What Should I Learn

I got a request write a lesson on what an absolute beginner guitarist should learn, in order. But, that was more article material than lesson material. So here you go!

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Intro:

Hello, and welcome to CPDmusicarticle. That's what today's lesson is going to be; an article. I got a request write a lesson on what an absolute beginner guitarist should learn, in order. Before I start, two things. First of all, to me this isn't really a lesson topic, more of an article topic, which is why this was published in the article section. Second of all, there is no real this is the order you have to learn this in. What you should learn and when changes from individual to individual, and is based on where that person sees themselves as a guitar player. If I wanted to be in a death metal band, I would probably focus on different things than if I wanted to be the next great jazz guitarist. Sure, there are similarities as far as skill goes, but there are also some huge gaps. So, I will cover the basic of things, and then try and give a few paths one could take, and what skills are recommended.

Starting off:

Now, as surprising as this may be, the first thing you should learn when playing the guitar, or any instrument for that matter, does not require you to even pick this instrument up. The very first thing you should know before attempting to play any instrument is basic music theory. Learn the music alphabet, how to read the staff (in guitar, you just need to know the treble clef, but it's a good idea to learn the bass clef as well, as they are the two most common clefs.), key signatures, note durations, etc. If you have a firm grasp on the basics of music theory before you begin learning a specific instrument, you will learn at a highly accelerated rate in comparison to someone who is juggling both music theory and their specific instrument.

Starting with the Guitar:

So now that you know basic music theory, you are ready to begin learning your specific instrument, which is most likely, if your on this website, guitar. The first thing you should learn with the guitar is the notes on the fret board. This is an example of how already knowing basic music theory will help you learn at a faster rate. If you already knew the musical alphabet, you knew the sixth string open was E, and you knew that each fret increase the pitch by a semitone, you could easily tell me that the 1st fret on that sting would be F, the 2nd F#, the 3rd G, etc. You should have a firm grasp of at least the notes in first position (which is the first 4 frets on all strings, including open strings). You should also understand that once you get to the twelfth fret, it is an octave of the open string, and then the order of notes just repeats itself. Another thing you should know is that I don't recommend you jump right into guitar tablatures. Sure, it's a fast and easy way to learn the new song from your favourite band, but I have seen cases where tabs actually dumb down the guitar player. I'm not telling you to never use tabs, I'm saying that you should have a fair amount of experience reading actual music notation prior to reading tabs, so that you don't become dependant of them.

Once you understand the fret board, start learning basic songs (I knowboringbut important!) that involve you just picking singular notes. Try and keep these songs in-bounds of first position, and try not to have any tricky notation or anything (i.e. triplets). Once you have a grasp of the singular notes, try learn the basic first position major and minor chords. You don't necessarily have to learn and suspended, seventh, diminished etc. chords just yet, but you should have chords like G major or A minor memorized. Build up your chord playing. Start by just strumming the chords to make sure there are no muted notes or anything. Then, work on changing between chords quickly. A way to help with this is to look for notes and fingerings that stay constant. There is no need to move EVERY finger when switching from D major to D minor, for example. Then, build up basic chord progressions and try different strumming patterns. Once you have these skills, extend your knowledge past first position, and be able to comfortably play up to the twelfth fret. You should also learn some of the basic guitar scales, that being the major scale, minor scale, major pentatonic scale, and minor pentatonic scale.

Branching off:

Now, those are the bare basics of what you need to know as far as the guitar goes. From here, guitar players start branching off in their learning. Some want to focus on composition, others want to learn new skills. It all matters on what you want to do musically. Usually, at this point in time, the two main branches would be the ones I said before: composition and skill. You should venture down both paths at one point or another, but I will give you some examples of what you should learn for each.

Music Composition Path:

If you want to go down the path of music composition, you will have to spend more time away from the guitar as you dust off your old theory textbooks from before. I'm not saying to STOP playing guitar, as you should be playing as often as possible. But if you want to write original works, you're going to need to get to the technical aspects of music. The more you understand theory, the better.

Something you should learn early on is intervals. Intervals often come up in music theory, so they are a good aspect to learn early on. You should at least know major, minor, and perfect intervals, although it is also a good idea to learn diminished, augmented, and compound intervals.

