Basic Lesson Plan (Or “What should I work on first?”)

Question by Ron Simon
(King of Prussia PA USA)

Hello Marc-

A few months back I wrote you a long “story of my life” Email and you supplied a wonderful basic lesson plan answer. (Which I really must re-read.)

You know- the 59 year old guy who always played “a little” and always wished he could play “for real” who wants to start again. (Half your site members.)

So- I am building some finger independence and using a basic method (Gibson’s “Learn and Master Guitar” series which I am teaching myself, solely from their printed material) and I can sight read simple material in the first position. I can finger essentially all the basic “cowboy chords” at modest tempos, but would need to practice a bit to use them in some tunes.

I find I am able to practice 2-3 times per week (and could improve with some discipline) but I often lay off for a week using a variety of excuses (some legitimate, some not). I’ve been at it about three months.

When I sit down to play I tend to default to my finger independence exercises (“warmups” to relax and control my left hand) then play the last exercises of Gibson’s session four (all of which I can play consistently at 70 bpm except for the ascending and descending scale in octaves ie. F – F’ – G – G’ A – A’ etc in eighth notes – I have to slow this down a bit to be consistent) then work at a simple tune (its coming) for about a half hour and that covers a 90 minute span.

I’ve stayed with this for a while, and I need to move on a bit. Aside from the method book (which will be very traditional guitar student material) what would be a valuable next step? What sort of material (especially that might be a relevant pre-requisite for jazz) would you suggest to a student to work on as a next step to “get the fingers on the right notes”? (For example – begin practicing scales to learn the fretboard? )

Thank you for doing what you do Marc- you have already been incredibly generous and we out here appreciate it greatly.

Ron S. in PA

M-A’s answer:

Hello Ron,

Thank you for the nice message and questions.

Hmmm… Let me think…

We both know that I could write here for a few paragraphs and prescribe many precise things for you to work on. I could even suggest a whole routine that could last 10 years! (-:

But instead, I’m merely going to point my fingers towards a vague direction to help you. (It’ll make lots of sense by the end of my answer, I promise!)

From what I understand, people learning something in life generally try to get the next step “right”. They want to know exactly what to do after this stage… that’s why method books work so well with humans. But, learning music is far removed from assembling a IKEA shelf. There’s no “right” or “wrong” next step for you to take. You could literally go on and do anything, as long as you keep playing.

There’s nothing wrong with getting organized and improving your discipline, that’s for sure. But keep in mind that music stuff lays “in no particular order”.

Here’s a little help to decipher my “Zen master mystical stuff” (and I’m always trying to AVOID sounding like that!)


1- Passion

Do you really like what you play when you take up the guitar on your lap and sprint through the exercises in the Gibson book? Are those things emerging from a pure “passion” standpoint?

You should always keep your heart involved in practice. Some people will have tears when playing chord melody stuff… while others simply like to play fast. You may enjoy Wes bluesy stuff.. or simply be a freak for “free” jazz… all is good!

So, what’s in it for you? What does your heart say?

Personally, I really love when it “connects”. You know, playing with two or three friends and you can feel the magic in them music. There’s an intangible interaction between the musicians. That does it for me.

Of course, I understand that when working through a method, you won’t necessarily be in love with each individual exercise. BUT, the general direction of this endeavor should be something you pursue with passion.


2- The Ears

Do you think there’s any way you could organize your “practice time” so it’d be more ear-oriented?

In the end, it’s really what it’s all about. We LISTEN to music (no matter how our fingers move). Working on “ear stuff” a little bit everyday will improve everything else, guaranteed.


  • Can you sing the major scale ascending and descending?
  • Can you sing/hum the exercises you practice?
  • Can you sing? (-:
  • What about the bass notes? (the root of each chord)
  • Try singing a decent blues bass line
  • Try singing a decent bass line over a standard


3- Ring of Truth

Lastly, the time you dedicate to music should be spent on something you “believe in” somehow.

For example : You may encounter a friend or teacher that had an epiphany and suggested you try this-or-that exercise. It promises to TRIPLE your agility (or whatever). You get to it and practice the exercise a few days with minimal interest. You just don’t understand how this could make you improve. STOP using this exercise then!

All your music stuff is related to some kind of a universal “musical truth”. You understand how it works and WHY there’s an urge for you to practice this right now. (or else you’ll just stop using this exercise). It must come from an epiphany YOU had, not anyone else.

I think it comes down to having to discover your own “truths”. Obviously, it varies tremendously from individual to individual. It will also change with time.

So, stick to the things that you feel are universal and will do good to your playing, whatever everyone else thinks about it.

I hope these three simple little things will help you in deciding what to do next in your practice,

Marc-Andre Seguin

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