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Six String Country's Guitar 101 Basics Course


Whether you just bought your first guitar or you have been playing for a while, this step-by-step program will have you playing our song lessons in no time.  Look at the syllabus below to find the right place to start.  We'd recommend beginners start with lesson 1.  Go at your own pace!  Carefully learning each of these 10 easy-to-follow lessons will set you up to be able to start conquering the song lessons on Six String Country - and have fun while you are at it!

By the time you complete this method, our goal is to have you comfortable with the 5 most used keys of chords (G, C, D, A and E), barre chords, strumming, and the 5 positions of the pentatonic scale. We'll give you a good foundation of basic music theory along the way.  Not only will you be ready to learn new songs with ease, but you'll be set up start some more advanced lessons in lead guitar, fingerpicking, and other important skills. 



Lesson 1

Properly Holding A Pick      

We are using the word "properly" loosely here.  Guitarists hold picks all kinds of ways, and there is not necessarily a right or wrong.  If you are having trouble getting the pick feeling good in your fingers, this is a great starting point to get you going.

Holding A Pick

Tuning Your Guitar

Learning to properly tune your guitar is an essential skill.  You can have the best technique in the world, but if your guitar is out of tune it will not sound good.  Using a tuner is a good idea if you are playing with other musicians.  Sometimes, however, we don't have a tuner and we have to tune by ear.  This tutorial will talk about tuning by ear and matching pitch so that you'll be able to play an in-tune guitar in every situation.

Tuning Your Guitar by Ear

Eventually, we recommend you get a tuner.  If you don't have one yet, SSC also offers a tuning tutorial where we play each string in tune.  You can match the pitch of your strings to this tutorial to make sure you are playing an in-tune guitar.

SSC Tuner: Match Each String's Pitch

Your First 3 Chords

You've got a good grip on that pick and your tuned up... you're ready for some chords!  We'll start with the 3 most used chords on the entire site: G, C2, and D.  Don't worry about that 4th chord just yet.  We'll get there!

Learn Your First 3 Chords

Your First Song

Alright!  You're ready for your first song!  We will use the 3 chords you just learned and play this simple tune along with a backing track.  The goal here is to get comfortable playing chords in the context of a song.  This means that we will have to keep a steady rhythm to stay with the backing track.  You've got this.

Your First Song

Lesson 2

4th Chord and Exercise

Time to learn the 4th most popular chord on the site.  This 4th chord, along with the 3 you already know, will be all the chords you need to play over 100 songs on this site.  Learn the 4th chord, the Em7, and then go through the exercises to complete this portion of the lesson.  Work on keeping your ring finger down as a pivot and transitioning between the chords as smoothly as possible.  Trust us - you really want to know these 4 chords frontwards and backwards!

4th Chord and Exercise

How to Use A Capo

Good news: this is not rocket science!  This short tutorial will explain some of the theory behind why we use a capo and how to get the best sound out of them without pulling strings out of tune.  We will use capos a lot from here on out for song lessons, so be sure you are comfortable with this. 

Using A Capo

Learn the Open String Names

Over the course of this method, we will be learning the note names of all the frets on all the strings.  Although that might sound scary, there are a lot of patterns that we can use to keep the mental processing quick and easy.  The first step is to be able to immediately pull the names of the open strings to your mind: (low to high) E, A, D, G, B, E.  We'll build from there.  Here is a lesson and chart.

String Names


Strumming can be a source of frustration for many beginners.  This lesson will take you through 4 strum patterns starting with the easiest and ending with the hardest.  After learning all four of these patterns, you'll be ready to take a stab at some of the easier song lesson at Six String Country!

Strumming: 4 Basic Patterns

Song Suggestions

We've put together some song suggestions that will use only the chords that you know so far.  The strum patterns are on the easier side, but are still more advanced than we've encountered at this point.  This is supposed to be fun, so if you find yourself getting frustrated, come back and keep learning the fundamentals.  We want to give you a taste of how fun learning some of these tunes can be!  Pick one you love and learn the rhythm guitar part.

