About Our Levels


Photo: Nausheen Ishtiaq

At every level of Community Guitar class we are working on several things:

  • Technique: what your hands can do.
  • Theory: what your head knows about what your hands are up to.
  • Creative Musicianship: what your head and hands can create together under their own guidance.

Each level is defined by the mix of these three elements. In general, the mix is tilted way toward technique at Level 1, with more theory and fingerboard insight integrated into levels 2 and 3. By Level 4 we're tilted way off in the opposite direction, toward creative musicianship. Below you'll find the level-by-level breakdown in more detail.


Guitar Fundamentals

  • Guitar Fundamentals is specifically geared toward people who want to get started playing with others but who can not yet move smoothly between common chords while doing something coherent with the strumming hand. Until you can do this, you can't really get "in the game" as it were, so our entire focus at this level is on getting you over that particular hump. At the same time, you'll get a sound introduction to playing melodies with a pick.


Level 1

  • Technique: At this level we assume you can move smoothly between common chords while strumming, but that's the requisite skill you need to participate. In the rhythm department we work on a variety of strumming styles and chord voicings in open position. In the lead guitar department, Level 1 lead parts range from those that contain no eighth note passages at all to those that do, but in short and relatively straightforward passages. For eighth note passages, our focus is on developing stromg "alternate picking" technique.
  • Theory: At this level we will get started on the Community Guitar Music Theory Primer.
  • Creative Musicianship: At level 1, we don't put any great emphasis on this, except to encourage students to work toward playing both the chords and melodies to the songs with as little reliance on written music as possible.


Level 2

  • Technique: To participate at this level, you should be comfortable moving between common chords using a variety of strumming styles. You should also be able to play a melody that includes eighth notes, and do so with good "alternate picking" technique. In the rhythm department, L2 arrangements still use mostly common chords in open position, but we add a second rhythm part and employ a wider variety of rhythmic styles. At this level, all the solos include eighth note passages; our focus is on maintaining good alternate picking technique while increasing the tempos and rhythmic complexity of the solos.
  • Theory: L2 students cover all the basic music theory in our Theory Primer, including the musical alphabet and note names; the structure and spelling of common major, minor and 7th chords; the major keys of C, G, D, A and E; the major scale and scale degrees; and how to analyse a progression in terms of chord degrees (i.e., chords built on scale degrees). Some L2 students also get started on the material in our CAGED Primer, which provides a way to explore those nether regions of the fingerboard beyond the fifth fret.
  • Creative Musicianship: At level 2, those students who are interested in developing the ability to craft their own solos are encouraged to try their hands at it. Preparation for that includes playing without looking at written music and outlining the chord progression using open-position arpeggios.

Level 3

  • Technique: In both the rhythm and lead departments we allow for faster tempos, more syncopation, and longer stretches of eighth notes at this level. Solos require a strong foundation in alternate picking. Both the primary and secondary rhythm parts include more subtlety and syncopation.
  • Theory: Our focus at this level is to take the basic concepts of music theory that are covered at levels 1 and 2 and apply them all over the fingerboard, primarily with reference to the CAGED system. New theoretical concepts are introduced as required by the songs themselves. You can download the CAGED Primer here.
  • Creative Musicianship: Level 3 students are encouraged to begin crafting their own solos, especially relatively straightforward statements of the melody in different positions on the fingerboard. We also begin to lay the foundation for more extensive work on improvisation by using arpeggios to outline a song's chord progression all over the fingerboard, connecting them with strong voice leading.

Level 4

The primary focus of our work together in a Level 4 class is on creative musicianship. Please note that this does not necessarily mean "improvisation". If you were to spend a week crafting a nice second rhythm part or solo for a song, that would be no less "creative" than if you were to work one up on the fly. The point is that, at this level, you are the one developing everything but the most basic rhythm guitar part.

This is not to say that technique and theory are unimportant in our L4 work, but rather that those pieces of your foundation have to be pretty solid before you begin working at this level. The simplest way to get a sense of whether you are ready for a Level 4 class is to see how challenging you find our Level 3 work, which consists of three things:

  • Playing the recorded and transcribed rhythm parts and solos.
  • Working through the theory/fingerboard exercises that accompany the arrangement
  • Playing through the progression using only arpeggios of the chords.

The arrangement of Hesitation Blues provided below (which under our current level breakdown would be considered L3, formerly L2) is a good piece to use for this level assessment. The difficulty of the second solo is fairly representative and the song covers a lot of theoretical ground. So if you can play the arrangement without much difficulty, do the theory exercises, and outline the song's progression in arpeggios, then you are probably ready to join a level 4 class. If you would like to give it a try, download the written and recorded material for that song (below) and be prepared to demonstrate each of these skills before registering.

Hesitation Blues - Rhythm Parts
Hesitation Blues - Second Solo
Hesitation Blues - Theory Exercises
Audio clip of Hesitation Blues