How To Play Electric Guitar

learning electric guitar

So, you want to play electric guitar? Maybe you’ve got a guitar as a gift or you just fancy learning a new skill. Well, congratulations, you’re in the right place. In this article, you will learn:

  • 5 essential items that all beginners must own when learning electric guitar. 
  • A 10-step guide on how to learn electric guitar as quickly as possible. 
  • How to maximise your learning progress with 4 epic guitar hacks. 

What is an electric guitar?

Differing from acoustic’s, electric guitars need to be plugged into an amplifier to hear the full benefits of their sound. Some famous electric guitarists include Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend and John Mayer. 

If you want a full list of the best electric guitarists of all time, then check out this article by Rolling Stone magazine: 100 Greatest Guitarists – Rolling Stone

Why should you learn electric guitar?

Learning a musical instrument is scientifically proven to improve your mental health. It can be inspiring, motivating and most importantly fun. 

But don’t just take our word for it, check out this article by The Guardian: Want to ‘train your brain’? Forget apps, learn a musical instrument

Furthermore, is there anything cooler than playing electric guitars and pretending to be your favourite rock star?

Is electric guitar hard to learn?

Just like most skills, it can be difficult to learn how to play electric or acoustic guitar. 

It will take many years and consistent practice. 

However, we firmly believe that playing acoustic or electric guitar will enhance your life for the better, regardless of your age or ability. 

What equipment do you need to learn to play electric guitar?

Before you get started with electric guitar lessons, you need to make sure you have the right equipment. Let’s take a look at some of the main things you need when you start playing guitar.

Electric Guitars

Getting a new guitar is always an exciting prospect. However, having a decent electric guitar can make or break your experience as a guitar learner. 

There are so many options available on the market, but we believe the best beginner guitars are as follows:

Want to learn more about the best beginner guitar here? Then check out this article.

Guitar Tuner

A tuner does what it says on the tin, it helps keep your guitar in tune. It doesn’t matter how good your electric guitar is, if it’s not in tune, you will sound awful. Having a decent tuner is essential when learning. Here’s a list of some of our favourites:

If you want to learn more about the best tuners, then check out this article.

Guitar Amp

When it comes to choosing an amp, there are a few basic things to consider. In our opinion, every beginner amp should have these features as a bare minimum:

  • Two channels. (Clean and Distorted).
  • Gain and volume control.
  • A bass, middle and treble control.
  • Headphone output. 
  • Aux in so you can plug your phone or device in to play along to tracks.  

Having each of these features will give you the best possible chance when learning.

Some of our favourite beginner electric guitar amps include:

Guitar Leads.

A guitar lead/instrument cable connects your guitar to the amp. It does this by transferring electrical signals through the cable and then to the amplifier. There are lots of great guitar leads, here are some of our favourites:

Guitar Picks

Learning how to use a guitar pick is an essential part of learning to play electric guitar. A ‘pick’ is a small piece of plastic which is used to play the guitar strings. Some of our favourite picks include:

If you want to learn how to hold a guitar pick, check out this article here.

Guitar Straps

A strap is a long piece of material (fabric or leather) which can be attached to the strap buttons on the guitar. It looks like this:

guitar strap

Having a guitar strap will help keep your guitar in place and is extremely useful for posture and keeping your playing position in check. 

How To Learn Guitar In 10 Easy Steps

Now we’ve learned about what you need when starting, let’s learn more about electric guitar.

Step 1 – Learn The Parts of The Guitar

The first thing you must learn when learning guitar is the parts of the guitar.

Headstock & Tuning Pegs

A guitar headstock is situated at the top of the guitar’s body. This is where the tuning pegs, tuning nut and the guitar’s logo are placed.

The tuning pegs change the pitch of the strings and can be turned to be tighter or looser and the nut holds the strings in place. 

Headstock & Tuning Pegs

Neck & Frets

The neck is where you will be placing your fingers when playing chords or single notes. The neck is the longest part of the guitar. 

Within the neck, we also have the frets. These are the small rectangles which break the guitar up into separate sections. 

Playing each fret will give you a different note, the more you learn guitar, the more you’ll discover about these notes. 

Neck & Frets

Body, Bridge & Whammy Bar

The body is the main part of the electric guitar, this is where the strings, pickups and controls sit. This part of the guitar sits just below your strumming arm.

The bridge is the metal block which sits at the bottom of the guitar, this holds the strings in place. Some bridges also have a ‘whammy’ bar, this is used to change the pitch of the strings. 

