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Beginners’ Instruction in Guitar

David Raleigh Arnold

In my opinion, especially if you are attempting to learn without a teacher, it is wise to survey and assess a lot of prospective learning material to get an overview of the road ahead. I hope that I can help you with that right here. With a teacher, you don't have to do that yourself. Don't expect to complete every project before starting on the next. Instead, get good starts learning a lot of things. That way, you can begin to see a way to good progress.

For most people, it is best to find a teacher.

The best teacher in the world can’t teach a bad student. Be a good student.

One of the first things to do is to learn to tune the guitar.

It is essential that you practice. See this guitar practice howto.

You also need a guitar.[1]

A First Lesson in Plain Text

[ Guitar Text p1 ] [ Guitar Text p2 ]

Quick Links to Stuff You Will Need First

This list should be convenient if you can’t print any time you want. If you staple along the left edge, squeeze the staples flat with pliers, fold masking tape along that edge and trim the excess, the resulting booklets will last longer than the sheets will stay in a ring binder:

  1. Ten Lessons
  2. Handy Charts for Notes and Chords
  3. Nine Easy Duets

You might choose to just print pages 12, 13, 38, and 39 of the Carcassi method for now. Those are the page numbers in the printed book. If you don’t staple or bind somehow, there is not much point in printing out the whole thing right now.

Ten Guitar Lessons for Beginners

Ten Lessons is a twenty page file in PDF format.

Supplementing the “Ten Lessons”



Chord Practice

Some midi and chords to tunes for practice might be very useful.

Guitar Duets

Easy guitar duets will help a lot with reading, if you count. an electronic metronome would be great if you keep on counting.

Getting Started with Slurs

Slurs are an essential technique, and they become easier more quickly than anything else.

Moving Ahead in Solo Playing

Very Easy Finger Style Pieces

Very easy pieces for beginners. Some of these in the ‘Seven Easy Pieces’ are playable with a flat pick, but most of them are finger style.

Style-free Guitar Pieces and Etudes

Whether you play classical or with a pick, you will find these style-free study pieces very helpful and fun to play. While they present more problems than the very easy pieces, the main problem is that they are longer. There are no big challenges to a beginner in getting the notes.

The Carcassi Method, Part 1

A balance between some of Carcassi’s Complete Method for Guitar and my easy pieces would make an excellent first repertoire.

Appropriate Exercises

Keep in mind that the music comes first, always.

The Scales of Carcassi

Try the first two of these scale exercises of Carcassi. They have never been replaced by more “modern” material. They build a very important skill set. These are mainly for developing a rich and powerful tone. As in all of his works for students, the most important parts are right at the beginning.

Starting Right Hand Patterns

Right Hand Patterns have always been a staple of guitar instruction. When you not only practice starting notes, as you usually do in accompanying, but also practice ending them you get a lot more out of it.

Apoyando Speed Studies

Speed studies are always good. These you can push a bit. They lean toward flamenco a little.

Chromatic Scale Exercise

This exercise is almost an etude. It is the most painless way to start working up and down the neck. It’s very easy to learn. While I do have a suggested fingering, consider it style-free.

Dynamic Guitar Technique

Beginners at the piano get the same scales and arpeggios that concert artists practice, and that’s the best way for guitar also. To try to suit this sort of exercise to the level of the student is a mistake. It is like trying to learn to shoot with a rifle in one hand and a target in the other. To be any good, this sort of exercise must be hard to do well, and at first it must be hard to do at all. You just have to go slow, that’s all. Never use a metronome with pure tech. [2] You are working at producing and sustaining individual notes. A chord, scale, or arpeggio is just a notes delivery system. With that in mind, full attention and hearing yourself very clearly are essential. Don't even think about changing any left hand fingering. You may of course choose to use a pick. It is not necessary to make an effort to memorize tech, because it is intended not to form habits but to improve strength and control.


Start with the first chord exercise and practice the first measure. The frets in tab are 553, 988, and 12-13-12. When you get somewhere with that, finish the page. Play each chord staccato. [3] because, for now, these chords are just too hard otherwise. That’s a start.


Practice the first arpeggio. You don’t have to be able to stretch all the way when you have stretches, but you do want to extend all you can without hurting yourself to get there in a hurry. Hardly anyone can extend fully to the next note in all of these, but you nevertheless should practice getting to high notes. There should be no gaps or overlap between notes. When you can do the first measure, go on. That’s a start.


Start with the first one octave scale. Introduce one right hand pattern at a time, starting with titi, itit, mimi, imim, tmtm, and mtmt. Of course with a flat pick you would do down, up, dudu, and udud. When you can do those, learn three more scales. Then introduce the annular finger, one combination at a time, until you finally practice each scale with mama, amam, tata, atat, iaia, aiai, titi, itit, mimi, imim, tmtm, and mtmt. If you are flat picking, you might add dud and udu. That’s a start.

✍ Music Theory

Of course music theory is not theory, but a traditional set of music writing exercises. It was not about rhythm at all, but that is slowly changing. This page is not completed, but there is enough here to be useful.

End Notes:

§1 Any guitar which has a movable bridge, or has the bridge exactly perpendicular to the strings so that the strings are of equal playing length, may be strung with polyester or nylon or composite regardless of the intent of the manufacturer. If the bridge is slanted, at least the three bass strings must have steel cores.

If you have a solid body electric, you can use a first string as light as 0.009”.

If you do not have a solid body electric, the first string, if metal, should be 0.010” in diameter, or you will suffer needless, futile, pointless pain. The strings that came on your guitar are almost certainly not ok. There is some physical pain involved in learning every musical instrument ever invented, but having strings heavier than they have to be is like hitting yourself on the head with a hammer.

For classical guitars, next time you get nylon strings get ones made with improved materials such as polyester or composite instead of ordinary nylon if you can. The low strings are always overspun with metal, but what is inside those windings must not be metal, or the excessive tension will destroy any lightly built guitar.

If you are left handed, get a left handed guitar or reverse the order of the strings if all strings sound the same length. If you are not very left handed, you may be able to play as well right handed as left, but the odds are against you.

The left hand fingernails must be very short.

TODO: Elaborate this end note and move it to a separate file.

§2 Tech is short for “technique”, where that word is used in the sense of “technical exercises”. It includes chords, arpeggios, and scales, and nothing else.

§3 Staccato means that you sustain a short note for half of its time and then stop it from sounding so that the rest of its time is silent. Today it is marked with a dot over or under the note head. (todo: reference)

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©2007 David Raleigh Arnold - http://www.openguitar.com