Blog Archives

1.What is music theory

Music theory is the language of music and the study of how music is put together. Having an understanding of music theory is helpful in many ways. For example, when teaching it is much easier & quicker to communicate ideas to a student if the student has a good knowledge of theory. If you play in a band ideas can be passed around and expressed clearly and concisely if the members have good theory knowledge. For lead guitarists theory helps you put the right scale with the right chords. For writers and composers it provides clear direction on chord progressions and melody.

Almost all of the top guitarists today have a good knowledge of theory as well as strong technique. If you want to join them you will need the same.

Music was around a long time before theory came along so it could be said that theory is just a way of writing down and remembering things that sound good. I have come across students who have no musical knowledge what so ever but have written some great music. When we have sat down and analysed what they have written we have found that their music conforms with accepted music theory. The reason for this, I believe, is that we grow up listening to music and are conditioned to hear music in a certain way. Therefore when we write music it conforms to the musical patterns we have grown up listening to. If somebody can write music with no theory knowledge what is the point of learning theory? By learning why your music sounds a certain way theory can help you recreate that sound or avoid it. It should also open up new musical avenues for you to explore.

Finally, music theory will help you gain an insight into how your guitar works. Attempting to jam with other musicians without theory is guesswork usually. Theory gets you straight in and playing something cool which surely is what playing an instrument is about.

Next up:  Lesson 2 – Naming the notes


Randy Rhoads

Randy Rhoads was most famous for being Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist on the albums “Blizzard of Oz” and “Diary of a madman”, Ozzy’s first albums since splitting with Black Sabbath.  Randy played guitar for the band “Quiet Riot” before joining Ozzy’s band and was also a dedicated classical guitar player and would seek out classical guitar lessons whilst on tour.  Randy was one of the first “schooled” rock guitarists and had a deep knowledge of music theory, composition, and guitar techniques.  This coupled with his natural musicality combined to make him one of the greatest guitarists ever.  Randy was tragically killed in a plane crash on March 19, 1982.  In 1987 Ozzy released “Tribute”   a live recording of Ozzy and Randy in concert plus some studio out-takes.  Have a listen to the clip above to hear Randy playing both in a classical style and also some great lead guitar.  The solo at around 2 mins 40 secs is a masterpiece.  Enjoy.

Joe Pass

One of the greatest jazz guitarists of the 20th century Joe Pass was known for his chord melodies, walking bass lines, and, outstanding knowledge of chord inversions and progressions.  New York Magazine said of him, “Joe Pass looks like somebody’s uncle and plays guitar like nobody’s business. He’s called “the world’s greatest” and often compared to Paganini for his virtuosity. There is a certain purity to his sound that makes him stand out easily from other first-rate jazz guitarists”.

Wilko Johnson


Wilko Johnson played guitar for Dr Feelgood and the Blockheads amongst others.  He has an unusual style of playing particularly with his right hand, no pick, which allowed him to play an aggressive punchy style of guitar whilst combining rhythm and lead.  He also had a long curly lead which allowed him to follow his guitar around the stage.  Check out Wilko explaining his style to BBC show rock school and then watch him perform the whole song in the bottom video.

Eddie Hazel

Eddie Hazel was the guitar player for Parliamant-Funkadelic putting down some seriously funky grooves and psychedelic guitar.  Have a listen to “Maggot Brain”, recorded in one take in 1971.  Legend has it that George Clinton told Eddie Hazel to imagine he had been told his mother was dead, but then learned that it was not true.  Enjoy the ride.

How To Read Guitar Tab

Guitar tab is a method of getting guitar music on paper without having to read music. The advantage of tab is it is relatively easy to learn and you can be learning songs very soon after learning to read it. The disadvantage is tab has no rhythm notation so can be tricky to learn songs you are not familiar with.

Example 1

The horizontal lines represent the six strings on the guitar. The thickest E string is at the bottom up to the thinnest E string at the top. You read tab from left to right so the first three notes in the above example would be played one at a time.

The numbers on the lines tell you which fret to play. The first note you would play on the above example is the 3rd fret on the A String.

