If you’re just getting started with playing guitar, deciding upon which style and genre you are going to delve into first can be difficult. There are many different options and it can be overwhelming to explore each. This handy guide will help you to establish the merits of each style of guitar playing and the suitability for beginners. There are even tips on equipment and top resources for learning listed below.
So, which style of guitar is most suited to learning first? Rock guitar is popular among beginners. There are many easy rock songs to learn whether you are focusing on chords or riffs. Though some rock songs are extremely complex, there are plenty of simple songs to learn to get the rudiments of guitar right.
Getting a good technique to start with can provide the foundation for learning more complex styles in the future. Rock guitar is not the only option for this, and many other styles may be suitable for nailing the basics of guitar, as we explore below. It is vitally important to choose a style that is simple, but also one that you will enjoy learning, this will aid the learning process.
Which Style to Learn First?
It is strongly recommended to choose one style of playing and to stick with this as you aim to get the basics perfected. Switching between two can make it more confusing to get your techniques and rudiments right and can ultimately slow down the process of becoming a guitarist.
There are a few reasons why rock guitar is our number one recommendation when you are getting started.
There are a huge amount of songs within the rock music genre. It is important to play something that you like, and having some passion for the music will help you to stick with it when you start to get a little frustrated. You will probably be able to find hundreds of rock music songs which are suitable and that you would like to be able to play.
A lot of rock isn’t too ambitious. If you learn a few basic chords then you can already play loads of songs, and ones people will recognize too.
If you plan to learn scales and have an interest in more ‘lead’ guitar techniques then rock music is suitable, too. The scales which are used are quite mainstream and won’t require too much awkward fingering. Learning a new instrument is never easy, and if you jump into scales, the chances are you will find yourself a little confused to start with, but the scales used to write and play a lot of rock songs are the simplest to begin with. The minor pentatonic scale is very popular among rock music composers.
These same scales will be used for a lot of pop music too. In fact, pop and rock music are often not dissimilar when it comes to the way they are composed. One consideration is the fact that a lot of pop music is not written on guitar, so it may not be totally intuitive to play songs written for piano or synthesizer on your guitar, especially as a first step.
If words like ‘scales’ scare you as a beginner, don’t worry. It is normal to have something of a learning curve as you start to work your way through the early steps of playing guitar. The important thing is to stick with genres and styles which don’t have an immense amount of complexity or speed.
Rock music is also played a lot using ‘power chords’. A power chord features a hand shape which can be kept the same, but moved up and down the fretboard to change the chord. Not having to worry too much about changing the shape of your hand when switching between chords is a big plus point, and there are plenty of hit songs that can be played just using power chords. This is arguably one of the quickest ways to get playing songs, which can be really rewarding for beginners.
Another big plus point about learning to play pop and rock songs first and foremost is the immense amount of resources there are out there. These two genres and styles are listened to a huge amount, and this means that as soon as a song is released by a big artist or band, there is probably someone, somewhere, making resources to help you to learn it. This can be a tutorial or the other vital aspect of learning guitar; tablature.
Tablature or “guitar tab” is a way of writing music down for people to replicate the way it is played on guitar. It is guitar-specific, and six lines represent six different strings as most standard guitars will have. Tab are complemented by ‘chord boxes’ which are the same as tab but showing which strings to play at which frets to play and on which string to make a chord. Rather than reading music, tab is the standard way most people get to grips with the basics of guitar.
There are other styles of guitar besides rock and pop which are appealing for beginners. Folk music is quite popular as it tends to focus on not using a huge variety of chords. There are plenty of simple folk songs out there and tutorials to guide you through the playing of these songs. This may be another suitable starting point, especially if you are more passionate about this type of music.
A big focus of answering the questions of which guitar style you should learn first is deciding which is easiest, but ease isn’t always the top priority. As time goes on, you will want to challenge yourself and start to play music in a variety of different ways. Getting the basics right is the key here and this can be done with a variety of different music types. Learning to move between frets and hand shapes and even the real basics like how to hold a guitar are vital early steps whether you want to be a jazz guitarist or a folk guitarist.
The Different Guitar Styles / Genres
Blues guitar is a soulful genre and the best guitarists to ever come out of the blues genre, such as BB King and Muddy Waters were kings of improvising. This is one of the key skills for blues and to be able to improvise successfully, you will have to know blues scales inside out.
