“Music is the last true voice of the human spirit. It can go beyond language, beyond age, and beyond color straight to the mind and heart of all people.” - Ben Harper
The musical instrument market is growing and more and more people are choosing to learn a musical instrument. You won’t necessarily change the world by learning the guitar.
There are several stages to becoming a guitar player and the first consideration is the type of music you like and would like to play. If you’re interested in rock music, you can learn on an electric guitar or a folk acoustic guitar.
That said, it also completely depends on the style of rock music you’re interested in! From Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton, it’s often a couple of chords that make all the difference.
Some Advice for Starting with Rock Guitar
Before you start performing your first solo or lick, using effects pedals and distortion, you need to know a few important things about rock guitar, what makes it different to other styles, and how it's played.
The First Thing to Consider: The Pick
Choose a hard pointed plectrum. When you hit a string, it twists. A flexible pick tends to twist more. It’ll start to bend on the string, drastically increasing the action time. A hard plectrum twists less and therefore reduces the action time, The pointed end will give you more precision and it will also reduce how much the plectrum rubs against the string.
The Position of the Pick
The orientation of the pick is also important. In fact, how you hold your plectrum is one of the most important guitar techniques, especially when it comes to strumming or playing a guitar solo or lick.
You need to reduce the attack time on fast rhythms commonly found in rock, hard rock and metal music. It should be angled at around 45° from the direction you’re playing. This is great for playing guitar solos and a single string.
How to Position Your Hand
The position of your right hand, if you’re right-handed, or left hand, if you’re left-handed is essential. You need to place it near the bridge in order to reduce the vibration on the string and gain more precision.
In rock rhythms, you often dampen the noise from the strings by placing your palm on the string by the bridge. It’s all in the wrist. Your right arm shouldn’t move. That’s why you need a supple wrist for quick movements without cramping up.
You also need to pay attention to striking the strings with a constant force and making a clean sound.
Find guitar lessons for beginners to help get you started on your way to rock legend!
Step 1: Learn the Notes of the Guitar
Get yourself a tuner or ask your guitar tutor or another guitarist you know what the notes on a guitar are.
Tuning a guitar isn’t always easy when you first start, but it’s essential. In fact, unless you're a world-famous musician, you're probably going to have to tune your own instrument.
You’ll see that your guitar has six strings and each is usually tuned to the following note (there are other tunings):
- The first string is the thinnest. It’s the string at the bottom of the guitar and the furthest away from you. This is tuned to High E.
- The second string is tuned to B.
- The third is the G string.
- The fourth string is a D.
- The fifth is A.
- The sixth and thickest string is Low E.
For rock rhythms, have a look at the two thickest strings. Here are the different notes to play:
- On the sixth string:
- Open: Low E
- 1st fret: F
- 3rd fret: G
- 5th fret: A
- 7th fret: B
- 8th fret: C
- 10th fret: D
- 12th fret: E
- 5th string:
- Open: A
- 2nd fret: B
- 3rd fret: C
- 5th fret: D
- 7th fret: E
- 8th fret: F
- 10th fret: G
- 12th fret: A
In folk-rock, rockabilly, or rock ‘n’ roll, sharps and flats are also used.
Pop quiz: what chords do jazz guitarists generally play?
A sharp is a semitone higher. This is one fret higher on a guitar (moving towards the bridge). A flat is a semitone lower. This is a fret lower on the guitar (moving towards the head).
Step 2: Guitar Power Chords
In electric guitar lessons, you’ll definitely learn about using power chords or fifth chords. These are used frequently in rock music chord progressions and can be played anywhere on the neck, which is great for beginners.
Power chords are simple chords as they use just two notes whereas other chords can use up to six. They aren’t as rich as some other chords but they’re interesting for playing songs with a certain sound.
The power comes from the sounds these chords make. They’re used in blues rock, hard rock, grunge, and metal. There’s nothing better than playing a simple power chord. You just have to remember the shape you make with your hand and you can play it anywhere on the neck.
The root note is played on one of the last three strings (the deepest strings). You can pay them on the other strings but the sound will be too high-pitched. The second note will be played on the next string up and two frets higher. The first note is played with the index and the second with the ring finger.
There is a way to add the octave: You’ll play three notes but you’ll only really hear two because the third is the same note as the first. The octave is played with your pinky.
Remember: when playing power chords on the D string, the third string is 3 frets higher than the root rather than 2.
Step 3: Playing Riffs on the Guitar
A riff is a melodic and rhythmic musical phrase which is repeated throughout a song. It comes from the term “refrain”. It tends to last between 1 and 8 measures.
To play a rock riff (or any other guitar riff for that matter), it’s important that you pay attention to a number of elements:
- Placing your fingers in the right place.
- Positioning your fingers at the right time.
- Knowing the notes in the melody: this will make it easier to play the right notes at the right time.
- Moving from one string to another without playing any wrong notes.
- Playing notes correctly by pressing down close to the fret.
Synchronising your right and left hands, pressing down on a fret as you hit the string. To master guitar riffs, you should go step-by-step before attempting your favourite riff.
Start by playing a single note until you’ve mastered playing it. This is a very good way to improve your musicality and your objective is to make a clear and precise note. The second step is to play several notes on a single string to improve your dexterity and coordination. Finally, move to another string.
Working on a riff is similar: start off slowly and learn the notes rather than focusing on the melody until you have them in your muscle memory. Playing a riff in time is easier with a metronome.
Easy Riffs for the Guitar
- Rolling Stones - Satisfaction
- White Stripes - Seven Nation Army
- The Beatles - Day Tripper
- Deep Purple - Smoke on the Water
- Ozzy Osbourne - Crazy Train
- Lili Wood & The Prick - Prayer C
- Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Why play only others' music when you could find out how you can compose music for the guitar!
Step 4: The Minor Pentatonic Scale on Guitar
This is often the first scale guitarists learn as it’s very common in rock and blues music. Penta means five and tonic means note. A pentatonic scale, therefore, includes just 5 notes. While there are many pentatonic scales, most guitarists will be familiar with the pentatonic minor scale in particular. It’s used very commonly in solos and improvisation. Listen to:
- Led Zeppelin - Stairway to Heaven (A minor pentatonic)
- Metallic - Nothing Else Matters (E minor pentatonic)
The pentatonic minor scale is easy to remember, easy to play and can be used almost anywhere. It’s used in punk rock, funk, and blues. It’s called a minor scale because the third is a minor.
Rock Guitar Vocabulary
If you’re teaching yourself how to play the guitar, you’ll need to be familiar with some of the commonly used vocabulary. We've also included a glossary in our other articles on the guitar so make sure you read them all!
This is a chord where a finger is used to press down on all the strings on a given fret.
This is a graphic representation of the music to play. You don’t need to be able to read sheet music to read tablature.
Now learn how you can play different styles of music on your guitar...