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Parts of the Guitar

Let’s start with the basics of learning guitar, you want to get to know your axe. This is pretty straight forward, but you may want to pay particular attention to the ‘tuning keys’ as we’ll use them soon. Also, take note of the ‘fretboard inlays’; these are markers to help you know where you are on the fretboard.

Everything else should be self-explanatory; you don’t need to know the science behind how electric guitar pickups etc. work at the moment, and if you have a tremolo bar on an electric guitar, just experiment to see how it alters the sound. Examine your own guitar and get to know it.

Electric Guitar Parts

Picture of Electric Guitar Parts

Acoustic Guitar Parts

Picture of Acoustic Guitar Parts

Note: The ‘tuning keys’, ‘strings’, ‘fret inlays’ and ‘bridge pins’ of the acoustic guitar, and the ‘tuning keys’, ‘strings’, ‘fret inlays’, ‘saddles’, ‘pickups’ and ‘volume and tone’ controls of the electric guitar are plural even though I’m only pointing to one of each.

Also, the ‘fretboard’ is the whole top piece of wood, and the metal fret wire that divides the fretboard into sections create the ‘frets’.

Guitar Orientation and Playing Position

In this section I’ll talk about how we view the guitar from a player’s perspective, directional aspects such as which way is up/down the neck, string numbers and which is the top/bottom string. I’ll also talk about a few different positions for playing guitar.

Orientation

Image of a guitar showing direction both up and across the fretboard

The first thing I find that confuses a beginner is the way we view the guitar. When reading fretboard diagrams or tablature, we view the neck as if upside down compared to if you were looking across from someone else playing. You may find this confusing to start, but it does make a lot of sense as it’s the way we view the guitar from our own playing perspective. In this position, what many perceive as the top string (the fattest string) now becomes the bottom and vice versa. This also makes sense because the pitch of the bottom string is lower than the top, and in audio/sound we associate the bottom end with bass.

The next directional concept to understand is when referring to the length of the fretboard. When we move towards the body we’re moving up the neck, and when moving towards the head stock we’re moving down the neck. Again, this makes sense because when we move up the neck the pitch gets higher and vice versa.

In my opinion, the only contradictory concept is the string numbers. I usually consider the bottom to be a starting point to count your way up from, but with guitar it’s not like that. If we start from our thinnest string at the top, we count from one to six downwards for our string order.

String Numbers

Fretboard diagram showing string numbers

In the next lesson, I’ll teach you the alphabet name for each string, but for now it’s all about orientation.

Playing Position

Here, I’m going to cover three different ways to hold the guitar when playing. These are the ‘standard’ and ‘classical’ sitting positions and the ‘standing’ position.

Standard

Jonny Mac holding his guitar in standard sitting position

Standard position is the most common if you’re not classically trained. It’s more relaxed than the classical but not as sound posture wise. It’s pretty basic, sit straight with both feet on the ground and rest your guitar on your right leg. I like to use this position when I’m fooling around or playing casually, however, if I’m sitting down to do serious practice I’ll use the classical position.

Classical

Jonny Mac holding his guitar in classical sitting position

Here, we’re still sitting, but now we rest the guitar on the left leg while we raise our left foot using a stand. This position is very ergonomic when considering the angles of your arms and hands. I find this position needs a bit more concentration to keep your back upright, but the relaxation in the arms, neck and shoulders is excellent.

Standing

Jonny Mac holding his guitar in standing position

Standing position is more for a live or live rehearsal setting. You’re not going to want to stand when in full practice mode, but playing this way is a lot of fun. As for posture you want a straight back, but when you’re in the moment of rockin’ out, anything goes. With the strap setting, you want it so as to get the best hand and arm angles, much like the classical position. Unfortunately, the Jimmy Page swinging at the knees style may look cool, but it’s not very practical.

Note: I’m a right-handed player so when I use terms such as left leg etc. I’m referring to right-handed players. Also, all chord and neck diagrams in this course are right-handed. If you’re a left-handed player, just mirror everything.

