Learn to play
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‘Learn to Play the Music you Love !’

Every musician has his or her own emphasis.  Some musicians love to improvise and spend long hours learning to come up with beautiful melodies that harmonise over their favorite songs.  Some musicians like to do the fast impressive stuff and spend long hours trying to learn to move their fingers as fast as possible.  Some musicians want to play their favorite songs and want to sound like their favorite artist. 

When I began to play guitar, I wanted to do the latter.  I remember when I was twelve years old at boarding school with all my friends listening to Money for Nothing by Dire Straits and all of us standing on our beds waiting for the guitar to kick in, at which point we would all jump off our beds with our tennis rackets in hand (our pretend guitars) and pretend to play that guitar part.  I started playing guitar at age 13 and quickly decided that once I could play Money for Nothing I would be happy and no longer need to learn guitar. 

I began teaching my best friend to play guitar and he quickly become an amazing lead player.  He was better than me at playing lead, which was somewhat annoying when I had started off teaching him.  However, when it came to playing our favorite songs, I had the upper hand.  I actually remember working out Money for Nothing after having played guitar for a year or two and him asking me to show him how to play it.  This was even more annoying because when I showed him how to play stuff he could then play the same music as me – and he could improvise better than me as well!!

I have found that most people who come to learn a Rock/ Pop instrument want to play their favorite songs.  At the Rock and Pop Music School this is what we emphasize.  We are happy to teach people to improvise or play the fast stuff but we emphasize teaching people to ‘play their favorite music’.  Despite an extensive classical training I taught myself to play almost every Rock/Pop song I know – I gradually developed my ability to work music out from the CD and play it more or less exactly like the original.  I kind of feel that in a lot of ways, if you can work anything out for yourself then you don’t need a teacher!  I suppose my aim has always been to make myself redundant as a teacher, by teaching people to do it for themselves. 

I have personally taught guitar for around five years.  It’s taken a long time, but I have now learnt to teach others to develop their ability to work stuff out for themselves.  It can be a long process, but I feel it is well worth it.  It gives me such a buzz when I see my pupils working out something for themselves.  Of course I value improvisation, but everyone has their own emphasis and I found it a lot easier to learn to improvise after I had become a really good player (playing my favorite songs).  I believe that when musicians write music or improvise they tend to fall into the trap of using the same ideas or chord sequences or letting their fingers fall into similar kinds of patterns each time they play.  The great advantage in being able to work out other people’s music is that typically they have their own individual stylistic ideas and we can incorporate these new ideas into our own playing.  In essence we can take the best from the rest – and draw on many different techniques and ideas in order to develop our own.  Our musical vocabulary is far greater the more music we have to draw from.  I aim to develop a huge pool of musical ideas to draw from.

© 2006 Phil Warren

Guitar Lessons

I believe that chords are the foundation to Rock/Pop Music.  They also are a fantastic starting point for learning guitar since if you play songs using the six or seven basic open-string chords, you will be repeating the same six shapes over and over.  Whilst your fingers have never held down strings on guitar, playing these same shapes over and over will help you to get used to placing your fingers on the strings without having to deal with too many shapes.  

Tutors will ask you to bring some of your own CDs to the first lessons and will find an appropriate song, move it into a key that will utilise only open string chords and then begin to teach you to play this song.  Usually you will learn around four or five chords whilst playing your first song and the last three or so will be learnt whilst playing your second and third songs possibly in the second and third weeks.  Obviously young pupils will probably take longer to learn these chords.  The open chords you need to know are

A             C             D            E             G
Am                          Dm         Em            

Em is extremely easy and Am and E are almost exactly the same and Dm seldom turns up so is not as important so it will not take you long to learn these chords (its more like learning five shapes).  By all means buy a book that tells you how to play these chords and this will save you time when you begin guitar lessons.  

During the first few guitar lessons your teacher will also teach you techniques developed by The Rock & Pop Music School which will enable you to very quickly learn to change from chord to chord whilst not stopping strumming.  Typically learning to play your open chords and change whilst strumming should not take long.  

Bar Chords

Our first aim is to teach you to play all your chords.  In order to do this you will have to learn bar chords.  Once you can play bar chords then you can play all your major and minor chords and this means that you will be able to play almost any pop song.  At The Rock & Pop Music School we feel that chords are the foundation of Rock/Pop Music and so we teach guitar pupils all their chords before they learn anything else.  Your guitar teacher will begin to introduce bar chords as soon as you have learnt to change between open chords reasonably well.  Bar chords are extremely difficult but again The Rock & Pop Music School has developed methods for teaching bar chords and making them easier to learn.  Many pupils who do not have guitar lessons end up getting stuck when they try to learn bar chords and do not progress any further on their guitar.  