Blues skills aren’t always exceptionally hard, and both acoustic and electric guitars can be used to learn. Because blues often uses slightly different chords to other mainstream genres then the skills aren’t always that transferrable if you do want to switch to other styles in the future. Start with something basic like the 12 bar blues if you do want to learn this type of guitar. This guide has some excellent tips to get you started.
Tommy Emmanuel and Andy McKee probably the reason huge numbers of people want to learn fingerstyle guitar. There are also some excellent YouTubers out there and some truly impressive videos of playing fingerstyle guitar.
The genre is usually played on acoustic guitar, and the challenges for beginners are many. Fingerstyle guitar involves quick playing, moving around the fretboard and using all of the strings. If you can get good at this style then others such as bluegrass will come more easily to you, but be prepared for plenty of frustrated hours improving your finger strength.
This Udemy course is a good starting point for those who wish to learn fingerstyle guitar, though it is useful to learn in another genre fist.
Metal is a style of guitar that a lot of people jump into without realizing just how complex it can be. Though there are some simpler heavy metal riffs which can be learned as a starting point (think “Smoke on the Water”), metal musicians are known for the complexity of their songs and often a lot of equipment too.
If you want to emulate someone like Eddie Van Halen then you might not have too much difficulty getting a few basic songs nailed, but enter the realms of Yngwie Malmsteen and years of practice will be needed to get up to scratch.
Metal guitarists often need an understanding of time signatures (different timings that songs can be played in) and this can mean yet another new technique to understand and master. An electric guitar will probably be preferred for this type of music, and one with heavy humbucker pickups. The genre is famous for also having unusual instruments such as 7-string guitars, which are not recommended for beginners. Ultimate guitar’s metal fundamentals guide is a good place to start, but we also recommend getting started playing rock guitar before graduating to heavier styles.
Hawaiian Slack Key
This is one of the less mainstream genres, but a lot of people are drawn to playing slack key due to the fact that it is a lot of fun. Doug & Sandy McMaster and the ‘masters collection’ albums that are released in this genre have seen it grow in popularity.
The guitars are played in open tunings using acoustic guitars a lot of the time, which is something occasionally emulated by blues guitar. This can make it hard to make things sound bad, and means just a few simple rules can allow you to play some very cool songs.
The main reason that this is not necessarily recommended as a beginner method of getting to know the basics of playing guitar is the fact that it is not the most transferrable method. The tunings being different means that if you plan to graduate to other genres, you will have another steep learning curve. Though this is a less mainstream way of playing, there are some good tutorials and instructional DVDs out there such as this one.
Icons of bluegrass include Lester Flatt and Clarence White. Bluegrass is often played on banjo, but bluegrass guitar is also popular. Bluegrass uses a lot of the ‘flatpicking’ technique which can be difficult to master and certainly demands a lot of strength, speed and coordination from your fingers. If you stick to the rhythm side of bluegrass, it is a little more simple to master some basics.
Though difficult to play and often at quite a speed, being able to play bluegrass is quite an impressive skill and can make turn you into a good lead guitarist whichever genre you decide you want to end up playing.
These guitar lessons are a good starting point for aspiring bluegrass players.
We’ve already covered rock in some detail due to the fact that this is one of the best starting points if you are looking to learn guitar. Thinking of rock guitar will probably conjure images of Brian May and Jimi Hendrix, but look at some guitarists like Angus Young. While his technique is sound, a lot of the songs he wrote weren’t excessively complicated and can provide an excellent starting point for aspiring guitarists.
Rock guitar can be played on acoustic guitar, but a Fender or similar electric guitar may be preferable and allow you to do more with your sounds such as play distorted and heavier riffs.
This guide can help you to learn the very basics, but a lot of the time rock music can be learned by following tutorials of your favorite artists. Rock music is often played at simple 4/4 time (the standard for most mainstream music) and is a great way to get the basics nailed before moving onto something more ambitious. If your goal is to be playing songs as quickly as possible, rock music is a good way forward and lays the foundations to become an excellent guitarist.
Celtic guitar, often known as Irish Guitar, is another genre which might be challenging to master for beginners. Top guitarists in this genre include Tony McManus who is a master of playing both fingerstyle and flatpicking and can also play accompaniment.
