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  • What makes SDML different from other lessons?
    Put very simply: SDML students learn better, faster. The prime directive for instructors is to 1) find out where you are right now, 2) understand where you want to be, and 3) put you on a path to reach - and exceed - your goals as fast as possible. Instead of traditional, textbook pathways determined by distant academics, SDML instructors are trained to recognize where you excel and show you how to leverage your talents into fast and effective learning and achievement. There’s no single path that fits everyone the same; that’s why we offer multiple programs in different combinations. Some students need beginner classes, some need advanced classes, some need dedicated one-on-one attention, and many have needs that include all of these. Our curriculum is robust and comprehensive, and the highly educated and trained instructor staff has the resources to help you learn through our massive database of tools and information, carefully catered to your specific needs. You’re unlikely to find its equal outside of academia. But perhaps the most valuable part of learning through SDML is becoming part of our community. One thing students, parents and teachers alike speak of often is how they feel like members of a family. We have artists, students and teachers spanning the continent, and reaching into other areas globally, and participating in local communities with each other regularly. Nothing quite like this exists anywhere else in the world.
  • Do you teach group classes and private lessons? What’s the difference?
    Most SDML instructors teach group classes and also take some private students. Some instructors only teach groups, and some only teach private lessons. Often people feel intimidated by the idea of group classes, but find out that they are actually far less intimidating than one-on-one lessons. With groups there's less of a spotlight on any individual, and students can also see other beginners struggling just like they are, which is a big help with confidence. Group classes are scheduled in 8-week sessions, with levels G1, G2 and G3 for beginners. In almost all circumstances, it’s best for beginners to take all three classes consecutively. If you have some playing experience, you can take the Warp 8 class, which is a condensed version of G1, G2 and G3 that you complete in just 8 weeks. Once you’ve completed G3 or Warp 8, the G4 group classes can become part of your regular schedule for learning (like a karate or yoga class.) They also run in the same 8-week sessions, but unlike the beginner classes, each session of G4 has new material. You’ll learn new songs every week, as well as riffs, scales, improv and other intermediate-to-advanced concepts. The material changes for every session, and students stay happily in G4 for years at a time. Students can typically attend in-person or online via Zoom (or other video conferencing options.) Availability varies by instructor. Tuition rates are also set by individual instructors, so to find prices visit our Instructor Directory and contact one of our teachers offering the program you're interested in. For private lessons, we offer two programs: 1) The One-to-One Program. This is a top-tier program for serious (or semi-serious) musicians who have specific goals to meet and want expert direction, guidance and instruction toward those aims. This includes weekly, one-on-one private instruction, as well as the G4 group classes, access to Student Resources and the Premium Content website, as well as an included SDML Membership. 2) A private guitar consultation with an SDML instructor. This is an "À la carte" private lesson that is scheduled one at a time, instead of a regular basis. If you just need a push in the right direction, or some expert answers/advice to specific questions, this might be a good option for you. It's also a good way to get your feet wet if you're considering Mentorship but you're not ready to commit.
  • Where and when are the classes?
    Visit the Classes section and you'll see that we have multiple locations, each with their own schedules and options. There is also a Self-Paced learning option so that you can learn wherever and whenever you choose.
  • How much do lessons cost?
    We have many different learning programs, each with different costs. Also, any prices listed on the website are our suggested prices, but SDML instructors are independent, and therefore set their own tuition. Visit our "Learning Pathways" page for a complete list of learning programs and services offered, along with suggested prices. Contact individual instructors here for their pricing specifics.
  • Which class should I start with?
    If you have never played guitar before and this is your first attempt, or if you have tried to learn on your own but made no progress, you should start with the Guitar 1 (G1) 8-week course. For learners who have attempted to play guitar and learned a few things here and there, it’s possible that the Warp 8 class is correct for you. But you may be ready for G4 or even in need of individualized guidance through the One-to-One Program. The easiest way to find out where you should start is to complete and submit the free Guitarist Assessment Survey here: You can also schedule a live, personal Guitarist Evaluation to get a more detailed assessment of your skills, strengths and weaknesses using this form: (There is a fee for this service; details can be found here.)
  • Can I take lessons online?
    Absolutely. In fact, you can participate in the same lessons as the in-person students live from anywhere in the world via Zoom (or other video conferencing options.) Pick whichever class fits your schedule, enroll and then sign in through your teacher's Virtual Classroom. If you're looking for a flexible schedule, the Self-Paced program is pay-as-you-go and you can purchase single lessons in order to complete whenever it suits you. After each class, you order the next one whenever you're ready.
