As a twenty-year veteran of the piano and my own vocal chords, picking up guitar for the first time has proven foreign, frustrating, and possibly the best thing that’s happened to me this year. This time, I’m doing things the broke college student way—taking private lessons when I can afford them, practicing like I have a gig tomorrow, and using as many free or cheap online guitar resources as possible. I’m still at the beginning of my journey, but here are some invaluable tools, websites, and games I’ve met along the way.
Learn the Fretboard with Fretboard Master
Picture this: you’re finally competent enough on guitar that you know a couple songs, you’ve played a couple scales, and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Today’s the day you’re going to jam for the first time with some more experienced acquaintances. Someone shouts, “okay, let’s play in A-major,” and your stomach drops into your lower abdomen. You look down at your strat’s neck in horror, as a thousand frets unfold before you. But which ones do you use?! If only you knew your fretboard.
Seriously, just learn it. It’s not fun, it’s not immediately rewarding, but it’ll make you a better, more versatile player. Your improvisation will flourish, your ear-training will flourish, and your sight-reading will flourish. Fretboard Master is the best fretboard game I could find, amongst a sea of downloadable .exe’s from the Windows 95 era. It’s kind of janky, but it’s good practice. If you’re on a mac, consider using Safari to run it instead of Chrome.
Learn the 5 pentatonic positions with Guitar Habits
Not sure what it is about guitar learning sites and abysmal graphic design, but this is another great, but outdated-looking guitar blog. The entire site is useful, with guitar tips galore, but I really enjoyed this particular entry about pentatonic scales. There are five pentatonic guitar shapes you should learn to maximize your improvisational capacity, but most people only learn one. Learn all five, and by your fretboard powers combined, you are Captain Improvisation.
Take Free Guitar Lessons Online with Justin Guitar
From what I’ve seen, Justin Guitar is the best free guitar learning site out there. It’s full of videos and good advice from a cheeky, good-natured guitarist named Justin. His beginner series doesn’t presuppose you know anything, and he has some practice drills that will up your speed and fluency fast. Bonus: Brian May endorses this site so it’s got to be good. Right?
Take Not-So-Free Guitar Lessons Online with JamPlay
I found JamPlay from an endorsement on Justin Guitar (see above). Anyone perceptive enough to scroll through the J.G. homepage will see a handy-dandy voucher code for a free 7-day trial to JamPlay, so I gave it a try. I’m still determining whether I can justify spending over a hundred dollars for a subscription, but the JamPlay is an incredible guitar resource. It has 10’s of comprehensive beginner video series, intermediate series for every genre, and downloadable chord, scale, and exercise sheets. If you have a lot of self-discipline and a little money, this website will take you far. Bonus: built-in metronome.
Here’s a link to the free trial landing page. The voucher code is JGTR2012… But you didn’t hear it from me.
Hone Your Guitar Ear Training with Theta Music Trainer
I’ve recommended this site before, because I think it’s excellent and covers a lot of aural skills ground. Theta Music Trainer is a platform that contains games to strengthen a million facets of your music perception including theory, melody, harmony, rhythm, mixing, mastering, pitch-matching, and so many others. After a few hours playing “Parrot Phrases,” I knew all the basic intervals on the guitar, and felt more comfortable playing melodies by ear. The best part is, unlike many aspects of music practice, this one’s addictive. T.M.T. has free limited use of the platform, so take advantage of that. OR, splurge on a subscription like I did, and veg out over musical fruit and trees for hours.