Handout from Guitar skills for entry-level music therapists: what’s taught and what’s not


Instruction and practice strategies for essential guitar skills:

Skill: Singing with strumming accompaniment

  • Identify appropriate strum pattern/style, learn to play independent of lyrics
  • Play pattern slowly when incorporating the lyrics, taking note of how lyrics line up rhythmically with strum pattern
  • Gradually speed up to desired tempo

Skill: Basic strum patterns

  • Start slowly with straight 8th-note patterns
  • Develop consistent up-down motion, free of tension
  • Learn variations of 8th-note pattern (e.g. quarter-eighth eighth – quarter – eighth eighth)
  • Apply “swing” style to 8th-note patterns, beginning with basic “shuffle”

Skill: Basic open chords

  • Learn shapes in sets according to key centers (e.g., I, vi, IV, V in G)
  • Practice using a progressive, step-wise system (like this exercise)
  • Take note of and utilize pivots (finger placements that are common between two chords)

Skill: Basic finger-picking patterns

  • Learn PIMA system (explained in most introductory books, especially classically-based ones)
  • Play arpeggiated chords, one string at a time (slowly, then gradually speed up)
  • Play patterns in which two or more strings are plucked at the same time
  • Play simple melody over sustained or moving bass notes
  • Find opportunities for moving melodies within familiar chord shapes

Skill: Transposition

  • Complete basic harmonic analysis of original song
  • Observe how each chord functions within a song
  • Complete quick transposition model (see below) until it can be done mentally
Old Key Roman Numeral New Key
C I G
Dm ii Am
F IV C
G V D
Am vi Em
D7 V7/V A7

Skill: Bass runs

  • Identify the root and the diatonic path toward the target (e.g., if in the key of G, the diatonic path from G to C is G-A-B-C; if going from G to D, the most logical path is G-F#-E-D)
  • Practice bass run independently, identifying on which beat it begins
  • Integrate into strumming pattern
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