Hello ladies and gentlemen and welcome to another lesson from Guitar with TonyG! I’m Tony G and I’m here to help you learn how to teach yourself guitar! I’ve been perusing so many forums lately online with guitar players and so many people are asking the same question. The question is:
“What do I learn next?”
This is a huge question because for everybody it’s always a different answer but I want to help you be able to decide what you need to learn moving forward. Now I think that there are a lot of basic skills that every guitar player should have before they kind of branch off into their specific genre or style that they want to focus on.
Some of these fundamentals include being able to play chords cleanly, consistently and correctly. You should be able to play chord transitions. Then, take those chord transitions and turn them into chord progressions, and put all that together with strumming patterns. You should be able to do finger exercises, scales, alternate picking, and a couple more things as well.
But when it comes to how to teach yourself guitar and what you should learn next, I always want to tell people to look towards what their ultimate goal is.
Setting Your Ultimate Goal
What’s your ultimate goal as a guitar player? Do you want to be able to play like one of your idols? Maybe you want to play a specific style? Do you want to be able to play a specific genre? Do you want to be a shredder and a lead player or do you want to focus more on rhythm?
Maybe your ultimate goal is to write your own songs! I think that that’s a fantastic goal! That was my goal for a long time but I didn’t know how to write songs because nobody ever showed me how. Nobody ever told me that all you need to learn is a little bit of music theory, take a look at some keys, throw some chords together and you’re off to the races. Of course that’s not the end-all be-all. There’s a lot more that goes into writing a song than just that but that’s such a perfect way to start.
So I want you to take a look at your ultimate goal with your guitar playing as well. Whether it’s to jam with friends, be able to play a few simple songs around a campfire, or join a band and get up on stage and rock out, you need to take a look at who you want to sound like, what you want to sound like or what genre you want to be playing.
Examples of Ultimate Goals – Rock
Let’s take a look at a couple examples right here. For a long time when I picked up the guitar I just wanted to be a rock and roller all the way! I wanted to be like Slash, like Randy Rhoads, like Jimi Hendrix, like Angus Young… Because I love all those guitar players and I love their style and the way they play. I think that slash is the most amazing at his solos because he can really tell the story of a song through his solos. I always think they fit so perfectly! That’s of course my personal opinion but when I played a solo or when I went to learn how to write a solo, I tried to do it exactly like he did.
To this day I still can’t (hahaha) but that’s mostly because I haven’t sat down and studied his stuff as much as I need to. Now that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t do it in the future, I just haven’t applied the work towards it yet. But, maybe one day I will be able to when I have the time to put in the work. For any other guitar player, all it takes is a matter of a little bit of drive and hard work towards your goal.
Break it Down
So when we’re playing rock and roll, there’s a couple basic things we need to learn. We need to learn how to play some power chords we need to learn how to do some hammer ons, pull offs, slides, the pentatonic scales, etc.
We need to learn how to do all these different things but it all starts with just taking them one at a time. You don’t need to say, “okay here’s my list of things to do, let’s cover them all in one practice session.” No no no, we want to try to master one thing at a time. If that means today’s practice session is going to be focusing on power chords, then do it.
There’s a bunch of different power chords that we can play. You can play the normal ones them with just two fingers if you’re going to be playing more blues or bands like Aerosmith. You will need to learn how to be able to play them with these two fingers so you can easily reach your pinky to grab that sixth. It wouldn’t hurt to learn a little bit of music theory like what a sixth is, etc. So there’s a lot of things to learn, but if we can set aside a road map for ourselves from where we are to what our goal is, we can take a look at everything in between that we need to focus on specifically.
Example of Ultimate Goals – Blues
Let’s say you want to focus more on blues. We need to take a look at some blues scales and we need to take a look at some blues keys. You’ll definitely need to know how to do your power chords – whether you’re going to do that with your first finger and your ring finger, or your first finger and middle finger – that’s up to you. That’s something that we need to focus on individually. That’s just one of those stepping stones to get you to your ultimate goal.
If you want to learn how to play more folk music, you’ve got to focus on your picking hand or focus on strumming patterns. You need to be able to play some really cool strumming patterns all while being able to sing over them if you want to be able to sing as well. That could be part of your ultimate goal too!