Here’s a great example of Eddie Van Halen using his bar to great effect: Eddie Van Halen – Beat It Solo

Body, Bridge & Whammy Bar

Guitar Strings

This is probably the part of the electric guitar that you already know. The strings are what give the guitar it’s overall sound. 

Without electric guitar strings, the instrument would be nothing. 

On the guitar, there are six strings, and we name these EADGBE from top to bottom.

Guitar Strings

Pickups

The pickups allow electric guitars to be amplified. A pickup picks up the string vibrations, which then drives electrical signals through a cable into an amplifier. There are two common types of pickups, these are humbuckers and single coils.

  • A humbucker has a thick, rich sound which is great for rock music. These are usually seen on Gibson type guitars. 
Pickups
  • A single coil has a thinner, spanky sound. These are great for genres such as funk, blues or country, although have also been used for rock music too. 
Pickups

As well as having different types of pickup, the position of your pickups will affect the sound. 

  • A pickup in the neck position has a warm, dark sound which works perfectly if you want to create a smooth sound. 
  • A pickup in the bridge position is much brighter and has a lot more treble frequencies. This is great if you want to create a sound with more edge and bite.  
  • A pickup in the middle position of the guitar has a pure tone which provides a balance between warm and sparkling tones. 

Pickup Selector

A pickup selector is used to switch between each individual pickup on a guitar. The two most common pickup selectors are a 3-way switch and a 5-way switch. 

This can provide you with a variety of different tones on the instrument and give you exactly what you’re looking for as a guitar player. 

Pickup Selector

Volume & Tone Controls

A volume control controls the overall volume of your guitar. As a general rule, you always want this one turned up! However, it’s useful when you want to quickly turn off your guitar. 

A tone control controls the amount of treble in your guitar sound. Want your guitar to sound warm and wooly? Turn your tone control off. 

Want it to sound bright and present? Turn it all the way up. 

Volume & Tone Controls

Input Jack

This is where you plug your guitar cable in. On some guitars, it sits on the guitar body. On others it’s on the side of the guitar by the strap button. 

Input Jack

Step 2 – Learn How To Use Your Guitar Amp 

When learning how to use your guitar amp, it’s essential that you know how to manipulate each control. Having an understanding of this will allow you to have a great tone. 

Gain

The gain knob controls how much distortion or gain is in your signal. If you’re looking for a clean sound, keep this control at around 9 o’clock. If you want more distortion, turn it up!

Amp Channel Switch

Most amp channels usually have a small switch that will change between a clean or distortion channel on your amp. This is a must-have feature on any amp as it gives you access to a variety of guitar sounds. 

Bass

The bass knob controls the bass frequencies of your guitar sound. The more you turn this control up, the woolier your guitar sound will be. 

The more you turn it down, the thinner your guitar sound will be. 

Middle

The ‘middle’ knob controls how ‘honky’ your guitar sounds. ‘Mids’ are where guitar frequencies live, so it’s a vital part of any guitarist’s sound. 

Treble

The ‘treble’ knob controls how bright your guitar sounds. 

Volume

This controls how loud your overall signal is. You always want this knob turned up to full!

Volume

Tone Tip 

As a general rule, start with all of your knobs at 12 o’clock. Then from there, listen to the sound and see what needs to be adjusted. 

For example, if it sounds too distorted, turn the gain knob down. Or, if it doesn’t sound warm enough, turn the bass up. 

It’s crucial that you use your ears here and adjust to what you feel will sound good. 

Step 3 – Learn String Names, How To Tune Your Guitar, Frets & How To Read Guitar Music 

One of the most important parts about learning guitar is learning the string names. From left to right, the strings go like this:

  • Low E string. (6th string). 
  • A string. (5th string).
  • D string. (4th string).
  • G string. (3rd string).
  • B string. (2nd string).
  • E string. (1st string).

Once you know each string name, you then must learn how to tune each note. To keep your strings in tune, make sure you use a tuner and then tighten or loosen your strings to keep them in check. 

string

Next, you must learn each fret number. The fret next to the nut is fret 1 and then these ascend from that point. Most guitars usually have between 1 & 24 frets. 

fret number

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to know loads of music theory to learn guitar. However, you do need to learn how to read music and musical notation. The most common ways to read guitar music is by:

Step 4 – Learn To Hold A Guitar Pick & How To Fret Notes

Before you start fretting notes, it’s essential that you learn how to hold a pick. To do this, do the following:

  1. Do a thumbs up sign. 
  2. Place the pick on top of your index finger with the sharpest end pointing towards you. 
  3. Clamp your thumb down on top of the pick to hold it in place. 
holding pick

Then, once you can do this, place the pick against the string and push down against the string. It should ring out nice and clearly. 

