Why You Are Unable To Solve Your Guitar Playing Problems Fast

By Tom Hess

Do you feel unsatisfied with your current guitar playing skills? Chances are, you have inherited many bad playing habits over the years that are currently holding you back from becoming the player you want to become. If you are like most guitarists, this makes you feel helpless because you think you have to rebuild your guitar playing from the ground up while learning new techniques or skills.

Unfortunately, if you have already reached a major plateau in your guitar playing, you are very likely to experience this kind of frustration before seeing any progress toward your musical goals. If you are a self-taught guitar player, you are much more likely to develop bad habits and go through this because you have no teacher to guide you when your playing gets off course. This is something I see all the time when teaching new guitar students who have been trying to teach themselves how to play for many years.

After turning countless average electric guitarists into great electric guitarists, I’ve observed pretty much any guitar playing issue you could possibly imagine. The following are just a few of the bad habits that I have helped my students eliminate:

1. Guitar practicing methods that are not effective, because they are based off of misinformation or faulty premises. These types of practice approaches make it nearly impossible to accomplish what you want on guitar. I talk more extensively about these bad practicing habits (and how to fix them) in this free video about how to get results from guitar practice.

2. Very inefficient picking hand technique that stems from many years of practice using inefficient picking movements or a limited picking system. Watch this free guitar video on the topic of how to build guitar speed to check out an example of this.

3. Untwisting a knot of poor guitar technique habits caused by years of using too much tension and lacking finger independence in the fretting hand.

4. Frequently using the CAGED method as a means to memorize the fretboard and learn scales. The CAGED method is one of the worst things a guitar player can learn – it causes so many problems that I’d have to devote an entire article (or book!) to cover them all. At the very least, this system will greatly limit your ability to creatively improvise on guitar. Many of my new students come to me frustrated after using CAGED system for a long time and we have to take the time to fix all the problems they developed from using it. However, once we are done, they always thank me because they have become MUCH better players.

Of course, the points above are only a few of the possible bad habits you might have. Whether you are suffering from ‘these’ specific bad habits or different ones, there are several steps you can take that will help you fix them and become a much better guitarist. These steps will help reduce the frustration described at the beginning of this article.

Here is the process you need to follow:

1. BECOME EXCITED when you discover a fundamental problem in your guitar playing, because you are about to become a much better player. Even if you feel a bit disappointed because you are not the player you thought you were, know that your guitar playing skills can only get better. Instead of allowing yourself to become a mediocre player, you can simply fix your current playing issues and take one step closer to becoming the guitarist you always wanted to become. This is a reason to celebrate!

2. Become very analytical. To entirely eliminate a core issue in your guitar playing, you need to:

A. Clearly identify the issue or bad habit (use these free guitar playing surveys to see what you should be fixing now in your playing).

B. Get a clear understanding of why the problem is keeping you from becoming the player you want to become

C. Know what steps to take to solve your problem

D. Figure precisely why these specific steps are the best solutions for solving the issue

E. Picture how much better you will be once you have solved the issue and improved your guitar playing skills

Every one of the five points above is absolutely crucial (and the assessments mentioned will serve as great tools for gaining clarity on these points). Simply ‘being motivated’ throughout the correction process of a core guitar playing problem is very important. In order to remain motivated, you must clearly understand both WHAT your specific issue is and WHY it holds you back from achieving your guitar playing goals. You will also find that visualizing how great you will be as a player after solving your problem is CRUCIAL for sustaining a high level of motivation.

The majority of guitar players only focus on one or two of the points mentioned above (usually A and C) while completely ignoring points B, D & E. This increases the chances that they will run out of motivation long before they totally fix their bad guitar playing habits. Find out more about preventing this from happening by studying this article on how to avoid musical burnout.

3. Focus on correcting one issue at a time. It is very easy to become overwhelmed when you learn that you have tons of issues to work on (essentially making you feel like you are starting over as a guitarist). You don’t need to feel this way and I’ll explain why:

Instead of feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, get organized by developing a highly effective guitar practice schedule and getting rid of your problems exactly how you would approach learning any new skill.

This takes me to the next point:

4. Don’t feel like you have to solve ALL of your guitar playing issues at once. In other words, don’t put your other guitar skills on hold in order to fix your bad habits. This is something that many guitar players do and their playing suffers as a result. Rather than doing this, simply set aside time to practice/improve your problem areas, but continue to develop in other areas of your playing as well. Learn more about this approach in this article about making fast guitar playing progress.

5. Don’t make the common mistake of trying to eliminate deeply rooted bad guitar playing habits by yourself. There is a reason why you were unable to see these issues in the first place. You need the guidance of an expert guitar teacher to help you completely eliminate any poor playing habits you have accumulated over the years. When looking for a great guitar teacher, always make sure that this person has a proven track record for helping guitarists – who are the same situation as you – effectively solve their playing issues. Learn how to do this by downloading this free resource on the topic of how to find a guitar teacher.

6. You become like the people you surround yourself with… so surround yourself with excellent guitar players who will support you as you work on correcting major guitar playing issues. By simply being around these types of people, you will gain a huge motivational boost to reach your musical goals faster. I know this is true, because I continually see the massive positive effect my private musician forum has on every new student who begins taking lessons with me.

7. Maintain your patience throughout the correction process and push through to the end. Eliminating very fundamental bad habits in your guitar playing is no easy task. As soon as you begin the process, you will have to strongly resist returning to your old, more comfortable playing methods. To make sure you stay on the right track, ALWAYS keep your mind focused on the end result you desire for your guitar playing. For help with this, read this column on the topic of persevering as a guitarist.

