Free music instruction and tab – sometimes you get what you pay for, sometimes not

I’m a self-taught musician who learned back when the only ways to get instruction were expensive lessons, sharing with friends or good ol’ Mel Bay. I learned “Needle and the Damage Done” by dropping the needle down over and over again on a Neil Young LP. Today, you don’t have to ruin your LPs because there are all sorts of great resources on the net.

You’ve got to be careful, though. Just because someone owns a video camera or has a website doesn’t mean they’re Jimi Hendrix. I don’t think dead people know html anyway.

One of my favorite sites for song lyrics, chords and tab is Heartwood Guitar. The guy who runs it is a guitar teacher so the chords are accurate. He even gives you strum patterns. There aren’t a ton of songs – he’s only one guy and I’m sure he has a life – but he’s included a lot of popular tunes, from “Good Riddance” to “Ring of Fire.”

I also like Chordie because it has thousands of songs. Thousands. It has cool features like automatic transposition – if one key has too many weird chords you can click on a link and it’ll transpose it for you. Want to know the mandolin or ukulele chords? There’s a link for that too. However, because it’s a public site anyone can post there – from 12 year olds who just learned how to change from G to C without stopping to seasoned professionals who play out every night. At the very least, the site will give you a place to start. Often I can download something, change one or two wrong chords and voila! It saves me a lot of time.

I won’t list the plethora of other tab sites. Just Google the name of a song with “chords” or “tab” after it and you’ll find lots of resources. Be careful – some of them want to add cookies and other stuff to gunk up your computer. Also, like I say above, not everything is correct. In fact, many of the sites copy from each other so you’ll find the same mistake-ridden version of “Stairway to Heaven” on several sites.

If you’re a bluegrass or folk fan, check out Jay Buckey’s site. He’s got all kinds of free tab for any instrument you’d find in a bluegrass band. It’s accurate too. Bonus!

Speaking of bluegrass, I also love Bluegrass Guitar. You can find free easy-to-read tabs for bluegrass standards.

If you’re looking for other styles, check out Randy’s Guitar Clinic. He’s been playing guitar a long time and offers great tips like lead patterns, strums, and chord diagrams. He also has a Yahoo group that I’ve found useful. Not only do you get Randy’s expertise  but also anyone who’s on the list.

Homespun Tapes is my favorite instruction series. They’ve got a few free lessons on their site. If you want to spend some dough, I highly recommend purchasing their instructional DVDs. It’s like having Rory Block or Al Petteway in your living room. (And if you don’t know who they are, look them up. Amazing guitarists.)

A live teacher is always a great idea. We’re not free, but it’s a great way to learn. I teach via Skype. For details, contact me.  I’ve played the guitar for 40 years and taught for 10.

I haven’t even mentioned the plethora of instructional clips on YouTube. Just thinking about it makes me want to pop a cold one, put up my feet and ruminate about that topic as a future blog. Until then, look up the chords for “Needle and the Damage Done” and have a blast.


What’s your favorite instruction or tab site?

About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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19 Responses to Free music instruction and tab – sometimes you get what you pay for, sometimes not

  1. Emily L says:

    Thanks Jamie! As a beginning guitar student I’ve been sifting through all these online sites myself, looking for songs to bring to my lessons. It’s great to have your recommendations. Heartwood Guitar looks like a gem of a resource – I’m bookmarking it right now!

    I’d love to see a list of your personal favorite songs for a beginner, especially an adult woman whose goal is to play and sing at the same time. It would seem from the usual “Top Twenty Beginner Guitar Songs” lists that there aren’t any women playing guitar and singing. Not to be demanding or anything, but can’t you do something about that? Or perhaps all the female performers are reserved for the “Top Twenty Kick-ass Advanced Guitar Songs” list and I just haven’t gotten that far?

    Thanks for your blog!
    Emily (aka “sm”)

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Glad you enjoyed the blog!

      Here are the songs I often use for beginners:

      Blowin’ in the Wind
      Brown Eyed Girl
      Good Riddance
      Paperback Writer (only two chords!)

      A lot of early Beatles songs are fairly easy to play. I wish I knew some by women performers but most are too hard for someone just picking up the guitar. After you’ve been playing awhile, try “Closer to Fine” or “Both Sides Now.” “I Love Rock and Roll” is fun for rockers.

      Several of these songs can be found at the Heartwood Guitar site.

      • Emily L says:

        Thanks Jamie! My guitar teacher (who happens to be my uncle) started me out with “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, “Helpless”, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “Stand By Me” at the first lesson. Lesson 2 (yesterday) he asked what music I liked back in the 80’s and 90’s, and what I listen to now. We started working on “Landslide”, which is a big leap. How can something be so humbling and so fun all at once? I have been combing through my music library trying to come up with possible songs and then looking them up online to see if they are at all playable. I am looking forward to exploring Heartwood Guitar’s list of songs. It seems like a more sane way to go about it. I should probably go to work first though!

        Thanks again,

      • jamiebobamie says:

        That’s a lot of songs for a beginner. You might want to whittle that down to your two favorites and really focus on them. Learn the chord shapes. Isolate two of the chords and play them back and forth, then choose two other chords. Then, learn the strum pattern and practice that separately. You want to get to where your right hand does it automatically so you can focus on your left hand – it’s doing the harder stuff.

        Don’t try to sing to a song when you’re just learning it because it’ll throw you off. Wait until it’s really in your hands.

        I’d save finger picking for later. Beginners are much more comfortable with strumming. Once you get some strummed songs under your belt, revisit “Landslide.”

        Practice is really important, even if it feels like you’ve got five thumbs. Eventually, you’ll get better. There’ll be plateaus – everyone has them – but you’ll start to see progress.

        Happy playing!

  2. Jamie – check out I have found it to be a gold mine!

  3. Jamie, I really enjoyed your concert when you performed for us at the LOG picnic in the summer. I want to get back into playing my guitar. I started playing in the late 60s, taught myself too and used to sing and play with mostly a small group over many years but let that go 20 years ago. Are you aware of any groups of women who just get together to jam for fun? I would love to know. Have a great time in Rochester, jamie!

  4. Kala says:

    Yeah, the interesting thing about songs by female songwriters, especially any classics from earlier generations, is that they tend to have more complex guitar parts (on average) than songs by male songwriters. Possibly a function of women having needed to work harder, build better chops and just be better overall than men in order to be taken at all seriously.

    • jamiebobamie says:

      Especially for songs we know well. I can think of some Taylor Swift tunes or various songs from rock bands that are simple but they aren’t as well known as Joni Mitchell and the Indigo Girls.

  5. Kala says:

    (I’m not a guitarist, but I’ve heard from several guitarists that they floundered around trying to learn Joni Mitchell songs without knowing she used alternate tunings. :))

    • jamiebobamie says:

      😀 Years ago I was trying to learn a Joan Armatrading song and realized the same thing.

      I read Keith Richard’s biography recently and he laughs about guitarists trying to learn some of his famous riffs. You can’t do ’em unless you’re in an open tuning. We don’t expect that from a rocker.

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