by Scott Zimmerman

So, you have your new guitar and you are excited about getting started. But, where do you begin? Starting off “on the right” foot is important and will ensure that you have a good experience, and more importantly, continue to play. Because the learning curve can be steep at first, it is a good idea to have a “check list” of  things you want to accomplish in your first month of guitar playing. This will not only help you develop the necessary fundamental skills, but will allow you to measure your progress and feel a sense of accomplishment. Let’s take a look at fifteen things to accomplish during your first month of guitar playing.

Things to accomplish during your first month of guitar playing: During your first month of playing guitar it is important to learn to tune your guitar, play basic chords and melodies, and to develop a practice routine.

Let’s dive in more to cover what you need to accomplish during your first month playing the guitar.

1. Identify The Names Of The Open Strings

Learning how to identify the strings by note name and string number will help you to tune the guitar and learn chords and scales. String number one is the thinnest string and is located closest to the floor. The strings follow in numerical order until we reach the thickest string, string six, which is at the top. The note names of the “open” strings are as follows: string 1 = E, string 2 = B, string 3 = G, string 4 = D, string five = A, and String Six = E.

What You Need to Do During Your First Month On Guitar

2. Learn How To Tighten And Loosen Strings

In order to tune the guitar, you will need to determine which way to turn the tuning keys on your guitar in order to tighten or loosen the string. There are different configurations of tuning keys; and so, the best approach is to experiment and figure out your own guitar. When you pluck the string, try to hear if the pitch gets higher- this means you are tightening the string. If the pitch sounds lower, you are loosening the string. If the tuning keys are all on the same side, e.g. Fender Strat., they will all tighten and loosen in the same direction. A classical guitar with an open head stock will do the same; however, guitars that have three tuning keys on each side of the head will tighten and loosen in opposite directions.

3. Learn How To Tune Guitar With A Tuner

Learning how to tune your guitar will take practice and patience. A clip on tuner or a tuner application will work well. Once you have determined how to loosen and tighten your strings, the tuner will help you to know which way to turn the tuning key in order to place it in tune. If the tuner registers the note as sharp, you will want to loosen the strings; and if it reads flat, you will need to tighten the string. Make sure to turn and check as you go so that you do not overly loosen or tighten a string. The lower strings will change the most each time you turn the tuning key; so, you don’t need to turn them very much for the pitch to change. The treble strings, i.e. strings one, two, and three, will need more turning to effect a pitch change.

4. Learn How To Hold And Use A Pick

There are two techniques for sounding the strings on the guitar: using a pick and fingerstyle. Both techniques are important to learn; but, in the beginning, it is a good idea to use the technique that is most comfortable for you, and then later work on the other technique. If you are starting out with a pick, hold it between your thumb and index finger with the point of the pick slightly turned in towards the strings. Let the other fingers of your hand relax and try not to make a “fist”.

5. Learn Correct Playing Position

By using the correct playing position, you will avoid soreness and injury. Generally speaking, sit on a firm chair while playing, try not to over-extend your wrists, i.e. keep them in an unnatural position for too long. Also, take frequent stretch breaks when you are playing to avoid overuse injuries.

6. Learn How To Read A Chord Diagram

Chord diagrams are visual representations of chords using a picture of the first three frets of the guitar. The diagrams will help you to learn your basic chords. One way to make the transfer of the chord diagram to your guitar less abstract is to hold your guitar in a vertical position with strings facing you; this will match the orientation of the chord diagram. Once you determine where your fingers should be, return to playing position. 

7. Learn And Memorize The 11 Basic Chords For Beginning Guitarist

Your first month of guitar will be focused on developing enough skills so that you can play a song. The building blocks of songs are chords. It is important to learn and memorize the eleven basic chords. Start with one or two chords and gradually add one new chord to your memorized chord bank. You should be able to memorize all eleven chords in the first month. 

Note: If you are experiencing finger soreness (which is normal) see our article here for some tips on overcoming beginning guitar obstacles.

