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The Top 10 Guitar Lessons of 2015

The Top 10 Guitar Lessons of 2015

With 2016 about to kick in, Guitar World is taking a nostalgic look back at the most popular stories of 2015, including viral videos, guitar lessons and other features.

Be sure to check out our other 2015 Year in Review stories HERE!

Today, we're revisiting the 10 most popular guitar lessons on, as determined by page views.

Even though it's a best-of piece, you'll still find a fine assortment of useful lessons here—everything from a Cracking the Code video by Troy Grady to a GW print lesson by Dream Theater's John Petrucci, not to mention two lessons by Steve Stine of LessonFace and two by Kathy Dickson of Guitar Tricks. There are some wordy pieces in here, which are balanced out nicely by a few very quick-hit video lessons.

Remember you can read the complete lessons by clicking on the READ THE FULL LESSON HERE link at the bottom of each page. Also note that, just because these were our top 10 lessons of 2015, several of them were actually posted prior to 2015. Also note that we've included 11 lessons instead of 10. Consider it your holiday bonus!

Anyway, see you in 2016! Remember to practice! We're serious!

11. Eight Things You Need to Know About Arpeggios by Kathy Dickson

As you advance in your guitar studies, you'll surely come across the term "arpeggio."

Arpeggios are a great way to add color and complexity to your playing. You can make riffs out of them, use them in solos or even create melody lines with their fluid sound.

Nearly all of the greats use arpeggios. Yet, if you're like a lot of guitarists, you might be shying away from them because you fear being overwhelmed by the "Twin Ts": theory and technique. If you have a basic understanding of how chords work, though, it's high time to get your feet wet.

Here are eight things you need to know to help demystify the arpeggio.

01. What an arpeggio is exactly The word arpeggio (ar-peh-jee-oh) comes from the Italian word arpeggiare, which means "to play a harp." (If you can visualize harpists, they often articulate notes by plucking the strings one at a time.) Arpeggios, often called broken chords, are simply notes from a chord played individually instead of strummed together.

02. What arpeggios can do for you. Arpeggios create a fast, flowing sound. Besides using them for speed in playing, arpeggios add a kick to improvisation skills. Because an arpeggio contains all the notes of its chord, you can use them in your solos and link them to what's going on in the chord structure beneath you to create cool sounding licks. Arpeggios always sound good over their matching chord in a progression, therefore, they generally form the melodic home bases and safe notes for improvising guitarists. This guitar chord chart will help visualize the notes of each arpeggio on the guitar neck.

03. Scales vs. arpeggios. Let's clear up any confusion you might have between scales and arpeggios. Scales are a series of notes played one by one that fit sonically within a particular key signature (e.g., G major scale would be G, A, B, C, D, E, F#). Arpeggios, on the other hand, are a series of notes played one by one that consists of the notes within a particular chord (e.g., G major arpeggio would be G, B, D). Like a scale, an arpeggio is linear: it's a set of notes you play one at a time. Unlike scales that contain some extra notes not always played in chords, arpeggios use only the notes found in a single chord. Both scales and arpeggios can be played in ascending, descending or random order.


10. Using Triad Arpeggios to Imply More Complex Chord Qualities by John Petrucci

This month, I’m going to demonstrate how one can utilize simple triadic shapes and patterns in order to imply more complex and varied chord qualities.

I find this to be a very cool and useful improvisational tool, because you can apply it to playing over either a chord progression that you want to outline melodically or over a static pedal tone or one-chord vamp over which you want to superimpose shifting harmonic colors.

Let’s begin by outlining, and then combining, simple major and minor triads. FIGURES 1 and 2 illustrate the notes of a G major triad—G B D—played in seventh position. The relative minor triad of G major is E minor, and FIGURE 3 depicts an E minor triad played in the same position. Notice that both triads share two of the same notes, G and B.

The “magic” happens when we combine these two triads, and we can utilize and analyze the resulting sound within either a G major or an E minor context. FIGURE 4 shows the two triads combined, so in essence we’ve simply added the E note to the G major triad.

Adding E, the sixth of G, implies the sound of a G6 chord. If we play the same pattern over an E minor tonality, the resultant chordal implication is Em7, as shown in FIGURE 5, and the single-note triadic-based phrases evoke a different harmonic impression.

Let’s now apply this approach to a different tonal center. As shown in FIGURES 6 and 7, the combination of the notes of a C major triad—C E G—and an A minor triad—A C E—result in either a C6 sound, as shown in FIGURE 6, or an Am7 sound, as shown in FIGURE 7. The beauty of this exercise is that it demonstrates how the study of one theoretical concept and its associated single-note patterns can easily be applied to more than one tonal environment.