  • What kind of guitar should I get?
    If you’re asking this question, it’s very likely you’re just starting out and you don’t have a guitar yet. That means the answer to this is almost certainly: a steel string acoustic. They look like this: You’ll want to make sure you can hold the guitar in your lap pretty well and keep it stable with just one arm. Be sure it’s got all six strings intact and no obvious, severe damage. There are no particular brands or models that are best for everyone. Some acoustic guitars have “electric pickups,” meaning that they can be plugged directly into an amplification system like a PA or guitar amp. This generally adds $100 or more to the price tag but is very important if you plan to use your guitar on stage for performances. There are different sizes and styles, however, so it’s best to go to a store that carries guitars and hold a few in your lap while sitting to see which feels the best to you. Now, if you DO already have a guitar then chances are you can use what you’ve got. Many guitars will work for beginners starting out, including: Electric guitars Electrics are great, it’s just that you can’t hear them very well without an amplifier. It isn’t feasible to bring your amp to class, but you don’t have to hear your guitar all that well in order to participate. Nylon string/classical guitars The classical guitar is designed for classical/flamenco style guitar, and to be held in classical position. But, they can certainly be used for learning and played like a regular guitar. We don’t learn classical music in class, and the classical guitars have wider necks that make it harder to reach the low strings. You’ll do just fine with it, but you’d probably be happier with a steel string. Some popular guitar-like instruments that are wonderful and fun to play, but won’t work well with these classes: Ukuleles Ukes are awesome. They’re fun and simple and easy to transport, and for smaller kids they are far less bulky. The problems for learning are 1) they don’t have the right number of strings, 2) they are tuned differently, and 3) what you learn won’t translate easily to a regular guitar. But don’t throw out your uke! By the end of G3 when you earn your SAGE Performer Award, you’ll have enough of an understanding to apply your knowledge to the uke and learn it on your own! Tenor Guitars Tenor guitars are a lot of fun to play and appeal to people for lots of reasons. One advantage they have is a very thin neck, but the reason for this is that the bass strings are eliminated. This means that most of the things we learn in class won’t be playable on the tenor guitar. But the good news is, much like the uke you can use what you learn in class on a tenor guitar in addition to your regular guitar. Bass guitars They look a lot like regular electric guitars, but bass guitars lack the two high strings and aren’t really intended for strumming. They’re an essential part of any rock band, but actually fall more into the classification of a rhythm instrument. Banjos, mandolins, dobros, cigar box guitars… tissue boxes with rubber bands stretched across the opening... These are all fantastic and fun instruments that have their place in music, just as other guitars. In the more advanced learning stages, you’ll acquire knowledge and skills that are useful and applicable to learning just about any instrument, especially those with strings and frets. But again, the bottom line is, you really want to start with a standard acoustic steel-string guitar. You can expect to find them in decent shape, used and new, for between $100 and $300.
  • What do I need to bring to class?
    You really don’t need to bring much, especially to the first class of G1. You’ll need your guitar and a pick. You’ll probably want a folder to keep handouts in, unless you purchase a booklet for the class you’re in. More importantly is what not to bring. Guitar amplifiers are unnecessary and generally the time to plug them in and hook everything up is a major hassle an encumbrance. It’s also difficult to control the volume and keep it at a reasonable level. Your un-amplified electric guitar will be perfectly fine in class. Also, music stands are tempting to bring, but an entire class with them would be a pretty big problem. It prevents your teacher from seeing your hands, and therefore she or he can’t issue corrections or suggestions on your technique. It also encourages staring at papers, which is something you’ll want to avoid in order to really enjoy the instrument.
  • Do I need a pick? If so, what kind should I get?"
    A pick (technically called a “plectrum”) is a small piece of material for playing the strings on a guitar and can be used to hit just one string, or strum all at the same time. When someone is using a pick, they’re said to be “flat-picking.” Guitar is also very commonly played without a pick, and players are said to be “finger-picking” or playing “fingerstyle guitar” when not using a pick. These are the two basic styles of playing guitar, and each has their own set of strengths and limitations. Neither is better or worse, and which approach you take is based on your personal goals and comfort. Because beginner goals almost always involve sing-along strum songs, it’s advisable to develop the ability to employ a pick. The percussive and rhythmic approach to strum songs involves gross motor function that results in major resistance with the strings. While it can be done without a pick, there would be added time (and pain) while the pick hand goes through the conditioning of adapting to the stress. It’s recommended to spend a lot of time exploring both approaches, but if you have to focus on one, using the pick will likely serve you better at first. Picks can cost anywhere from 10 cents to 10 dollars. In general, expect to pay 25 - 50 cents each for typical picks that you find online and in music stores. There are tons of different options in materials and thickness, so the best approach is to find a store that sells them individually, and purchase a wide range of types. Give considerable playing time to each one and find out which works best for your hand architecture and personal preferences.