Strings, Tuning and Note Names

Fig.1

Tuning Notes

Fretboard diagram showing the notes for tuning a guitar

Tuning Your Guitar

Note: These videos are old, and I refer to page numbers from my original book that won’t corelate to the ebook I’m offering with this course. I’m currently reworking these videos, but the content here is still applicable.

Figs.1 and 2 both show the open strings EADGBE. It’s important you memorize these notes as we’ll use them for tuning your guitar. You don’t need to understand why they lay out this way, but you must learn them. If you need to, you can create an acronym to help remember them like ‘Every Awesome Day Guitar Beats Everything’ but my advice would be to learn them as is.

In fig.1, you’ll notice lines connecting notes of the same name together. These tones are the same pitch, and so we’ll use the tones at the 5th fret (4th fret on the G string for tuning the B string) to tune the corresponding string. We’ll start by finding a source tone for which to match the E string. Once you have tuned the E string, go to the 5th fret of the same string (this is an A), strike and match the A string to the tone. Repeat the instructions mentioned above for the rest of the strings, but remember our source tone for the B string is at the 4th fret on the G string. Below I’ve pasted two links to online tuners so you can tune your E string.

Note: You’ll notice I use the words ‘note’, ‘tone’, and ‘pitch’. Initially I had one way of thinking of these terms, but after some research I’ve found things not so clear-cut. Instead of going into detail here, I wrote an article on my site, which you can access at https://fretfuryguitarlessons.com/tone-vs-pitch-vs-note/.

I strongly advise you practice tuning the way I mention above because you’re training your ears, which is vital in music. Also, if you’re somewhere without a tuner, you can have a rough guess to what the E string should be and tune the guitar to itself. It may take some time before you can tune your guitar using the above method, and you don’t want to play an out of tune guitar so we can get around this problem two ways.

  1. The first way uses a chromatic tuner that you can either buy physically or download to your computer or phone. Here’s a link to a good online tuner http://www.proguitartuner.com/guitar-tuner/.

    To start you’ll need a microphone (this is built into physical tuners) or connection to plug an electric guitar into your tuner or computer. Once you have the tuner registering the sound of your guitar, strike the E string. The tuner will show the pitch of the string and how far away you are from ‘concert standard tuning’ of that pitch. For example, if you hit the E string and the tuner reads D, your string’s pitch is too low. What you must do is tune your string higher until the tuner says E, and then fine-tune until the guide sits in the middle. Now just do the same thing for every other string and your good to go.

  2. The second option is to use an app that plays a source tone for each string and you then match the corresponding string on your guitar to the source using your ear (this is a great precursor to the first tuning method, and it also lets you hear what each string should sound like). Music is a hearing art, so by learning to tune using your ears and not your eyes you are ingraining a seriously valuable skill into your musical mind. I have found a good tuner at this link http://www.gieson.com/Library/projects/utilities/tuner/.

    This method’s pretty simple, just play the string you want on the tuner, it will play a tone, and you match the corresponding string on your guitar to it by ear. On the same page, there’re good audio instructions on what you’re listening for when tuning by ear.

Essential Note Names

You already understand the importance of knowing the names of each string, and ultimately you need to know every note on the fretboard if you’re serious about guitar. Luckily, as this is a beginner’s course the task of learning the entire fretboard isn’t necessary at the moment.

Fig.2

String and Essential Note Names

Fretboard diagram with string and essential note names

For the sake of keeping things simple, the only other two notes I want you to memorize are the G and C notes at the 3rd fret of the E and A strings shown in fig.2 (take note of the fretboard inlay at the 3rd fret). The reason being when we learn the open chords they all have their root notes on the open strings except for C and G. If that doesn’t make sense don’t worry, it will when we learn our open chords. I know at the beginning everything can seem overwhelming, but please stick with it as the enjoyment from playing guitar is extraordinary.

Rhythm and Lead Guitar, and Technique

In this section, I want to discuss the different roles of guitar and the basic techniques involved in their execution.