After reading this article, you are now prepared to begin fixing fundamental issues in your guitar playing. Fill out these free guitar playing surveys right now to start the process. Next, carefully follow the points in this article, apply the concepts into your current practicing methods and find a great guitar teacher who will guide you along the right path. Once you do this, you will quickly reach your highest guitar playing goals and become the guitarist you always wanted to be!



About The Author:
Tom Hess is a highly successful guitar teacher, songwriter and a pro guitarist. He uses the best online guitar lessons to train guitar players to reach their musical goals. Go to tomhess.net to get more guitar playing resourcesguitar playing eBooks, and to read more guitar playing articles.

9 Good Reasons to Not Use the CAGED System for Guitar Scales

 Tommaso Zillio


You have probably heard of the CAGED system for learning guitar scales. In fact you may actually be using it, so let me ask you a question: do you feel like you are mastering the fretboard completely? It’s incredible how many times I hear a negative answer to this question, followed hastily by: “but it’s me, not the CAGED system. I just need more practice”. Well, I have learned the CAGED system too, and I found that it’s actually the system to have some problems that prevents guitar players to reach their full potential. If you want to save yourself years of frustration, keep reading.

The CAGED method is now so ubiquitous that many musicians think it the only existing method to learn how to visualize the fretboard. I know at least two local guitar players in the city where I live that teach the CAGED system to their student even if they personally are not using it. Both of them, when questioned about it, answered that they used for themselves a method they invented but were teaching CAGED because “it’s the correct method”. If the method is “correct” whey don’t you use it? Why do you need to invent a new one? The answer is that, as we will see below, the CAGED method has a number of problems in practical applications.

These problems are why most players are confused or frustrated by “scales” or “music theory” on guitar. The problem is not that these topics are difficult, but that the system used to teach them is either limiting you or making thins more difficult. The real problem with the CAGED system, as we will see below, is that it’s making you doing a lot of work, so you have the feeling that you are learning something or understanding better, but at the end of the day you are not able to do the things you needed to be able to do. Below I explain this in detail so stay with me.

There is no integration with arpeggios…

Every time I talk with a CAGED apologist, the very first thing they tell me is that their system integrates scales and arpeggios. This is not true. What it’s true is that the scale patterns are superimposed over a major chord shape, but these shapes are not always usable as arpeggio patterns (see below). The only advantage seems to be that they are similar to the open strings chords most beginners know, but that’s about it.

So, what I mean with “not usable”? I mean that the shapes shown for the chords are difficult to play cleanly and fluidly compared to other shapes such as the standard “sweep arpeggio” shapes. This is partially because some of the shapes are good only for few strings: for instance the “G shape” does not cover strings 2,3, and 4: these notes must be borrowed from the “A shape”, but the resulting pattern is not easy to play as an arpeggio. The “D shape” covers only the first 4 strings, and so on. In all these cases the arpeggio/scale integration seems good visually, but it not as convenient mechanically. Try just to play the scale pattern ascending and then descend using the arpeggio without stopping to see what I mean.

… and only MAJOR arpeggios at that

All the CAGED scale patters are shown, as I said above, together with a major chord shape. You may notice that it is quite less common to show them with a minor chord shape, and there are practically no diagrams out there with a diminished, augmented, or altered chord. Even the seventh chord patterns are rare.

This is no chance: with minor chords the CAGED scale patters look already less attractive, as the shapes for the minor arpeggios present more technical difficulties (compare them with the standard “sweep arpeggio” shapes to see what I mean). It’s even worse for diminished, augmented, or altered chords.

When I ays this in conversation many CAGED supporters raise their shield and “inform” me that you can of course use the CAED patterns on minor chords. Well, I didn’t say you couldn’t, I just said that it is more difficult. I am sure that if you throw enough practice hours at this problem then you can do it — the question is if there is a simpler system or not.

Just one recommendation on this point. I have seen a number of authors recommending to use the “relative major” shapes on minor chords, for instance to solo on the Am chord they use the C major scale shapes. Patches like this have the result of making the system even less intuitive, make it more difficult for you to solo “in” the chord (because a C chord and an Am chord are not the same chord…), and do not ultimately address the problem of all the other chord types anyway.

It is inferior technically

It is not a mystery that most shredders do not endorse the CAGED system, and for a very simple reason: because it is difficult to play scales at high speed using these scale patterns.

You may or may not be into shred and fast playing, but it is a fact that if a scale patterns make it difficult for you to play at a high speed, then it is putting an unnecessary technical burden on your playing at any speed. Or in other words: stuff that can be played faster is usually easier at any speed.

The reason why CAGED patterns are more difficult technically is that they are not consistent in the number of notes they have per string: some strings have 2 notes, some 3. This is because CAGED patterns are derived from the principle used in classical guitar playing of “one finger per fret” — and this is all good but this principle is NOT helping you to play electric guitar (that is a different instrument than classical guitar, goes without saying). A better option, that will make easier to play also melodic patterns (“sequences”) is to lay down your scales with 3 notes per strings.

Another technical problems most CAGED users but the most advanced tend to have is that they stay in “position playing” i.e. they never move from one position on the fretboard. Needless to say, this reflects on the quality of their soloing.

