In lesson #002, we had the opportunity to work on our picking hand technique.
Make no mistake – basic picking hand technique doesn’t take too long to develop, but it is far more important than most people tend to give it credit for!
But it’s also true that fretting hand technique is where a lot of the action happens. And in this lesson, we finally get to combine fretting hand technique with picking hand technique.
Your Fretting Hand
You’ve already had to learn a few conventions in terms of guitar anatomy, string names, guitar tablature, upstrokes / downstrokes, and more. But trust me when I say I’ve been going easy on you. There are just so many terms and techniques to cover!
Now we get to look at your fretting hand. While important, there isn’t much need to memorize any of this right now. Basically, if you gain a basic grasp of what’s covered here, you’re good.
So, your fretting hand is made up of a thumb and four fingers, right?
That basically means the naming convention for these fingers will be:
T = thumb
1 = index
2 = ring
3 = middle
4 = pinky
Fair warning – what finger to use and when often does not appear in guitar tablature, but it does sometimes.
In case you’re wondering, yes, you can fret notes with your thumb. Jimi Hendrix certainly did.
There’s more to fretting notes than meets the eye.
And this is crucial to know – we’re not trying to fret chords right now, or anything requiring more than one finger. We’ll get there, but right now, it’s important that we work on one finger at a time.
Anyway, you may recall the frets / fret wires discussed in lesson #001.
The idea is this – by fretting a string at a specific fret, you can produce different notes.
For instance, if you were to fret the first fret on the sixth string, you’d have an F. Although it is still the E string, because you’re fretting it at the first fret, the note becomes an F.
But how do you fret a note? There are some nuances that make it work.
First, let’s talk about positioning. To fret a note, your finger should be placed not on top of the fret, but right next to it, almost as if it’s hugging the fret.
Second, you must apply pressure to the string. The idea is to press and hold the string against the fretboard.
If the note is not sounding clearly when you play it, it’s either because your finger isn’t positioned correctly, you’re not applying enough finger to the string, or both.
At first, fretting notes will feel awkward. This is par for the course! You will get used to it if you keep working on it though.
The Major Scale on One String
Before we try anything too tricky, I always like to start off with something simple.
But now that you know how to fret notes, you’re ready to try your first scale. This scale is called the major scale. In this case, specifically, it’s the E major scale.
We can play the scale entirely on one string (laterally). For this example, we’ll be using the high E string only.
Since this is your first scale, I’ll be offering some suggestions as to what fingers to use on which frets. You don’t need to follow my suggestions exactly, but it would be wise to give each of your fingers a workout.
0 = no fretting required
2 = index
4 = ring
5 = pinky
7 = index (shift your hand up)
9 = middle
11 = pinky
12 = pinky
As with most things on the guitar, anything worth doing forwards is also worth doing backwards, so I’ve notated the exercise in both directions.
Oh, and remember alternate picking? Yeah, I suggest using that here…
The crazy thing about the pattern you just learned, though, is that you can use it on all the other strings too. It stays a major scale, just in a different key.
Remember the name of the strings? E, A, D, G, B, E. So that means if you played the same pattern on the second string, instead of the E major scale, you’d have the B major scale.
Your assignment for today is to play (and practice) the major scale pattern you just learned on every string.
Yes, that means all six strings on the guitar, from high E to low E. And it’s also recommended that you work your way back the other way, too, from low E to high E.
This exercise will teach you how to play the major scale on every string. That means you’ll know the pattern inside and out relatively quickly!
As a bonus, you’ll get better at switching between strings too. This may seem easy, but beginners do get stuck on this at first.
Always check to ensure your picking hand and fretting hand are lined up with each other for best results.
Just getting started? Hey, I know what you mean, but we’ve had a lot of concepts and technique to cover.
In the next lesson though? You’ll have the opportunity to play a lot more than you have so far.
So, practice lots, and I’ll see you back here for another lesson, alright?
For now, all you need to know is a) the horizontal lines represent the strings on your guitar, b) guitar tab is read left to right, and c) 0 means open string (meaning – play the open string without fretting it).
Basic Playing Technique
Not all of us were fortunate enough to be born with – or to have kept – both hands, eight fingers, and two thumbs. Not to worry, plenty of people have figured out how to play the guitar with some disadvantages.
Christian guitarist Phil Keaggy, for instance, is missing half of the middle finger on his right hand because of a water pump accident.
For all intents and purposes of this lesson, though, we’ll pretend like we have all limbs and extremities.
Picking Hand Technique
Let’s begin with the picking hand. If you’re right handed, this will be your right hand, and if you’re left-handed, this will be your left hand.
We’ll look at fingerpicking and other techniques later, but for the time being, it’s important that we learn how to use a guitar pick / plectrum and how to hold it.
A plectrum should be held between your index finger and thumb. The pick should be held close to the tip, and when your hand is in position, the tip should be pointed in the direction of the guitar you’re holding.
There are two types of picking. There are downstrokes and upstrokes.
First, let’s practice downstrokes on the sixth string (low E). We are working strictly on our picking hand technique right now, so there is no need to do anything with the other hand (your fretting) hand.
To play downstrokes, you’ll want to position your pick above the string.
Give this exercise a try:
For the time being, rhythm is not important. We simply want to practice our downstrokes.