On a grand scale, this means that the study of one idea can be applied to many different harmonic environments, yielding a broader understanding of music theory as well as heightening one’s fretboard awareness.

Another great way to use this concept is to combine two different triads that are found within the same tonal center. For example, within the G major scale (G A B C D E F#), one can build a series of seven different triads by starting from each note in the scale and adding thirds above the starting note while remaining diatonic to (within the scale structure of) G major. If we start from B, the third degree of the G major scale, a B minor triad is formed by playing B D F#, notes that
are all thirds apart, as they occur within the G major.

FIGURE 8 illustrates a phrase that combines G major and B minor triads. We can then apply this approach to the relative minor of G, Em7, as shown in FIGURE 9. When looked at as a whole, combining G major and B minor triads implies a Gmaj13 chord, as shown in FIGURE 10.


09. The Scale That Will Change Your Life by Adrian Galysh

A number of years ago, I was teaching at a guitar workshop in Pittsburgh.

I had taught at this annual workshop a number of times and always looked forward to my week there, not only because I was able to teach a class of students who really wanted to learn guitar, but also for more selfish reasons. I liked meeting and learning from some of the other instructors and clinicians.

So during this week, jazz guitarist Henry Johnson and I were jamming on each other's guitars, and I took the opportunity to ask him, "Hey, how can I, as a rock guitarist, get that 'outside' jazzy/Alan Holdsworth-y sound?"

His answer was so simple and astonishing. I will share it with you here.

He said, "Simply flatten the root of the minor pentatonic scale. Use this whenever you would use the normal minor pentatonic scale."

The concept was simple but profound. I spent a few days getting the new shape under my fingers, and before I knew it, I was slipping this into every solo I could!

The example below shows the new altered A-minor pentatonic scale. In this A-minor example, this "flattened root scale" sounds outside over Am or an A7 chord, but inside over the dominant V chord (E7).



08. Breaking Down Steve Vai's "Intimidation Lick" from 'Crossroads' by Troy Grady

As any good follower knows, we often share the very highly detailed and entertaining lesson videos of a guitarist named Troy Grady.

Here are two recent examples:

Paul Gilbert Lesson: The Truth About Inside and Outside Picking — Video

Yngwie Malmsteen Lesson: Cracking the Code, Season 2, Episode 2: "Inside the Volcano."

Well, in the video below, Grady tackles what he calls Steve Vai's "Intimidation Lick" from the guitar-duel scene in the 1986 feature Crossroads. As always, it's fascinating to watch Grady break down and explain the lick. Check out the video below, and you'll see what I mean.

As Grady points out in the comments below, you can find tablature for this lesson right here.

For more about Grady and his instructional videos, visit and Enjoy!


07. Guitar Chalk Sessions: A Clean Guide to Understanding Seventh Chords by Bobby Kittleberger

This is a compressed version of The Complete Guide to Actually Understanding Seventh Chords, which is published at Both versions contain the same core information.

We can always memorize new chords. That’s not hard.

But what if we learned the structure and the music theory behind those chords first? What if we put the time into gaining a complete, academic understanding of what we’re playing?

People shy away from music theory because it’s hard. And I’m not going to tell you otherwise.

Quite the opposite, in fact; music theory is incredibly difficult.

But if you take it one piece at a time, theory isn’t nearly as daunting, and it eventually comes together as you understand why you’re playing what you’re playing.

It’s a better alternative to raw memorization because it provides structure.

Learning and memorizing, though they can cross paths, are not the same and certainly don’t benefit the human mind in the same manner.

So we’ll tackle some real, substantive learning by looking at the theory behind seventh chords. We’ll learn how to build them from the ground up.

Step 1: Learn the Formal Definition of Chords and Triads

To begin, we need to know the formal definitions of a chord and, more importantly, a triad.


Chords are straightforward, either two/three or more notes depending on who you ask. Now, a triad:


Howard Hanson and Carlton Gamer, 20th-century music theorists, expanded the term “triad” to refer to any collection of three different pitches, regardless of interval. While that definition is more palatable, we need to stick with the formal definition here.

Thus, our triads are constructed in three parts:

01. A root note
02. Third interval (major or minor)
03. Fifth interval (diminished, perfect or augmented).

The following is an example of a triad.


In order to find each interval, we have to count semitones (frets) from the root note. For example, a perfect fifth is seven frets from the root, a major third is four frets from the root and so on. For help counting, refer to this guitar interval chart or the full article at Guitar Chalk.

