Learning to Play Guitar: Chords, Scales, and Solos

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course for Getting Back Into the Guitar Coli McAllister is a truly gifted music teacher. His sense of history and love of the guitar shines through in the fascinating stories with which he starts classes. As someone who played the guitar as a young man, some of the basics regarding chords are of course easy to learn, although re-training my fingers that are no longer as nimble as they once were has been challenging. The music theory was valuable, and I think I will re-take the course to try to take up more of the note reading, which is something I really should work on, as someone more from the folk era where we just learned songs by watching someone else play them. This is one course where having the workbook would have been helpful. Of course, I realize if I wasn't so cheap, for a couple of bucks I could print up the book at home, which I probably will do the next time through the class. I came away from the class realizing I wasn't as serious a musician as the teacher and the friends he brought in occasionally to help him, but the guitar remains a very social instrument, if you have the courage to play and the wisdom to know how to read the faces of your friends and stop before you go on too long. This class is worth taking just for the stories about guitar players, which are often inspiring and always brought to life lovingly by Professor McAllister.
Date published: 2021-04-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from As taught in school I slogged on till the end but it was painful, and I needed other sources to augment the lessons because the course is classroom structured without the instructor/student interaction.
Date published: 2021-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Colin you have been my COVID saviour! I began taking this course with a guitar borrowed from a friend, which was apparently purchased at a car boot sale for about £5. This was just over one year ago, right before the first UK lockdown. I have now just purchased a gorgeous solid wood Martin because I have a new life-long hobby! I would recommend this course wholeheartedly to any complete beginner with no formal training of the instrument as I was. There are many many aspects of the course which are not so easy to find in the ocean of YouTube guitar tutorials for example... The lecturer begins with absolute fundamentals, such as proper posture, grip and arm/hand placement, and builds from the ground up. Specific technical aspects are explained incredibly well, and their importance is emphasized. Since bad habits are indeed hard to break; better not develop them to begin with. This is why I believe this course gives you such a decent foundation to work from, which you would struggle to find without a private guitar tutor. Each of the lectures serves a clear purpose to teach you some technique, and the exercises and tunes at the end are challenging enough to require lots of practice to strengthen your skills, but simultaneously are always attainable so you can really see and feel yourself making progress. The pacing really is amazing, to keep you engaged but never leave you feeling defeated. Although there are indeed long stories and introductions which sometimes I would skip, I disagree completely with the negative reviews regarding this choice of format for the lectures. Naturally with a course of this type you are going to need to pause and rewind the actual lesson many many times, and use the course guide extensively. So skipping past stories is no issue. I struggle to see that you could be taught more than what is taught here in a half an hour private lesson without being overwhelmed. It has been a while since I stopped using these lectures and the guidebook as a resource for learning, and while I certainly did not master everything presented here, what I have gained is a very solid foundation which has enabled me to focus on more of the aspects I would like to learn. I loved this course, and I do not believe I would have stuck with playing guitar had I chosen another cheap avenue of learning (such as through YouTube). It has changed my life. Thank you Colin McAllister.
Date published: 2021-03-05
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not Fun The instructor gives a lecture about making practicing fun, then immediately gives a lesson that is the exact opposite of fun. After a handful of lessons I felt so frustrated and demoralized by the guitar I went to Youtube. Since switching to learning how to play on Youtube I've actually been playing every day and I've been enjoying it. This course is structured in a way that probably makes sense in a classroom, but not in a self-learning environment. This course did nothing but frustrate me, made learning the guitar seem far too daunting to accomplish, and made playing in general a miserable experience.
Date published: 2021-02-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from More like mystically presented history lesson Do not enjoy the presentation method, a very slow way of learning to make any progress, more likely to fall asleep
