Frequently asked questions about learning music/guitar

Check my page in quora for a full list of questions I’ve answered.

Here’s some answers to popular topics below:

How would you go about finding a good music teacher?
The first thing you’d want to do is figure out a couple basic questions that will help you get the idea of what kind of teacher you want and what to ask them when you are thinking about signing up.
1. Are you a begginer, intermediate or advanced on the instrument you want to learn?
2. Do you want to learn how to read music and theory or just play some music by ear?
3. Do you want to learn classical, jazz, pop, funk, r+b, country, classic rock, metal, ect……?
4. Do you want to go through a school or institution to take lessons from the teacher or do it privatly though the teacher personally?
5. Do you want the teacher to come to you or will you travel to there location? If so, how far do you want to travel to take lessons?
6. Are you considering skype online lessons?
7. How often do you want lessons?

Most of those questions I’ll ask my students at the first lesson or vai phone/email. If the teacher isn’t concerned about most of those things then I’d look elsewhere.

Here are some of my thoughts on the questions I’ve posted.

1. If you’re a beginner student then you probably want a teacher that teaches a lot of begginers and has a lot of teaching experience. I know that it might sound silly but I’ve noticed that the better I got at guitar the more important it was that the teacher was an amazing player and not necessarily an experienced teacher. You can definitely be a great player but not have the patience or the experiece to teach someone basic technique, learn how to read for the first time, learn the basic musical alphabet, ect…. It’s kind of like the most popular chief in France teaching someone how to boil water and make toast.

2. If your teacher is a strict about teaching you how to read and learn music theory then if might take you a long time to learn how to play “smoke on the water” or “Stairway to heaven” than if you learned them by ear. Though most pop music is very simple it can be hard to learn from reading sometimes. I HIGHLY suggest you learn how to read and learn music theory but it’s not necessarily if all you want to do is learn a bunch of your favorite pop songs. Some of my favorite musicians don’t know how to read music but it defiantly wouldn’t have hurt them to learn. With that knowlege you can write down songs you wrote, read music with other people without having heard the song first, and teach yourself easier by buying books of sheet music. When I teach my students I usually give them a mix of half the lesson reading and the other half just learning a song they want by ear. For more about the importance of learning how to read I attached what I’ve written before about this on the answer to another question “How do I learn to play guitar” at the end of this page.

3. This is extremely important for obvious reasons. If you want to learn how to play the blues guitar and your teacher is a master of Heavy Metal guitar you won’t have the same musical tastes and you’ll lose interest quickly. The teacher might also be confused on what to teach you.

4/5/6. I would suggest going through a private instructor directly. I have taught for institutions and schools for years and they usually mark up the price a lot just because they take care of some administrative things. Usually they’re taking advantage of the teachers and over charging you. However, that being said there are some nice family run schools out there and it is nice to have everything be very organized. The best guitar lessons I’ve ever had or taught have been at the teachers home where they’re relaxed and happy to have you there. Of course, if there’s a music school across the street from where you live and the best private instructor lives 30min away. You might want to go to the school for commuting reasons. There’s also skype lessons with internet webcams and I’ve had great success with them. Obviously being in the room with someone where they can write stuff down for you and fix your technique up close is preferable but if you find a great teacher and the only way to do it is online then that’s probably the way to go. There’s also nothing more convenient than taking a lesson in you living room whenever you want.
7. I would suggest taking lessons once a week. For a 30min, 45min or 1hr session. Usually 45min is good for adults and 30min is good for a young child. This is because young children usually don’t have the attention span for longer than 30min. You can always see if 30min is enough time for you and then add more time if needed. I find most people comfortable with 45min and serious players that come very prepared everyweek with tons of questions doing 1hr lessons.

Also, most importantly. Make sure you teacher is a nice person and you really get along with them! You’ll be spending a lot of time talking to them and doing what they say. So if you don’t like them it’ll be really tough!

Where to look for a teacher is much easier nowadays then it used to be. You can just google “music lessons (instrument you want to learn) (wherever you live)” And I’m sure plenty of things will show up. Or word of mouth is probably the best way since you’re friends and family probably know you better than google does. I’ve also heard people having a lot of luck with craigslist, facebook and just answering flyers you see at music stores and whatnot.