To realize how the CAGED system is technically inferior, I suggest the two following three exercises: 1) try and play the scales as fast as possible. 2) Try to play a scale sequence such as: C, D, E, D, E, F, E, F, G, etc… 3) Restrict your playing to only the first two string, and play the scale patters all across the fretboard. In all three cases you will see that the CAGED system produces some awkward fingering when the scale pattern passes from 3 to 2 notes per string.

It is too scale-centric

Every CAGED method I have seen shows the scale patterns superimposed with the chord patterns, often with the comment that “this is how you integrate them”. Literally all the method I have seen, though, have you play these scales… but virtually none have you play the arpeggios. As a result most players that use the CAGED patterns have a scale-centric view of the fretboard: everything comes from, or is reduced to, a scale, and since this is the center of their approach this is also the thing they play most in real playing situations.

You may have heard or read online the advice that you should “not learn scales as they are bad for you”. I have also heard this phrased as “scales are stupid”. Of course I don’t agree with that: you should learn your scales. But there is a grain of truth in these comments: you should not learn ONLY scales. You should learn ways to break free of the scales whenever you need. But especially you should not rely on systems that make it difficult to play anything but scales.

There is lots to learn by heart

I hear often that in the CAGED system “you need only to learn 5 patterns an then you are done”. Well, I could point out that this is not true at all (see next point) but for now let’s concede it: you just need to learn 5 patterns. Sounds good, no? But what if I told you that in other scale systems, such as in the 3-notes-per-string system (if taught correctly) you need to memorize ONE pattern — not 7 like most people think. I don’t have the space here to go in depth into that, but if you are interested in how is this possible let me know in the comments and I will write an article on the topic.

There’s more. In order to use a scale pattern to its full power, you need to know more than just the pattern: you need also to know what scale degree is represented by each note in the pattern: which one is the root? which is the fifth? and so on. Since the CAGED scale patterns lack intervallic regularity then you need to learn the scale degrees separately for each of the 5 shapes. You will agree with me that this is not as attractive as it seemed at first sight…

It makes difficult to use different scales

“So you learn these 5 patterns and you are set for the major scales and its modes”. “Ok, but what if I want to use something different, like the melodic minor scale, or an exotic scale?” “You can see it as a variation of the major scale”. Ok, well, this is technically true. Any scale can be seen as a “variation” on the major scale, simply because if you change enough notes you can obtain any other scale. But is this a goos way to think?

I think the real problem is if we it is convenient for us to think of the new scale in term of the major scale. And the answer is: often this is not the case. Some scales are simply “too far” from the major scale for the original patterns to be of any use. Even changing only one or two notes, in fact, it’s quite difficult to manage. Ultimately you will find yourself learning a new set of patterns for each new scale you want to use. Want to play the neapolitan minor scale? Learn a new set. Want to use the melodic minor for some Jazz? Learn a new set. The CAGED system does not look like an elegant and economic system in this respect.

But Hendrix used it?

Even if Hendrix used it, a scale system is good for you if it helps learning the fretboard in an efficient way, and then does not limit you. It does not matter who used it or not. But since I’ve heard this Hendrix thing countless times, let’s get rid of it once and for all.

The CAGED system was invented and popularized in the late 70′s, while Hendrix died in 1970, so it’s unlikely that he used it. He could have figured it out by himself, of course, but he left no indications of the scale system he used, and from his solos you can see clearly that he’s not using the standard CAGED patterns.

Of course, other famous players may be using CAGED. Many for instance claim that Joe Pass was using it. He certainly mentioned it. O the other hand, I do own Joe Pass’ scales book, and the system he explains in it actually used 6 different patterns, not 5 as CAGED. Also, Joe Pass was using this system more to visualize different chords, not full scales. Based on this, it seems to me that what Joe called CAGED in his days and what is passed as CAGED today are actually two different systems and we should not use the same name for them.

Of course someone is going to mention in the comments that famous schools like Berklee use the CAGED system in their curriculum. Well, this is true, but are their most successful graduates using it? Take for instance the solos of John Petrucci, arguably one of the most famous Berklee students, and you will notice that any non-pentatonic scale in his solos is actually played with a 3-notes-per-strings pattern. Curious, eh?

It’s taught the wrong way

Of course, the CAGED system DOES have one advantage. If you already know how to play pentatonic scales, then you can start playing modal scales by adding modal notes to them. For instance, if you are playing the Am pentatonic, and add the notes B and F# then you are effectively playing the Dorian scale. In this case, starting form the 5 standard pentatonic patterns and adding the modal notes you will obtain the CAGED patterns.

In other words, the cAGED patterns are a nice way to go between pentatonic scales and diatonic/modal scales… and that’s about it.

The curious thing is that I have never seen the CAGED system taught this way. All the educational resources that I have about CAGED insist a lot about the fact that the scale patterns are superimposed on the major chord shapes, but do not even mention the pentatonic/modal connection. It is quite interesting that the CAGED system is branded as a “general” system that can handle any playing situation well (which is not true) and it is not explained in the area where it would shine.

Everybody has a different idea of what CAGED is!

Every time I talk about, write about, or otherwise explain why the CAGED system does not live up to the hype, one or two people are bound to say: “Wait a moment this is not the CAGED system. The CAGED system is…”.You see, this is another problem with CAGED. It has been “copied” over and over by so many less-than-competent authors that everyone now is teaching a different thing and calls it CAGED.

