Learning to play the guitar can be fun as well as challenging. It’s a great instrument to play with family and friends and it’s incredibly portable. While there are many similarities to playing the ukulele and some pointers can be shared between the instruments, the guitar has some intricacies of its own.

Several weeks ago, we gave you a few basic tips on how to get started learning guitar. Now, we want to help you learn how to practice with purpose. With the right tools and a bit of patience, any song can be mastered. Just follow these 6 simple tips that will help you strum your way to success.

1. Study Guitar Tablature

Guitar tabs are one of the simplest ways to learn to play the guitar and can be especially helpful when you’re learning which frets to hold down and when to open them up. It can be difficult to find “staff music” for the guitar, especially online, so learning how to read the various kinds of tabs will be a major step in your learning journey.

Tabs are a mixture of dashed lines representing the guitar’s strings and numbers which indicate which fret to finger. It takes time to figure them out so you can play seamlessly, but with practice and a little elbow grease, you’ll get it in no time.

For a closer look at how to read tabs, check out this article on UltimateGuitar.com.

2. Learn The Basic Chords

We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Without understanding the chords, learning how to read tablature is almost worthless. It may seem like a tedious process, but take the time to learn how to play each of a song’s chords before attempting to conquer the whole song.

Write up a chart that you can look at while playing. These charts can be as large as a poster board or as small as a business card that fits into any wallet. Once you learn the basic chords used across the majority of songs, you’ll be on your way to quickly learning to play nearly anything you want.

3. Be A Good Listener

It may sound like a no-brainer, but many people forget to listen to the song as they learn it. Start off listening to your favorite studio recording of the song and later as you get the hang of playing it yourself try recording your own performance and listen back.

Another great tip is to actually start with listening. See how much of the song you can work out by ear. Put the guitar down and pick up a piece of paper. Write down any chord progressions or melodic elements you can recognize. Then, once you’ve figured out what you can by ear, pick the guitar back up and try experimenting to find the right notes yourself by ear.

Only when you’ve exhausted your listening abilities should you go look up the tab music or chord chart for the piece. Follow along and fill in any parts that were giving you trouble.

The more you learn songs ear-first in this way the quicker and more sophisticated you’ll become and soon you won’t need to look up the chords or tab at all!

Once you’ve had a good listen, figured out what you can by ear, and filled in any gaps from the “official” sources, play your guitar along with the recording to nail the performance details. Our friend and professional bassist, Chris Tarry, suggests playing along with recordings to really get the “feel” for a song and learn how to successfully play with others. Keep playing in time with your recording until you can jam without stopping, start to finish.

4. Know Your Equipment

Even the best musician must ensure they have the right equipment and accurate setup to play. Check every part of your guitar – from the strings to the bridge. Pay close attention to the string weights. Lighter strings may be the best choice for beginners and heavier strings require more work to master but it is a personal preference which you choose. Whatever you do, make sure the guitar is always properly tuned to handle your new song selections!

5. Watch Your Speed

Beginners love to speed through learning. It’s normal to be eager, but if you really want to succeed slow down your pace. Play each section slowly and repeat at the same speed. Gradually bring the song up to the right tempo. This simple step will save time later on. If it’s hard to slow down, bring in a metronome. This helpful tool can be found online, in most instrument music stores, or through mobile apps.

6. Keep Practicing

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does build confidence. Make time each day to cover learning a song, but don’t let it overtake your entire practice schedule. Including a song you’ve learned as a fun warm up or cool down to practice is a great option. As you begin to master one song, try introducing a new piece to keep you excited about learning guitar.


Want to go further on guitar than just learning a song? Musical U is here with expert advice and a community of musicians representing various skill levels. From training plans to tips and tricks, our approach to learning makes it easy. Join today to see how we can help you become the guitarist you’ve been dreaming about.