Learning to Play Guitar: Chords, Scales, and Solos

Rated 3 out of 5 by from A COURSE THAT TRIES TO BE EVERYTHING I am an experienced keyboardist who is working on learning guitar on my own and thought I could use a well-versed teacher to give me clarity and direction in my work and so I purchased the course based on its title. Like other reviewers, I felt that the instructor attempted to cover too much in the way of guitar history, music history and theory. I don't have any issue with tablature, because that it is a core skill for many. guitarists. However, the average lesson in this course spends 1/3 of its length/time on music history. There is always a "performance" at the end which does more to showcase the compositions of the instructor then contribute to one's ability to play. In the time when focusing on actual strategies for playing the guitar, the course is pretty helpful - providing clear graphics for chords, tablature and providing excellent modeling of the skills being taught. If I were to make suggestions on how the course could be improved for someone who wants to become a functional player by course's end, I would utilize better known, popular songs for study that emphasize chords, strumming patterns, finger picking and "parts" and riffs. etc. The emphasis on note reading could be better used on actual playing strategies and "hacks". The teacher is clearly a very knowledgeable musician with a lot to share - but for the scope of this course, I just think he tries to make it all things musical - from music history to theory and finally, to what I was looking for - "playing" the guitar. Because of that expenditure of time on those other disciplines, I would not recommend the course as the best for "learning to play guitar."
Date published: 2020-11-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I feel, like others, that too much time is given to matters other than actual instruction on learning to play. I was disappointed and would not recommend this course to others.
Date published: 2020-10-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What a difference in teaching standards! Bought this couse a couple of years ago but only opened it up a few months ago.Like a goodly number of reviews I agree with the comments that too much time is spent on matters connected with the history of guitar performers but some valid points can be picked out ie.the importance of "building a good foundation" philosophy etc. I come to this course with a background of a 67 year old man who's had a classical guitar for 45 years and still could'nt play a tune! Yes could strum (badly)a few chords and blamed my lack of progress on fat stumpy fingers ...a ridiculously short "little finger" which couldnt stretch to hold down a string whithout a terrible string "buzz"!Therefore after a gap of many years in need of a hobby decided to "have another try".With this course I've been patient ,spending 2 or 3 weeks on each lesson,whilst in all honesty I cant say I've "mastered"each lesson I've reached lesson 9 .The practical problem is that of retaining what has been practiced in earlier lessons when moving on too a new lesson.However in reaching lesson 9 am now appreciating Dr McAllister's teaching is far superior to my previous teachers eg.I was previously told that in holding the A chord the 1st 3 fingers of fretting hand would be crammed in a row on 2nd fret on strings 2,3 and 4.This made moving from A to the D chord more complex than needed,altho I could do it after a fashion,with Dr McAllister's different method of holding the A chord only 1 finger has to lift onto another string to form the D chord,why on earth could'nt my other teachers have taught this method?Also in lesson 9 "planting "of plucking hand fingers is explained,what an eye opener!Wished I'd have known about this years ago.I'm beginning to wonder now what other commonsense ideas lay ahead in this course. OK,in the end it'll be down to me to put in the time and practice to learn new ways to replace the sloppy method which I'd foolishly been taught by 2nd rate teachers previously. I'm not expecting to be a star on the X Factor or even to play Rodrigo's Guitar Concerto after finishing this course,however in my retirement I'm enjoying what I'm learning and find the course satisfying .All in all I would strongly reccomend this course,it's worth every penny and believe me I've seen the difference between the part time teachers I've paid good money to in the past and Dr McAllister ,a university professor...he's the real deal! However!....in lesson 9 I've had a couple of "lightbulb" moments and am now
Date published: 2020-10-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good instructor, mediocre materials The instructor is solid and has a good approach to teaching the material. The book for this course does not lend itself to practice as it is shaped like a typical novel and not something that is easy to open and have stay open. I see that this has been improved in the next course in the series. Also, there really should be an audio download of the lessons that is labeled in such a way as to match the examples in the book. Going back to the video when you want to simply practice the material is counter-productive. Every other course/book that I have purchased comes with audio that you can play as either a looper or as a reminder of what you are trying to play in the exercise. To recap, I enjoy the material and the instructor is terrific. I wish there was a better book format for this particular course along with downloadable audio tracks for the exercises.
