Learning to Play Guitar: Chords, Scales, and Solos
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.
01: 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.
02: 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....
03: 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.
04: 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".
05: 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.
06: 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.
07: 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.
08: 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.
09: 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.
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".
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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".
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.