How to teach beginners guitar – a new approach

How to teach beginners guitar – a new approach

A few months back I was filming a new Beginning Worship Guitar course DVD series which is essentially a remake of the very first Musicademy DVD I did eight years ago (where does the time go?). Partly the update is to reflect more recent songs that a beginner musician would want to learn and partly it’s to reflect the change in approach I’ve taken to teaching brand new players. This helps them get going with guitar as quickly as possible. So if you’re a worship leader or maybe a youth pastor looking to train up some new musicians and get them involved quickly then I hope you’ll find some of this approach useful in your situation.

When I first started teaching guitar I did it the ‘correct’ way and showed students the usual bedrock chords of Em, G, C, D, A, Am etc etc etc. While that’s fine the difficulty is that often all fingers have to change their fret and string position as you move from chord to chord, C to D being a obvious example. Also in the last few years many of the most popular worship songs that beginners need to have mastered to join the worship team have got more complex both in terms of chord structures and quickness of changes between chords. So the level of the entrance bar is now higher and demands more skill which can be a little discouraging if you simply want the most efficient route to get new players involved in your worship team community. 

These days I tend to start students off with a few basic chords with more complicated names that essentially allows them to change from chord to chord with minimum finger movement. So I actually start with the G chord and although it doesn’t seem an obvious place because all four fingers need to be used straight away students tend to find it ok as long as their third and fourth fingers don’t have to do much moving around to other chords. Then I get them to practice cycling between that and the voicing of Em7 shown below simply by removing and replacing their second or middle finger. Because both of those chords require strumming of all six strings students find it straightforward to make a musical sound without having to worry yet about how many strings to strum.


Next chord to add is Cadd9 or C2 depending on your chord theology because again moving from G to Cadd9 is very straightforward. From there we dive straight into a song. The current favourite song is New Hallelujah by Michael W Smith because the chord changes are spaced out and easy to hear with the melody.

Once those three chords are down then add Dadd9 or D2. Again don’t worry about the complexity of the names. As students progress they’ll pick up the regular C, D and Em chords much more quickly once they’ve developed their muscle memory and grasped a few more songs. Again I use the Dadd9 as opposed to a regular D because its easier to move to and from the other chords already learnt and has the added bonus of teaching students to keep fingers in place when working between chords that share common notes. In this case the D note, using finger 3 on fret 3 of the B string.

With these four chords (1, 6, 4, 5 in the key) there so many song options to choose from and I’d encourage you to work through as many as you can with them even before introducing any more new chord shapes. I currently start with Praise is Rising (Hosanna) but after that there are many to choose from even in G before you introduce to them the concept of using the same chord shapes with a capo to play in different keys. I Will Rise, Breathe, You are my King, Amazing Grace, Hallelujah Your Love is Amazing, Sweetly Broken are just a few current examples but there are so many more in other keys too. From there I tend to introduce other chords in the key before moving onto groups of chord shapes in different keys that are likely to appear together in songs and fall nicely underhand. But even with these four shapes and a capo there’s so much ground you can cover with a relatively small amount of learning.


If you’ve see our new Beginning Worship Guitar Course DVDs what do you think of this approach?

Have you seen the workbooks and training tracks? If so, what do you think?