Half the Baker’s Dozen

Top 6½ Things Beginner Guitarists Should Know in Their 1st Year

By NAfME Member Christopher J. Perez
Director – Freedom High School Guitar Program, Orlando, Florida

“The approach to what you do, results in what you get . . .”

Freddie Gruber (1927-2011)—Drummer and Master Teacher

iStockphoto.com | Gugurat

Across the country, many different methods and styles of music are utilized in teaching guitar study. Regardless of what is taught, I have found that highly successful guitar classes and programs will cover similar fundamental performance techniques and employ a lot of notated music reading (solo & ensemble) to push and challenge students.

For my high school beginning guitar classes, students develop and master technical and musical skills that include scales, chord progressions (strumming and arpeggio patterns), chordal theory, note and rhythmic reading, barre chords, power chords plus solo and ensemble repertoire. I firmly believe that there is not “ONE” stand-alone method or book that encompasses all that may be taught. In the outline below I will share what sources I use in my teaching.

#1 – Fret Board Knowledge

Students need to know how to read notated music. What makes learning guitar challenging is that many similar notes (chords too!) exist on different places on the guitar, (i.e., an open 1st string E also can be played on the 2nd string-5th fret, 3rd string-9th fret, 4th string-14th fret, and 5th string-19th fret.) When guitarists know the name of the notes on the fretboard in relation to the music staff, it will be easier to play and to make proper technical decisions on where to place fingers.

  1. 1st position from E to E naming Natural & Chromatic notes, frets 1-4
  2. 5th position starting on the 6th string/5th fret A, naming Natural & Chromatic frets 5-8

fret board

#2 – Rhythmic Decoding/Reading

During warm-up time I spend 5 minutes, two to three days each week, working on rhythm drills. WebRhythms by Norman Weinberg is free and a great source to get students started. An excellent book you can order and add to your music library is Teaching Rhythm by Joel Rothman.

a. WebRhythms by Norman Weinberg
b. Teaching Rhythm by Joel Rothman
c. Students should be able to decode and manipulate rhythmic values of:




The FHS Guitar Orchestra rehearsing in Elizabeth Hall at the 2017 Stetson University Guitar Day. Photo courtesy of Christopher Perez

#3 – Scales

As students progress in their reading and technical skill, we will cover scales. By working on scales in open and different positions, they learn not only where notes are on the fretboard, but also that many scales can be played using similar finger patterns. By the end of the year they learn to finger shift from one position to the next and play one of the rotated Segovia Scales as part of their final playing exam.

  1. 1st position Major (C, G, D, A, E & F)
  2. Learn these scales as one octave in different positions of the fretboard
  3. (C major in 1st, 2nd & 7th positions)
  4. (G major in 1st & 2nd positions)
  5. (D major in 1st, 4th & 9th positions)
  6. (A major in 1st & 4th positions)
  7. (F major in 1st & 7th positions)
  8. Learn these scales in two octaves in different positions of the fretboard
  9. End of Year Final Exam – Segovia Major and Melodic Minor Scales (2 or 3 octaves) 4 year rotation:
    • F maj./d min.
    • G maj./e min.
    • A maj./f# min.
    • D maj./b min.

For the one octave C major scale, Example 1 below shows the open/1st position form, beginning on the A string, third fret along with proper L.H. finger use.

C Major Scale (Open Position)

Example 2 uses the same notes of the C scale but with a different finger/fret combination and using only three strings.

C Major Scale (2nd Position)

C Major Scale (2nd Position)


Example 3 begins on the E string, eighth fret, yet uses the same fingerings as Example 2 with only the bass strings.

C Major Scale (7thPosition)


If students know the natural and enharmonic notes on the E and A strings, they can play ANY one octave major scale starting on the E and A strings bass strings and using the finger pattern from the 2nd and 7th position C Major Scales. In the 2 Octave C Scale below students can begin playing a bigger range of scales by shifting fingers to a new position.



