An Introduction to the Electric Guitar


Tools for Success

Music Stand Shop Now >
Each guitar student will need a music stand to hold sheet music, lesson materials or workbooks. A music stand helps to maintain proper posture and is easily adjustable for sitting and standing.

Tuner Shop Now >
A guitar turner is a simple accessory that students can use to tune their guitar. Sometimes guitars need to be tuned multiple times throughout lessons and practice sessions, so a tuner will make this task quick and easy.

Strings Shop Now >
The strings on a guitar do not last forever! Keep extra strings on hand in order to change strings regularly or to replace a broken string.

Guitar Picks Shop Now >
Purchase several guitar picks so that they are on hand at all times. Picks are usually made of plastic and come in many thicknesses. Try several to see what feels like the best option. Beginning guitar players often favor thin picks.

Guitar Stand Shop Now >
There’s no safer way to put down a guitar than to rest it on a guitar stand. Having a stand available during practicing keeps the guitar from being bumped, dropped or damaged.

Guitar Case Shop Now >
Put the guitar in a case or gig bag when bringing it to lessons or performances. A hard-sided case offers the most protection, but many softer “gig bags" are easy to carry and offer additional storage options like pockets and flaps.

Amplification Shop Now >
An electric guitar requires amplification for you to hear its sound. A small guitar amplifier, or practice amp, is perfect for beginners while a larger one might be needed for performance use. Some amplifiers have headphone jacks which allow students to practice almost silently.

Guitar Cable Shop Now >
You’ll need a cable to plug the guitar into the amplifier. An instrument cable with 1/4-inch plugs made for electric guitar use is perfect.

Soft Cloth and Guitar Polish Shop Now >
It’s a good idea to have a soft cloth on hand to wipe down the guitar’s neck and body before it’s put away. If there are a lot of fingerprints, guitar polish can help remove them. Wiping down strings after playing can also help them last longer.

Guitar Strap Shop Now >
A guitar strap holds the guitar while players perform standing up. Choose an adjustable strap with a hole on both ends that attaches to the guitar’s strap pegs.

Basic Guitar Maintenance


It’s a good idea to put the guitar into a case when it’s not in use. A hard-sided case with a snug fit will go a long way to prevent damage. A soft-sided case is also helpful for transporting the guitar to and from lessons or gigs. Make sure the case is closed and latched every time so that the guitar doesn’t fall out accidentally.

It’s best to store the guitar in a location that doesn’t experience wide temperature and humidity variations. Avoid damp basements and hot attics. Guitars can also be damaged if they are left in a hot or cold car.

Cleaning the Guitar
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of wiping down the body and neck of the guitar each time it is put away for the day. This will help keep the finish fingerprint free. Try also using guitar polish once a week or so to remove oils and keep it shining.

Every day when finished playing, wipe down the guitar strings with a soft cloth in order to remove the oils left behind by fingers. This will help the strings last longer.


Changing strings
After a bit of use, guitar strings may start to sound dull or will become difficult to tune. Changing the strings every month or so will help keep the tone bright and full and will make it easier to keep the guitar in tune. When restringing, remove one string at a time and alternate from the low and high sides of the neck. Never take all of the strings off at once, as this may damage the neck.


A new guitar should be “set up” by a professional technician. Bring the guitar to a local shop for them to adjust the action (the distance from the strings to the fretboard), truss rod, and more.

In addition, if there is buzz against the frets, uneven tone or other issues, bring the guitar to a service center to make adjustments. An annual checkup can help with some of these actions:

  • Adjusting the truss rod to keep the neck even and straight.
  • Smoothing uneven or rough frets.
  • Adjusting saddles, bridges, pickup height and more.

This will ensure that the guitar is comfortable to play for the student and that it stays in tune across the entire fretboard.

Guitar Practice

How much should a guitar student practice?

It is a good idea for a guitar student to practice every day for 30-40 minutes. A large hours-long practice chunk once a week will not make up for skipping daily practice and can result in painful fingertips.

