Getting Started With The Right Foot: What An Early Intermediate Guitarist Should Know

Tommaso Zillio

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You are a beginner guitar player. You may have learned a few chords or scale shapes, but where do you go from there? Should you study more scales? Should you tackle music theory? It's not rocket science, but you need to know what comes next... and below I'll show you.

For most guitar players there is this kind of "nobody's land" period from when they are beginner to when they become advanced. There are a few resources out there for the VERY beginner guitarists (though sadly very few of these resources are actually any good) and there is a LOT for the advanced player. It's normal for someone who has learned the first chords and maybe the first scale or two to feel abandoned and lost. And in fact, that is the stage at which many people, without guidance, simply abandon the instrument.

The problem is that most teachers out there simply have no idea how to teach a student to go from the beginner level to the advanced level. You will notice this from the vast majority of teachers who "teach only beginners" (that is: they don't know much about music) or "teach only advanced" (that is: they don't know how to teach the basics). But don't despair.

In this article I am going to give you some pointers on how to move from knowing a few chords to the next level. No, it is not a COMPLETE program - that would require a book. But I'm sure that there are at least 2-3 things that I write below that you are not doing yet: these are the things holding you back. Read through the next points and see if I am not correct:

Basic Music Theory

No, don't close the webpage, I'm not about to tell you to read big dusty books. You DO need some theory to be able to play correctly, though. For starters, all styles require that you know at the very least:

  1. What are scales (at least major and minor scales)
  2. How chords relate to scales
  3. How to compose using chords in key

These are the VERY basics. If you do not know how to do them, on my website there is a useful download called "Beginning Music Theory" that can help you learn them. If, on the other hand, you DO know this stuff already, then you can benefit from another download, the "Music Theory Map", that will tell you what the next steps are.

Knowing How To Practice

Let's face it: natural talent counts very little in the grand scheme of things. Every guitar player worth of their name learned 99% of what they know by the time-honored method of practicing. Yes, this is when you sit down and actually try to play something that you cannot play yet.

The curious thing about practicing is that most people think they know how to do it... and they fail miserably at it. I will just give you a couple of basic suggestions here (don't even try more advanced stuff until you can do these):

  1. Play SLOWER than you normally do, and focus on using as little strength as possible. Repeat the same movement many times until you can do it relaxed, only then speed up.
  2. If it does not sound clear, it's crap. Slow down again until you can hear all the notes.
  3. Get organized. Have a practice schedule - even just a minimal one - so that you do not spend a second wondering what you have to practice next.

Again, there's WAY more to it than that, but first make sure you can do the basics.

Ear Training

Music is an aural art, so you need to learn to LISTEN to music. That much is a platitude. The problem is that most people think that learning their aural skills (also known as "ear training") involves only being able to hear chords... and let's face it, while it's not particularly difficult to hear chords, that's not the first thing you need to listen for.

I would give the following suggestions to beginners on aural skills

  1. Start listening to as much music as you can, in as many different styles as you can. Yes, this is not "traditional" ear training... but it's going to be very useful
  2. Listen to the dynamics of the music. That is, notice when the music gets louder or "more intense" and quieter or "less intense". As simple as this may sound, it's very important
  3. Try to play a major scale on your guitar then... sing it. Yup, seriously. If you can sing it, you are sure you will be able to hear it.

Good Resources

Nobody learns to play alone: music is a team sport. Every guitarist that claims to be "completely self-taught" is lying - at the very least they took inspiration from many other players, and there always was someone in their life showing them how to do thing on the guitar, even if they did not formally call this person "their teacher".

Point is, you can't learn all by yourself in your bedroom. You need a guide. It would require another article to explain how to choose a good teacher. Not someone who improvises themselves a teacher, but one piece of advice is fundamental: get your resources only from sources that have been proven to create the results you want.

That is, it does not matter how good as a player is the teacher: check out their students. If you can't find info on their students? No good.

Ability Of Applying Music Theory

Knowing theory counts for nothing unless you can use it to actually make music. The problem is that most sources teach music theory as abstract notions rather than applied knowledge. Which is a pity because the REAL fun of theory is to make music with it (I mean... you didn't think that people were studying music theory because they liked reading old books?)

If you have never seen how to apply theory to your instrument and how this can be fun, here's an example where I show you how to take the concept of "sequencing" and apply it to a basic pentatonic scale to create new licks:

What Next?

Your next step is to print this article, pin it on your practice space, and apply these suggestions. And if you need more help, click on the button belos to check out this great course on Scales and Modes, perfect for people in your situation.

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Download the FREE eBook "Finding the Right Chords for Your Melody"

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Your email is kept 100% private and confidential and will NOT be shared, rented or sold. There's no obligation to buy anything.
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