Getting Started

Holding the guitar

Whether standing or sitting with your guitar, it's a good idea to make sure you start off with a good posture. If you hold the guitar too low, or at a strange angle, you'll find that part of your body, usually your shoulder or wrist, will tense up.

If any part of you is tense your hands and fingers won't move freely and all of your concentration won't be on playing. You need to be in relaxed posture to play at your best.

Holding the Guitar

Notice that the guitar is held a slight angle so that you don't have to reach down too far to get your fingers round the neck.

Basic picking technique

Plectrums or picks come in various sizes and thicknesses. Start off with a medium thickness, not too flexible and not too rigid, until you get an idea of what feels right and how hard you want to pick the notes.

There are couple of ways of holding a pick, as shown below.

When picking single notes you should swivel your wrist rather than actually moving your arm up and down. It is important to get used to doing alternate up and down strokes.


Each of the notes in the following exercises lasts for one beat, also known as a crotchet. A crotchet has the circle filled in, and a tail either going up or down.

If a piece of music you are reading has four beats in a bar (4/4 time signature), and is made up of crotchets, you should count each bar 1,2,3,4, 1,2,3,4 with a slight emphasis on the first beat in each bar.

Top E

Picking Exercise 1

Try doing up and down strokes on the top E string. Start off very slowly and get used to turning your wrist. You will gradually be able to feel how accurate you need to be with the pick to consistently hit the string. Try getting louder and softer while you pick. Gradually try to get faster, but not too fast at this stage.

Picking Exercise 2

Now do up and down strokes starting on the top string and moving down the strings until you get to the bottom E string. Do four strokes on each string, taking it very slowly at first. When you get to the bottom string, go up the strings again.

Picking Exercise 3

Now try the same with up and down strokes between the strings, but this time do three strokes on each string. This will mean that on some strings you will start with a down stroke and some with an up stroke.

* An important part of learning good technique is repeating some basic exercises until they feel natural to you.

Notes on the first string

E - The open first string

The open first string is an E and looks like this in notation and tab.

Top E


F is played on the first fret of the top E string.

Top F

Left Hand Position

When you fret a string it is important to get the correct left hand position. Your thumb should be pointing straight up, flat on the back of the neck and roughly behind the space between the first and second frets.

Your thumb should also not be too high or low, with the tip about 2/3rds up the width of the neck *.

Left Hand Back

* These 'rules' are sometimes broken for particular techniques like bending strings or some jazz chord techniques. But for the moment try to follow them as closely as possible. One of the hardest things to correct is poor left hand position.

Having your left hand in the correct position will mean that your fingers can easily reach all of the strings and across more frets.

Left Hand Position

Numbering of fingers

The fingers on your left hand are numbered 1 to 4. Sometimes in guitar music the finger to use is shown by putting the finger number next to the note. Unless shown otherwise, we will be using one finger per fret for the moment. 1st Finger for the first fret, 2nd finger for the second and so on.

To play F place your 1st Finger just behind the first on the top E string and press down. Your finger shouldn't be touching the fret or too near the nut, either of which could make the string buzz. Try picking the note while you have it pressed down. Experiment with your left hand finger position and the amount of pressure you need to make the note sound clear


G is played on the third fret of the top E string. Use your third finger for this note.

Top G

First String Exercises

Try these exercises using E,F and G.

When you move from F to G you should keep your first finger down as well as your third. This will make the transition between the notes smoother.

Exercise 1

Top String Notes - 1

Exercise 2

Top String Tune - 1

Exercise 3

Top String Tune - 2