Date published: 2021-02-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Well, the middle 15 minutes are useful I played trumpet back in grade school so I know how to read music but this is my first experience learning guitar. I'm at lesson 12 right now. The typical pattern as others have mentioned is the first third of each lesson goes over background, the middle goes over techniques, and the last is a song the teacher composed. The background part is the teacher rattling off names and songs, such as blues players for the blues guitar lesson. Why not list a few names and insert some song samples to inspire the student instead of 20 names and random facts? I started skipping this part of the lesson. The techniques part is good but quick. I recommend watching it once and then drilling it into your fingers by using the workbook. The teacher never really goes over expectations for a true beginner. He just quickly moves to the next topic. The last part is the teacher kind of attempting to show you how to play his song but then just starts playing it at a normal speed and then he looks at the camera and the lesson abruptly ends. I'm left wondering how he's playing notes and chords at the same time and to me it's pretty advanced compared to what he was just teaching me. The teacher is a great speaker, great guitarist, and seems very passionate, but I think this course is better for someone who already has some guitar background. If I paid full price for this I'd be upset but I did not so I'm ok with 1/3 of each lesson being useful.
Date published: 2021-01-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Unnecessarily digressive and unfocused! This course spends entirely too much time on anecdotes about topics completely unrelated to learning to play the guitar. The instructor tells stories about American novelists (John Steinbeck), philosophers (Thomas Aquinas), and a number of other irrelevant figures that have nothing to do with actually playing the guitar. I'm not sure why he felt it was necessary to put so much filler into these lectures. Surely there is a wealth of useful practical instruction to cover rather than wasting time with longwinded stories. Don't get me wrong, I love The Great Courses. I own several of their humanities courses (Shakespeare, Joyce, Russian literature, poetry, American history, etc.). They are great because the instructors are great: comprehensive, intellectual, and knowledgable. It seems Colin McAllister thought he had to do something in the same vein as other Great Courses lecturers. I don't think any person who took his guitar course was looking for a class on literature, philosophy, or history. Like me, they wanted a course on how to actually play the guitar! Overall, I was disappointed and frustrated by this course. I hope The Great Courses considers remaking this course with a different, more practical-minded instructor.
Date published: 2021-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Outstanding! I have been trying to learn guitar off and on for more than 20 years, but after completing this course, I finally feel that I have cracked the code and can say that I know how to play guitar at what Professor McAllister refers to as the accomplished beginner level. Even better, I feel like I know where to go from here to keep improving. The course is filed with excellent exercises that focus on developing precision, speed, and endurance. The course guidebook has proven to be a crucial tool and I want to thank Professor McAllister for the time and energy he put into developing the book and the course. It took me a long time to get through this course - almost a year - because it is really designed so that you practice as you go and everything builds on everything else. But the effort has been absolutely worth it for me. I personally loved the approach he used for the course. The first 10 minutes or so of each lecture is devoted to some music history, and I gained exposure to some great artists I would have never otherwise known about by listening to this part of the lecture. I would look up the artists/songs on Spotify after the lecture and listen to them and it was always a rewarding experience that broadened my musical taste in ways I greatly appreciate. At the end of the day, this is one of the best courses I have taken and it has given me something that will stay with me forever. The value for the money is truly exceptional. About 10 years ago, I took private guitar lessons for a while and at that time, they cost around $50 for a 30 min session and I never really progressed because finding time to practice was a problem for me. With this course, you are getting 24 private lessons that you can watch over and over again whenever you want so you can work your practice and the classes around your schedule and your whims. You are also getting an amazing guidebook which is an excellent resource. Professor Colin McAllister is truly an outstanding instructor. I have already purchased his next course on guitar solos and can't wait to get started with it!
Date published: 2021-01-21
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Learning to Play Guitar: Chords, Scales, and Solos
Course Trailer
Guitar Basics: Play a Song in 60 Seconds
1: Guitar Basics: Play a Song in 60 Seconds

