The Best Guitar Playing Styles for Beginners (2024)

Welcome to the fascinating world of guitar playing styles. Whether you’re a beginner looking to find your musical voice or an experienced guitar player still playing rock and wishing to diversify your skill set, understanding each guitar playing style is crucial.

guitar playing styles

This comprehensive article aims to guide you through the labyrinth of genres, each with its own unique history, techniques, and signature sounds.

In this guide, we will delve into eleven major guitar playing styles: Rock, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Metal, Pop, Bluegrass, Country, the Fingerstyle guitar, Flamenco, and the Classical guitar. For each style, we’ll explore:

  1. Characteristics: An overview of the hallmark features that define each of the guitar playing styles, giving you a sense of what to expect.
  2. History and Evolution: Context is vital for any musician. Knowing the roots of a genre can deepen your appreciation and interpretation of the music you play.
  3. Recommended Guitars: A look at the types of guitars that are most often used in each genre, helping you make more informed decisions on gear.
  4. Guitar Gear for Each Style: It’s not just about the guitar. Amps, pedals, and other accessories can significantly affect your tone and playing experience.
  5. Recommended Listening: Essential tracks and albums that define or have revolutionized each style. These are your starting points for immersion into each genre.
  6. Why It’s Great for Beginners: A dedicated section that highlights the advantages and challenges each genre presents for a beginner.
  7. Techniques to Learn: A breakdown of the specific techniques you’ll need to master to become proficient in each guitar playing style.

Summary Table: Key Information on Guitar Styles

Guitar StyleCharacteristicsRecommended GuitarsGood for Beginners?Techniques to Master
RockPower chords, distortion, solosSolid-body electrics like Stratocasters, Les PaulsYes, due to straightforward techniquesPower chords, bending, hammer-ons
JazzComplex chords, improvisationHollow or semi-hollow body guitarsChallenging due to complex chordsScales, arpeggios, improvisation
FunkSyncopated rhythms, “groovy” chordsStratocasters or TelecastersModerate, rhythmically challengingSlap & pop, syncopation
SoulEmotional expression, smooth chordsSemi-hollow body guitars, TelecastersYes, emphasizes feel over complexityVibrato, bends
MetalFast tempo, high gain, palm mutingHigh-gain guitars like Ibanez, JacksonModerate, technical demandsPalm muting, alternate picking
PopCatchy melodies, simple chordsAcoustic or versatile electric guitarsYes, focuses on simple arrangementsOpen chords, strumming patterns
BluegrassFast picking, flatpickingAcoustic guitars, often with a brighter toneModerate, fast temposFlatpicking, alternate picking
CountryTwangy tone, slide guitarTelecasters, Acoustic guitarsYes, variety of tempos and techniquesChicken picking, slide guitar
FingerstyleUse of fingers instead of a pickAcoustic guitars with wider necksYes, but challengingFinger independence, fingerpicking patterns
FlamencoRapid fingerpicking, percussive elementsFlamenco guitars, usually nylon-stringedChallenging, very specific techniquesRasgueado, picado, golpe
ClassicalFingerpicking on nylon-string guitarsClassical guitars with nylon stringsModerate, foundational techniquesFingerpicking, scales, arpeggios

Rock

Characteristics:

  • Power Chords and Riffs: Rock music is a guitar style known for its straightforward chord progressions and memorable riffs.
  • Distorted Tone: Rock guitar often involves the use of distortion or overdrive.
  • Dynamic Solos: This style often features complex and expressive guitar solos.

History and Evolution:

Rock guitar was born out of the blues and took a life of its own in the 1950s and 1960s with the arrival of rock ‘n’ roll. Icons like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton expanded the possibilities, influencing the myriad sub-genres of rock guitar techniques we have today—from indie rock to hard rock and beyond.

