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By Rhys Lett

5 Steps to Mastering Playing Guitar

Playing guitar only requires learning 5 things!! In this article we will discuss what you need to know to master the guitar. Understanding the five techniques will help you learn the guitar faster. This article will hopefully help you as a student but is also aimed at guitar teachers to consider what we need to teach our students.

If you have further questions about ideas and topics raised in this article please contact us via the contact form on the right or calling Rhys on 0421 705 150.

Playing Guitar – Notes

The easiest thing to do on a guitar is to play a note. A note is a single sound and can be done just by plucking a single string. Notes are used to create scales, riffs and solos.

In our music system there 12 different sounds. These sounds are then labelled by letter names A, B, C, D, E, F and G. The remaining 5 sounds are labelled as sharps or flats. A sharp symbol signals to a musician to go one note higher, while the flat shows to go one note lower.

While physically the easiest thing to do when playing guitar, notes are also used in the most complicated musical activity of improvising. This is how guitar solos are created, through taking notes of a scale and making up a musical tune on the spot.

Playing Guitar – Power Chords

Guitar is one of the few instruments that can play chords. Chords are a combination of notes all played at once. The easiest type of chord to play on a guitar is a power chord. They are physically less demanding to play than other chords. Power chords are most often played by using first and third fingers on the left hand.

While these chords are physically easier to play than open and barre chords they are not just for beginner guitarists. Power chords are used by all hard rock, punk, heavy metal and pop guitarists. If you are learning Green Day, Blink 182 and Foo Fighters style songs you will be mostly playing power chords.

I have generally found students can be comfortable performing power chord songs to perfection within 2-3 weeks of learning this technique.

For further insight into power chords read our earlier blog post.

Playing Guitar – Open Chords

When people imagine what guitarists do the typical image would be playing guitar strumming open chords. While power chords have one shape to learn, there are 10 basic open chord shapes to learn. We will now need to use all four fingers on the left hand to form these shapes. When teaching open chords I have students learn these 10 shapes

A     A minor     C      D      D minor      E       E minor       F         G        Cadd9

To learn how to play each of these chords look up our post about learning open chords.

The technique is named open chords as the chord must contain open strings. There are greater challenges in learning open chords in comparison to power chord playing. The first thing you should aim to do is learn the shapes. In order to play songs with open chords you must be able to change from one chord to the next instantly. There is no time to think. Allow 4 weeks to master the shapes, making sure you understand which strings should be played. Also make sure each the note of each string rings clearly.

While power chords are fairly instantly rewarding, learning to play open chords is a grinding period full of frustration. Allow yourself a 2-3 month time period of constantly changing between a series of different chord progressions. Changing chords on guitar is a muscle memory activity. Our hands need time to be familiar with the crazy shapes we are trying to bend them into.

Some songs I suggest to learn to help you with open chords are:

Last Kiss – Pearl Jam.

Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers.

Knockin on Heavens Door – Bob Dylan.

3am – Matchbox 20.

Every Rose Has It’s Thorn – Poison.

Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison.

Save Tonight – Eagle Eye Cherry.

Take it Easy – The Eagles.

Playing Guitar – Barre Chords

If your up to learning barre chords you are well on your way to being a confident guitarist. This is your big final hurdle. A barre chord involves using your first finger across the strings to create a moveable nut. You then place a chord in front of this barre.  Unlike open chords where you have to learn 10 different shapes, there are only 4 barre chords shapes to learn. You must understand how to play major and minor chords on 6th string and 5th string. It is also very helpful if you have memorized where the notes are on the 6th string and 5th string.

It is necessary to learn barre chords to be able to play a major and minor chord for all 12 notes in our system. After learning these chords there will not be many rock or pop songs that you won’t be able to play.

You can view our lesson on playing barre chords here.

Playing Guitar – Jazz Chords

Jazz chords are a big miscellaneous tub of every other chord shape. Jazz chords are easily identified as they have numbers in the chord name. Earlier I mentioned the C add9 when learning open chords. This is actually a jazz chord. Jazz chords are used in substitution for normal major and minor chords. So in this case someone can play a C add9 instead of playing a C chord. These chord labels would be jazz chords:

Fmaj7 = F major 7.

D7 = D dominant 7 (not the same as a major 7).

Gm7 = G minor 7

You can get away with not playing these chords if you aren’t sure how. Simply remove the number and play the remaining major or minor chord. The numbers add a certain colour to the sound of the chord so they are important but not always necessary to play.


Learn these 5 techniques and you will be playing guitar like a pro in no time at all.