Date published: 2020-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent instruction Purchased for my husband as a gift, he is so excited to be able to re-learn the skills of guitar playing.
Date published: 2020-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great starting point Just started this course, so far so good. It is very easy to follow and easy to comprehend. I would certainly recommend this course to to any beginners.
Date published: 2020-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I have this program myself and love it - thats why I bought it as a gift for a friend
Date published: 2020-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The program is well conducted ..Go for IT ! Excellent !! For those who want to learn how to play guitar .. THIS IS the program ..
Date published: 2020-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just what I was looking for There are so many guitar courses that offer 'tricks" and short cuts and "learn to play in a week". This course is the real thing, for anyone who really wants to learn and understand the guitar. It offers a tremendous foundation for wherever you want to go with the instrument. The instructor says that by the end you will be an "accomplished beginner", but you will actually have a fundamental understanding and sound practices that will put you far ahead of most casual players.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Learning to play the guitar Easy to understand, even for an 80 year old. fun course wish I was more flexable with smaller fingers
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Colin s simply an outstanding communicator and teacher. He was my personal teacher for 2 years. This video is representative of Colin's talent. Great buy and value. Thanks Colin. Great job, again !! Jon Carmain
Date published: 2020-08-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from It Will Be Harder Than I Expected The Guitar Lessons the instructor knows what he is talking about. Problem is he assumes I understand what he is showing and talking about when I don't. My goal was to learn to play the guitar not all the history and storytelling of the instructor.
Date published: 2020-08-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Just started I started the guitar lesson 2 weeks ago & I like that I can progress at my own speed. I am only to lesson 4 and keep working on the areas that are giving me trouble. I am having difficulty with clear tones with some of the fingering which if it were an in-person lesson there might be alternate hand placement suggested. Since I am in my 60’s I felt it might take longer than a much younger person to learn the guitar, so starting with a dvd lesson seemed to be the perfect starting point. I am not disappointed or discouraged but I am also supplementing with another guitar lesson book. I will continue with the DVD’s but also feel that it may be much more than I will need for my purposes.
Date published: 2020-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Engaging I self taught on the guitar many years ago, but haven't played at all in the last 4 years. Thought I'd try this course and I'm so glad that I did. Love the course format, the interesting background information, and approach to the instrument. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2020-08-04
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I want my money back for this one. I'm not at all happy with the teaching method used. It seems so un-focused to the purpose of the intention to learn guitar. I don't mind strolling down memory lane, but If i wanted to learn all about the classics, I would do so separately. This seems overly packed with old stories, history lessons, and just really drags out. I find i don't even want to continue with course cause, I thought it was going to be solely about the guitar itself, playing it, tuning, tips and tricks, and just breaking down everything about the guitar itself.
Date published: 2020-07-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A mixed bag This is a really difficult course to evaluate. When the instructor actually instructs in learning to play the guitar he gives some good tips although he goes SOOOO SLOWLY. But what's so frustrating is that so much of the course is taken up by musical history and even philosophy! I'm not joking! At one point he lectures about Thomas Aquinas' philosophy! This has NO PLACE in an introductory music instruction course. Without all the extraneous content there would only be maybe 3 or 4 sessions. He divides up each session into segments, with only the last 2 of any real value to someone trying to learn the guitar. So the course amounts to a huge amount of fluff or padding to take up time with FAR too little time spent on teaching how to play the guitar. When he finally DOES get around to teaching how to play the guitar the instruction is not bad, although extremely slow.
