THE BIG EIGHT – (Your first basic chords)

Hi all,

If you’ve just started learning guitar, you might find that you’re having difficulty getting your fingers to go where you want them to – but stick with it!  With regular, accurate practice, you will see an improvement.

But what should you learn first? Is there a correct order?
Well, not really a correct order however I do recommend to all of my students that they should learn their basic chords as soon as possible – what I call ‘the big eight’.

These 8 chords will keep cropping up as you learn and if you don’t get them down now, you will find that they will hold you up in the future when you’re trying to learn songs.  They might take some time to master but if you can aim to get them sounding clear and committed to memory in around 4 weeks then you are doing well.

Below I have outlined your 4 week program – patience is the key here, stay relaxed and have fun!

Week 1

E Minor


A Minor




E Major


D Minor



Week 3

A Major


D Major



Week 4

C Major


G Major



Need help reading the diagrams? Read the guide here.

Happy Playing!


How Many Guitar Lessons Do I Need?

First published June 25 2012

I receive a lot of enquiries every month from people who are interested in having guitar lessons and they email me whilst in the process of checking out the local guitar tutor(s).
One of the questions I frequently get asked is “how many guitar lessons do you think I will I need...”?

Now, this question in particular is quite a tricky one to respond to because it doesn’t really have an answer, but the whole ‘potential lesson booking’ scenario can hang on the outcome of what I as the guitar tutor, is or isn’t about to say…

There are a lot of factors involved in how quickly you can learn the guitar, the main one being how often can you practice?  Chances are, if you’re already asking me the ‘how many lessons…’ question then you are quite keen to crack on and will throw yourself into it, which is great but please remember that just turning up to your lessons and sitting near a guitar tutor isn’t enough to progress effectively – (I call this phenomenon ‘learning by osmosis’…) – you DO need to practice in between sessions.

“How much do I need to practice?”

Little and often is the key here, but if you are a busy working professional, or a self confessed social butterfly then as little as 10 mins a day is acceptable to start with.
This is why young people can pick up things so quickly – when I was 15, I had so much time to spare that I played the guitar for hours every day, but then of course I didn’t have a job, a family, or the internet

Gradual progress

Progress is slow and you need to keep practicing, going away then repeating again and again – a bit like learning lines to a play.  You simply cannot expect to learn something instantly.
Everybody has 10 mins spare during their normal day to pick up the guitar and practice and quite often once started, those 10 mins will become 15, 20 or 30 mins. However, if that's not possible then anything really is better than nothing!
NOTE – a 2-hour-long cramming session before your lesson does NOT work in the long term and only serves to get you stressed about your lesson, not excited.
It is something you want to do, right?

“So, if I book 5 lessons then will I be able to…?”

Another common misconception – please don’t expect that after a set amount of time you will be able to do X,Y or Z (or even A, B or Cm7b5 – a music ‘in joke’, sorry!) because it’s not as simple as that.  Everybody will learn different things at their own pace.  
Please don't begin by putting unreasonable expectations on yourself and your tutor.  You could be setting yourself up for disappointment from the start.
There’s not a recipe or a set-time for learning something, like baking a cake – we’re not uploading guitar skills into our memory, ‘Matrix’ style.…but wouldn’t it be cool?

Anyone who does tell you that after 5 lessons “you will be able to play…” without meeting you is not doing you any favours and they are just selling themselves to you by telling you what you want to hear.  What happens if they say that after 5 lessons you will be able to play ‘Wonderwall’ and you can’t – then what? Is it their fault as a tutor? Can you get a refund?  Should you get a refund?

If you have a good tutor and an open mind you can achieve things that you never thought you would be able to do, even as quickly as your first lesson – it may not be what you expect but enjoy it for what it is and focus on the journey.  You might exceed your expectations and find that you are a ‘natural‘ or inversely, you might discover that it’s much harder than you expected and it will take you longer than you originally thought.  It may be easy to start with and then becomes harder (it does) crushing your hopes of winning ‘Guitar Idol‘ this year…

If you want to learn, then great – we as guitar tutors are very happy to teach you but one piece of advice every guitarist will tell you is that it’s about the journey and the enjoyment of learning and discovering new music as well as being able to play your favourite songs, not the end goal because with music, there isn’t one.