Gone Country, Cruise, Luckenbach Texas, Should've Been A Cowboy

This Is How We Roll, Roller Coaster, Dust on the Bottle

Lesson 3 Overview

This lesson gets us into keys of chords and scales and will probably take you some time to really internalize.  Take your time with this lesson as the concepts presented here are essential for a long, happy relationship with the guitar.

Key of G Chords

You may have heard people say things like, "This song is in the key of -----".  That is because chords come in keys.  There is a lot of music theory behind this idea, but to put it simply: when using chords from the same "key of chords", they sound good together.   All of the chords we've learned so far are in the key of G.  There are 7 chords in every key, so we have a few more to learn to finish up the key of G.  Remember - we learned a C2 instead of a standard C chord, and an Em7 instead of a standard Em.  Don't let that throw you off, but be sure to learn the standard C and Em as you go through this lesson.  Learn all of the key of G chords frontwards and backwards.

Key of G Chords

Chord Transitions: Key of G

Getting comfortable putting our fingers on the chords is the first step.  Next, we need to be able to make them musical.  In our chord transition series, we'll learn some simple strumming and some walk ups and walk downs to connect the chords.  Head to this lesson, learn the G, Em, C, D transitions, and then play them with the backing track.

G, Em, C, D Transitions

The Pentatonic Scale

Throughout this method, we will be learning the 5 positions of the pentatonic scale.  Eventually we'll learn how to play any scale in any key that we want.  For now, let's just focus on learning position 1 of the pentatonic scale in the key of G.  Scales are really just patterns, and the pentatonic scale is nice for guitar players because they lay out in "box-like" shapes across the fretboard.  This makes them easy to memorize.  If possible, memorize position 1 as we'll need to know this one very well.  When you've got it down, play it along with the Jam Along Track.  The pentatonic scale is what most country, rock, and blues lead guitar work is based around and is also an important concept for understanding basic music theory.  It will be worth your while.  The 5 notes of the pentatonic scale in the key of G are G, A, B, D, and E.  These 5 notes will repeat and make up the scale patter we will learn now. 

Position 1 Pentatonic

Song Suggestions

Here are a few more songs we think you are ready to try out.  These song lessons will stretch your skills and require a good amount of work.  Pick one you like and learn the rhythm guitar part.  Learning a song you love is rewarding and worth the effort.

Chillin' It, Where the Green Grass Grows, That Ain't My Truck, Good One Comin' On

Lesson 4

Key of C Chords

We know our key of G inside and out.  Now, lets learn another popular key that we frequently use on the site: the key of C.  On thing you will notice is that there is some of overlap when learning new keys.  The key of C chords include C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am and Bdim.  Any of those look familiar?  You already know C, Em, G, and Am.  Don't let this confuse you.  At it's most basic level, we are identifying groups of chords that sound good together.  When we are in the key of C (when C is "home base"), this group of chords all work together.  We'll talk more about this later and it will continue to make more and more sense.  For now, let's learn the key of C chords!

Key of C Chords

Key of C Transitions

Just like we did for the key of G, we're going to make these key of C chords musical and cement them into our muscle memory by learning these key of C transitions.  When you have them down, play them with the backing track.

C, Am, F, G Transitions

Learn the Note Names of the First 5 Frets

As we start to work with scales it will become more and more important that we know the names of the notes on the guitar neck.  Head to this tutorial, learn the note names of the first 5 frets, and run the exercise.

String and Note Names

Position 1 Pentatonic in the Key of C

We've already learned position 1 in the key of G.  We started on the 3rd fret of the low E string (which is a G note).  Now we are going to play the same scale in the key of C.  You'll be shocked at how easy it is.  Just play the exact same pattern, but start on the 8th fret of low E (a C note).   The C pentatonic scale consists of 5 notes: C (first note), D (second note), E (third note), G, (4th note) and A (fifth note).  This tutorial can help iron out any questions.  You can keep it simple and just read the key of C pentatonic tabs, or you can see how far the rabbit hole goes and watch the G to C tutorial.  You decide!