If you are willing to throw enough energy, time , and resources at it, eventually you WILL find a system you like (for a while at least) that is taught under the name of CAGED. This is simply because every way to see the fretboard has been taught before or later under the CAGED name. I have a DVD where the author explains the octave pattern on the fretboard and calls it “the CAGED system”. I have a book that states that the standard tuning of the guitar (established in the 16th century) is a consequence of the CAGED system (invented in the 70′s). And let’s not talk about that YouTube video that explains the 3-notes-per-strings patterns and calls them “a variation of the CAGED system”!

If you realize the absurdity of this situation, you will also see why so few people dare to criticize the CAGED system: no matter what to say, you are bound to find someone that will comment “but this is not the CAGED system” followed by endless and fruitless discussions on matters of definitions. But let me tell you something. I own (and have studied) enough instructionals and DVD’s on the CAGED system alone to fill a 4-feet shelf in my studio. I believe I have more than half an idea of what I am talking about :-)

With this many problems, how can it be so common?

So why the CAGED system seem to be so widespread? We can see his problems, so why guitar educators have not rejected it? For 3 reasons: 1) There is an industry behind it. Pretty much anyone can write (and sell) an eBook on the CAGED system by copying the 5 pattern and telling you to learn them. 2) It’s easy to teach. After all, you are just handed down the 5 pattern and supposed to make sense of them. I have seen the consequence of this method in many students who come to me form other teachers: they know these patterns by heart, but they can’t apply them to save their life. 3)Because it is seductively simple for the people who want a “magic bullet” to learn scales. Again, the slogan “learn the 5 shapes and you are done” proves to be attractive. Don’t fall for the hype, and just throw away these books on CAGED. You’ll be better off in the long run.

About the Author

A professional guitarist, teacher, and composer, Tommaso Zillio enjoys particularly writing about music theory and its application to guitar playing

6 Misconceptions Guitarists Have About Music Theory

 Tommaso Zillio


Do you think you can learn music theory by yourself? Do you think that learning theory will damp your creativity? Do you think that you can find all the information you need on the net? Well, I used to think the same, but I was wrong. If you want to see why, keep reading.

When I was just a beginner at guitar I was sure I could learn everything I needed by myself. After all, there is a wealth of information online, and I owned many books and DVDs, and my friends could help me, and… and each of these sources contradicts the others! In my naivete I thought I could separate the good from the bad. After years of effort, I had to conclude that no, I could not really do it without help of someone who was really knowledgeable in the matter.

I am here to share some of the things I learned in the process.

The first thing to keep in mind is that music theory is not “hard”. It is definitely “complex” i.e. made of many little concepts that work all together, but each and every one of these concepts is simple to understand. This means that if you are introduced to them in the right order, then music theory as a whole is easy to understand. If, on the other hand, you try to learn these concepts in the wrong order, then it is going to be really hard to understand. The problem, as we will see below, is that not all the approaches to music theory that are today popularized through the net follow a meaningful order, in fact most of them are simply plain confusing.

Let’s have now a look at the major roadblocks that can stop or delay your progress in music theory, and what to do about them. This list is of course not complete, but it is a good starting point:

I Can Learn By Myself

Sure. You can also potentially learn how to drive a car by yourself just by trial and error. I do see some downsides to the idea, though. Especially the fact that it is difficult to learn from an error and survive at the same time. Of course, i am over dramatizing here. After all, you can not harm yourself or others if you try to learn music theory by yourself. Or could you?

There are some musicians out there who can compose songs alright even if they do not know any music theory. I can’t help but think that it is a real pity. What could they do if they actually did study music theory? How much more could they do? What songs they could have written but we will never hear? These musicians had to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel by themselves… what could such amount of raw talent do if it was properly cultivated?

The person in history that had the greatest amount of natural talent in music is probably Mozart. And still, he had to dedicate ten years of his life to study composition in order to write what he did. My advice is that, unless you think you are more talented than Mozart, you should not try to learn theory alone.

I Don’t Need Theory: I Can Play By Ear

I wish I had a dollar for every person I heard saying that so I could retire on a private island and not work for the rest of my life. And while sipping my Mohito, I would reflect on the fact that this “play by ear” excuse is just that: an excuse. In fact most of the people that use it have never done any ear training worth mentioning: they can’t transcribe the songs they like, they can’t play the musical ideas that pop in their minds. Ultimately for them “playing by ear” means adopting the “Hail Mary” strategy: playing something random while hoping that something good will come out of it. Most of the time, it doesn’t.

We musicians need to know theory as writers need to know grammar. It is not the ONLY thing we need to know (far from it), but it is absolutely necessary. While it is a common occurrence for many famous musicians (or their fans) to boast that they do not know any theory, once you go and actually check the facts you will find that this is never the truth (the first one to post in the comments that “Hendrix never studied theory” will get a pat on their head and a lollipop before being sent back to music pre-school).

So, now that we have established that there ain’t such a thing as a free lunch and we need to actually put some effort in if we want to be great or at least good, let’s see what not to do.

I Don’t Need To Train My Ear

Since someone is bound to misunderstand the previous point: what I wrote before should not be construed to mean that ear training is useless. Obvious, no?

There is no way to learn music theory without training your ear at the same time. This is because all music theory is essentially made by statements such as: “if you do X, it sounds this way”. For instance: “If you play the interval of a third is sounds this way”, or “If you play a diminished fifth is sounds this way”. The problem, as you can see immediately, is that if you do not know what “this way” means sonically, then you are not learning anything!

