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I'm an intermediate guitar player. I've been playing for a few years, mostly teaching myself with a few months of lessons in the middle. I'm not a great player, or even particularly good; but I can read tab, read music, strum chords, and play some songs. I'm not fast, but that's OK, my internal blues is slow. I know enough theory to get into trouble.

Now, someone has asked me to help him learn to play.

I'm happy to help, and I've been clear about my limitations, so he doesn't think he's getting some virtuoso instructor.

But I was wondering where to start and how fast to go. I thought I could start with the open position chords. But I think that maybe, I should really start at the major scale, because everything really comes from that.

I thought maybe:

  • First Lesson

    • Getting to know your guitar
    • Holding, fretting, picking, strumming
    • The major scale
  • Second Lesson

    • Review first lesson
    • Chords
    • Major Chords
    • Three Little Birds

Does that seem like too much? Too little? If I could have been playing a song after my second attempt at playing, I'd have been thrilled. What would you have wanted to learn in your first lesson or two?

EDIT: With the help of the answers below, I've decided that I should have my student be able to play a song at the end of the first lesson. So I think I'll reverse the order of the lessons - to get to the good stuff early, and then come back and talk about the major scale and how everything derives from it. So the revised lesson plan looks more like this:

  • First Lesson

    • Getting to know your guitar
    • Holding, fretting, picking, strumming
    • Open chords: A, D, and E
    • Three Little Birds (or another easy A, D, E tune)
  • Second Lesson

    • Review first lesson
    • The Major Scale
    • Chord construction
    • Minors and 7ths of A, D, and E

Does this look like the first two guitar lessons you wish you'd gotten?

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Great question - you might also find some additional advice in this question.… – DRL Mar 28 '11 at 22:32
Consider D, G, A -- with the one-fingered version of G. – slim Jul 2 '14 at 13:52

For the first few lessons, that actually looks good. For everything you want him to play, just make sure it is written out somewhere. Just try not to rush him along. Learning songs is good - it's usually what people want to work towards after all, but it'd be nice to keep them very simple and try to have each one you teach him go along with what techniques you've been teaching him.

Also, you should really teach him how to read music and not just tabs. I know there are guitar players out there who think it's unimportant, but it's really essential to getting a grasp on more advanced playing. It allows you to really study more advanced theory when the time arrives for that and improvising relies on how well you know your theory.

Also, think back to when you were first learning. I bet you struggled a lot and got real frustrated. Make sure you're patient with him and make sure he knows to take his practicing slow and be patient. The guitar can be very difficult to get a feel for at first, but it'll come before he knows it.

Oh, and cliché, I know, but make sure he's having fun!

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I started learning with a few pointers from my dad. he showed me 3 chords that happened to fall nicely into a 1, 4, 5 progression then he went to the pub. I proceeded to spend a good while improving my changes between em, and finding that no matter what order i strummed them in, it sounded good :)

Quickly getting to the point of playing something cool is extremely important for keeping up motivation so getting that simple foundation of rock and blues music is a handy starting point imho. Learning your scales is obviously important but won't be something that can be usefully applied and played with straight away, so I'd try to get those first 3 chords into the first session. It could be full open chords or just simple power chords to simplify the required fingering, but it'll give something that can be played with rather than simply practiced between lessons.

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I think your ideas look good. What length of sessions do you plan on providing - remember not to make it too long, both for attention span and pain in fingertips reasons.

For teaching, I always tried to make sure that they could play a basic blues progression by end of lesson one, usually A, D E to keep things simple, and end with a quick demo of a range of songs which used it (including some that just use power chords) to show how you can play a basic version of a tune very quickly and improve it as you get more experience.

Providing some quick wins like that keeps motivation and excitement high.

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Good lessons depend on the student and the setting.

I think you method is quite organized. However, I think there might need to be an emphasis on fun for your friend. If it is your friend, and not a paid student you can be much more informal with him. Try and get to the bottom of his guitar interest, and find simple exercises that speak to his interest.

When I did professional lessons, I would use examples like you used. When I would teach my friends I would start with smoke on the water.

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