Celtic guitar is usually played on acoustic guitars. It involves a lot of harmonics and counter-melodies as well as the ability to move around the fretboard a lot.
This type of guitar can be tough for beginners to master. Celtic guitar learning resources are also not particularly easy to find. Tony McManus has actually provided a masterclass which can walk you through this style of guitar, but a little knowledge of folk or even the ability to play a few rock or pop songs would probably help you to get started.
Classical is one of the only styles of playing which comes with its own instrument. The classical guitar has a rounded body shape and also has nylon strings, and it is designed to be quickly picked, playing fast melodies and often complicated scales.
The nylon strings are appealing for beginners as it means you are less likely to damage your skin playing and it also allows people who haven’t yet built up a lot of finger strength to play melodies with relative ease.
Though the absolute kings of classical guitar including Francisco Tárrega and John Williams could play exceptionally quickly, there are some classical guitar basics that can be learned without too much of a challenge, as explained here. The chord positions and tunings are very similar to playing guitar for pop music or rock, so the skills will be transferable, too. Many people graduate from classical guitar to a different style.
Country & Chicken Pickin
Country guitar is often characterized by quick picking patterns, often known as “chicken pickin”. Some of the top Chicken Pickin guitarists include Johnny Hiland.
Though the chord progressions and scales aren’t that complex, a certain picking technique is required to get the ‘twang’ that we associate with this. This technique can be learned through this excellent Udemy course.
Though not particularly mainstream, and tough for beginners due to the speed of playing required, this style of guitar (which can be learned on acoustic or electric) does help to build up your finger strength and coordination. Just be careful if you plan to move onto different genres that you don’t end up with some of the picking techniques ingrained in your playing. It can be hard to change these habits.
When somebody asks you to name a complicated genre of music, you probably instantly think of Jazz. There are some incredibly talented jazz guitarists out there to listen to, including Wes Montgomery, Pat Metheny and many more. Go further back in time and the pioneers like Django Reinhardt are prevalent.
Modern jazz guitarists often use hollow-bodied electric guitars for a full and airy sound. Jazz music has a lot of scales to learn which can create that signature sound. Of course, jazz is known for having a lot of experimentation and improvisation. As well as the unusual scales, there are plenty of non-standard chords used in this genre. Perhaps not the ideal learning ground for an absolute beginner.
It may be best to get your very basic skills by learning some more mainstream songs and styles, but that isn’t to say you shouldn’t give jazz a go at some point, and there is a whole website devoted to this style of playing.
A lot of the surf guitar melodies played by icons such as Dick Dale can sound like they’re very complicated. Some of them are, but in spite of the strumming/picking hand going very fast in a lot of surf music, the fretting hand has a simpler time than in a lot of other genres.
The tuning is usually standard, and surf guitar isn’t a million miles away from rock music. The character of the sound usually comes from fast playing and a lot of reverb being put onto an electric guitar.
These surf guitar basics are a very good starting point if this style takes your fancy. Experimenting with surf won’t have a negative impact on your playing if you want to mix it up with some rock and pop too.
Funk is a genre with a lot of attitude and a lot of rhythm. Think Prince, James Brown and Curtis Mayfield.
Funk playing is a lot of fun, though it can be hard to master the rhythm. It is vital that you learn about tempo and timing if you’re going to be good at this type of music. Funk is often played on an electric guitar and uses wah-wah pedals and similar effects to replicate the 70s sound of many funk classics.
Justin Guitar’s amazing funk course does a good job of teaching rhythms and chords that are often used in this type of music. That said, this maybe isn’t the best starting point. Funk is good for those who have some knowledge of chords and can count music and stay in time, but want to further enhance their skills.
Flamenco guitar is another of the “Spanish” genres, hailing from Southern Europe and giving us such incredible guitarists as Sabicas and Paco de Lucía. It can be easy for the beginner to get confused between Flamenco and Spanish/Classical guitar. Though they are played on the same instrument (the classical guitar itself) there are some very different techniques.
For instance, Flamenco guitar tends to be played close to the sound hole to give a rasping quality to the tone. This is quite unique to this type of playing, and won’t be useful if you plan to move onto different genres in the future. This section of Wikipedia explains brilliantly the differences between flamenco and other types of guitar.
This video explains some of the basic techniques needed to start playing in the Flamenco style.