After you have learnt to play all your chords your guitar teacher will begin to take you through The Rock & Pop Music School’s Rhythm course.  After finishing this rhythm course the majority of pupils are equipped to be able to play almost any Rock/Pop Rhythm.  In my (the Director) early days as a guitar teacher, I used to start by teaching pupils to play songs with the correct strumming pattern.  I assumed that after learning a few songs (and therefore a few different strumming patterns) pupils would begin to be able to strum anything. Strangely I found that this was generally not the case.  Rhythm and aural pitching ability are the two central skills that we feel musicians need to have and so I developed this course in order to make sure that before pupils have to try to deal with music in all its complexity, they have a firm ability to grasp rhythm and to copy rhythms they hear.  One of our principles at The Rock & Pop Music School is to try to teach only one new ability at a time.  We believe that the learning process is slowed significantly if people have to learn more than one new skill at a time.  I have also found that once a pupil has a firm and strong grasp of rhythm, they are able to apply this to copying most rhythms they hear, whereas learning songs without learning the fundamental building blocks of rhythm does not necessarily enable pupils to learn the underlying skills necessary for playing any rhythm.  

Working songs out for yourself

One of our primary aims is to teach pupils to work out songs for themselves (see article above).  There are certain fundamental aural skills that are necessary in order for pupils to begin to work out songs for themselves (that is work out songs from their own CDs).  Again, The Rock & Pop Music School has developed exercises that develop the key aural skills that are necessary for a pupil to have before they begin to try to work out songs for themselves.  It took me around five years of teaching before I figured out what the fundamental skills were, that were necessary for this and now I have understood them I have found that I am able to help pupils to work out songs from themselves.  However without these skills I have found it sometimes pretty impossible for pupils to work out songs for themselves.  

Once you have developed the fundamental aural abilities necessary for working songs out, our guitar teachers will begin to help you work songs out for yourself.  Our guitar teachers will ask you to bring a CD of your choice to the lesson.  They will then begin to teach you how to determine the key of the song.  Once you know the key of the song, you will then know the six basic chords that are most likely to be used.  Your guitar teacher will then help you learn how to recognise the chords of the song.

Once you have worked out the chords your guitar teachers will then begin to help you look at exactly what is being played on the CD you are listening to.  For quite some time this will be a large focus of the lessons.  Your guitar teacher will continue, each lesson, to help you work out your favourite songs.  As you get more experienced at this, you should become more and more able to work songs out for yourself.  

Scales & Arpeggios

At the beginning of each lesson your guitar teacher will ask you to play some scales or arpeggios.  This is very important for a number of reasons.  Firstly, it is an opportunity for your guitar teacher to work on your playing technique without you having to work on a new song at the same time.  It also means that your guitar teacher can concentrate on technique with you and that later in the lesson when you are playing songs less time needs to be spent on technique.  Secondly, I feel that scales are like your musical alphabet.  If you are to learn what notes are found in a given key when you are listening to music, you will need to be extremely familiar with your basic scale.  Also, if you are to identify the root note of a song (and therefore the key of the song) you will probably need to be extremely familiar with scales, having heard them an infinite number of times.  Similarly, if you are to know what notes are found in a chord that you hear, you will need to have heard an arpeggio an infinite number of times.  

Chord Variations

After you have finished the rhythm course, your guitar teacher will begin to teach you some chord variations and some theory in order that you begin to understand music a little better and that you will understand how the chord variations are formed.  You will learn the standard 7ths, 6ths and sus4s.  This will probably take some time.  After you have learnt these variations your guitar teacher will eventually teach you a basic version of each of the following chords: 9ths, m7b5, diminished, augmented, 11th, 13th and variations of 9ths eg. b9th.  Chord variations turn up a reasonable amount in Rock/Pop music and a knowledge of how all these chords are formed will give you a good understanding of almost all chord variations you will come across.  Whilst learning these chords you will also gain a strong understanding of music theory.  


When I first learned to play guitar I was very bad at improvising for the first couple of years.  I think it took a couple of years of having exposure to and learning a large repertoire of Rock/Pop music before my ears and ideas were developed enough to begin to improvise well.  With this in mind, our guitar teachers will usually spend quite some time helping pupils work out their favourite music before beginning to teach them to improvise.  If you particularly want to improvise sooner than this it is important that you tell your guitar teacher.

When your guitar teacher does begin to teach you to improvise, he or she will usually begin by teaching you to do some blues improvisation.  The important skill that will be taught first is the ability to move to the root note of the new chord when the chord changes.  Blues is quite easy in this respect, in that there are only three chords to follow.  Once you have done this for some time you should begin to develop the ability to hear how to move to a note that harmonises with a new chord each time a new chord is played.  I think that this skill is one of the most important aspects of improvising.  Your guitar teacher will also help you to make up riffs that end as a new chord is played.  Making up these riffs and knowing instinctively where to start each riff in order to make sure it ends as the new chord begins is also important.  Your guitar teacher will then eventually begin to teach you to add fast ornamentations into your improvising, but this will take some time.  Learning to improvise tends to be quite a long-term project, and your guitar teacher will usually keep coming back to improvisation regularly over a long period whilst continuing to teach you help you to work out your favourite music.  The later aspect of learning to improvise will be learning to improvise using the full major and minor scales.  Please ask if you would like to know more about how this will be tackled.  Lastly you will be taught to use appropriate modes and to follow key changes when improvising, but this is complex and will not usually be tackled until later.  

Ask if you want to learn something specific

Whatever you would like to learn, please do not hesitate to call us and talk to us about your specific needs.  Our aim is to equip you, as a Rock/Pop Musicians, in whatever way is necessary in order for you to be able to fulfil your guitar playing ambitions.  

© 2006 Phil Warren