Guitar 201: Breakthroughs
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Guitar 201: Breakthroughs

30 essential skills to advance from beginner to intermediate
3.5 (1 rating)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
14 students enrolled
Created by True Fire
Last updated 1/2016
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  • 2.5 hours on-demand video
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What Will I Learn?
  • Play acoustic guitar and acoustic guitar songs!
View Curriculum
  • Need an acoustic guitar and desire to learn!

YES, you’re in the right place! How do we know that? Because the very fact that you’re reading this course description says a a lot about you…

You’ve always wanted to play guitar and so you bought one or received one as a gift. You picked up a couple of beginner’s courses or had a friend give you a few tips. You put in the time to learn a few chords and a strum or two. But you still can't play your favorite songs or jam with your buds. You’re frustrated because you’re still a beginner, and not yet a player.

Statistically, only 7% of the people who set out to learn guitar have the conviction to get as far as you have (the vast majority quit before they even learn three chords). So, congrats to you! Now, the only thing keeping you from graduating from beginner to guitar player is desire (we know you have that!) and the right course of study.

Rich Maloof’s GUITAR 201 is the bridge between beginner and guitar player. The curriculum is specifically designed to teach beginners how to play entire songs smoothly, add personality to their sound, and play with other musicians confidently.

Who is the target audience?
  • Beginner guitar players!
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Curriculum For This Course
49 Lectures
Building on Basics
19 Lectures 01:02:28

Why Guitar 201? We hear from a lot of people who are really excited when they first get started on guitar, but then get bogged down. We took our cues from talented friends and TrueFire beginning students who have some beginning skills but get frustrated with things that keep them from progressing.

We're going to get you over the hump. We also want to clear up misunderstandings about troubling little things that can keep you from getting through songs you want to play or playing well with other people. We're going to take your skill set to the next level — all with a very minimal amount of music theory and tech talk. We're also going to do a lot of troubleshooting and work through the problems a lot of people run into in the early stages of playing.

This is your sophomore year — and by the end of it, you'll be getting through songs more fluently, playing with other people confidentally, and having a great time exploring new possibilities on the instrument.

Preview 03:44

Players with some grasp of beginning-level guitar playing will be comfortable making their way through Guitar 201. If you’re unsure about anything we cover, don’t worry — we'll never leave you hanging. Our first few charts include refreshers on the names of the guitar strings and several common chord shapes.

Preview 00:56

Probably the most conspicuous hallmark of the new player: Taking time between chord changes. And it makes you feel bad about yourself, but it’s really not a mortal sin — unless you're losing the beat. So let's look at how to start making smooth transitions.

#1 Visualize — Think ahead. Know when the next change coming, and plan for it.
#2 Economy of Motion — Which fingers have to move? Can you pivot on some fingers? Can a whole shape or part of a shape be moved to the next chord in the progression?
#3 Cheat! — Try the “zero chord” technique. Other options are to play a simple “power chord” or just sit on the root note (the note that has the name of the chord, like G or D). When all else fails, just keep the rhythm going with muted strums until you can grab a chord.

Preview 04:06

This first example uses just two chords so we can get used to the idea of anticipating an upcoming change. Feel where the change happens in the rhythm so that you can get it into your head and into your hands. We want to start getting our chords and our timing together really tightly. Your chords have to be clear and your timing has to be on.

Preview 03:22

Changing chords smoothly is really all about practice, so that things can come more naturally. Thoughts on how to practice chord flow:

1) Keep time with drum loop or metronome. Play slowly at first, and only increase tempo after you can get through the changes without a mistake. If you miss, keep going. Think of it like a dress rehearsal: The show goes on even if your pants come down.

2) Don’t look. You can even play while you're watching TV. Just have the guitar around all the time, and load up your muscle memory.

3) Remember your cheats, like the zero chord, root notes, power chords, and muted strums.

4) Look for shape similarities between chords.<

5) Consider different fingerings for your chords, and use the most comfortable ones.

6) You have to sell it. Practice assertively. Make loud mistakes.

Chord Flow 3: How to Practice

Our chords are the same throughout this example (Bm – A – G) but the feel shifts when we change the strum pattern. When you find a strumming feel you like, whether it's one of these or something different, try it with different chord progressions. This will add to your rhythm vocabulary and also support what we've covered earlier about chord flow.

