Learning to play simple and fun songs on the guitar is easy. Many of my students have learned how to play Happy Birthday in their first lesson. Follow the simple steps below to learn this song in just a few minutes.
Learning to Play the Notes
To play Happy Birthday on the guitar, you first must learn how to play an open string (no left hand fingers pressing the string down to the fretboard). To do so, position your right hand over the sound hole and strike the first string (thinnest string) either with the tip of your right thumb or with a pick held between your right thumb and the outside edge of your right index finger. (You can also pluck the string with one of your right hand fingers by hooking the tip of the finger under the string and then plucking the string to sound the note.) Say “0” each time you sound the note because that is the number for the note played when you play an open string.
Except for open string notes, playing all the other notes requires holding a string down at one of the frets with the tip of a left hand finger. Press the tip of your left thumb to the back of your guitar and arch your left hand fingers so that you roughly make a “C” shape between your thumb and index finger. With the tip of your index finger, practice pressing the first string down against the fretboard with your fingertip very near each of the first four frets (closest to the head of the guitar) but not touching each fret. As you press the string down at each fret, sound the note the same way you did for playing the string open. In order as you play these first four frets, say the numbers one through four because those are the numbers for each of these notes.
Once you have learned to hold the string down at the first four frets to play notes one through four, move up the neck of the guitar and do the same thing with the next four frets. Say the numbers five through eight as you play these notes. Finally, move again to the next four frets and practice sounding these notes. Say the numbers nine to twelve as you play them.
Counting the string played open, you now can play thirteen different notes on that string and say the number for each note as you play it! You now know all the notes for playing Happy Birthday on the guitar. Most guitars are marked with a dot on the fretboard at the fifth, seventh, and twelfth frets, so finding the right fret for each numbered note is not hard at all with just a little practice.
Playing the Song
You will now learn to play Happy Birthday on your guitar in four groups of notes. Use your ear to guide you about the right timing as you play each group of notes. Play the first group of notes (0 – 0 – 2 – 0 – 5 – 4). Play the two open notes faster than the other notes. In fact, you will play the first two notes of each group faster than the other notes in each group.
Then play the second group (0 – 0 – 2 – 0 – 7 – 5). The first four notes are the same as in the first group, so memorizing the first half of the song is easy.
Play the third group next (0 – 0 – 12 – 9 – 5 – 4 – 2). Finally, play the fourth group (10 – 10 – 9 – 5 – 7 – 5). Practice the song until you can play it smoothly on the first string. With just a little practice, you can easily learn how to play Happy Birthday on the guitar by following these steps!
Playing in Other Keys
Because you are playing by fret numbers, you can play this song on any of the strings. Except for the sixth string, which has the same notes at each fret as the first string does, playing Happy Birthday on the other strings changes the song to a different key. You have now learned how to play Happy Birthday on the guitar in five different keys!