Developing Finger Coordination and Strength for Guitar

01
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Guitar Lesson Two

Guitarist Practicing Music on Bed with a Laptop
Cavan Images/Iconica/Getty Images

In lesson one of this special feature on learning the guitar, we were introduced to the parts of the guitar, learned to tune the instrument, learned a chromatic scale, and learned G major, C major, and D major chords. If you are not familiar with any of these, be sure to read lesson one before proceeding.

What You'll Learn in Lesson Two

This second lesson will continue to focus on exercises to strengthen the fingers on the fretting hand. You'll also learn several new chords, in order to play many more songs. String names will also be discussed in this feature. Lastly, lesson two will also introduce you to the basics of strumming the guitar.

Are you ready? Good, let's start lesson two.

02
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The E Phrygian Scale

guitar lesson e phrygian scale

To play this scale, we need to review which fingers to use to play which notes on the fretboard. In the following scale, we will use our first finger to play all the notes on the first ​fret of the guitar. Our second finger will play all notes on the second fret. Our third finger will play all notes on the third fret. And, our fourth finger will play all notes on the fourth fret (since there aren't any in this scale, we won't use our fourth finger at all). It is important to stick to these fingerings for this scale, because it is an efficient way of using our fingers, and is a concept we will continue to use in upcoming lessons.

E Phrygian (fridge-ee-n)

One of the best ways to start working on the coordination in your fingers is to practice playing scales. Although they may seem boring, they will certainly help build the strength and agility your fingers need to play the guitar well. Keep that in mind while practicing this new scale.

Start by using your pick to play the open sixth string. Next, take the first finger on your fretting hand, and place it on the first fret of the sixth string. Play that note. Now, take your third finger, place it on the third fret of the sixth string, and play the note. Now, it's time to move on to playing the open fifth string. Keep following the diagram, playing each note indicated until you have reached the third fret on the first string.

Remember:

  • To use alternate picking throughout. Try starting the scale with a downstroke, then next time try starting the scale with an upstroke.
  • Once you've finished the scale, try playing the scale backward, by starting at the first string, third fret, and playing all notes in exactly the reverse order.
  • The key here is accuracy, not speed! Try playing the scale very slowly, making sure that each note is ringing clearly.

03
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Names of Guitar Strings

picture of guitar open strings

Just a little bit more technical talk before we get into playing more chords and songs. Don't worry, this shouldn't take you more than a couple of minutes to memorize!

Every note on the guitar has a name, represented by a letter. The names of each of these notes are important; guitarists need to know where to find these notes on their instrument, in order to read music.

The image to the left illustrates the names of the six open strings on the guitar.

The strings, from sixth to first (thickest to thinnest) are named E, A, D, G, B and E again.

In order to help you memorize this, try using the accompanying phrase "Every Adult Dog Growls, Barks, Eats" to keep the order straight.

Try saying the string names out loud, one by one, as you play that string. Then, test yourself by pointing to a random string on your guitar, then trying to name that string as quickly as possible. In following lessons, we'll be learning the names of the notes on various frets on the guitar, but for now, we'll just stick with the open strings.

04
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Learning an E Minor Chord

how to play an e minor chord

Last week, we learned three types of chords: G major, C major, and D major. In this second lesson, we'll explore a new type of chord... a "minor" chord. The terms "major" and "minor" are terms used to describe the sound of the chord. In very basic terms, a major chord sounds happy, while a minor chord sounds sad (listen to the difference between major and minor chords). Most songs will contain a combination of both major and minor chords.

Playing an E minor chord

Easiest chord first... playing an E minor chord only involves using two fingers in your fretting hand. Start by placing your second finger on the second fret of the fifth string. Now, place your third finger on the second fret of the fourth string. Strum all six strings, and, there you have it, an E minor chord!

Now, like the last lesson, test yourself to make sure you're playing the chord properly. Starting on the sixth string, strike each string one at a time, making sure each note in the chord is ringing clearly. If not, study your fingers, and identify what the problem is. Then, try to adjust your fingering so the problem goes away.

05
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Learning an A Minor Chord

how to play an A minor chord

Here is another chord that gets used all the time in music, the A minor chord. Playing this shape shouldn't be too hard: start by placing your second finger on the second fret of the fourth string. Now, place your third finger on the second fret of the third string. Lastly, place your first finger on the first fret of the second string. Strum the bottom five strings (being careful to avoid the sixth), and you'll be playing an A minor chord.

As with all previous chords, be sure to check each string to make sure all the notes in the chord are ringing clearly.

06
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Learning a D Minor Chord

how to play a d minor chord

Last week, we learned how to play a D major chord. In lesson two, we'll examine how to play a D minor chord. For an inexplicable reason, newer guitarists have a hard time remembering how to play this chord, perhaps because it doesn't get used as often as some others. For this reason, you should make an extra effort to memorize a D minor chord.

Start by placing your first finger on the first fret of the first string. Now, put your second finger on the second fret of the third string. Lastly, add your third finger to the third fret of the second string. Now, strum only the bottom four strings.

Check to see if your chord is ringing clearly. Watch the D minor chord... be sure you are only strumming the bottom four strings... otherwise, the chord might not sound so nice!

07
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Learning to Strum

beginner strumming pattern for guitar

A guitarist with a good grasp of strumming can bring a two-chord song to life. In this first lesson on strumming, we'll examine some of the basics of strumming the guitar, and learn a widely used strumming pattern.

Grab your guitar, and, using your fretting hand, form a G major chord (review how to play a G major chord).