All Along the Strum Patterns

This basic “claw” technique is based on using the thumb to catch the bass notes and pulling on upper strings with the remaining fingers. You might want to start with the thumb plus your first three fingers and then bring in the pinky in if you're comfortable. Just make sure you’re plucking notes appropriate to the chord you want to hear. Play in steady time and you’ll find that your hand naturally falls to the strings with a little slap that’s right in time, too. In the next clip we'll put this technique to work on a progression.

Thumbthing 1

Our progression for this exercise includes four chords: G B C A. Keep that thumb glued to the bass — that is the thumb’s only job, to hit those bass notes. Note how the pattern alternates between plucking all at once and then separating the bass (thumb) from the upper notes (fingers). It can take a little while to get this together, but it feels great when you do.

Thumbthing 2

Slash chords tell you which note should be played as the bottom note, or bass note, of the chord. The chord name comes before the slash and the bass note comes after the slash.

Read slash chords like D/C as D over C. That is, it’s a D chord with a C in the bass.

Am/G = A minor over G. A minor with a G in the bass.

D/F# = D over F#. D major with an F# in the bass.

Sometimes you have to change your fingering to catch a bass note, and sometimes the slash-chord fingering is even easier than the normal chord would be. Check the Charts here for several common slash-chord shapes and the names of bass notes along the bottom strings.

Slash Chords

Barre chords are often the first big barrier for guitar students because they can be harder to fret than open chords. But unlike open chords you can move them anywhere on the neck: Get one shape under your fingers, and you can recreate that chord quality — major, minor, minor 7, diminished, anything — all over the neck. So in this clip we’re offering some tips for working on barres, plus a few workarounds while they’re still coming together. Check out the charts for common barre-chord shapes, and notice the root-note names up and down the lower strings so that you can recreate chord qualities at any pitch.

Barre Chord Tips

Let's get back into more options to open up your rhythm playing. One great approach for adding syncopation — displaced beats and accents that add movement and groove to your playing — is to mute the chords with your fretting hand. It’s also referred to as "damping" or "dampening" the notes, since your left hand creates a damper by not pressing down on the fretboard. Just release the downward pressure and you’ll get that chuck sound. Work on mixing strums and chucks into a rhythm pattern. Once you start getting that feel in your bones, you can get more playful with the mutes.

You can practice this technique with open chords, too — just lay your left hand lightly over the strings to get the mute.

Left Hand Mutes

Now we're going to play a consistent rhythm pattern that incorporates left-hand mutes. Go through the chords slowly at first until you can make the changes at tempo (there are more chord changes in here but not a lot of shape changing). The right arm is swinging away, hitting every up and down stroke but muting some of them. Notice how much more feel and motion the rhythm has with the mutes than it would if we were just strumming it straight.

Left Hand Mutes in Motion

The right hand can dampen notes as well, and it's a totally different feel. This technique is called palm-muting. You might find it easier at first with a medium- or light-gauge pick. You should be able to make out the notes in the chord, unlike the left-hand technique where it's a complete mute except for the percussive hit. This technique can be used withopen chords, too — so if that F is killing you, try G to D. There are lots of applications for palm mutes. It’s big in metal and rock, but not exclusively.

Right Hand Mutes

Now we're going to take full advantage of the fact that we can hear the notes in a chord when we palm-mute. In a two-chord progression that moves between Emaj7 and E, we have a very full and nicely syncopated guitar part. The addition of accents — notes or chords that are struck more strongly — helps bring out the changes and adds another texture to the rhythm.

Right Hand Mutes in Motion

Here's where we start to crack open melodic and harmonic possibilities for your playing. You've probably seen “sus" or suspended chords in guitar charts and tabs. The two types: sus4 and sus2.

Sus chords are at the heart of some very simple, very identifiable guitar hooks: think of the Eagles’ “Peaceful Easy Feeling” (E to Esus4), The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” (Bsus4 to B), or Rush’s “Fly By Night” (D to Dsus4) for a sampling from classic rock.

They have a sound that hangs or suspends the chord's harmony because they (usually) replace the 3rd of the chord, which determines if the chord is major or minor. Suspended chords are airy and free-sounding. In the next clip we'll look at how you might put them to good use, and then we'll talk about suspended barre chords.

Sussing Sus Chords

Sus chords work in many settings and have a bunch of cool applications. Here we look at them as ornaments — little embellishments on your chords and rhythms. These small changes can add sparkle and shine to your playing. Note how the two types of suspensions (sus4 and sus2) can be used to surround the 3rd of the chord and add some motion.