Guitar Lessons for Christmas - A Bit of Advice...

First published November 26th 2012

Ho ho ho!

My Xmas shopping outfit this year

My Xmas shopping outfit this year

I know it's early yet, but with Christmas on the way, you might be donning your battle gear ready to hit the streets in search of that perfect gift for your friends, family, other half or little rascals.  Others though, like me, are hiding under the stairs, chewing their nails and breaking into a cold sweat at the thought of the inevitable last minute Xmas eve shopping-spree handing out wads of cash to anyone, ANYBODY who can sell them something that looks remotely thoughtful.

There is one gift though, that will guarantee to show your thoughtfulness and aptitude for a bit of 'out of the box thinking' - guitar lessons!

Now, I'm not just plugging my own business as many of you reading this around the country will be too far away, but if you are planning on purchasing this unique present for a lucky recipient, here are a few tips for you to take into consideration when buying guitar lessons as a gift:


Don't buy too many

Has the person you're buying for mentioned guitar lessons before?  If not, you might be taking a chance, in which case, 1-5 is perfectly reasonable.  If it's a dead cert - up to 10 is great as it's virtually a short course and you might get a discount, if you ask.

Be sure to get something physical

At John Wilmshurst Guitar Tuition, I have professionally printed gift certificates that you can give on the big day - it makes a huge difference to the delivery of the gift!  Be sure to get something similar from your guitar tutor if it is available - even a print-out.

Check out your tutor

Like any other business a good reliable guitar tutor will have an internet presence with some online information.  They will be experienced and have a good word of mouth reputation.  They will also be prepared to take the time to answer your questions and let you know what their waiting list is like, if they have one.  Do your research - a bad tutor can put off a promising student for years.  

Don't leave it last minute!

If you are planning on buying a gift certificate, how will you collect it or pay for it? Can you pay by card, or online?  If you pay by transfer, does it have to clear first?  If possible, try to visit the tutor to collect, or ask them to come to you if they do house calls. Don't expect the post to guarantee fast delivery, that's all I'm saying... 

Pay for quality

If you are looking for professional guitar tuition, you will be paying professional prices, somewhere within the region of $60+ per hour.
If somebody is advertising 'guitar lessons for $30 per hour' then be prepared to get only $30 worth of expertise, experience, reliability and service.  $75.00 well spent will save you time, effort and money in the long run. Just think, would you hire a $50 per hour lawyer and expect to get a good service?

There you have it, a few tips to help you find the perfect gift experience this Christmas.

Happy shopping!


Alternate Picking [Part 2]

Hi all,

Here’s part 2 of your alternate picking lesson.
This week, we are going to look at mixed rhythms in phrases so you get an idea of how to approach them.

Alternate picking involves plucking the string in alternating strokes – Down, Up, Down, Up etc even when changing strings.

I’m now going to add to this that down strokes must happen ON the beat and up strokes happen OFF the beat.

Exercise 1 – Down Strokes

Switch on your speakers and click on this website to open up a metronome and click on ’72’ (found around 10 O’Clock on the circle), this will start the metronome at 72 beats per minute (bpm).

Count along out loud with the click so you can align yourself in time, like this:

1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4... repeat 8 times.

Now, with your guitar pick play the notes on the TAB below, in time with the click using just down strokes.  Hear what it sounds like: ex_1.mp3


Exercise 2 – Down and Up Strokes

Using the same click, we are now going to count on and in between the click.
We’ll use the numbers on the click as we did before.  In between we shall count ‘and‘ (written as '+') in between the click, like this:

1 + 2 + 3 + 4, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4, etc

Now, with your guitar, play the TAB below in time with the click using down strokes and up strokes.  The down strokes will play ON the click and the up stroke will play in between the click.  Hear what it sounds like: ex_2.mp3


Exercise 3 – Mixed Rhythms

Using the same click, we are now going to mix it up a bit.
If you look at the music below, you will see that not all the notes are of equal timing.