8. Strum A Steady Beat While Playing Chords

Your right hand is the time keeper of the music. It is important to work on downstrumming to a steady beat. You can practice just your strumming by muting the strings with your left hand and strumming to a piece of music or using a metronome. The end goal will be to switch between chords while strumming a steady beat; however, in the beginning, you can focus on each skill by itself to develop them more quickly.

9. Play A Basic Chord Progression In Time

This is our ultimate end goal: to play a chord progression without stopping, i.e. a song. This is the most difficult aspect of playing the guitar in the beginning stages. Typically, when there is a chord change the right hand will stop strumming to wait for the left hand to find the new chord. Overtime, the left hand will be able to switch in time, but it may take a couple months to get to that point. The best way to work through this transition period is to modify the basic chords to make it easier to switch in time. There is a mini course on this website that will teach how to get through this transition stage if you are not able to switch in time with the eleven basic chords. See this course: Play Guitar In Seven Days – Level 1 (Chords)

10. Learn Basic Strum Patterns

Once you are able to use a downstrum and maintain a steady beat with your right hand, the next step is to start adding some rhythmic variety to your strumming by learning basic strum patterns. Your end goal will be to play a chord progression with basic strum patterns in time. This course  Play Guitar In Seven Days – Level 1 (Chords) will also help you develop this skill set.

11. Learn And Play The Major Scale With Correct FIngerings From Memory

Learning to play guitar consists of “two sides of a coin”, so to speak: playing chords and playing melodies. (When playing chords, multiple strings are sounded at the same time and when playing melodies, one string is played at a time.) Since these skills sets are different, you can learn them at the same time. This will add variety to your practice and more evenly balance your skill acquisition in the early stages of learning. The first step is to learn the major scale using correct fingers. Practice this skill until it is memorized. If you would like a step-by-step method for learning to play melodies on the guitar see: Play The Guitar In Seven Days – Level 2 (Melody) Below is a diagram for learning the major scale and the correct fingerings.

Right Hand Fingerings

Note: It is important to memorize the scale by memorizing the correct fingers used on each string, e.g. String 3 – use fingers one and three, etc.

Note: Start on the dark blue C and follow the arrows to play the major scale in order.

12. Play A Simple Melody Using The Major Scale

After memorizing the major scale, work towards playing a melodic song during your first month of playing. Chords are useful for accompanying, but chords by themselves do not sound like a complete song (unless you or someone else is singing). Melodies are complete songs. It is very satisfying to be able to play song melodies. Getting to this point as soon as possible will be a great motivator for continuing to develop your guitar skills. See  Play The Guitar In Seven Days – Level 2 (Melody) for a systematic method to develop your melodic playing.

13. Develop A Practice Routine

Your desire to learn the guitar is like fuel in an engine, and the engine is your practice routine. It will take you where you want to go. Therefore, it is important to develop a weekly practice routine. Your practice routine will be unique to you depending on the time you have to practice. The amount of time is not as important as consistently following your practice routine. This is how you will see results over time. For more information on practicing see here and here.

14. Record Your Progress

It can be difficult to measure our own progress. And the perception of a lack of progress can lead to frustration and ultimately giving up the guitar. A good habit to develop in order to avoid this incorrect perception is to record your progress as you go. Try recording your playing on your tablet or smartphone once a week and save the files. After a couple weeks, go back and review your progress. If you have realistic expectations and have been practicing, you will notice progress and this will be a strong motivator to continue on.

15. Set Short Term Goals For The Next Six Months

After you have “checked off” this first list of goals, it is time to set some longer term goals. This will help give your practice time direction and provide you with a sense of forward motion in terms of getting better on the guitar. For more information on setting goals see here.


Starting the guitar is an exciting time! Remember “slow and steady” wins the race. Use these fifteen goals as a beginning point to get started and to help acquire the basic skills you will need to move on to more advanced levels of guitar playing.

About the author 

Scott Zimmerman

Scott Zimmerman is a professional music instructor with over twenty years of guitar performance and teaching experience. Scott holds a Masters Degree in Music Education from Peabody Conservatory.