Learning the guitar is hard. Nobody likes endless drills. Most guitar classes might as well be boot camp for your fingers. This course is guaranteed to be the most fun and practical resource you'll find, including:
This course is aimed at beginners who want to have fun and learn the guitar without spending an arm and a leg on lessons and resources. I'll make a few recommendations about what tools to use, but more importantly give you the knowledge to make decisions on your own.
Hi, and welcome to the Musical Habit.
This course is designed to help new musicians to pick up the guitar and singing. We'll work together to find the best ways for you to learn, designing a fun and effective plan.
I created this course because I wasted so much time trying out different musical learning tools. I've spent countless hours on apps, games, kits and tools in order to find the best ones for learning music. I want to share what I learned with you, so that you can choose the best tools for your taste, learning style and budget.
My name is Zane, and I'll be your instructor for this course. My background is in education, neuroscience and video game design. I've used this to examine the effectiveness of the different tools and share the best techniques I've discovered.
The goal of this course is to get you to the point that music is a part of your life. To develop a musical habit. Music is a social activity, though. Despite using apps and games to learn, the end goal of all music is to connect with other people. So at the end of this course, you should also have the confidence to perform and play with others.
This course is aimed at beginners who want to have fun and learn the guitar and singing without spending an arm and a leg on lessons and resources. I'll make a few recommendations about what tools to use, but more importantly give you the knowledge to make decisions on your own.
This only works if we both commit to the process.
Next, I'll explain the thirty day music challenge and the course guarantee.
I want to challenge you to spend one month using the techniques in this course for just thirty minutes per day. I promise that by the end, you will enjoy playing music.
The consistency is much more important than the duration. You can't make up for a skipped week by doubling up the following week. With both music and singing, you need to develop your muscles and your mind. If something gets in the way and you absolutely must skip a day, don't stress about it... but commit to yourself that you won't make excuses.
I think you'll find it easy to play every day. This course will take you through the first several months to a year of your musical journey. Soon you'll find that the guitar and music are a part of your life.
Each of the three main sections of the course will cover a major milestone along the way. We'll start with just getting playing, then move on to performing a real song, and finally turn this into a musical habit.
You'll need a guitar and a computer to get started. Acoustic, electric, mac or PC, it doesn't matter. I'll help you to choose the right resources for your preferences, budget and learning style.
Let's get started!
I had several false starts trying to learn the guitar. For much of high school and college, I had a guitar next to me in my room. When I did play it, I just couldn't translate the tabs on the computer screen into music. I gave up.
I still strummed idly while watching TV, as if that would help me learn. Needless to say, I didn't get very far.
If you're here, listening to this course, you've already taken the first step towards avoiding that fate. I thought I didn't have the "musical gene." The truth is, I just didn't have a system.
You need to have a system. It's what keeps you honest and accountable. It's what reveals your progress. It's what, someday, will turn into a musical habit.
Passive learning systems, like videos or books, used to be the primary way for learning music (... aside from a teacher, of course). Now, there are interactive tools which can make you a part of the learning process thanks to something called "active learning. Many of these tools take the form of games.
I'll help you choose a game to learn the guitar in the next lecture.
... but first, a word about games. I'm introducing them first because they're useful to just get playing. There are several research-based reasons to try first and learn as you go. Games make this easy, and entertain you at the same time. More than a few neuroscientists and psychologists are studying the use of games.
However... it would be a mistake to just turn on a game and play, without ever pausing to incorporate other techniques. One of the things the brain is really good at is finding ways to cheat. If you just play a game, it'll find ways to cheat at that game without you even knowing.
In other words: games are a springboard. They're a great place to start. So...
Let's choose a guitar game!
I remember thinking, years ago, how cool it would be if someone could just make a game like Guitar Hero that actually taught the real guitar.
Today, there's not just one game for learning the guitar, but several. My favorites are Yousician and Rocksmith. They're both excellent products, but let's take a moment to break them down and choose the right ones for your needs. In the next lecture we'll look at how to use them effectively.
There are three main differences.
The first is that Yousician is “freemium,” meaning that it's free to use but as soon as you start playing it more than a little you need to pay a subscription fee. Rocksmith costs a one-time fee and you can play forever (though you can buy more songs). This means that Rocksmith costs more up-front, but Yousician will probably be more expensive in the long run. It is possible to use Yousician without paying, but as soon as you start getting serious, it will likely cost you more than Rocksmith.