Great question! So many ways to answer it too.
First thing I would do is decide what kind of style of guitar you want to learn. This is important cause you want to know what kind of guitar you want to learn on. All styles of music use different guitars. Although there’s nothing wrong with playing heavy metal on a classical nylon string guitar it would make sense to have an electric with a rock guitar amp. Is it pop,rock,country or jazz? If so then you’ll probably want to use an electric guitar or acoustic steel string guitar with a pick depending on what bands you like and which sound you like better. If you like classical, flamenco or folk music you might want to get an acoustic nylon string guitar and learn to play with your fingers on the plucking hand. Remember, these are just guidlines! There’s plenty of acoustic pop rock country and jazz out there too.
After you’ve decided which one you want to learn I would suggest buying a cheap beginner guitar. These days they make cheap guitars that are pretty good quality and you can do pretty well within the 100$-300$ range. Just look for quality popular brands like fender, gibson, ibenez, ect…. Usually, I don’t recommend ordering guitars but for a guitar at this price it’s probably ok. I could talk more about picking your first guitar but I think that would require another post and a different subject? I know there’s starter kits out there like the fender squire series for acoustic and electric guitars and they actually play pretty good!

After you’ve got your guitar you need to learn how to play using the proper technique in the plucking hand and the fretting hand. It’s VERY important not to develop bad habits early on so take the technique seriously and later on down the road everything will easier. It will also help you avoid injury and neck/back pain later on. When people ask you how you got so good at guitar you can tell them you had a good teacher and send them to my website!
Here’s some videos that I made for the proper right and left hand technique with some basic exercises for anyones first guitar lesson. That should keep you busy.

right hand

left hand

There are so many videos and tutorials on the internet nowadays that teach guitar. The problem is finding one that you’ll like and actually learn something useful on.

Personally, I’m a big fan of private lessons. There’s nothing better than having someone who’s an expert guitarsist and teacher sit down and pick apart your playing and learning style. Private lessons will always be better than tutorials because if you have a good teacher the lessons will be adjusted to you and your style of learning. In a tutorial or online youtube bid you could be doing so many things wrong (and probably are) and no one is there to correct you. Or you could be picking something too hard. Maybe learning it the wrong way? After teaching for years I’ve noticed so many different things in students. Some have perfect rhythm right off the bat. Some can hear any note, some great technique, learn super fast or figure out how to read music right away. Having a private teacher will give you an advantage cause these things can be adjusted to how you learn.
If you don’t have the time to find a good private teacher you can consider online lessons through Skype webcam or at last resort try to teach your self through tutorials.

There are many things that make up a complete musician but here’s a list of the things that I think everyone requires to be a good musician on any instrument.

1.Good technique Having good technique is how well you can play the mechanical part of the instrument. Like learning to play fast and clean without having to think about it or work too hard. Before you play on a basketball team you have to learn how to dribble right? These techniques are most easily accomplished by doing exercises that work all the different techniques but you can also accomplish this by learning songs that require techniques that you’re working on. I like both approaches. First learn the exercises to get the basic idea down and then try learning a tune to use the technique in a musical concept. There’s always more work to do in this area since there are so many different techniques out there and always room for improvement. Here’s a video I made on one technical exercise (alternate picking) to get you started.