  • How often should I practice?
    The concept of practice is music is an interesting and important one. But the most important thing is to make sure you never let practice become a barrier between you and playing guitar! Play is far more important than practice. The moment you decide not to pick up your guitar because you feel like you should be practicing instead of playing, you’re missing out on the entire goal. Guitar is a social instrument and it’s played for fun; if you’re not having fun with it, then what is the point? There are difficult skills involved and mastering them is hard work, but it should always be an enjoyable experience. “Yes, yes, that’s all well and good, but help me out here. I gotta give my kid/self some kind of routine to make sure the instrument isn’t just completely ignored between lessons!” Fair enough… but do you? You’ll improve at guitar even if you just play in class once a week, versus not playing it at all. You’ll get even better if you get more play time between class, but who says that’s required? Well, if you’re a parent of a student, then you do, if you want. For many parents, that’s part of the deal. You’re paying for expensive lessons, you want to see your child putting your money and time to good use. That’s entirely understandable. If you ask ten different teachers about practice time, you’ll get ten different answers. There’s no one-size-fits-all prescription. Malcolm Gladwell cites the “10,000 hours to mastery” guideline in his book, Outliers. There is merit to this idea, but it has a lot to do with how you view “mastery.” The fact is, because practice isn’t a requirement for classes, it’s completely up to you how much time. Consider, perhaps, your syntax. Ask your kid (or yourself) to have 5 minutes of practice time, and then 25 minutes of play time on guitar. For 5 minutes, do a finger exercise and then practice a scale or some chord shapes. After that, do whatever is the most fun on guitar for 25 more minutes. Maybe 2 or 3 times a week. The truth is, however, that people who succeed on guitar and play a lot do so because they are driven toward it and excited to do the things they’re good at. It’s our job as teachers to provide that kind of pathway. People who are forced into mandatory practice time *might* get awfully good as children, but they’re also far more likely to abandon the instrument, and musical pursuits altogether, in adulthood.
  • What if I miss a class?
    It’s totally fine, most people do. Life is hectic, and this is for fun! Most classes contain a lot of review, so you can just catch up at the next class. The Virtual Classrooms also contain a "Missed Classes" section if you would like to see the handouts and a video of the class you missed. Plus, you can visit your Student Resources and Premium Content pages in the Members Portal to see the materials broken down to specifics. And finally, you can always contact your instructor for copies of any material you missed in prior classes.
  • What if I miss a lot of classes? Will I have to repeat?
    Nobody masters the material in class during the session. The idea is to introduce the concepts and provide pathways. So as long as you had the material presented to you and were able to attempt it, you’re ready to move on to the next level. Also, you can attend prior levels at any time for a refresher course. If you’re an SDML Member, you do not have to repeat because you will have access to all the classes online. If you’re not an SDML Member and feel that you missed too much material, just contact your instructor directly and you can discuss whether you’d be better off repeating the class, or moving on.
  • Is my child ready to start lessons?
    It’s important not to start a child too early on an instrument. A head start is great, but there is a very real risk that a negative impression of guitar early in life can deprive a person of years of enjoyment down the line. Every child is different, of course, and it’s always a judgement call as to whether or not she is ready to play guitar. The majority of kids are ready between the ages of 8 and 12, when fine motor skills and cognitive abilities really start to develop. Most of these kids will be fine. Prior to age 8, a series of very simple tests can help us form an opinion. You can contact an SDML instructor to arrange to meet and find out if your child is ready, or if he should wait until certain skills develop.
  • How do I tune my guitar?
    Tuning the guitar is a more complicated process than most players remember it being, and you have to develop some skills to get good at it. This video shows you in the first few minutes the basics of tuning using an electronic tuner (and you can find free apps for this easily) and then goes on to talk about some other approaches.
  • When and how do I change my guitar strings?
    The Internet is inundated with opinions and ideas about the correct time to change strings. There are, however, so many variables involved that no opinion applies to a majority of players. When your strings don’t sound good, don’t feel good, don’t look good - it’s time to change them. If you’re a novice, hand your guitar to an experienced player. If she says “whoa dude, time to change those strings!” then it’s time to change the strings. Generally, if you break a string, you may as well go ahead and replace the entire set. It’s tough to find single strings for sale anyway, and unless you’re a luthier then it’s not worth the hassle of keeping up with them. So, when it’s time to change your strings, you can either have it done professionally (places like the Doo Wop Shop in Kentucky will change them free with purchase of a set) but it’s also something that can be done by most players pretty easily. For a full tutorial, use this video. Take your time and be patient; the process takes a few tries to get the hang of it. But once you have then you can save yourself a lot of time and hassle changing them on your own.
  • What’s a capo for? Do I need one?
    A capo is a little device that you clip onto the fretboard of your guitar. It serves many purposes, but primarily it’s very useful for songs that have difficult chords - particularly the dreaded “barre” chords. Basic chord shapes can be used to play many songs without a capo; with a capo, that number increases exponentially! Essentially, the capo allows players to transpose songs into different keys, or keep the same key while using different chord shapes. The music theory is a little complex and the terms might be confusing, but don’t worry. You don’t need to understand any of it to successfully use a capo. There are lots of different options for acquiring a capo. You can even make one with a rubber band and a pencil if you’re clever and patient (and probably desperate.) They are extremely common and sold in virtually any store that sells guitars, but like most things you can find them really cheap on Amazon or other online retailers. For a quality “quick change” capo you can expect to pay around $20 and it should last for many years. There are cheaper versions, going all the way down to $3, but the old adage is true - you get what you pay for. Capos also vary in complexity and application; there are some designed for other instruments like mandolins, 12-string guitars, ukuleles, etc. and even some are built to only affect some of the strings but not others. Stick with the basic capos for 6-string guitars, until you have a more advanced need.
  • What’s a metronome? Do I need one?
    A metronome is a device designed to keep time by playing clicks at regular intervals, usually measured in beats-per-minute, or “BPM.” So if a metronome is set for 60 BPM, it will click exactly 60 times in one minute (which is once per second.) If it’s set for 80 BPM, it’ll click 80 times a minute (slightly more than once per second) and so forth. There are several reasons musicians use a metronome. Mainly, as humans when we get good at something repetitive, we tend to go faster and faster. That’s great for, say, running. But it’s not so great for music where the objective is usually to have a consistent tempo, or rate of speed in a song. Metronomes help musicians detect when they are unintentionally speeding up or slowing down. They also help advancing players increase their top speeds in scales, passages and other techniques.
  • Do I need to learn music theory to play guitar?
    Well, yes and no. It’s important to understand what music theory is - and what it isn’t. Simply put, music theory is a language we use to describe what happened in a song. This includes the very basic, simple descriptions all the way to the advanced and complex. You’ll learn some music theory almost immediately in guitar class - but likely not what you’re expecting. When you learn, for example, that a finger shape is called a “C chord,” then you have learned your first music theory. Eventually, if you pursue it, you can learn very complex music theory including chord construction and modal scalar approaches, metric modulation and polyrhythms. But much of this is never necessary for the vast majority of guitar learners. Music theory is not a set of rules to tell you what to do - or worse, what you cannot do - in a musical experience. Music came before theory; therefore, theory is subject to music. Music is NOT subject to theory. Learning music theory doesn’t make you a better guitar player. It’s a tool that is very, very useful when pursuing excellence, but without practical application, it cannot result in improved playing. Bottom line: in any structured musical learning system, virtually everything you learn can be organized into some aspect of music theory. But that doesn’t mean it needs to be in order to serve you as a learner.
  • Do I have to learn how to read tab, chord charts, and sheet music?"
    Nope! :) That being said, understanding how to interpret written musical information specific to guitar will be of great help to you in learning guitar as a beginner. Struggling to memorize information without written guidance is an additional hindrance that can be avoided with some simple methods. Note: We will not teach standard notation in the group classes, except on occasion in G4. Standard notation (also known as sheet music, or what you see classical piano players and musicians in an orchestra using during a performance) is brilliant. It is, far and away, the best way to communicate musical ideas on paper. It looks like this: As a learning tool on guitar, however, it’s too much information and it slows down the process dramatically. For the vast majority of guitarists, particularly beginner to intermediate learners, standard notation will delay the achievement of their goals. Music should primarily be a sensory experience, rather than an intellectual one. Eventually, very advanced players (especially those pursuing more academic-based goals) can find specific usefulness in understanding musical intricacies using standard notation. Even then, however, it almost never speeds up the process of learning songs, passages, solos, etc. For our purposes, there are two types of written methods that work best in learning the basics: Guitar tablature (or “tab” for short) and chord charts. These are extremely basic methods using intentionally limited amounts of information and are extremely easy to learn and use. They’ll be used only to help get oriented and learn basic concepts. Guitar tab: Chord charts:

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