Recommended Guitars:

Gibson Les Paul, Fender Stratocaster

Guitar Gear:

  • Amplifiers: Marshall, Fender Twin Reverb
  • Pedals: Overdrive, delay, and wah-wah are essential for crafting that rock tone.

Recommended Listening:

  • “Back in Black” – AC/DC
  • “Purple Haze” – Jimi Hendrix
  • “Smoke on the Water” – Deep Purple

Why It’s Great for Beginners:

Of all the guitar playing styles, rock music, with its strong backbeats and straightforward chord progressions, provides an ideal entry point for new guitarists. Many of the genre’s most iconic songs are built on simple structures that allow beginners to quickly start making their own music up. The satisfaction of playing recognizable tunes right away can be a significant motivator. Moreover, rock’s penchant for distorted tones can often mask minor mistakes, offering a more forgiving learning curve as you refine your technique. As you progress, the genre readily provides more complex challenges, like intricate solos and alternate tunings, that allow for a smooth but fulfilling learning journey.

Techniques to Learn:

  • Power Chords
  • Basic Scales (Pentatonic)
  • Palm Muting

Jazz

Characteristics:

  • Complex Chords: Jazz often incorporates extended and altered chords.
  • Improvisation: Jazz places a strong emphasis on improvisation.
  • Sophisticated Harmonies: Jazz guitar often involves intricate harmonic progressions.

History and Evolution:

Jazz guitar has its roots in the 1930s, with pioneers like Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery paving the way. It has since evolved into various sub-genres like bebop, smooth jazz, and jazz fusion, each with its unique techniques and approaches.

Recommended Guitars:

Gibson ES-175, Ibanez George Benson Signature

Guitar Gear:

  • Amplifiers: Roland Jazz Chorus, Fender Deluxe Reverb
  • Pedals: Compression and reverb are commonly used.

Recommended Listening:

  • “Wes Montgomery – Full House”
  • “Joe Pass – Autumn Leaves”
  • “Pat Metheny – Bright Size Life”

Why It’s Great for Beginners:

While jazz guitar can seem daunting due to its complex chords and scales, it offers unparalleled rewards in musical understanding. Jazz essentially serves as a crash course in advanced music theory, offering insight into extended chords, modes, and improvisational techniques that are applicable across all genres. Starting with jazz standards that often contain essential lessons in harmonic movement, beginners can gain a robust musical education simply by studying this rich genre. Moreover, the improvisational aspects of jazz can break you free from purely mechanical practice, enhancing your creativity and musical intuition.

Techniques to Learn:

  • Chord Extensions
  • Basic Improvisation
  • Jazz Scales (Dorian, Mixolydian, etc.)

Funk

Characteristics:

  • Rhythmic Grooves: Funk guitar serves as part of the rhythm section, focusing on groovy chordal patterns.
  • Syncopated Patterns: Funk often involves syncopated rhythms and staccato strumming – it’s a real rhythm guitar workout.
  • Clean, Sharp Tone: Funk guitar usually has a clean, bright sound to cut through the mix.

History and Evolution:

Funk emerged in the 1960s as an offshoot of R&B and soul. Artists like James Brown and George Clinton introduced unique rhythmic patterns that form the backbone demanding musical genre of funk guitar.

Recommended Guitars:

Fender Stratocaster, PRS Custom 24

Guitar Gear:

  • Amplifiers: Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, Roland JC-120
  • Pedals: Auto-wah, phaser, and envelope filters are popular choices.

Recommended Listening:

  • “Get Up Offa That Thing” – James Brown
  • “Kiss” – Prince
  • “Give It Away” – Red Hot Chili Peppers

Why It’s Great for Beginners:

Funk guitar is a treasure trove for developing rhythm and timing. Given that the genre often involves intricate strumming patterns, funk can help you internalize syncopations and grooves, thereby enhancing your sense of timing and improving your rhythm guitar playing. It also emphasizes the lead guitar part’s role within a larger ensemble, teaching you to lock in with drums and bass to create a tight rhythm section. Funk guitar usually features clean tones, which makes your playing transparent and pushes you to make every note count. For those interested in developing a strong rhythmic foundation, funk is an ideal playground.

