When people think about acoustic guitar, they might think about intimate or stripped-down genres of music. An acoustic guitar is capable of many genres with its unique voice. Though simple in design, the sight of frets and strings might overwhelm beginners. Follow along if you’re looking to get started playing the acoustic guitar!
Unlike electric guitars, the acoustic guitar generates its sound using only the vibration of strings as they resonate with the instrument’s body. Especially with acoustics, the type of wood used to make the guitar, the strings, and the guitar’s shape all play a vital role in how the guitar sounds.
There are typically two kinds of acoustic guitars. For the beginner, selecting which of the two is best for you depends on the genre of music you want to play.
For those who want to learn classical guitar, flamenco, or more traditional music, the nylon string guitar or classical guitar is the best option.
For those who want to play rock, blues, or country songs on guitar, a steel-string acoustic guitar is a great option.
These genre suggestions are not hard and fast rules, as each acoustic has a unique voice in various genres. These guidelines are here to help you narrow your choices when you select your guitar.
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Parts of the Guitar
Whether classical or steel-string acoustic, the parts that make the guitar are the same.
You will want to know the guitar parts’ names if you take guitar lessons, as your guitar teacher will likely refer to parts of the guitar during their instruction. Knowing the terms is a crucial part of learning how to play the acoustic guitar.
It’s also essential to know some of the specific parts’ names so that if you ever need to replace, repair, or upgrade a particular part, you can communicate or search for that specific piece.
The body of the guitar is the largest part of the guitar that has a round shape. Guitars have different shapes that affect the sound. When you purchase your guitar, make sure that you sit down with it and try to hold it as if you were going to play it. Take note of which body shapes or sizes feel comfortable to you.
The sound hole is the round opening in the body. It is where the sound waves the guitar generates release into the air so you can hear it. When you begin to play the guitar with your guitar pick or with your fingers, you will typically play over the soundhole.
The bridge is where the strings attach to the body. This piece is responsible for anchoring the strings so they can be tightened and loosened when you tune your guitar.
Neck and Fretboard
The neck is the long and skinny piece of the guitar attached to the guitar’s body. On the neck are thin pieces of metal that separate the neck into different areas.
These metal pieces are called frets and are references to place your fingers for playing different notes and chords. The frets and dots on the guitar’s neck make what’s called the guitar’s fretboard.
Headstock and Machine Heads
Moving down the neck towards the pieces on the opposite side of the body, you will find the nut, headstock, machine heads, or tuners.
The headstock is the part of the guitar at the furthest end away from the body. The headstock anchors the strings on their side opposite the bridge and where the machine heads attach to the guitar.
Machine Heads or Tuners
Machine heads are responsible for tuning the guitar. Also called tuners, the guitar strings will create higher or lower notes as you turn these pieces in different directions.
Notes and Chords
The guitar is a versatile instrument, capable of making both notes and chords. There are letter names to help musicians communicate and identify what they want to play. Learning these names is a crucial part of learning how to play the acoustic guitar.
Open String Names
Sit with your guitar in your lap with the neck extending to your left. When you look down at your strings, you’ll see that they go from thicker strings at the top closest to you to thinner strings down at the bottom near your leg.
From bottom to top, or from thinnest to thickest, the guitar’s string names are E B G D A E.
When you learn the guitar, usually teachers and lessons refer to the high E-string, or the thinnest string at the bottom, as “high E” to differentiate it from the other E-string at the top. This high E-string is also called the first string. After that, the string is your B-string, called the second string, and so on until you reach the low E-string as the sixth string.
When you pluck any of the strings on your guitar by itself, you create a note. For example, when you play your high E-string on its own, you produce a note called E. Notes are singular entities in music that you hear on their own.
A chord is a group of notes played simultaneously. If you play your E, B, and G strings together, you have played a chord. Just like notes, chords have names so musicians can communicate and read them.
Together, guitarists use both notes and chords to play songs. Typically, beginners learn basic chords first before notes. Mastering the basics allows you to learn and write your songs later on.
How to Play the Acoustic Guitar
Now that you know how the acoustic guitar works, you can begin learning how to play your guitar. The skills you will need to play the guitar will take time for your body to get used to, as these are new intricate skills. In the beginning, you are likely to feel awkward but keep in mind that practice will help your body become more comfortable.
Most acoustic guitar players play while seated, but it is also possible to play while standing if you have a guitar strap attached.
If you are seated, your guitar mustn’t be angled away from you so that if you look down, all six strings are visible. Hold the guitar close to you so the bottom edge of the rests entirely on your leg. When you look straight down, you should only see the Low E-string.
While either seated or standing, keep your back straight with your shoulders relaxed. Position your arm around your guitar’s body between the body’s lower edge and right side so your hand can place itself on the strings in front of the soundhole.
Your left hand should anchor itself behind the neck with the other four fingers curved around the neck from the bottom so they can access the fretboard.
How to Fret
The frets on your guitar indicate higher or lower notes on your guitar.
To play specific notes, you will use your left hand’s fingers to hold down a string to a particular fret. To fret a string, you should use the tips of your index, ring, middle, or ring finger to hold the note.
Your guitar teacher or lessons will indicate your index finger as your first finger, your middle finger as your second finger, and so on until your pinky, which they call your fourth finger.
Different string thicknesses will require different amounts of pressure from your fingers. When you play a string while holding one of its frets, you will hear a clear pitch ring out if you apply enough pressure with your left hand.
If you hear a dead note or a buzzing sound, you need to apply more pressure until the note rings clear.
Using a Guitar Pick
Most beginners will learn their first chords and songs using a guitar pick.
Hold a guitar pick correctly, grip the pick with your thumb and index finger in your left hand with both fingers’ top part. The pointed end of your pick should stick out from the side of your fingers, creating a 90-degree angle.
To pick the strings, use your wrist to create the up and down movement while keeping pressure in both of your fingers so the strings ring out.
You can practice holding and using the guitar pick by holding it in your hands and using your wrist to guide the up and down motion. Practice using the pick to strum all six of your guitar strings together. Then, practice using your pick to strike one or two strings at a time.
Playing Your First Chord
Now that you know how to play acoustic guitar, you can begin to learn your first chord. A simple chord to start with is the E minor chord.
To play E minor, place your second (middle) finger on your A-string’s second fret and hold that note. Then, take your third (ring) finger and put it on your D-string’s second fret while keeping your first finger in place about it.
Strum all six strings together to play an E-minor chord. You’ll want to learn to read guitar chord charts properly as this will be an essential skill as you start to learn guitar.
From there, you’ll be able to start learning more chords and start learning to play your acoustic!
Find some more simple chords to play:
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As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
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