Building a Better Guitar Course with Your Input
Guitar Noises #32: May 11, 2022
When I started writing this newsletter my original plan was to help the self-taught guitarist find the best free guitar lessons. After receiving lots of feedback and having many great conversations with readers my focus shifted to reviewing specific guitar courses. Now thanks to your regular input I’ve spent the better part of the past year reviewing premium guitar sites.
I’ve been teaching guitar online since 1999, and never seriously considered creating my own premium course. Until now, that is.
While there are many excellent courses you can buy online (see the archives for examples), I feel there is room for a few more. I still haven’t found a course that makes me say “I wish they had this when I was at that level.”
A common conversation I have with readers is about how they’ve been stuck at the same level for a long time. For whatever reason they struggle to get past their plateau. The range of topics online provides endless choices but not much guidance. If only there were someone who understood their predicament and could spell out exactly what to learn and in what order. I’d like to make a guitar course that does just that.
The course I have in mind is called “From Beginner to Intermediate.” It would be a comprehensive course that takes people who’ve played guitar for a while but not progressed very far from Point A to Point B.
It doesn’t require a ton of knowledge. You shouldn’t need to take lessons for the rest of your life. You just need to master the right things and go about it in the right order. I think a lot of students need a map to follow, with step by step directions showing them where to focus their time and energy. It needs to be comprehensive and practical, but not overly complicated. There aren’t any shortcuts that make learning quick and easy, but you can shorten the learning curve.
I’ve given it a lot of thought and have a pretty good outline prepared. But for now I want to turn things over to you. What do you want to learn? What is hardest part about playing guitar for you? What do you think a good guitar course should include? What features would you like to see (progress tracker, app, forums… ?)
Any feedback you can share by email or in the comments below will help me narrow my focus.
My Philosophy on teaching and learning guitar
Online guitar lessons should do more than entertain us. People spend money on lessons to gain lasting skills and knowledge. Too often self-taught guitarists fumble around with concepts only to switch to something entirely new when things get difficult.
My teaching approach looks like this:
Don’t make simple ideas complicated
Only use theory and memorization when there is a real purpose
Stick to approaches that lead to musical development
Challenge students to work on things they aren’t good at
Confidence comes from knowing/understanding what you’re doing
Caring mentors and a supporting environment are important
Every student is an individual
A teacher who draws attention to themselves is drawing it away from the students
Passion for the subject is infectious
Don’t promise to be fast, fun or easy
What the lessons would look like:
Step by step format
High quality writing with clear explanations
Concise presentation, the writing is mixed with practical examples
Contains clear charts and diagrams
Tabs and sheet music
Play through videos
Downloadable PDF workbooks and exercises
Downloadable MP3 jam tracks
A certain amount of growth is required to complete each step. The time it takes to complete the course would be different for each student.
My aim is to make sure:
Concepts are taught in a strategic and systematic way
Goals are ordered step by step, taking you from A to B
It’s a guided approach that levels up skills and knowledge
Students move at their own pace
Students follow the lessons in order instead of jumping around or skipping sections
If all of this sounds ambitious I agree with you. I don’t expect to do all this work by myself. In fact, I’m already searching for musicians and teachers to team up with. It’s not easy to find the right people with a background in education, music and writing. So I’d like to put out a general call here. If you, or anyone you know, is interested in making guitar courses for a living we should talk.
There is still a lot of work ahead. As always, I appreciate you taking the time to read the newsletter all the way to the end.
I *was* your target audience (long-time beginner struggling to get to intermediate) until a year ago. I think I've purchased pretty much all of the popular online courses and books in my search for instruction that resonates with me. I was stuck at the late-beginner stage for several years. Ended using a patchwork of various online courses to break out of the rut. I had the most success from a combination of adapting bass guitar online video courses to guitar and from a few jazz guitar courses, specifically David Beebee's "Pathway to Jazz" course, and Richie Zellon's "Bebop Guitar Improv" course.
At first glance, the jazz courses would seem to be too advanced for a late-beginner. However, what they did was reveal what I *didn't* know as solidly as I should:
*notes across the fretboard
*triad and pentatonic shapes within the CAGED shapes
*the 42 interval shapes
*the CAGED shapes intervallically
I am often frustrated when an instructor says something like: "Spend a couple of weeks learning the notes on the fretboard." with no prescribed blueprint for doing so. I often found myself breaking down the week's lesson into a series of mini-lessons that I could master over three or four days. Giving someone enough to work on for a week is too long a period and usually too much. Three or four days is more reasonable and achievable, and is a pace that creates momentum and a sense of accomplishment.
Both the bass courses and the jazz guitar courses emphasized the practical use of theory through visualizing the fretboard as interval patterns. David Beebee and Tom Quayle even have an app (called "Solo") that helps you master intervallic patterns.
Paul Wolfe's bass courses and Richie Zellon's improv course emphasize the use of devices, common bits of musical vocabulary that comes up over and over again in music. This was a game changer for me.
The book and website "Improvise for Real" provides the best ear training course I've experienced. I'm still working my way through the material, but their approach, which emphasizes working with sounds over recognizing intervals, has really improved my ear.
I would now rate myself as a solid intermediate player, on track to be an advanced player in 2-3 years. It took a lot of time and money to cobble together a path to get from beginner to intermediate. If you can create a course (or series of courses) that can help streamline that process, my hat's off to you.
Paul, I think your articles are great and nicely written. Interestingly, I am the guitar player you discuss as your target. Can play a few things moderately well. For those who can’t play well, they would think I was pretty decent. The problem is as you describe… I’ve been playing the same things for 30 years, so I recently decided I didn’t want to be that “noodler” type of player anymore. I set about trying to understand where my real gaps were, and this is what I found…
Biggest gaps of beginner/intermediate:
1) Knowledge - Internalizing the fretboard, knowing all the notes without having to think about it
2) Timing - developing and understanding time - lack of strong counting and rhythm skills
3) Mindset - getting frustrated with never being able to play like you really want to
4) Plan - beginning with the end in mind, what’s missing to get where you want to go
5) Technique - You get the big ideas, but need refinement - little things that make all the difference.
6) Practice - How did the best get so good? In detail…
7) Expectations - Knowing what is possible and realistic.
8) Theory - Once you have the fundamentals nailed, then you can apply the theory
I think Jake Lizzio is on to something, as you noted in your article about his Signals Rhythm Course for Guitar. He takes one of the topics above and goes deep. Too many courses out there try to be everything to everyone, all in one course. That’s not a strategy for mastery, it’s a strategy for creating several million beginners.
A suggestion, if you haven’t read Mindset, by Carol S Dweck, I would strongly suggest it. Followed by Grit, by Angela Duckworth. These two books are all about the why and how to achieve what your audience seeks. Few talk about these topics or understand them well. They were game changing reads for me and apply perfectly.
Just my thoughts… hope it’s helpful!