Discover how you can play a simple song on the guitar in just one minute. Then study the parts of the guitar, and how to hold the instrument. Play G and C major chords, and review the classic bass line from the song you learned. Finally, practice your song, combining your bass line with a four-note melody.

31 min
Tuning Up, Reading Music, and Dexterity
2: Tuning Up, Reading Music, and Dexterity

Consider important principles of musical learning, the essence of practice, and the importance of performance. Investigate how to tune your guitar, and learn a useful warmup. Observe how pitch and rhythm are notated (written), practice E and A minor chords, and work with a musical number using the chords you've learned so far....

38 min
Classical Guitar Position and Posture
3: Classical Guitar Position and Posture

Explore body posture with the instrument; then, practice your warmup using alternating fingers. Grasp how written music is divided into "measures" and "beats". Learn fuller versions of G and C major chords, see how they are written in the tablature form of notation, and add a melody to the song from the last lesson.

38 min
Learning How to Practice the Guitar
4: Learning How to Practice the Guitar

Look deeper into how to practice and master each element in the learning process. Explore "shifting"-moving the left hand position in guitar playing. Then grasp how the lower three strings are notated, and practice moving between chords on the instrument. Play a major scale, and use it in the song "Shifting Sands".

33 min
Playing Fingerstyle Guitar
5: Playing Fingerstyle Guitar

Learn about three legends of "fingerstyle" guitar--the technique of playing with the right-hand thumb and fingers. Practice the basics of right-hand fingerstyle technique, with alternating fingers. Study the notation of open strings; then extend your fingerstyle to "fingering" chords. Play a G major scale across three strings, and use your fingerstyle in a song.

37 min
Playing Rhythm Guitar
6: Playing Rhythm Guitar

Discover the leading lights of "rhythm guitar", a playing style where the guitarist provides the rhythmic foundation for a band. Review your fingerstyle technique, and play arpeggios (broken chords). Learn to play eighth-notes, and "¾" or waltz-like rhythms. Practice a two-octave scale, some melodic patterns or "licks", and put these elements together in today's song.

34 min
The Pentatonic Scale
7: The Pentatonic Scale

Look into the remarkable guitar-playing of Eric Johnson, and his use of the pentatonic (five-tone) scale. Learn a left-hand exercise for "walking" across the fretboard; then study half-step intervals on the guitar and how to read them. Investigate syncopated strumming patterns, the two-octave pentatonic scale, and how to use them in improvising.

25 min
The Blues Scale and Lateral Stretching
8: The Blues Scale and Lateral Stretching

Enter the world of the blues, and learn about some pioneering pre-war blues players. For left hand technique, practice a "lateral stretching" exercise for flexibility. Add the A7 chord, along with syncopated blues strumming patterns and the A blues scale. Last, play "Blues for Art", incorporating your new strumming patterns and the blues scale.

35 min
Planting for Control and Accuracy
9: Planting for Control and Accuracy

First, contemplate the principles of tonal beauty, as taught by the great Romero brothers. Study the technique of "planting", an aid for technical accuracy. Learn the D and A major chords, and how to read key signatures. Then play a new melody in D major, and accompany it in fingerstyle using your new chords.

28 min
Guitar Tremolo: Gaining Speed
10: Guitar Tremolo: Gaining Speed

Here, encounter two classical guitar titans, Agustín Barrios and Andres Segovia, and grasp their contributions to the instrument. Study tremolo, which gives the illusion of a sustained note. Learn to read sixteenth-notes, add the E major chord, the major pentatonic scale, and use your tremolo and finger technique in the "Raindrop Etude".

30 min
Legato and Power Chords
11: Legato and Power Chords

Begin with legato technique (also called "hammer-ons" and "pull-offs"), a way of smoothly connecting guitar tones without plucking the string. Then add the two-note "power chord" to your repertoire, a key chord for rock music. Practice some patterns ("licks") using the minor pentatonic scale, and put all of these elements together in a rock song.

24 min
Travis Picking for Folk, Country, and Rock
12: Travis Picking for Folk, Country, and Rock

Trace the remarkable life of Merle Travis, who pioneered a distinctive and highly influential fingerpicking style. Refine your descending legato technique ("pull-offs"), a great exercise for strength and finger independence. Study the "Travis picking" style, practice some melodic licks using pull-offs, and try Travis picking in the blues tune "Dusty Blue".

28 min
Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs
13: Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs

Hear classic road stories of some great guitar players, as they point to the collaborative roles of the guitar. Learn the B7, C7, and G7 chords ("dominant seventh" chords), and grasp their role in musical harmony. Play the scale of E major across all six strings; then use your legato technique, dominant sevenths, and E major scale in accompanying a singer.

33 min
Finger Independence and Chord Theory
14: Finger Independence and Chord Theory

Explore harmonic tension and resolution, and the dominant and tonic chords, through compelling examples in the music of Richard Wagner. Practice an important exercise for independent movement of the left hand fingers. Discover how three-note chords ("triads") can be constructed from the notes of the scale. Finally, play an original song using the material from this lesson.

32 min
Crosspicking and Bass Lines
15: Crosspicking and Bass Lines

Uncover the legend and innovations of Doc Watson, the great bluegrass player who was brought out of obscurity by a chance meeting. Study the challenges of playing with a pick while moving across the strings. Then taste "barre" chords, a useful technique you'll explore further, learn the C major scale, and try a tune inspired by Johnny Cash.

26 min
Piano-Style Guitar and Fingernail Care
16: Piano-Style Guitar and Fingernail Care

Investigate the musical effects created by the fingernails versus the fingertips, and grasp the basics of nail shaping and care for guitar playing. Then study chord "qualities" (major, minor, diminished), and look at common chord patterns and sequences. In today's song, practice "piano-style" guitar, playing melody and accompaniment simultaneously.