2. Good ears Having good ears is being able to recognize melodies and chords just by hearing them. Then being able to learn them or your instrument. This is in my opinion one of the most important aspects of developing into a musician. There are many ways to develop this but it can be frustrating at first and require patience. But nothing comes easily and patience is key! The most classic way to develop an ear is to pick a song that you want to learn that doesn’t sound too hard. Then learn the whole thing by ear one note at a time on the guitar. Start with something super easy like the melody to happy birthday. Everyone knows how that goes. Sing the first note out loud or if you want just try to think of it in your head. Try to find that note on the guitar. Once you’ve found that note move on to the second note, then the third ect…… until the whole song is done. This is a great exercise and will help bring your musicianship to new levels.
3. Good rhythm Means keeping a steady beat and being comfortable with many different rhythms. Not only do you have to keep a beat by yourself but also be able to adjust to other musicians rhythm when you play with them. Especially drummers and bass players. The best way to develop good rhythm is to have something keeping your rhythm steady so you know when you’re speeding up or slowing down. This could be a metronome, a recording that you play along with, a great drummer or bass player friend or even a drum machine. It depends what you’re practicing. If you’re doing technical exercises a metronome is fine. Just make sure you’re not letting the metronome keep the beat steady while you’re playing sloppy rhythm on top of it! Try to play perfectly with the metronome. I explain this in the videos I posted above. If you’re learning a song it’s best to try to play along with a recording. That way you’ll get a feel for the beat of the whole tune and also learn how the rhythms of your parts work with the other instruments. When I first started playing with other musicians I had very bad rhythm. Lucky for me I had some great friends that were drummers. I actually got my rhythm together by playing drums or and hitting a practice pad with drum sticks while a recording of a song was on. I would put on a recording of a great drummer playing a beat to a song I really liked and would play through the whole tune just playing slowly with one hand. Trying to play perfectly with the drummer so what I was hitting on the practice pad perfectly resembled the drums on the recording. I’d do it over and over again switching hands. Every day……That changed the way I played guitar forever. Ever since then I pick up the guitar and think about rhythm being perfect before I play it.
4. Reading music Reading music is not important to learn how to play music or even get really good at the guitar. I’ll admit myself that some of my favorite guitarists ever can’t read at all. Wes Montgomary, Tal Farlow, George Benson, Jimi Hendrix ect….. However, there’s also a handful that can read! Also note that most of the amazing musicians that can’t read music always say they wish they had learned to read. Think of it like someone who tells great stories, is perfectly spoken, and has the most beautiful tone of voice but doesn’t know how to write down what their saying or read a book.
Here are the reasons you should learn to read music fairly well.
1. You can learn songs quick. Just buy the music and read it down! If you get good enough you can be playing a song and hearing it for the first time! How awesome is that!
2. You can write down ideas for music and songs you’ll want to remember. Or maybe you hear a song on the radio, figure out how to play it but don’t want to forget it so you can play it next week with your friend……write it down!
3. You can play in music groups much easier! Everyone reads the music in a big band, in an orchistra, in a recording session most of the time, in the pit at a broadway show, at an original music rehearsal or recording, at a last minute gig or performance, ect…. It just opens up a lot more posibilities to play with people.
4. I hate to say it but other musicians just take you more seriously when you know how to read. I’ve heard it a million times and it sounds like this“how’s Dave on keys? Awww man! He’s awesome you should totally ask him to play in the band. Great! I’ll send him the charts. Oh, he can’t read. but he has a really good ear… Can’t read huh? forget that. It’s not gonna work.
Trust me, you don’t want to be one of those awesome musicians that has everything in this list dialed in perfectly but can’t read a note of music. It’s like being a muscle guy that can’t walk or something.
5. Leaning repituor This is important for obvious reasons. You want to be able to play actual music. Believe it or not there are acutally a good number of guitarists out there that can play really fast, clean, impressive stuff but don’t actually know that many songs. Maybe just got good at three tunes? It’s sounds silly but quite possible if you just spend all your practice time doing technical stuff. The more music you learn the more musical you’ll be and the easier playing music in will get. Also, songs have so much in common that you’ll start to see all the similarities and learning songs will get very fast after awhile. I remember when I got to the point where I could hear a song on the radio driving home from the store and then just go to my room and play it. That was an awesome feeling! I even learned a song in my dream once. I got it from ear training but also because I heard certain parts of the song that were just like another song I’d played and I already knew how it was done. Remember! There’s only 12 notes in music…..after awhile things repeat themselves.

There’s a lot of information here but from the long musical journey I’ve taken and taught other people in my carrier tells this tale. But the most important thing about learning how to play is you HAVE TO PRACTICE! The more you play in the beginning the better! Try to do it everyday. If you’re too busy one day just do your warmups and maybe play a couple chords. Work it into your schedule so you have to do it. Like “I’m going to go practice from 4 till 4:45. then cook dinner. That’s the best way to stay consistent. Enjoy it! You’re not going to be able to keep up anything you don’t enjoy. It’s so worth it! trust me!

Proper technique an posture. I pinched a nerve in shoulder back in college with bad posture and starring at the neck too long while practicing. (6hrs a day) It was really bad and to years to totally recover from it.

Keep proper technique. Stretch before and after playing. Strech your back, shoulders, wrists and neck. remember to take breaks when doing technical exercises. Treat it like a world class athlete would treat training a muscle group.

Here’s two videos I made on proper technique for both hands using electric guitar pick style.…

Proper technique an posture. I pinched a nerve in shoulder back in college with bad posture and starring at the neck too long while practicing. (6hrs a day) It was really bad and to years to totally recover from it.

Keep proper technique. Stretch before and after playing. Strech your back, shoulders, wrists and neck. remember to take breaks when doing technical exercises. Treat it like a world class athlete would treat training a muscle group.

