Playing Guitar
Playing
Guitar
by David Hodge
A member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
This book is dedicated to the memory of Thomas “Todd” Lange.
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Part 1
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Part 2
Publisher: Mike Sanders
Photographer: Ogden Gigli
Executive Managing Editor: Billy Fields
Book Designer: Brian Massey
Senior Acquisitions Editor: Tom Stevens
Cover Designer: William Thomas
Development Editor: John Etchison
Indexer: Johnna VanHoose Dinse
Warming Up to Play.................................................................... 19
The What and Where of Notes...............................................................................20
Getting in Tune........................................................................................................22
Holding the Guitar...................................................................................................24
The Right Hand........................................................................................................26
The Left Hand..........................................................................................................30
Reading Guitar Tablature.........................................................................................32
Reading Rhythm Notation.......................................................................................34
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Getting Your Gear.........................................................................3
The Guitar—Past and Present...................................................................................4
The Three Types of Guitars......................................................................................5
Getting Your Guitar...................................................................................................6
Classical Guitars..........................................................................................................8
Acoustic Guitars........................................................................................................10
Electric Guitars.........................................................................................................12
Changing Strings on Classical and Acoustic Guitars..............................................14
Changing Strings on Electric Guitars.....................................................................16
General Maintenance and Care................................................................................17
15 14 13 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
IDIOT’S GUIDES and Design are trademarks of Penguin
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Senior Production Editor/Proofreader:
Janette Lynn
Contents
Part 3
Getting Good with Rhythm............................................................ 37
Your First Easy Chords.............................................................................................38
More Easy Chords.................................................................................................... 40
Making Chord Changes in Rhythm....................................................................... 44
Root Notes and the “Bass/Strum”........................................................................... 48
Practice: Root Notes and Bass/Strum......................................................................50
Alternating Bass........................................................................................................52
Practice: Alternating Bass with Chord Changes.....................................................54
Practice: Alternating Bass Line................................................................................56
Strumming Eighth Notes.........................................................................................58
Practice: Eighth Note Strumming.......................................................................... 60
Contents
Practice: Alternating Bass with Eighth Note Strum...............................................62
Simple Syncopation.................................................................................................. 64
Introducing Suspended Chords................................................................................65
Practice: Syncopation and Suspended Chords........................................................ 66
Practice: Syncopated Strumming.............................................................................68
Taking a Rest.............................................................................................................70
Combining Alternating Bass, Syncopation, and Rests............................................71
Practice: Rests, Alternating Bass, and Syncopation.................................................72
Strumming Sixteenth Notes.....................................................................................74
Practice: A Little Island Music.................................................................................76
Triplets and Swing Rhythms............................................................................. 78
Double Stops and Shuffles....................................................................................... 80
Practice: Shuffle Style.............................................................................................. 84
C and G Chords........................................................................................................86
Practice: C and G Chord Changes.......................................................................... 88
Walking Bass Lines.................................................................................................. 90
Practice: Walking Bass Lines...................................................................................92
3/4 Timing................................................................................................................ 94
Slash Chords..............................................................................................................96
Practice: Slash Chords...............................................................................................98
Practice: 3/4 Time and Slash Chords.....................................................................100
Part 4
Growing Beyond the Beginner Stage............................................ 103
Half-Barre Chords..................................................................................................104
Practice: Half-Barre Chords...................................................................................106
Practice: Song with F Chord..................................................................................108
Percussive Strumming and String Muting............................................................ 110
Left-Hand String Muting....................................................................................... 111
Practice: Palm Muting............................................................................................112
Practice: Percussive Strumming Techniques......................................................... 114
Playing Arpeggios................................................................................................... 116
Practice: Arpeggios with Chords Aadd9 and E7................................................... 118
iv
Idiot’s Guides: Playing Guitar
Practice: Songs with Arpeggios..............................................................................120
