Skip to main content


Insider Info

Do you know more than one language? It's cool to be able to communicate in another language.

Yet have you ever considered that music is a kind of language too? Being able to play music allows you to communicate in a way unlike talking or writing.

Guitarists are everywhere these days. It's hard to imagine that there was a time, about 50 years ago, when the guitar wasn't the musical instrument of choice for every teen in the western world. But that's all changed. Guitars are everywhere.

Not every guitarist is in a band, though. Many have other careers. These guitarists play for fun. At the same time they provide themselves with an outlet for tension and a source of enjoyment.

While there are many different styles of guitar music, all guitars are basically the same. They have a body, six strings (most common), 21 frets, a neck, a bridge and tuning pegs.

Here are some specific types of guitars:

  • An acoustic guitar produces sound without an amplifier. It has a hole in the body for the sound to come out.
  • A classical guitar uses nylon strings and has a wider neck. It sounds different from the acoustic.
  • An electric guitar has a solid body with pick-ups built into it. The pick-ups are magnets that feel vibrations of the strings and convert them into electrical currents. Then they're amplified and converted into sound through a big speaker that keeps the neighbors awake.

You play Bach and Spanish tunes on a classical. You play Crosby, Stills and Nash on an acoustic. You play Pearl Jam on an electric. All three will drive your roommates crazy. Tell them you could switch to the trumpet if they'd prefer.

Some guitarists play onstage occasionally, even though it might not be their career. They just love to get up there and play in front of people.

Sometimes they get paid, or they just play on an open mike night. Open mike nights are for amateurs who have worked up enough guts to go onstage and try their stuff in front of an audience.

Some guitarists like to play with other musicians, even though they may never play live. They just like to get together and jam once in a while.

Jamming is a great way to practice. Playing with other people causes you to stretch your limits and play better. The catch is that you need a place to jam.

Musicians can rent space at a rehearsal studio where the room is acoustically designed for good sound. If you're lucky, one of your friends will have a good space at their house where you can play.

Some guitarists don't do much jamming. They like to spend their guitar time alone. They learn new tricks, riffs and runs. They may write songs or just learn them off the radio.

You can be the life of the party when you pull out your guitar. Everybody loves a guitar song and everybody knows the words. Play House of the Rising Sun or American Pie, and you're sure to be a winner.

Yet guitarists don't play because it makes them popular. They play because they love to.

Rock 'n' roll offered young people a chance to speak out and have a good time. It has also offered a music style that's easy to learn. Rock guitar is basic and fun. A few short lessons and anybody can play a Neil Young tune.

Another reason that makes playing the guitar popular is that it is a lot quieter than a piano, violin or trumpet. While an electric guitar may have ear-splitting potential, when it's unplugged it's almost silent. Practicing in your room won't annoy anyone if you've got the headphones on.

Prices for guitars vary. You can get a used one at a garage sale for next to nothing, or you can pay hundreds for a new model.

You may be able to find a bottom-of-the-line nylon-string guitar for about $40. You can get a better guitar used for about $100. Just make sure it has a relatively straight neck, six strings and over 20 frets.

If you have the dough and feel the need, you can buy an Ovation, Stratocaster or Les Paul for a few thousand dollars. Still, an inexpensive acoustic guitar is the best for a beginner.

You need physical coordination and a good sense of rhythm to play guitar well. Nimble fingers will come with practice -- lots of practice.

Those who really love this activity may find work related to it. For instance, those who become really good at playing may become guitar instructors.

Likewise, they may get involved with a local group that performs in churches or at weddings. Finally, who has met a camp counselor who did not lead a campfire singalong with a guitar?

Getting Started

If you want to take up guitar playing, Mike O'Brien says you shouldn't buy an expensive electric as your first instrument.

"Just find yourself a cheap acoustic guitar for starters. An electric has much lighter strings and it's much easier to play than an acoustic."

Why would you start with an acoustic rather than a guitar? Because you will build up your hands better this way. After practicing and learning on an acoustic, you'll find the electric guitar a breeze.

Go shopping for a guitar. A cheap, playable acoustic can be found in your average pawnshop. You can also phone up music stores in your neighborhood and see what they have to offer. You don't need anything outrageous.

Rock is one of the easiest styles of music there is to learn. You don't have to take lessons if you can't afford them. Just get a how-to book on rock guitar methods, learn the basics and start trying to play along to your favorite tunes.

Guitarist Lawrence Delaney says that getting instruction is highly recommended for anyone wanting to go far with guitar.

"At the very least, you want to be able to communicate with other musicians about what you're playing," says Delaney. You'll need to communicate with other musicians if you ever hope to jam or play in a band.

"The important advantage of live lessons is that your teacher can watch you play, identify your problems and help you to correct them," agrees O'Brien.

"You should at least know the chord names and their relationships to each other," he says.

"Know keys, scales, major, minor, flats and sharps. All those things help you to talk about your music with other people and to understand a piece of music you haven't played before."

For those who really want to play guitar, consider the conservatory guitar method. You learn all about reading sheet music, fingering techniques and other fancy stuff. Yet O'Brien points out that ear training is equally important in the rock, folk and blues guitar world.

"You have a trained ear when you can listen to a song, tune in to its key and figure out the base melody or chord progression without having any sheet music to help you."

O'Brien says this is very important when it comes to solos and improvisation.

With all that in mind, lessons range from $15 to $30 an hour for private sessions, and less for group lessons. There are also helpful videos and CDs available on guitar method.


Georgia Fingerstyle Guitar Association
P.O. Box 5025
Marietta , GA   30061
E-mail :

Baltimore Classical Guitar Society
4607 Maple Ave.
Baltimore , MD   21227


Guitar World Online

Acoustic Guitar Central

Fingerstyle Guitar Magazine

GuitarOne Magazine

Zen Guitar,
by  Philip Toshio Sudo
The Guitar Handbook,
by  Ralph Denyer
1,000 Great Guitarists,
by  Hugh Gregory


The Acoustic Guitar Home Page
This page is devoted to all things relating to acoustic guitars

Interview with Joe Arteaga
Musician and teacher shares his views on playing the guitar, for fun and for a living

The WWW Guitar Advisor
Sections on choosing a guitar, how to care for a guitar, and a glossary of terms

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support

  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900


Powered by XAP

OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.