A zero represents an open string, so the second note on the above example is an open D string. The third note would be the second fret on the G string.

When the notes are stacked on top of each other like at the end of the above example this means you play the notes at the same time. Hopefully if you play the last stack of notes together you should end up with an A Major chord.

There are many more symbols associated with tab but we will learn these as we go along.

Guitar Chords For Beginners

These are some of the most commonly used beginners chords.  You will often see these chords on sheet music and guitar tabs.  The chords are the same on acoustic and electric guitar.  The fingerings I have put on them are the ones I normally use and teach but feel free to use your own if you prefer.

Next: How to read guitar tab

Choosing your first guitar

Buying your first guitar can be a daunting prospect so I have put together some tips and advice to make that purchase easier and also thrown in a few of my favourite beginners guitars.  

Electric or Acoustic, this is the first decision you have to make.

Electric guitars are solid bodied guitars and require some form of amplification to make a noise.  There are many different shapes of electric guitar, some of the most common ones are the “Stratocaster” as used by Jimi Hendrix and the “Les Paul” as used by Slash.  They are used in metal, rock, pop, and blues styles to name a few.  Some famous electric guitarists are, Jimi Hendrix,  Slash, and Steve Vai.


Acoustic guitars come in two main types, nylon strung or steel strung, and have hollow bodies. Nylon strung guitars are used mainly in classical and flamenco music and steel strung guitars are used for popular music styles such as folk, blues, blue grass, and fingerstyle guitar.  Some well known Nylon strung guitarists are John Williams and Julian Bream.  Examples of steel strung guitarists are Joni Mitchell,  Newton Faulkner, and, Tommy Emmanuel.  Most people learning acoustic guitar for fun choose a steel strung guitar.

Have a look at the artists listed above to get an idea of how the various guitars sound.

Acoustic guitars and electric guitars are usually tuned in the same way and the basic skills from one type to another are easily transferable.  An electric guitarist can play acoustic and vice versa.

The action is the distance between the strings and the frets on the neck of the guitar.   This is important when choosing your first guitar.  If the action is too high the guitar will be difficult to play and your fingertips will hurt more than they should.  If the action is too low the strings will buzz.  Either of these problems could really put you off playing.  However if you have purchased a guitar with these issues they are easily rectified.  Music shops should check these things before selling you the guitar.

Choosing an electric guitar

We are lucky today that the quality of entry-level guitars is much higher that when I was a lad.  I would recommend getting a guitar package, these usually come with a guitar, amplifier, lead, picks, and a strap.  Pretty much everything you need to get started.  I would also recommend going to your local music shop to try/view guitars.  If you can play it is important to play your prospective guitar and find out how it feels.  Make sure the guitar is tuned to concert pitch as some music shops have been known to tune down the guitars to make them easier to play.  If you can’t play ask someone in the shop to play the guitar for you so you can see and hear the guitar being played.  Check the action and ask the shop if the guitar has been properly set up.  Ask them to show you how the controls work on the guitar, volume pots, pickup selectors etc.

Some beginner guitars that I recommend are the Fender Squier and Tanglewood electric guitars.  Encore also make a decent starter pack for a slightly lower price.

Choosing an Acoustic guitar

Once again the quality of entry-level acoustic is very high now and the advice is similar to above.  Go to your local music store and have a good look round.  Play the guitar if possible or ask someone to play it for you.  It is really important to hear your acoustic guitar being played as the tone of different styles of acoustic guitars varies greatly.  Check the guitar has been set up to a reasonable standard and is tuned to concert pitch.  It is not as important to buy a pack with an acoustic guitar but you may want to consider getting a tuner, capo and a strap.  Some acoustic guitars come with pickups built-in, these are called electro-acoustic guitars.  If you think you may want to record or amplify your acoustic guitar get one with a pickup installed, it does not add too much to the cost of the guitar.

Some acoustic guitars I recommend are Tanglewood and Crafter.

Take your time choosing your guitar.  You may have it for a long time and getting the right one first time will save time and money.

Once you have purchased your guitar why not come back here and try some of the free lessons on my website.