Another crucial thing you should learn is to go beyond the standard major and minor chords. This will also give you an opportunity to broaden your guitar playing skills. Learn seventh chords, diminished chords, suspended chords, augmented chords, as many chords as your brain can handle. Also, you should be getting a grasp of how the chords feel; the atmosphere they create. You should be noticing, for example, that major chords sound happy and minor chords sound sad. This is important if you want to compose, because if you said I want to create the happiest piece of music in the world!, you probably don't want to base your entire song off of the D minor chord. This doesn't mean you CAN'T use minor chords in a happy song, it just means don't write in a minor key. You should also learn chord theory, so you know that root plus major third plus perfect fifth is a major triad, while root plus minor third plus perfect fifth is a minor triad, etc.

Once you learn more chords, you should probably learn more scales too. Depending on how you want your songs to sound, you will probably want to learn different scales. But, some scales you should know are the melodic minor, harmonic major, and whole tone scales. You should also know the theory behind these scales, like how a major scale is tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone, for example. It is also a good idea to learn how to play scales as chords, as this will help immensely when harmonizing chords and scales.

From there, venture into more time signatures and notation. It is a good idea to understand unusual time signatures, even if you do not plan to use them in your work. You may have only looked at 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4 time signatures thus far. You should start to make yourself comfortable in time signatures like 6/8 and even really weird ones like 10/8 time. As far as notation goes, look into triplets and all forms of ratio notation. Also, if you haven't already, learn about things like dotted notes. You should also learn things like crescendos and decrescendos, fermatas, and rasgueados. Finally, you should also be comfortable with key signatures, and the general feel each one has.

One final thing you should do is start training your ear. A good composers most powerful tool is his ear, so if your ear isn't strong, you better start taking it to the gymof music. Be able to identify intervals, and whether chords are major, minor, etc. Who knows, maybe you are lucky enough to be born with perfect pitch, in which case I am immensely envious of you.

Guitar Skills Path:

Maybe you don't want to start writing your own pieces yet, and instead want to further your abilities at the guitar. This will limit you to playing other peoples songs, but can support your composition once you go down that route. Now, once again, what skills your learn are based on what type of music you want to play, although it is important to have a grasp on as many skills as possible.

The most important thing is to always expand what you already know. Learn more chords or scales, or be able to play your individual notes faster or more precise. You will never be THE PERFECT guitar player, there will ALWAYS be room for improvement. But, you should also learn some brand new techniques as well.

One generally good skill to have is the ability to play harmonics, as it covers a vast amount of genres. An acoustic guitar player will probably use natural harmonics the most, while an electric guitar player more focused on rock music, especially metal, will probably lean more towards artificial harmonics, such as pinch harmonics and tap harmonics.

Another broad skill to learn is two hand tapping. The majority of the time, this is done on the electric guitar, mainly in rock music. But new age acoustic players, lets call them, have brought this skill to the acoustic guitar as well. Just start tapping slowly on one string. Gradually speed up once you get the hang of it, and add more notes. Heck, once you're an experienced tapper, add more strings. The sky's the limit!

Now, while there are so many more important techniques to learn, I will focus on one more specifically. This skill is probably the most encompassing skill to learn, genre wise. It is the skill of improvisation, or, simply put, making it up as you go. It is recommended that you broaden your knowledge of music theory prior to doing this, and understand the key elements of your genre. For example, a blues improvisation will probably be based on a blues scale, and use techniques like double stops. On the other hand, a metal improvisation will probably use arpeggios, two hand tapping, sweeping picking, and alternative picking.

Outro:

Well, that's all for today! There is your impromptu list of what to learn on the guitar. Just remember, don't feel restrained by this list in any way. In the words of Fleetwood Mac, you can go your own way! It doesn't matter what any music theologist says, the most important aspect of music is individuality, so BE YOURSELF! If you would like to learn something from this list, just send me a message, and if it can be done in a text lesson, I'll give it my best shot. (Thing like two hand tapping, though, can't be properly taught through text, so please don't ask.) Anyways, that's it, goodbye!

