I had a guitar and no idea how to play it. I tried books, videos and articles and eventually figured out that some online guitar tuition would be a good idea. I enrolled with a teacher I liked and quickly found that I didn’t have much of a clue where he was taking me either. Then I started looking at the bigger picture instead.
- 1 An Overview of Guitar Tuition
- 2 What Are Keys?
- 3 Choose Your Style
- 4 Option 1: Laid Back Learning
- 5 Option 2: Semi-Structured Learning
- 6 Option 3: Structured Learning
- 7 What to Look For in Guitar Tuition
- 8 Lead Guitar Tuition
- 9 Additional Information
- 10 General Advice
- 11 References
- 12 See Also
- 13 Disclaimer
- 14 Related Articles
An Overview of Guitar Tuition
Typically a complete guitar tuition course would comprise learning how to play
- Barre chords
- Scales and Arpeggios
- Lead solos
in that order. The scales are often derived from the pentatonic scale which has fewer notes than normal.
The first step in guitar tuition would be to learn a number of chords. How many chords and keys would be enough? There are hundreds and of them. It would be good if we could learn those that are the most effective.
What Are Keys?
In western music, a key is a group of notes that have specific frequency offsets from the root note of the key. Most pop music is in a single key, the most useful to the beginner will be major or a minor.
If a key change is part of the music, the most likely following keys will be the related dominant, subdominant, major or minor keys making a total of 4 that can be used for a large number of songs and instrumentals.
It is possible to transpose a piece of music from one key to another. Major keys can be transposed to major keys, minor keys to minor keys. There are no relative differences between similarly structured keys (major, minor etc) other than a change in pitch, which suggests that in theory most of the music you would be interested in playing could be transposed to 1 major key and 1 minor key.
So if we can use a handful of keys effectively, why would we choose different ones?
- Different instruments resonate naturally on notes that are more common in particular scales and composers will choose keys and instruments that exploit these nuances expressively. The name you might come across for this is timbre and also colour. Now I know what they are talking about I’ll probably start using stupid names too.
- Instruments can be easier to play in some keys rather than others.
- Singers have a vocal range that suits specific keys.
- If they can use it they probably will.
In summary – different keys are used for expression and/or ease of playing. This is good news for the beginner because your essential minimum can be one major key and one minor key, and the 22 other keys can be set to one side for now.
Choose Your Style
For the following reasons, we are in a better position to choose what our approach to guitar tuition might be:
- Some of the best songs aren’t that complicated.
- We can probably do a lot with a small number of chords, keys and scales.
- Whatever method you use will take time and effort.
- “It’s not what you do but the way that you do it”
Option 1: Laid Back Learning
You could literally just mess about with the guitar and learn anything in any order and you are bound to get somewhere even if there are cavernous holes in your knowledge. If that’s a happy route for you then why worry. There have been plenty of successful bands that get by without a lot of knowledge. If at a later date you decide to go further, you can do that too.
Option 2: Semi-Structured Learning
You could learn a decent mixture of open and barre chords because once you have enough of them you can play some backing chords to the majority of songs you might be interested in. You can always go further at a later date with this option as well.
Option 3: Structured Learning
Structured learning provided by a specific guitar tutor of your choice is most liable to be onerous and frustrating – but you might choose it anyway because, in the end, it will be liberating. The trick is to mix in some of option 1 and 2 while you are learning to ensure that it stays fun enough to keep you going.
What to Look For in Guitar Tuition
It’s taken a while to figure out, but it was made a lot simpler to understand when I found JustinGuitar.com and started puzzling through the guitar tuition sequence and comparing it with other sites and methods I had been looking at.
The main difference was that JustinGuitar did not start off by teaching the CAGED system. He has a beginners course, an intermediate course and intends to provide ‘style’ modules to follow. The CAGED system is provided in what appears to be a stand-alone section and has only been added by popular demand. He is not teaching the CAGED system per se, he is providing guitar tuition using his own approach, to form a foundation.
This meshes with what I have pieced together as the correct route for me to learn the guitar. It may not suit you, but it is useful to know the stages of learning so that if you can stay orientated and clear about where you are.