Next, we’re going to do the same thing, except we’re going to practice our upstrokes. To play upstrokes, you’ll need to position your pick below the string you’re planning to play. But we’re still practicing using just one string, the low E string.
Give this exercise a try:
As I said in the first lesson, repetition is your friend. It’s recommended that you give each of these exercises the attention they deserve, and there is no law against practicing them dozens or even hundreds of times! It all depends on what rate you want to progress at.
“Alternate picking” may sound like an intimidating term, but it’s simply a combination of downstrokes and upstrokes.
Now, I’m not going to lie – this can be harder than it sounds. Because the idea is to alternate, back and forth, between downstrokes and upstrokes.
But this picking method is very efficient, and while it may seem unnatural at first, in time it will start to feel like second nature.
Let’s go back to the single note exercise we looked at earlier. This time, though, instead of playing just upstrokes or just downstrokes, the goal is to keep alternating between the two.
Here’s what that looks like:
Now, playing just one string is easy. But what happens when you begin incorporating the other strings?
Well, the long and short of it is that it can take some getting used to. All strings basically have the same spacing between them, but when you’re first getting started, you will likely need to keep an eye on your fretting hand to know which string you’re playing.
Which is why the following exercise is well worth your time.
Essentially, all we’re doing is practicing our alternate picking on all six strings. But this is a very important skill to master, for reasons already covered.
This is the trickiest thing we’re going to be working on in this lesson, so take your time, start slowly, and focus on good technique over speed.
Now that we’ve got your picking hand all warmed up, we’ve come to the end of another lesson!
The good news is you have some time to process what you’ve learned today before moving onto new concepts and techniques.
So, practice lots, and I’ll see you in the next lesson.
I know you’re probably eager to get started, but in this lesson, we’re not going to be playing the guitar just yet.
Don’t worry – this is not some kind of weird Mr. Miyagi thing – we just need to cover a few basics before we’re ready to start working on technique.
So, sit back, grab a cup of tea or coffee if you like, and we’ll breeze right through our first lesson.
3 Types of Guitars
There are many types of guitars out there, but for the intents and purposes of this lesson, there are only three types:
Steel-stringed acoustic guitar. This is your typical acoustic guitar. It comes with steel strings, and usually a pickguard around the sound hole too.
Nylon-stringed acoustic guitar. The main difference between a nylon-stringed instrument and steel-stringed instrument is the strings themselves (they have a softer feel to them). But another characteristic of a nylon-stringed acoustic guitar is that it usually has a wider neck.
Electric guitar. Most electric guitars do not come with sound holes and instead come with what are known as pickups. Electric guitars usually come with lighter strings than acoustic guitars and must be plugged in (if you want to unlock their full potential).
If you own a guitar already, there’s a good chance you own one of the above. They’re all a little different, and while we won’t be going in-depth now, we will be looking at some of the other differences momentarily.
Next, we need to look at…
Basic Guitar Anatomy
A guitar is made up of different parts, and each part has a name. Knowing these names is helpful when describing a specific part of a guitar.
Here is a crash course in guitar anatomy (you don’t need to know everything in the image yet – I cover what matters most below):
Head / headstock. Often features the branding or logo of the guitar maker. String posts, and sometimes string trees are attached to the head of the guitar as well.
Tuners / tuning keys / machine heads. Attached to the headstock. These are manipulated to tune the guitar. We won’t be looking at how to tune a guitar until later!
Nut. Between the headstock and the neck exists a piece of plastic, bone, brass, or graphite (often white in color, but sometimes not) with string grooves in it. This is the nut.
Neck. The neck of the guitar is where much of the action happens. The flat side of the neck is called the fingerboard.
Frets / fret wires. Small strips of metal (made of nickel, copper, and small amounts of lead, zinc, and cadmium) appear at certain intervals on the fingerboard. These are your frets.
Body. The body of the guitar is the largest section of the instrument. Sometimes thin, sometimes thick, it plays a big role in the sound of a guitar (especially with acoustic instruments).
Sound hole. Virtually every acoustic guitar comes with a sound hole. Careful not to drop your picks / plectrums in there! Most electric guitars do not come with sound holes.
Pickups. Instead of sound holes, electric guitars have pickups. These are what make it possible for you to plug your electric guitar into an amplifier and produce a sound. Many modern day acoustic guitars also come with pickups (in which case they’re considered acoustic-electric guitars).
Strings. Your guitar should have six strings.
Bridge. The bridge plays a similar role to the tuners / tuning keys / machine heads found on the head stock. It’s used to hold the strings in place on the other end of the guitar. Sometimes, electric guitars will have a stop tailpiece as well.
It’s okay if this doesn’t all sink in right now. What’s important is you begin referring to each section of the guitar by its name. As you keep practicing, it will only be a matter of time before you remember it all.
Pro tip: Playing the guitar, or learning an instrument in general, is all about repetition. So, get used to repeating a lot, especially if you want to keep improving as a guitarist.
The 6 Strings of a Guitar
If you have a “standard” guitar, it should have six strings. If it has fewer, it probably means you need to go to the local guitar store, buy the appropriate string or strings, and have them installed. Tuning and replacing strings is not covered in this lesson, but we’ll get there.
I follow a naming and numbering convention for each string that’s important to remember.