Techniques to Learn:

  • Syncopated Strumming
  • Staccato Technique
  • 16th Note Rhythms

Soul

Characteristics:

  • Emotional Expressiveness: Soul guitar is a guitar style often focusing on creating an emotive backdrop to the vocals.
  • Smooth Chord Progressions: Soul music typically features lush, extended chords.
  • Clean Tone: Soul guitar usually involves a clean, warm tone to complement the vocal melody.

History and Evolution:

Soul music emerged in the late 1950s and reached its peak in the 1960s and 70s. It blends elements from gospel, R&B, and jazz to create a deeply emotive style of music.

Recommended Guitars:

Gibson ES-335, Fender Telecaster

Guitar Gear:

  • Amplifiers: Fender Twin Reverb, Vox AC30
  • Pedals: Reverb and chorus pedals add warmth and depth.

Recommended Listening:

  • “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay” – Otis Redding
  • “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” – Marvin Gaye
  • “Stand By Me” – Ben E. King

Why It’s Great for Beginners:

The soul genre teaches beginner guitarists the art of musical subtlety. Given that soul music often employs extended chords and smooth transitions, it’s an excellent style for learning lush voicings and nuanced strumming or fingerpicking techniques. In soul, the guitar often serves as a supportive instrument, blending seamlessly with vocals and other instruments. This focus on harmony and texture over flash and virtuosity makes it an ideal genre for learning how to serve the song—not just showcasing your skills. As you get better, you’ll also find that many soul techniques, like melodic fills and chord substitutions, are easily transferable to other genres.

Techniques to Learn:

  • Basic Fingerstyle
  • Use of Extended Chords
  • Vibrato

Metal

Characteristics:

  • High Gain and Distortion: Metal guitar is recognized for its heavy distortion and aggressive tones.
  • Rapid Solos: Speed and precision are key, with many solos incorporating intricate licks and scales.
  • Palm Muting and Double Stops: These techniques are often used to add texture and complexity.

History and Evolution:

The genre heavy metal traces its roots back to the hard rock of the 1960s, evolving into a distinct form in the 1980s with bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Slayer. Sub-genres like death metal, black metal, and progressive metal have expanded the scope and complexity of metal guitar playing.

Recommended Guitars:

Jackson Rhoads, Ibanez RG Series

Guitar Gear:

  • Amplifiers: Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, Marshall JCM800
  • Pedals: High-gain distortion, noise gate, and wah pedals are commonly used.

Recommended Listening:

  • “Master of Puppets” – Metallica
  • “Crazy Train” – Ozzy Osbourne
  • “Painkiller” – Judas Priest

Why It’s Great for Beginners:

Metal offers an invaluable training ground for developing precision, speed, and dexterity. Although the genre’s aggressive tones and rapid-fire solos may seem intimidating, many metal techniques, such as palm muting and power chords, are relatively straightforward to learn. These techniques serve as foundational skills that can be gradually expanded upon, offering a well-defined path towards technical mastery. Additionally, metal’s variety of sub-genres, from the dark, atmospheric tones of doom metal to the technical intricacies of progressive metal, means that you’ll always have new techniques to learn, ensuring that your practice sessions remain both challenging and engaging.

Techniques to Learn:

  • Alternate Picking
  • Sweep Picking
  • Tapping

Pop

Characteristics:

  • Simplicity and Catchiness: Pop guitar is a guitar style usually involving simple chord progressions and catchy melodies.
  • Versatility: Pop often borrows from other genres, making it a versatile style to play.
  • Clean to Mildly Overdriven Tones: The sound can vary but usually stays clean or mildly overdriven.