The first note lasts for one beat, which will be played with a down stroke.
The next two are alternating strokes (down, up).
The reason the second note starts on a down stroke again is because it happens on a numbered beat, not an + beat – remember as I said earlier:
down strokes must happen ON the beat and up strokes happen OFF the beat’.

If we counted it, it would be like this:

1  2 +  3   4 + , 1  2 +  3   4 +

Hear what it sounds like: ex_3.mp3

Exercise 4 – Mixed Rhythms and changing notes

Try this phrase below:


Hear what it sounds like: ex_4.mp3

Did you get it right?
If you didn’t, go again until you have – this isn’t a race!
If you did, well done, move to to the next one…

Exercise 5 – Alternate Picking Boogie

Yes, that’s right, I wrote a TAB called the ‘Alternate Picking Boogie’!  I’ve clearly no shame.


Hear what it sounds like: ex_5.mp3

So there we are, a little more on alternate picking for you.
You can of course use the drum beats to practice to, starting with 70bpm and working your way up.

If you like this lesson or any of the others, please share and subscribe!

Happy playing!


Musical Alphabet | Chromatic Scale pt 1

Hi all,

Today we are going to be looking at the musical alphabet, otherwise known as the chromatic scale.  The chromatic scale contains all of the notes you will find on your guitar.  The musical alphabet is similar to our english ABC alphabet but it doesn’t go past G, in fact after G we start again at A.

The chromatic scale

The chromatic scale

You’ll notice that after some of the notes we have another version of it with a little # symbol next to it.  This is like a halfway step between that note and the next and is called a sharp.  The note A# (A sharp), is like A and a half  and then we move on to the note B.

We count up the scale (ascending) like this:
A, A#, B, C, C#, D , D#, E, F, F#, G, G# and then back to A.

Some of the notes don’t have a sharp, namely B and E.

If we look at the piano keyboard below, we can see the sharps are the black notes on the keyboard.


Click to hear the chromatic scale on the piano [Chromatic Scale].

Remember that I said B or E don’t have a sharp?
You can see on the piano that B/C and E/F there are no black notes.

  • Tip – you can remember this with the phrase “Never BE sharp”.

Applying the chromatic scale to the guitar

On the guitar we can apply the chromatic scale as the diagram below.  I have written it along the A string so it goes in the same order as above. Note that the open A string is the note A and the first fret A# and so on.


The fret on your guitar with the double dot (don’t worry if you don’t have this!) is the 12th fret.  When you reach this fret you should be on the same note as the one where you started on the open string.


If we were to apply the chromatic scale to a different string then we start counting from the note that string begins on.
For example, the E string starts on the note E and the first fret on the E string is the note F, the second F# and so on…  


When we get to the note A (5th fret) we keep on counting past it to A# then B etc because we can’t stop until we hit the 12th fret, which should be the same note as when we began (the note E, like the open string).
Because this can happen, it is a good idea to visualise the chromatic scale as a circle:


This way, if we start on any note (the B string for example) then we can keep counting round clockwise through all 12 notes until we end up back where we started.


Try playing the chromatic scale on all strings and counting up as you go.
Make sure you start with an open string (E,A,D,G,B or e) and end up on the 12th fret back at the note you started.


  • The chromatic scale is the musical alphabet
  • It contains 12 notes
  • It has no real beginning or end, it goes round and round in a circle
  • This symbol # means ‘sharp’ – like a half step between some notes
  • Never BE sharp – there is no B# or E#

Join me next time when we will go through part 2 of the chromatic scale.

Happy playing!


Alternate Picking [Part 1]

Hi all,

Alternate picking really is the bedrock of plectrum guitar playing.
It is essentially a system you build up to a point where it becomes fluid and second nature  – a bit like driving a manual car and using the clutch pedal.  The great thing about having such a system in place is that you can concentrate on other things, like your fretting hand while your picking hand moves efficiently and in time.

Alternate picking involves plucking the string in alternating strokes – Down, Up, Down, Up etc even when changing strings.

In the exercises below, we will play each of the open strings using alternate picking.