Here’s two videos I made on proper technique for both hands using electric guitar pick style.

Enjoy! Happy practicing.

This is a very popular question with all my students.
Everyone has learned something at some point that is really hard to learn but once you have it it’s so easy you could do it in your sleep.
Very common in sports and other motor skill activites like typing riding a bike, walking, and musical instuments.
Barre chords are definitely one of those things. Often times you will meet an experienced gutiarist and they’ll refer to a song that uses just barre chords as easy, basic or say something like “oh, it’s just barre chords. Real easy.”
Someone who hasn’t learned barre chords yet will avoid any song using even one barre chord for 2 beats or substitute it with a watered down version of the chord that doesn’t have a barre in it.
That being said, barre chords can definitely take some time to figure out the right hand position and grip. The good news is once you have it you’ve got it and will probably never have to practice it again.

To make things easier lets start with the easiest simplest form of a barre. The 2 string Barre used in most basic F chords.
-Use your first finger and just barre two strings. Try an F note on the 1st fret of the high E string and a C note on the first fret of the B string.
-Your first finger is covering these two notes at the same time and you shouldn’t be pressing past the first joint on these strings.
-Your thumb should be in the proper place on the back of the neck right in the middle. Around where the 2nd fret is on the other side. Not curled around the neck. Keep your thumb straight! NOT bent! Your palm should NOT be touching the neck and your other fingers should be curled in front of the frets ready for action NOT really far from the neck or curled under the neck far away from the frets.
-Proper hand position is crutial for learning barre chords. I’ve never seen anyone do a full 6 string F barre chord with the thumb wrapped around the neck.

For a video I made on proper left hand position check the link below.

After you get your hand position right try plucking the notes one at a time make sure they both sound good with no buzz on the strings. If there’s a buzz your first finger is either not right behind the fret or you’re not pressing hard enough.
This will take some practice, you might have to adjust your hand a bit to get the right sound and you might be using some new muscles at first. So if it feels hard at first don’t worry. You hand will get stronger eventually and you won’t even notice the grip. It’s also a good idea to learn this technique on a guitar that doesn’t have really high action. Try to play a guitar where the strings aren’t naturally very far from the frets and it’s easy to press them into the frets. Try an electric thats easy to play at first. Then move to an acoustic with higher action.
Try to practice this for one week or longer until you can do it first try fairly easily. It takes time! Remember how long it took you to learn how to ride a bike or type fast!

After you’ve been successful playing both notes at the same time on the E and B string on the first fret it’s time to add another string.
This should be a little easier this time. Keeping the same proper hand technique move your first finger down just enough so it covers the first three strings all at the same time. Now you should be covering an F note on the high E string, a C note on the B string and a G#note on the G string. All with the first finger on the first fret. Now the high E string is being pressed right in your first joint or right before it depending on how big your fingers are. Remember to keep your finger that your fretting with as straight as possible! If you bend it there’ll be a gap between your finger and the string and you won’t be able to apply enough pressure to the string to get a good sound. Again, pluck all the strings one at a time until you can get a good sound out of all of them and then strum them all at once.
Practice this until it’s easily done the first try without too much effort.

After you’ve gotten the three string barre try a four string barre adding a D# note on the 1st fret of the D string.
Then try a 5 string barre adding a A# note on the first fret of the A string.
Finally, try the full barre adding a F note on the low E string and covering all six strings with the first finger. This should be a little tough and require some grip muscles to pull off but once you’ve got this and can get a good sound out of all the notes at the same time you’ve got the barre down!

Now it’s time to start learning some of those tough barre chords that are in all those songs you couldn’t play before!
Start with the F barre chord. It’s generally the toughest one and if you can get it down the rest are cake!
Barre every string on the first fret with your first finger just like we’ve been practicing for weeks now at this point. Now you get to make it easier by adding some extra fingers for added support and more notes.
While pressing all the strings on the first fret with the first finger add the 3rd finger to the 3rd fret on the A string (a c note) the pinkey to the 3rd fret of the D string (an F note) and the 2nd finger to the 2nd fret of the G string (an A note)

Ta dah! You’ve got it. I’m thinking about doing a video on this topic. Tell me that might help and I’ll get down to it.

The great thing about the guitar and music is that there are so many things to learn one could never learn them all.
However, from my experience with teaching students the most important thing to learning the beginning is basic proper technique. Developing bad habits from the start can be very hard to break later! It’s like learning all over again. So whatever you do. Do yourself a favor and when you learn an instrument take the technique seriously and get it right the first time. I have experienced this with tons of students and my own playing.