Basic Fingerpicking.................................................................................................122
Practice: Two Easy Classical Studies......................................................................124
Introduction to Travis-Style Fingerpicking...........................................................126
Practice: Basic Travis-Style Fingerpicking............................................................128
Practice: Basic Travis-Style Fingerpicking with Pinching....................................130
Hammer-ons and Pull-offs.....................................................................................132
Strumming and Picking Hammer-ons and Pull-offs............................................134
Practice: Hammer-ons and Pull-offs.....................................................................136
Slides and Bends......................................................................................................138
Practice: Slides and Bends.......................................................................................140
Practice: All Four Slurs...........................................................................................142
Part 5
Adding Theory to Your Playing.................................................... 145
The Major Scale......................................................................................................146
Intervals...................................................................................................................147
How Chords Are Formed.......................................................................................148
Power Chords and Suspended Chords...................................................................150
Practice: Various 5 Chords and Suspended Chords..............................................152
Seventh Chords.......................................................................................................154
Practice: Various Seventh Chords..........................................................................156
Really Fancy Chords...............................................................................................158
Practice: Various Fancy Chords..............................................................................160
Full Barre Chords....................................................................................................162
Practice: Full Barre Chords....................................................................................166
Creating Different Chord Voicings........................................................................168
Practice: Various Chord Voicings........................................................................... 170
Keys, Key Signatures, and the Circle of Fifths.....................................................172
Diatonic Chords and Transposing......................................................................... 174
Using a Capo........................................................................................................... 176
Practice: Song for Two Guitars.............................................................................. 178
Playing with a Slide.................................................................................................182
Contents
v
Introduction
Alternate Tuning.....................................................................................................184
Practice: Double Drop D Tuning...........................................................................186
Practice: Celtic Song in DADGAD Tuning..........................................................188
Practice: Song in Unusual Alternate Tuning.........................................................190
Open Tuning...........................................................................................................192
Practice: Open G Tuning.......................................................................................194
Practice: Rock Song in Open G Tuning................................................................196
Practice: Hawaiian Slack-key Style in Open G Tuning........................................198
Practice: Open D Tuning...................................................................................... 200
Practice: Fingerstyle in Open D Tuning...............................................................202
Practice: Blues Song in Open D Tuning with Slide..............................................204
Crosspicking............................................................................................................206
Practice: Focusing on Crosspicking.......................................................................208
Creating Fills........................................................................................................... 210
Practice: Fills Within a Song.................................................................................212
Chord Melody......................................................................................................... 214
Practice: Simple Chord Melody.............................................................................. 216
Getting Fancy with Chord Melody....................................................................... 218
Practice: Fancy Chord Melody...............................................................................220
Playing in a Group..................................................................................................222
Practice: Playing in a Group—Second Guitar......................................................224
Appendixes
Glossary...................................................................................................................226
Chord Charts...........................................................................................................232
For Further Study...................................................................................................236
Index........................................................................................................................238
Making music on the guitar may seem nothing short of magical to you. Guitarists seem to create
emotions out of sound when they play—the harplike notes of a lullaby; the sad bending notes of a
blues song; the pulsing, hard-edged drive of a rock anthem; or the cocky twang of a country tune.
Whatever kind of music you enjoy, you can play it on a guitar. You can strum chords to sing over.
You can fingerpick mesmerizing melodies and harmonies and bass lines. You can beat out exciting
dance rhythms with your fingertips.
Learning to play the guitar is not hard. The basics of playing are the same no matter what type
of guitar you have or what type of music you want to play. You don’t even have to be able to read
music.
Idiot’s Guide: Playing Guitar is designed to get you started playing guitar right away, even if you’ve
never even held a guitar before. You’ll get a thorough step-by-step rundown of all the fundamentals
of playing, and then learn to expand on those basic skills with more intermediate guitar techniques.
If you’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar, then get ready to make some magic.
Get ready to make some music!
How This Book Is Organized
This book is divided into five parts:
Part 1, Getting Your Gear, introduces you to the guitar and helps you understand which one
might be best for you—at least as a first guitar! You’ll also learn to change your guitar’s strings and
some basic maintenance tips.
Part 2, Warming Up to Play, teaches you how to tune your guitar as well as how to hold it
properly to get the best playing out of both your left and right hand.
