 on fret 2, etc.

Example 2

beginning guitar fret thumb

Example 3

beginning guitar first finger

Exercise 3

beginning guitar exercise 3

After Exercise 2 has been thoroughly mastered, then attention should be given to playing the ascending (notes moving higher in pitch) without returning to an open string (Exercise 3). All the previous principles will apply to this exercise. Continue to double check the technique of the right and left hands. In this stage many habits will be forming and can cause delayed success down the road of guitar playing.

Many beginning guitarists fail to start with the very basic movements of the hands. There is a feeling of wanting to jump right into playing chords or learning a recognizable song. These are all pursuits that will be achieved. However, without mastering the basics of hand movement there will be much more struggle than is necessary to achieving the desired goals.

I encourage you to help support this education work by purchasing a downloadable pdf of this entire lesson (Part 1 & 2). It includes:

  • All the information in Part 1 & 2 plus,
  • Beginning to move the fingers across strings,
  • Working up the fretboard while moving across strings

Just click the button below to visit the store. Thank you for your support and keep learning!

Beginning Guitar Lesson 1 (Pick Version) – Part 1

There are many beginning guitar books that endeavor to set every student on the correct path to learning the guitar. In no way is this beginning guitar lesson intended to be the “end all” of every first guitar lesson. This lesson focuses primarily on getting the right and left hands moving on the instrument.

It will cover the general positions for holding the guitar while playing with a pick. It will also cover some information on what to watch out for in your hands when beginning to learn the guitar. However, it is not meant to be the final say or an exhaustive dissertation on the mechanics of guitar technique. It is meant to get the student that has never played the guitar before moving their fingers on the instrument in an effective manner for future development.

Positioning The Guitar

The basic principle for positioning the guitar is to allow the right and left hands to move freely and without undue tension while playing the instrument. Most beginning players begin by playing seated in a chair. This is a fine way to begin, but normally the head and neck of the guitar are too low and cause the fretting hand (hand used to hold down the frets) wrist to be bent too far making the compression of the string to the fret more difficult than necessary. It also prevents pivot necessary on the thumb to move from the lower strings to the higher strings effectively.

When playing in a seated position without a strap it is advised to use a device to raise the left leg up off the ground to bring the body and neck of the guitar higher up (Example 1). This allows for the player to sit in a more upright position and for the left hand to move freely up and down the neck. Not surprisingly, good posture really helps the overall efficiency of movement and enjoyment of playing the guitar.

Example 1


beginning guitar sitting-with-footstool -small

Playing with a strap is another good way of placing the guitar in a good position for the left hand. It puts the guitar in a similar position in either the seated (Example 2) or standing  (Example 3) positions with the strap. The obvious advantage in using a strap is that the seated and standing positions should be almost identical creating the same feeling when playing regardless of standing or sitting.

When seated, the right leg must angle downward in order to make use of the strap holding the guitar. Sitting at an angle on the chair helps to achieve the correct position with the strap.

Example 2

beginning guitar sitting-with-guitar-strap -small

Example 3

beginning guitar standing-with-guitar-strap-small

Midrange Motion Of  The Left Hand

The main focus when working on how to position the guitar is in avoiding the extremes of the fretting hand bending. The idea is called the midrange of motion. The midrange of motion exists somewhere in between the extremes of bending the wrist in either direction.

The easiest way to begin to feel this mid-range is to feel the extremes and then find the place in the middle. Hold your arm out straight and extend the wrist all the way to the ceiling like telling someone to stop but keep the arm parallel to the floor. Then, flex the wrist in the opposite direction straight down to the floor. After feeling these extremes, find the comfortable spot right in the middle. This is the midrange of movement and the general position the left hand should be in when playing the guitar.

Holding The Pick

Though everyone will develop a slightly different manner in which to hold a pick, there is a basic starting point for everyone. The most common issue is the lack of control when using a pick by beginners. This is usually because the pick is too far away from the hand. The further away the pick is from the hand the less control the player has over the pick. By the way, the pick is actually short for plectrum even though plectrum is not really used in our common language about the guitar today.

The contrast of table tennis (ping pong) and tennis illustrates this control point. If someone has never played either game, and attempts each, then which one will they be able to play more quickly? The answer is table tennis because the paddle is a much smaller and closer extension of the hand. Most who attempt to play tennis find the ability to control the ball very difficult. It takes much practice just to play the game of tennis when compared to playing a game of table tennis.The guitar pick is no different. The closer the pick is to the hand the more control one has over the usage of it.

The Process Of Placing The Pick

To begin holding a pick, place the hand in a position like holding onto a pipe (Example 4). The fingers remain relaxed with some muscle exertion used to maintain the position. Then,  place the pick on the side of the index finger (Example 5). In this image, an opaque pick was use show the finger underneath the pick. Finally, rest the thumb on top of the pick (Example 6). There will be constant experimentation of how hard to hold onto the pick when playing. It is important to have the pick firmly held but also light enough to allow give in the pick. This creates a more enjoyable tone from the instrument. Not allowing the pick to give a little creates a noticeable harshness.

Example 4


Example 5


Example 6


Many will talk about fanning the fingers our or keeping them held in. It is a good idea to begin with them held in like the examples above. This allows for the hand to learn a floating reference for the string location on the guitar. It will also keep the bad habit of resting the pinky finger on the guitar body. This attempts to create a reference point for playing the strings. This is a bad habit even if the player can play a song well. It creates much tension in the hand and prevents fluid movement from string to string.

Move on to Beginning Guitar Lesson 1 (Pick Version) – Part 2 to begin exercises focusing on building solid coordination between the hands. It is a mistake to overlook these as “simple”. However, they hold the key to a solid technique for years of guitar playing. As always, a PDF of the lesson with even more content will be available at the end of part 2.