26 comments sorted by best / new / date

    magnum1117
    Good article, most starters would want to play their idols' songs first anyway but overall it gives you a good idea of what you need to learn first. btw, it's sweep picking and alternate picking.
    IAMCJ1
    Poeple.. the best way to learn theory is by playing songs... Observation is the best teacher. Figuring out your "own theory" sticks longest and sounds best.. you often end up inventing your own style and compositions that you never thought existed in your own "genre".
    nirviathan
    as already stated, its really easy to scare off new players with theory, as, face it, its pretty boring to learn compared to technical playing skills. however, i find theory incredibly important if you want to write your own songs and whatnot, since it really speeds up the process. personally, i didnt start learning theory until i had probably 2 years worth of technical skills down already.
    Cria
    as far as the music theory, I always felt it was better to learn in cobination with a new song, to keep it interesting. Now, to work on my harmonics
    CoheednRHCP
    timmyti9 wrote: Hendrix never learned any theory.
    Recent statistics show that most people alive today aren't Jimi Hendrix. /the smartassery started by timmyti9 Anyway, I think theory is important, but just playing and having fun is important too. Learning simple riffs like "One" however, doesn't do you any good. I haven't met a person alive who couldn't learn to play that in less than thirty seconds. I think the basic chords should be gotten down first, then branch from there. Always practice new riffs/licks with a metronome, please. It makes it easier on everyone, including you.
    mydian
    DO NOT LEARN THEORY FIRST! When I was 9, 33 now, my Dad started teaching me guitar like this. I hated it.. never practiced enough because it was boring. Ended up in 2 bands through high school but never really played all that well. Eventually I sold my crappy starter gear for beer money. A little over 2 years ago at a friends house I picked up his guitar, and he taught me the intro to "One" and the main riff to "For Who the Bell Tolls." (I'm a big Metallica fan). Surprisingly I picked them up pretty quick after all those years, and was so happy I went to GC and bought a guitar and have been playing ever sense.. I know no theory, but can play over 2 dozen songs.. so yeah.. I'm just now starting to WANT to learn Theory so I can improv and not sound like Kerry King. I gave this article a 1.
    metalhead27
    [miskatsu] [/And really this whole shit-chat about sweeping etc is driving me nuts. No normal people likes to watch someone sweep for no longer than a few sweeps... People who can sweep are truly skilled guitarists, but it really is kinda useless technique when playing classic rock. ] actually sweep picking is used in many genres including classic rock, metal, and even southern rock. Duane Allman (Allman Brother's Band) frequently used sweep picking as the first few notes of the solo. It adds variety to the solo. Sweep picking doesn't need to be the basis of the entire solo, but used sparingly it can be a very useful technique in almost all genres.
    eSdaze
    yes please do because you obviously havent studied statistics, you could have 3 articles in 2 days and that could be it for the entire month. Also there is more to it then the articles in the news, I can't believe you are claiming this website is not metal oriented, look at the lessons, look at the forum, look at the colour of the bloody thing to start with. I got no grudge against metal although it's not my cup of tea but some ppl think all there is to guitar music is shredding, tapping @ 330 bpm and all that nonsense... Anyways thanks for your hard work on this article and I realise it's subjective but you seem to pose it more as a general truth. Peace out
    CPDmusic
    eSdaze wrote: But then again this entire website is so biased against anything that is not metal
    http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/news/gene... usic_news/ozzy_wants_to_form_non-metal_band.html http://w ww.ultimate-guitar.com/news/general_music_news/morrissey_ask s_queen_to_remove_fur_from_guards_hats.html http://www.ultimate-guitar.com/news/gene... timate-guitar.com/interviews/interviews/chris_shiflett_it_wa s_something_i_had_never_explored_in_any_way.html http://w ww.ultimate-guitar.com/interviews/interviews/jimmie_vaughan_ everything_gets_old_quick_you_have_to_keep_changing.html There are 4 articles from the past TWO days. Three are about non-metal musicians, the fourth about Ozzy Osbourne thinking of releasing non-metal music. That is two days. I could go through a month of articles if you want. If you believe this site is biased in metals favor, you clearly haven't spent that much time on it.
    Zeletros
    CPDmusic wrote: J86 wrote: Why would anyone learn theory before they've even played an instrument? Because it makes learning both the theory and the instrument easier. Sure, I guess you can just play random notes on the guitar, but it is better to learn theory first.
    Sorry but this is complete bullshit. Theory is THEORY, it doesn't affect your physical abilities to play. And "theory comes first" is why most people are afraid to pick up an instrument, because all these guys run around saying you can't be a musician if you don't know theory.
    diablo83
