Click on zones to jump to content. For each, we begin the process within each GPS zone.
This is a comprehensive guitar learning system which covers all of the essential areas of practice. It is a cross-training method [changing a part, changes the whole]. We also provide a lesson vault with articles on a variety of topics.
If you are interested only in a specific part, study that piece, but we are encouraging you to take a look & do some work in all of the zones. Over time, many of the zones will & do merge. Example: playing simple melodies moves into reading & soloing; riffs into song playing & writing.
The more you practice & play, much of it becomes self-evident. This is a fact. Just keep doing the work & having fun doing it.
So, our 10 practice zones. Some of them do carry more weight than others. Example: you can learn to solo & strum & know nothing about theory or know how to read. This is totally fine, of course. Yet, if you know a bunch of theory & can't strum a tune, um, problem. Being a reliable rhythm player is at the heart of any sensible playing system. Each of us is unique for sure, yet some things are universal. Balancing all of the aspects of musicianship can be challenging. Stay open to new information, but also don't reduce your playing life to one dimension of guitar. Experiment in all zones!
A word on style/s: our systems are based on core principles that can be applied to all styles. We lean a little towards an acoustic oriented craft [the singer-songwriter skill set], with classical guitar as the bedrock for reading.
We are building a guitar practice based on focused training & jamming.
We repeat the train/jam practice cycle until they merge.
When we train with focus & with specific goals in mind, the jamming part always flows better. We don't train mistakes, and we do our best to stay open to new experiences, information, and insights. When we do the work, incrementally, it's relatively easy to become a competent guitarist in a short period of time. This is a fact.
Read more about our take on training and jamming in Core.
To be ready, we prepare:
Being in tune ensures enjoyable practice sessions and lets us know - through sound - that we are doing things right.
All of this prep work is covered in Ground in the absolute beginner's lessons.
To play anything, we must have some level of control over our physical playing system. This is called our technique.
Fretting hand techniques ⇒ fretting, slurs, and muting.
Note: each hand can also do what the other traditionally does [i.e. the fretting hand can strum, motor can fret].
By training with focus, we...
Live this: don't train mistakes by just 'trying' things over and over. We do some thinking and feeling at the start of any process. If we aren't getting a technical skill after multiple attempts, we change our approach. We make adjustments; minute ones, until we feel a pocket. When we train with awareness, 'aha' moments follow. Always.
Falling down the steps is one way to get to the bottom ["I made it!"], but could we recreate the fall exactly?
When we step slowly through a sequence of movements, we can recreate it again & again; and, at a certain point without having to think about it ➙ "Do that!"
A basic area of practice is to figure out and play simple melodies and riffs. This gives us a good start.
Melody is the linear or horizontal dimension of music. It is a succession of single tones that create a cohesive & often memorable tune. Other words for melody are tune & line. Melodies are often most of what we retain from songs that we know.
A Little Night Music Melody
For melodies, we eventually move to reading music.
Riffs are guitar based 'melodies' [although many can be played on any pitched instrument] which are recognizable and singable. In contrast to certain types of chord progressions, riffs can be sung. Good examples are Crazy Train, Smoke on the Water, and Seven Nation Army.
For riffs, we move to learning the rest of the song, all the way through.
We typically use tablature at the very beginning, yet we learn to use our voice/inner hearing to figure out known melodies. And, learn to read music.
Check out Starter Tunes in our beginner's practice path.
We ask all students of guitar to learn to read music. It's really not that difficult and it's value is invaluable.
Music notation is a system of symbols which we realize into sound. It uses 5 lines as a visual base for displaying notes, in different durations and combinations. The challenge is connecting these notes to locations on the fretboard, and playing these conversions in the indicated rhythm.
Our reading system, Reader, follows a specific note sequence to ensure you learn to read with relative ease. When you follow the sequence and think through the material, there is no way that you won't know how to read.
This is located in Reader Intro in our beginner's circuit.
We jump right in, starting with a single note. It will act as a reference point for our system. The line on the left connecting the staff and tab = Same Thing. Tab = Notation.
1. Middle E = Line 1 = 4 string, fret 2.
Say it with me: the first line of the staff is Middle E, & it can be played on the 4th string, 2nd fret. Move forward in the sequence once you really know this.