Learning how to fret notes with the left hand well.
-Using the correct grip.
-Pressing the strings in the right part of the frets. (in the middle or right behind the fret)
-Curling the fingers right.
-Keeping the thumb straight in the back of the neck
-Trying not to let the fingers get too far away from the fretboard when they’re not
pressing anything.

Also using proper right hand or picking/fingerstyle technique.
-Keeping the hand in a comftorable easy position.
-Getting a good sound out of the pluck from the strings.
-Being able to play comftorably without looking at the hands.

Here are two videos I’ve made for my beginning students (not this website) about the left and right hand technique. Finger-style is not covered in the right hand video.

Also, it wouldn’t help to know the names of the stings on the guitar.
From your eyes toward the ground- E,A,D,G,B,E

Let me know if you have any questions.

You’re right with it all being about repition. However, there are some things you can do to help speed up the process or make it a little easier. I have found that most of my student learn faster from encorporating the following practice techniques into this exercise.
1. First learn to switch from chords that are easy for you and have a lot of the same notes in common.
Ex. Switching from a first position C chord to a first position Amin chord is one of the easier switches since the only finger that needs to move is the 3rd. Try just switching that one finger. going from an A note on the 2nd fret of the G string to a C note on the 3rd fret of the A string. When you switch the chords, don’t just strum all the strings but arpeggiate the chord playing one string at a time. It’s kind of like checking all the stings individually to make sure they’re all getting a good sound. Often a string won’t sound right but it’s hard for the student to hear because all the other notes are covering it up. If you find a string that doesn’t sound good you know that that’s a hard one for you and you need to watch for that when you play them.

2. When you’re working on switching two chords try moving just one finger at a time slowly adding fingers. Eventually working up to all the fingers switching.
Ex. If you’re switching from a first position C chord to a first position D chord first play the C chord then take off all the fingers and move just the first finger to an A note on the 2nd fret of the G string. Do that a bunch of times. When you’re comfortable with that try two fingers. Moving the 1st finger to where it was and also the 2nd finger to the F# on the 2nd fret of the high E string. Finally, when you get used to that switch complete the full chord and move the third finger over to the D note on the 3rd fret of the B string. Again, arpeggiate the chords to make sure all the notes are sounding clear.

3. A lot of times the problem with switching chords for students isn’t so much the technique of pressing but more the muscle memory of where to move the fingers to fast enough. This still comes from repetition but you can just focus on the movement of the left hand until you get it down. Then try actually pressing and stumming the chord.
Ex. Instead of strumming a C chord then slowly moving over to a D chord and strumming that one. Take out the right hand (picking hand) entirely. Without pressing too hard, touch your fingers on the C chord position notes so you can can just feel the strings with your fingers. Then move them over to the D chord notes. Also touching the strings without actually applying too much pressure. Go back and forth doing this just to get your hand used to the two different positions and moving back and forth from them. Once you have built up to doing this faster and feel good about it actually try pressing and strumming the notes.

Try all these techniques and see which ones work best for you! Remember! It’s all about consistency! Rather than practice 3hrs 2 days a week it’s much better to practice 30min every day. You’ll get more done in your practice sessions and be more focused. It will also keep you from going crazy if you’re doing mundane things like changing chords.
-Justin Rothberg

Most Classical guitarists that study under someone or at a conservatory are required to learn all basic scales 2 to 3 octaves in all keys. Probably the most popular scale fingerings for classical are the segovia scales. Theory is required at most music programs but will typically be the most intense at jazz or music composition programs. Theory is more useful for improvising, arranging and composing than it is for just playing other peoples music. Most programs at college level will require guitarists to learn major, harmonic and melodic minor scales, major minor arpeggios and their variations. Often even the auditions for the school will require people to play advanced music and basic scale knowledge. Most music schools have a theory course that is required but as I said before it will probably be more intense for a composition or jazz major than it would for a classical performance major.

As far as whether or not you decide to learn all these things depends on what you want to accomplish as a guitarist. Learning all your scales, arpeggios and theory can’t do anything but good but I don’t think it’s a necessity in many styles and situations.
Here are some examples.

