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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

The Virtuous Guitarist 3

Getting started on the Alternative Development Plan

The Alternative Development Plan (ADP) assumes a different approach to guitar playing.

Here are the main points I have discussed so far in the two previous blogs:

- Its' aims are excellence in all-round accomplishments.
- It is based on a six-point plan.
- The six-point plan develops creative, musical, technical and theoretical aspects of guitar-playing.
- The ADP does not include practising to develop a virtuoso technique directly, but rather arriving at it, or close to it, through the ADP.

This is the six-point plan:

1. arranging
2. composing
3. sight-reading
4. knowledge of harmony and chords
5. playing chamber music
6. improvising

How to get started? Start on any one point that attracts you. Ideally, you should work with a sympathetic teacher who can guide you through the six-point plan. No matter whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced player if you like the ADP then you should set this as your goal and discuss it with your teacher.

If you are on your own then may I suggest the folowing:

Start on something simple. If your music reading is really basic then choose a tune by ear or in tab notation. Choose a tune you like, of any style. Start with the tune itself. Choose a key which sounds good on the guitar. Work out, or find out through the music or tabs, what the chords are. Based on the chords add a pleasing bass-line or simple chordal accompaniment to the tune.

If you have got this far you have made a good start. Already you will have considered various interesting musical features which include:
- transposition (changing the tune from one key to another until you are happy it sounds good)
- harmonisation (adding a simple bass-line and chords)

Further development:
- Playing the tune in different octaves of the guitar
- Creating a more interesting bass-line and chordal accompaniment

All this will help with other aspects of the ADP such as composing, improving your knowledge of the fingerboard for sight-reading, and improving your knowledge of harmony and chords.

You could start by deliberately imitating a favourite style or piece. For example, write a song in the style of your favourite group, or a guitar piece in the style of a Sor minuet, or of a Tárrega mazurka, or of a study you may be learning. If you are still stuck you might try to plot the piece as a graph: invent a chord sequence and add connecting notes to turn it into a tune with chords. Another way may be to think of an interesting rhythm and then add the notes. Both these methods have worked for really fine composers including Bach and Stravinsky!

If you get this far you will have considered:
- Musical style e.g. why is a Sor minuet different from a Bach minuet?
- Form, harmony, melody, cadences, changing key and lots more

Further development:
- Study a favourite composer's music to find out why it sounds as it does
- Set yourself exercises e.g. how to change key smoothly

All this will help with other aspects of the ADP such as arranging, improving your knowledge of harmony and chords.

This is a sore point with many guitarists. It is not easy to read well on the guitar but that should not put you off making a start.
Begin by becoming fluent reading one-line music in different positions on the guitar. Pick some really easy one-line music. For example, beginners' tutors for violin or flute or recorder, or even a guitar tutor! Develop your reading slowly, in time, in different positions on the guitar.

If you get this far you will have considered:
- Notes on the fretboard
- Rhythms

Further development:
- Name all the notes on the fingerboard without hesitation
- Play simple grade pieces at sight, smoothly in time

All this will help with other aspects of the ADP such as arranging and composing.

Contrary to the sales pitch of some publications it is not necessary to learn hundreds of different chord shapes. Once you know a few you can move them up and down the guitar fingerboard.
Here is a guide to how to improve your knowledge:
- Find out the basic chord shapes
- As you learn a piece ask yourself at any point in the piece: what is the harmony here?

If you get this far you will have considered:
- Notes on the fingerboard
- Form, harmony, melody, cadences

Further development:
- Chord inversions, chords of the 7th, 9th, 13th
- Musical style e.g. why is the harmony of Sor different from the harmony of Bach?

All this will help with other aspects of the ADP such as arranging and composing.

Playing chamber music is fun. It also makes accessible music you may never play solo. You will have to learn a whole new way of projecting the sound of the guitar. You will have to adapt to, and balance your playing with other players.

If you get this far you will have considered:
- Playing in time
- Listening and adapting

All this will help with other aspects of the ADP such as arranging, composing, knowledge of harmony, playing rhythmically.

Take a chord progression which you can pre-record, and make up simple melodic patterns with it. It need not contain more than two chords.

If you get this far you will have considered:
- Which notes 'fit' into which chord
- Creating connecting melodic patterns

Further development:
Improvise chord sequences and add more extended melodic patterns with them.

All this will help with other aspects of the ADP such as arranging, composing, knowledge of harmony, the fingerboard.


As you work the ADP, all the while your fingers will be working busy as bees along the fingerboard, and up and down the strings. They will be involved in many activities.
The left hand will be stretching to reach and discover chord shapes, and more.
The right hand will be creating patterns in your improvising and arranging, and more.
More importantly your brain will be fully engaged in stretching technical means to meet different musical aims.
Your technique will be improving in leaps and bounds.

In the midst of all this activity you may feel the need to do some focussed technical practise to improve this or other aspect of your playing. This is good. And of course it will edge you ever closer, as the virtuous guitarist you have become, to the virtuoso you might still wish to be.

Read more from my previous blogs:
The Virtuous Guitarist:
An alternative development plan that does not include virtuosity

Posted 28th August

The Virtuous Guitarist 2: More about the Development Plan
Posted 3rd September

How I arranged Beatles classics for classical guitar
Posted 5th June

September 2011

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=700 .
© 2019.


  1. It is never too late to become a virtuous guitarist – Carlos Bonell

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