We have shown the Middle E as a quarter, yet it can and will appear as different durations (whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, etc.).
This middle E exercise is easy and proves that you can read music.
In time, the quarter note gets one beat. A whole note lasts 4 beats. For the last measure, you only play [strike] the note on the one beat, & let it ring for 4 beats.
And check out the whole system...
Even if you don't decide to use our system, find a resource to learn to read!
Really, everything we do from learning chords and chord structures, understanding scale systems, and reading music, jamming, etc. helps us learn our fretboard.
There are many ways to go about learning our fretboard. To learn our tone names in standard, we could use basic tone spelling on a grid. We can also get to know our octaves [the ultimate skeleton for any tuning].
It is also important to understand Tone Naming and the traditional music theory naming system. There are multiple ways to name the components within our tonal system. There are traditional ways, as well as more modern ways, to name things. Knowing what things are called is useful to know and creates language to communicate ideas to our fellow musicianers.
Music theory is the method of analyzing our musical system & describing relationships between tones. The true outcome of this theoretical system is the naming of everything (tones, chords, etc.), & relational description (how each thing relates to another).
Learning theory isn't that difficult and does not interfere with musicianship. It is meant to be learned and integrated, not be the main lens for music making. It is an enhancement of our understanding of our tonal system.
Theory is ultimately a naming system [which describe sonic relationships]. For those who think that learning what things are called dampens creativity, this is total nonsense. It does no harm to know and it deepens our understanding. And, we when we know it really well, we can transcend it. Naming things is just one of the many ways to think of our tonal system. When we are in the flow, making music, we might not think of a single name, but rather, of colors and light, or nature, or friends. Names don't have to get in the way of feeling-tone.
Our basic Theory Numbering.
Becoming a solid rhythm guitarist will typically be our first area of total compentency. We build a chord catalog which we've made enough connections to make things automatic. This enables us to play our favorite songs, write songs, and figure out songs. And, this skill is our doorway to jamming with other musicians.
Of all areas of focus, being able to strum songs is the most important [after getting in tune, of course]. As far as 'levels' of playing, being able to strum a song a song all the way through is the benchmark for being intermediate.
If you are interested in mastering strumming [which you should be!], let's start now with this lesson from our absolute beginner's practice path. This content is also covered in Strummer [see below the beginner lesson].
Strumming is to 'scratch' or 'brush' groups of strings as blocks. We don't drag the pick or rake over the strings, rather, we give it a praxissubs whap. We suggest you use a pick for strumming, yet, your thumb, or thumb-index, can work fine.
The primary motion for strumming is 'key turning'. We do use our arm [elbow] to give a touch of 'chop', but more motion is given to the wrist and elbow [turning as if using a key in a lock]. And, we can hit the strings in blocks of 3 or 4, rather than all 6. Experimentation is vital to figure out your particular natural strumming motion.
Let's begin by playing some 'pre-chord' sounds. When numbers (or x's) are stacked on top of each other in TAB, they are played at the same time (strummed). First, create all of these sounds.
For strumming, one of the first things we do for training is learn to play opens, mutes, and harmonic blocks. These 'pre-chord' sounds provide some easy fretting hand maneuvers for exercising our motor hand.
Opens, Mutes, & Harmonic blocks are a part of Strumming Trainer.
Strum the strings open.
You don't have to hit all of them. Target blocks of 3 or 4. Hitting all of them is fine too, just keep it as a block [not a drag].
Lightly touch all of the strings using all of your fingers. Do Not Press. This is a blocked sound, sometimes called a 'chuk' or a touch.
= lightly touch all of the strings at fret 7 with a single finger. This creates a bell-like sound. Put your finger directly over the fret. Don't Press! Try at 4, 5, 7, 9, 12. We demonstrate using a 1 finger, then the pinky.
In music, we need a beat to track timing and rhythm. Rhythm is a pattern of beats which can be written with symbols. We'll start with a 4 beat group, written with 4 quarter notes within repeat symbols.
Use opens, mutes, or a harmonic block to practice strumming quarters. Focus on your strumming motion and think hit-miss-hit-miss... [down-up-down-up...].