The second difference is the library of music. Rocksmith uses popular songs from big-name artists, and you'll feel like you're playing in a big band. Yousician mostly uses its own, somewhat obscure music. You can technically import popular music, but it takes a lot more effort.
Finally, the biggest difference is that Yousician supports acoustic guitars, while Rocksmith must be used with an electric guitar. Let's talk for a moment about acoustic and electric guitars.
On the one hand, electric guitars tend to be a bit more forgiving. They're generally easier to play and sound good. Also, electric guitars use a cable to connect your guitar to the game, so the game will be more accurate in detecting notes. All this means that an electric guitar might be less frustrating to start with.
On the other hand, acoustic guitars can be played anywhere. They're generally cheaper, and fun to play with friends in a casual environment. Yousician will use the microphone on your computer to pick up the sound from the guitar.
When I first started, I bought an acoustic guitar from a pawn shop for about $40 and started learning with Yousician. I eventually moved to Rocksmith because I found it to be more fun. There's just something about playing songs that I know and love with a full-band accompaniment, lyrics on the screen, and even cheers from the crowd.
When I made the move to electric, I bought Rocksmith and an electric guitar all from Amazon. I got the whole package for under $250. If you need help getting set up, check out the additional resources in this course for links.
I'm sure you're excited to get playing. Go ahead and play around with whatever game you choose! Once you're feeling comfortable, head on to the next lecture, and we'll talk about using games to learn FAST.
Hopefully you're having fun playing your guitar game so far. In this lecture, I'll describe a technique that will help you get better even faster... and you'll spend less time practicing.
Some people think that "fun" and "learning" cannot go together. This is totally, absolutely, completely WRONG.
In fact, research shows that having fun is an indicator of learning. Some researchers have even theorized that "playing" is something animals do in order to learn. Think of puppies: they play-fight to learn about real hunting.
"Play" is simply "practice" plus "fun." The brain even naturally rewards us for learning by making us feel good!
Recently, games have become the subject of lots of educational research. They're even being used to improve memory, treat mental disorders, and increase happiness. You should not be afraid of using a game to learn, or think that it is somehow less serious. Much evidence points to the idea that using game principles is actually the best way to learn.
The technique I'm about to describe is called the Perfect Practice Plan. If you're interested in all the research, you can refer to the blog links and citations in the resources.
In the next lecture I'll explain exactly how it works.
Planning how you will practice each day is absolutely essential. Here's what I've found, from the research, to be the most fun and effective strategy.
First, you warm up by playing a song twice. Then, you practice a specific section of the song for about twenty minutes. Finally, you play the song once or twice more.
The whole session should take about thirty minutes. When it's over, you stop and go do something else. Even if you want to keep playing, take a break for a few minutes. During your break, you can do anything that doesn't involve music. If you still want to play more, start another perfect practice session.
Here's the important part: you need to use the perfect practice plan most every day. If you do, you'll quickly start seeing progress.
Something that surprises many people is that the progress often happens during the next session. You get tired while you're playing, and even though you're learning, your performance goes down. Once you've rested, your performance suddenly shoots up, higher than it's ever been before. The practice and fatigue creates the conditions for improvement, but the rest is when you actually get better. When I'm playing Rocksmith, it's not uncommon for me to suddenly jump up in difficulty at the beginning of a session.
If you're doing more than one or two sessions per day, make sure to switch up the songs. Once you master a song (which we'll talk about in the next section), you should also devote one or two sessions per week to revisiting old songs to keep your skills sharp.
In the next lecture, we'll create a goal to try the perfect practice plan for just thirty minutes a day for thirty days. I bet you'll be impressed with the songs you can play by the end!
Stop and reflect a moment before you continue on. Are you having fun? Are you enjoying playing the guitar?
If not, this is the time to adjust. You can switch games. Or maybe you're looking for something a bit more formal. If you're looking for a more traditional and structured approach, the next section will dive into other materials for learning music.
Progress in learning is like a growing child. From the perspective of the child, or student, the growth seems slow. You are blind to the daily changes, but when you step back and look at the progress over a month or a year, it is huge. So don't worry if things seem to slow down after the first couple weeks.