Sus in Motion

A closer look at barred forms of sus chords. The same thing is happening here as with open chords — sus4 and sus2 are messing with the chord's 3rd — even though it looks different. The big benefit with barre forms, as usual, is that you can move it anywhere on the neck as long as no open strings are used.

The nomenclature for sus chords can get a little weird. For example, you might see a chord written Asus4 when it’s really A7sus4, or you might see a chord written as a sus2 when it’s technically an “add 9” chord. Also, the suspended voice doesn’t always cover up the 3rd of the chord — sometimes a 2nd or 4th is added in addition to the 3rd.

Sussing Barre Chords

Let’s gain acumen with the pick so that you can do more than strum with your right hand. The key to getting picked arpeggios together is to work on control and timing. Each individual note should be in time, with really no difference between the down-stroked and up-stroked notes.

If you’ll forgive the fogeyism of the song choice, this one offers a great way to start on picked arpeggios using upstrokes and downstrokes. Play it till you can't stand this song anymore, if that didn't already happen to you around 1973.

Picked Arpeggios

Picked arpeggios can be used really nicely to produce a kind of rolling, almost hypnotic effect. The key is keep them moving — steadily moving — through the changes. In this example the pattern employs a low-string strike followed by upstrokes on the top 3 strings. Start slowly! You may want to run it a few times before starting with the backing track. When you're ready to try it at tempo, keep good steady time throughout the pattern.

Picked Arpeggios in Motion
Chord Vocabulary
23 Lectures 01:12:58

There are many, many ways to play or “voice” every chord. Voicing simply means how the notes in the chord are arranged. For example, a C major chord is made up of the notes C, E and G. Different voicings for a C chord can be explored by changing the order of the notes from top to bottom (for example, C G E), by changing how many of each note are included (C E G E E), and changing octaves.

For the next section we’ll be looking at some of the voicings for the following chord types:
Minor (min)
Dominant 7 (dom7 or 7)
Minor 7 (min7)
Major 7 (maj7)

Chord Vocabulary

These forms (like the other forms we'll be looking at in this section) are closed, meaning that no open strings are used. The big benefit with learning these closed or barred forms is that you can move them around. Check the charts for fingerings and for bass note grids to help you find your root notes.

Major chord nomenclature:

Letter name only (e.g, it might say G and not G major)

Chord Vocab: Majors

These forms (like the other forms we'll be looking at in this section) are closed, meaning that no open strings are used. The big benefit with learning these closed or barred forms is that you can move them around. Check the charts for fingerings and for bass note grids to help you find your root notes.

Minor chord nomenclature:
– (e.g., A-)

Chord Vocab: Minors

These forms (like the other forms we'll be looking at in this section) are closed, meaning that no open strings are used. The big benefit with learning these closed or barred forms is that you can move them around. Check the charts for fingerings and for bass note grids to help you find your root notes.

Dominant 7 chord nomenclature:
dominant 7

Chord Vocab: Dom7

These forms (like the other forms we'll be looking at in this section) are closed, meaning that no open strings are used. The big benefit with learning these closed or barred forms is that you can move them around. Check the charts for fingerings and for bass note grids to help you find your root notes.

Minor 7 chord nomenclature:
minor 7

Chord Vocab: Min7

These forms (like the other forms we'll be looking at in this section) are closed, meaning that no open strings are used. The big benefit with learning these closed or barred forms is that you can move them around. Check the charts for fingerings and for bass note grids to help you find your root notes.

Major 7 chord nomenclature:
major 7

Chord Vocab: Maj7

What is a riff, anyway? Ask three guitarists and you’ll get three different answers. It boils down to a big instrumental hook, and if you’re going to present it on guitar you’ll want to play it like you mean it.

We have a few words on how to practice a great riff: Slow. It. Down. Listen carefully to understand how each element should be played, because it's often the little nuances — ghost notes, attacks, syncopations — that make a riff interesting. Said another way, if it were easy, it wouldn't sound so cool.

Riffs come in all shapes and sizes. Over the next few clips we’re going to look at a few familiar types and give them a try.

Working on a Riff

This part has all the ingredients of a classic, low-string rock guitar riff. It sounds simplistic — and is not especially difficult to play — but all the character comes from the the little stuff. So watch those slides and attacks, and keep good time. Once you have it under your fingers, think about how your part would fit in if you were playing it with a band. Arooooo….

