When you first start learning to play the guitar, it feels like your peering up at the snow covered peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro with naught but a dusty pair of Timberlands and a dream.
But fear not because I’m here to guide you up those vaunted slopes!
Although you can spend the rest of your life mastering a vast array of guitar techniques, there’s really only a handful of skills every successful guitarist needs to master. And those skills are: ear training, scales, chords, sight-reading, and repertoire.
“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.” – B.B. King
Ear Training: There are a handful of excellent resources online. I personally use Ear Master Pro 6 everyday at the start of my practice sessions and with all of my students. At $59.99, it comes stocked with over 3,000 hours of ear training lessons and covers everything from intervals (the distance between any two notes), chords, scales, and melodies.
Now if you’re a white belt, that may like drinking straight from the fire hose. That’s why I also recommend Theta Music Trainer, a game based online ear training program. It costs $7.95 a month, but it’s fun and engaging, especially for younger music students.
Additionally, Train Ear is an excellent and totally free online tool dedicated to teaching students how to identify intervals. Mastering your intervals is a huge first step towards learning to play by ear.
After a five or ten minutes of ear training, move onto to the next practice module: scales.
Scales: The E Minor Pentatonic is the easiest and most useful scale in rock music. As a former instructor once told me, “This is the scale you should learn when you first start playing the guitar, and this is the scale you’ll play until you quite playing the guitar.”
Sage advice indeed. And as such, you should begin your guitar journey by mastering the pentatonic scale. Practice it in the open position for a few minutes, see ex. 1. Once you have the basic scale shape under your fingertips, you can begin adding some short licks–or musical phrases–into your practice regimen.
Ex. 1: The E Minor Pentatonic Scale in Open Position
In part two of this two-part series, we’ll add chord progressions, sight reading, and repertoire to your practice sessions. From there, you should be well on your way to the top of that mountain.