Playbook for Beginners and Beyond

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Playbook for Beginners and Beyond Let's put it all together. In my opinion, learning to play the guitar decently consists of five distinct learning areas:

Area 1 The mechanics of making chords and learning to play and switch between them cleanly. Listen to your changes and develop your ear.

Area 2 The basic chord formation layout of the neck of the guitar. See how the shapes for playing the same chord connect with each other up the neck (CAGED).

Area 3 Learning basic rhythm and strumming (or fingerstyle) techniques, which include learning sharp timing skills. Listen to what each sounds like and develop your ear.

Area 4 Learning basic music theory, including the major scale and it's intervals. Listen to the intervals. Practice humming or singing them and develop your ear.

Area 5 Adding musicianship

This is my plan of attack for learning how to play. As a beginner, learn the basics of each area, one area at a time. Then add the learnings from each area together. As an intermediate and advanced player, learn some advancing information in each area that is built on the strong foundation of your prior learnings.

Build your plan of attack from this list. If you need specific ideas, contact me.

What does 'develop your ear' mean? It means 'listen'. It means to consciously hear what each string sounds like as you play. Each string. Each nuance. Soon you'll be able to hear what other guitar players are doing, and you'll be able to either emulate what they do or learn to do it better than they can! It's a great feedback tool for you. If a person were to keep these five areas in mind when learning, they could then chunk and chain (the method of learning where you learn a small chunk of something, memorize it and then chain it together with another small chunk of learning) learnings from each of these areas together to become a more complete guitarist.

Think of each of these areas as a foundation for learning and layer them atop the other: begin with Area 1, continue to reinforce and make it a solid foundation. Check out the lesson Form Chords and Switch Between them Quickly. Also check out Kirk's tutorial on Chords.

Go with Area 2, and keep learning more about chord formations and barre chords and how these connect on to the super highway of the neck of the guitar through the CAGED method.Take a look at the lesson Barre Chords for Beginners and Beyond for a start. Then take a look at The Introduction to CAGED for a primer on how open and barre shaped chord forms are all you need to know to begin to unlock the secrets of the fretboard.

The next step is to expand your new knowledge of CAGED and notice just how easy it is to see how a C chord is formed 5 times within the first 12 frets. Take a look at the lesson The Anatomy of a C Major Chord -- The CAGED System to see how the C chord can be played in five different positions within the first 12 frets. This is the beginning of the knowledge of improvisation; using the Chord of the Moment concept.

Inject Area 3 with learning how to strum and then how to play different basic rhythms and add these to your playing arsenal. See the lesson Much Ado About Rhythm: Part 1 to get a start. You might also want to take a look at the lesson Playbook for Beginners and Beyond: Adding Musicianship as it talks about some of the branch areas you could study.

Now look at Areas 1 and 2: is Area 3 laying on the firm foundation you've laid with layers 1 and 2? It's not that you need to be so proficient in Areas 1 and 2 in order to tackle 3, no. It's that you realize that Area 3 skills are enhanced by a better and better understanding of Area 2, and Area 2 is enhanced by a good knowledge of Area 1. So if you're a beginner, don't be discouraged. Just keep these things in mind when building your daily practice routine.

Flavor your learning with Area 4. Learn the major scale and begin learning where these chord tones are inside the chord formations. See the lesson The Major Scale Chart: Part 1 to begin the journey. Some may ask why not learn basic music theory first. That's certainly ok, but my point is that I believe that the approach to learning the guitar is through mechanical learnings and developing the ear and adding theory secondarily. Remember, there is no music in theory. Theory is merely a way for us to understand what we hear. It's a set of tools to help us communicate with other musicians, and it's a set of tools that help us think about music logically and help us to build/write/interpret music. For a more indepth study of theory, see Fretsource's tutorials All About Intervals and Standard Notation. Fretsource's lessons give much in the way of theory when that interests you.

And then we come to Area 5, learning to add musicianship. Adding musicianship in your playing means things like attack, sustain, vibrato, beat emphases, crescendo, decrescendo, etc. Get the point that we chunk and chain the knowledge of 5 with the learnings of 4, upon the solid foundation of layers 3, 2 and 1. Adding musicianship also means learning techniques like sliding up or down to a note and learning how to play a perfect and clear note or chord straight (without vibrato but with perfect relative pitch, relative to other pitches on your guitar or from another band member). Keep visiting each area during your practice sessions and add strength to each layer of each foundation. Keep adding knowledge to your arsenal; tools to the toolbox. You become a better player by bolstering each area. To further explore how Area 5 (adding musicianship tools to your tool box) can specifically effect all the other areas, see the lesson Playbook for Beginners and Beyond: Adding Musicianship.

This is such an important aspect of the learning process, and it will help you stand out from the crowd. Such an important aspect that it became a separate lesson. Don't be confused about this: chunk and chain the knowledge. Each one of these areas is like a thick branch of the tree: there are many individual and smaller branches (other areas to learn) that sprout from the main ones.

You won't become a good guitarist overnight, but you will over time. It's all about the journey. Becoming an advanced guitarist is all about learning to play the basics very well. Consider making your learning game plan from these five distinct learning areas. Always listen, compare, be curious, experiment and listen again during and after your practice sessions and performances.

YOU and your developing ear are the best judge of your playing skills.

All the best, Steve

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