Spotlight Riff

Here’s a riff with a little more going on. The part fills a lot of space by combining chord hits, a single-note figure, and ringing open strings. You really have to do double duty to nail a riff like this, because you’re playing a melodic line but still responsible for holding a rhythm part together.

If it gives you some trouble, work first on the transition between the open Em and D chords. Then think of the other parts as lines that stitch the two chords together.

Ringing Riff

Time for a slammer. The trickiest, ickiest thing in here is probably the quick switching between single-note line and power chords. Again, work on it slowly and then roll the backing track when you’re up to tempo. Some overdrive and a bridge pickup setting will put you in the right ballpark in terms of tone.

When you’re trying to figure out a riff like this from a recording, it helps to listen closely to see if you can figure out string choices, which will tell you what position (where on the neck) the guitarist is playing. For example, you can hear a little deadness on the low A note, suggesting it’s fretted on the 6th string rather than played open on the 5th string.

Chord with Riff

Further bending the definition of a riff, we’re looking here at variations on a doublestop figure — that is, a part played using two notes at once. The main characteristic for each chord change (it’s based on D to Bm) is a descending high note on top of a steady bottom note. Change the momentum and feel of the part by exploring new rhythms with your picking hand.

Chill Riff

Dropped D (or drop D) tuning is based on a pretty simple concept: The lowest string is tuned down a step from E to D. The tuning allows a lower bottom end and puts some bass notes within reach that would otherwise be a stretch. But be careful! Any chord shapes from standard tuning that incorporate a 6th-string note will now require you to play that bass note up one step (two frets). Look at the chart to see how dropped D tuning changes some shapes you thought you knew.

Alternate Tunings

Online TAB sources are sometimes a gold mine and sometimes a minefield. The best advice we can give is to use your ears before you use your eyes. That is, listen closely to the part you’re trying to play and then determine whether the TAB is right, or almost right, or not even close. No doubt you will find examples of all three. If you want something more reliable and clearer, drop a few bucks to the people whose song you love, and buy artist-approved sheet music.

More thoughts on TAB survival:
- Search for charts that include both TAB and standard notation
- Some TABS name the correct chords but don’t show to voice them. Use your chord voicings to figure out which shape is being played on the original recording. What note is on bottom or on top?
- Compare the opening or resolving chords to the original recording: Are they in the same key?

Quick anecdote:
A friend of mine wanted to play Lorde's “Royals” by Lorde on guitar and said the TAB he found just didn't sound like the original. Well, that’s cuz is no guitar on the recording! Doesn't mean you can't play the song, but you'll have to invent a part that covers the feeling you’re afer. Many TABs suggest a way to get through a song without necessarily recreating a specific guitar part. It helps to know what you intend to get out of a TAB before you make yourself nuts looking for the best one out there.

Thus endeth the rant.

TAB Good, Sound Bad

Power chords are sometimes referred as “root 5” or “5 chords.” Formed with just two notes (the root and the 5th of a chord), power chords fall easily under hand and are a go-to chord in many situations. They appear in all different musical styles, and are great for grabbing the bare essence of rhythm part in a pinch. Power chords lack the 3rd degree of a chord, which gives the chord a lot of color, so just know what you’re missing when you use them.

Power Chord Do's and Don'ts

Putting a capo around the fretboard is like adding a fixed barre across all six strings or moving the nut up. Capos are great for instantly changing key (for example, to accompany a vocalist’s range) and for creating higher-register guitar parts. Just beware when reading a chart or talking about chord names, because it gets confusing. Like barre chords, the capo shifts the harmony around the neck. For example, a chart may call for an open D chord with the capo on the 3rd fret. You will still fingering that familiar D shape from open position, but that ain’t a D no more. With the capo on 3, it’s an F. Again, like a barre chord you can reference notes along the 5th and 6th strings (see chart) to figure out the real name of the chord you’re playing in front of a capo.

Clearing Capo Confusion

Certain artists use capos all the time, which often means they're finding those step-ups more comfortable for their vocal range. Another very cool application, though, is using the capo to create a new part when you're playing with another guitarist. You can play the same chords as the other player but in an entirely different position, which can make for really nice, intertwined parts. It lends a broad sound to every chord to hear it voiced in multiple positions.

The Capo Crusader

Learning to improvise as a soloist is a lifelong venture, but we're about to start cracking the concepts open.

An Intro to Lead Lines

Ref: Chord Toner
Melodies and solos emerge from the chords played behind them. Whether a part stays close to the chord, adds notes that create a little tension, or deliberately introduces all kinds of dissonance, the chords are the foundation.

