How to Teach Beginner Guitar

Even the greatest guitar players of all time were once beginners. While some were largely self-taught, others, like Kurt Cobian, took music lessons. 

But what makes for a good music lesson? 

And how can you translate your guitar knowledge into teachable skills passed on to new beginners? 

In this article, we will cover how to teach guitar to beginners. It’s a good idea to start with the basics before slowly adding more complex topics into the fold. That way, beginners can continuously build on the knowledge of the previous lesson and gain more skill. 

We will look at the different guitar parts, reading TABs and chords, basic riffs, open chords, strumming patterns, practice habits, songs for beginners, and mistakes to avoid when teaching beginners.

Start With The Guitar Basics

You have to start somewhere. And what better place to start than from the very beginning! The first thing a beginner guitar student needs to know is the parts of the guitar. This may seem self explanatory to some but it’s a great way for you, as the teacher, to gauge your student’s knowledge level coming into their first lesson.

Learning the names of the different guitar parts on both an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar will help your beginner student keep up with lingo. Cover basics like the neck, frets, the fretboard, pickups, the bridge, and other fundamentals to build up their knowledge.

Reading Sheet Music

Once your student has mastered the different parts of their guitar, you can then move on to reading sheet music. Guitar is somewhat unique in that there are three different ways of writing music for the instrument. Different ways will work better for different guitar players but it is a good idea to cover all three to give your beginner student a holistic understanding of reading music.

Standard Notation

Standard notation is what you are most likely to find in any given sheet music book. It is the more formal way to write guitar music. Your student might have their own book of music already, written in standard notation. Start by teaching your student how to read music in standard notation and help them familiarize themselves with the different symbols and scales.


Guitar TAB is another way to read guitar music. The TAB is short for tablature and refers to the placement of your fingers on the guitar as opposed to the notes. TABs still use different symbols that need to be understood in order to read correctly. TABs are often an easier way for beginners to learn finger placement.

Chord Diagrams

Finally, we have chord diagrams. Chord diagrams are visual representations of a guitar’s frets and the different chords that can be played. This is especially useful for beginners who want to learn to strum on their guitar and play a variety of chords. 

Teaching a beginner all three ways of reading guitar music will help them understand the nuances of guitar playing. Plus, once a student has learned all three, they can choose the sheet music style that works best for them.

Basic Guitar Riffs

Once your student is comfortable reading sheet music, you can start getting into some basic guitar riffs. This will help them feel more comfortable handling their instrument and will pave the way for them to find their rhythm. Work with your student on the proper finger placement and help them to follow a beat. It helps to have them practice finger exercises to strengthen the pads of their fingers and build up calluses. 

Learning a new instrument can be difficult and takes a lot of work at the beginning. Once a student can nail a guitar riff, they will start to see how much they have learned, giving them the confidence and motivation to continue practicing.

Open Chords

Learning riffs is fun but you should find a balance between teaching riffs and teaching chords. Chords are a big part of playing the guitar and they are a little more complicated than riffs which is why it’s a good idea to start with riffs and then move to chords. 

Open chords include Em, Am, C, D, G, E, A, and Dm. These eight open chords are a great place to start with a beginner guitar player as they are widely used in many guitar songs. Once your student has mastered these chords, they can begin to play easy songs using those chords.

Strumming Patterns

Now that your beginner student knows a few chords and riffs, it’s time to start strumming! Teach some easy strumming patterns and techniques to help your student get a feel for their instrument. Regular strumming practice will help your student build their rhythm and timing, which will come in handy when they start playing songs.

Practice Makes Perfect

It is impossible to be an amazing guitarist without any practice. As a teacher, you should instill a few good practicing habits in your beginner students to make sure they stick with it and continuously improve their skills. 

Here are a few good practice habits we recommend for beginners:

Set up a designated practice area in your home. Find a place that is spacious enough for you and your guitar. If you have room, find a private space where you won’t be distracted. 

Set aside time each day to practice. Even if you can only practice for a few minutes, it will help you feel more comfortable with the guitar. Short, but regular, practices are often better for beginners as opposed to long and vigorous practice sessions. 

Create a practice plan to help you stay on track. Designate specific times to specific guitar techniques. Your student could spend Mondays going over chords and Tuesday’s going over riffs, for example. Going into a practice with a set schedule will help them stay on track. 
Stick with it, even when it gets frustrating. The more you practice, the easier it will be. When you first learn anything, it won’t be easy. But time and effort goes a long way.

Learning Songs

Now for the moment most students have been waiting for! It’s time to learn a song (or two). With all the knowledge you have built up with your student, they are finally ready to learn to play a whole song on the guitar. Choose from a favorite song or select a song with an easier guitar piece to get started.

Learning a song on the guitar will put all of the cumulative knowledge and skills to the test for your beginner student. Make sure your student choses a song that they won’t mind listening to over and over again. They’ll be playing that song a lot in order to build up their skill.

A great way to teach a beginner how to play a song on the guitar is by splitting the song into manageable chunks. That way your student will be less overwhelmed by learning an entire song in one session. Chunk up the song and use your student’s preferred method of sheet music (standard, TAB, chord, or a combination) and start playing!

Here are a few guitar songs we recommend for beginners:

  • “What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes
  • “Love Me Do” by The Beatles
  • “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohan 
  • “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan

You’ll notice that these songs tend to have a slower, steady guitar part that repeats. That makes it much easier for a beginner to learn and practice over and over again. Even some of the most famous songs have very simple guitar parts!

Teaching Guitar – Mistakes to Avoid

Now that we’ve covered some tips and ideas for how to teach beginning guitar, let’s cover some mistakes you will want to avoid. If you are new to teaching the guitar, you’ll want to be aware of these common mistakes. But don’t worry, as common as these mistakes are, they are also easily avoidable!

Mistake #1: Teaching linearly 

Following a linear teaching method may work for subjects like math or science, but when it comes to playing an instrument, linear teaching will leave students feeling bored and unaccomplished. Teaching a student one skill at a time and waiting until they have perfected it to move on to the next one is not going to get that student very far. 

Instead, try teaching a variety of skills at the same time so that your student can learn multiple things at once and practice those skills in relation to one another. This will keep your student more engaged and motivated to continue practicing.

Mistake #2: Getting caught up in music theory

Music theory studies the concepts and methods that go into composing music. It can be boring to beginner students who just want to learn how to shred it on their guitar. Focusing too much on music theory at the very beginning can turn many students off of learning to play the guitar in the first place. 

Instead, try to get your student to play the guitar as soon as possible. This will get them engaged with the instrument from the get go and motivate them to keep up with their practice schedule, ultimately leading to better results.

Mistake #3: Not being prepared 

As a guitar teacher you should come prepared to each practice session with an agenda and a clearly planned out curriculum. Just like in school, students learn best with a set agenda and set goals to reach. As the instructor, it is your job to set those standards and communicate them to your student. This will help them prepare for lessons and will help them in their own personal practice too.

Conclusion – How to Teach Beginner Guitar

Teaching the guitar to a beginner can be fun and rewarding for everyone involved. But it is important to note that you need to have a game plan when it comes to lessons and practice sessions. Students should start by learning the basics of their instruments and each following practice should build on the lessons learned in the previous session. Building up skill and confidence will take time and lots and lots of practice. When done right, your beginner student will be a pro in no time.

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