How to Play Pop Songs on Guitar: The Beginner's Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Selecting Your Guitar
  2. Basic Guitar Anatomy
  3. Learning to Tune Your Guitar
  4. Mastering the Basic Chords
  5. How to Read Chord Diagrams
  6. Understanding Timing and Rhythm
  7. Strumming Techniques
  8. Learning to Play Your First Pop Song
  9. Practicing and Perfecting Your Song
  10. Tips for Continuing Your Guitar Journey

There's nothing quite like the feeling of strumming your way through a catchy pop song. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, learning to play pop songs on the guitar can be a rewarding, fun project. If you're wondering "how to play guitar for pop?", then you're in the right place! This beginner's guide will walk you through everything you need to know to get started.

Selecting Your Guitar

First things first: let's talk about your guitar. If you're just starting out, you may feel overwhelmed by the sheer variety of guitars available. But don't worry, picking the perfect guitar for you isn't as hard as it seems!

Acoustic or electric? When deciding how to play guitar for pop, you'll want to consider whether an acoustic or electric guitar suits your style best. Acoustic guitars are great for their simplicity and portability—you don't need any extra gear to start playing. Electric guitars, on the other hand, offer a broader range of sounds and can be easier to play because of their lighter strings and smaller body.

Size matters: Guitars come in different sizes, so pick one that's comfortable for you to hold and play. A full-sized guitar might be too big if you're younger or have a smaller frame. In that case, consider a 3/4 size guitar or even a travel guitar.

Quality counts: While you don't need the most expensive guitar to start learning pop songs, you do want a guitar that stays in tune and has a decent sound. Brands like Yamaha, Fender, and Ibanez offer good quality guitars for beginners that won't break the bank.

Once you've chosen your guitar, you're ready to move on to the next step: understanding your guitar's anatomy. Don't worry, it's not as scary as it sounds, and it's a key part of learning how to play guitar for pop!

Basic Guitar Anatomy

Alright, now let's get familiar with your new best friend. Knowing your way around the guitar is important, not just to look cool, but to understand how each part affects the sound and playability of your instrument.

The Headstock: Located at the top of the guitar, the headstock holds the tuning pegs, which are used to adjust the pitch of the strings. This is where the magic of tuning happens!

The Neck: This is the long piece of wood that extends from the headstock down to the body of the guitar. It's where you'll press down on the strings to create different notes and chords.

The Frets: You'll notice metal strips running across the neck of your guitar. These are the frets. When you press a string down behind a fret, it changes the length of the string and, therefore, the pitch of the note.

The Body: This is the large part of the guitar that amplifies the sound in an acoustic guitar and holds the pickups on an electric guitar. It's what you're probably picturing when you think of a guitar.

The Strings: Last but not least, the strings! These are the heart and soul of your guitar. Strum them, pluck them, make them sing. They're ordered from thinnest (highest sounding) to thickest (lowest sounding).

Now that you're familiar with your guitar's anatomy, you're ready to dive into the world of tuning. After all, a well-tuned guitar is the first step in learning how to play guitar for pop.

Learning to Tune Your Guitar

Let's move on to the next stage: tuning your guitar. Just like how a sports car performs best when it's well tuned, your guitar sounds best when the strings are in tune.

Standard guitar tuning goes from the thickest string to the thinnest: E, A, D, G, B, E. Remember it as "Elephants And Donkeys Grow Big Ears".

You can tune your guitar in several ways. The easiest way for beginners is to use a guitar tuner. Some guitar tuners clip onto your guitar's headstock and pick up vibrations when you pluck a string. Others are apps you can download onto your phone.

Here's how you do it:

  1. Start with the 6th string: This is the thickest string, and it should be an E note. Pluck the string, and if your tuner indicates that the note is too high (sharp), loosen the string. If the note is too low (flat), tighten the string.
  2. Repeat for each string: Continue this process for each string, remembering the sequence: E, A, D, G, B, E.

It may take a little practice to get the hang of it, but don't worry; you'll be a tuning pro in no time. And remember, a well-tuned guitar is key to mastering how to play guitar for pop.