If you’ve ever read the recording credits of an album before, you may have noticed someone taking credit for ‘lead’ and someone taking credit for ‘rhythm’. Basically, these are the two playing styles for guitar, albeit a massive generalization. Put simply, playing rhythm involves playing the chords and keeping the structure together while lead consists of playing melodies and solos over this. This is a gross exaggeration though; as they do meet in the middle and sometimes rhythm parts require melodic/single note lines (a lot of modern metal i.e. Lamb of God use this), and chordal ideas can be incorporated into solos.

As you’ve just read, these two styles aren’t exclusive and can lend themselves to each other, but for this course we’ll keep them separate and focus on rhythm. My reason being is that rhythm is the backbone to everything, and without it you’ll have nothing over which to play lead. If you’re good and can hear chord progressions in your head, you may be able to solo without accompaniment and sound good, but in the beginning stage, if you can’t play rhythm you can’t play lead. You can have rhythm without melodies but not the other way round; even melodies and solos have to have their notes in the right place.

I give my thoughts on these subjects in more depth on my website. You can read them through the following links.

https://fretfuryguitarlessons.com/lead-guitar/

https://fretfuryguitarlessons.com/rhythm-guitar/

Technique

Now I want to explain how we execute the two different types of playing. What I teach is pick (plectrum) playing, where you hold a triangle piece of plastic/metal to pick or strum the strings.

The technique we’re going to use here is the strumming technique, where we play a chord and strum across a number of strings to let the notes ring out. Unless you’re learning classical guitar, this will be where most people start. I’m not going to cover the finer details here as I have a section in this document devoted to strumming.

The other picking technique is when we pick one string and fret one note at a time (flat picking). It takes a bit of practice to gain the control to pick once per note, but in turn a new world will open up for your playing. Melodic lines, solos, and picking notes from chords (called playing an arpeggio) use flat picking. Metal and hard rock use this a lot as a rhythm technique, as consistent picking on one string (a pedal tone) is vital to the driving sound of these styles. My next free document will be an entry guide to playing lead guitar where I’ll go into more flat picking detail, and if you’re reading this because you’ve subscribed then I’ll keep you informed when the time comes.

Another picking technique I want to mention is finger style. Finger style uses your thumb and fingers to pluck the strings, and if you learn classical guitar it’s how you’ll play, although it’s also utilized in other styles. I play a tiny bit of finger style, but not enough to teach it properly. The beauty of finger style is the ability to pick and fret multiple notes at once, which opens up an incredible 3D kind of sound. If you’re interested I highly advise listening to Joe Pass. If you want to hear something sound like rhythm and lead played together then he’s the one.

There you have a basic breakdown of technique, there are more, but these are the core. If you can get your strumming and rhythm/timing down first, then picking single notes will happen much easier.

Reading Fretboard and Chord Diagrams, Charts, Tab, and Notation

Here, I’m going to introduce the different ways of reading guitar diagrams and music.

First I want to differentiate between ‘diagrams’ and ‘charts, tablature, and notation’. Diagrams show shapes on the fretboard such as chords and scales. Diagrams don’t represent music, but rather a map of where notes lie on the fretboard.

We use charts, tablature (tab), and notation to read music, so you can learn and play music from these.

Fretboard and Chord Diagrams

You have already encountered a fretboard diagram in the ‘orientation, and strings and tuning’ lessons. This diagram is usually (but not exclusively) laid horizontally.

Fig.3

C Major Triad Across the Fretboard

Diagram with the notes of C major layed across the fretboard

Fig.3 shows a fretboard diagram with the notes of C Major laid out. You don’t need to worry what this means at the moment as it’s a long-term concept I’ll cover later. The key here is to understand the concept of a fretboard diagram.

Fig.4

C Major (Open Position)

Chord diagram showing C major in open position

Fig.4 is a chord diagram. It looks similar to a fretboard diagram but only shows the fingering for one chord shape. In my experience, chord diagrams are more often than not shown vertically. To envision this, imagine you’re viewing your fretboard as if the guitar sits in a stand. This is not always the case; chord diagrams also lay horizontally, but I will present them vertically. It’s really easy so don’t worry, you’ll instantly know upon seeing different diagrams which way they’re orientated.