Where quarter notes got one beat in our group of 4 beats, each of those be divided into half beats. These half beats are indicated by eighth notes. The beams make them easier to read. Now we have a symbol for each down and up beat [each strum].
For 8th note strumming [quarter subdivided into two 8ths notes], we strum down-up, hitting on both the down and the up. The down-strum is the down beat (the number), the up-strum is the up beat (the &).
Use opens, mutes, or a harmonic block to practice strumming eighths. Focus on your strumming motion and think hit-hit-hit-hit... [down-up-down-up...].
You can accent any down or up beat. A common accent pattern would be giving more weight and sound to beats 2 and 4 [like a drumbeat - as shown above]. Accents can be written: <.
You don't have to hit all the strings all the time. Target the 6, 5, and 4 on the down and the 1, 2, and 3 on the up. This is a general guideline. It's not an exact science. Let's think in terms of targeting groups of strings for any down or up.
When indicating changes over time, we'll use symbols above a line of rhythm. For this exercise we are using Open Chords & Mutes, and writing those terms above the rhythm of simple quarter notes (down strumming).
Synchronize the mute to the down strum on the change. Mute it at the exact same time that you strum down. And, release to the open on the down strum.
O = Open, M = Mute.
You can also get the rhythm more complex by muting and opening on upbeats. Experiment. Think in drum beats.
This is it for Tyro strumming. How did you do? Pretty simple, but absolutely vital to being a solid rhythm guitarist. Synchronizing the hands will be a central idea with learning to change chords. For the exercises above, make sure you are muting and opening exactly on the beat [as the strum hits, you land or open].
As you practice, really study your strumming motion. Be natural. Watch some of your favorite guitarists; see how they strum. One thing you will notice is that, while strumming, their motor hand [strumming hand] won't stop. It is an engine. It keeps the beat; keeps moving, even if missing [not hitting the strings].
Our complete system for this target is…
We will use a pick and tone sets to train, then learn to improvise. With this skill, we can play existing solos and/or write our own and/or just improvise all the time.
For training, the metronome or drum beats can be a dear friend. For improvising, we like harmonic audio with and without drumbeats.
By improvising using a given set of tones, we awaken our melodic sensibilities. And, for most, this is a life-long process. We take our time and don't compare our development to the shredder next door. Tone selection, phrasing, and feeling are as important, if not more, than the number of tones that are played.
Our soloing exploration system is…
Soloer is an exploration model. As for the style, this is up to you. Soloer is designed for the least 'interference' possible. We aren't telling you how to apply the information to a particular style. This is a process. One that we think speeds up development and understanding.
Soloer content includes: 4 Things [our process], Skeleton, Rhythmic Shapes, Octave Exercise, Train, Jam, Numera, 7 Start, Exchanges, and Octave 31 & 63.. Text and images only at this time.
Our overall goal is to make music. Every point on the wheel can be done musically; therefore, music is present in every target. And, making music is its own thing free of a training mindset. We can set time aside within our practice to simply make some music. Whether this is performing a piece of music or jamming or improvising or playing songs, alone or with others, we let sound flow without too much thought. No matter the style we play or methods we use, our overall goal is to make and share music and to be musical.
At the heart of music making is creating a rewarding & sustained practice that produces joy and intensity for a life-time. This is possible for everyone; and the best part is, that we, as players, steer the process. When our goals are clear & we make contact with our musical self, incredible experiences can follow.
For any given set of tones, we work the materials in our own way, in our own order, at our own speed. Even if we are learning a song or a solo, we can use the materials of that song or solo to be inventive. We give ourselves this opportunity. We can also make up stuff within any practice area, even creating our own exercises. And, we start this at the beginning.
Soloer is an exploration model for improvising.
Jamming with Others = testing our skills & interacting with other musicianers.
Is our training paying dividends? Whether we are jamming with friends, rehearsing and performing with a band, playing for an audience, or just using audio, this is a vital component of any sensible learning system. For most, it is why we play. For others that view playing as a solitary craft, we still can use audio to interact with the sonic world, or not. Jamming is a different mind mode than training. We let go and just play.
Of course, we can and do jam alone, with or without audio.
Here's an audio and tab example...
F Jam alternates between Part A & B : Part A: F B-flat F C | Part B: Gm Am B-flat B-flat
Use the scale below to jam over the F Major track.