Scales: Playing in Different Keys

Song Suggestions

Here are some songs low on the difficulty scale that use Key of C chords.  Every chord has many, many variations.  If you come across one in one of these songs, don't let it stress you out.  We'll walk through each variation very slowly and you'll be a better player for it.  You've got this!  Pick one you love and learn the rhythm guitar part.

Just Getting Started, Cop Car, Hey Good Lookin', I Don't Dance

Lesson 5

Position 2 Pentatonic

We already know the 1st position of the pentatonic scale.  Now we'll learn the second position.  You may remember that there are 5 repeating notes in the pentatonic scale.  In the key of G, they are G, A, B, D, and E.  We can also number them.  A "G" note is the first note of the pentatonic scale in G.  An A note is the second note.  B the third.  D the fourth.  E the fifth.  The starting note of the 5 different positions correspond with the number in the scale.  For example, position 2 (which you are about to learn) starts on the 2nd note of the scale: an A note.

Position 2 Pentatonic

Position 2 Pentatonic in C

As we go through this method, the concept of playing in different keys will be important.  As we learn new keys of chords, we'll want to also figure how to play these scale patterns in that key.  Once you get the hang of it, it will be a piece of cake.  We've already played position 1 in both G and C.  Now let's play position 2 in the key of C as well.  As a reminder, the 5 notes of the key of C pentatonic scale are C, D, E, G, and A - in that order.  So if we want to play the 2nd position of the pentatonic scale in C, what note do we need to start on?  You got it - D!  We can find a D note on the 10th fret of the low E string.  Start there and play the exact same scale pattern.  This tutorial can help iron out any questions.  You can either look at the tabs for the key of C pentatonic, or go all the way down the rabbit hole and watch the G to C tutorial.  You pick!

Scales: Playing in Different Keys

Song Lesson: The 12 Bar Blues

The 12 bar blues is one of the universal languages for guitar players.  This is often what groups of players will "jam" over as everyone at a certain level of playing is expected to know this.  Where many guitarists skimp is memorizing the pattern.  The riffs are important, but if you don't memorize the order to play the 3 different riffs in, no one will be able to follow you.  It's called the 12 bar blues because there are literally and exactly 12 measures in the chord progression, and then it repeats as desired.  Take the time to learn this one inside and out.  It's not difficult, but it is important.  Next time someone says, "you want to jam?", you'll be glad you did!

12 Bar Blues

Lesson 6

Key of D Chords

Just like the key of G and C chords, another popular key that many of the songs taught on this website is the key of D.  Learn the key of D chords and complete the chord exercise.  Finally, play them along with the backing track.

Key of D Chords

Key of D Chord Transitions

Let's learn the D, Bm, G, A transitions and then play them along with the backing track.  As always, step 1 is to learn the chords, but the goal is to be able to use them confidently and musically. 

D, Bm, G, A Transitions

Position 1 & 2 Pentatonic in the Key of D

The 5 notes of the D pentatonic scale are D, E, F#, A and B.  As you may remember, we always start the pentatonic position on the corresponding note.  So, we'll start position 1 on a D note (10th fret of the low E string).  Where will we start position 2?  You got it!  Because the second note of a D pentatonic scale is an "E" note, we'll start position 2 pentatonic on an "E" note (12th fret of the low E string).  Head to this tutorial for help.  You can either look at the tabs for Key of D pentatonic, or if you are feeling ambitious you can watch the G to D tutorial.  It's up to you!

Scales: Playing In Different Keys

Learn the Note Names of the Frets 6-12

We get it.  This is one of those lessons that isn't super exciting.  However, guitar and music theory is built around figuring out how these notes work together to make different kinds of sounds.  First, we have to know where to find the notes.  Head to this tutorial, learn the note names from fret 6-12 and then run the exercise.