Mastering the Basic Chords

Alright, moving on! Now that your guitar is well-tuned, it's time to conquer the basic chords. If you're wondering how to play guitar for pop, knowing the basic chords is your golden ticket. Most pop songs revolve around a few basic chords, so getting these under your fingers can open a world of songs for you to play.

Let's break down the most common chords you'll need:

  1. G major: This is a great chord to start with. Place your fingers on the 3rd fret of the E (1st) and B (2nd) strings, and on the 2nd fret of the A (5th) string. Strum all six strings and voila, you're playing a G major chord!
  2. C major: Shift your fingers to the 1st fret of the B (2nd) string, the 2nd fret of the D (4th) string, and the 3rd fret of the A (5th) string. Strum from the A string down and you're playing a C major chord.
  3. D major: This one is a little trickier. Place your fingers on the 2nd fret of the G (3rd) string and the E (1st) string, and on the 3rd fret of the B (2nd) string. Strum from the D string down and you've got a D major chord.

Remember, practice makes perfect. It may feel a bit awkward at first, but with time, your fingers will get used to the positions. And before you know it, you'll be ready to play some pop tunes!

How to Read Chord Diagrams

Now, let's talk about chord diagrams. If you want to learn how to play guitar for pop, reading chord diagrams is a skill you'll need. Chord diagrams are like roadmaps for your fingers, showing you exactly where they need to go on the fretboard.

A chord diagram looks like a grid. The vertical lines represent the strings on your guitar, with the leftmost line being the thickest string or the E string. The horizontal lines are the frets. Dots on the grid tell you where to place your fingers. Numbers inside the dots show you which fingers to use: 1 is your index finger, 2 is your middle finger, 3 is your ring finger, and 4 is your pinky.

Let's take the D major chord as an example. The diagram for D major would show two dots on the 2nd fret (one on the E string and one on the G string) and one dot on the 3rd fret of the B string. This corresponds to the finger placement we discussed earlier. Easy, right?

So, next time you see a chord diagram, don't be intimidated! Think of it as a friend guiding your fingers to the right places on the fretboard. And remember, the more you practice, the more familiar these diagrams will become, making it easier and quicker for you to learn new songs.

Understanding Timing and Rhythm

If you're wondering how to play guitar for pop, you've probably realized that timing and rhythm are crucial. Think of them as the heartbeat of a song. Without the right timing, a song loses its groove, and without the right rhythm, it loses its soul.

Let's start with timing. When you listen to a song, you might notice that it has a steady beat. This beat is what keeps the music moving at a certain pace. In music terms, we measure this in beats per minute (BPM). When you're starting out, it might be helpful to use a metronome, a tool that can help you keep time. You can set it to the BPM of the song you're learning, and it will give you a consistent beat to follow.

Now, rhythm is a bit more complex. It's how long a note is played within the beat. For instance, if the beat is the steady tick-tock of a clock, rhythm is the melody that dances on top of it. A rhythm could be a series of short, quick notes, or it could be longer, slower notes. When you're playing guitar, you express rhythm through your strumming patterns.

To sum up, when learning how to play guitar for pop, maintaining the right timing and rhythm is key. It's like tapping your foot to your favorite song. It feels natural, right? That's because your body is responding to the song's timing and rhythm. As you keep practicing, you'll find that your fingers naturally follow the beat too!

Strumming Techniques

As you venture deeper into understanding how to play guitar for pop, the way you strum the strings becomes quite important. Strumming isn't just about wildly swinging your hand back and forth. It's about control, finesse, and—yes, rhythm.

There are two basic strumming techniques you should be aware of: down-strumming and up-strumming. As the names suggest, down-strumming is when you strum the strings from the top down, and up-strumming is when you strum from the bottom up. Sounds simple, right? Well, it's a little more nuanced than that.

When you're down-strumming, try to hit all the strings evenly and with a consistent force. Don't be too harsh; you're not trying to break the strings. When up-strumming, it's good to aim for the higher pitched strings, giving your strum a nice, bright finish.