    I say, compromise and learn BOTH theory and playing while your playing it. It's like watching videos on playing basketball and then playing. Play while you learn. You get the best both worlds
    CPDmusic
    magnum1117 wrote: btw, it's sweep picking and alternate picking.
    Oh, sorry about that lol
    eSdaze
    I stopped reading when you said 'the first thing you need to learn is theory', now this might work for some people but I suggest that a new player starts out by selecting a few easy songs that he wants to be able to play... because that is most of the time what drives you, not months and months of theory that you cannot really put into practice because you are already overwhelmed by the theory and the fact you don't even know what a fret it. I say, enjoy yourself with your instrument and one day you will slowly grow out of playing what some guy wrote in a tab and start to experiment with improvisation, tabbing yourself etc etc. But then again this entire website is so biased against anything that is not metal, so yeah if you want to learn how to emulate a spastic, rabies infested spider with adhd on a guitar your best bet at learning it fast enough without memorizing every tiny bit is some theory. For real music I suggest the anything but the latter.
    CPDmusic
    J86 wrote: Why would anyone learn theory before they've even played an instrument?
    Because it makes learning both the theory and the instrument easier. Sure, I guess you can just play random notes on the guitar, but it is better to learn theory first.
    J86
    also two handed tapping is really useful for making crap players sound AWESOME!!! I can testify to this
    J86
    Why would anyone learn theory before they've even played an instrument? I developed a love for guitar by whacking away on it for months with no idea what i was doing. If I wasn't so interested in becoming a better player I would never have learnt any theory at all. Learning to play music from a book is going to kill it for for any beginner.
    trog
    maybe i never learned enough theory interesting thought
    trog
    umm, almost everyone I ever met that learned theory was kinda kinda stunted in the creative improv growth department for the first few years (including myself) It took learning the bass by ear to break that stupid "run up the scale and bend" habit I had. But then maybe I have less natural ability than most; however judging by most guitarists i play with i find that hard to believe. whatever happened to the good old learn-by-ear musician? i like those.
    zgbgydug
    Umm... why the hell do you recommend people who are learning guitar to practice on two-handed tapping? It's really quite an useless technique, if you are not an goddamn university -class, theory-ass guitarist! :O
    learn the difference between "a" and "an"
    kkquick
    miskatsu : Umm... why the hell do you recommend people who are learning guitar to practice on two-handed tapping? It's really quite an useless technique, if you are not an goddamn university -class, theory-ass guitarist! :O
    In what way would you need to be a theory-ass guitarist to be able to use two-handed tapping? The only theory you need to now when you are tapping are chord triads. Every technique in the world is useless if you don't know how to apply it to your playing.
    CPDmusic
    miskatsu wrote: Umm... why the hell do you recommend people who are learning guitar to practice on two-handed tapping? It's really quite an useless technique, if you are not an goddamn university -class, theory-ass guitarist! :O
    How is it useless? It enables you to make high jumps in your soloing easier, adding more variety. And please explain to me what a "goddamn university -class, theory-ass guitarist" is.
    miskatsu
    Umm... why the hell do you recommend people who are learning guitar to practice on two-handed tapping? It's really quite an useless technique, if you are not an goddamn university -class, theory-ass guitarist! :O And really this whole shit-chat about sweeping etc is driving me nuts. No normal people likes to watch someone sweep for no longer than a few sweeps... People who can sweep are truly skilled guitarists, but it really is kinda useless technique when playing classic rock. Yes, an mean-ass half hour sweeping part on the solo of "Smoke On The Water" (as an example) may sound like a fun idea, but it really is nothing more than slightly fun idea. But it is YOU who decides what to learn. (I personally hate elitist metal heads, who think they are better than normal classic rock/blues rock -style guitarists. One shit-head in YouTube even wrote a comment on a video of Dweezil Zappa and Steve Vai "guitar battle", that "Steve humiliated Dweezil by sweeping on that one part." How stupid enough can someone be to write a comment like that? Basically a sweep is an "guitar chord", but only strummed "slower", lol. Sweeping is not an super technique that makes you a guitar god...) So that's my opinion in everything shitty that I hate in neo-classic guitar playing. Btw some people I've heard saying, that Yngwie Malmsteen (sorry if spelled wrong :S) developed sweeping and all the shit only by himself. These idiots always forget, that who's the real shit (and pioneer) in neo-classic guitar: Ritchie Blackmore.
    yayapapaya38
    It is just an issue of which comes first. Eventually, theory helps you understand music. It is equally important. If you reckon learning theory first will kill your interest in playing the guitar, learn it later, as you deem fit.