Looking at fig.4, you’ll notice the C Major chord in the open position. The numbers show which fingers to use (fig.5 shows finger numbering), and the red dots represent the root note of the chord. If you look closely, you’ll notice the black line at the top; this is the nut of the guitar and the smaller circles above it mean to play those strings as open. Also notice the ‘x’ which means you don’t play the E string with the chord.

Fig.5

Finger Numbers

Illustration of a hand showing finger numbers as they relate to guitar

If you were playing chords higher up the neck, you wouldn’t have the nut or the open strings (you may have the ‘do not play’ string). Fig.6 shows the same shaped C Major chord but an octave higher; notice how the numbers to the left show the fret numbers, and the curved line representing a barre at the 12th fret.

Fig.6

C Major (C Form Barre Chord)

Chord diagram showing a C major, C form, barre chord

You’ll learn about these chords later, so don’t worry if you don’t understand what I’m talking about when I say C Major. Also, barre chords are a long-term concept I’ll cover, but for the sake of getting you up and running, we’re first going to use open chords.

Chord Charts

The terms ‘chart’ and ‘diagram’ are interchanged quite loosely when referring to the diagrams in the previous section. I tend to use both terms and I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, but for the sake of this course we’ll describe a chord chart as a sheet of music showing a guitarist what chords to play, and when to change them in a song.

In order to read charts, you’ll need a decent vocabulary of chords because they don’t show you how to play the chord (voicing). What they do is give you the outline of a song, what chords to play, and when to play them. There’s not a lot of detail, so how a guitarist voices their chords is up to them; however, specific strumming patterns can be displayed as rhythm notation.

Fig.7

II-V-I-VI Chord Progression

Chord chart showing a II-V-I-VI chord progression

Fig.7 shows a II-V-I-VI chord progression strumming ¼ notes and changing chords at the start of each measure. The chords are written in short hand; Dm7 = D Minor 7, G7 = G Dominant 7, Cmaj7 = C Major 7, and A7b9 = A Dominant 7 Flat 9.

In this course, you’ll learn to read from chord charts. The chords and chord progression shown in this example are not for beginners, but don’t worry I’ll teach you from the beginning. If you don’t understand any of the terminology, that’s okay as I’ll cover this before we start reading these. Again, just try to understand the basic concept and it will become clearer as we progress.

Guitar Tablature (Tab) and Standard Notation

Note: In order to learn quickly, the easiest thing to do is use chord charts. I explain tab and notation here to give you an idea of all the ways you can read music, but we won’t do anything with them here. Once you get through the short-term tasks you can come back with a better understanding and have a try at these.

Fig.8

Guitar Tablature

A music staff showing guitar tablature and standard notation

If you can recall in the ‘orientation’ lesson I mention the way we view the guitar is the same as how we read tab. The bottom line represents the thick E string and the top line the thin E string.

Each line on the tab staff represents a string, and each number a fret position to place your fingers. Also shown is the traditional rhythm notation, so guitar tab not only shows where to place your fingers but also how to strum, pluck or pick the piece in time.

Fig.8 shows four different voicings of C Major played using whole notes. (note the traditional notation above)

Standard Notation

Reading traditional sheet music is the hardest way to read guitar music. The reason being you can play the same note in different places on the fretboard. As far as sight-reading I’m no good myself; however, I studied music at university and had to analyse scores, so I understand a little about traditional notation.

When reading notation every line and space represents a note, so starting from the bottom line and counting every space and line to the top we have EFGABCDEF. This layout of the staff only applies to the treble clef, and the funny looking G at the start of the first measure represents this.

Looking again at fig.8, note the dots on each line and space. The chords are all C Major but use different voicings. Even though they all look different, we only play three notes (C, E, and G), just in different orders and octaves.

You’ll notice some notes are too high or low for the staff, and the little lines above or below the staff represent these. We call these ledger lines, and they just carry on from the main staff in chromatic order.