If you aspire to be a classical guitarist who plays Sor, Bach, Tarriega ect… memorizing pieces and playing them with the best interpretation you can then theory isn’t really needed at all. I think it helps to know what harmonies you’re playing and why they are called what but it’s not needed. While learning your basic scales, arpeggios and chords is useful to get the technique fundamentals and fingerings down it isn’t a necessity either. Technically, you could just learn how to play the pieces from music or transcribe the by ear. As long as you get the right fingerings, play them with proper technique and interpret them well thats all you need.

If you aspire to be an amazing jazz guitarist scales and theory could help a lot in improvising. It could help you learn quicker and recognize how melodies and chords work together quicker. However, it’s not a necessity! Some of the best jazz guitarists ever don’t know how to read or know any theory! (Tal Farlow, Wes Montgomary, George Benson ect….) But they had amazing ears and musicality that made up for it. In the end they figured out how everything worked together musically just from trial and error learning music by ear. This is proven over and over again by the greatest musicians that having an excellent ear and being able to memorize in your heard what your playing is more useful than just knowing the theory. However, Having an excellent ear and being able to analyze the music with theory will take you very far places. I’ve seen this happen in many musicians through teaching and playing.

Playing folk guitar styles like rock, blues, country, would probably require the least theory and scale knowledge. Most of the scales used in these styles are quite repetative and the theory is usually very basic. The music is more based on basic chords and licks that work together. More importantly most of the songs written for these styles were composed by people who don’t read or know theory. I know because I’ve worked for them and met peopl who’s job is to write it down for them. So to see the music in their eyes it might actually be good to just hear it out by ear. That being said, there are many great players in these styles that come from a classical or jazz background and do read and know theory quite well. It definitely helps to be able to write down what you’ve written or be able to read/analyze someone else’s music on the spot.

Remember, the best combination is to have a good ear, technique and knowing your theory. It’s the combination of all of these together that make the greatest players. Theory and reading also help to play with other musicians in many situations. If you don’t know how to read or any theory but are playing with musicians that do you might be intimidated or left out when everyone is talking theory and reading music. Tal Farlow (an amazing jazz guitarist) innovated the guitar and could play many things most guitarists at that time couldn’t but he didn’t consider himself a musician. When asked why he said it’s because he doesn’t know how to read music. Quite a modest comment but it makes you wonder the situations he found himself in that must have made him think that?

Summary, You don’t need to do basic chord/scale/theory study to be a great player but it sure does help a lot and you won’t regret it!
Not everyone has to be able to anaylze a symphony but some basic knowledge of chord/scale theory and applying it to the guitar can go a long ways! Set short goals and don’t be overwhelmed by all the things there are to learn. It’s a life long study and that’s what makes it so fun! Start with trying to master the major scales and reading music in first position. Then move to another position and learn the minor scales. Then learn the difference between them and what chords they work with…..ect. Find a great music teacher that explains all these things slowly and clearly without rushing through it too fast.


Check out John Williams playing the Bach Lute Suites. I keep going back to those recordings over and over again. Such a great player and such great music!
I would think it was probably cause of Cmajor having no sharps and flats so it’s easier to write and read in. Also makes it easy to teach. Especially to piano (all white keys) I don’t think it had to do so much with the sound or range of Cmajor but more like how accessible it is? Same reason a lot of blues guitar music and guitar riffs are in Emin or Gmaj…….open strings.
Flamenco guitar uses other keys but they usually put a capo on to get the open string voicing.
The Minor 7th flat five or half dimished chord is an interesting and fun chord because there are so many different ways it is approached in just standard music. In order to find substitutions it helps to know where it comes from first.

The main ways it is approached is either as the ii chord in a ii V i progression or it can be used modally on it’s own.
There are two scales it generally comes from. Locrean, which is the 7th mode of the major scale or Locrean #2 which comes from the 6th mode of the melodic minor scale.
The only difference between these two scales is the 2nd note in the scales otherwise known as the 9.
Simplified, what this means is the min7 b5 chord comes from two scales. The only difference between these two scales is the 2nd note. All the other notes are the same.
Example, if you were using a Cmin7 b5 chord it could come from a c locrean scale (the 7th mode of Dbmajor) or C Locrean #2 (the 6th mode of Eb Melodic Minor)
The C locrean notes are C,Db,Eb,F,Gb,Ab,Bb,C
The C Locrean #2 notes are C,DEb,F,Gb,Ab,Bb,C
Notice the only difference is the 2nd note!

