Chances are you've heard the old saying "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." The only problem is, when you want to learn a new skill the guitar (Scales, Chords, Songs, etc.) it always seems difficult to know which step to take to begin the journey. If you've played guitar for just about any amount of time, then you know what it's like to be interested in a new skill (let's say Chords) and begin researching all the aspects of that skill only to be discouraged at the overwhelming vastness of that skill alone (Major, Minor, Dominant, Altered, Extended, etc.).
I thought about how discouraging this aspect of learning can be and decided it would be good to write an article that will show you which "first steps" to take when learning the most popular skills on guitar. So here are my recommendations if you are interested in learning a new skill to better your playing.
Scales & Improvising
Here's a tip: If you want to learn anything new, then the first - and best - step to take is to learn the easiest thing first. For example, if you want to begin improvising then you're going to want to start learning various scales. You'll want to learn these scales straight up and down the fretboard and then begin manipulating the notes to create your own music. So don't begin learning the Phrygian Dominant or Mixolydian scales. (Confused yet?) You want the first step you take to be an easyone.
Probably the easiest, best scale to begin with is the Minor Pentatonic Scale. It only has five notes (hence the prefix "Penta-") and since most scales are Diatonic (seven notes), it will be much easier to learn fewer notes. These notes are repeated once you get to the last of the five notes, so you're actually playing the same notes in different places on the neck. Each position is considered a "Box."
One other thing: Another easy way to learn scales is to break them down into manageable pieces. Learn just the first five notes - plus the 2nd root, or "octave" note - (E, A, & D strings), then learn the rest of the notes (G, B, & E strings). Also notice the repeatable pattern of notes if you take the first position, or "Box 1," of the Minor Pentatonic Scale: Whole+Half step stretches (E, B, & E strings) and Whole step stretches (A, D, & G strings).
This makes it easier to see the scale visually. Lastly, can you see the G minor chord within the scale (Green)? Now you've learned multiple ways to learn a scale thereby cutting your learning curve in half! You can also use these methods when it comes to learning other things such as chords.
Maybe you're a complete beginner and want to learn chords. Don't start with the hard ones: Gmaj7, C13, Emin7b5, etc. No, no, no! Remember, your first step must be an easy one. Otherwise you'll get discouraged and give up. Once you learn the easy chords, scales, etc. you'll have the motivation to tackle the more advanced stuff.
So start simple. Learn the "Five Basic Major Chords" (you can also learn basic minor chords - not pictured). Their shapes spell the word CAGED and are very useful later on down the road when you want to learn the CAGED method of fretboard memorization.
If you're already familiar with basic chords and want to learn more advanced chords, the easiest way to begin is to take what you already know and add/subtract your fingers. Take, for example, the C chord and lift (subtract) your 2nd finger from the D string on the 2nd fret (Csus2) and see how different the C chord sounds. Now put it back and press down (add) on the 3rd fret of the D string with your pinky (4th) finger (Csus4). And voila... you've just created two more chords for the price of one!
If you want to start learning songs, the easiest thing to do is learn the "Five Basic Major Chords" and start playing. However, most songs use these - and other - chords in a specific order called a " chord progression." This refers to the "progression" in which the chords flow. The most common is known as a I-IV-V progression. If you count sequentially, in alphabetical order from the first chord you play (the first chord being number I) to the 4th note (IV) and the 5th note (V) you get the I-IV-V progression.
For example, if you start with a G chord (I) and count to 4, you have a C chord (IV: G, A, B, C). If you count from G to five, you have a D chord (V: G, A, B, C, D). Thus, the I-IV-V progression in the key of G Major is G-C-D. It's as simple as counting! Play these chords in any order - so long as you start with the G - and you'll hear some familiar things. Believe it or not, this is the chord progression used in 90% of the songs you hear on the radio! There may be a minor chord thrown in here or there (usually E minor for the key of G), but the main skeleton of most songs is I-IV-V! You can also use this chord progression if you want to begin writing your own songs. Easy!
The "Easy" Way Out
So there you have it; a few "first steps" on your musical journey. Always remember: Start with the easiest, simplest skills and progress to the next level only once you're confident that you've learned the previous skill adequately. And don't stop there! The key to getting better is to keep going back and practicing the simple skills after you've mastered new ones! Once you've learned the easy guitar skills cold, all you have to do is go back and "oil the machinery" from time to time. In other words, you don't have to learn these skills all over again; just pay them a visit from time to time and keep them "awake" in your mind. Here's to hoping you take the easy way out more often than not!