The ability to perform in an ensemble requires a collaborative effort. Photo courtesy of Christopher Perez

#4 – Open Position Chords

Many songs utilize open position chords. A few simple songs using some chords below include:

  • Happy Birthday – (G, D7, C) or (D, A7, G)
  • Love Me Do by the Beatles – (G, C, D, F)
  • What’s Up by 4 non Blondes – capo on 2nd fret (G, Am, C)
  • Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen – (C, Am, F, G, E7)

a. 15 Basic chord shapes (A, Am, A7, B7, C, C7, D, Dm, D7, E, Em, E7, F, G, G7)
b. Perform shapes in I-IV-V7 chord progressions



#5 – Ensemble Music Prep and Performance

Students need opportunities to learn music in small and large group settings. This fosters collaboration, peer-to-peer tutoring, creativity, and musical interpretation.

a. Trio In C – Shawn Bell – Elementary Studies d’Oz DZ674
b. Chanson Russe – Paul Gerrits – Music for 3 and 4 Guitars Doberman Editions DO1
c. Dindirin, Dindirin – Paul Gerrits – Music for 3 and 4 Guitars Doberman Editions DO1
d. Marionettes – Duet – Nos Primers Duets d’Oz DZ200

#6 – Solo Music Prep and Performance

Once students have command of understanding rhythm, note names on the staff and fretboard, they can begin to play written music. By the end of the year, I utilize a variety of music grading selections that incorporates differentiation to help further all music reading abilities within my classroom.

a. Fingerspiel (Fingergame) – Jurg Hochweber (first solo)
b. Etude in C Major– Mateo Carcassi (dyadic reading)
c. Snowflight – Andrew York from 8 Discernments (arpeggio reading) (GSP)
d. Songs from solo collections from Doberman Editions (DO) and the Bridges Series (Royal Conservatory of Music) based on a four-year rotation for my final performance exams:

  • Final Exam Grade 1 song choice
    1. Soñando (Dreaming) – Jaime Zenamon
    2. Ostinado – Norbert Kraft
    3. Souvenir d’automne – Simone Iannarelli
    4. Souvenir d’Espagne – Paul Gerrits DO28
  • Final Exam Grade 2-3 song choice
    1. Ancient Drums – Norbert Kraft
    2. Study In C Major (II ii-26) – Francisco Tarrega
    3. Prelude In C Major – G. F. Handel
    4. Saltarelle – Claude Gagnon DO22
  • Final Exam Grade 4-5 song choice
    1. Rose in the Garden – Carlo Domeniconi
    2. Amanacer – Jaime Zenamon
    3. Nocturne I – Robert Benadict
    4. Study in Seven – Norbert Kraft


There are several other skills beginning guitarists should know including power chords, arpeggios, and having the technical ability to do articulations and sound effects on the guitar. These will be covered and discussed in my session. With rigor in the classroom, students given a wide variety of opportunities will form a strong musical and technical foundation, allowing them to continue their musical journey beyond the beginning stages.

About the Author:

Christopher Perez

NAfME member Christopher Perez is the Director of Guitar Studies at Freedom High School in Orlando, Florida, and a graduate of Western Illinois University. Selected as a quarterfinalist for the 2017 GRAMMY Music Educator AwardTM, he remains very active as a teacher, presenter, adjudicator, clinician, composer/arranger and musician. Mr. Perez is a member of NAfME (National Association for Music Education) and serves on the Guitar Council as the Southern Division Representative, FMEA (Florida Music Education Association) serving on the FMEA Guitar/General Music Committee, GFA (Guitar Foundation of America), and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia.

Mr. Perez continually serves on several local and state music assessment writing teams. His music is published with Drop6 Media, Inc. and has several arrangements on the FBA State Music List. He is a percussionist with the Southern Winds Symphonic Band and with Walt Disney World’s “ENCORE! Cast Performing Arts”. Mr. Perez has presented sessions at NAfME, FMEA, and OCPS Music Conferences, and his Guitar Ensembles continually perform on local, state, national, and international stages. Under his direction, the FHS Guitar Ensembles performed several times as a demonstration music ensemble and in concert at FMEA All-State Music Conference in Tampa, Florida, at the Stetson University Guitar Day in DeLand, Florida, and in concert at the 2013 & 2017 Long Island Guitar Festival in New York.

Mr. Perez may be contacted at Christopher.Perez@ocps.net. To learn more about the Freedom High School Guitar Program please visit www.fhsguitar.net.

Christopher Perez presented “The Baker’s Dozen: Top 13 Things Beginner Guitarists Should Know In Their 1st Year” at the 2017 NAfME National Conference last November in Dallas, TX.

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

July 26, 2017. © National Association for Music Education

April 2024 Teaching Music

Published Date

July 26, 2017


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July 26, 2017. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)

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