That being said. I would say that usually when this chord is used in a minor iib5 V i progession the Locrean #2 is more commonly used on the first chord. Modaly the Locrean is more common. So automatially a cool substitution is to switch back and forth using the two modes.
You can also use any different chord in that mode using the chord scales that the mode creates.
ex. If the chord progession is dmin7 b5 to G7 to Cmin (minor ii V i) and we’re using the Locrean #2 all the chords for Dmin7 b5 are. Dmin7 b5, Emin7 b5, FminMaj7, Gmin7, AbMaj7 #5, Bb7, C7,
You can also take any of these chords and add the upper extentions. ex. Turn the Bb7 into a Bb9 or Bb13.
To take it even further you can use those chords to lead you somewhere else.
ex. Bb7 is a dominant chord and leads to the key of Eb. So you add two more chords to the progession if you wanted. Of course you’d have to play the chord faster to fit them into the same number of bars.
Instead of playing Dmin7 b5 / G7/ Cmin
Try Dmin7b5 G7 / Bb7 Ebmaj7/ Cmin.

Another one is using AbMaj7 instead or dmin7 b5 which has the notes from the d locrean scale in it. Or change it to the Locrean #2 mode making it a AbMaj7 #5. You could use Fmin7 as a locrean or FminMaj7 as a locrean #2. Try messing around with tons of different versions.

What a lot of famous players liked to do on these progressions was play the same progession and then play it again in a different key as a substitutions.
ex. Dmin7 b5 / G7 / Cmin
becomes. Dmin7 b5 G7/ Amin7b5 D7 / Cmin
Try all sorts of different keys.

Sometimes, just adding the upperextentions make the min7 b5 chords sound great! Try adding an 11, or 13. Then try that with the different modes.
In Dmin7 b5 the 11 would be a G note and the 13 would be a B note

All that being said, if all theory is theory and in the end it’s what sounds the best that takes the cake. As you work through different substitutions you will find versions that “follow the rules” and don’t sound that good or versions that “don’t follow the rules” and sound great! It’s all about the context of where the chords lay and when you put them in the song that sound great.

Using the Dmin7 b5 example here are some of my favorite substitutions.
From lowest note to the highest.
-Dmin7#5 – D,Bb,C,F,A (or add a Bb below the low D to get a nice BbMaj9 chord)
-Dmin11 b5- D,Ab,C,E,G (this could also be called a C chord over Ddim.)
-Dmin13 b5- D,Gb,C,F,B

This is tons of study and possibilities! The list goes on and on with all these techniques added together. The same concepts can be applied to any chord progression and really any chord.

My advise would be to learn one at a time and mess around with a new one when you feel comfortable with the old one. Strive for musicality!

I have a bunch of DVD’s over the years I’ve checked out or borrowed from people. I feel like I always learn a bunch of cool licks and even if I rewind it enough times a whole song. There was a flamenco DVD that I learn a lot conceptually from. However, in the end I don’t think it’s too much different than just transcribing music from a recording. I’ve gotten more out of that in the long run.
I would say to make them more fun you have to do something musical with them.

I was fortunate enough to have a great teacher that had a pretty musical way to practice scales, arpeggios, chords and all new harmonies. I still do a version of it today. Summarized it basically went like this.
-First learn the new harmony all over the neck of the guitar. In every position that it’s possible.
-Second find an example of it being applied musically. My teacher would usually write out examples for me but you can do this also by finding a song, melody, or solo ect that uses the harmony you’re trying to learn. Learn the example everyway possible on the neck.
-Third come up with your own version of the harmony. You could write out licks, write out a entire solo, or write a song that uses it a lot.
-Last try to improvise (play a solo) with it. After doing all the technical work that you’ve done up to this point you’re probably pretty familiar with the harmony and can try to apply it to solos. Just pick a song that you think it sounds good on and try to solo.

Here’s an example of how someone would work through it with the Cmaj scale.

The first week or two the student just practices the scales as clean as possible with a metronome on a slow speed. Memorizing all the scale positions. You start at the first fret and play the scale, Then try to play it starting on the 2nd fret, then the 3rd, then 4th, ect…. All the way up to the 12th fret where the octave is reached. If you want to further challenge yourself you can try it in a different key everyday.

The second week or two the student finds an example of the the scale being used in a musical context. Remember! The whole point to learning scales is to be able to apply them in a musical way. Otherwise they’re useless. For this example the student chooses a jazz tune. St, Thomas by Sonny Rollins. The melody to this tune is learned all over the neck in every position the same way the scales were.