Folk is a genre which often gets hybridized with country, rock and other genres. It is a largely acoustic way of playing which has given us legends like Bob Dylan and Chet Atkins.
Folk uses a lot of standard chords, simple scales and simple time signatures, making it a very popular choice among people who are just starting out. There are plenty of folk songs that can give a wonderful platform for a beginner, and won’t teach you any unusual habits if you then want to move on to playing in another genre.
Folk fingerstyle can teach picking, which is a good skill to add to your repertoire, but you can gradually increase the fingerpicking you do as you increase your skill level. Justin Guitar once again has some brilliant resources for the aspiring folk musician.
This is one of the few styles that can be started with just a few chords, and is recommended for those just starting out.
R&B and Soul Music
R&B and Soul has a lot of synergy with pop music and also with funk and other rhythmic genres. Guitarists like Steve Cropper and James Brown are known for being soulful and hit machine artists like Ike Turner are famous within this genre.
This music can be played on electric or acoustic guitar, and though a good knowledge of rhythm is needed, it doesn’t differ a huge amount from other genres. It will help to learn Mixolydian scales and pentatonic scales as these create a soulful feel, and there are certain 9th chords associated with R&B and soul.
Kerry 2 Smooth’s excellent free video lessons outline the key differences to play in this style.
Reggae and Ska
Some styles of playing guitar are fundamentally incredibly different from one another. Reggae and Ska have some unique characteristics, but these don’t come from the fingering or chords, instead they come from the rhythm of playing.
Reggae and Ska legends like Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley as well as legendary producer Lee Scratch Perry made this genre what it is. The way this differs is simple; strumming patterns.
Using offbeat strumming patterns on chords creates the reggae sound we all know. It is usually played on electric guitars and makes use of big delay and reverb effects. Increase the tempo and make it a bit more ‘rocky’ in its feel, and you have Ska.
This article brilliantly explains this. Because it is not so very different from other genres, this type of guitar is a decent entry point for beginners, though make sure you have some knowledge of what the on-beat and off-beat are. Changing between these will be key if you play other genres.
Brazilian guitar is another genre with a huge focus on rhythm, with bossa nova fused with classical guitar making a sort of jazzier-feeling spanish guitar style pioneered by Antônio Carlos Jobim.
Though this is not a particularly mainstream way of playing, if you plan to learn this bossa nova style of guitar then there is a particularly brilliant resource here.
Gospel is not a million miles away from blues in the way it is played. It has a lot of muting, slides and unusual chords such as “sus” chords. Gospel borrows from blues and soul and icons in this genre such as Chalmers Alford even have their groundings in jazz.
Because it is such a mixed bag, so to speak, gospel may not be the easiest way to get started. This course is a good way to transition to playing a lot of gospel songs, but even this recommends some intermediate knowledge to get started.
Pop is quite an abstract concept when it comes to learning guitar. A pop song is generally one which is inoffensive to the ears and designed to be…well, popular. Examples of pop artists come from a variety of different genres and have a lot of different styles.
There are plenty of easy pop songs to learn, a lot of which use the same chords and scales that you would find in more mainstream rock music. Historically, pop musicians who use a lot of guitar include The Beatles, Michael Jackson and more recently Ed Sheeran. Just within these three musicians, we have influences from rock and roll, blues, country, soul and R & B.
There is no denying that there are a huge amount of resources out there for anyone who wants to learn to play pop music. Though it has influences from every corner of the world of music, you can very much pick and choose and stick to some of the easier songs to learn the rudiments of playing guitar.
What Is the Right Style For You?
For us to claim that there is only one method of learning guitar would be incorrect. Though we recommend starting with a genre such as pop, rock or folk to help you get transferrable skills and to get the basics of playing mastered while having access to plenty of resources, there are many different ways to do it. Plenty of people have started out by playing unusual genres or complex styles such as jazz.
As we’ve already briefly alluded to, there is a lot to be said for learning music in a style that appeals to you. Some genres will see you learn very specific skills, for instance, blues will teach you chords in a slightly different way to other genres, and then you will have to go back and relearn them if you want to play in other styles. Even more specific are genres such as Brazilian guitar.