This in fact explains why there are so many people that complain that music theory is useless: they learned only the “formal” part of music theory, and never connected it properly with the actual sound.

The solution for this problem is rather simple: just PLAY every concept you learn, and be sure to have 3-4 examples for each of them. If you cannot find a good example, then compose it!

Creativity And Theory Do Not Go Well Together

This is another harmful notion that you can find repeated everywhere. Following the proponents of the “theory harms creativity” camp, one is led to believe that no good music has ever came from musicians who know any theory. You know, people like Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Tchaikovskij, Coltrane, Parker, Django Reinhardt, Hendrix, Satriani, Vai, Jason Becker — all musicians with a VERY solid background in music theory (again, despite what you may have been told about Hendrix).

It is a fact that if you study music theory in the correct way, then your creativity is not harmed but enhanced. What is the wrong way to learn? The wrong way is to think of theory as a fixed set of “rules” that you have to follow. The correct way is to think of music theory as the sum of the experiences of other composers that have handed down to us a set of procedures that worked for them to go from a raw musical idea to a complete piece. These procedures will help you, not limit you, and you can always decide to not follow them if they don’t apply to what you are writing at the moment.

Clearly even if you do not know any music theory you may still have some original musical ideas. But it’s going to be tough for you to actually compose a complete song based on it.

The Information is All Available On The Net

The net is a great resource, and there is definitely a lot available just one click away. And yet all this information can work against you rather than helping you. How? Well, in order to be useful to you, the information you come across needs to be relevant to what you want to do. You see, you will need to study different things if you want to compose music for film than what you should stud if you want to improvise on a Blues. It’s not that one is “better” or “more difficult”: they are just different and require a different skillset.

For this reason — and I realize I’m not the first to say that — you need to know what your goals are and have a plan in place in order to reach them. Without a plan you are simply going to end wherever chance will take you, and in most cases this is not what you wanted at all!

In order to help you find what your goals are and how to arrive there, I have written for you a “map” of music theory that you can download and will show you where you are and what you need to study next. You can find a link to it at the end of this article.

I Can Get Help From My Friend Joe

Ok, but who was helping your friend Joe? His friend Moe. And who was helping Moe? It was Jack. And who… you got the idea. After that many passages, it is very likely that the information that your friend Joe is giving you is not the original info anymore. There is a good chance it is in fact wrong. Now, if this happened only to your friends this would not be a great problem. What makes it more …problematic is that many authors of articles, or instructional books, or DVDs, both online and offline are doing the same: copying each other and propagating information they only half understand.

You would be surprised at how many factual errors I found in instructional products I PAID to have. And don’t get me started to the free stuff available out there — that is even worse. How can you protect yourself from being sold the wrong information? Simple. Ask yourself this question: “the author of this article/book/DVD is able to do the things I want to do?” If the answer is “no”, then don’t buy/read it!

In particular, watch out to people who say that they are “teachers but not performers/composers/writers”. If they are not practicing musicians, then they have no first-hand knowledge of the matter. They are just repeating what they have heard.

Note: the wrong way to decide if someone is competent is to ask him if he has a music degree. While nice to have, there are also a lot of great teachers out there who have no “official” degree but are really competent in what they do. Again, check what they do, not what pieces of paper they have on the wall.


What Should I Do?

Stop immediately reading random books and watching DVDs. Instead follow these three steps: 1) think about what are your goals on the instrument. 2) decide on a plan that will take you from where you are now to where you want to be. If you need some help with that, I have prepared for you a music theory map that will help you orient yourself and decide what will be your next step. 3) Use this plan to decide what you need to read and what not, or (even better) take your plan to a competent teacher that can help you implement it faster. Life is too short to waste time!

About the Author

A professional guitarist, teacher, and composer, Tommaso Zillio enjoys particularly writing about music theory and its application to guitar playing

Is Reading Music a Necessary Skill?

Tommaso Zillio – musictheoryforguitar.com


Reading music: a necessity for some, a superfluous ability for someone else. Depending on who you ask, you will hear that it is absolutely fundamental that you know how to read (if the guy you asked to actually knows how to read music) or that you should better concentrate on other things (especially if you got your answers from someone who can not read music). It is a fact that most musicians that can’t read feel somehow guilty about it. Is that feeling justified?  Is it really necessary for everybody to learn how to read music? 

Well, you’re not alone in feeling this way: I was feeling the same for a long time (until I actually learned to read music). Was it as useful as I thought it would be?  Yes and no. Granted, I was able to read some more advanced books on music theory But let’s get clear of one of the major misunderstanding right away: you DO NOT need to be able to read music in order to understand music theory. As unpopular as this may be (to some teachers), you can become quite proficient in your knowledge and application of music theory without knowing how to read a single note. In fact, I know plenty of recording studio professionals who do not read standard music notation (but see below). And these were the good news.

There’s More To It Than Standard Notation

The “bad” news (but they are not really that bad) is that you DO need to learn some form of music notation in order to communicate with your fellow musicians, or to write down your ideas. In fact, you already know at least one (writing down chords on top of the lyrics of a son). So don’t worry!  Not all types of music notation require you to learn to read a score. Most of them are way easier, and just as useful (if not more, at least in some communities of musicians).

You might ask, why do you need to learn one of these types of music notation?  Well, for instance if you don’t know ANY ways of reading/writing music you will be quite a disadvantage in any situation where you need to work on a song, both by yourself and with other people. Communicating efficiently will be impossible. You may also be excluded from some circles because it is too difficult to explain songs or concepts to you.

