Touch of Hum | How to Play Acoustic Guitar: 6 Exercises to Get You Started
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How to Play Acoustic Guitar: 6 Exercises to Get You Started

How to Play Acoustic Guitar: 6 Exercises to Get You Started

The guitar can be a very intimidating instrument to those with little musical experience. In fact, it can even seem somewhat daunting to seasoned musicians as well, depending on who you ask.

With all of the different frets, chords, strings, tuning pegs, and everything else, you may be wondering to yourself:“How am I ever supposed to remember all of this while learning to play the guitar?”

When first starting out as a beginner, you are absolutely certain to be a bit awkward on the fretboard (even to strum the odd note), as the finger movements used to play guitar are not the same movements your hands encounter in everyday life. You may feel that expensive lessons are the only option, but that isn’t necessarily the case.

Training your fingers to move effortlessly across the strings takes plenty of hard work and training and a commitment to the art, but if you stick with it and put in your hours, you will be more than repaid with a rewarding and exciting experience.

Below, we have assembled a list of the top exercises for aspiring guitarists on the rise so you won’t feel quite so lost starting out.

Just follow these steps and you’ll get those fingers blistered in no time—to play the guitar will then soon become second nature.

Before You Start Playing the Guitar

Before you actually get down and start jamming, there are a couple of things to know. In order to play your best guitar, you must not only practice all the tech work. You must also take care of your physical body, too.

Make sure to warm up your hands before even touching your instrument to prevent and tendon pulls or cramping.

Also, it is very important to note that the position of your body plays a huge role in the ease of playing your guitar. When you’re practicing your notes, practice your posture as well. We’ll take a closer look at what we’re talking about below.

1)  Physically Stretch Your Fingers 

As we said, when you play the acoustic guitar, you need to train your fingers to move in ways they’d never dreamed of before, so you must get them physically prepared for hard work.

With all of the twisting, independent articulations, and squeezing of the strings your digits are going to end up aching regardless, so you might as well give them the head-start they need.

By starting with just a simple massage of the joints and forearms then moving into light stretching, you can avoid the potential for injury in your bones and connective tissues.

These types of activities will no doubt become familiar and commonplace for your hands over time and once that happens you probably won’t need to do this exercise as often, but when starting out it’s a great idea to stretch and activate the nerves in your fingers, creating a stronger connection from your brain, and inducing a higher level of control while you tickle the strings.

2)  Your Posture is Important 

Posture is Important

Often, you will see a novice guitarist sitting with their legs crossed, hugged up against the back of their dreadnought, head slumped over in a strained attempt to see what their fingers are doing on the fretboard.

This is the absolutely incorrect posture for playing guitar.

What happens here is that, by using poor posture, the arm of your chord hand will twist improperly causing the incorrect amount of arch for your fingers to press down on the frets firmly. When this happens, you will receive a very noticeable fret buzz or even snubbing.

Fret buzz and snubbing (by accident) are the enemies of the guitarist and sure indicators of a novice at work. By practicing correct posture, you will not only prevent injury but will conserve your energy so it can be best utilized elsewhere in your playing.

Proper positioning includes everything from the seat you’re sitting into the arches of your fingers and, if practiced, will provide excellent note clarity and your chords will ring through much more precisely.

Correct Guitar Posture


Dexterity Exercises

Regularly doing dexterity exercises has plenty of benefits for the new—or experienced—guitarist. Not only does it help to improve hand-eye coordination and improve your new set of motor skills, but it also helps to force your memory into remembering all of the little technical movements and nuances of the fretboard so you can eventually focus more on the music—not on the mechanics.

3)  1-2-3-4

This exercise is practiced by assigning each of your fingers to the first four frets in order and then playing one note at a time moving from high E upwards to low E.

So, you will use your fingers 1-2-3-4, using finger numbers to correspond with frets 1-2-3-4.  None of your fingers will move to a different fret.

Starting on the low E string moving in succession from fret 1 to 4, you will play each string with fingers 1, 2, 3, and 4.  Do this with each string as many times as you need to, moving to each of the different strings. Make sense?

Example of 1-2-3-4 Technique


You can start doing this exercise with a simple downstroke of the pick, but eventually when you are beginning to feel more comfortable can upgrade a bit to the up-down stroke or what is known as “alternate picking.”

What this task is doing is teaching your body muscle memory for the feel if the guitar (i.e. the width of the frets, distances between strings, amount of pressure, and associating a sound with a string).

If you are a complete novice, this step may become very frustrating, but just stick with it and you’ll be amazed at how quickly your skills and speed will improve.

4)  Fret Spacing Exercises

One of the most difficult issues for the up-and-comer is teaching the fingers how to stretch across frets and produce crisp, clear sound without buzz.

There are many methods for acquiring this knowledge which require movement of the fingers up and down the fretboard, practicing lateral movement, and increasing the space between each finger.

As frets are progressive, the further you move your hand from the body of the guitar toward the headstock, the more difficult the stretch will become as the frets grow wider apart.

The hand does not normally move in this way and it will take tons of practice to master as you have to condition the muscle in the hand and forearm. So, until it is trained all the way into where it is second nature, this technique is going to be one of your best friends.

Example of Fret Spacing Exercises 


5)  Learn Your Chords

Especially when just first starting out, you should probably not expect to show up at your first jam session and start riffing away like the newest Santana on the scene.

In reality, you will likely be struggling to get your chord progression down and strumming along with the rhythm section, taking the opportunity to get the feel of how different musicians groove together which in itself is a spectacular display.

There’s nothing more off-putting than thinking you know your chords, and when you finally get the chance to showcase them, you realize you only learned them individually but not how to utilize them when needed. This is why you must really know at least a base set of chords inside and out, forward and back.

Where the exercises listed above will aid in your finger dexterity, the only thing that will get your chords in order is practicing exactly that. Just like before, the more you do it, the more automatic it will become, and then you will almost never have to think about it again.

The most common chords to start with on guitar are known as “open” chords and are C, A, G, E, D, F, A-minor (Am), Em, and Dm.

Depending on who you ask, you will get different responses on which to start with—and that’s OK. Some people only start with three chords so it just all depends on your flavor. Every now and then, you will also run into a guitar lesson online or wherever that will utilize different beginner chords.So, when you see those, add them right in!

In any case, knowing a strong base set of chords enables you to play any number of songs you might come across, and once you have them down, it will seem like almost nothing to add another chord to the portfolio.

Some Basic Chords


6)  Learn to Transition Your Chords Smoothly

Congratulations!  Now that you’ve mastered your chord set of choice, you are ready to put those skills to work.

It is not enough to only know how to play notes and chords simply one at a time so you will need to learn how to link them together and make beautiful music.

Quick and smooth transitions and complete knowledge of fretting are the marks of the master.  You probably won’t get them right at first but if you really force yourself to switch—even if you are unsure of the accuracy of your next chord—just keep doing it and it will all fall into place.


It is important to remember that when you decide to take the plunge and immerse yourself fully in all that is guitar, it is going to take hard work and perseverance to make it happen.

As with any new challenge, this is the way it is. So, if you find yourself needing to set it down and take a break now and then don’t worry—it happens to everyone.

Keep going through these practices, as you continue to learn you will discover little tricks and tips and be able to make it completely your own!

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