Part 3, Getting Good with Rhythm, gives you a solid foundation in the basics of making,
strumming, and changing chords.
Part 4, Growing Beyond the Beginner Stage, builds on the skills you picked up in Part 3. Here
you’ll get introduced to playing half-barre chords and different styles of fingerpicking in addition
to left-hand slurring techniques such as hammer-ons and pull-offs. Your guitar playing will take a
huge leap forward.
Part 5, Adding Theory to Your Playing, helps you take your skills even further. You’ll learn
about using capos and transposing, explore different guitar tunings, and discover some alternative
picking styles.
Introduction
You’ll also find that almost every topic in Parts 3, 4, and 5 contains numerous musical examples and
exercises, all designed specifically for this book to help you learn quickly and easily. Plus you’ll get
a number of songs that serve as examples for the different ideas and techniques you read about. In
fact, all the songs incorporate parts of the accompanying exercise as part of the arrangement. You’ll
find these bits taken from the exercises color-coded into the music of the songs.
Due to copyright issues, all the songs you’ll find in Idiot’s Guide: Playing Guitar are traditional songs
in the public domain. But each song has also been arranged specifically for this book in order to
create fun, musically interesting pieces for you to play and enjoy.
Finally, as always, I have to thank the people who do so much to inspire and motivate me on a
daily basis: Paul Hackett, the creator of Guitar Noise (www.guitarnoise.com); my youngest brother,
Tom; and my great friends Laura Pager and Greg Nease, whose hands also are literally all over this
book—that’s him posing for all the chord charts and fretboard photos.
And to Karen Berger (who took the photo for Part 1 and Gene Autry’s guitar), no amount of thanks
will ever be enough. Fortunately, I have a lifetime to keep giving them to you.
But Wait! There’s More! Throughout this book you’ll find songs and exercises with links to online audio tracks. Wherever
you see the headphones icon, point your browser to idiotsguides.com/playingguitar, click on the
appropriate track, and listen to the sample exactly as it should be played!
All these recordings have been produced professionally in a studio in order to give them the best
possible audio quality. Thanks to Todd Mack and Will Curtiss of Off the Beat-n-Track Studio in
Sheffield, Massachusetts, for recording, mixing, and mastering the audio; and special thanks to my
good friend Nick Torres for his great singing on many of these songs.
Acknowledgments
As always, my first thanks go to my terrific agent, Marilyn Allen, for thinking of me when this
project came up.
A huge thank you to the team at Alpha Books, with special acknowledgment to Tom Stevens and
John Etchison, and especially to Brian Massey, who created the art design and whose ideas have
shaped this book’s tutorial philosophy.
The exceptionally precise and clean photographs for the chord fingerings, as well as most of the
other photos, are the work of photographer Ogden Gigli (www.ogdengigli.com), for whom there
is not enough praise. Ogden pulled off the almost impossible task of recreating images from the
guitarist’s perspective and made this book even better than we all thought possible.
I also would like to thank John Reichert for use of his photo on the “Playing in a Group” pages.
viii
Idiot’s Guides: Playing Guitar
Introduction
1
The Guitar—Past and Present
The Three Types of Guitars
Most guitars can be put into one of three distinct categories: classical, acoustic, and electric. There are,
of course, exceptions, not to mention many different subcategories within each type.
Today’s guitars come from a very long family tree, dating back
beyond the Scandinavian lutes and the Arabic ouds of the eighth
century. During the Renaissance, guitars were much smaller, with
very thin necks sporting eight to ten gut strings, usually set in pairs,
or “courses.” Still, just as today, they were both strummed to provide
rhythmic accompaniment and plucked to create musical melodies.
It’s important to note here that you can play almost any kind of music on any kind of guitar. You
just have to know that the music you make is going to sound different depending on the guitar you
use to play it.
Classical guitars have nylon strings
and are used to play classical music or
flamenco music (there are flamenco
guitars, too, which are smaller, lighter
versions of the classical). But you’ll
also hear them in many other musical
genres, such as jazz and Latin music.