So the key here is to learn the music notation you NEED to know. The first step is: determine what music notation you need (we’ll get to it in a moment). The second step is (brace for it) learn it. There are some resources at the end of this article to help you getting to that. In the following we are going to look at Chord-based systems, Tablature, and Standard notation. All these systems are useful if applied in the right context.

Tab vs Standard Notation

For starters, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room. If you are, or if you want to be a classical musician, you absolutely need learn to read standard music notation. The same is true if you want to work in situations where you need to work with classical musicians (such as becoming an orchestrator, or working in the movie music industry). These goals are very specific, and I will assume that you do not share them in the rest of this article. Of course, if you DO have one of these goals, then you simply have to learn the standard notation.

Standard notation is not a monolithic block, though. While I do not recommend everybody to learn the whole thing, I do heartily suggest that anyone who want to be a musician should learn rhythmic notation (i.e. what is a bar, how to divide it in beats, how to divide the beats in eighths, sixteenths, triplets, etc). Rhythmic notation needs is easy to learn and had an incredible power to generate musical ideas: you do not want to miss on that.

A widespread notation used for guitar (as you know for sure) is Tablature (from now on Tab). Tab has both advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage of Tab, and doubtlessly the reason why it is so popular, it’s that the fingering is already done – with other forms of notations you need to figure out where to play the notes (the same note can be played on more than one position on the guitar). On the other hand, since different players find different fingerings more comfortable to play, this very feature is also one of the main disadvantages of Tab. Another disadvantage of Tab is that it is impossible to learn a song only from Tab due to the lack of rhythmic notation. while it is definitely possible to learn a piece of music from standard notation even if you have never heard it before.

While Tab got a bad reputation as music notation, I think this is because it has been used the wrong way. I am of the opinion that Tab is a great and intuitive way to write music, provided you use it in the right way: you have to compensate the lack of rhythmic notation by having a recording of the song you are trying to learn and listening to it frequently while learning the piece.

Chord-Based Systems

While being the most known systems, Tablature and standard notation are definitely not the only ones used. There are in fact other even more common music notation systems. These systems are generally used to notate chord progression as opposed to a complete arrangement (such as Standard notation or Tablature). The most used one is probably the Nashville “number system”: this system is simply a must to know for most studio work and jam sessions. It allows you to rapidly communicate chord progressions in any key and as a side bonus it also improves your knowledge of music theory!  I definitely recommend that you learn this system – it’s easy and useful.

If you are a classical musician, you might want to learn the classical “roman numerals” music notation method instead. The two systems — the Nashville and the Roman Numerals — are practically equivalent: they are both used to notate chord progressions. The only real difference between them is that he roman numeral system is more common in classical music, while the Nashville system is more widespread in modern music.

How Can I Learn The Right System For Me?

The main point I want to make with this article is that you should learn to read music only if this is congruent with your goals as a musician. As an example, if all you want to do is to play 12-bar blues, you are better off practicing your improvisational skills rather than learning standard notation. Also, if you discover you need to learn how to read music, you have to learn the right system for your situation. What you need at this point is a step-by step explanation about how to learn these notations by yourself.

As far as I know, there is no such comprehensive resource online, so I took the time to write a free eBook for you with an explanation of all the systems of music notation we have seen before. Click on this link to download your <a href=”http://www.musictheoryforguitar.com/musicnotationsebook.html”>free eBook on reading music</a>.

About the Author

Tommaso Zillio is a professional teacher, guitarist, and composer, and is your go-to guy for any and all <a href=”http://www.musictheoryforguitar.com”>music theory</a>-related questions.

Tritone Substitution for Fun and Profit

 Tommaso Zillio


Jazz music is your kind of music but it seems so complicated? Tired of deciphering odd-looking chord symbols and how they relate to the fretboard? Too many chord patterns to learn?

The secret to understand these matter is to become familiar with Jazz substitutions. The idea here is to start from a simple chord progression and make it more complicate (and interesting) by the application of a few rules that at fist sight look really complicate themselves. These rules “substitute” a chord with another, hence the name. Once you can create chord progressions this way it’s also easier to remember and play existing chord progressions, since you understand them at a deeper level.

The problem is of course to understand these odd-looking substitution rules. Most resources (articles, book, teachers…) are not really helpful here, especially when they start their explanations with phrases like “clearly, C9/b5 without a root is the same as Gb7/#5″. Clearly? Listen mister, what I wanted was to play some music, not learn math formulas. (BTW, I did not made that up, it’s a true quote from a book that I will not name).

Good news everyone: it does not need to be that way. All these Jazz players who discovered these substitution “rules” did not have to get a PhD in math in order to understand them. Which makes you think that the problem is not the rules per se, but the way that they are explained. And in fact, substitution rules are quite natural if you sit down a moment and try to understand WHY they work.

In the video below I will show you how to use one of these “scary” substitutions to make a standard Blues progression sound like a complicated Jazz. Best of all? It’s easy, so easy that once you see what I’m doing you can IMPROVISE the chord shapes rather than using chord shapes that you committed by hart.

Watch this video and you’ll see what I mean.


What should be your next step? Well, the first thing to do is definitely to pick up your guitar and play all this! This few shapes will be under your fingers in no time.

The beauty of this approach is that you can apply the substitution straight on the fretboard. This is how great Jazz guitar players do it: they don’t “calculate” the chords and then find them on the fretboard: they know how a substitution look on the fretboard so that they can apply it immediately.