Unfortunately, most people do offer beginner and intermediate courses and it’s hard to articulate why his style makes more sense to me than someone else’s. In the end, you might need to figure that out for yourself, or perhaps find someone that matches your approach.
I chose JustinGuitar.com as my new teacher because I am more in sync with his thinking than my current tutor. He sticks to the point and moves clearly and methodically through well-defined stages.
Here are the reasons I have decided to follow Justin’s guitar tuition:
- He is donation funded, so you can give something when you have learned something.
- Because you’re not paying monthly there is no pressure to learn when I don’t feel like it, and that means it won’t turn into a massive chore.
- He has clear step-by-step beginner and intermediate courses.
- He sticks to the point.
- The tuition is meticulous, encouraging and unhurried.
- You will not be deluged with dumb-ass emails if you sign up.
- You will not be wading through dumb-ass sales tactics.
- By the time you reach intermediate, you will have made plenty of progress and be in a good position to choose where to go next.
It’s in my nature to play fair, so I will be donating as I go, and I hope others will do so too.
Lead Guitar Tuition
I have looked at the CAGED system from several different sources, including my own paid tuition, books and videos etc.
In the CAGED system, you will learn 5 interlocking chord shapes that cover the entire fretboard so that you can learn to play chords and scale notes in any key. The CAGED system is one of the most popular ways for a beginner to learn, and it doesn’t prevent one from learning other ways to look at the fretboard.
I get the concept, but it doesn’t do a good job of grounding a beginner. Its aims are fairly narrow in scope. The basic preparatory work and explanations I anticipated seeing were poorly covered – and that raised a lot of annoying questions. The CAGED system is not a complete solution, it does a specific job and in my opinion, that should be tackled at a later stage, so I’ll go back to it after I have filled in all the foundational material properly first.
In addition to the CAGED system, I found an article by unlocktheguitar.net suggesting a few alternate methods for mastering the fretboard. There is more than one way to get the job done.
A form of learning that emphasises melodic playing using pentatonic scales for guitar solos.
- 3 Notes Per String
This method purports to be more natural and consistent than the CAGED system. It was popularised by Joe Satriani. It
- The 2 Position Guitar System
A method developed by the author of the article, who is offering an ebook.
- Targeting Chord Tones and Ear Training
This course of action requires developing knowledge of chords and scales while also developing the ability to recognise tonality. The fact that this is listed implies that you would not be following another learning system at the same time.
Since the CAGED system is so dominant, you can’t go too far wrong by following that one by default, and you can always try out the other methods as you go.
If you don’t already have them download a tuning app and a metronome app onto your phone. I use Fender Tune by Fender and Metronome by Soundbrenner.
- Finger strengthening
- Finger stretching
- Play each note on the fretboard to a metronome
Tune the guitar each time you use it.
Test the 4th fret to see if that is in tune. If you bought a new guitar and had it ‘set’ there should be no difference in the frequency of the fretted position and the equivalent open string. If there is, this adjustment will be made by the ‘saddle’ if there is one.
Replace the strings every 100 hours or 3 months using nickel-plated strings. A new guitar will be strung with the lightest strings because it will be easier to learn that way.
- Lighter gauge: 0.009 to 0.042 less tension, easier to play, detunes more easily
- Normal gauge: 0.010 to 0.046 balance between playability and tone
- Hard gauge: 0.011 to 0.048 for aggressive playing
Eventually, you will also need to learn how to adjust the neck, but you could easily make things worse if you aren’t sure what you are doing.
Here’s some general advice from all those internet dudes out there.
- Buy a guitar you like.
- Have fun!
- Do hand stretching exercises
- Know what you want to achieve
- Make learning something that you like to do
- Build chord knowledge
- Work on your weaknesses –
- Attention to technique
- Smooth transitions
- Good timekeeping
- Learn from people that play the way you want to play
- Listen to your instincts
- Play with people better than you
Care has been taken to keep the information in this article as accurate as possible but errors are possible, so be aware of the full disclaimer here.