Action Step #1
So I want you right now to go ahead and grab a piece of paper and a pen or if you’re on your phone or if you’re on your computer, just open up a notepad or a note app and I want you to write down what your essential and ultimate goal of playing guitar is right now. Go ahead and go for it. I’m going to write mine down too.
Okay! What did you write down? I wrote down “to be able to play jazz.” I haven’t really stepped into the realm of jazz yet but that’s where I’m going next. I’ve been a rock and roll guy for a long time, I play some folk – I do a lot of finger picking now which is a lot of fun, but I’m not too familiar with jazz chords, jazz shapes and even jazz melodies when soloing. That’s something that I want to take a look at.
Action Step #2
Okay, next let’s write down three things that we think we’re going to need to learn in order to get to that next step.
Okay, what did you write down? If there are three things you wrote down, then you know that you have at least those three things to learn if not more but that’s where we can start. Again, make sure we go one step at a time. It’s not going to take just one practice session and boom you’re going to hit your ultimate goal. Obviously it’s a long road to the top if you want to rock and roll.
I wrote down my three things. If I want to get into jazz I’m going to need to learn how to play jazz chord voicings, jazz scales, and jazz progressions. I know a little bit
of that off the top of my head but not too much. That means that I have a lot of work to dive into. Think about those three things that you want to learn and think about how you’re going to approach them. If you need to break any one of those things down into a smaller step, that’s fine too! Again, when you’re learning how to teach yourself guitar, you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew.
Remember: Break it Down!
For jazz chords, I mean there are probably hundreds if not thousands of different voicings and fingerings that I can learn on the guitar. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to try to learn them all right now, but I’m definitely going to start approaching them maybe four or five at a time and then just practice those. Practice practice practice, and then start adding in jazz scales.
I know that scales usually relate to the types of chords we’re playing, so again if there are hundreds if not thousands of voicings of chords, there’s going to be hundreds or thousands of different variations of a scale I’m going to need to play. It might not be that many but I need to think about it and say, “Okay, is this really attainable?” “Yes!” But, I’m going to have to put in some hard work for it.
As for jazz progressions, I know the most basic one is what’s called a 2-5-1, so I need to look into more of those and then take my jazz chord shapes that I’m learning and learn how to apply those to 2-5-1 in a specific key. That way I can learn to play these progressions. Then I need to think about more things after that! I’ll have to think about timing and rhythms, and I’ll have to think about how to do some key changes because it’s jazz.
Taking Small Steps Towards Your Goal
Right. So I want you to do the same thing! I want you to take it in nice small steps from where you are to what your ultimate goal is or what your next goal is. We don’t want to set a goal that’s going to take us 10 years to reach because it’s going to seem like this is going to take a long time. Remember that as you’re learning how to teach yourself guitar, you need to be able to find progress in small steps which means every time you learn something new, you need to take that as a win.
Make sure that you’re not saying, “okay well yeah I can play this now but there’s such a long way to go…” It’s good to always challenge ourselves, but it’s never a bad thing to congratulate ourselves on learning some new material. In fact, I would say take that ultimate goal and really cut that down into smaller bite-sized chunks and then break each one of those down into three goals like we did today.
It’s really going to help you out along the road because you’re going to see big progress even if we’ve only been going one or two steps at a time. This is because you’re really going to see yourself building all these skills up and then before you know it, your repertoire or your arsenal of guitar techniques and fundamentals is going to be so huge that when you’re learning other things along the way to your ultimate goal, it’s going to be that much easier.
Everything You Learn Helps Out
Remember that the guitar is a cumulative instrument which means everything we learn will most likely be applied in the future. That means that we should build on everything.
If you’re trying to learn something, learn it the right way! Don’t just learn a little bit and then move past it because if you just move past it, I guarantee you it’s going to pop up again in the future. If you didn’t pay enough attention to it the first time, then you’re going to have troubles with it again! So make sure you put in the time and effort on every small step that you can because you’re going to see this material again. This material will be on the exam!
So again, I want you to think about that ultimate goal, what lies in between where your playing is right now to where your playing will be at your ultimate goal, and then break it down into some more manageable steps so that you can start making some progress. Start hitting some small goals and start feeling good about your guitar playing!
Next time I see you, I hope I’m playing some jazz!