About the Author

A professional guitarist, teacher, and composer, Tommaso Zillio enjoys particularly writing about music theory and its application to guitar playing

How To Consistently Attract New Guitar Students

By Tom Hess

One of the biggest challenges you will face as a guitar teacher is learning how to attract students on a continual basis. However, if your first solution to finding more guitar students is to advertise more… you’re on the wrong track! Most guitar teachers focus only on advertising as much as possible and end up back where they started with only a few students. Truth is, advertising is only ‘one’ part of the big picture when it comes to attracting tons of new students.

In a moment I will show you how to get more guitar students by proving that you are the best guitar teacher to work with. Before you read the rest of this article, test your knowledge to see how much you know about how to attract more guitar students. This (combined with the information in this article) will help you understand what areas you need to work on now so that you can quickly begin attracting lots of new students.

The following six points will help you understand what you must do to clearly demonstrate your overwhelming value as a guitar teacher so you can attract more students:

1. Help your guitar students learn what they NEED (not just what they think they ‘want’)

One of the biggest mistakes you can make for the long term growth of your guitar teaching business is only teaching your students what they ‘think they want’. Make sure they stay on the right path and don’t let them distract themselves from reaching their greatest musical goals. You will often run into situations where students ask to learn something outside of what you plan to teach them during a lesson. Students generally do not understand what is needed to become a great guitarist (this is why they are ‘students’ and NOT teachers). You will almost always know more than the student when it comes to what is really needed to achieve mastery in any particular area of their playing. Simply put, you will attract a lot more students when you are able to produce excellent guitarists and musicians through your teaching. This will not happen if your students are distracted by things that do not help them reach their greatest goals.

2. Enrich your students’ musical lives by expanding their guitar playing goals to make them bigger in scope

In most cases, people who want to learn guitar from you either:

1. Have no clue what can truly be accomplished with guitar. They have a very limiting understanding of how to set truly BIG goals.

2. Don’t have faith in themselves and as a result pursue very small goals based on what they think is possible rather than what they REALLY want to accomplish.

For instance, many of your guitar students might think that they merely want to learn how to play fast guitar licks, specific songs or styles. Fact is, if you showed them how much they could truly achieve, they would want to accomplish much more. Mediocre guitar teachers will simply help their guitar students learn songs, play cool licks or reach other small goals during their lessons. Eventually, the student will be able to do these things and will quit because there seems to be no reason to continue (since the teacher never made them aware of the greater musical possibilities beyond their basic objectives).

You MUST open your students’ minds and help them understand how much potential they truly have to achieve BIG things. This will make them much more motivated and excited to learn with you. As a result, they will stay with you much longer and tell everyone they know about your lessons as they progress toward their goals. Give your students the absolute MOST they can get out of guitar lessons – don’t allow them to accomplish very little when they should be accomplishing a lot.

3. Personalize your guitar teaching to meet the unique needs, goals and learning styles of your guitar students

Here’s a question you should never ask: “What is the greatest method for teaching guitar students?”. Instead, you should be asking the following question: “What is the best way to consistently get MASSIVE results for my students?”. The answer to this question (as you might suspect) is very complex. However, it starts by using the following line of thinking:

The greatest, most successful guitar teachers do not merely teach ‘guitar’ they teach ‘people’. What am I talking about exactly? Do not search for an all-encompassing teaching method. Instead, search for strategies that will help each of your students achieve their specific musical goals as quickly and effectively as possible (while keeping them highly motivated throughout the learning process).

4. Work with a proven expert to improve your guitar teaching skills

#1 mistake made by most guitar teachers that ruins their local reputation (taking away their ability to earn good money): teaching guitar lessons with a trial and error approach. There is almost nothing worse than telling your students that you have learned how to teach guitar through trial and error. Many of them will take this as a sign of your own incompetence and will pursue lessons with someone else who seems more capable of helping them get results. Think about it. Would you pay someone to fill a cavity in your tooth if they were working on a trial and error basis? Would you sit down in that dentist’s chair? Didn’t think so! The same applies for your guitar students. They are not stupid, they can tell a hack teacher from someone who has really perfected the craft of guitar instruction. Don’t overlook this point – find an expert guitar teacher who will show you exactly what you need to do to get the very best results for your students.

With this in mind, I’m sure you are already aware that I give guitar teacher help in my guitar teacher training program. You may think that the only reason I wrote this article is to promote this program… but it’s not. Truth is, it really doesn’t matter to me who trains you to become an excellent guitar teacher. I’m merely informing you that you need to do this in order to become successful in your guitar teaching business.

5. Truly care A LOT about helping your students (and show this to them!)

You will be able to attract students and retain them for extended periods of time once you can show them that you care more about helping them than any other instructor ever will. You can do this in many ways and here is one of them: Use some of the profit you earn from teaching lessons to put together exclusive events, parties or jams for your students (All for FREE). As soon as your guitar students see that you are using your own money for their benefit, it proves that you really care about helping them and they will trust you much more.