Date published: 2020-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I am very pleased I am 70 years old and have been playing the guitar since 18 (sort of). I'm finally learning how to play properly. This course gives history, which is unnecessary, but interesting and inspiring. It takes us from the very beginning of learning to play and builds on the skills it teaches
Date published: 2020-06-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Authoritative and Complete, With Problems The course is thorough and completely trustworthy. The professor's credentials are impeccable. The explanations are clear and the lessons well-designed. If you learned everything in this course, you would have the equivalent of a college degree in guitar. And therein is the first problem. Nobody could learn all this stuff in less than four years. I've had the course for about a year and I'm on lesson thirteen. The lessons are not easy. Granted, I don't practice as much as I should, but understanding a lesson is different from executing it. Secondly, the sometimes lengthy historical introductions should be interesting, but are not because they include no music! Nor do they include pictures, internet references or even a PowerPoint. Nothing but jawbone. What good is a music history without music? Am I supposed to imagine what Robert Johnson sounded like? And finally, the professor never blinks, which is most unnerving. Other than those details, however, the course is rock solid.
Date published: 2020-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, personable and talented instructor. Like all Great Courses offerings, this one is top-notch. Takes you through all the nuances of guitar and some light music theory. Highly recommend.
Date published: 2020-06-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Talented Professor I have played guitar for a while but never understood what I was doing. This professor gives history, technique, and theory along with strums and chords. It’s the full picture.
Date published: 2020-06-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Favorite GL course yet I'm only on chapter 7, but wanted to stop and recommend this course. The style is very good, but the content and pacing is really great. Don't worry about other reviewers complaining they had to listen to words, etc. The historical context and lists of great guitarists are a good and brief way to help you learn about all the incredible guitar playing styles you may never have known about, but will be glad when you do. This course helped me quickly unlearn a lot of bad habits, become more comfortable playing for long periods, and quickly improve my ability. The lessons are just challenging enough that with a little effort they pay off right away. Effortless absorption of concepts like tabulature notation, mysterious for a beginner, has helped me take advantage of all the other resources for guitarists out there. Many thanks.
Date published: 2020-06-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Beginning Guitar I am only a week into the program. My only critique Is the number of adds I receive each day!! Crazy. I want time to assess the lessons ... please.
Date published: 2020-06-08
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Total Letdown During quarentine I decided to learn guitar, had purchased from Great Courses in the past and having been quite satisfied with other courses, I was very excited to get started on my musical journey, well after putting in the 1st disc I knew this wasn't going where I had hoped, although the instructor is very knowledgeable and seems like a nice guy, the structure for someone just beginning on the instrument is very erratic...I was hoping for a straight forward approach on "just" the guitar but it was more like a music history, literature lesson at times quite confusing and going off on all kinds of unnecessary and boring tangents....very dissapointing. I actually stopped after disc 1, found a guy on YouTube named Marty Schwartz and in a week learned more than this course taught me. I feel as if I wasted my money.
Date published: 2020-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Overall, very good Have learned more in the first three lessons than I have in any other course. I wish the instructor spent much less time on the historical aspects.
Date published: 2020-05-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from This Guy Is So Boring Wish I could get a refund. No one wants to know 30 minutes of history for every lesson. I just want to learn to play guitar. I'm learning via Youtube videos now for free.
Date published: 2020-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worthwhile I thought at my level this product would be basic but so far I am finding I am learning additional information after each lesson. I go to the manual and practice any practical instruction given. You have to be disciplined but good job.
Date published: 2020-05-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing so far I have watched the first hour of the DVD and find it full of music history and very little actual instruction . I am a beginner and need more than this is giving me. I don't care about the history of guitar, I just want to play.
Date published: 2020-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Watercolor painting and guitar playing The courses are very informative ... the instructors are excellent! I am very much enjoying the courses.
Date published: 2020-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was a gift to our granddaughter and she is enjoying it along with her dad, says it is very helpful and well done.
Date published: 2020-04-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Guitar Lessons So far so good. I bought the guide book as well so together with the videos, the lessons are going well. Clear, well developed, and all it takes is discipline.
Date published: 2020-04-22
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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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