Roadmap to Learning Guitar

(Under construction – Content available through learning all open chords!)

Reflected in my approach to teaching guitar is a sequence that also applies to any individual who wants to learn rock/pop guitar on their own. I am sharing my sequence for learning the basic skills that will enable anyone to guide their own process of learning the guitar. This sequence was developed using a combination of the sequencing used by Jamie Knight at Huntington Beach High School and through interviews with various self-taught guitarists performing in various bands throughout the Los Angeles/Orange County region.

This page is intended to display transparency to my guitar students asking the question “where are we going from here?” and to be an open resource to anyone who may be interested in learning guitar. – Mr. Phung


  1. Preparatory: Setup and posture
    • Holding the guitar
    • Tuning the guitar – GuitarTuna app is great for visualizing the process
  2. Basics: Reading chord diagrams; open chords and strum patterns
  3. Building literacy: Reading tablature and expanding chord vocabulary with barre chords
  4. Building fluency: Scales and learning classic guitar “licks”

Preparatory Stage

Anatomy of a guitar

Tuning the guitar

The first step of setting up your guitar for playing is tuning your guitar. You can use a tuner app like GuitarTuna by plucking one string into your microphone/smartphone- the app will respond with a note (for example, E) and an indicator showing if the string is tuned too low or too high. If the string you are tuning is tuned too low or too high, carefully and slowly turn the tuning keys to make an adjustment while plucking. You will see if the pitch is getting better or worse using the app.

The notes of the open strings on your guitar are typically tuned to E2, A2, D3, G3, B3, and E4 from biggest string to thinnest string.

—space reserved for video – tuning the guitar—

Basics Stage

Music Theory Talk #1: Musical Alphabet and Chords

Before we get into the technique and learning of notes and chords on the guitar, we have to understand how we refer to musical notes. Music has an alphabet- but only uses the seven letters from A through G. The alphabet helps us identify notes in a musical scale (more on these later). The alphabet repeats- the next note up from G is A; the note down from A is G.

Chords are a combination of notes built on the musical scale built upon the note name (for example, the E Major chord is built on a set of notes form the E Major scale). Chords can be major or minor. We associate major chords with a happy, brighter sound and minor chords with a darker sound.

Tips for learning chords: Learning chord shapes on guitar is training your hand’s muscle memory. To help facilitate this process, here is some advice for learning chords:

  1. Build the chord shape finger by finger when you are first learning it. Strum a few times, take your fretting hand off, and see how quickly you can build that chord shape again. Repeat a few times- you’ll get faster the more practice and repetition you get.
  2. When you learn a group of chords (for example, the first three chords we will learn are E Major, A Major, and D Major) or the chords to a song, practice switching between the chords in all the combinations (e.g. practice switching back and forth between E Major and A Major, then A Major and D Major, etc.).

First 3 Chords: E Major, A Major, and D Major

How to Read Chord Diagrams

The three images below are chord diagrams. Chord diagrams provide a visual way for you to learn chords on the guitar- the diagrams represent a right-handed guitar turned so the neck is facing up.

  • On the left side of the diagram, the numbers running down are the fret numbers- where you place your fingers to change the pitch of the notes.
  • The circles with numbers inside of them are visualizations of where your fingers would go. 1 is your index finger, 2 is your middle finger, 3 is your ring finger, and 4 is your pinky.
  • The Os or Xs above the diagram represent what open strings to play (O) or to not play (X).
  • The letters on the bottom of the diagram are just a reminder about which string is which, using standard tuning. The numbers on the bottom of the diagram have a music theory function, which can be ignored for right now.
E Major Chord
A Major Chord
D Major Chord

—placeholder for video(s) of chord exercises—

Songs that use these 3 chords:

Note: Reading chord sheets

When chord sheets are provided below, the chords are presented both in terms of a “bar by bar” notation and in the common chords over lyrics notation. The “bar by bar” notation has each bar (also known as a measure) designated as 4 musical beats.

A Mansion on the Hill – Hank Williams (chord sheet)

Louie Louie – The Kingsmen (chord sheet)

Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones (*verses* – chord sheet)

The Other 2 Open (Major) Chords: G Major, C Major

G Major
C Major

Songs that use G Major and C Major:

Love Me Do – The Beatles (chord sheet)

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd (chord sheet)

Dark Twins: E Minor, A Minor, and D Minor Chords

E Minor
A Minor
D Minor

Songs that use these chords:

Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers (chord sheet)

Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison (chord sheet)

Building Literacy

The F Major Chord and Bb Major Chord- Barre Chords and the Fretboard Map

F Major
Bb Major

The F Major and Bb Major chords are important chords to learn, as they are barre chords– chords that have the index finger hold down multiple strings. If you notice, the F Major chord looks like the E Major chord and the Bb Major chord looks like the A Major chord, just moved one fret up the fretboard. The wonderful thing about learning these barre chords is that the shape is movable, meaning that you can play in any key!

To understand what chords you are playing, it is important to map out the notes on the fretboard.

Building Fluency


Chord Diagrams – Total Guitar and Bass

GuitarTuna and Fretboard Map – Yousician