The pattern above is one bar long and contains 8 strums. It might look confusing, so for now, pay attention to the arrows at the bottom. An arrow pointing down indicates a downward strum. Similarly, an upwards arrow indicates that you should strum upwards. Notice that the pattern starts with a downstroke, and ends with an upstroke. So, if you were to play the pattern twice in a row, your hand wouldn't have to vary from its continual down-up motion.

Play the pattern, taking special care to keep the time between strums the same. After you play the example, repeat it without any pause. Count out loud: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and (etc.) Notice that on the "and" (referred to as the "offbeat") you are always strumming upward. If you are having problems keeping a steady rhythm, try playing along with a mp3 of the strumming pattern.

Make Sure:

  • if playing an acoustic guitar, you strum over the sound hole
  • all strings ring clearly
  • Make sure the volume of your downstrums and upstrums are equal
  • Be careful not to strum too hard, as this produces an undesirable sound
  • Be careful not to strum too softly, as this will produce a "wimpy" sound. Your pick should be striking the strings with a relatively firm, even stroke
  • Think of your elbow as being the top of a pendulum - your arm should swing up and down from it in a steady motion, never pausing at any time.
  • Most of the picking motion should come from a rotation of the wrist, rather than from the forearm. Be sure not to keep your wrist stiff when playing.

08
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Learning to Strum - cont'd

more advanced guitar strumming pattern

By removing only one strum from the previous pattern, we'll create one of the most widely used strumming patterns in pop, country, and rock music.

When we remove the strum from this pattern, the initial instinct will be to stop the strumming motion in your picking hand. This is exactly what we don't want, as this alters the on-beat downstrum / off-beat upstrum pattern we've established.

The key to this playing this strum successfully is to keep the strumming motion going while slightly lifting the hand away from the body of the guitar momentarily, on the downstroke of the third beat, so the pick misses the strings. Then, on the next upstroke (the "and" of the third beat), bring the hand closer to the guitar, so the pick hits the strings. To summarize: the upward/downward motion of the picking hand should not change from the first pattern. Deliberately avoiding the strings with the pick on the third beat of the pattern is the only change.

Listen to, and play along with, this second strumming pattern, to get a better idea on how this new pattern should sound. Once you are comfortable with this, try it at a somewhat faster speed. It is important to be able to play this accurately - don't be satisfied with getting MOST of the up and down strums in the right order. If it's not perfect, it will make learning any harder strums virtually impossible. Be sure that you can play the pattern many times in a row, without having to stop because of an incorrect strum.

This is a tricky concept, and it can be guaranteed that you will have some problems with it at first. The idea is, if you introduce basic strumming patterns early, within a couple of lessons, you'll have gotten the hang of it, and will be sounding great! It is important to try not to get frustrated... soon, this will become second nature.

09
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Learning Songs

The addition of three new minor chords to this week's lesson gives us a total of six chords to learn songs with. These six chords will provide you with the opportunity to play literally hundreds of country, blues, rock, and pop songs.

If you need to refresh your memory on which chords we've learned so far, you can review the major chords from lesson one, and the minor chords from lesson two. Here are a few of the songs you can play with G major, C major, D major, E minor, and A minor chords:

Take it Easy - performed by The Eagles
NOTES: You know all of these chords, but this song will take you a while to play well. For now, use a basic strum (only slow downstrums), and switch chords when you reach the word that the new chord is above.
MP3 download

Mr. Tambourine Man - written by Bob Dylan
NOTES: this tune will also take a while to master, but if you keep at it, you'll make progress quickly. For strumming, either strum four slow strums per chord, or, for a challenge, use the hard strumming pattern that we learned in this lesson.
MP3 download
(this mp3 is the more famous version of the song by The Byrds.)

About a Girl - performed by Nirvana
NOTES: Again, we won't be able to play the entire song, but the main part we can do rather easily, as it only contains an E minor and G major chord. Play the song as follows: E minor (strum: down, down up) G major (strum: down up down up) and repeat.
MP3 download

Brown Eyed Girl - performed by Van Morrison
NOTES: We learned this song last lesson, but try it again, now that you know how to play the E minor chord we didn't know before.
MP3 download

10
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Practice Schedule

Practicing at least 15 minutes per day on the guitar is recommended. Playing every day, even for this small amount of time, will get you comfortable with the instrument, and you'll be amazed at your progress. Here's a schedule to follow.

  • Make sure your guitar is in tune (how to tune)
  • Go over material from lesson one. Concentrate on the chromatic scale and major chords.
  • Review the open string names.
  • Play the E Phrygian scale several times. Play the scale forwards and backwards, slowly, in an even tempo. Concentrate on accuracy!
  • Spend at least five minutes on strumming. Try these patterns with different chords. Try playing the strumming patterns with one chord, switching chords, and playing the pattern again.
  • Play this week's minor chords. Say the name of the chord as you play it, to help with memorization. Practice switching from one minor chord to another, or from a minor to a major chord.
  • Try playing some, or all of the songs listed. Review songs from lesson one. They will certainly not sound very good at first. Try only to think of the songs as a way in which to practice playing chords.

You can see that we are quickly building a large amount of material to practice. If you find it impossible to practice the above in one sitting, try playing them over several days. Be sure not to ignore any of the items on the list, even if they're not a ton of fun to practice.

You will undoubtedly sound pretty rough when you first start playing this new material. Everyone does... that is why we practice. If you can't seem to get something right even after a lot of practice, shrug your shoulders, and leave it for tomorrow.

We're done lesson two! When you're ready, move on to lesson three, we'll discuss even more about chords, more strumming patterns, the basics of reading music, plus new songs and more. Hope you're having fun!