I am an intermediate level guitarist who has been playing for 4-5 years. I started learning by myself off the internet and have had a few dodgy teachers along the way before settling on an intermediate/advanced level teacher who I am learning from.

Along with continuing my own musical education, I have also started teaching two students. Since I myself started out without any proper formal education, I was wondering what the best possible order of lessons would be for a beginner level student. In the first two classes, I have got them started with the basic string/fret names, how to hold a guitar, types/parts of a guitar, the chromatic pattern and a couple of single note songs such as Happy Birthday.

From here, should I get them started on the basic chords(C/Am/D/G) and a couple of songs(suggestions appreciated) or should I get them started on the C Major scale and risk them getting bored due to an overload of theory and lack of songs? Also If I do get started with the C Major scale, what would be the easiest way to explain it to a complete beginner(any online resources would be greatly appreciated)?

  • 1
    Insist they do music theory. If there is one thing you can do that will have a long lasting effect on musicians it is do help them understand the importance of doing theory.
    – Neil Meyer
    Oct 29, 2014 at 14:06
  • 2
    @NeilMeyer - it sometimes has a long lasting effect of putting them off for ever. There's lots of players out there, who know little theory, but are far better players than those who know theory.Learn to swim by reading books about it ?
    – Tim
    Oct 29, 2014 at 14:20
  • 1
    If you cannot read notes you are going to struggle to play music.
    – Neil Meyer
    Oct 29, 2014 at 15:02
  • Neil - it is definitely a good idea, but as a first step? I'd suggest the basics, and bring in theory as they progress, to help support their physical development.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Oct 29, 2014 at 15:51
  • @NeilMeyer - no, you are not. I play with loads of guitarists who do not read.( I also play with those who do) It does not stop them playing really well. It stops them reading music, not playing music. The two are poles apart.
    – Tim
    Oct 30, 2014 at 22:11

5 Answers 5


I think that starting with C and G chords is a throwback from other instruments, particularly the piano, so things could be learnt easily on the 'white keys'. There are none on a guitar, and initially sharps and flats don't need mentioning. Changing from C to G (and vice versa) involve a big change or finger/hand/arm movement with open chords. Not easy or quick for a beginner. Instead, use E and A, as the movement from one to the other is simple. The transition is simple to master, and lots of songs can be played merely using those two. Moving on to a third, B7 is good for a beginner, as it's related to E and A and the change is simple. Much simpler than G-C-G.(And the inevitable D/D7).

Open stuff is good for newbies, so I'd go for E blues scale first. It doesn't sound as 'boring' as major and minor. There's always G maj. pent, and its relative E min pent. More, I feel, to use to make up tunes rather than tediously banging up and down, like in an exam situation.Theory is a thorny point - there's a big divide here - some folks HAVE to know why something is like it is; others just don't feel the need to know. Judge the 'need to know' for each individual. BUT - initially, it's better to get a pupil playing along with you, easy songs, and making music straight away, rather than turbidly explaining why something may happen as it does. That can always come later.

I always feel that introduction of dots ought to come later, as at the beginning, if used, needs two separate skills to be learned and put together. Instant success is often lost at that point.There will be loads who disagree on that point, but as a successful teacher, it works for me (and students).


Instead of C/G/D I'd probably start them with Am7, Em, Em7 and CMaj7.

They offer interesting sounding chords, are absolutely simple to play and in the case of Am7 and CMaj7, you can transition directly to C and show them the relationship and why one finger makes all the difference. Once they get C, transition to G and so on.

If it were me, I'd also start them on 3rds and 5ths. They're only 2 fingers and most people will see their importance pretty quickly.

  • 1
    Only thing with those chords is that they don't lend themselves to accompanying many songs. The 3rds and 5ths are o.k., but beginners find it easier to strum all of the strings than to pick out 2.
    – Tim
    Oct 29, 2014 at 12:06

When teaching students traditional guitar chords I would start with Em to Am. Students have issues starting on the C chord because of the stretch with the third finger on fifth string. Using Em with second and third fingers to Am, using same fingers and adding the first on the second string first fret, I see more success introducing chords. Use C Major scale to explain the melodies to popular songs. Make the scale musical to a beginner so they fall into theory without being bored. They will get interested when you explain to them how something like Happy Birthday works from tension and resolution concepts.

Don't start students with too much information. Start with two chords and one scale. But reference songs they know so they stay interested.


I would agree that working on repertoire from a very early stage is a good idea. Just make sure the songs you begin with are not too difficult as that may lead to frustration.

Also basic strumming rhythms should be taught early on as well. Start with the simple first position chords C - A - E - G and D Major. Do Simple time signatures 3/4 and 4/4 are a good place to start and then just start playing. Crotchets and Minims first and then easily get quavers and semi quavers into the scene. When they get comfortable with them you can later add seventh chords and minor chords.

I'm very fond of teaching one octave scale patterns to beginners as to gently get them into scale work. Just keep in mind that that pesky B string is tuned differently than the rest so the pattern needs to move one fret up when it hits that string. After this you can teach them two octave patterns and you can also teach them how do these patterns on one, two or three strings.

Also after a while it is good to incorporate some aural training as well. Teaching your students how to recognise the sound of certain types of intervals and scales is a really nice thing to teach them.

You can do this by telling them something to the effect of this is a perfect fifth, this is a perfect fourth and then choosing a different key and playing one or the other and asking them to identify which one is which. Those of type of listening exercises.

When you have gotten basic strumming and scale ideas down then try and incorporate some theory training into the teaching. If you cannot teach it yourself ask around who is the good theory teachers in your area and ask your pupils to go.

The basic training of sight reading, intervals and scales is really a tremendous skill for popular musicians to have. It is not very hard and they will be all the wiser for it.


Your first lesson sounds good - people need to know their way around a chord.

Chords-wise : A lot of popular songs are in C/F /G etc but on guitar they're a bit of a finger-full on guitar. Maybe it's easier to teach E A and D which allows for loads of tunes and are probably easier to play.

You could even start with 2-string power chords and build the rest in later.

Also, I know this will be contraversial, but once they know their way around where A is on an E string, and D on an A string etc, maybe consider showing them the pentatonic scale (or some scale) even if chords haven't sunk in yet ?

The reason I mention this is because it teaches them about positioning a "home fret" and thinking relatively about the notes - hints at scales being moveable based on a key, and will help link the chords together, building some notions of music theory without really having to actually describe it.

This is how I learnt and it was a major step forward. I remember early on being in the odd position of being able to play some nice Dire Straits solos while I was still struggling to get a Dm chord right. But being able to do the exciting stuff made the whole thing very rewarding.

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