It's also normal for your fingertips to hurt and to sometimes even feel lost. Try not to get frustrated. Take a step back and just focus on using the perfect practice plan every day, and having fun.
Before you move on to the next section, though, you should set a goal and hit it. Right now, the goal is to get a wide sampling of music. This will help you later to pick out the music you like to play.
In Rocksmith, you could play each song for one session, which will take about thirty days. In Yousician, you could complete the entire beginner course. Either way, you'll have a wide amount of experience to draw upon by the time you're done. You'll learn about chords, fretting, bends, slides and much more.
So take a moment to set a goal now. Once you've hit it, I'll see you in the next section.
Have you completed your first goal? Have you sampled a wide variety of guitar music to play? This goal is an important one, since it will change how we approach the rest of the course.
You may have already noticed that the songs you enjoy playing on the guitar are not necessarily the same songs you like listening to. Sometimes catchy songs are boring and simple. Other songs might seem plain but turn out to be technically complicated.
As you learn the guitar, you begin to gain an appreciation for the music itself. You learn to hear music as a musician hears it. You might even find that your relationship with music changes. After playing some songs from the White Stripes and the Shins, these two bands became two of my favorites.
For your next goal, we're going to choose three songs to start getting really good at them. Since you've tried out so many songs, it should be easy to choose a few that you enjoy playing.
There are some other things to consider when choosing these songs.
First, pick songs that are of medium difficulty for you. For example, if you're using Rocksmith and have played each song the same amount, don't pick songs that you bombed out or sailed through.
Second, try to pick songs that are not too similar. It's important to have some variation, for reasons I discuss in the course resources.
Finally, if possible, pick songs that are in your vocal range. If you don't know how to check this, just record your voice talking normally. If it sounds a lot higher or lower than the singer, it may be easier to choose a different song.
Once you've chosen around three songs, start using them for your perfect practice sessions. Before moving on to the next lecture, you should feel comfortable playing each of them. 80% or higher accuracy is a good goal to shoot for.
Don't forget: slow down and take your time! If a song isn't fun, then don't be afraid to switch.
There's no pressure here. Just small improvements, every day.
So I'll see you in the next lecture, once you feel comfortable with your three songs.
I want to pause a moment to talk about some of the common mistakes when learning with guitar games. I mentioned earlier that the brain is really good at finding ways to cheat. If you find yourself making one of these mistakes, don't worry. Just be aware of them and try to correct them.
The first is playing notes that don't exist. What I mean is, the games generally won't punish you for extra notes. So when you come upon a really difficult passage, you might add an extra note or two in. This might happen if the piece is really fast and you're strumming madly to try to keep up. The best way to avoid this mistake is simple: whenever you find yourself overwhelmed by the music, use the game to slow down the piece until you can distinguish and play each individual note. Then, slowly speed back up until you can play it correctly.
The second mistake is very similar to the first. The games can be a bit forgiving when it comes to the timing on notes, especially Rocksmith. This is great when you're first starting, but you might actually start leaning on this as a crutch if you don't pay close attention. Look for times when the game says you're late or early and try to fix those. Focus on the rhythm or pattern of the music and let your ear guide you, rather than your eye. You'll develop and intuitive sense of the rhythm, but you need to learn to trust this sense.
The more advanced you get, the more strict you want to be with yourself. Early on, the exact ways you form a chord or which fingers you use to press on frets will not make a huge difference. However, the games both provide a guide for knowing which fingers to use for a reason. Once you get more advanced, using the right hand positions will make your job a lot easier: notes will sound clearer, and transitions will be much more simple.
Finally, I want to briefly touch on the different "tracks" in the games. Both games have at least two learning tracks, the lead guitar and the rhythm. Lead guitar is usually the default, and you get to play the flashy solos. I actually switched to rhythm guitar, though, as it tends to go better with singing and focuses more on chords and timing as opposed to complicated series of individual notes. It's not that one track is better or worse, but that the main skills they use are slightly different. Switching tracks can actually help you develop more, by adding some variety.
There are general bad habits to avoid in guitar learning, too. If you follow the steps in this course you will avoid most of them, but I'd also recommend taking a look at all the additional resources and courses to make sure you're developing good habits.
