14 August 2009

Learn Guitar: 7 Steps Beyond Playing Tabs

Several guitar learners recently asked me how to progress beyond learning and playing songs from tab or chord files. Here are a few ideas to build your musical knowledge and develop your own creative ability.

To go beyond simply playing from other people's notation you need to deepen your knowledge of music. When you understand the language of music you can create your own and join the musical conversations you hear.

Learn The Language

Get yourself some books and study music theory. Music theory describes the rules and common patterns of the language of music, a bit like grammar lessons in everyday language.

Music theory allows you to think and express yourself in musical terms, just like you think and express your thoughts in spoken language. You'll create your own lines and arrangements or even compose your own songs.

Ear Training Just as you can't understand Italian only by studying books you can't learn music without learning to hear the words and sentences.

Develop your ear skills to understand the music you hear. This skill will help you to transfer your musical ideas from your head to your instrument.


Improvising is a skill that takes a lot of time and practice to master. But it's worth the effort to experience the freedom of creating music as you play.

You can learn to improvise and create solos, fills, and licks to play around and over chord progressions.

Chord Knowledge

You can never have enough knowledge of chords. There are a huge variety of different ways to plays chords on the guitar, so you'll always be able to learn something new.

Learn about new chord forms, inversions, and substitutions, work them into your playing to create your own little parts instead of simply playing the tab.

Rhythm Skills

Learn to play with rhythms to transform and recreate music. Take a song you know and play its chord progression in another style. Play a rock song in slow blues time, or turn a country song into a funky groove.


Use your knowledge of music theory to change songs you know. This is called arranging. You can learn to play songs in different keys, or mess with the chords a bit. Use your theory knowledge to replace passages of two or more bars on the same chord with some chord substitutions.


Compose some songs of your own. Make up a chord progression, a rhythm pattern, a melody. This will help you to learn more about song structure and form.

Pick a simple repetitive chord progression, play it and improvise words over it. Don't worry about making sense, just try out words that fit over the music.

These seven ideas offer lots of different ways to break out of the habit of simply learning and playing tab. It will take time and patience to develop them but you can gain new musical freedom and express yourself.

What about you? What suggestions do you have for a guitar learner who wants to move beyond learning and playing tabs? Share your ideas in a comment.


Guitar article writing: Gary Fletcher writes quality, original guitar content for your web sites. Discover guitar writing services for guitar web sites, blogs and newsletters. Visit http://www.writescribe.com/guitar to learn more.

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Photo by cecilawong812.


Shane said...

great post. i need to learn some new info on this, i suppose its like anything you do on guitar, you really have to find ways to branch out in any guitar style you favor.
Keep up the good work:)

Gary Fletcher said...

Hi Shane, thanks for the comment.

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