Learning How To Play The Guitar – Without Fully Reading Music

Hello there!

Everyone out there (or a huge majority) wants to learn to play an instrument, and the Guitar is usually the popular choice. I know, that’s the first one I chose. When one learns how to play, a whole lot of different feelings can come from it. Excitement, Happiness, Accomplishment, Frustration, just to name a few. Once you are comfortable playing and have the willingness to venture further (which most of us do), a whole new world can and will open up for you. (If you have read any of my other posts, you will hear me say that a lot, mainly because it is true) You can change the mood of just about anything simply by adding music to it, and when it’s coming from you, well, that’s just an awesome thing! So, now that I got that out of the way, time to talk about the topic of this article:


Learning How To Play The Guitar – Without FULLY Knowing How To Read Music

When one first starts trying to learn how to play these 6 String Beauties, one of the main things that can be intimidating and foreign to us, is the “Being Able To Read Music” part. It’s new, it’s different, it feels like your heads going to explode if you have to try and memorize every little thing. I have been playing for over 20 years now, and I STILL don’t know how to read music! Trust me, I’ve tried. Still looks like an ancient language and weird symbols to me. But rest assured my friend, you are not alone! I have some great solutions for you that are REALLY going to be helpful! So let’s get started.


Knowing About Music Tablature (Tabs)

                               Type A

Alright, let’s start off with Knowing About Tabs and How To Use Them. For this article we are only going to focus on Chord Tabs. (To learn a whole lot more on tabs, Click Here) So, when it come to Tabs, they are a great alternative to actually Reading Music (the squiggly line and symbol stuff). They are straight forward and very easy to follow, especially with just Chord Tabs. When you are looking at a Tab for a Chord (chord-tab), there are a few different ways they are “Tabbed Out“: TYPE A you will see 6 horizontal lines, these lines represent your guitar strings. (There are 6 because most guitars have just 6 strings) The top one represents your Skinniest String, and the bottom one will be your Thickest String. The top string is called the “e” string, or 1st string. This is because when it is played open (when you do not hold down on any of the frets and just play it by itself), it plays a simple e note. The next string down is the B String, or 2nd String. It is called that for the same reason, it plays a B note when played open. The rest are: the G String or 3rd String; D String or 4th string; A String or 5th String; and the other E String or 6th String. Since the 1st and 6th strings are both E notes, we write a lowercase “e” for the skinnier string (1st String).



How a chord is written to show you how to play it, there will be a single vertical row of numbers (one # on each string telling you which fret to put your fingers on). If there is an “X”, a dash, or no number on a string, that means you do not hit that string. If there is a “0” (zero), that still counts as part of the chord, it’s an open note. Once your fingers are where they need to be, strum your guitar and give yourself a high five! You just played a chord!


This next way is the most common way chords are portrayed. It is usually shown in a little box-type thing called a Chord Grid. The 6 strings (lines) are still shown, but this time they are Vertical, not horizontal. The skinnye“, 1st String, is on the right, and the thickerE“, 6th String, is on the left. The spaces between the Horizontal Lines represent the Frets. From top to bottom, they go lower to higher. They will usually say on the side of they what fret number it is.


Now for your finger positions. How to know where to put them so you can play the chord you want to. There’s a couple ways it is shown. The first is: There are usually little dots on which fret to play and which string to play it on. Also, directly on top where your vertical lines (strings) stop, there might be an “X” or an “O“. The “X” means Don’t Play That String, the “O” means its an Open String, and you DO play that. Another way is the exact same as the Dot Positioning, but instead if dots, there are numbers. Where these numbers are placed is exactly where you need to play (just like the dots) the only other difference, is that these numbers tell you which finger to use. Sometimes there is both as well.

  1. Index Finger
  2. Middle Finger
  3. Ring Finger
  4. Pinky Finger


Another popular way, is one that does not require a grid or anything. It is simply; The Name (letter) of the chord, and then next to it, there are 6 digits that have numbers in them. From left to right they run; Thick E (6th string), A (5th), D (4th), G (3rd), B (2nd), and the Skinny e (1st). The number represents what fret to play on that string. Pretty simple stuff, just takes getting a little used to it.

