12-string guitars are known for their unique, rich sound and are a favorite among folk and country musicians. However, playing a 12-string guitar can be intimidating for beginners, as it has twice the number of strings as a standard 6-string guitar.
In this guide, we will cover the basics of 12-string guitar playing, including the proper way to tune and hold the guitar, basic chord progressions, and techniques for strumming and fingerpicking.
Tuning a 12-String Guitar
The first step in learning to play a 12-string guitar is to tune it properly. The strings on a 12-string guitar are divided into two groups of six, with the lower-pitched strings being on the top and the higher-pitched strings being on the bottom. The top group of strings, called the “courses,” are tuned to the same pitch as a standard 6-string guitar, while the bottom group, called the “octave strings,” are tuned to a higher pitch, usually an octave above the corresponding course string.
To tune a 12-string guitar, start by tuning the top six strings (the courses) to the standard E-A-D-G-B-E tuning. Then, tune the bottom six strings (the octave strings) to the higher-pitched E-A-D-G-B-E tuning. It’s important to note that the octave strings are tuned to the same notes as the corresponding course strings, but at a higher pitch.
Holding and Playing the 12-String Guitar
Once your guitar is tuned, it’s time to learn how to hold and play it. The 12-string guitar is held in the same position as a standard 6-string guitar, with the left hand placed on the neck and the right hand used for strumming or fingerpicking.
One important thing to note when playing a 12-string guitar is to be mindful of the octave strings. These strings are located closer to the sound hole and are more prone to buzzing or getting in the way when strumming or fingerpicking. To avoid this, make sure to keep your right hand close to the sound hole and to use a light touch when strumming or fingerpicking.
Basic Chord Progressions
Now that you know how to hold and play your 12-string guitar, it’s time to learn some basic chords. The most common chord progressions used in 12-string guitar playing are G-C-D and A-D-E. To play a G chord, place your left-hand fingers on the 3rd fret of the low E string, the 2nd fret of the A string, and the 3rd fret of the high E string. For a C chord, place your left-hand fingers on the 3rd fret of the A string, the 2nd fret of the D string, and the 3rd fret of the G string. And for a D chord, place your left-hand fingers on the 2nd fret of the G string, the 2nd fret of the B string, and the 3rd fret of the high E string.
Strumming and Fingerpicking Techniques
Strumming and fingerpicking are essential techniques for playing 12-string guitar. Strumming is the process of using a pick or your fingers to strike the strings in a downward or upward motion to create a chord. Fingerpicking is the process of plucking the strings one at a time with your fingers to create a melody.
When strumming a 12-string guitar, it’s important to use a light touch and to be mindful of the octave strings. Start by strumming only the top six strings (the courses) using a downward motion, then gradually add in the bottom six strings (the octave strings) as you become more comfortable.
Fingerpicking on a 12-string guitar is a bit more complex than on a standard 6-string guitar due to the additional strings. A common fingerpicking pattern for 12-string guitar is called the “Travis Picking” style, named after American country musician Merle Travis. This style involves alternating between the thumb and fingers to pluck the strings in a specific order. Start by plucking the bass strings with your thumb and the treble strings with your fingers.
Practice regularly: Consistent practice is the key to becoming a proficient 12-string guitar player. Set aside a certain amount of time each day to practice, even if it’s only for a few minutes. The more you practice, the faster you’ll improve.
Learn new chords, strumming patterns, and fingerpicking styles: As you become more comfortable with the basics, challenge yourself by learning new chords, strumming patterns and fingerpicking styles. This will help to keep your playing interesting and will also help you to expand your musical vocabulary.
Use a metronome: A metronome is a great tool to help improve your timing. It’s a device that makes a ticking sound at a steady tempo, allowing you to practice playing in time with the metronome. This will help you to develop a sense of timing and will also help you to play more accurately.
Learn songs you enjoy: Learning songs that you like will make practicing more enjoyable and will also help to keep you motivated. Start with simple songs and work your way up to more complex ones as your skills improve.
Consider taking lessons or using online resources: A professional guitar teacher can provide you with personalized instruction and feedback. Online resources such as guitar tutorial videos or guitar lesson books can also be very helpful. These resources will provide you with detailed instructions and tips to help you improve your playing.
Properly maintain and care for your 12-string guitar: Regularly cleaning and polishing the fretboard, strings, and body of the guitar will help to ensure that your guitar will last for a long time and continue to produce the best sound possible.
Start with the basics and gradually progress to more complex techniques: start with the basic chords, strumming patterns and fingerpicking styles, and gradually progress to more complex techniques as you become more comfortable.
Pay attention to the details: Paying attention to small details like the position of your left hand, the pressure of your fingers, and the angle of the pick can make a big difference in the overall sound of your playing.
Listen to how different chords and strumming patterns sound: Listen to how different chords and strumming patterns sound and try to emulate the sounds you like. This will help you to develop your own style and will also help you to understand the relationship between different chords and strumming patterns.
Try to find a balance between playing with ease and playing with precision: It’s important to find a balance between playing with ease and playing with precision. Playing with ease will help you to relax and to enjoy your playing while playing with precision will help you to play more accurately.
Get inspiration from other musicians: Listen to other musicians and try to incorporate their techniques and ideas into your own playing. This will help you to develop your own style and will also help you to stay motivated and inspired.
Remember that playing 12-string guitar is a skill that takes time to develop: Don’t be discouraged if progress seems slow at first. Playing 12-string guitar is a skill that takes time to develop, so be patient with yourself and keep practicing.
Learning to play a 12-string guitar can be challenging for beginners, but with proper tuning, proper technique, and practice, you will be able to create the unique and beautiful sound that 12-string guitars are known for. Remember to take it slow and be patient with yourself as you learn. Happy playing!
Q: Can I learn to play 12-string guitar on my own?
A: Yes, it is possible to learn to play 12-string guitar on your own with the help of guitar tutorials, instructional videos, and lesson books. However, taking lessons from a professional guitar teacher can provide you with personalized instruction and feedback, which can accelerate your learning process.
Q: How long does it take to learn to play 12-string guitar?
A: The amount of time it takes to learn to play 12-string guitar varies depending on the individual. With consistent practice and proper instruction, most people can learn the basics within a few months. However, becoming proficient at playing 12-string guitar can take years of practice and dedication.
Q: Are 12-string guitars more difficult to play than 6-string guitars?
A: 12-string guitars can be more challenging to play for beginners due to the additional strings. However, with proper technique and practice, the difficulty level can be overcome.
Q: Is it necessary to use a pick when playing 12-string guitar?
A: It is not necessary to use a pick when playing 12-string guitar. Many players prefer to fingerpick the strings using their fingers. However, using a pick can make strumming easier and provide more control over the sound.
Q: Can I use a standard 6-string guitar tuner to tune my 12-string guitar?
A: A standard 6-string guitar tuner can be used to tune the top six strings (the courses) of a 12-string guitar, but it will not be able to tune the bottom six strings (the octave strings). It is recommended to use a 12-string guitar tuner or to tune the octave strings by ear.