The third week or two the student decides to write a solo over the chords to St Thomas using the Cmaj scale. It was fairly fun and easy at this point so two pages are filled up with solo stuff.

The last week or two the student spends sololing freely on the song using the cmaj scale. Takaing ideas from the solo that was just written and the melody that was learned. At this point they should be thinking totally musically and not worrying about where the “right note” are or what position the scale is supposed to be in. To make this a little more realistic the student puts on the Sonny Rollins recording of St, Thomas and solos while it’s playing. “jamming” with the record.

This sequence of teaching yourself things and how to apply them musically will give students an advantage over other students who just run scales over and over again trying to get them faster without learning how to make music with them. It’s also much more fun! 10+years later after learning this technique I still use it. If Im having trouble with soloing on a certain tune with tricky chords I go through this sequence. Works everytime and when it’s all done I feel like I own the scale.

I don’t want to take total credit for it. This study technique was one of the many techniques created by jazz guru Dennis Sandole when he was still alive. He was the teacher of many famous musicians including John Coltrane, Pat Martino, Art Farmer to name a few.

Learning how to improvise is a tricky thing since so many different people have learned it in different ways. Improvising is also a self opinionated art. What one person might consider a good solo another person might not like at all. So it’s important to realize your own goals and what kind of solo or improvising style you want to improve at.

I’ve taught improvising to young kids who don’t even know what a solo is and to jazz musicians that are working on a difficult piece like “Giant Steps” where the key changes every 2 beats or so. There are many different ways to learn it but this is what seems to create the best results and the best solos in the shortest period of time.

Transcribe! There’s no doubt about it. Just about every one of my favorite improvisers and guitarists learned how to solo mostly by transcribing by ear. Learn solo after solo of your favorite artists right off the record (or these days MP3). Make Sure you DO IT BY EAR! This is very important! Learning my tabs or music will teach you the pattern and where to put your fingers but it won’t put the melodic ideas in your head as strong as it will if you sit down and force yourself to hear every note and figure out where it is on the guitar. This will also make your phrasing much better! When you learn the first lick or phrase try to learn just one note at a time at first. Then piece them together to form the whole lick. Try to get the phrasing just like the recording and the phrasing and time perfectly with it. I can’t stress how much this will improve your musicianship and open new doors for you. Get it so you have the whole solo memorized and can play it along with the recording note for note just like it sounds.
Here’s an example,
If you think Larry Carltons solo on a steely dan tune “Kid Charlamagne” has the best phrasing and the coolest ideas. Sit down and learn the song piece by piece by stopping starting and rewinding the recording. After you learn that solo by ear you will never forget it. The phrasing and melodic lines will be stuck in your head like twinkle twinkly little star is to a 9yr old. After you learn about 3 or more Larry Carlton solos there’s no doubt you will start recognizing similarities between them. For example you might notice that everytime he gets to an Amin chord he plays a lot of things but it always seem to be a variation of this harmonic minor lick he does with a pedal point. The next thing you want to do it play along with the tune and try to play a solo in that style. Maybe taking your own variation of the licks here and there. Remember your goal isn’t to sound exactly like Larry Carlton but more to emulate the awesome phasing and ideas with your own ideas. If you do this with a handful or different styles and guitarists you’ll start to see you soloing become a mish mash of all these styles. Which creates your own unique style! I’m sure you can think about some of your favorite guitarists and tell who they listened to or what guitarists they were into when they learned. Remember, everyone is imfluenced by something. Being heavily influenced is good. Copying is not what we’re going for.

It’s not a necessity but important and helps a lot if you also know they theory behind what is going on in the solo. It will help you apply it better to your own playing. So make sure you learn all your scales, chords and arpeggio theory. Going back to our example, when you learned that Larry Carlton lick on the Amin chord make sure you realize it’s a A Harmonic Minor scale and he pedals on the 5th of the chord when he does the lick. If you want to take it a step further and work on your music reading then write the entire solo down notated.
There are plenty of awesome guitarists that learned to solo by transcribing that don’t know any theory. However, most of them admit to wishing they knew their theory and the ones that do seemed to learn it quicker. I’ve also seen a lot of students learn quicker when they know the theory.

This is tough work and requires a lot of patience and discipline but that’s what makes the best players! If you really want to learn to be an awesome musician and soloist. It’s the people that sit down and do this type of work that get good. And quiet honestly……get all the gigs!
Happy practicing!