In the 1800s, guitars began to look a lot more recognizable as
guitars, with six strings and larger bodies. The designs of Antonio de
Torres, in particular, led to the instrument we call the modern-day
classical guitar.
While Torres was creating guitars in his native Spain, Christian
Frederick Martin was designing and building guitars in Nazareth,
Pennsylvania. And in the 1890s, Orville Gibson, who had no
formal luthier training, manufactured guitars at his home
workshop in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Acoustic or steel-string guitars are
far and away the most popular of guitars, and there isn’t a musical genre in
which you won’t hear someone playing
one. While classical guitars are almost
all identical in overall appearance and
shape, acoustic guitars come in many
different subcategories.
The strength of these American designers’ guitars proved to
be a match made in heaven for the steel strings that were being
introduced to the world at the turn of the twentieth century.
Classical
Acoustic
Electric
Electric guitars are the brash kids of the family. They come in two main types: solid body and
hollow (or semi-hollow) body. It’s impossible to think of music without electric guitars. You’ll hear
them in rock, blues, jazz, country, and just about any other type of music you can think of. Electric
guitars usually have very narrow fingerboards, and the strings are much lighter than those of an
acoustic.
This Panormo from 1836 shares
many similarities with today’s
classical guitars.
This 1950’s steel-string acoustic guitar was
played by legendary American folk singer
Gene Autry.
4
Part 1: Getting Your Gear
It’s a common debate among guitarists as to whether it’s best to learn on a classical, an acoustic, or
an electric, and there are good arguments for each type of guitar. Ultimately, though, you should
figure out what kind of guitar will make you happy, excited, and eager to play every day, through
the good, the getting better, and the great days of practicing ahead of you. If you think you’ve made
a bad choice of guitars, then you’re not going to play it, and that would be a shame—not to mention
a waste of a good guitar.
Plus, remember that your first guitar is very probably going to be just that—the first of many you’ll
play and enjoy throughout your lifetime.
The Three Types of Guitars
5
Getting Your Guitar
Also keep in mind that your new guitar is probably going to be only part of your purchase. You’re
going to want to get a case. Cases are often, but not always, included in the price of a guitar, so
make certain before you buy your instrument whether or not a case comes with it.
Just as people choose to play the guitar for many reasons, there are all sorts of guitars to choose
from. If you think there’s only one “right” guitar for you, you might miss out on many that will
make beautiful music with you.
Whether you play sitting or standing, it’s good to have a guitar strap if you’re going with an
acoustic or electric guitar. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to have picks (and extra picks) as well as a
spare set of strings when you’re just starting out.
You want a guitar to fit you like a shoe does (or should!). Many people assume that they can just
sit down and play any guitar, but beginners have to take a lot of things into account. The first is
comfort. You may never have played a guitar before. You may never have held a guitar before. But
you certainly know what it’s like to be uncomfortable—and you really want to play attention to that
when you’re trying out guitars.
If you buy an electric guitar, you’re going to need an amplifier. Electric guitars (and acousticelectric guitars) also need a cable (often called a “cord” or a “lead”) to connect the guitar to the
amplifier.
This is even more important if you’re planning to buy a guitar online. If you’ve never tried to even
hold a guitar before, you could end up ordering something that you cannot play, and instead of
looking at other guitars you might just give up the instrument. You owe it to yourself to get your
hands on as many different types of guitars as you can, just to see what works for you in terms of
the instrument’s size and shape.
Make sure you can both stand and sit comfortably with the guitar. Can you easily
reach the frets of the neck with the fingertips of your left hand? Is the neck
smooth, or can you feel sharp edges of the frets as you slide your hand along?
While sitting, can you strum and pick the strings with your right
hand without making your right arm uncomfortable?
If at all possible, bring a friend who plays guitar
along with you when you shop. Initially, you want to try
out whichever instruments strike your fancy. If you are
able to pare down your choices to a handful, then
have your friend play each one while you listen.
Don’t even look at the guitar while it’s being
played; just listen to what it sounds like. Because
this is what you’re going to sound like.