If you’re comfy, we’re ready to define and build our seventh chord.

Step 2: Learn the Formal Definition of a Seventh Chord

Yes, they have a “bluesy” sound, but what does that mean? A seventh chord is a triad with an added seventh interval from the root. That seventh interval can be either major, minor or diminished, and is typically what makes the chord sound bluesy.

Thus we need the following components to build our seventh chord:



06. Beyond the Fretboard: Knowing "a Ton of Scales" Made Simple, Part 1 by Chris Breen

We all know the true measure of an accomplished guitarist is not dependent upon how many scales he or she can blaze through.

Instead, it's much more enjoyable to hear a player who has great command and control over just one or two scales. Many of the greats did not possess encyclopedic knowledge of music theory, and it didn't seem to hinder their progress or creativity.

Jimi Hendrix might not have been aware of the Lydian dominant scale—but does that diminish his ability? I think we all know the answer to that question. The man internalized the blues and pentatonic scales to the point where every note he played sounded so tasteful, deliberate and powerful.

With all of that being said, I do want to talk about how knowing many scales can be a much less daunting proposition than you might think. The key is in understanding how various concepts in music theory are connected to each other. The more you go down this path, the more you'll realize no piece of music theory truly functions in isolation. And it is these connections that will make the learning of various scales relatively painless.

Let's start with the concept of modes. Without getting stuck in the music theory weeds, modes are essentially scales. You can play them over an appropriate chord progression and they will help guide you through your improvisations. What makes modes unique is their relationship with what is sometimes referred to as a parent scale.

The best example of this is the major scale. You might've heard the saying that the major scale is the "mother of all scales." This doesn't mean it's the coolest scale, but it is an accurate description of its role in modal structure and music theory as a whole. The role is that of a parental figure.

Some of you may know that all music intervals are derived from the clean and pristine numbering system of the major scale. It's a seven-note scale that is simply numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. The eighth note is called the octave, which is always the same note as the root, just higher in pitch. Every other scale that exists will ultimately be compared back to the major scale.

For example, the melodic minor scale is almost identical to the major scale, except for the third note in its sequence. Because this third note deviates from our reference point (the major scale), we can't simply label it as "3." Instead, we refer to it as a flat 3rd (or minor 3rd) to indicate that it is a half step lower in pitch than the major scale's third note. This is how the entire intervallic system is constructed, all relating back to the major scale. This example is illustrated in the diagrams below.



Getting back to modes, the major scale also acts as a parental figure in modal construction. Let's say we're playing the major scale in the key of C. The seven notes we'll play will be C, D, E, F, G, A, B. Remember, this is based on "C" being the root note, or the tonal center. It is the focal point of resolution. What if we decided to use a different note as the tonal center while maintaining the same family of seven notes? This is the crucial component to understanding the nature of modes.


05. Essential Blues Basics: Soloing with the Combined Minor/Major Pentatonic Scales by Steve Stine

Steve Stine, highly sought-after guitar educator, teaches live group and private classes at

One key to becoming a more versatile blues soloist is learning to combine the minor pentatonic and major pentatonic scales to create guitar lines that go beyond the minor pentatonic scale.

As a prerequisite to this lesson, you should have a basic understanding of the finger positionings for the minor pentatonic and major pentatonic scales, particularly the first and second positions of both scales.

Stepping back, I should note that learning to play within both of these scales at the same time opened new doors for me as a guitar player.

Before combining them, I remember first learning to solo over the standard 1-4-5 blues progression, and my teacher at the time gave me a quick trick for alternating between the minor and major pentatonic solos: Use the minor pentatonic for the sections on the “1” and the major pentatonic for the sections on the “4," and alternate back in forth in this manner in the way that sounded best.

While this approach can work to give you a more varied sound beyond merely the minor pentatonic scale, this trick is by no means a hard and fast rule, and moving beyond it to learn to combine both scales makes you a more versatile player.

A quick point of reference to understand about these scales is that, in respect to physical finger positioning, they are identical, with one scale simply falling three frets below the other on the fretboard. That is to say, in any given key: (i) the finger position for the major pentatonic scale falls three frets down from the minor pentatonic scale, and (ii) the root note is the same for both scales.

So, for example, let’s focus on the key of A. The A on the fifth fret of the first string is the root note of both the A minor pentatonic and A major pentatonic scales. This means that, in the A minor pentatonic scale’s first position, the A on the fifth fret of the first string is played with your index finger.


