Learning the Guitar for Music Therapists and Educators

After forty years of teaching and thoughtful consideration of why students struggle and sometimes fail to learn good playing habits (technique), struggle at note reading, refuse to count rhythms, adopt ineffective practice habits, and lose motivation to improve their skills PZ presents innovative and creative new approaches to address all the above-mentioned issues…and more. While the book may be used as method book for students, it was originally written as a teaching tool for educators in creating a more efficient and enjoyable teaching path for their students in learning the guitar.

The book addresses the common above-mentioned learning obstacles in learning the guitar for students of all ages. The areas of focus in the book are Skills, Literacy, and Versatility.

Philosophically, the method proposes skill development needs to come first. Creative improvisatory exercises with YouTube links serve to provide instructional reinforcement and music accompaniment that makes the music material (songs) motivationally attractive. These tunes (formative music material) uses simple pentatonic formulas and encourage students to improvise (change the sequences of tones) to create tunes of their own. Most importantly, these music tunes (simple melodic formulas) enable students to focus technique and feel the joy of making music. The harmonic accompaniment supplied on YouTube make the experience varied and motivationally enjoyable. The additional simple-to-memorize tunes are notated in a form of tablature inform students of the note names of the tones they are fingering. In this way, students learn where four fingered notes are located on the guitar (open strings are originally omitted), soon after (possibly the following week) they are taught how these tones are notated on a staff. Having developed some rudimentary skill and been informed of the names of four fingered tones, students are able to read music and play tones using good technique and without having to look at their hands.

Nothing is presumed in the book. For instance, some students may have shortcomings in musically literacy (reading notes and rhythms). The method presents rhythm and strumming as a complimentary whole. For example, rather than asking students to count 1 and 2 and…, they are asked to move their strumming hand and tapping foot in uniform movement as they count down – up – down – up. While writing his dissertation, he came across neuroscience research literature which caused him to reconsider how best to present the rhythm. Beyond playing the notes at the correct time, he wanted students to feel the difference between a downbeat and an upbeat. Also, MT – when directing their clients in a rhythmic activities – may find this method helpful in teaching rhythmic pattern. This is but one example of how different Zisa approaches this pedagogic issue.

With completion of this book the MT student will have an excellent foundational skills. Specifically, they will be able to read standard notation for guitar, as well as chord charts and tablature music. They will know a variety of chord strums and picking patterns; they will be able to alter the patterns in a song to provide contrast as needed. They will learn a variety of common chord progressions (not just I-IV-V). When they learn a chord progression, they have learned numerous songs that use this progression. They will learn to transpose with and without a capo.

The recommended methods do not represent an end but a means to helping empower students in learning guitar skills, music reading skills, introduce improvisation, include elements of music theory (shapes of intervals, identification of chord tones, connect melodic design with harmonic structure). I would love to hear your thoughts and creative approaches to teaching. Disciplined autodidactic learners will find the book immeasurably helpful.


“Great explanations, very thorough. Great exercises, too. I’m still going through the book, but am impressed so far.”

“This book is a very practical guide to learning the guitar for use by music therapists. It assumes no prior knowledge on the part of the reader and provides a progressive structured plan for gaining the skills needed. The author uses a user friendly table/chart method to get the student playing right off the bat, with introduction to music notation coming later. The aim seems to be to get the students hands on the guitar from the first lesson and begin making music. An additional feature that is helpful is a recommended study plan, ensuring effective practice for both students and professionals with time constraints. While very much a nuts and bolts guide to learning the guitar, the book is animated by the authors enthusiasm for music and how that music can serve to make peoples lives better. He relates his emotionally moving experience as a young student volunteering in care facilities and the positive impact playing music had for residents. Aspects of music are illuminated by a kind and enthusiastic voice very much like you would get from private lessons. The student is provided links to music examples on YouTube, and asked to reflect on what they hear, what the emotional impact is of different interpretations of the same music. The book ends with 7 pages that lay out the chord progressions that cover a vast number of song standards using simple chords that are quite approachable. This is part of what distinguishes this book from other straight guitar methods. The forest is never lost for the trees.”

One last innovation that was particularly revelatory to me was the section on scales. Every book I have encountered conceptualizes scales as cells, or blocks. Here the scale is demonstrated on a single string. While making this much easier for the beginning student to learn, there is an advantage that I think could help guitarists of all levels. The challenge of seeing a scale as a whole block covering the octave is that, for me at least, there are bumps in the road caused by open strings and the tuning of the 2nd string. When I tried the method of using a single string used in this book, the underlying structure of a scale just opened up to me and I found myself playing the scale freely all over the fretboard. Additionally since scales are the structure of all the popular music, I found myself, by accident really, stumbling upon melodies, like “You’ve got a Friend,” “Paint it Black,” and “Close to You.” I think the single line scale encourages hearing sung lines.

I highly recommend this book.”

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