Games continue to be great for learning new songs or techniques. But to be advanced, you need to ween off of them. Avoiding the big mistakes means applying your own judgement to your practice and learning to correct yourself in ways the game does not. So keep an eye on the extra notes, timing, and finger positions and you'll save yourself some headache later on.
In this recording, you can hear me playing as well as the computer playing the song. Recording like this, simply using the microphone on the computer, is a great way to understand your own mistakes better. When you're caught up in the playing itself, you don't fully understand the mistakes. When you play it back like this, they will jump out at you.
Goals are so important for learning. You can read about how simply having a goal improves the effectiveness of learning in the course resources.
We've already had a couple goals in the course. You've sampled a variety of music, and then gotten good at a few select songs. Next, we're going to set a goal to actually be able to perform a song.
This goal is harder than any of the prior goals, but it's an important one. You'll gain a whole new understanding of music once you truly master a song. When you're first learning a song, you are still mentally processing each part. When you master a song, it becomes so internalized that you don't even need to think about it. The process of becoming an expert changes how your brain works, which you can read about in the course resources.
The next goal is simple: to play a song with no more than a few missed notes at the maximum difficulty.
Now is the time to start adding in variation to your playing. It's very important to change between standing and sitting, for example. This forces your hands into different positions and will help to prevent common posture mistakes. You can also start saying the lyrics (not singing) as you play.
Even more importantly, let yourself feel free to experiment and do more than "simple recreation." Try playing certain parts of the song softer or louder. After the song is over, keep playing around with the chords and see if you can remember how it went... or even invent some licks of your own that would fit in the song.
Remember, music is about expression and performance. In all art, perfect recreations are boring. Painting still exists in a world of Instagram because it is about the expression. You want to perform the song, but also to let your personality shine through in the expression.
So, don't take yourself too seriously. Don't be a slave to the game's scores. The real goal is to play something beautiful, not to get 100% on the song.
Once you've mastered a song, we'll start layering the singing in the next lecture.
One way you should supplement your guitar game playing is with some simple drills and exercises. Don't be scared, though. Even with drills, you can have fun.
Scales and chords are two essential concepts to learn as you pick up the guitar.
Scales will lay the foundation for being able to jam and play your own solos. You can start by picking a couple basic scales to learn and playing them slowly. Playing a scale with a metronome can help you to improve your sense of rhythm. You simply play one note per beat, and increase the speed of the metronome as you get better.
There are lots of other exercises you can do with scales, like skipping every other note or reversing the direction of the scale at random. You can find a whole series of free lectures on how exactly to play scales and how to practice them in the resources.
Practicing chord transitions and strum patterns will help you with your rhythm guitar skills. You can simply take the chords from a song and practice switching between them. One way to keep motivated is to record how many transitions you can do in a minute, and try to beat that number every day. Be sure to not sacrifice the quality of playing, though!
Eventually, you may become interested in how all of this fits together. You might notice that certain chords and scales tend to sound good together. You'll notice that they tend to come in basic groups, based upon the key you're playing in. If you want to develop your theoretical understanding, and ability to write music, this is a good time to start reading about music theory.
Finally, I have to mention that Rocksmith has mini-games that can help with these skills. The "Guitarcade" is filled with old-school arcade-style games to learn scales, chords, bends, slides, and much more.
Identifying skills that you're weak with and using drills to improve them is one of the best things you can possibly do with your musical habit. In the next section, we'll explore why.
Music contains many sub-skills.
Ear and rhythm training can help your guitar playing, as well as prepare you to start singing. You'll start to hear the technical components that make up the music.
In the resources section, you'll find links to several games and pieces of software for learning both skills. I've also done reviews of some of the more popular apps to help you choose the right ones for you.
There are also a number of great instructors out there. One of my favorites is JustinGuitar.com, which contains free lessons on just about any guitar topic. In my opinion, Justin's lessons are high enough quality that there is no reason to pay for an expensive online instructor. Of course, if you can afford a personal tutor, she can help you progress even faster, but this course is about using digital tools for learning.
There are really two ways to approach learning these technical skills. You can either look up specific lessons which interest you, or you can follow one instructor from beginning to end. There's no right or wrong way, but if you want to be serious about your musical habit you should make your way through at least one course.