27 min
Syncopated Strumming and Movable Scales
17: Syncopated Strumming and Movable Scales

Begin with some memorable stories that illustrate the challenges of performance. Practice "chromatic octaves", for hand coordination and flexibility, and learn to read "dotted" eighth notes. Experiment with different ways to play common chords, study "movable" scales (that use the same fingering pattern), and use these elements in an original tune.

29 min
A New Pentatonic Scale and the Capo
18: A New Pentatonic Scale and the Capo

Explore the work of composer John Cage, as it points to the value of musical "silence"-the space between notes. Then learn to read musical "rests" (silences in the music). Study how to use the capo, a device used to shorten the guitar's string length. Continue your work with "movable" pentatonic and major scales, and revive your "Travis picking" skills for today's tune.

32 min
Barre Chords: Movable Chords
19: Barre Chords: Movable Chords

Delve into the original style of jazz guitarist Johnny Smith, and the story behind one of his greatest hits. Then go deeper into barre chords, one of the most challenging guitar techniques. Learn "movable" chord shapes, using the same fingering for multiple chords, and practice two-octave arpeggios (broken chords). End with a reggae-style song, structured in "A-A-B-A" form.

34 min
Flamenco Technique: Rasgueado
20: Flamenco Technique: Rasgueado

This lecture explores the flamenco style, highlighting the career and historic innovations of Paco de Lucia. Study the flamenco strumming technique of rasgueado. Learn to harmonize melody notes, practice movable A, Am and A7 chords, and expand your work with arpeggios. End with a flamenco-tinged song, using your new rasgueado, chords, and melodic technique.

30 min
Playing with Natural Harmonics
21: Playing with Natural Harmonics

Learn to play the beautiful, chiming guitar tones called harmonics. First, explore the lives of some great players who featured them. Then play harmonics on all six strings, and see how they're notated. Practice four-note diatonic seventh chords, and investigate modes, permutations of the major scale. Use your new chords and harmonics in the tune "Harmonic Landscapes".

30 min
Jazz Harmony and Dorian Mode
22: Jazz Harmony and Dorian Mode

Take the measure of guitarist Charlie Christian and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, each of whom transformed jazz and their instruments. Grasp how to work for greater speed and accuracy when playing melodies. Learn "movable" chord shapes for major and minor seventh chords, practice the Dorian modal scale, and use them in a minor blues tune.

34 min
DADGAD Tuning and Lydian Mode
23: DADGAD Tuning and Lydian Mode

Take a look at the far-reaching influence of acoustic guitarist Michael Hedges, and his ingenious use of alternate tunings of the instrument. Continue with a two-part cross-picking exercise, for hand dexterity. Practice the Lydian modal scale. Then explore alternate tunings, focusing on Michael Hedges' "D-A-D-G-A-D" tuning, and use it in the song "Alpine Sunrise".

25 min
Taking the Guitar to the Next Level
24: Taking the Guitar to the Next Level

Trace the career of violinist Malcolm Watson, as it illustrates principles of success for musicians, and consider seven habits of highly effective guitar players. Then learn the technique of artificial harmonics. Add half diminished and full diminished chords to your repertoire, play the Mixolydian scale, and finish the course with a jazz and flamenco inspired song.

38 min
Colin McAllister

Most importantly, good technique allows us to express our musicality without inhibition.


University of California, San Diego


University of Colorado, Colorado Springs

About Colin McAllister

Colin McAllister is the Music Program Director at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He earned his master's and doctorate degrees in Musical Arts at the University of California, San Diego, where he studied guitar with Celin and Pepe Romero, interpretation with Bertram Turetzky, and conducting with Harvey Sollberger and Rand Steiger.

Dr. McAllister has taught the guitar and performed professionally as a guitarist for more than 25 years. He has made more than 1,000 appearances with organizations including the San Diego Opera, the San Diego Symphony, and the Colorado Symphony. Dr. McAllister is also a member of the jazz ensemble Hennessy 6. In 2016, he entered an artist partnership with Taylor Guitars.

Dr. McAllister has recorded on several record labels, including Albany Records, Tzadik Records, and Naxos. He also pursues research interests in 3rd and 4th century religious beliefs related to apocalypticism and early medieval commentary on the Book of Revelation.

Dr. McAllister lives in Manitou Springs, Colorado, with his wife Barbara and their children. In addition to his academic studies in music and the apocalypse, he has climbed more than 35 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, along with Mount Whitney in California and three high volcanoes in Mexico.

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