If you want to learn specifically how to play in one way then it is fine to ‘niche down’ this early. Say you are only interested in learning jazz guitar, and don’t foresee a time where you will want to switch and play some heavy metal, it may make sense to learn jazz right from the outset. This can also influence the decision of which instrument you buy – an aspiring jazz musician may purchase a hollow-bodied guitar whereas an aspiring Classical guitarist will need a classical guitar.
There’s nothing wrong with picking one style and sticking to it, but if you want the fastest and easiest route to be able to play songs, rock, pop, and folk are probably the best options.
Remember that you are not making one decision to stick to forever. This is why we are focusing on which style to learn first. This is not like choosing a pet and making a commitment for years! There is always the option to switch to a different style. Choosing one of the more versatile styles to get to grips with basics and start playing songs can be done with the knowledge that eventually you plan to learn how to finger pick, for instance.
Should You Try To Master One Style Before Moving On?
Once you have decided to try and play in one style, is it best to stick to this style until you have 100% knowledge of it, or is it okay to try other genres out?
Once you have decided that one genre is the correct choice for you, there is a chance that it will slow you down to then start to play other genres. A huge consideration here is how similar (or different) the genres are. If you are sometimes learning to play jazz and other times learning to play fingerpicking country style genres then the information you need to take in can get confused.
While it is never a bad thing to be able to shift between styles and genres, don’t try to run before you can walk. This is one of the many arguments for learning to play easier songs first and foremost. It might feel great to nail that solo you’ve always wanted to learn, but if you can’t play a few basic chords then the fundamentals of your technique will be off.
In general, mastering either one style or a few very similar styles is recommended before you try to specialize or go into other areas of guitar. Different people learn in different ways, so you should consider what you think will help you the most. Perhaps learning one style (or even one or two songs) inside out will be most beneficial for you before moving on. There is, conversely, an argument for keeping things fresh and interesting by experimenting. Whatever you do, if you start to get confused, strip it back to basics.
The question of which guitar style you should learn first is not one which has one simple answer. Everyone is slightly different. Ask most guitarists and they will have a story about how they got into the hobby and mistakes they made along the way. Most guitarists don’t do things the ‘easy’ way, but the perseverance to carry on until you’ve mastered it is vital.
For an easier route to playing songs, try playing rock or pop guitar or a genre such as folk which doesn’t use too many unorthodox methods or experimentation and improvisation.
Should I choose my guitar based on the style I want to learn?
Generally speaking, the main consideration is whether you are going to play acoustic or electric guitar. Though the feel is different depending on which you play, and the strings are harder to play on an acoustic guitar, the actual positions of your fingers won’t be different. You can make a decision of which guitar you want to purchase based on the genre and style you would most prefer. For example, if you only ever want to play folk music then you might be satisfied with an acoustic guitar.
I am struggling to learn one style, shall I move to another?
There is always a learning curve. Keep in mind the list of styles we have created on this list and try and evaluate based on this. If you’re trying to learn metal guitar and have started to struggle then it might be worth stripping it back and learning rock. If you are trying to learn some simple pop and rock songs and are struggling with changing chord positions or with finger strength then this is just a part of learning guitar. It will be the same whichever genre you opt for. There is no style of guitar that can be learned overnight, and a little frustration is inevitable.
Should I just learn the music I like?
There is definitely an argument for this. Learning songs you actually enjoy and listen to can help you to stay motivated. Imagine piano lessons where you have to learn to read music and other aspects of theory before you even touch a piano. This can be very boring and challenging. The reward of eventually being able to play songs you love is great, but you may have to choose some simple songs along the way to ensure you build the foundations of your knowledge.
Are there any styles I should definitely avoid?
The early stages are all about the basics. Leaning your hand position, finger position, even things like how to hold a guitar. You will then want to learn chords and scales. There is no right or wrong, but if you try to learn experimental metal songs in weird time signatures, you may not be learning chords and rhythms that are going to be helpful in other types of music. Never try to learn things which are overly complex as a starting point.
Should I avoid faster styles?
A lot of styles such as bluegrass can be difficult to keep to the speed of which they are played, and the speed a lot of the fingerpicking takes place. Remember that there is nothing wrong with learning a song slower until you have the ability to speed things up a bit. We all start learning guitar by going slowly. The only issue with faster styles is that it may take a little longer to be able to play a song comfortably. If you try to play too quickly, mistakes are far more likely.