Folk Guitar Lesson Topics

Folk guitar is most commonly played on a steel string acoustic guitar with either pick or fingers, and is the sound commonly associated with singer/songwriters. It's a style of guitar that is designed to give a full sounding accompaniment to singers and instrumentalists, although folk guitarists often play solos as well. The use of alternate tunings and capos is fairly common in this style.

Folk guitar can be beautiful without being overly technical, so a beginning guitarist can expect to be playing some great songs within a relatively short period of time, provided they practice regularly. Once basic open chord shapes and strumming patterns are mastered, the beginning guitarist should play close attention to their attack on the strings. It's common for beginning strummers to play either shyly or with a lot of physical force, but you'll get a more musical effect by working the middle ground between those two extremes. Also, if you sing, try playing less loudly while you are delivering your vocal lines.

Below is a list of topics that are likely to be covered by your teacher in lessons, depending on your goals and current ability:

Beginner

  • Basic open-position chords, major and minor (E, A, D, G, C, Am, Em, Dm, etc.)
  • Using a pick to strum rhythmic patterns (flatpicking)
  • Use of a capo
  • Tuning the guitar (fretting method and harmonics method)
  • Memorization of guitar string note names
  • Study of rhythm and subdivisions of rhythmic pulse
  • 4/4 time and 3/4 time
  • Whole note, 1/2 note, 1/4 note, 1/8 note, etc.
  • Use of the guitar to back up/support the message/meaning of the song

Intermediate

  • Basic fingerings for major scales
  • Fingerstyle playing and different fingerpicking patterns
  • Open tunings (open E, D, G, A, etc.)
  • Barre chords (major and minor with roots on 6th string and 5th string)
  • Learning of favorite folk songs
  • Study of early songs and guitar style of Bob Dylan
  • Study of early songs and guitar style of Neil Young
  • Rhythmic strumming and placing accents on different beats to create forward motion (Richie Havens)

Advanced

  • Chords (triads) derived from the Major scale and their common functions
  • Study of intervals found in the Major scale
  • IV-V-I cadence in major keys and minor keys
  • Minor scale construction, and relationship with Major scale (relative minor)

Folk Guitar Heros to Check-out and More

Whatever style of guitar you play, listening is essential. The great players can become your "teacher" in a sense when you absorb their music. Aspiring folk guitarists will definitely want to check out artists such as:

  • Doc Watson
  • Jerry Garcia
  • Ani DiFranco
  • John Fahey
  • Bob Dylan
  • Richard Thompson
  • Neil Young
  • James Taylor

Hungry for more? Check out these great folk guitar websites:

  • www.folkblues.com - Everything you could want to know about acoustic folk guitar - fesitvals, guitar makers, links to artist websites, interviews, songwriting tips, and much more.
  • www.acousticfingerstyle.com - An excellent resource for all things related to acoustic fingerstyle guitar. You'll find interviews, reviews, tabs, articles, and even an open tuning reference.
  • www.ibiblio.org/jimmy/folkden-wp - A site created by Roger McGuinn, founding member of the folk-rock group "The Byrds". Here you can listen to Roger's re-recorded versions of classic folk tunes, along with an interesting written history about each one.