One of the most important factors about playing electric guitar is learning how to fret notes. 

To begin with, do this:

  • Take your index finger on your left hand.
  • Place it on fret 1 on the high E. 
  • Squeeze your finger down and hold it in the middle of the fret.
  • Then with your strumming hand, pick that string. 

The note should ring out clearly, however, if it doesn’t, don’t worry. Learning to fret notes takes time. 

To get the perfect tone, keep working on your fretting skills and try lots of different frets on different strings. 

Step 5 – Learn Single Note Guitar Riffs

Once you can fret notes, the next step in your electric guitar journey is to learn single-note riffs. 

A ‘riff’ is a small repetitive piece of melodic music. Without riffs, popular music would be a dull place. 

Some common examples include, ‘Daytripper’ by The Beatles or ‘Sunshine of your love’ by Cream. 

Some of the top guitar riffs for beginner electric guitarists are:

Step 6 – Learn Power Chords & Open Chords

Learning basic chords is a key part of every guitarist’s journey. A good place to start when starting is to learn lots of different chords. The more chords you know, the more music you can play. We’re going to show you how to play the following open chords:

  • The G major chord.
  • The C major chord.
  • The E minor chord.
  • The D chord.

Here are the chord boxes for these chords:

chord boxes

However, all these chords are an essential part of your journey, it’s a simple fact that some chords sound better on an electric guitar. 

These chords are known as ‘power chords’ and are used predominantly in rock. Let’s check out the power barre chord versions of these chords.

power chord

If you’re playing electric guitar, you can use the power chords above instead of the open ones shown earlier. 

If you’re wondering about the ‘5’ next to the chord, this is simply another name for a power chord.

Step 7 – Learn Famous Riffs That Use Power Chords

One of the best ways to play the electric guitar is to play easy guitar songs. Not only does this help your technique as a guitarist, it also brings immense enjoyment to your practice. 

Now that you’ve spent some time learning power chords, you can now play songs which use these types of chords. 

There are loads of examples of these songs, but some of our favourites include:

All of these are fantastic songs and are great for developing strumming patterns, technique and repertoire.

Step 8 – Learn Scales

When learning to play the electric guitar, it’s hard not to want to dream about playing solos. Solos are lots of fun and are a key part of playing guitar. 

Solos are made up of notes from scales, often manipulated by putting the notes in a different order or by using different techniques. 

If you want to start playing electric guitar, you must learn scales. The best one to start with is the minor pentatonic. Here’s an example in the key of A.

scale

When playing this scale, make sure that each guitar string note rings out clearly. 

Step 9 – Learn To Improvise

Once you can play this scale, try and improvise with it, although this may seem like a daunting task, it’s actually easier than you might think. Here are some simple steps you can follow to help you with this:

  1. Pick a key. You’ve already learned the A minor pentatonic scale, so it makes sense to stick with the key of A minor.
  2. Find a backing track on YouTube. As we’re in the key of A minor, you’ll need to use an A minor backing track. Here’s one for you to try – A Minor Backing Track. 

Without going too far into music theory, can you see how the words ‘A minor pentatonic scale’ match with the ‘key of A minor’ and the ‘A minor’ backing track?

This is a really simple trick to use if you want to practice soloing in a specific key. Just match the type of scale you’re playing, to the type of key you want to play in. So for example, a B minor type scale will work over anything in the key of B minor. 

Don’t worry too much about this, it may take you a couple of read throughs to understand this, for now, just accept this for what it is and try and play along! 

Here are a couple of extra ideas you can use to get started with improvising.

  • Play long notes when you solo.
  • Play short notes.
  • Play long notes, then short notes. 
  • Play short notes, then long notes.
  • Pick 2-3 notes and repeat them. 
  • Use lots of space in your solo. 

Applying a couple of these tips will help you attempt to play guitar solos, give it a shot and see how you get on. 

Step 10 – Learn Licks

The final step is to learn guitar licks, a ‘lick’ is simply a small phrase that is used in a guitar solo. 

Learning licks will actually help you as an improviser, it will give you the tools to get started when you learn to play guitar. 

As well as this, they help you to sound good quickly. 

