Learn How To Play Guitar

I once had a young man show up to the studio for his first lesson. At first, I thought I was outmatched. He got out his guitar and started playing sweeps.

He played them very well.

In case you’re wondering what sweeps are, look them up on YouTube… and yes they are that difficult.

He told me he was a beginner (at least his parents said so upon signing up) before busting out some crazy sweep arpeggios that put me to shame.


I was getting ready to refer him to someone else 50 miles away because no one in my territory could do that. Then I took a few minutes to get to know him a little. I always ask new students about what they know and what they would like to accomplish. I figured I could at least help this hotshot with music theory, finger style techniques, or how to sight read.

He basically said “Uh, I don’t know, where do I begin?” I laughed and asked him to play me a simple C-Major scale expecting him to shred the hell out of it. He didn’t know what a C-Major scale was. I asked him to play a C-Major chord. He couldn’t do that either. In fact, the only thing this kid could do was play the sweeps that he learned off YouTube videos. All his time was spent on this one technique. I couldn’t believe he never at least tried to learn a simple three chord song. He thought sweeps were cool, so that is what he did.

Right now I’m still struggling to find one top 10 song with a sweeping technique in it. In fact, does anyone know of a top 100 past or present song with this technique? It’s a cool sound and it would be neat to hear something mainstream employing the sweep arpeggio, but the reality is sweeps are not mainstream. Which brings me to my point.

Where to begin.

Ever heard of the terms macro versus micro managing? Global versus local strategy? The “big picture” versus attention to detail?

When learning guitar for the first time, taking the global, “big picture” approach is far more effective and practical. Would a NASCAR driver practice ice and snow driving techniques? Probably not, unless they were planning on cross country driving at some point in their career otherwise, what’s the point?

It’s the same with guitar. We need to begin with the basics of the guitar. Here is how I view the big picture:

The student wants to play music on the guitar, therefore the student must learn how to play the guitar, and the student must understand how music works.

I don’t have to teach students to want to play, it’s a given. People who love music want to be a part of it. But learning guitar and understanding  music is the reason I teach guitar for a living. What I teach boils down to two categories:

1) Music theory

2) Technique

These are both very broad categories so the big picture is still in play.

Music theory is how music works. It’s the ultimate shortcut. Knowing how music works helps us to understand the structure of music so that we don’t mindlessly waste our time trying to reinvent the wheel. Technique is how we physically play music. Music theory is useless if we cannot move our fingers when we play.

Let’s understand three basic principles of how music works:

1) Music is made of scales.

2) Music is made of chord/arpeggios.

3) Music exists in time (rhythm).

By knowing these three facts we can structure a program designed to learn music on any instrument, but you are most interested in leaning how to play music on the guitar right?

This is what we need to do:

1) Learn scale technique.

2) Learn chord and arpeggio technique.

3) Learn rhythm technique.

I just applied the word “technique” to the three basic principles of how music works. Music is made of scales or what you may know of as the melody, so we practice our scales. Music is made up of chords or what you may know of as harmony, so we practice chords. Music exists in time, so we practice rhythm.

This is how you learn to play guitar. What I just explained is the way I have designed “Levels For Guitar”. The rewarding thing is at the studio where I teach, I spend most of my time teaching on how music works and less time teaching songs. Once the student has a basic understanding of how music and the guitar works, they are able to figure out things on their own. As the student advances, the “Big Picture” evolves and becomes more detailed to cater to their needs.

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