Getting Started. Where to Begin?
Guitar Noises #33: June 1, 2022
Welcome to Guitar Noises. A lot of new readers have joined since the last newsletter. I don’t know where you’re all coming from, but thank you for signing up.
Shout out to everyone who has been in touch since the last newsletter. Let’s keep the conversation going about starting up a new premium guitar course. Your feedback has been fantastic. Please be patient if it takes me a few days to reply.
Finding your way around
The internet community can be a great help when it comes to learning guitar. Everything you need to know has already been shared online. As exciting as this is, the self-taught guitarist will eventually run out of runway. If all you do is learn songs from YouTube or Ultimate Guitar Tabs you’ll have a hard time learning how to fly.
If I had to sum it up, the purpose of this newsletter has been to help the beginner who doesn’t want to be a beginner anymore. Let's recap some of my preferred sites and suggestions for levelling up your guitar playing.
I’ve split this into three parts. Part 1 is my mini-lessons outlining important areas for beginners to work on beyond technique and learning songs. Part 2 lists a few free guitar sites that are good at laying out a path from one level to the next. Part 3 is where I give my top choices for paid online guitar courses.
Part 1 - My Mini Lessons
Don’t start scrolling as soon as you see the words “music theory.” You don’t have to learn tons of theory to be a better player, and most of the theory intermediates need isn’t that complicated. It’s like learning a new language - you can get by on surprisingly few words and expressions.
You’re not alone if you find this part of learning music tedious and want to leave it for later. But this is one of those areas where a lot of guitarists wind up saying “I wish I had learned this stuff earlier.” You can keep messing around on guitar for as long as you like, but it won’t just come together one day by itself. You have to connect the dots. It’s so much easier to be good at something when you know what you’re doing.
Some things you’ll just have to memorize. Most likely you already know your guitar strings from low to high are EADGBE. It’s pretty hard to forget that. With repeated use, some of the theory you learn becomes permanent knowledge like that.
What should you memorize? A big light bulb moment for me was learning the CAGED system. CAGED gets talked about a lot because it’s good basic knowledge to have in common with other players. You have to memorize shapes and patterns, but once you see them you can’t un-see them. It’s useful and lasting knowledge. I wrote about rote learning and CAGED in Why is the CAGED System so important?
One common characteristic of the lifelong beginner is not knowing the notes on the guitar. If you haven’t already learned the fretboard I strongly suggest you make a plan to do that now. If you choose not to learn the notes there are two likely outcomes. The first is you will eventually give up guitar because you aren’t getting results. The other is you will finally realize just how important it is to know the notes and you’ll come back to it. Learning it sooner instead of later will make a lot of what comes next easier.
I shared my strategy for learning the fretboard in What do the dots on a guitar really mean?
Even if you don’t know what keys mean or any of that, you should already get the idea that some chords just sound nice played in a certain order. Rather than randomly trying all the chords you know or looking things up online, you can quickly assume which chords to play using a few simple patterns. I started talking about this in Movable Chord Shapes and elaborated on it more in Quick Patterns for Finding Chords.
A lot of the stuff you want to play isn’t as hard to learn as you might think. There are a handful of chord progressions that cover most popular songs in a variety of genres. There are exceptions of course, but most of the hard work can be gotten out of the way by studying the Must Know Chord Progressions.
These mini-lessons only scratch the surface, but they do offer some reasonable goals for the beginner who wants to make progress.
It’s an exciting time to learn guitar with so many free lessons out there. YouTube has answers for every question you could ever ask. Still, it helps to have a structured approach.
Justin Guitar is bit like an encyclopedia for beginner and intermediate guitarists. Search for anything about guitar - how to hold it, how to use a pick, scale patterns, - and one of Justin’s lessons is going to show up. I’ve found his ear training lessons to be very useful but if you’re looking for step by step lessons, Justin’s site is organized in a way that gradually progresses through different levels for beginners and intermediates alike.
A big problem with a lot of “song tutorials” on YouTube is that they don’t teach skills than are transferable to other songs. Song Notes by David Pots breaks down songs showing how to get the little details just right. This is more helpful than the average how to play a song lesson, because you’ll improve strumming, timing and picking technique in ways that you can use in anything you play.
David Pots is a popular YouTube creator whose videos are freely available. You can support his work through his Patreon page or buy his custom sheet music through Music Notes. David’s website is a good staring point.
A big part of this newsletter has been reviewing premium guitar sites. There are a lot of great choices out there. Your best bet is to try working with only one at a time.
Active Melody could also be considered a free lesson site. Brian drops a new lesson every week and the first half is always free. The free portion is packed with an incredible amount of information. Unless you need to learn the entire composition note-for-note the free lesson will be a good guide. Signing up to be a Premium Member for $89 a year gets you the complete lesson with added benefits like jam tracks, tabs, an onscreen tab viewer, plus access to all of the lessons on the site. Since reviewing Active Melody a few months ago, Brian has added some new starter courses on theory, the CAGED system and playing lead guitar.
The once a week lesson format sets a manageable pace to level up gradually while simultaneously increasing your knowledge and ability.
Paul Davids’ Next Level Playing is another of my favorite premium courses. It‘s most suited for players who are already at the intermediate level. If you’ve watched Paul Davids on YouTube you know he can be all over the place. But Next Level Playing is a compact course that stays true to its mission, even if the steps you have to take are pretty large ones. Here is my review of Paul Davids’ Next Level Playing.
Tomo Fujita’s Guitar Wisdom has raised its prices since I reviewed it here, but it’s still worth the time and money if you’re ready to dedicate yourself to learning guitar. Guitar Wisdom features linear lessons for beginners who need step by step instruction. Rather than just showing you what to do, Tomo provides explanations for why things should be done a certain way. You can get information anywhere, but this course aims to show you how to use the information. Guitar Wisdom is not about memorizing or copying examples note for note. More than other courses, Guitar Wisdom requires you to use your ears and develop your rhythm feeling.
If you’re wondering, the answer is yes - this could take years. Guitar Wisdom is training you to be a real musician.
I should mention that none of these reviews contain affiliate links. These are my personal recommendations for premium guitar courses on the market today.
Many of you already know that I’m planning to make a new premium course for self-taught guitarists. You can read about how that’s going over here.
Please feel free to get in touch if you have ideas, suggestions, questions or simply want to talk about guitar with me.