"There is no wrong way to play guitar. The instrument can be whatever you make it": The Guitar World team shares the advice they wish they'd been given when they started learning

Two staff writers playing acoustic guitar together
(Image credit: Future)

It's fair to say that learning the guitar in the digital age has its upsides. For starters, the internet is a treasure trove of information, offering online guitar lessons for just about any song you can think of, easily digestible technique tips, and valuable advice on guitar maintenance. However, the abundance of information can be daunting, especially for beginners. 

With the aim of providing practical advice for newbie guitarists, we've tapped into the expertise of our seasoned writers. Below, you’ll discover the invaluable insights they wish they had when they first picked up a guitar. 

Image

Michael Astley-Brown - Editor-in-Chief
"There is no wrong way to play guitar. The instrument can be whatever you make it – whether that's via alternate tunings, effects or fingerpicking rather than using a pick. Learning the fundamentals of blues and jazz will give you a foundation, but if it's not what you want to play, you shouldn't feel obliged to pursue it – no matter what the online lessons du jour might say.

"Oh, and learn to trust your ear more than your fingers. Ask yourself: 'What's the next note I want to hear?' Experiment. Surprise yourself. Forget the rules, and you'll be one step closer to finding your own voice on the instrument."

Image

Jimmy Brown - Senior Music Editor
"Have your instrument evaluated and set up – mechanically optimized – by a professional, experienced guitar technician. As a private teacher, I've seen how a beginner student can quickly become frustrated with and discouraged by a guitar, even a brand new one (!), that, for one reason or another, doesn't tune up or hold its tune well, is hard to play because the action (string height) is too high at the nut and/or bridge, has a bowed or back-bowed neck, or notes buzz due to the action being too low at certain frets. 

"The first thing I always do with a new student is examine their guitar to determine if it has any of these issues and/or needs its intonation set. If so, I'll propose that they leave it with me overnight to set it up for them for a modest fee.

"If it's not set up properly, with a fresh set of strings, even an expensive high-end guitar can play poorly and sound less than ideal. Likewise, a cheap guitar can be made to sound and play great if set up well." 

Image

Matt Parker - Features Editor
"My incredibly obvious beginner mantra would be 'to play what you listen to and listen to what you play'. In other words, learn something you love first. The minute you can play something you recognize, you're hooked in my book. Then you can mess with it, steal the chords, change the order and suddenly you're writing songs. 

"My second point would be to turn off the distractions and actively listen to the way you play. Voice memo apps can help, but it can be as simple as playing in a quiet room. 

"It will help you iron out your technique, but more importantly, it develops your voice as a player, as you start to notice and absorb all of those happy accidents – grace notes, mutes, vibrato – that will become your personal style." 

Image

Daryl Robertson - Senior Deals Writer
"Music theory, while beneficial, shouldn’t overshadow the sheer joy of playing. As a beginner, it’s crucial to prioritize the fun factor over theoretical knowledge. 

"If I could learn from scratch again, I’d spend more time playing the songs that made me fall in love with the guitar and have fun exploring what is possible on the instrument. I certainly wouldn’t spend countless hours with my head in books trying to memorize the circle of 5th or the modes. 

"Once you have your basic techniques down and you can comfortably play a few songs, you can explore some music theory. Understanding music theory can enhance your playing and help you understand music in a much deeper way – but remember, you’ve got a long road ahead, and it's okay to take your time and enjoy the journey."

Image

Matt McCracken - Junior Deals Writer
"Play every day. Even if it's just five minutes to learn a new chord shape or three-note riff. 

"Making a habit of playing your guitar is much more powerful than waiting for inspiration, and continued learning will take you far further than any amount of natural talent."

Image

Janelle Borg - Staff Writer
"My advice is simple: keep at it! If you dream of becoming a touring musician, don't be afraid to play in front of an audience (be it your parents, friends, pet or local community) and "fail."

"You might not be at the level you want to be at just yet, but I promise that playing in front of an audience will help you up your game. And one other thing – ignore the naysayers."

Image

Chris Barnes - eCommerce Editor
"I wish someone had encouraged me to play with more people and not be afraid to experiment or make mistakes when I was younger. I was (and still am) guilty of sticking to the rules, which definitely slowed my development when I was just starting out and kept my playing within quite rigid boxes. It's probably why I'm not much of an improviser today.

"And, while I loved jamming with my mates in my teens, I never had the confidence to look beyond the people I already knew and seek out a wider range of musicians that could expand my musical horizons and push my limits. Nowadays there are loads more jam nights, music clubs and ways to connect with other musicians, which is a great thing for getting out there."

Image

Paul Riario - Tech Editor
"My advice is twofold: Try as many different acoustics to find one that speaks to you. Finding the right acoustic that ticks the boxes in tone, neck profile, setup and overall aesthetic will contribute to an enjoyable playing experience that will motivate you to learn to play the guitar. 

"Then, find a playing partner; having another player to learn with and play together makes you a better player.

"And who knows? Maybe you start a band after. But that's for another column."

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month**

Join now for unlimited access

US pricing $3.99 per month or $39.00 per year

UK pricing £2.99 per month or £29.00 per year 

Europe pricing €3.49 per month or €34.00 per year

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Prices from £2.99/$3.99/€3.49

Daryl Robertson
Senior Deals Writer

Daryl is a Senior Deals Writer at Guitar World, where he creates and maintains our 200+ buyer's guides, finds the best deals on guitar products, and tests the latest gear. His reviews have been featured in prominent publications like Total Guitar, Future Music magazine, and MusicRadar.com.

During his career, he has been lucky enough to talk to many of his musical heroes, having interviewed Slash and members of Sum 41, Foo Fighters, Feeder, Thrice, and more. In a past life, Daryl worked in music retail. For a little under a decade, he advised everyone from absolute beginners to seasoned pros on the right gear for their needs. 

Daryl is also a fully qualified sound engineer, holding a first-class Bachelor's degree in Creative Sound Production from the University of Abertay.