...so, about playing songs?

I’ve been trying to learn to play using Justin’s course, plus a few other YouTube teachers for over a year or so (75yr.M). Also tried about 4 months with a local teacher (30 yrs playing and teaching).

I have learned all major/minor chords, a few scales, and am learning to read music …all good. And everyone says “you can play 1000’s of songs” I love music back from 70’s up to today, music style is everything from Pink Floyd to light jazz. But I don’t wanna play 1000’s of songs, I just want to learn to play and pick up my guitar and improvise to put together some nice melodies.

My teacher had me learn Let It Be (Beatles) and Lyin Eyes (Eagles). I could play the rhythm part but is was just repeating a few major chords (plus have yet to not peak at fretboard for finger placement…kinda choppy).

I listen to many YouTube dudes who can just grab a few chords and stum out a tune…looks so easy - not!

Anyone have suggestions on how they got past strumming chords to chord progressions to actually playing their own music?

Thx, John

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You’re not gonna like this answer, but, they did it by learning lots of songs.

Learning songs (rhythms and melodies that someone else created that sound pleasing to you) gives you the ability to discover the chord progressions, strumming patterns and melodic progressions that appeal to you from the perspective of a performer instead of a consumer.

You’ll learn a song and say, "hey, I like that x-y-z-w chord progression from song A, the strumming pattern from song B, etc., etc. Then, you’ll combine the elements you learned from different songs that appealed to you into your own improvised arrangement.



Hi John ,

JustinGuitar .com
Start at the beginning …(and you will also learn song :sunglasses: )…and easy it will be :sunglasses:

Greetings and I wish you a lot of fun,

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Hi John,

I poked for answers to this a few months ago and didn’t really get one. :slight_smile:

I am about 2.5 years into this process and am starting to notice some things:

  1. as @Fast-Eddie noted, you need to learn some songs. For me, I cannot play them well nor from memory, but I do have them in enough memory that they can be used as reference material and i can go to listen to them for the details when needed.
  2. learn multiple versions of the tune. Examine how they are different and what different feeling you get from hearing the two versions.
  3. How are the changes between the two versions constructed. this can be both from a general emotional feel as well as music theory perspective. For me it is blues embellishments and turn-arounds.
  4. fiddle without anything directly in mind. What I do is play some chord. Power chords are a good starting point. Start with say a 2-finger power E chord. play a few strums and see what happens. what rhythm is emerging in your head? Do you feel like muting it, or letting it ring out? Do you feel like it needs to change to another chord (like A)? Fiddle with a way to make that change and have it sound like you want.
  5. Try playing to backing tracks. This may sound horrible for a while (mine were a total train wreck!). It will give you a good set of “that sounds terrible” things to avoid and eventually you start to get a feel for a pleasant direction for notes to flow.

I do this a lot. I am starting to have ideas in my mind, then I go the guitar and see how to create it. Ear training and transcribing classes from Justin have been helpful tools for this.

Hope this is useful for you!


Caveat: I’m still fairly new to playing guitar so may not completely be correct in what I’m talking about.

Besides JustinGuitar I also do another online guitar course that has weekly challenges, every Wednesday is an improvisation challenge where he teaches a scale then plays a backing track and I then improvise a solo using the scale. I’m amazed at how easy it is to make it sound good, and how much fun it is. I’m not exactly creating my own music because I have to be led by the nose to get there but I am creating my own music because I am creating my own timing and patterns in the improv.

So this is where I maybe completely wrong, but my understanding is that to do this you find the key of the backing track and then just play notes from the matching scale.

I would guess that from there you could create your own backing track with the chords you know, come up with you own rhythm and then play the scales over it.

(anyone with more knowledge, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong).

In it’s simplest form Yes.

To go with the above as long as the chords are all in the same key.

So for beginners this would be the best method to start.


Hey there…

Thx much for the quick replies and words of wisdom. I do see the value in learning songs, even though I want to do more improv, but to get there, I will have to use song/music structure and “what sounds good…and not”

I did enjoy learning the Eagles song, but it felt boring and repetitive, even with a backing track, plus I had to slow the BPM way down without my finger falling off the fretboard.

