To Prospective Students

The Big Picture

Here is a two-octave major scale in the key of C:

The scale degrees are numbered 1 through 15.

Chords are built by stacking 3rds. C to E is a 3rd and E to G is a 3rd. It would look like this on the staff:

This is known as a triad (3 tones) and is the basic building block of other more complex chords. The 3 notes are the root, the 3rd, and the 5th. Any note but the root can be altered to create a different type of triad. For instance, you could flat (lower) the 3rd and that would make it a minor triad. Or you could sharp (raise) the 5th - that would make it an augmented triad. There are several types of triads and they are all created by altering the 3rd &/or the 5th of the chord. 


Adding another 3rd gives us a 7th chord: C-E-G-B or 1-3-5-7. We've now added another alterable note so the possible types increase. Adding another 3rd gives us an 11th chord; another 3rd yields a 13th. One more 3rd gets us back to C. So in 2 octaves we've stacked up every note in the scale:

C-E-G-B-D-F-A or 1-3-5-7-9-11-13.


This explanation is simplistic - for instance, the notes of a triad (or any chord) don't have to be in numerical order. They could be stacked 3-5-1 or 5-1-3 (these are called inversions). The notes of a triad (or any chord) don't have to be stacked in numerical order (close voicing) but can be spread out in wider intervals, i.e. 1-5-3 (open voicing). Also, you need to multiply the above by 12 keys (all the letter names change although the numerical relationships stay the same within each key) - but I hope you can see the concept. The possibilities are massive but it is a closed system. It is theoretically possible to define and practice every possibility. Every instrument has its own unique limitations and the guitar is no exception; some theoretically possible chords &/or voicings are not physically possible on the guitar. After all, you only have 6 strings and 4 fingers (5 if you count your thumb!). So as we go through the theoretical possibilities you gain the knowledge of the instrument, i.e. what is possible and what is not possible on the guitar. 


I guarantee you more is possible than you've ever realized!


Conceptual Learning


I distinguish between two ways of learning: Conceptual and Perceptual.


Ideally, the Conceptual come first and the Perceptual follows.


In order to communicate my approach to teaching/learning guitar, I like to use learning-to-read as an analogy.


When learning to read, the Conceptual stage of the process is phonetical:

  • Memorize 26 letters that stand for 44 sounds, also known as phonemes.

  • Learn how those letters/sounds are blended to become words.

  • Associate: process, hear and speak the letters/sounds of language through drilling and use.


As the student progresses, he moves into the Perceptual:

  • Through repetition and drilling the student organically moves into whole-word recognition, that is, instant recognition of a word based on its shape.

  • Word-shapes are retained in a "visual dictionary."

  • This automatically enables fluency.


In the typical course of learning to read, the student will first learn phonics and eventually establish the visual dictionary of what the letter groups (words) look like and associate those words to either the sound of the word, a picture of the meaning, or both.

At the whole-word recognition stage of reading (Perceptual), phonics (Conceptual) has been sublimated and is only used to decode words that are unknown (not already in the visual dictionary).


The end result of this process is understanding, remembering and applying the information contained in the text.

Perceptual learning involves rote memorization of large amounts of data with no underlying methodology. Most guitar teachers teach perceptually without the conceptual coming first;


"Here's a page with 144 chords on it. Learn these and then we'll do more!" Or, "Memorize these 72 notes on the guitar neck!" Or, "Learn this song and then we'll learn another one!"


The problem is that there are thousands of chords. And thousands of songs. And the 72 notes are just the first 12 frets. That's a lot of rote memory.


Conceptual learning involves learning single principles or concepts, and then combining and applying them to particulars.


To continue our analogy, instead of memorizing thousands of word shapes, memorize 26 letters that stand for about 44 sounds and then learn how to put them together into words. Even if you see a word you've never seen before, you now have the understanding to sound it out so that you can get it.


Let's say you are playing through a chord chart and you see, C7+(#9). If you can't remember the chord shape on the fretboard off the top of your head (Perceptual) you deconstruct the name and apply the Conceptual;

  • You understand where "C" is

  • you know what a 7th chord is

  • You know that "+" stands for "sharp 5"

  • You know what "#9" means

  • So you play a C7, change the G (5th) to a G# (#5) and add a D# (#9).


In other words, you decode the chord symbol that is not already in your visual dictionary, or has been forgotten, and remember it for the next time.


This is the way I teach guitar. First the concept, then through drilling, the conceptual integrates with the perceptual - to the end that you understand, remember and apply the information to real music.


Actually, I teach music theory (Conceptual). It just so happens the guitar is the instrument I use (Perceptual), but the principles of music (Conceptual) are the same no matter what instrument you play.


Of course, you must master the instrument, that's the guitar part, and that's the part you'll spend the most time on, at least at first, but music is what I'm really interested in. The goal is to transcend the instrument and deal with the music and not to let what you play be dictated to you by the limitations of whatever instrument you happen to use. That is my agenda with every student.


My job as the teacher is to know the material and to organize it in the most logical and linear manner possible. If you go through my method you will learn how to think about music and will understand the way the guitar neck is laid out (Conceptual) so that you can apply your musical knowledge however you want (Perceptual). Then you won't need me anymore.


From a pedagogical point of view (pedagogy: the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept) genre is secondary because all genres use the same musical concepts and language. G major is G major in Rock, Country, Jazz, Blues, Gospel or whatever. Doesn't matter - G is G.


Again; I teach music theory - the concepts and language of music - as applied to the guitar. Yes, I can help you apply those concepts to whatever genre you're interested in and yes, I can show you how to play the latest dope song you're into.


How can I do that without knowing the song?


All I have to do is listen to it, beak down the content conceptually and then show it to you. What key(s)? What progression(s)? What scale(s)? There's a concept behind every song and that's the key to figuring it out and remembering it. (How I Play Songs I Don't Know.)


Another thing that needs to be stated is: you'll get out of it what you put into it. I give you the tools and the concepts and ideas about how they can be used but you are the only one that can make it work for you. Only you can do the drilling that it takes to internalize the concepts; self-motivation has to be there.

It's the internalization of the concepts that causes the shift

from Conceptual to Perceptual and enables fluency.

Wouldn't you rather learn the concepts? Then you could figure out the song (and thousands of others) for yourself instead of paying me to teach them to you by rote.


The dictum applies: Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.


I'm happier teaching people how to fish, as opposed to selling them a fish every week.