Ideally, students should practice for a minimum of 20 minutes per day or longer. Make sure they spend ample time going through their lessons a few times each. It is advised that guitar students do not spend more than an hour practicing at once as this can cause pain or stress injuries. Suggest to students that if they want to practice longer, that they take a break after they have been playing for 40 minutes or so.

Forming Good Habits

Plugging in

Plug the guitar cable into the guitar and then into the amplifier. It is advisable to have the amp off or on standby and the volume turned down. Then, turn it on and slowly adjust the volume tone settings. Electric guitars also sometimes have switches on them which allow the player to select which pickups are activated. Knobs on the guitar also often affect volume and tone. Make sure the volume knob is turned up. Don’t be afraid to play around with the controls on the guitar and amp to try new sounds and tones.

Sitting position

Many electric guitar students will sit while practicing. Place both feet on the floor and rest the guitar’s waist over the right leg. Hold the guitar against the body with the upper part of the right arm. Do not slouch over the guitar, but sit up straight. It is preferable for the left hand to not be used as a support for the neck.

Standing position

Many guitarists perform standing up, and if there is a performance coming up that requires playing while standing, it is best to practice that way. Get a strap and adjust the height so that the arms do not stretch out so far that the left hand has a hard time reaching around and pressing on the fretboard. See what feels good and play at a height that allows easy strumming and fingering without slouching.

Left hand position (fretting hand)

Rest the thumb of the fretting hand on the back of the guitar’s neck. The remaining fingers should all be bent at every knuckle so that the very tips of the fingers make contact with the strings. Keep the fingers short. Fingers should press on the strings at a point close to but not on top of the fret.

Right hand position (strumming hand)

The right arm reaches around the guitar body so that the player can strum over the area where the guitar pickups are located. The wrist should be relaxed and when strumming, the up and down motion should mostly take place at the wrist with the arm moving slightly at the elbow. When picking individual notes, hold the pick at a 90 degree angle to the neck and grip the pick a little closer to the edge so there is more control.

Using a pick

Hold the pick between the thumb and the index finger. The pick should be positioned on the side of the index finger and then the thumb will hold it firmly in place. The remainder of the fingers of the picking hand should be relaxed and curved. The player can adjust how far onto the body of the pick the grip is to have the most comfort and control.

Up strokes and down strokes

When strumming or picking the strings of the guitar, move up and down at the wrist in a relaxed and natural motion. The wrist should not be locked so that only the elbow moves. Strings can be plucked in both a downward and upward motion.

Speed bumps

Finger pain

Your student may complain about their fingertips hurting from pressing on the strings. This will go away with practice as calluses will build up on the fingertips, but in the beginning, this can deter some students. Check that the action, or the distance from the string to the fretboard, is not too high. Some students also press harder than necessary. Only enough pressure to push the string against the fret and allowing the note to ring out is necessary. It’s recommended to start out playing lighter gauge strings, as these are easier to press.

Students should play or practice regularly, but shouldn’t overplay. This can cause blisters. Once the student has become more experienced and calluses have been developed, they should be able to play for longer periods of time if desired. Fingernails on the left or fretting hand should be kept short so that students can easily use the tops of the fingertips to press the strings.

Note Buzzing or Muted Notes

Early players may find it difficult to press the strings with the tips of the fingers and to not touch other strings. It takes a bit of practice for notes to ring freely without muted or dull notes from other strings. Hands should be curved at every knuckle and the wrist should be at a 90 degree angle so the fingers come straight down at the tip and avoid other strings.

Guitar size

Young guitarists may find a full-sized guitar too large. In this case, it may be a good idea to start with a 3/4-sized guitar. These are perfect for shorter arms, smaller hands and smaller bodies. Make sure the guitarist can reach the top fret without straining and strum easily without having to reach too far.


Like any instrument, it can take a bit of time before students can successfully change chords or smoothly play a melody. Some chord fingerings can strain and be especially difficult. Students can get discouraged. Make sure students are challenged but that they also have appropriate level instruction and are given a chance for success with simpler fingerings and patterns. Students should be encouraged to play with others in bands and ensembles. Most of all, have fun!

Return to Top