Music lessons are not just about learning to play an instrument. To play any musical instrument well you must learn to be a musician. Your ears must become educated to hear well enough to play what you hear. For most musical systems your eyes need to decode various complex symbol systems into music.
In popular and classical music we use one basic system that divides an octave into twelve equal parts. We also impose a seven note (movable) template on those twelve notes which obviously has to be unevenly divided with five notes left over.
The ears of most of my students have been well trained to accept these conventions as all of what we call music and not just one of many systems. Their ears are already tuned to popular music so that is what we teach when we talk about music theory, ear training and solfege.
It begins with those seven note templates. For guitar I start with the C major scale pattern in first position. The scale is practiced for both the physical practice needed for the fingers and to learn the pattern as a first step in learning the notes on all twelve frets and fretboard harmony (music theory applied to the fretboard pattern with standard EADGBE tuning)
I also teach the inverse of the major scale – the Pentatonic pattern (the black keys on a piano). This forms a very easy (at first) pattern that is used for many styles of music.
Standard notation is not trivial and many self taught players avoid it preferring other systems that are more graphic and chord oriented. TAB can generally encode more details than chord charts but there are systems of charts that when strung together can have much the same information. There are a number of notation systems with many additions but we start with chord charts and standard notation.
I use Fred Noad’s Solo Guitar Playing for learning standard notation, mostly because of the duet form where some very simple beginning pieces are accompanied by the teacher’s more complete sounding part. Ensemble playing starts with these teacher/student duets and moves on toward a first public performance in an ensemble with other students.
For guitar, chords are special. Many players who can’t read standard notation do know chords and through chords can learn a lot about theory and become very advanced without learning standard notation – “The Dots”.
For beginners I start with basic root position chords in first position using chord charts. The forms are chosen so the student can quickly understand movable forms instead of being designed for ease of playing. This is why the F chord is a full bar using the E form and not the simplified four string version found in so many books.
Chords, scales and repertoire are my repeated mantra. We play pieces using the chords and scales we learn, and we make sure when we read notes we look for the chord and scale patterns.
While some of this post may not be familiar to beginners the language about music will become familiar with many repetitions. Being able to spell a bm7b5 chord may not seem like it has much to do with playing guitar well and it may not look like a lot of fun but if you can do it you probably know it’s fun and makes you a better musician and better guitarist.