String and Note Names

Palm Muting

Palm muting is a technique that is used frequently in the songs on Six String Country.  Use this tutorial to familiarize yourself with the concept.

Palm Muting

Song Suggestions

Here are a number of suggestions lower on the difficulty scale that use key of D chords.  Remember, learning a song all the way through is still stretching our skills at this point, so don't let yourself get frustrated.  Pick one or two of these that you love and give it a try!  You have the tools, but it will require some substantial practice.

Girl in a Country Song, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer, Deeper than the Holler, Forever and Ever Amen

Lesson 7

Strumming: 2 Concepts

Strumming can be a struggle when we are just starting out with rhythm guitar.  This tutorial explores 2 concepts that will give you permission to take some liberties and dramatically improve your strumming skills.

Strumming: 2 Concepts

Position 3 Pentatonic in G, C & D

It is time to learn the 3rd position of the pentatonic scale.  As a reminder, we learn the pentatonic scale in 5 positions so that we can play the scale, and eventually lead lines and solos, up and down the entire fretboard.  We learn how to play the pentatonic scale in different keys because the key a song is in and the key you are playing a scale in has to match.  If the song is in the key of D, we need to play the pentatonic scale in the key of D.  Learn the position 3 pattern in the key of G first.  Then, head to next tutorial and run position 1-3 in the key of G, C, and D. 

Pentatonic Position 3 in G

Scales: Playing in Different Keys

Barre Chords Explained

Barre chords have some key advantages.  They sound different than open chords and are often used intentionally to create a more percussive sound.  Also, once you learn the shapes, you can move them up and down the next and play any major or minor chord you want to.  This tutorial will go over some basic techniques that will make barre chords less scary.  You may not have them mastered after watching this tutorial, but hopefully you will have a better understanding of how to create a clear, crisp barre chord.

Barre Chords Explained

Note Names: Octave Patterns

At this point you should be familiar with the names of the notes on the guitar neck.  Now it gets fun!  This tutorial exposes some patterns across the guitar neck using octaves which will cut down on the mental processing needed to think of the names of the notes.  The guitar neck is full of these patterns, or mental shortcuts, that can help us integrate these concepts into our playing more naturally. 

Note Names: Octave Patterns

Using A Capo: Identifying the Actual Key

As we become more comfortable with the guitar and begin to play music with others, it's important to understand what key we are playing in.  Capos allow us to play guitar friendly chord SHAPES when we are playing in non-friendly guitar keys (like Bb, F#, Eb, etc.).  This tutorial will help us understand how to identify the actual key we are playing in when using a capo.

Identifying the Actual Key

Song Suggestions

Here are few suggestions with chords you know.  Some of these might be a little bit more challenging than everything we've done yet, but that is how we get better, right?  Take your time with one or two of these and have fun!

Goodbye Says It All, Smoke, Shotgun Rider, Sippin' On Fire

Lesson 8

Key of A Chords

Coming down the home stretch here folks.  This is the 2nd to last of the 5 most important keys of chords we will learn in this method.  Learn the key of A chords and chord exercises, then play them along with the backing track.

Key of A Chords

Key of A Transitions

We learned them.  Let's get comfortable enough with them that we can play the musically.  Click "More Videos" and learn the A, F#m, D, E transitions.

Key of A Transitions

Position 4 Pentatonic

Learn position 4 pentatonic in the key of G and review positions 1-3.  Then, just like we have with the other positions, let's play through them in all the keys that we know the chords to: G, C, D, and A.

Learn Position 4 Pentatonic in G

Run Positions 1-4 in G, C, D, and A

Song Suggestions

Here are a few songs using key of A chords that may stretch you, but you are equipped to learn!  Pick one or two and learn the rhythm guitar part.

