Hello Beginners!

BEGINNERS! THERE IS A BETTER WAY!

If you’ve tried to teach yourself to play guitar, then you’ve probably seen at least some of the different books, sites and video out there. I’m not saying that they’re wrong– only that most of them are teaching the wrong things first. Most beginners come to me wanting to play, at a basic level, some of their favorite songs, nothing more. So why should I teach them scales and music theory? I tell them, trust me those are there when you want them. Technique, tone, sight reading, fingerpicking, muting, slides, bends, slurs, ear training….there is so much to learn. It’s easy to get overwhelmed!  But I have learned from years of experience that beginners just want to play something that sounds like music.

WHAT WILL MAKE YOU WANT TO PICK UP THE GUITAR?

What made me into the guitarist I am today? Inspiration! It’s the same for everyone. The more you play, the better you get. The better you get, the more you want to play. A’ tipping point’ much like any other. It really is that simple. Well, almost. The only other thing is to improve you must DO THE SIMPLE THINGS WELL. Some say ‘don’t practice your mistakes’. I think this is good advice. However, what you choose to play is just as important. Beginners tend to bite off much more than they can chew. And not necessarily by playing demanding music! Sometimes it’s really just about doing one thing at a time.  Amazing things can and do happen this way.

The biggest problem I see in guitarists of ALL levels is a desire to play beyond their skill level before they are ready. Remember– regardless of your aspirations, first make sure you can play the simple things well.

THE SIMPLE THINGS

  1. Play a simple, consistent rhythm with your right hand 
  2. Make a basic chord shape with your left hand
  3. Put them together
  4. Play songs with chord progressions (2 or more) with that rhythm

You might notice I listed playing a simple rhythm before playing chords. I’m not saying to play the rhythm before any chords, but I am saying to play the rhythm well with ONE chord before adding more. This way you are learning to coordinate the 2 hands.

TRADITIONAL METHOD IS NOT OUTDATED, IT’S JUST WRONG FOR POPULAR MUSIC!

As a classically trained guitarist, I emphasize the importance of correct technique and the value of fundamentals. However, traditional beginner method has always been based on reading single note melodies in standard notation. This is not a good path for playing popular styles, which is what most of my students want to do. In particular, over the last several decades, rock, pop, blues and other related styles are less driven by complex melodies and sophisticated chord progressions than the popular jazz that came before it.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE RHYTHM

Generally simpler in form, modern popular music (pop, folk, rock, blues, country, “singer-songwriter” music, etc.) nevertheless incorporates substantial tonal and, especially, rhythmic variety. Any proficient musician playing such music has working knowledge of it. This is music that is usually learned by ear, not by reading notation.  Tablature (a special notation system for guitar) has become very popular. It is notation without the rhythm. It is assumed the reader knows the rhythmic structure of the piece already.

WHY TEACHING YOURSELF HASN’T WORKED (YET)

Everyone agrees that the best time to become self-taught at anything is when you are very young. Beginners have an endless supply of internet transcriptions, tabs, lead sheets, DVD’s, sheet music and YouTube tutorials to choose from for self-teaching. Yet most of my beginning students come to me having tried and failed to use one or more of these teaching aids. My greatest desire as a teacher is to give beginners a way to learn and document rhythm, so they can learn to really play the music they hear and love. If you can’t mimic the rhythms you hear, how can you play the music?

REMEMBER SONGBOOKS?

In the past, only songbooks were available. Mostly comprised of piano scores with chord symbols, they were not cheap, and often contained errors, especially wrong chord symbols. Some still do. Internet transcriptions are free, and often contain far more errors. YouTube videos are wildly inconsistent in quality. What the beginning popular player needs is a working knowledge of syncopated rhythm and how to read simple chord boxes.

THEORY AND EAR TRAINING MATTER

Of course, rhythm is not all I teach. The tonal ear should be developed as well.
The major scale, the chords that are derived from it, and how they function in commonly used progressions helps navigate the ear. Even a novice knows that most popular songs use a relatively small number of chords. The ear should be trained both by imitation and repetition of these elements in conjunction with learning music theory fundamentals. This means the beginner is NOT left to his or her own devices when learning from often very questionable learning sources!

WORKING KNOWLEDGE OF SYNCOPATED RHYTHM IS, INITIALLY, MY MAIN FOCUS

Still, the rhythm is the first main thing. Why? Because the books, tabs and videos ALREADY GIVE YOU THE CHORDS! But do they give you the rhythm? Not usually, and so often, not accurately.

WHAT I CAN DO FOR YOU

I encourage you to take a look at THE RHYTHM SECTION©, When you play better rhythm, you play far better guitar. Learning chords and changing their shapes can be tough at first, but it’s nothing but repetition. Don’t be the player that can move well between chords but can’t play good rhythm in time. You may be very surprised what this very direct approach to rhythm and syncopation can do for you.

© 2016 Jim Greenfield