04. Big Strokes: A Beginner's Guide to Sweep Picking by Charlie Griffiths

Although often regarded as a “shredder’s” technique, the notion of sweeping (or raking) the pick across the strings to produce a quick succession of notes has been around since the invention of the pick itself.

Jazz players from the Fifties, such as Les Paul, Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow, would use the approach in their improvisations, and country guitar genius Chet Atkins was known to eschew his signature fingerstyle hybrid-picking technique from time to time and rip out sweep-picked arpeggios, proving that the technique is not genre specific.

Within rock, Ritchie Blackmore used sweep picking to play arpeggios in Deep Purple’s “April” and Rainbow’s “Kill the King.”

Fusion maestro Frank Gambale is widely considered to be the most versatile and innovative sweep picker and the first artist to fully integrate the technique into his style, applying sweeping to arpeggios, pentatonics, heptatonic (seven-note) scales and modes, and beyond.

Gambale explains his approach wonderfully in his instructional video, Monster Licks and Speed Picking. Originally released in 1988, it remains a must-watch video for anyone interested in developing a smooth sweep-picking technique.

It was Stockholm, Sweden, however that would produce the name most synonymous with sweeping in a rock context, one that gave rise to a guitar movement known as neoclassical heavy metal.

Swedish guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen was influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth but was also equally enthralled by 19th-century virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini. Attempting to emulate on his Fender Stratocaster the fluid, breathtaking passages Paganini would compose and play on violin, Malmsteen concluded that sweep picking was the perfect way to travel quickly from string to string with a smooth, fluid sound much like what a violinist can create with his bow.

Malmsteen’s style has since influenced two generations of guitarists, including Tony MacAlpine, Jason Becker, Steve Vai, Mattias “IA” Eklundh, Ritchie Kotzen, Marty Friedman, John Petrucci, Vinnie Moore, Jeff Loomis, Synyster Gates, Alexi Laiho and Tosin Abasi, to name but a few.

The first five exercises in this lesson are designed to give you a systematic approach to practicing the component movements of sweep picking: from two-string sweeps to six-string sweeps, and everything in between. Practicing each exercise with a metronome for just two minutes every day will improve your coordination and your confidence to use the technique in your own playing.

Work from two strings up to six, keeping your metronome at the same tempo. This means starting with eighth notes, and while this will feel very slow, the technique will become trickier with each successive note grouping: eighth-note triplets, 16th notes, quintuplets and, most difficult of all, 16th-note triplets and their equivalent sextuplets.

Focus on synchronizing your hands so that your pick and fretting fingers make contact with the string at exactly the same moment. Only one string should be fretted at any time (this is key!), and any idle strings should be diligently muted with your remaining fingers.

If you fail to do this and allow notes on adjacent strings to ring together, it will negate the desired effect and sound like you are simply strumming a chord. When it comes to sweep picking, muting is the key to cleanliness. It is also the aspect that will take the most practice to master.

The second set of five exercises handles some common sweep-picking approaches. These are shown in one position and based on one chord type each, thus focusing your attention on the exercise until you have become accustomed to the technique.

The final piece helps you tackle the various aspects of sweeping while bolstering your stamina, as the bulk of it consists of nonstop 16th notes, with only a few pauses for “breathing.” Break it down into four-bar sections and practice each with a metronome, gradually building up to the 100-beats-per-minute (100bpm) target tempo.

Get the Tone

In rock, this technique is best suited to Strat-style guitars, using the neck pickup setting for a warm, round tone. Use a modern tube amp with the gain set to a moderate amount—just enough to give all the notes a uniform volume and sustain, but not so much that string muting becomes an impossible battle.

The thickness and sharpness of your pick will hugely impact the tone of your sweep picking. Something with a thickness between one and two millimeters and a rounded tip will provide the right amount of attack and still glide over the strings with ease.


03. Three Steps to Shred: Fundamental Daily Practice Techniques in About 15 Minutes by Steve Stine

No matter your level of experience, being a guitarist involves pushing your personal boundaries with the instrument.

Many players find themselves struggling to develop the physical abilities needed to play like their heroes, and, crucially, they never settle on a consistent set of exercises because they find themselves drowning in so many different suggestions.

In this column and video, I discuss some straightforward, essential practice techniques you can work into a simple, short daily routine to improve your dexterity, speed, strength and stamina to help you overcome obstacles and become a better guitar player.

These practice techniques are broken into three sections: 01. Picking hand: two three-minute exercises; 02. Fretting hand: a series of 15- or 20-second strength exercises; and 03. Both hands: a symmetrical exercise emphasizing synchronization between the left and right hands.

