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Learn the Acoustic Guitar: Absolute beginners

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

A practical course in guitar playing, covering rhythmic accompaniment as well as melody and ensemble performance. Suitable for absolute beginners and those wishing to learn to play with others for the first time, with opportunities to play and perform in an ensemble, and/or take a recognised grade exam as part of an ensemble.

Course Details

Content of Course

Week 1 – The Guitar – a little history; naming its components; tuning it; basic chord ‘shapes’ (reading the ‘box’ diagram); moving between basic chord shapes.


Week 2 – On the Beat – introduction to Common and Waltz times; the ‘bar’; beats and divisions within the bar. Playing (strumming) along to recorded music. Working on finger placement between chord shifts and extending chord vocabulary.


Week 3 – A Sense of Rhythm – understanding ‘note lengths’ and ‘slash’ (strumming) symbols. Looking at an 8-bar progression and then a 12-bar blues progression.


Week 4 – The Right Hand – playing with fingers or a plectrum. Practicing ‘string skipping’. Quarter note rhythm (down strokes only) and eighth note rhythm (down and up strokes). Introducing musical dynamics (soft and loud playing; slow and fast attack). Developing and mixing rhythm patterns.


Week 5 – The Blues Pentatonic scale – comping under a soloist and then soloing over a 12-bar blues progression; simple ensemble playing and taking solo ‘turns’.


Week 6 – Major, Minor and Dominant Chords – examining chord qualities, how they sound and how they are used in songs. Numbering chords with Roman numerals. I-IV-V chords and pop ‘standards’. Western music and the turnaround or ‘cadence’.


Week 7 – The Major Scale – introducing the major scale ‘box’ diagram, and ‘step’ order (doh-ray-me). Using the major scale to play over chord progressions. Learning to read ‘tablature’ and/or music – student choice. Numbering and naming all the chords of the major scale.


Week 8 – Accompaniment – arpeggio playing and/or strumming under a singer or lead player. Full 16, 32 and 48 bar song forms, with AB, AABA and ABC formats.


Week 9 – Performing Melodies (Tunes) – looking at how to play simple melodies with accompaniment to produce a musical performance.


Week 10 – Ensemble Performance – putting all the previous weeks' work together!


Each week students will work on a range of popular, well known songs (Scarborough Fair – House of the Rising Sun, Love Me Tender). Students will be encouraged to learn both parts of a song (the accompaniment and melody) and to work in groups to build up experience of playing with others. They will also work on ‘Grade’ repertoire and related exercises.

Teaching method(s)

Teaching will be by lecture and seminar.

Learning outcomes

- Hold and strum a number of chord types, appropriate to their level of playing (e.g. 4 chords at Initial Stage to 11 at Grade 1)

- Keep time to a musical beat in more than one ‘simple’ time signature (4/4 and 3/4)

- Play a chord progression of at least 12 measures in accompaniment to a melody line

- Accompany a singer (either themselves or another person) or other instrument.

- Play at least one melody line.

- Play / perform in a Guitar ensemble (appropriate to Preliminary levels)

- Name key parts of the instrument and tune it

- Know something about the history of the instrument

- Know something about various styles of music played on it (folk, blues, jazz, ragtime, country and classical)

- Understand the construction of the major scale in terms of ‘fret’ steps (tone – tone – semitone – tone – tone – tone – semitone) and ‘box’ diagrams.

- Understand the construction of the natural minor scale in terms of ‘fret’ steps and ‘box’ diagrams.

- Gain a rudimentary knowledge of the rhythmic notation of music (slashes and beams for strumming; and simple combinations of these lengths to create distinct rhythms)

- Gain a rudimentary knowledge of dynamics and speed changes in music

- Listen to other musicians and respond to what they are doing (keeping steady time)


Core Readings



Graded repertoire and exercise books (Initial Stage, Preliminary Grade 1):


Registry of Guitar Tutors (2014) Acoustic Guitar Bexhill: Registry Publications.


This syllabus is being reissued (with new repertoire) in 2019 as Acoustic Guitar LCME (London College of Music Exams). The early stages will be renamed: Initial becoming ‘Step 1’ and Preliminary becoming ‘Step 2’.





In addition to the RGT Acoustic Guitar syllabus books, the following are standard introductory guitar books:


Mel Bay (2016 edition) Mel Bay’s Modern Guitar Method: Grade 1 (Book / Online Media) Mel Bay Publishing [Note: this book does not use TAB and aims to teaching the reading of music notation for guitar].


William Leavitt (1986) A Modern Method for Guitar – Volume 1: Guitar Technique Berklee Press Publications [Note: this book also teaches music notation, and does not use TAB. It is a slightly more advanced introductory book, covering more ground. It is the standard guitar tutor used at Boston’s Berklee College of Music].


William Leavitt (1997) Berklee Basic Guitar: Phase 1 Berklee Press Publications.


Guitar Techniques magazine (monthly) – published in UK, available in larger WH Smith stores.




Web Sources

Web sources


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.