The Key To Learning Common Chords and Scales on Guitar

When you’re just beginning to learn a new instrument, the sheer number of chords, scales, and songs to learn can feel overwhelming.


In this post, we’ll look at a few key tips that you can integrate into your practice routine and find the best way to improve in the shortest amount of time.

Break The Song Down Into Short Passages or Licks

musical scales and chordsThe first tip we have is to always look for ways to break a complicated passage, scale, chord, or arpeggio into something simpler and easier to master.


If you’re working on a piece, this often means practicing the piece in small segments, perhaps as little as two to four measures at a time, rather than attempt to constantly play through the whole song and wind up frustrating yourself, and failing to make significant progress towards your goal.


The secret that all professional musicians share is their ability to do this, and break apart a piece of music in order to learn each part well, then put it back together to play the entire piece effortlessly.


Learn Common Chords and Scales First

Before you can recognize patterns (see below), it helps if you take the time to really master the most common scales and chords first.


While you do eventually want to learn to play fluidly in all twelve keys, I’m a firm believer that before you can do that, you need to be able to play really well in two or three keys first.


That means mastering basic scale and chord patterns. Click here to learn the most common acoustic guitar chords.

Find Common Musical Patterns

Another trait many musicians share is that they are constantly looking for common patterns that they have already learned.


If you are just starting out and working on your first piece, you might not be ready to see the beauty of this trick just yet, but trust me, it’s just around the corner.


Most Western music breaks down into one of several common patterns. Those patterns apply to everything from the chord progression used to the integration of different scales and arpeggios into melodic lines.


The more you play, the more you’ll begin to see and hear these common musical elements in your piece, and will be able to more quickly master the task at hand.


Learn more about learning musical scale patterns.

A Tradition of Blues Guitar

Although many people don’t realize it, there is a strong history of Italian guitar music adapting to contemporary styles, including the blues.


For better or worse, this trend has gone largely unnoticed in the popular music community, which has led to the freedom of development of the style without recourse to mass appeal, meaning that Italian guitarists are more free to explore their own artistic expression.


The downside, however, is that it also means there is a smaller market for the music, and many musicians have not gotten the attention and respect they deserve for their technique and artistic mastery of a variety of musical styles.


Click here for a list of famous Italian guitarists.


The Stereotype of Italian Guitar

To understand this distinction, one needs to understand what the popular stereotype is when it comes to playing Italian guitar music.

By far the most common conception is that Italian guitar music is limited to Medieval and early Renaissance music, such as the song below:

While this is style is certainly characteristic of traditional Italian music, it is by no means that extent of the country’s contributions, nor is it even “guitar” music.

What many people think of as Italian guitar music, was actually composed for the lute, a stringed, guitar-like instrument used during the Renaissance Era.


Now let’s turn to a more modern example.


Playing the Blues

The reality is that many Italian artists were quick to adopt blues and jazz styles coming out of the US in the 20s and 30s. Here’s an example of an Italian piece, performed in a blue style.


The key to this piece, as well as just about any other blues or jazz piece out there, is the sequence of blues scales that dominate both the melody and improvised lines throughout the piece.


If you’d like to learn more about playing the blues, I suggestion you check out, which has information on the blues guitar scales featured in the video above, as well as information and tips to play scales for beginners.


Mastering these will allow you to better appreciate the great variety of music inherent in these different styles, since you can better understand stand the musical structure and harmonic and melodic underpinnings of the piece.


The Italian Roots of Contemporary Disney Music

music picAs we mention in our Intro to Italian Music section, Italian music is the often under-represented base of so many other forms of Western Music, including contemporary popular songs.


In this post we’re going to take a look at how Disney songs have been shaped by Italian musical history, and in particular the works of Italian Operatic styles.


Why Disney Music?


Disney music is a great example to use to illustrate the breadth of stylistic influence because it has a firm grounding in operatic structure. Solo Disney songs are much akin to operatic arias, where the character presents his or her internal beliefs or conflicts that he or she is facing within the context of the movie’s plot.

For example, take some of the most popular songs currently available by Disney, including both Frozen and Tangled.

Examples in Frozen


In Frozen, the song Let It Go, sung by Elsa as she escapes society and builds her new ice-castle on top of the mountain. In the song, Elsa doesn’t just narrate her own actions, but actually reveals a number of her own insecurities, hopes, and plans.


It is only through this style of artistic narration that we are able to get a true picture of the character, and see how her internal struggles and ability to overcome are the main factors driving the plot of the entire show.


See this easy Let It Go transcription from for a visual reduction of how this happens musically.


Another example in Frozen is For the First Time in Forever, when Anna expresses her joy and excitement to finally be allowed to socialize with the town and royalty of friendly nations, rather than play by herself in the solitude of the empty house and Elsa’s self-imposed isolation from her.


In addition, Anna’s subsequent recapitulation of her new romance with Prince Hans is oddly reminiscent of Verdi’s Aida and the aria Celeste Aida, in which a new love is encountered and developed upon through the use of individualistic solos.

Click here for more Frozen piano music examples.


Examples in Tangled


We see the same elements at play in the opening of Tangled, when the princess narrates her day with the song When Will My Life Begin.

Much like the first song of an opera, the role of this piece is not simply to present the character and show her daily routine, but to begin to show how her emotions come to play as she thinks about her routine and, by extension, her life.


This type of introduction is far more powerful, and something that would be difficult to achieve without relying on the narrative elements of a solo aria. Listen for the cues in the video below.




The Best Arias of Italian Opera

In addition to the focus on early Italian music (read our Intro page for more info on this), Italian classical music is perhaps most famous for the large number of operatic works.

The Italian operatic tradition is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which is the prevalence of non-Italian composers writing Italian arias, such as the majority of Mozart’s operatic works.

Of course, there are many more Italian operas actually written by Italian composers, including Verdi, Puccini, and many others.

In this compilation, you can get a down and dirty look *err, listen* to some of the best and most popular Italian arias of all time.

Hope you enjoy it!