History and Evolution:

Pop music has been around in various forms for decades, absorbing influences from nearly every other genre. Artists like The Beatles, Michael Jackson, and more recently, Taylor Swift, have used the guitar effectively in pop music.

Recommended Guitars:

Fender American Professional II Stratocaster, Taylor 814ce

Guitar Gear:

  • Amplifiers: Fender Deluxe Reverb, Roland JC-120
  • Pedals: Delay, reverb, and chorus pedals are frequently used.

Recommended Listening:

  • “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson
  • “Shake It Off” – Taylor Swift
  • “Hey Jude” – The Beatles

Why It’s Great for Beginners:

Pop music is often crafted for mass appeal, and this accessibility makes it a fantastic starting point for beginner guitarists. With its straightforward chord progressions and melodies, pop offers a gratifying way to quickly learn to play the songs you and others love. It’s also one of the most versatile genres, borrowing elements from rock, jazz, and other styles, offering a well-rounded introduction to different techniques and theories. Pop songs frequently utilize key changes, bridges, and other structural elements, making the genre an excellent teacher when it comes to understanding song arrangements.

Techniques to Learn:

  • Open Chords
  • Basic Strumming Patterns
  • Simple Melodic Solos

Bluegrass

Characteristics:

  • Fast Picking: Bluegrass often involves quick, intricate picking patterns.
  • Acoustic Sound: This style usually features an acoustic guitar, focusing on a bright and resonant tone.
  • Syncopation and Groove: Despite its speed, bluegrass also focuses heavily on rhythmic groove.

History and Evolution:

Originating in the American South, bluegrass is a form of American roots music with influences from Irish, Scottish, and English traditional music. It gained popularity through artists like Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs.

Recommended Guitars:

Martin D-28, Gibson J-45

Guitar Gear:

  • Amplifiers: Generally, acoustic amplifiers like the Fishman Loudbox or AER Compact 60 are used for those rare times when amplification is needed.
  • Accessories: A quality capo and perhaps a simple DI box for live performances.

Recommended Listening:

  • “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” – Earl Scruggs
  • “Blue Moon of Kentucky” – Bill Monroe
  • “Man of Constant Sorrow” – Soggy Bottom Boys (Traditional)

Why It’s Great for Beginners:

Bluegrass provides beginners with an effective platform to master acoustic guitar techniques like fingerpicking, flatpicking, and slide. Starting with slower folk songs and progressing into faster, bluegrass style, numbers allows you to develop speed and dexterity in a natural, incremental manner. Also, because bluegrass often involves ensemble playing in a ‘jam’ format, you’ll learn valuable lessons in musical communication and improvisation. These jam sessions provide a supportive, interactive learning environment where you can pick up tips from more experienced players, get accustomed to playing in a group, and build confidence in your abilities.

Techniques to Learn:

  • Flatpicking
  • Crosspicking
  • Slide Techniques

Final Thoughts: Filling in the Gaps

As comprehensive as we’ve tried to make this guide, it’s essential to recognize that the world of guitar styles is incredibly vast and continually evolving. We’ve provided you with an overview, diving into characteristics, history, gear, techniques, and more for each guitar style here. Yet, every genre of music is filled with sub-genres, regional variations, and innovative players who are pushing the boundaries in exciting new directions. Here are some additional points worth considering:

Sub-genres and Fusion Styles

Each major style often has numerous sub-genres or offshoots that are worth exploring. For instance, metal has branches like death metal, power metal, and progressive metal, each with its unique characteristics. Likewise, jazz has various styles like bebop, smooth jazz, and jazz fusion. The intersection of different genres also leads to intriguing fusion styles like jazz-rock, country-rock, and many more.

Cultural Context

Understanding the cultural backdrop against which a particular style of music evolved can give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of the music. Whether it’s Flamenco’s roots in Andalusian, Islamic, Sephardic, and Gypsy music, or the African American origins of blues, jazz, and soul, the cultural history is rich and worth learning about.