All in all, these exercises should take about 15 minutes. My students have found that, when done faithfully and properly, they yield significant positive results. Please note that it's a good idea to stretch out your hands, wrists and arms for a few minutes before doing these exercises.


02. 11 Tricks to Singing and Playing Guitar at the Same Time by Kathy Dickson

Are you one of the many guitarists who struggle with coordinating their hands and vocals? You know, you can play the song. You can sing the song. But it all goes to pot when you try to do both simultaneously.

Singing while playing guitar can be a daunting challenge for a beginner. A good sense of timing and rhythm and the ability to synthesize two different actions is necessary to pull it off. But like everything else you've learned to do on the guitar, it can be mastered.

Here are 11 tips to help get you started:

01. Apples and…apples! Like a pianist who uses both hands to play two different rhythms concurrently, or a drummer who uses all four limbs working independently, you need to meld your strumming and singing rhythms so that they sound seamless. Playing and singing aren't two separate things.

02. Simple rhythms, simple rhymes. Don't complicate the task unnecessarily by choosing songs that exceed your skill level. This will only leave you feeling frustrated and defeated. Start off learning easy songs that you like and know well. Songs that only have a few chords, a simple strum pattern and lyrics you can easily remember, like "Happy Birthday." Or you might like to learn a song or two from 10 Famous Songs with Three Chords or Less.

03. Know your guitar basics. Trying to remember how to finger a B7 chord while playing is going to make singing at the same time virtually impossible. Your guitar playing must be at a level where chord changes are effortless. You need to be so comfortable with your strumming that you don't even have to think about it. This will free you up to concentrate singing.

04. Practice strumming with a metronome. For better timing and rhythm, practice with a metronome. Although it will feel a bit restrictive at first, a metronome will make you a more consistent player. Spend 10 minutes a day practicing a simple strumming pattern with a metronome, and you'll notice significant improvements in your timing within a few weeks.

05. Know how to play the song. Play the music on your guitar until you have it memorized and can perform it fluently. One way to tell if you've mastered a song is to play it while reading aloud from a book lying open in front of you, or playing it flawlessly while watching television or carrying on a conversation.

06. Know how to sing the song. In addition to getting all chord changes down pat, you have to know the tune and lyrics. This may require putting the guitar down for a time in order to focus purely on the singing. Pick a song and memorize the words. Sing it out loud. Sing along with a recording. Sing it in the shower. Sing it to your cat. When you can sing the song without a hitch it's time to sync things up.


01. Guitar Strength: Seven Habits That Will Make You a Better Guitarist by Scott Marano

Like the headline says, here are seven habits—habits you'll need to get into—that will, simply put, make you a better guitarist.

01. Visualize: You don’t just have to practice when there’s a guitar in your hands. There’s plenty of time in the day being wasted that you can use to improve your playing. Whenever you have a spare few seconds to daydream or are zoning out in class or at a meeting or waiting in line at the DMV, etc., use the time to go inside your mind’s eye and ears and visualize yourself perfectly executing the lick, riff or song you’ve been working on.

See and hear yourself playing the part with an expert ease, gliding as one with the strings, “virtually” feeling your fingers and your pick in precise synchronization. Repeat this whenever you can and you’ll find you’re better than you were before the last time you picked up the guitar and that the experience of the real guitar in your hands is enriched for the process.

An added bonus of this is that when you get better at connecting the disparate experiences of the imagined and the real, you’ll find that the accuracy of translating what you hear in your head through your fingers to the fretboard will significantly improve, as will your ability to transcribe things you hear while away from your guitar (if nothing else, you’ll be floored at how realistic your air guitar playing will be!).

02. Learn Something New Every Day: This is one of the easiest things you can do to enrich your guitar playing, musicianship and, most importantly, your discipline and motivation. Simply put, find one guitar-related thing a day that you didn’t know already and learn it. And play it. It can be a riff, a lick, a chord, a scale, an exercise, a song, a melody, an altered tuning, a strum pattern, the part of a song you know all of the cool riffs of but never bothered to learn the “boring” connecting transition sections of, whatever.

The discipline of seeking out, playing and internalizing a new piece of guitar knowledge on a daily basis will feed your subconscious musical instincts, add new concepts to your muscle memory and ultimately aid in your ability to express yourself and perform effortlessly on the guitar.

Make this a part of your day and you’ll find that as you continue on your journey, one thing will become two, then three, and on and on until you are devouring as much as you can absorb on the guitar, every day!


John 5 Brings the Country-Metal Thunder on "Black Grass Plague" — Video