And make sure your friend (or the store
salesperson if you’re on your own) plays the sort of
thing you’ll be playing as a beginner—simple strummed
chords for a start. If your friend plays something very
fancy, you’ll focus on the fancy playing and won’t even
notice the different sounds and tonal qualities each
guitar has.
6
Part 1: Getting Your Gear
A tuner is essential and will last you a lifetime if you treat it well, although you will need to replace
the batteries from time to time. And a guitar stand is certainly worth thinking about adding to the
list, as are both a music stand and a metronome. If you’ve decided on a classical guitar, check out a
footstool so you can play even more comfortably.
Most people play guitar right-handed—even many lefties, such as Paul Simon, David Byrne, and
Mark Knopfler. If you’re left-handed and undecided on which way to play, give yourself a simple
test: without thinking about it, pick up a broom or a yardstick and pretend to play. Even playing “air
guitar” will work. Take note of which hand is doing the strumming. Chances are likely it will be
your left, and if so you’ll want to seriously consider getting a left-handed guitar. Rhythm is essential
to playing, and most guitarists prefer to leave that important job to their dominant hand.
If you buy your guitar at a store, be
sure to have it set-up before it leaves
the shop. A set-up for a guitar is a bit
like a tune-up for a car. The guitar tech
will check your instrument’s action
and intonation, as well as make sure
there are no fretting problems. Often
you’ll get a cleaning and a fresh set of
strings as well (although they may ask
you to pay for the strings). Ask if your
store includes a set-up as part of the
cost when buying a new instrument, as
many do.
Assess if you play left-handed or right-handed by noting which hand
instinctively strums the guitar.
Getting Your Guitar
7
Classical Guitars
Guitar Woods
Classical guitars are the grand patriarch of the guitar family, direct descendants of the first six-string
guitars that began to appear at the very end of the 1700s. Generally, they are slightly smaller than typical acoustic guitars (particularly the dreadnought style) but have a wider fingerboard, allowing for easy
spacing of fingers on the frets, and slightly shorter necks (the fingerboard joins the body at the twelfth
fret instead of the fourteenth, as most acoustics do).
Guitar Anatomy
Any guitar—classical, acoustic, or electric—can be broken down into three main parts: the headstock, the neck, and the body. All three types of guitars share many of the same parts, but each has
its noticeable differences as well.
Headstock
Tuning posts
Rosewood, mahogany, cherry, and maple are often used
for the back and sides of a guitar, while rosewood and
ebony are popular choices for the fretboard.
Flamenco Guitars
Most classical guitars have slotted
headstocks with tuning posts nestled
in the slots.
Tuning pegs
Frets
Thin metal wires set into the guitar’s neck. Placing
your fingers in the space between the frets creates
the different notes along each string.
Neck
Body
Most guitarists prefer their classical and acoustic guitars
to have “solid wood” tops, as opposed to wood laminates.
Traditionally, the tops of most acoustic guitars are spruce,
although the specific types of spruce can vary. Cedar
is also used for the tops of guitar bodies, particularly
on classical guitars and acoustic guitars marketed to
fingerpicking players. But cedar is softer than spruce and
scratches very easily.
The tuning pegs of classical
guitars typically come three to
a side. As you hold the guitar,
turn the pegs of the top row 
(outward) to raise the pitch and
 (inward) to lower the pitch.
The lower row of pegs will work
the same way.
Strings
They may look almost exactly like classical guitars, but
flamenco guitars are built with lighter, thinner tops to
give the instrument’s sound a bright percussive edge and
more volume than the typical classical guitar. The string
action (the height of the strings from the frets) is also set
lower than that of a classical guitar.
Many guitar manufacturers also produce “half-sized”
and “three-quarters sized” guitars, which are often
referred to as “student guitars.” Not that long ago
you could only find student guitars in the classical
style, but nowadays they come in acoustic and
electric models as well.
Classical guitars have nylon strings, as opposed to
the steel strings of acoustic and electric guitars.
Bridge and saddle
Anchors the strings to the guitar’s body and elevates the strings
off the body and neck of the guitar.
8
Part 1: Getting Your Gear
Ramirez 1880 flamenco guitar.
Classical Guitars
9
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