Learning Your First Songs On Your Guitar

By Allen Hopgood

Quite often as a beginning guitar player, you come across songs that you want to play, but the song's strumming pattern is too advanced for your abilities yet, or the chords are too hard to fret. Here you have 2 choices. Either put the song on the shelf and come back to it later or, learn the song in a very simplified version and gradually build it up as your technique and skills develop.

In this article we are going to look at the second option. Yes it can be challenging, with the harder chords, but you are going to keep the strumming pattern very simple so you can concentrate upon the chords until they get under your fingers.

It's always best to go for accuracy over speed, so you will have to exercise patience here. The good thing is that this approach to learning your first set of songs on your guitar is actually very easy and a quick way to gain confidence playing your favourite songs.

First, pick your song or songs you want to play. At this stage, steer clear of jazz chords. These chords can be very demanding on your fretting hand. Choose basic open or barre chords to begin with as there are thousands of songs to choose from that contain these chords. To start with it will be better to have a song with 3 or 4 chords for you to avoid overwhelm and possible frustration.

Once your song is selected, practice getting the shapes of the chords under your fingers first. Do this with the fretting hand only and resist the temptation to add a strumming pattern. Depending on the chords and their difficulty (barre chords will take more time to develop) most chords can be learnt within a few days or less.

As you are beginning this, don't be too concerned about the sound of the chord as long as you're getting your fingers into position. This will be okay for now before adding the next step.

This step is where you are going to keep it really simple. You will add your strumming hand now, with only a single strum for each chord or four single strums in a down motion for every chord. The strumming pattern can be added once you get this basic foundation down. Now set your metronome or drum machine up at a very slow tempo to help you feel it better and to guide you along.

So, for example if the chord progression to your song is: C | Am | F | G | you would add a single strum on the first beat only and aim to get your chords changing on beat one like in diagram A below:

Diagram A

Once you are comfortable with getting the chords changing on beat one, you can add 4 single down strums to the chords like this:

Diagram B

The key component here is to keep your strumming hand strumming – down strums only - on every beat. Keep strumming, no matter how slow your chord changes are, or what beat the chord change may fall on. It could be beat 2, 3, or even and that's okay for now.

Now when you do this, it is not going to sound like the song, as you know it. Right now, you’re just laying a solid foundation. As this becomes more comfortable for you, with your chord changes clean and on the right beat, then you can add the song's strumming pattern or rhythm.

So let's recap the process to go through so you can confidently play the songs you want to play on your guitar.

Step 1: Choose the song – the simpler the better for practice but you can choose whatever your favourite song. Obviously the more challenging the longer it is going to take. But this process will set you up right for all the other songs you want to learn in the future.

Step 2: Practice changing the chord shapes with your fretting hand only until they’re comfortable before setting your metronome or drum machine at a slow tempo. Anything between 60bpm and 80bpm will work well.

Step 3: Start by playing a single down strum on beat 1 until you can the chords get under your fingers. Open chords are easier than barre chords, however you can use a capo to play open chords in difficult sharp or flat keys.

Step 4: Once step 3 is comfortable for you, add 4 down strums for every measure. Remember to keep strumming no matter how far behind the chord change happens to be. You'll be surprised how quickly the chords will start to fall on beat one when you keep the strumming hand moving.

Step 5: When your chords changes are clean and on beat 1 and your competence has developed with strumming, add the actual strumming pattern for the song.

Following this outline, you will soon be playing the songs you want to on your guitar. Have fun and keep strumming.

The aim of this article is to get you strumming along to your favourite songs quickly. The students I teach have seen fast results when using this method. If you happen to be moving to the Gold Coast area of Australia and would like to improve your guitar playing, you can contact me through my Gold Coast School of Guitar website. I wish you all the best to getting your songs under your fingers.