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Start Playing Rock Guitar - 5 Easy Steps To Get You Rocking Out

Jan 27, 2008
If you love rock music, and have always wanted to be able to play some of your favorite songs on the guitar, but maybe you've found it difficult to get started, then here are 5 steps to help get you get going.

Step 1 - Choose Your Guitar & Amp

Of course, you can learn to play the guitar using any type of guitar, acoustic (classical/folk) or electric.

However, if you particularly want to start playing rock guitar, then an electric guitar is probably the best choice. The main reason for this is that guitarists in most rock bands use electric guitars, so from the start it's going to sound more like the music you want to play (after all, you're not looking to play 'Greensleeves', but more 'Green Day').

Another reason, which some people may debate, but I think that it's just easier on the fingers to start learning on an electric guitar, and that's less likely to put you off when you're just beginning.

As for the amplifier or 'amp', to start off, you don't need a huge stack, or a particularly powerful amp. A small practice amp (e.g. 10-20 Watts) can be sufficient to begin with. Most of these will have at least 2 different modes - 'clean' and 'distortion' (or this second one may be called 'drive'). The distortion mode is really the one you want to use, as this is used to some degree by many rock bands, and is the definitive 'rock guitar' sound. Even if at this point you don't know how to play anything, just plug the guitar in, select the distortion channel, and strum the open strings - chances are it sounds 'rock like' already!

Many music stores sell starter packages which include an electric guitar, practice amp and case, which can be great value when starting out.

Step 2 - Tune It!

An out of tune instrument can make even the best guitarist sound awful. Get into the habit of always tuning the guitar before you start playing or practicing. There are many different ways of tuning the guitar, but the most common one is called 'Standard Tuning', and this is the one used by most rock guitarists.

On this diagram of the guitar neck:

E -||--|--|--|--|--|-- (highest-sounding)
B -||--|--|--|--|-X|--
G -||--|--|--|-X|--|--
D -||--|--|--|--|-X|--
A -||--|--|--|--|-X|--
E -||--|--|--|--|-X|-- (lowest-sounding)

The lowest-sounding strings are shown at the bottom, and the highest-sounding at the top. The diagram shows the names of the notes for each string in Standard Tuning. Don't worry if you don't know the names of the notes, or can't read music. The most important thing to begin with, is just to tune the guitar strings relative to each other. Let's say we'll tune relative to the highest E string (top one in the diagram).

Play the B string on the 5th fret (X in the diagram) and at the same time play the open E string. In Standard tuning, these should be the same note, so if they don't sound the same, adjust the B string tuning until they match. Then carry on with the other pairs of strings. In each case you play the 5th fret on the lower string, against the sound of the open upper string. The only exception is the G string, where you play the 4th fret note - see the X's in the diagram.

Step 3 - The Power Chord

Okay, now the guitar is in tune (at least with itself), so you can start learning some rock chords. Most people start off by learning the open shape chords (C, D, G chords, etc), then move on to barre and other more complicated chord patterns. This is a perfectly acceptable way to learn, but to play most songs, you usually need at least 3 different chords, and the most frustrating thing is trying to switch your fingers from one chord shape to another. With some practice, this becomes quick and easy, but there is another way to approach it, which only involves learning one pattern.

That pattern is the 'Power Chord' pattern, and this can be used to play a large proportion of rock songs out there. Let's look at the G power chord pattern:

E -||--|--|--|--|--|-- (highest-sounding)
B -||--|--|--|--|--|--
G -||--|--|--|--|--|--
D -||--|--|--|--|5X|--
A -||--|--|--|--|4X|--
E -||--|--|1X|--|--|-- (lowest-sounding)

In this diagram, the X's show where to put your fingers (of your left hand usually) on the fretboard, and the number shows which finger to use where. So in this case, the first finger will go on the lowest string at the 3rd fret, then the 4th finger at the 5th fret, then finally the 5th finger at the 5th fret.

When forming this pattern, try to make each finger rest just behind the fret marker, and not be right in the middle, as this makes the notes sound more clearly (with less 'buzzing'). Try strumming the bottom 3 strings with your right hand, while holding down this pattern on the fretboard with your left. That is a G power chord. If your guitar strings are in tune as in step 2, and you have a distortion sound, then that should really sound like a rock chord.

Step 4 - Shift It Around

Now for the best bit - to play some songs right away you can use this same pattern, but play different chords with it. So, keeping your fingers in this pattern (1st, 4th and 5th fingers), try sliding it down 2 frets to play an F chord:

E -||--|--|--|--|--|-- (highest-sounding)
B -||--|--|--|--|--|--
G -||--|--|--|--|--|--
D -||--|--|5X|--|--|--
A -||--|--|4X|--|--|--
E -||1X|--|--|--|--|-- (lowest-sounding)

it's the same 'L' shape pattern as in Step 3, but you've just shifted it further down the fretboard. This is now an F power chord.

And now for another chord:

E -||--|--|--|--|--|-- (highest-sounding)
B -||--|--|--|--|--|--
G -||--|--|--|--|5X|--
D -||--|--|--|--|4X|--
A -||--|--|1X|--|--|--
E -||--|--|--|--|--|-- (lowest-sounding)

In this one, we've taken the original power chord from Step 3, and just shifted it across to start on the next string. This is now a C power chord. When strumming this one, try not to sound the bottom E string.

In all cases here, the pattern stays exactly the same, we've just changed which fret the 1st finger starts at, and on which string (E or A). Since the frets on the guitar aren't evenly spaced, you'll have to adjust your fingers slightly when moving it up or down.

This diagram shows where you have to start with your 1st finger to play different power chords:

E -||--|--|--|--|--|--|-- (highest-sounding)
B -||--|--|--|--|--|--|--
G -||--|--|--|--|--|--|--
D -||--|--|--|--|--|--|--
A -||Bb|-B|-C|C#|-D|Eb|-E
E -||-F|F#|-G|G#|-A|Bb|-B (lowest-sounding)

so, for example, if you wanted to play a D chord rather than a C as we did above, then just start with your 1st finger on the A string at the 5th fret.

With this chart, and the chords to your favorite rock song, you can use the one pattern to play it all the way through!

Step 5 - Practice!

It will still take some practice so that you can form the pattern shown above, and move it around easily between frets. However, for now, there's only one pattern to learn, and you can concentrate on making the notes sound clearly by holding them down firmly behind the frets with your left hand on the fretboard, and trying to strum only the strings you're holding down.

Once you've got the hang of this shape, and can play it easily at different frets, then you should be able to play a few different rock songs. From there, the sky is the limit, there are many more techniques and things to learn as you progress with your guitar playing.

I know that this technique works well, as recently my 11-year old son came to me, and wanted to learn to play a song on the guitar called 'Teenage Kicks'. He hadn't really played guitar at all until then. I showed him the power chord shapes here, and within half an hour, he was playing the basics of this song, much to his delight!
About the Author
Chris Davies is a guitarist with many years experience. To see a version of this article with accompanying pictures, and also see reviews on the best online guitar lessons and get FREE sample lessons from them, visit this site now: http://www.TheGuitarLessonReview.com/
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