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Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know (PART I)

If You don’t know the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know, you might get a bit frustrated.

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player
Don’t lose you’re cool!

Whoa!  Before your guitar looks like this, GET HELP!!  The Top 10 things every guitar player should know is in this (and the next) blog entry!!  Knowing these 10 things will enable you to grow as a musician and a guitar player at a much faster rate.

It is impossible to just grab the guitar and play like [fill in the gap] but with a little bit of time and effort and the right direction, you can get very good very fast. Following the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know will accelerate your path to get there.  Let’s get started.

  1. Know your open String notes and how to tune

I don’t touch on this for a long time with my students because tuning can be daunting for a student.  It was for me.  It took a long while before I could tune.  Then I could only tune to other guitars, not keyboards.  Yes, I was that bad.  But I learned.

You might think this is unnecessary given the ease of access of tuners today.  By all means use one, I do.  But knowing the strings E, A, D, G, B, E and self tuning are critical things to know.  You need to develop your EAR, which takes time and practice.  The chart below shows how to tune the guitar to it’s other strings.

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player
Self Tuning

 

2. Know the “typical” open string chords

Not only are these the “beginner” chords, you simply cannot play many songs without them.  Open string chords are not just chords for people learning.  They have their own “ringing” quality.  They are different.  In fact, it’s why some people use capos to, in effect, move the end of the guitar up the neck so they keep playing these chords in the same way but higher pitched to suit their voice or the song.

Chords you should know are:

  • E Major
  • E Minor
  • G Major
  • C Major
  • D Major
  • D Minor
  • A Major
  • A Minor

There are more but that will get you very far.   I’m talking 8 chords to happiness here!

If you’ve played a bit, you’ll see some chords missing that you might think should be in that list, like F Major.  I cover that in Part II of this series.

NOTE:  chords that are Major chords are often referenced by their letter name alone.  D Major can be called just “D”.  Minors must always be noted as minor.

One last thing on this topic.  The student really needs to commit these chord forms to memory.  The first chord I teach is D major to any beginning student.  I once taught this young man (a very nice guy) who  just wouldn’t learn it.  And when we got to learning songs his refusal to memorize the chords slowed his progress because I would say “ok, this song starts on D major” and he’s always ask “What was D again?”

Don’t be *that* guy!

3. Know the Musical Alphabet

We’re not talking a lot here, only 7 notes.  But you need to know how those notes are spaced.

The distance of 2 frets on the guitar – say 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 5th fret – is a whole step, sometimes called a full step or full tone.  It’s just 2 frets.  1 to 3, 2 to 4, 3 to 5, etc.

The distance of 1 fret on the guitar – like 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 4th fret is a half step.  Or a semi step or semi tone.

So are musical alphabet is the following:

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   [then back to A]

7 notes!  Now here’s how you find them:

A -> B is a whole step.  6th string 5th fret to 6th String 7th fret

B -> C is a half step. 6th string 7th fret to 6th String 8th fret

C -> D is a whole step.  6th string 8th fret to 6th String 10th fret

D -> E is a whole step.  6th string 10th fret to 6th String 12th fret.  Your guitar may stop at the 12th fret.  So we’ll pick up E now at the 6th string open.

E -> F is a half step.  6th string open (no fingers on it – let it just ring) is E.  F will be on 6th string 1st fret.

Open strings confuse people, but think of it this way.  The nut is that white thing at the end of your fretboard:

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player
Guitar Nut

You know where the first fret is.  Looking at the picture here it is to the left of the nut.  Think of hitting an open string as if your finger was to the right of the nut.  If you’re going to go up one fret for a half step, you’ll now be on fret number 1, which is where F is.

F -> G is a whole step.  6th string 1st fret to 6th String 3rd fret

G -> A is a whole step.  6th string 3rd fret to 6th String 5th fret

You will have then completed the circle A to A.

4. Know what Sharps and Flats are

If you asked in #3 above “what about the notes in between the frets we played – like 6th string frets 2 and 4 and 6?”  This is the answer to that.

Simple but not “easy”.  A sharp (#) raises a note a half step.  So in our mapping of the natural (not sharped or flatted) notes in #3 above, we have:

6th String FRET

1    F

3   G

5   A

7   B

8   C

10   D

12 (OR OPEN)  E

But now let’s include sharps:

6th String FRET

1    F

2   F#

3   G

4   G#

5   A

6    A#

7   B

8   C

9   C#

10   D

11   D#

12 (OR OPEN)  E

Now for the “weird” part.  if you understand that sharps (#) raise a note a half step or one fret, what about the notes that are already a half step apart?  B to C and E to F are only half steps.  So that must mean there is no such thing as a B# or an E#?

No, there ARE B# and E# notes.  How do you play them?  Right where C and F are (8th fret and 1st fret respectively).

So yes, B# IS C natural.  E# IS F natural.  One note with 2 names is called enharmonic.  Not extremely important to know that word but extremely important to know what it means.

A Flat (b) lowers a note one half step.  So Fret 2 on the guitar (which was F# above) is now Gb.  We lower G on the 3rd fret one half step to be Gb on Fret 2:

6th String FRET

1    F

2   Gb

3   G

4   Ab

5   A

6    Bb

7   B

8   C

9   Db

10   D

11   Eb

And there’s  your musical alphabet.

5. Know the notes on the 5th and 6th Strings

Now a purist is going to say you should know all the notes.  Why are the 5th and 6th string more important?  Easy – it’s chords.

The open string chords mentioned above all look different.  E Major looks nothing like A Major which looks nothing like C Major which looks nothing like D Major.

That all changes with bar (sometimes called “barre”) chords.  Remember the picture of the nut above?  Well your fingers become a new, movable nut.

All bar chords come in “6th String” and “5th String” versions.  You can play the full version of the chord, or just the “bottom” part of it for “Power chords” which metal is extremely fond of.

From knowing that the 6th string open is E and the 5th string open is A, you can figure out where the notes are.  I recommend learning the natural notes first.  If you know A, B, C, D, E, F and G on both strings quickly by sight you are well on  your way to learning a plethora (or TON) of songs!

Knowing these chord forms is the 6th thing that every guitar player should know, but that’s in Part II of this blog.

You are half way there to knowing the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player should know!