What You DON’T Need to Know as a Beginner Guitarist

Many people think that they need to know a whole list of important information before they can begin to play the guitar.

A lot of us have a list like this lurking at the back of our minds. It will be a list of what we think are the essential guitar-playing tricks. Concepts we are sure we need to know right from the start, and that everyone else knows. And tricks that will ensure our success, if only we could just master them first.

The truth is, in the beginning stages, we don’t need to know all the items on that list. They won’t help us. They might even get in the way.

What We Think We Need to Know (Which We Don’t)

Guitarists are often self-starters. We’re keen. We want to learn. So we explore the guitar world and make a list of things we need to do first.

We’ve learned about these from other players or teachers. We may have read about them in tutor books or watched them on videos.

Our list could include:

Fretboard Knowledge

We’ve all seen diagrams in books and printable templates online. There seems to be no end of tricks we can use to match notes with frets and strings. “If we can learn the first 72 note locations,” we think, “we’ll be off to a flying start.”

Chord Names

How can we play a chord if we don’t know what it’s called? Especially if it’s an out-of-the-ordinary, unusual, jazzy chord. We want to know why it sounds like that. We feel we should know the theory.  But at the moment, we may only need to remember where our fingers go.

Note Names

We’re led to believe that to read music, we need to learn all the note names all at once. We need to sit around chanting Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge before we even touch our guitars.

Then when we’ve done that, we think we have to know the names of every note in every chord. How can we play a chord otherwise?


Major, pentatonic, harmonic and melodic minor, modes with names like Hobbits …. We just need to learn these first (don’t we?), and then we’ll be able to play a piece of music.

Left-Hand Patterns

(See Scales!)

Right-Hand Patterns

Composers and teachers have been publishing right-hand studies for two hundred years. Many of these are in books for beginners. It makes us feel that we need to be competent in 120 arpeggios before we can start to play pieces.

The truth is, we don’t need to know most of these things at the early stages.

We Don’t Need to Know this Stuff to Get Playing

This music theory is interesting. Fascinating even. But in the beginning, we don’t need to know it.
It doesn’t help us to play guitar at an early level.

We don’t need to know every note on every fret before we can play. Not knowing a chord name doesn’t stop us from playing it. We don’t need to know all the right-hand patterns in the world.

We just need to know what’s in the piece of music in front of us and work on that.

We Only Need to Focus on the Task In Front of Us

It would be better (at early levels) to ignore nearly everything on our list. Instead, we should pay attention to the task right in front of us. That’s the exercise or piece we’re working on now.

It’s more important to get our hands moving. Moving fingers make progress. It’s more important to play than to spend time analyzing the reasoning behind it all.

Avoid Distraction in Guitar Practice

We like to understand what we’re doing. We’re inquisitive. We’re curious. That’s wonderful.

But it can get in the way. It can slow us down if we’re distracted by trying to learn the theory instead of practicing.

We can research modes (or the rest) after practice if we want.

Allow Yourself Not to Know

We need to stop ourselves from getting bogged down in all that knowledge. Inevitably, we’ll begin to learn more, and we’ll realize that there’s always more to know.

Take One Step at a Time

The way to climb a mountain is one step at a time. And if we can focus on our next step, we’ll succeed.

Later, it might be helpful to know what happens in a descending melodic minor scale, for example. We’ll find them in our pieces and we’ll ask questions. And then, after our practice, we can go and look up the answers.

Build Up the Knowledge Later

We’ll start to see that something we learned about in one piece crops up in another. These become recognizable nuggets of knowledge that will help in the long run.

But we don’t need to know them in advance.

Don’t Get Sucked In, Get Playing

So to start off with, don’t get sucked into this ever-broadening chasm of knowledge. Instead, we should focus on playing. On our muscles and the feel of the strings under our fingers. We should focus on the sound we’re making, and the progress we’re achieving, step by step.

We need to put the list of things we think we ought to know aside and get playing.

If you’re serious about playing guitar, it helps to follow a proven program.  Click here to learn more about The Woodshed® Classical Guitar Program.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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