Note the symbols on the tab:


These are pick strokes, the one on the left being a down stroke and the one on the right being an upstroke. The reason the upstroke looks like a downward arrow is because of the way you look down at your guitar with the thickest string being closest to your eye!  Look on the TAB, the arrow actually points in the direction from thin string to thick.

Exercise 1

Play these SLOWLY and accurately trying to keep the changes in between the strings sounding fluid with no audible gaps.



Exercise 2

Play the E minor pentatonic scale below using alternate picking


Exercise 3

The scale below has 3 notes per string, which means that when we hit the 4th note and we change down to the string below, we still have to pick upwards.
It will feel odd to start with, but stick with it – it will feel natural in no time!


Exercise 4

As above, but this time descending.
Always play your scales down as well as up – if you find it harder, practice it more until you can do it as well as on the way up!


You can of course use the drum beats to practice to, starting with 70bpm and working your way up.  Once you can play it at 100bpm you can use this backing track in Em to play along with.

Happy playing!


How to read the chord and scale diagrams

Hi all,

In the online lessons here you will see a lot of charts and diagrams.
Essentially, each one is a picture that tells you where to put your fingers on the fretboard.


Chord Diagram

Here is a chord diagram telling you how to play the chord E Minor (written as Em).



What are the red dots?

Every chord has a root note, which the chord is named after.
For example, the root note of ‘Em’ is ‘E’, the root note of ‘Am’ is ‘A’ etc.  The red dots highlight these but don’t worry too much about them to begin with, they’re just for reference.


The thick string (E) is shown on the bottom of the diagram and the thin string (e) on the top.

The dots on the fretboard tell you where to put your fingers. In this case, it’s the 2nd fret on both the 2nd thickest string (A) and the 3rd thickest string (D).

The circles on the left indicate the strings that you play ‘open’ – meaning no fingers are used on those strings.



Some chords such as the one below (Am) have strings that we don’t play.
These are indicated with an ‘X’.


Scale Diagram

Scale diagram.png

On the left is a diagram showing the pathway for an A minor scale.
The red dots are the root notes, as explained above.  Again, make a note of them for reference, but at this stage don’t get too hung up on them now, they will come in handy later.

The strings are still in the same location but with scale diagrams, we read them depending on which direction we want to play the scale; ascending or descending, one note at a time:


Ascending: bottom to top, left to right




Descending: top to bottom, right to left





Happy playing! JW

Free drum beats to keep you in time


Hi all,

I’ve found that using straight drum tracks instead of a metronome helps my students keep in time better than a metronome.  Why is this?

Metronomes by definition are very clinical and to the untrained ear can be difficult to follow, whereas we listen to drum beats all day long on our iPods, on adverts, in films, TV…

Below are a selection of drum beats in mp3 format for you to download to use in your practice. They increase in speed in increments of 10bpm (beats per minute) so you can start slow and work your way up.

To download, right click and ‘save as’
(NOTE – all tracks have been found to loop perfectly on iPhone and iPad – please let me know about other systems).

4/4 Drum Beats

Drum_Beats_70bpm | drum_beats_80bpm | Drum_Beats_90bpm

Drum_Beats_100bpm | Drum_Beats_110bpm | Drum_Beats_120bpm

Drum_Beats_130bpm | Drum_Beats_140bpm | Drum_Beats_150bpm

3/4 Drum Beats

3.4_Drum_Beats_70bpm | 3.4_Drum_Beats_80bpm | 3.4_Drum_Beats_90bpm

3.4_Drum_Beats_100bpm | 3.4_Drum_Beats_110bpm | 3.4_Drum_Beats_120bpm

6/8 Drum Beats

6.8_Drum_Beats_70bpm | 6.8_Drum_Beats_80bpm | 6.8_Drum_Beats_90bpm

6.8_Drum_Beats_100bpm | 6.8_Drum_Beats_110bpm | 6.8_Drum_Beats_120bpm

Happy playing!


Timing is everything…

There are some of us in the guitar playing community who just enjoy a strum every now and again (who doesn’t?) and then others who like to put a more formal structure around their playing – neither of which are really better than the other.

