How to play guitar: tips for riot grrrls and women in rock

female rock musician

So you want to learn guitar? Best way to learn is to get started! Let’s look at guitar basics, choosing guitar lessons, buying your first guitar and writing your own material…

Getting a handle on guitar basics

  • If your fingernails are long, cut them – get used to it. They are going to need to stay very, very short for as long as you’re doing this.
  • Come to terms with the idea of constant pain. Your fingers will hurt until they develop fully formed callouses, which are the layers of dead skin required on fingertips to play without said pain. No pain, literally no gain here, I’m afraid.
  • Learning to play electric guitar? Get some earplugs if you want your ears to work past your twenties
  • Play what you listen to first, because that is the most rewarding thing
  • Get a simple book to learn basic techniques, literally any simple book will do, just so you don’t pick up any bad habits
  • You don’t always have to be plugged in to play if you play an electric guitar. You can practise just strumming along with telly or the radio just as well, while you get used to playing along with all sorts of different music
  • In two to three months you should be able to do this confidently.

Getting guitar lessons

If you’re happy that you’ve mastered the basics and you want to go on to play more complicated stuff, or to be able to write and play your own stuff, at this point you may well need some lessons. Shop around for a teacher as different people have different methods and theories about how people learn best – but then every pupil is going to be different too. You will find the one most suitable after you’ve spent some time looking, and absolutely do NOT stay with somebody because you have had one or two lessons with them. If they’re not right, they’re not right.

From there you can start to develop an individual sound, and begin to stretch yourself more. The way you listen to music will change the more you play, and this should inform your development as a guitarist. You will also be more understanding of others, because unless you just want to stay in your bedroom the whole time, you are going to have to play with and listen to other people, and many find this the hardest bit. Unless you just want to be Alanis Morissette.

Buying your first guitar

You can get a decent brand-new electric guitar for £150-£200 these days, and your local guitar shop will have starter packs which should all do the job. Ask in the shop, but the Yamaha Pacifica Pack is a good one to begin with. For something a bit more Nu metal, try an Ibanez pack.

Second-hand guitars are going to cost around £100, but if you’re going to check one out, take someone who knows a bit about them before you buy. There can be lots of things you will not notice which might be wrong, and many evil people who know lots frequently make money from people who know considerably less. Like you.

Writing your own material

When you get started, listen to people you like and try and work out why you like what they do and whether the same sound is what you want to create. Lots of people write songs in teams so you might like to try this with mates. First learn the rules, and then you can break them. And please, please do avoid cliches, they are the end of the line creatively.

From there you can write, record and publish stuff in your room: congratulations! You are the world’s newest singer/songwriter!

Finally, the one rule to remember is that there are no rules: do it the right way for you, and keep doing it if it makes you feel good!

If you want to know more about playing guitar, go check out