How to Find Material That Fits Your Level | Hub Guitar

How to Find Material That Fits Your Level

Artwork by Sergey Banityuk

Getting the Right Level

Finding appropriate songs and practice material for your level is important. If you practice material that’s too easy, you’ll waste time. You’ll bore yourself. You’ll get stuck in your comfort zone. And growth will be minimal. But if you try to tackle something that’s too hard, it’s even worse. The results are discouraging. It’s easy to get stuck in between these two extremes.

What’s worse is that many efforts you take on will have a plateau. Most of the things to be learned are either easier or harder, with nothing in the middle.

What’s the best solution?

Sometimes, it’s best to adapt the music to fit your level. Change chords, change tempoThe speed at which a section of music plays, normally expressed in beats-per-minute (BPM)., substitute notes, omit parts, change the keyThe set of pitches that a piece of music is organized around. A key has two components: a tonal center and some sort of scale, or set of pitches used for creating harmony and melody.. Whatever you’ve got to do. It’s ironic how beginners are so afraid to make changes to the music, as if it’s a form a weakness, when advanced players are glad to make adjustments, if it suits them.

But it may be a good idea to ask someone who knows the territory what kind of songs are best for what level.

Example Tunes (Beginner)

Almost every style seems to have a “gateway” tune—the one song that’s most approachable to beginners, recognizable to a large audience, and musically interesting enough that pros play it, too.

  • Jazz: Autumn Leaves (Joseph Kosma)
  • Gypsy Jazz: Minor Swing (Django Reinhardt)
  • Bossa Nova: Blue Bossa (Kenny Dorham)
  • Rock: Sweet Child o' Mine (Guns N' Roses)
  • Funk: Cissy Strut (The Meters)
  • Blues: Sad Nite Owl (Freddie King)
  • Classical: Spanish Romance
  • Contemporary Fingerstyle: Hana (Masaaki Kishibe)

Each of these repertoire pieces illustrates some fundamentals of the style that it sits in. Autumn Leaves has a few chord changes that go a bit outside of the key, as a key goal of jazz players is to learn to improvise on those. Cissy Strut lets you groove on a funk jam, but the melody is not too difficult and the improvisation can be handled with only pentatonic scales.

Play a Beginner Song Like A Pro

While some songs may be too advanced for beginners, few songs are too simple for advanced players. You can continue to build strong musicianship for many years just by focusing on music that falls on the easier side of the spectrum. Avoiding difficult chords and fast tempos will give you breathing room to develop your musicianship in other areas.

Make a “hit-list” of top tunes

The first thing you need to do is make a “hit list” of tunes that you want to learn within a particular style. This will help clarify things considerably. At first, the list should be as long as possible, so you’ll have a lot of room to pick and choose. Being familiar with the tunes, especially the standard or often-quoted tunes of that style is especially helpful.

Now, see if you can rank that list based on approximate difficulty. It doesn’t have to be exact. Just listen and give each tune a score from 1 (easy) to 10 (impossible). Now sort them from easiest to hardest.

Chances are, you’ll see some gaps here. Many tunes will tend to cluster at the top or bottom of the list.

But the difficulty of a tune is affected by arrangement and performance decisions. That means many of the most difficult tunes on the list could also probably be arranged for a novice player, somehow. And all of the easiest tunes, if they’re standards, have probably been taken to a killer level at some point.

So maybe tunes aren’t necessarily a ladder of increasing difficulty that we climb to some impossible height. Instead, they’re vehicles to discover, learn and master the concepts that are most relevant to us, right now.

Techniques, improvisational concepts, and many other areas can be explored with this view. The question is: What are my limits, and which of those can I surpass first?

A few notes on the process


Without commitment, you can’t expect yourself to put in the time and effort to improve as a player. If you’re not committed, you shouldn’t hold yourself accountable in any way. Commitment comes in many forms and strengths. But to learn guitar, you’ve got to have commitment to something.


Organization is one of the first steps to helping you recognize your weaknesses and systematically work towards solving it. Organizing your practice can help you to avoid many practice mistakes that get you into a rut.

One problem that unorganized learners suffer from is uneven learning. For instance, let’s say you’re trying to memorize the 7 major scale/mode fingerings. Let’s be realistic: will you have time to run through the whole list during every practice session? Probably not. So each time, you start at the beginning. A few months later you start to realize you’re really strong at Ionian, Dorian and Phrygian but not so strong at Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian. This happens all of the time. That’s because you ended up practicing alot more on the beginning of the list than the end of the list. The solution is to keep notes, and pick up where you left off.


Choose your targets carefully. Stretch yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone, but don’t get in too far over your head. A good teacher can help you pick goals if you’re not sure.

While difficult repertoire can be predictably challenging, even easier repertoire can be a vehicle for learning and mastering the guitar.

As the creator of Hub Guitar, Grey has compiled hundreds of guitar lessons, written several books, and filmed hundreds of video lessons. He teaches private lessons in his Boston studio, as well as via video chat through TakeLessons.

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