guitar curriculum blog guitar curriculum

What to Play

What to Teach

twitter-icon facebook youtube-icon

Visit our Sister Site:

for Songwriting and Music Theory Vlogs.






Intro Video

   Hey everyone, Welcome to—“What to Play,” and “What to Teach.”

   So yeah: this is a guitar curriculum website, a big old index of Riffs, Changes, Teaching Concepts, Note Melodies, and Full Guitar Parts that you can play for yourself, or teach to your students—all divided into 8 learning levels, or “belts.”

   Okay, if you’re the kind of person who likes to figure stuff out on your own by just messing around—and if you’re a guitarist there’s a good chance that’s the kind of person you are—just start clicking on the belt colors at the top of the page and you’ll start to get a pretty good idea of what’s going on here. Otherwise, let me give you my two cents of an introduction about it:

   I’ll tell you about How and Why this website got started, and, what you can do to contribute your own ideas, suggestions, and

links to help make the site better, day by day.

   Alright, so I was lucky enough to grow up in a scene were whoever’d learned the newest riffs was like, the coolest kid in middle school that day. And, though it wasn’t hard to find riffs to play back then, it was kind of hard to find easier riffs—that you could play at all. You know, cause, we weren’t that good yet.

   I mean, we got by alright, but what slowed us down was that there wasn’t a good way to tell which guitar parts were easier and which ones were harder. It was like, sometimes you could pick up a riff in a couple minutes, and other times we’d just sit there forever, plinking away, trying to make sense of sketchy 1990’s internet tabs, and it’d be like—no friggin way dudes, this doesn’t make any sense.

   Bottom line is: no one likes to get discouraged by picking a song that’s too hard, or even, on the other side, learning a song that’s too like, “polly-wolly-yankee-doodle-boring.”

   Anyways, I started running into this same kind of challenge after I graduated from music school, and I needed to find songs that I could teach my students that lined up with whatever ability level they were at. And to tell the truth, for the first couple of years, I’d just sort of wing it. But then, I got better at winging it; and then, I started writing down songs and parts that seemed to work pretty well for different levels; and then, Google Spreadsheets came along, so I started to plug in all that lesson data, song by song, lesson by lesson, into this new format.

   Then I started adding other fields to the spreadsheets, like a riff’s maximum BPM subdivision, or speed, and whether it needed a capo or an alternate tuning, challenges specific to the song, inside jokes, stuff like that. And then, I got married.

   I know, what’s that got to do with anything? But yeah, my wife’s a K-5 music teacher in the public schools. And one day she told me about this one unit she teaches, called “Recorder Karate,” and how every time a kid passes a certain song level, they get a new level-colored piece of string to tie around their recorder. I mean, I guess some of the kids just go nuts for it; they love the tangible aspect of knowing when they’ve reached that next level.

   And then it just kind of hit me—I don’t have anything like that for my students; I’ve never even heard of anything like that—no benchmarks, no merit badges, no belts, no tangible way to let my guitar students know they’ve reached that next level of playing. I mean, I always just took it for granted that when I was a kid, or teenager or whatever, the incentive was just—being cool, getting good so you could start a band with your friends, and get a gig at the park board and hopefully Stacy would come, and then you’d be like, hey Stacy, you like my rock and roll skills? Or even just “Hey me, you like my rock skills, me,” you know? Just feeling cool for your own self—that’s why you practiced. And that’s still probably the best reason to practice, but still, I never stopped thinking about those colored, leveled, belts.

   So yeah, it wasn’t long before I was thinking “What about Guitar Karate?”, and “Huh, you know the end of this word’s a lot like the start of the other word—GuiTAR, KARate… “Guitarate.”

   Of course, then I did what anyone does nowadays when they think of something that they think is cool: I googled it, and other like ideas like “guitar curriculum and guitar repertoire.” And, what I found was a lot of lists of like, orders to learn your scales in, or orders to learn your chords in, and other concepts like that, but… no songs, no nothing. Just stuff like “10 easy songs to play using only 3 chords” or “The 5 most shredtastic riffs ever”, and stuff like that.

   So then I was like, alright, looks like I could probably do something worthwhile here.

And so I started to scroll through my Google lesson-data Spreadsheets for ideas.

   First thing that stood out to me was that I had almost 400 tunes with recorded maximum BPM subdivisions. I used these to tell how fast you need to pick or strum in order to play a song; so that’s where I started. I divided up those 400 tunes into 8 levels based on Karate Belt colors. And, there’s a huge variety of color orders out there, so I just picked one that seemed to be somewhat popular.

   Anyways, after I had that starting point, I stared going through the list, one song at a time, to see if I thought that the song’s Actual Difficulty matched up with its BPM max speed, or not. If it did match, I’d keep the song in that belt level. But if I felt it was easier than its speed suggested, I’d knock it down a belt or two. Likewise, if a riff was harder than its speed suggested, I’d move it up to a harder level.

   And after I had that part humming along, I figured I should include scales, chords, concepts and exercises too—like I’d found in my Exploratory Search—so I worked on an inventory of all the guitar basics and extra tricks and concepts I knew about, and then divided those up equally into my 8 levels in a way that made sense to me.

   And that’s all the further I’ll go into it for now, but there is more info about the levels on each belt’s page if you want more specifics.

Just keep in mind that this is a living, breathing, index-database. I’ve already been using this info for years in order to help me find cool stuff to teach my students, and I’m adding to it all the time—tweaking it, and making it better, as best I can. But you know what? One of the main reasons I wanted to put it online was so that other guitarists could use it too, and even help me make it better.

   So yeah, if you see anything that you think needs changing, or if you think you have anything to add, feel free to write down your ideas and suggestions in the comments.

I especially want to point out that one of the newest, and most empty fields in the database so far are the “links” fields. So yeah, whether you’re a Teacher who’s got a dope lesson online, or a student who’s a fan of a dope lesson online, I’d really appreciate it if you would submit the link in the comments section below the list, and I’ll paste it somewhere in there within a couple days.

   Again, the goal of this website is to be a comprehensive resource for anybody, whenever they need a new song or exercise idea to add to their… bag of stuff they can play, or, to add to their students’ bags of stuff they can play.

   The bottom line is that you, or your students, are going to be more passionate about learning songs and riffs if they’re at levels that challenge you, but at the same time…they’re not so hard it’s all like “Ah, this sucks, where’s my Xbox?”

   Alright before we go, I’d like to ask you to like us on Facebook, or subscribe on Youtube, or follow us on Twitter. And if you really like what’s going on here, you can donate to the site’s upkeep by using the Paypal donate button, or, you can support the site by buying something through our sponsor link on the right side of your screen, like maybe some picks or strings, or guitars even!

   Okay, whether you go full out and start tying colored ribbons to yours or your students’ headstocks, or if you just end up using the belt levels for general ideas, thanks so much for visiting, and check back often—because there are new “what-to-play” and “what to teach” ideas and links being added all the time.    

   Alright, less talk more rock, and go find something to play or teach!