I do however, think that there is one detail that everyone should pay a little mind to, and that is… timing!!

So, what is timing?

(definition from google)
The choice, judgment, or control of when something should be done

So, the important words in there are choice and judgement and control.

When we’re playing a song to ourselves or are round the table with our friends at a party having a sing-song, the timing (as long as it’s roughly in the right place) doesn’t overly matter, does it? – I mean, it’s more about the fun, right?

Well, maybe – but if you are playing with other musicians or along to a track, or you just want your music to flow timing is EVERYTHING!

If all the musicians have inherently good timing, it allows everyone to settle into a groove, where everyone’s rhythm is aligned and the song just flows – have you ever heard a song where you just can’t help but nod your head or tap your foot?  That my friend, amongst other things, is a groove and of course, your audience gets sucked in too – and that is when you have them – nodding in agreement with your music – look at them in the video!!
Timing and FEEL.

Of course, you might say “But John, I’m a LEAD guitarist – I don’t care for any of that RHYTHM nonsense – what are you chatting about, fool??”
My answer would be that you’re the fool –

Music is primarily about the rhythm as far as I’m concerned, the rest comes after that.
Chords, melodies, solos, drum beats, bass lines… it’s got to groove, feel right and of course, be in time.

Next time you practice, put on a metronome, or even better a drum beat and try playing along with it. Listen to the overall picture – are you in time? Does it groove?


Learn twice as fast – Practice at half-speed!!


Hi all,

I know this sounds weird, but it’s true –
“if you practice at half-speed, you’ll learn twice as quickly”

Now of course, no-one’s measuring precisely but surely you would think that practising at a slower pace would take up more of your precious time and in an effort to get it all in you will have to cut corners…

Well the first approach is to prioritise.
It is much more useful having the ability to play a few things well, instead of having about ten things you haven’t quite finished or can play ‘sort of’.

Think about it this way –
“if you practice slowly and accurately, you’ll develop your skills properly over a certain period of time.
If you practice something badly, you’ll never learn it over ANY period of time”

This is just pointing out the obvious really (it’s only obvious once you know) but just stick to one thing, learn it and master it as best as you can. Take your time. Chill out!

Start at a comfortable pace, accept the fact that it is going to take a little while and set yourself a short term goal:
“By the end of this week, I’m going to be able to play the first few bars of that riff/that scale/those chords etc…”
Then you can add to it and within a few weeks, you will have it (depending on what you’ve chosen to learn of course – be realistic!) 

I’ve had people come to me for lessons who’ve been playing longer than I’ve been able to wipe my own bottom and they’re angry, god they’re angry.
A pent-up bubble of rage is swelling inside them: “Why can’t I play this ***** thing?!?”
As it goes, they’ve been playing the same things over and over, full speed and trying to mask bad habits or just putting up with that bit that isn’t quite right but “it’ll do…”

My first port of call is to get them to chill out, play it slowly and accurately to a metronome (or with me playing the chords slowly)
If they can’t do this, then that’s the problem – they’re running before they can crawl – if they can, then I keep speeding it up incrementally, 5-10bpm until I find their limit, which is usually 20-30bpm slower than what they’re trying to play it at – running before they can walk.

When you’ve finished reading this, pick one thing you’ve been trying to learn and tap along to this metronome to find the speed – then cut off 30bpm and try it again – I’ll be interested to see after a week or so of solid practice if it helps 🙂


Teaching Your Child | Guitar Tuition for Kids


Having been a guitar tutor for over 18 years I have taught many different people of all ages and abilities, from budding professionals, all the way down to absolute beginners; a good portion of whom are children.

The great thing about teaching kids is that they arrive with bags of energy and absolute enthusiasm; the tricky thing, is guiding that enthusiasm and turning it into good practice without having to overuse the word ‘discipline’!

It is my belief that a good tutor should inspire and enthuse before anything else can be achieved and this is my main aim in my lessons; especially where kids are concerned.  After all, nobody wants to spend 20-60 minutes a week with a boring teacher playing boring music, so I make sure that all the information in the lesson is delivered in a fun and appropriate way.  How is this done? In the form of games, fun tunes and keeping things simple enough to be achievable, but hard enough to be interesting.