Let's first build small melodic ideas — phrases — using only notes in the chords we're using.
Start with D in open position [small melody]<br>Might feel a little stuck in those few notes. But remember your chord vocabulary. You also have these nearby forms to work with (root 5 C and A shapes). [Expand melody.] And this voicing up here (E shape, root 6).

Now look at Am. Again, only play chord tones. [Demonstrate same way]

In the next clip we'll take these chord tones for a ride.
>-There's a pdf attached to this clip showing a bunch of D and Am voicings. Keep it open or print it out.
[Roll backing track] Track coming in has 4 bars to play D chord tones, then four bars for Am chord tones, and it just keeps looping. Keep the pdf open, or print it out, so you have a bunch of shapes to work with. I'll play over it to give you an idea — grab the backtrack yourself and take it for a spin. About 300 times should be good.

Chord Tones

Melodies and solos emerge from the chords played behind them — that’s the heart of our approach to soloing. Whether a part stays close to the chord, adds notes that create a little tension, or deliberately introduces all kinds of dissonance, the chords are the foundation.

Think first about building small melodic ideas — phrases — using only notes from the voicings you know. The accompanying chart shows a bunch of D and Am voicings you can use. Roll the backing track and take this progression for a few spins. About 300 times should be good.

Chords Tones in Motion

The lines you play on guitar will feel more musical, and will reach listeners, when they're expressive. Start incorporating the little nuances that give a melody feeling. To my ear, it's all about trying to sound more vocal, or perhaps more like a horn player.


This low-key improv is played over the backing track from the previous clip, and again uses only chord tones from D and Am again. But this time we're throwing in some techniques that add expressivity. See what sounds good to you, and have a go over the progression yourself.

Expressivity in Motion

Here we are playing a little fragment of a melody, like the kind of melodic statement you might hear in a chorus or at the top of a song. This one is very strongly built on chord tones, so we're still in familiar territory. Then we expand the melodic idea in little phrases, using only notes that are either from the melody or from chord tones — safe choices all, because we know those notes will work.

Building on a Melody

One of the first calls you might have to play a lead line might be to play a little melody intro (like the one we played in the last clip), or to represent some single-note line in a song that was originally sung or played on a horn. There's really no better way to work on melodic soloing than to find a part you love, isolate it, and try to recreate it. As you add character to the part, you’ll be taking steps toward establishing your own voice.

Recreating a Melody
Next Steps
7 Lectures 18:46

What's coming next in lead lines and improvising is recognizing what scales, or sets of notes, these chord tones and melodies come from. Basically, you're going to expand the available palette of notes and colors you can use, and then begin incorporating those notes into your available vocabulary. Sometimes a single scale will work for holding several chords in a progression together; other times, you may want to (or need to) change the set of notes you're using to bring out the changes and add personality to your playing.

Where to next?

Some baseline musts before you even get started with what to play:
- Make sure your gear is in working order. No crackling cables or blanks when you step on a pedal
- Be in tune
- Know the songs before you get to rehearsal — and be open to change

Playing Well With Others

Crazy, right? You have to be a listener in the audience while you're creating what's being listened to.

Where is your part? Fit in like a puzzle piece. Some things to have in mind:
Are you overpowering the vocalist?
Are you locking with the drummer?
Are you providing a rhythm part that supports a soloist? Are you playing the chords so he can hear them?
Are you crowding other players out?
Should you maybe not play anything for a little bit?


One more swing through chord vocabulary here. The simple choice of a different voicing can really help you stand out — or stand back, if that's what is called for — and create variety for your guitar parts.

If there's another guitarist (or a keyboardist), consider what h/she is playing and how can you avoid occupying the same space.

If you're supporting a singer, can you find a voicing that helps provide them with notes they need to hear?

Remember your Capo tricks, too (see Capo Confusion above).

Use Your Chord Vocab

There are only a few ways you can mess up in a way that everyone will notice. Major one is playing out of time.

I have found that I can't lose if I lock in with the drummer. Find his rhythmic pocket and get in it. Watch him, face him, interact musically with him.

Be Tight with the Drummer

As you play more frequently, and in more situations, you’ll discover the ways in which your gear does and doesn't suit you. As you gain more experience, you'll also want to know how to troubleshoot and address problems that arise with your equipment.

We’re still talking about guitars, right?

Thoughts on Gear

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