Here are a couple of basic licks in the key of A minor to get you started:

basic licks

Next Steps…

The above ten steps may take you a little while, it’s worth spending around 6-18 months to really get to grips with the above. These are just some basic ideas to get you started and inspired. 

Once you’ve done the above, try to aim for the following:

  • Learn major and minor chords in the open position. 
  • Learn major and minor barre chords. 
  • Learn your favourite electric guitar songs that have lead and rhythm guitar. 
  • Learn major scales, minor scales, major pentatonic and blues scales.

Doing this will keep you busy for months and will most importantly, turn you into a well rounded guitarist.

4 Top Tips For Becoming An Electric Guitar Master 

When learning electric guitar for the first time, it can often be very overwhelming. However, fear not, we’re going to share with you four of our best tips that will help you master the electric guitar in no time. 

Tip #1 – Learn Your Favourite Songs

The easiest and quickest way to learn guitar is to learn your favourite songs. Although this might sound unreachable at first, learning your favourite songs actually motivates and keeps you inspired as a guitarist. 

Forget about beginner nursery rhymes or songs that you don’t like, focus on songs that you do. 

But hang on, you’re probably thinking, “I’ve only just started playing electric guitar? How can I play like my heroes in such a short amount of time?” 

The secret to this is that there is always a simpler way to play your favourite song, whether that’s just playing the bass notes or jamming along to 2 or 3 chords. 

A good guitar teacher can help with this, but the overall message here is that whatever you learn, you’ll be learning what you want to learn and that will drive you to keep on making progress.

Tip #2 – Practice Every Day 

Practicing your instrument is the best way to improve on guitar, although that sounds obvious, it’s just a pure fact. 

However, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to play for six hours every day. Even if you manage five minutes, that’s better than zero minutes. 

When first learning, aim to pick up your guitar for at least a few minutes a day, if you can do more than that, great! 

Learning guitar is a new skill, so it’s extremely important that you keep your muscle memory engaged and practice regularly. 

Tip #3 – Get A Guitar Teacher

The best way to learn electric guitar is to get a guitar teacher. Having a decent teacher is guaranteed to help your guitar progress. 

A good guitar teacher will know how to move you forward and will make sure that you progress as quickly as possible. 

If you’re not sure how to find a guitar teacher, try looking online or go to your local music store and enquire. 

Tip #4 – Consider Online Learning Resources

If you want to learn to play electric guitar quickly, using the internet is a great choice. It allows you to play regularly and work at your own pace.  

There are tons of great free video tutorials available online. Some of our favourites include:

  • JustinGuitar.
  • National Guitar Academy.
  • TrueFire. 
  • Music Grotto. 

All of these sites have recognised tutors and offer great tuitional content either on YouTube or their own websites. 

However, one thing to bear in mind when searching YouTube is that there are lots of ‘guitar players’ on there, but not all of them are ‘guitar teachers’. 

What we mean by this is that not every person who posts a lesson on YouTube is a good teacher. 

When studying electric guitar, it’s so important that you have a decent teacher, they will iron 

out your mistakes and make you better as a musician. 

Acoustic vs Electric Guitar  – Which Is Better?

If you’re new to learning guitar, you may be wondering, which guitar is better? Both types of guitars are great for beginners, let’s look at the pros and cons of both. 

Pros – Electric Guitar

Here are some reasons why electrics, are epic:

  • They’re great for people who love rock.
  • It uses thinner strings than acoustic’s and are easier to play. 
  • The gaps between the strings are quite small, making them more accessible for people with smaller hands. 
  • They look epic. 

Cons – Electric Guitar

However, one of the downsides of this type of guitar is:

  • You need more equipment to make it work such as an amp, lead and strap. 
  • There are more controls on this instrument than on an acoustic guitar. 
  • They’re more expensive than acoustic guitars. 

Pros – Acoustic Guitars

Learning acoustic guitar is a fantastic choice for beginners, here’s why:

  • Perfect for 90% of music. 
  • They’re relatively inexpensive. 
  • There’s a large gap between each string, meaning if you have larger hands they’re easier to manage than an electric. 
  • You don’t need extra equipment such as an amp or lead to make them work. 
  • They’re more portable than electric’s

Cons – Acoustic Guitars

However, it’s not all sunshine and flowers for acoustics, let’s check out some cons.

  • The strings are harder to play than electric ones. 
  • They’re not as comfortable to play as electric axes. 

Overall, when choosing your first guitar, just go with the one that you think sounds, looks and feels the best to you. If you follow these tips, you won’t go far wrong on your guitar journey.