Now, combining these two techniques in different patterns creates various rhythms. For example, try strumming down, down, up, down. This gives you a rhythm that's common in many pop songs. Congratulations! You're already starting to sound like a pop guitarist.

Remember, strumming is like painting with a brush. Each stroke should be deliberate and controlled. With practice, you'll be strumming along to your favorite pop songs in no time.

Learning to Play Your First Pop Song

Now that you're getting the hang of strumming, chords, and rhythm, it's time to put it all together. That's right—you're ready to learn how to play your first pop song on guitar.

Let's begin with something simple but iconic – Taylor Swift's "Love Story". This pop song has a nice melody, straightforward chord progression, and it's a great place to start. It primarily loops four chords throughout the song: C, G, Am, and F.

Take a moment to find those chords on your guitar, and take note of how they feel under your fingers. Now, try strumming along to the rhythm of the song, using the down, down, up, down pattern we discussed earlier. Feel the rhythm, and let your hands flow along with the music. Don't sweat if it's not perfect—just getting the hang of switching chords and keeping time is a huge accomplishment.

Remember, learning how to play guitar for pop songs is more than just hitting the right notes—it's about capturing the spirit of the song. So, while you're strumming along to "Love Story", try to feel the emotion in the music. Is it happy, sad, hopeful? Try to express that in your playing.

Before you know it, you'll be playing your first pop song on guitar. It's a big step, but you're ready for it. So, grab your guitar, tune up those strings, and let's make some music!

Practicing and Perfecting Your Song

So, you've taken your first steps into the world of pop guitar. You've chosen your song, learned the chords, and even had a go at strumming along. But how do you move from strumming the basic chords to truly mastering the song? Let's find out.

First off, practice makes perfect, as they say. And when it comes to learning how to play guitar for pop songs, this couldn't be truer. Set aside a little time each day, even if it's just ten minutes, to practice your song. Remember, consistency is key!

Next, break the song down into sections. If you try to tackle the whole song at once, it may seem overwhelming. Instead, focus on one part at a time: maybe the verse one day, and the chorus the next. This approach will make the process more manageable and less daunting.

Also, don't be afraid to slow things down. If you're having difficulty with a certain part of the song, slow your tempo. It's better to play slowly and correctly than quickly and inaccurately.

Last but not least, remember to enjoy the journey. After all, playing guitar is supposed to be fun! Even if you're finding a song challenging, try to find joy in the process. Before you know it, you'll be strumming away to your favorite pop songs with confidence and style.

Tips for Continuing Your Guitar Journey

Now that you've got the basics of how to play guitar for pop songs, it's time to look at how you can continue to grow as a guitarist. Here are some tips to help you on your journey.

First, don't limit yourself to just one genre. While you may have started out wanting to learn how to play pop songs on the guitar, don't be afraid to explore other genres. Blues, rock, country—each style has its own unique techniques and distinctive sound. Who knows? You might discover a new passion!

Second, consider investing in a good-quality guitar tuner. It's critical to tune your guitar before each practice session. This will not only help you produce the best sound, but also train your ear to recognize the correct pitch.

Third, keep learning new songs. This is a great way to keep your practice sessions fresh and exciting. Plus, you'll be constantly adding new chords and strumming patterns to your repertoire.

Lastly, consider taking lessons. Whether online or in-person, lessons can provide structure to your practice sessions and offer valuable feedback. There are many excellent online platforms like Fender Play, Yousician or even YouTube channels that offer free or reasonably priced guitar lessons.

Remember, the journey of learning how to play guitar for pop songs is a marathon, not a sprint. It's about enjoying the process, celebrating your progress, and always striving to learn and grow. Happy strumming!

If you enjoyed this beginner's guide on how to play pop songs on the guitar and want to take your skills to the next level, check out Debbie Knox-Hewson's workshop, 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!.' This workshop will provide you with valuable insights and techniques to enhance your guitar playing abilities and help you become a more confident musician.