I think a problem we beginners (I will speak for myself)…is that we hear seasoned players do it so effortlessly, and say to self “why can’t I do that”?? YouTuber Ian Stitch, just take 5-6 chords and strums so easily to make nice music…as an example.

Thanks again all…

That’s exactly what a song is. 3-6 chords strung together to make nice music.


Yes and if you watch Stitch’s tutorials you see how much knowledge and effort goes into making it look effortless. The main thing to focus on is establishing a wide a deep foundation of playing rhythm.

All good lead players have that because that where you must start. No rhythm, no timing, no lead. The only way to build those essential footings is play songs play songs play songs.

Too many folk want to put the roof on before the walls are built. Then wonder why the tiles fall off. Strong foundation, solid structure.



I just watched the video you posted and everything you need to know to do what Ian is doing is right in that video. You’re going to have to learn the chords he mentioned first. Then your going to have to learn the strumming pattern he is using. Then you’re going to have to practice what he is tell you to do in the video.

In you OP you say you knew all your major and minor chords so there is no reason you can’t learn everything in the lesson.


Zeroing in on this bit. Learning guitar is repetitive. Extremely repetitive. You need to practice chords, songs, and rhythm until you can do them without thinking.

Train your hands, fingers, brain.

It sounds like you can’t do that yet, so keep practicing until you can. Learn to play the songs at full BPM with minimal/no mistakes.


I’ve been playing just a little longer than you, so I can sympathize with your frustration! Not sure if someone already mentioned it, but you might consider reading Justin’s music theory course. That can provide background to help you become inventive more quickly. For me a first step is to try to use theory accessorize those easy versions of songs I have learned. I’m still not able to just sit down and play, but understanding theory helps me think more about the “why” of what I’m doing.

I’m aware that some (maybe even many) famous musicians claim they don’t know theory and perhaps can’t read music. Typically those folks have played other peoples songs for literally thousands of hours to become proficient!

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I just happened to listen to these two podcasts today that might help. One is about improvisation and the other is about what chords you use for a given key. Both can be used to create your own music.


Hello JDR and welcome to the community.

Please excuse me while I drill deeper into your summary …

Do you mean the 8 Essential Beginner Chords? https://www.justinguitar.com/guitar-lessons/the-8-essential-beginner-chords-ch-110

Have you learned different grips for G using only fingers 3 & 4? Using all four fingers?

Have you learned major and minor barre chords using the E-shape and / or the A-shape?

Have you learned an dominant 7 chords that would also be classed as beginner chords in open position? A7, B7, C7, D7, E7, G7?

Have you learned any sus2 and sus4 chords? Especially Asus2, Asus4, Dsus2, Dsus4, Esus4, Gsus4?

Have you learned power chords?

Which scales?
Can you play them in multiple ways as a practice exercise comfortably and at a steady tempo? Ascending & descending in 3rds. Playing up and down 3-in-a-line / 4-in-a-line?

Most importantly, can you use any one scale and a single pattern to make music, to improvise, to create melody or lead guitar parts over backing tracks?

Do you mean standard notation? If yes, why are you learning it? There needs to be good reasons as standard notation is not the optimal way for writing guitar music. Justin explains it in this summary:

All within a much larger explanation here: https://www.justinguitar.com/guitar-lessons/is-reading-notation-worth-the-effort-aw-008


Hi Richard,

Good questions…I’ll try and catch them all.

I have pretty much followed Justin’s course - up to Beginners 2 modules. I get side-tracked when I read guitar books, Alfred’s Basic Guitar 1 & 2, and they come at the teaching methods from a different perspective, thus the sight reading . I struggle to prioritize learning skills and understand what some of the teachers are referring to…such as in a “beginners course” that will out of the blue , start talking about intervals and dorian and Sus’s ??? And I sit and say “what???”