Playing Styles vs. Individual Voice

While it’s beneficial to study different styles, the ultimate goal for most guitarists is to develop their own unique voice on the instrument. This might involve blending various genres, experimenting with unconventional techniques, or using unique gear setups.

Upkeep and Maintenance

Regardless of the style you choose to to play the guitar, the maintenance of your gear is essential for achieving the best sound and playability. Learn how to change your strings, adjust your action, and perform basic setup tasks on your guitar. Different styles might require specific setups, from string gauges to pickup configurations.

Play Along and Jam Sessions

One of the best ways to internalize a new style is by playing with others. This can be in the form of online collaboration, jamming with friends, or even attending dedicated workshops. Each style has its own etiquette and unwritten rules when it comes to jamming, so be sure to familiarize yourself with those as well.

Online Communities and Resources

Thanks to the internet, there are more resources available than ever for learning guitar. From YouTube tutorials and online courses to forums and social media groups, you can find a wealth of information and like-minded individuals to share your journey with.

Keep Listening

Your musical journey should involve as much listening as playing. Deep dive into the classic records of the style you’re interested in and also check out what contemporary artists are doing. Understanding the breadth and depth of a style can open your eyes to its potential and inspire you to greater heights.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) – guitar playing styles

1. What is the best guitar playing style for a complete beginner to start with?

The best style for a beginner often depends on personal preferences and musical interests. However, many find rock and pop to be the most accessible due to their straightforward chord progressions and familiar songs.

2. Can I learn multiple guitar playing styles at the same time?

Yes, learning multiple styles can actually be beneficial as it gives you a more rounded skill set and understanding of classical music theory. Many genres share techniques, scales, and chords, so knowledge in one area can often be applied to another.

3. How long will it take to become proficient in a guitar playing style?

The time it takes to become proficient varies widely and depends on factors like how often you practice, your prior musical experience, and the complexity of the guitar playing style. However, consistent practice over several months to a year can yield significant improvement.

4. Do I need a different guitar for each guitar playing style?

While some styles have preferred guitar types—like a hollow-body, or acoustic guitar for jazz or blues guitar, and a high-gain setup for metal—many contemporary guitarists use versatile guitars that can cover multiple genres. As a beginner, it’s more important to have a decent instrument that you’re comfortable playing.

5. What additional equipment do I need for specific guitar playing styles?

Beyond the guitar itself, certain styles play guitar often benefit from specific amplifiers, pedals, and accessories. For example, metal often uses high-gain distortion pedals, while funk might require an auto-wah or envelope filter. The article sections on “Guitar Gear for Each Style” provide more detailed recommendations.

6. Where can I find good resources to learn these guitar playing styles?

Numerous online tutorials, books, and courses are available that focus on specific genres. YouTube is a valuable resource for free guitar lessons, and websites like TrueFire or JamPlay offer more structured courses.

7. How do I know if I’m ready to move on to a more challenging guitar playing style?

If you find that you’re consistently able to play songs and exercises in your current playing style without too much difficulty, it might be time to explore something more challenging. Another indicator is if you find yourself becoming bored or unengaged with your current practice routine.

8. Can I create my own guitar playing style?

Absolutely! Many of the greatest guitarists are known for their unique blend of multiple styles. As you become more proficient in rhythm guitar yourself, you’ll naturally start to develop your own voice on the instrument.

9. Is it essential to learn music theory to play different guitar playing styles?

While not strictly necessary for all styles, a basic understanding of music theory can significantly aid your understanding and mastery of any musical genre throughout. Jazz, for instance, will be much easier to navigate with some theory knowledge.

10. Are there any guitar playing styles better suited for electric or acoustic guitar?

Certain styles are traditionally associated with one type of guitar over the other. For example, metal is usually played on electric guitars, while styles like bluegrass and folk are more commonly played on acoustic instruments. However, many modern players successfully cross over between electric and acoustic guitars in various genres.