As great as video games are, there is a lot of value in having something explained. Playing music first and asking questions second is actually an effective strategy for improving learning speed. There's a reason we "just started playing" and came back to the technical details later, which you can read about in the course resources.
In the next section, we'll look at how to transition your progress so far into a sustainable musical habit.
Deliberate practice is one of the most influential ideas to appear in learning. It is the reason the perfect practice plan is structured the way it is, and why we've placed so much emphasis on goals in this course.
To use deliberate practice means playing a short, tough piece of music over and over. To practice a specific small movement until you nail it, and then incorporate it back into the song, instead of just practicing the whole song.
This is one reason I like Rocksmith as a guitar learning game: the "Riff Repeater" feature is perfectly designed to create deliberate practice. It finds the part of the song you're having the most difficulty with, slows it down, and lets you play it over and over. Each time you nail the passage, the speed or difficulty increases.
It's hypnotic to use. You keep saying to yourself: just one more try. It's like an addictive Netflix TV show that keeps auto-playing the next episode. All you have to do is keep playing.
As you transition into music as a lifestyle, you'll need to find new ways to create this sort of deliberate practice without the game. To do so, you need a way to evaluate yourself. The games have scored your progress so far, but now you need to be your own judge.
The most straightforward way to do this is just to record yourself. It doesn't need to be high quality. You don't ever need to show it to anybody else. Just watch and listen to yourself playing, and you'll be shocked how easy it is to spot the mistakes and bad habits.
If you're incorporating singing, try practicing the two skills separately as well as layering them together. Find the awkward parts and practice that passage over and over, just like the riff repeater.
This strategy of deliberate practice will serve you even if you're writing and playing your own music. It's teaching you to be your own judge. When you take a step back and evaluate yourself as objectively as you can, you create the conditions to get better as fast as possible. But you still need to keep playing every day.
In the next lecture, I'll introduce a few strategies to maintain motivation.
In the early parts of learning, it's easy to maintain motivation because you're making so much progress. Once you get further in your musical journey, that progress seems smaller and smaller.
One strategy is to learn to celebrate the small improvements. Journaling or recording your practice each day might seem like an extra bit of work, but many many students have found it quickly becomes a source of inspiration.
In a previous lecture, I used the analogy of a child who feels like growth is slow. But when that child looks at the height chart on the wall and realizes how much she's grown over the past six months, even she is amazed. Your journal is your own personal height chart.
It's also important to keep focus on the enjoyment of the music itself. Progress can help to maintain motivation, but there's no reason to keep up with your musical habit if you're not enjoying it.
Don't be afraid to switch songs, play on your own and experiment. You've finally reached a place in music where you can do away with a curriculum and just focus on the playing. This is exciting to some and terrifying to others.
If you still want structure, then keep learning new songs. If you want to be creative, then you can combine the resources from the last section and the upcoming lecture to explore the rest of musicality and begin writing and performing your own music.
In the last lecture, I'll share some more resources and final thoughts.
As your musical habit improves, you'll want to move beyond simply learning and playing back songs.
Don't be afraid to just start playing around. It can be fun to start mixing and matching the strum pattern from one song with the chords from another. You'll notice how being in a different key suddenly gives the music an entirely different feel. Having a "free play" time at the end of the each practice session is a great way to start experimenting with these ideas.
Now that you have a solid foundation, you might also find that musical theory is quite fascinating. In the resources associated with this course, I'll include links to some of my favorite books, podcasts and lessons.
Learning music theory can be a revelation. Suddenly, you'll have the vocabulary to explain why certain music makes you feel a certain way. Even if you're not interested in the technical details, there are some book recommendations will give you a better appreciation of music. Personally, I find it fascinating to learn exactly what music does to the brain, for example.
If you have any resources of your own you'd like to submit, please send them to me! You can find my contact information in the resources as well.
Thanks so much for participating in this course. I hope that you've made true progress towards developing a musical habit.
Don't stop now!
Every day, there's something new to learn.
With a background in computer programming, neuroscience and video game design I seek to help people learn using apps and games. My courses lay the groundwork for self-teaching a variety of skills and topics. I test and review different learning tools in order to share the best ones with my students.