6. Make it clear to potential guitar students that your guitar lessons are very unique and special when compared to any other lessons being offered locally

You will struggle to attract a lot of guitar students when your lessons are judged purely by price alone. When this happens, your students will view all guitar teaching as a simple commodity where the only point in working with one teacher over another teacher is to save a few bucks. In this case, they will always select whoever is cheapest. To overcome this objection, you must help them understand the major benefits they will get while working with you (that they cannot find anywhere else). Additionally, you must communicate to them that you will be able to offer them these things while simultaneously saving them time and money. The question is, how can you prove this? Here are a few ways:

  • Show any potential guitar students a list of the students you’ve trained to become excellent guitarists and musicians.
  • Explain how you’ve actually been ‘trained’ by an experienced guitar teacher trainer to get the best results for your students. Keep in mind that this is totally different than having a degree in music, since this kind of degree will not help you improve as a guitar teacher.
  • Don’t teach exclusively one on one lessons – use a variety of unique formats that will bring your students tons of additional benefits and help them advance their playing faster. Watch this video about how to earn a living as a guitar teacher and learn more on this topic.
  • Become the local expert a style your target students want to learn.

After doing all these things, two things will occur for you:

1. Potential guitar students will identify you as the one and only option for helping them become the players they want to become.

2. Other local guitar teachers will start losing students because their students will soon discover that YOU are the one who helps guitarists achieve their goals faster than any other teacher in the area.

The Next Step You Should Take

After reading this article you have discovered many ways to attract a lot of new guitar students. To get the most benefit out of this information, begin implementing these ideas into your guitar teaching business right now. Once you do this, you will quickly gain many new students, earn more money and develop a positive reputation in your local community as the best guitar teacher.

If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to test and see how much you know about how to attract more guitar students.


About The Author:

Tom Hess is a professional guitar teacher, composer and the guitar player. He shows guitar teachers from around the world how to make money teaching guitar. On his website tomhess.net, you can find guitar teacher resources, and guitar teaching articles.

How To Clean Up Your Blues Guitar Licks

By Tom Hess

Do your blues guitar licks lack musical expression because you are unable to simultaneously play them with both power and accuracy? Fact is, most guitarists have a hard time playing inspiring blues licks because they are unable to keep unused strings from ringing out (causing their licks to sound muddy and unclean). Before you can play highly self-expressive licks, you must solve this problem using proper muting technique.

For most guitarists, unwanted string noise frequently occurs while playing blues licks and using wide vibrato, double stops or extra power in the picking hand. You must master the ability to play cleanly while using these techniques, otherwise your blues guitar playing will never sound as self-expressive as you want it to.

For the rest of this article you will be taken through the exact steps needed for cleaning up unwanted string noise in your blues guitar licks. Before you read the steps in this article, check out this free video on the topic of how to play blues guitar licks so you can easily integrate the concepts of this article into your guitar playing:



After you’ve finished the video above, grab your guitar and complete these steps to make your blues guitar licks sound truly mean (without sacrificing cleanliness or accuracy).

Step One: Quickly create a new blues guitar lick containing a maximum of 2-3 notes. To give you some ideas to get started with, look at the examples below:

Blues Lick 1 Blues Lick 2 Blues Lick 3

It is very critical that you only create guitar licks with no more than three notes maximum. By using a limited number of notes, you will have no choice but to think creatively about achieving maximum expression in every note you play. This will help you become more musically expressive (increasing the quality of your licks). This is also important because it will help you focus on using proper muting technique to keep your phrases clean. Also observe how I did not notate the rhythm in the examples I provided for you. You are free to think creatively about the rhythms you use while playing these examples. Additionally, don’t play all of these licks at once, choose ONE and practice it many times until it becomes second nature. As you play through your lick, make sure the last note you play ends with an ‘upstroke’. You will see the importance of this in the next step.

Step Two: Pay close attention while using an upstroke to play the last note of your blues lick to make sure it comes to rest on the adjacent lower string. This uses the ‘rest stroke’ technique demonstrated in the video above. It is a common mistake to let the pick to come away from the strings while doing this, so make sure this is not occurring for you. To avoid this, rest your hand on the strings using either palm muting or thumb muting in your picking hand (I highly recommend you use thumb muting in the same way it is used in the video demonstration). Take several minutes to practice this.

Step Three: Now, use the available fingers of your fretting hand and picking hand to mute the strings that could be vibrating as you are playing the lick. If you are not sure how you should be doing this, check out this article about how to get rid of sloppy guitar string noise to see photos of how this is done correctly. Again, work on this for a few minutes before moving on to the next step.

Step Four: Add as much intensity to your lick as possible by performing any combination of the following sub-steps:

  • Use very heavy vibrato to emphasize any sustained notes in your lick.
  • While playing double stops, use heavy vibrato on both strings simultaneously.
  • Use as much power as you can in your picking hand by using A LOT of force to strike the strings.

While using a lot of power to pick the notes, you will see the importance of muting with the techniques you learned in the previous steps. If you are still having issues with unwanted string noise, return to the previous steps to fix the problem. Don’t worry if you cannot play your licks perfectly without any string noise yet. Be patient, practice and you will quickly be able to incorporate your lick into your everyday guitar playing and make it sound great.

Step Five: Once you have mastered playing your lick with both power and accuracy (no excess string noise), think of 3-5 additional phrases and follow the previous steps to make many more killer blues licks.

Discover new ways to create more licks by checking out this free classic rock guitar licks video.

Find out how you can use speed to raise the intensity of your licks by watching this free guitar speed building video.



About The Author:

Tom Hess is a professional touring musician, composer and successful rock/metal guitar teacher. He helps guitarists around the world learn to play guitar online. On his website tomhess.net, you can find guitar playing tips, free guitar resources and more guitar articles.

Check out further free blues lessons on http://www.internet-guitar-lessons.com/blues-guitar.html