Pontoon, Tennessee Whiskey, Boys Round Here

Take It On Back, Tip It On BackThe Chair

Lesson 9

Key of E Chords

Get ready to learn the last key of chords that we'll learn as a part of this method!  Although every single note has a key of chords associated with it (yes, even F#), these 5 keys (G, C, D, A, & E) will prepare for nearly all of the chords you will encounter while learning songs on this site.  If you come across one you don't know, have no fear!  We'll walk through it note by note in the song lesson.  The key of E has a few barre chords in it, but we know you can handle that at this point!  Learn the key of E chords.

Key of E Chords

Key of E Transitions

You know the drill.  Let's make them musical!

Key of E Transitions

Position 5 Pentatonic 

Congratulations!  You are about to learn the final position of the pentatonic scale.  Learn position 5 in the key of G.  After that, you are ready to play all 5 positions, in order, in the key of G.

Learn Position 5 Pentatonic in G

You guessed it!  It's time to run position 1-5 in all of the other keys as well.  Run all positions of the pentatonic scale in C, D, A, & E.

Run Positions 1-4 in C, D, A & E

Songs Suggestions

Good news: there are a lot of exciting song choices in the key of E that may have scared you before.  Not anymore!  Pick one or two and learn the rhythm guitar part.

My Eyes, Peaceful Easy Feeling, Meet in the Middle

You Gonna Fly, Love Me Like You Mean It

Lesson 10: Conclusion

Congratulations!  You've learned the chords, strumming and scales that you need to complete the guitar basics course at Six String Country.  You are now equipped to tackle most of the easy to intermediate songs on the site, and you are set up to begin learning basic lead guitar melodies, soloing, and music theory.  The final lessons we want you to go through to conclude the course are lessons that should help tie everything together and provide some practical meaning to what we have learned together.

Playing Scales in Every Key

While learning the pentatonic scale positions, we gave you a choice between just learning form the tabs of the other keys, or watching the tutorials explaining why it worked.  If you've already watched the tutorials, you should understand the theory behind figuring out how to play the pentatonic positions in any key.  If you haven't, now is the time!  This can be a can be a source of confusion at first, but after going through this program, you have all the tools you need to fully understand this.  This is an essential skill that will set you up for understanding the neck of guitar, creating rhythm guitar parts, lead melodies and riffs, and improvisation.  Take your time and work through this tutorial with the goal of complete understanding.

Playing the Pentatonic Scale in Any Key

Major vs. Minor Pentatonic

As you interact with other musicians, you'll hear people talk about the major and minor pentatonic scales.  Here's the good news: you already know both of them!  We'll take what we learned about the major pentatonic scale, and with a couple of additional facts to add to our theory knowledge, you'll see and understand that you already know the major AND minor pentatonic scale.  We'll learn 3 accessible riffs (and 1 hard one!) along the way.

Major vs Minor Pentatonic: Riffs & Workshop

Intro to Improvising Solos: Key of G and E Blues

There are many reasons that we spent so much time learning those scales.  You've gotten to know the neck of the guitar and started to get a feel for how the fretboard ties together.  One of the most fun, challenging, and rewarding things we can do with these scales is start doing some basic improvisation - also known as soloing.  This tutorial is meant to introduce you to the concept of improvising on the guitar.  Don't spend any time figuring out the riffs that are played, as they are simply "off the cuff" examples of how to use the pentatonic scale to do some basic improvisation.  You've put the work in, now have some fun!

Intro to Improvising Solos with the Pentatonic Scale

Changing Keys to Match Vocal Range

This tutorial explores the concept of changing the key of a song from the original to, well, whichever one you want!  This is an important, almost essential skill for guitarists that are also vocalists and sing while playing.  This is also essential if you are writing charts for a band or playing for a singer that needs to change the key.  Everyone's ideal vocal range can be different, and just because a singer sings a song in a certain key on the original recording doesn't mean that is necessarily the best key for someone else's vocal range.  This can be a complicated idea at first, but this tutorial will get you pointed in the right direction towards understanding this concept.  We'll also provide a link to our Intro to Nashville Number System as some of the concepts overlap.

Changing Keys to Match Vocal Range

Intro to Nashville Number System