* 8 essential chords - yes
* G grips - yes
* Barre chords - working on it...struggle with that index finger placement
* dominant 7chords - have played but not committed to muscle-memory
* Sus - heard of em...but not played
* Power chords - gotta work on these after all the above
* Scales - some pentatonic up and down
* Scales to make music - that is what I strive for
* Read music - sight reading. My last (in person teacher) said to do this

Have you ever seen Ronnie O’Sullivan play Snooker? Some can because there’s something inherently in their wheel house. It’s a life long building up to it even when there is a gifted passion for it. I know it from not being able to sing that well. It can all be improved upon in most cases.

You can take any song and break it down to its basics to see that there really is just a simple idea behind it all. You could start with simple, and with borrowing as a method, and substitute in bits and pieces that make things appear to have a been imagined with greater complexity. No one would ever know.

No rules can be a starting point too. You can attempt to modify what clearly doesn’t work that well in ways that can get it somewhere. The idea of “order from chaos” can be a guide.

Music is about timing. Guitar sounds great when the rhythms are spot on. What makes a song great is probably not the instrument you play it with. Some of my favorite songs are the marriage of lyrics with the rhythm. That is never as more evident as when you read Shakespeare which has that song like quality that depends on beats. The words and the rhythm produce magic.

There’s no bad way to get to a song. You just need to get the process started. There great songs about the truly mundane. As long as there is some level of universal appeal it can work to capture listeners.

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Sus chords are introduced in beginners grade 2. When you say up to Beginners Module 2 do you mean you have completed grade 1 or completed both grade 1 and 2? If the latter it might be worth recapping grade 2 and make sure you have consolidated the practical aspects of applying what is taught by Justin to build solid foundations.

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It happens to all of us and we all come to regret the losing of focus. Stay on a steady course.
Justin’s Beginner Course.

… guitar books … teaching methods from a different perspective … sight reading …

You don’t need it. Don’t expend more time on it.

I struggle to prioritize learning skills

Prescribe yourself some discipline by creating practice schedule that you know addresses the skills that need to be improved and that gives you structure chunks of time on a range of techniques, a lot of time learning songs, and fun built in at the end too. @adi_mrok has shown you how to use the Practice Assistant. It is there as a useful tool and will save you hours of working thinking and planning your routine.

… a “beginners course” that will out of the blue , start talking about intervals and dorian and Sus’s …

Intervals is quite accessible music theory. Take a little free look at the first modules of Justin’s theory course here. Dorian is modes / modal scales and you’re not at a place where that is appropriate or relevant. Sus relates to simple chord embellishments and if you begin to focus on learning a lot of songs you are inevitably going to use them. They are in Grade 2.

8 essential chords - yes

Good. With these you can learn 1000s of songs. Learn songs, learn songs, learn songs.

G grips - yes


Barre chords - working on it … struggle with that index finger placement

They’re difficult for everybody. Practice and patience on those.

dominant 7 chords - have played but not committed to muscle-memory

You will encounter these here and there in rock / pop / folk music etc. You will meet them lots in music with a blues flavour.

Sus - heard of em…but not played

They’re introduced in Grade 2. You will 100% recognise the sound when you hear and play them. They are in many songs.

Power chords - gotta work on these after all the above

In good time. The other aspects are a greater priority.

Scales - some pentatonic up and down

Major pentatonic? Minor pentatonic?

There are other essential ways to practice instead of always simple ascending / descending patterns. 3-in-a-line, 4-in-a-line. Minor pentatonic is the most user-friendly in terms of being able to quickly and easily play some lead improvisation. That is a little further down the line but Justin introduces it in Grade 2.

Have you learned any pattern of major scale? Justin teaches and then gets students to begin to improvise with an open position of the C major scale in Grade 2.

Scales to make music - that is what I strive for

It will come. You need to dip your toe in with minor pentatonic and major scale as mentioned.

Read music - sight reading. My last (in person teacher) said to do this

Ignore that advice. It is far and away an optional extra that you do not need.


Thx again Richard…

Much appreciate the comments & suggestions. It’s all about focus & patience



I came here to give my thoughts, and found @TheMadman_tobyjenner already said it better than I could, it’s all about the rhythm :smile: :+1: