Some guitarists make it look easy.
They dance up and down the neck without ever looking at their fingers.
They elicit tones unmatched by any high school punk on his Dad’s Washburn.
They move with precision and speed reserved only for those who sell their souls at the Crossroads.
We’ve all been there: practicing and practicing, yet never catching up.
Surely, there must be some way to tap into their genius.
There is hope!
If you’re a pure beginner, consider taking some step-by-step instruction from these popular guitar learning websites.
Every master started somewhere and that somewhere was filled with dedicated practice.
I’ve found 23 cornerstone skills as well as some great practice tools every guitarist needs if he hopes to master his instrument:
If you dedicate yourself to learning basic guitar skills, you will have built a foundation upon which you can soar to the heights of Clapton and Hendrix.
Exclusive Bonus: There are 5 recommended guitar courses at the bottom of the page which are directly related to some of the skills mentioned here.
Some Music Theory Can Go a Long Way
1. Familiarize yourself with the math behind the music. Not all theory is necessary for our particular instrument, but a basic understanding helps.
2. Learn the intervals. For years, I sang and played based only on where my ear took me. That’s a good approach for a while, but eventually, you’ve got to figure out why your ear takes you to such places.
3. Take note of the rules of sharps and flats. Understanding their roles will open up divine, new chord shapes.
4. Memorize the neck. Depending on your guitar, there are anywhere between 19 and 27 frets on your guitar. With six strings, that’s somewhere between 114 and 162 tones to get into your head.
5. Consider the modes. This is advanced theory, but modes will be especially useful as you explore alternative tunings.
6. Train the ear! I’ve played with too many musicians, not only guitarists, who can riff for days, but don’t know how to identify a note for the life of them. Teach your ear to identify intervals.
Tablature, Sheet Music, and Rote
7. Most beginning guitarists learn how to read tablature, or tabs. These written forms of existing songs are excellent tools to get to understand the neck. Don’t become too dependent, though, because tabs are far from comprehensive.
8. Classical musicians consider sheet music key to be pivotal in learning new works. In popular guitar music, you will not find many who strictly refer to sheet music for guidance, but a basic understanding of it will raise your musical intelligence that much more.
9. Learn by rote (by ear)! It’s frustrating, but this is how guitar music has been learned since time immemorial. Sit in front of your stereo and try to copy your favorite songs, note-for-note. Past the notes, you will be forced to focus on the nuanced techniques at play.
10. Write music. Even if you don’t consider yourself a songwriter, creating something original will exercise the part of your brain from where improvisation is born.
Scales (in this order)
11. Learn the pentatonic scales. These are the basis for most popular guitar music.
12. Learn the major and minor melodic and harmonic scales. These will expand your musical intelligence.
13. Learn the Circle of Fifths to better understand the relationships between each piece of the chromatic scale.
14. Practice consciously. Every morning, wake up, pick up your guitar, and play through all the scales you know.
15. Learn subconsciously. Before falling asleep, meditate on the scales. Picture your fingers moving with ease and accuracy. Your sleeping mind will take care of the rest.
16. Break the scales. Choose two notes from a scale and play along with a song, limiting yourself to only those two notes up and down the neck. This exercise is among many that will improve your neck literacy and well as your improvisational skills.
Chords (in this order)
17. Learn all the major chords. These will allow you to play songs like “Free Fallin.”
18. Learn all the minor chords. These will allow you to play songs like “Hey There Delilah.”
19. Learn the seven chords (A7, Am7, etc). These, along with all basic major and minor chords, opens you up to pretty much all popular music.
20. Learn the diminished and augmented chords. You’re moving on to free form jazz now!
21. Learn different voicings of your favorite chords. There are numerous ways to play every chord. Most people start with open chord shapes. Experts move up the neck and find different combinations of the same notes to create richer sounds.
22. Make up your own chords. At this point, you should have a good enough understanding of how a chord works that you can construct your own chord.
23. Experiment with alternate tunings. My favorites are Open C and Open D tunings, though there are countless more.
Guitar Course Recommendations
Practice, Practice, Practice
I’ve provided a couple of exercises you can use to start your journey to being a master, but there are so many more exercises to utilize.
Most of all, they’re fun!
To discover more ways to exercise your musical mind, read about these 6 online guitar lesson websites.