A reward system is often good, especially in the form of cool riffs and song melodies – “once you’ve played this scale 5 times, I’ll teach you this!” – and I find that a structured system is important too, to measure development and to show the parents, the guys who are usually paying, where their bundle of joy is headed and what is expected of them and also of me, the tutor.


I know a lot of parents who’re keen for their child to take exams and I’m all for that, but it is also important to retain the sense of fun.  It’s always best to talk to the tutor about whether grade exams are appropriate for your child.

Working With Children Check

This is a requirement for any professional who is to be working with children and should e checked by the parents whether the tutor has one in place (I do!).  The tutor will provide their number and you are able to verify it online.

If you are looking for guitar lessons for your child, why not drop me a line at my guitar studio in Berowra Heights to discuss your options.


Good Repetition

first published Septmber 17th 2012

Have you heard the phrase “repetition, repetition, repetition”?

Of course, this means that by repeating something you can commit it to long term memory, which is useful when we want to remember lyrics or melodies.  Sometimes though, when performing technique for example, ‘brain memory’ just isn’t fast enough and is prone to forgetfulness so we need to employ something I call ‘finger memory’.

‘Finger memory’ is really another name for muscle memory, which suggests that your muscles can remember certain actions they perform very frequently.   As musicians, this means that if we practice something often enough we should eventually be able to start doing it without having to think about it anymore – it’s like our fingers seem to know where they’re going on their own!  This can help us with fast phrases, scale runs, chords… nearly every aspect of guitar playing.


There is a catch – the reality is that because you have done the same movement often enough your brain assumes that’s how you always want it to be done.  It will always take the path of least resistance and follow what seems to ‘feel’ right… even if it’s wrong. It’s not your brain’s fault though, it’s only doing what you told it to do!  In other words, it’s important to practice your movements on the guitar slowly and as technically perfect as you can manage.  If you make a mistake your brain will record it as part of the process and therefore you will be prone to making the same mistake.  Start again, slow down and take your time. ALWAYS be consistently correct.

This approach to learning can be very frustrating but can yield HUGE results in a relatively short period of time.  I’ve had students who have been playing something the same way for 20 years and never improving at it but after a couple of weeks of slowing down and using ‘good repetition’, they find that they start to make real progress again.
Next time you see anybody who is a master of their profession, maybe a chef chopping vegetables really quickly , watch their technique and how they make it look easy.
This is because with good practice, it is.

Until next time…


Have Guitar Lessons to Save Money

First published May 6th 2011

You would think that learning to play the guitar has never been easier, what with the internet and Youtube videos.  Music shops have shelves groaning under the weight of ‘how to’ books and DVDs of poodle-haired rock stars from the 80’s promising to reveal THE secret to learning to play the guitar, with little or no effort – like Joey from Friends, “you won’t even need a guitar!”??  Based on my twenty years of learning the guitar I can tell you that there is no hidden secret to reveal, nor are there any shortcuts .  
No matter how many videos you watch or books you read there will always be unanswered questions which no amount of re-reading or rewinding or will answer. 

The truth is that there is simply no substitute for having a real live teacher sitting across from you, tailoring your lessons to your exact needs, structuring and guiding you in the best and fastest way possible to develop your skills.

Eventually the day will come when you decide to stop spending money on books that you’ll never read and DVDs which end up propping up a wonky table, and you’ll decide to invest your hard-earned cash in booking a lesson with a guitar tutor.  A good teacher will inform, enthuse and inspire you to practice day after day, week after week and learn to take control of your own musical journey – not spoon you feed old rock guitar riffs and country songs for months on end.  They will ensure you understand what it is that you’re learning and show you how to get the most out of your precious practice time. They will structure your learning, motivating you, pushing you.  

It’s not impossible to learn on your own, but having someone who is experienced guiding you will save a lot of wasted time, space on your bookshelf and importantly, hard earned money!  They won’t however, be able to prop up your wonky table leg – you can use your old books and DVD’s for that.

John Wilmshurst