A) x0222x      B) x24430      C) x3201x      D) xx0232

E) 02210x      F) 13321x      G) 320033



Little Note Memorization

For this section, the first “Stepping Stone” to improving your skills is probably the most important one (at least in my opinion). It’s fairly simple, only takes a little repetition and a piece of paper, or as I call it, My Cheat Sheet. Here’s what you do:

  1. Write down your basic notes (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G)  on a piece of paper and make sure you space them out.
  2. Underneath each note, write down the tab for that note.
  3. Now play one of those notes over and over until you think you got it down and know what it sounds like.
  4. Do the same thing with the other notes.


Listen and Play

This second step is a biggy too. Here’s what you do:

  1. Find a song that you really like (that has a guitar playing in it) and put it in your stereo. (Start with an easy one)
  2. Hit play and listen to it a few times so you kinda have an idea of the melody down and in your head.
  3. Grab your Guitar
  4. Holding your Guitar, hit play on the stereo and listen to try and distinguish what notes are being played.
  5. While listening, use your cheat-sheet and start strumming your guitar until you match the notes with your notes.
  6. Keep doing it until you feel comfortable and confident to play it without the stereo blasting.



The third step is all about repetition (practicing). Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you think. After you are confident playing that song:

  1. Keep practicing it! Doing this will automatically burn some (or all) of those notes into your brain.
  2. Find more songs to play that have some or all of those same notes in it.
  3. Do the same thing with those.


Expanding Your Note-Knowledge

This fourth step is where you are going to start expanding your “Note Library.” Here’s what you do:

  1. Grabbing your paper, write down all of the notes you previously wrote down, but this time, they will be in the minor key (Am, Bm, Cm, Dm, Em, Fm, and Gm) Don’t forget to write down the chord tab for them.
  2. Repeat the last two stepping-stone-steps.


After following these steps, you should/will be ready to take on learning other ways to play all these chords, and in other keys (sharp, flat, etc…) as well. You can also try more challenging songs to play and/or start creating some of your own! Once you have your “basics” down, your music world will start getting bigger and better with all kinds of other things to find and learn about. Trust me! It will surprise you how fast you are going to get this down and progress if you follow these steps, I know I was when I first started.


Now, first and foremost, you absolutely have to understand that, “Learning To Play Very Well, Will Not Happen Over Night.” Sorry to say that, but unless you are a prodigy or something like that, it’s unlikely to happen. It takes some Time, Practice, Perseverance, Patients, and Willingness to Progress. I don’t want any of that to sound negative, it’s just the truth. But rest assured, if you do keep going and stick with it, you WILL get better. That is one of the beauties of Music, you can never move backwards or get worse, it’s always forward baby!

Thanks for reading. I really hope this will give you some motivation for wanting to learn how to play. Like I’ve mentioned before; this is how I personally took whatever little music skills I had, and escalated them very quickly. Had to figure it out all on my own, so this should and will help you out. No need to spend X amount of time looking for solutions. You’ve got them right here!  And if you have any questions or comments on any of this material, feel free to let me know in the section below.

Again, Thanks for reading, and as always, Keep Rockin!


Jerrick (J-Rock) S.

2 Comments on “Learning How To Play The Guitar – Without Fully Reading Music”

  1. Hi Jerrick. Thanks for the tips. I was forced to learn the piano when I was young so had to learn how to read music. It really sucked and took all of the fun out of it. Plus the teacher was strict and boring! I brought a guitar as a teenager and tried to learn by reading music and playing. I ended up giving up as it just felt wrong. I still would love to be able to play and I think if I follow your advice I might be able to pick it up. It should be about the ‘feelings’ and ‘heart’ not about the head.
    Many thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Hi Jerrick,

    Thank you for this article on learning how to play the guitar without reading music. I was never good at reading music though its not impossible. This is why this article is so useful for those that don’t want to spend time reading from music sheets but use a quicker way you have here Jerrick. An old friend of mine taught me about 9 chords and I got pretty proficient at those chords. 20 mins a day and you will have those chords down in no time and be able to play some basic stuff with more advanced players. Its a good past time and a guitar can also be great company when you are on your own.

    Thanks Jerrick for the amazing tips here and I will pick up my guitar again some time really soon and come back here. Much appreciated 🙂 .

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