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Picking Technique (Guitar Lesson)

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Pamela Goldsmith

Picking Technique

In lesson 2, Pamela provides more introductory information about playing classical guitar. You will learn about nail care and proper tone production. In addition, Pamela introduces the "PIMA" technique and right hand fingering concepts.

Taught by Pamela Goldsmith in Classical Guitar with Pamela Goldsmith seriesLength: 17:08Difficulty: 1.5 of 5
Chapter 1: (17:07) Picking Technique / Nail Care When playing classical guitar, the right hand fingernails are used to pluck the strings. Consequently, they must be grown out slightly and shaped properly. The importance of properly shaping the strings cannot be stressed enough! The quality of your tone is largely dependent upon how well your nails are cared for.

Nail Types

Everybody's nails and hands are different. However, almost all nail shapes fall into four categories.

1. Type A - The nail features a steady curve across its surface.

2. Type B - The nail is relatively flat across its surface.

3. Type C - The nail bends downward. This nail type is undesirable for classical guitar. If your nails meet this description, you may want to consider using ping pong balls, acrylic nails, or the Alaskapik. More information about this subject is provided below.

4. Type D - The nail bends in an upward direction across its surface.

Shaping the Nails

A. Length

The shorter you keep your nails, the better. The fingernail should extend beyond the fleshy pad of the finger by about 1 millimeter. It's much easier to play rapid scale passages, tremolo passages, and arpeggios with shorter nails. Short nails produce the loudest and clearest tone. Also, as nails grow longer, they are more prone to break.

B. Overall Nail Shape

The edge of the nail must be shaped into a straight line or a consistent arching curve. Many players naturally have small hooks or divots that grown into the nails. A hook is a portion of the nail that grows in a different direction from the rest of the nail. In order to produce a solid tone, all hooks must be removed from the nail. Hooks result in a brittle, snapping sound. File the underside of the nail across the hook, until this portion of the nail is smooth and straight like the rest of the nail.

C. Surface Area

The maximum amount of nail surface area should make contact with the string. For this reason, many guitarists shape their nails into a ramp-like surface. The nail should gradually get longer towards the right side. With this nail shape, the nail glides smoothly across the string when the proper plucking motion is utilized.

Shaping the Nails (contd.)

Buy a nail file that has several levels of coarseness. Ideally, the file should have seven different coarseness levels.

1: heavy grit for shaping
2. medium grit for shaping
3: fine grit to neaten edges
4: even out the nail (ensures consistency across the nail)
5. smooth the nail
6. buff the nail
7. shine the nail

Use surfaces 2-7 when preparing the nail. Do not neglect the last two steps! These are two of the most important. In order to produce the best possible tone, your fingernails must be as smooth as glass!

At first, shape the nail into a perfectly round shape. Use the file underneath the nail to remove any hooks. The bottom of the nail should remain flat and consistent all the way across. Then, add the ramp. Most players prefer to slope the fingernail so that the right side is slightly taller. This ensures that maximum nail surface area travels across the string. This produces the loudest, clearest tone possible.

Note: If your nails produce a brittle snapping sound, your nails are shaped incorrectly, or you are playing with poor technique.

Final Thoughts on Nail Maintenance

These tips concerning nails maintenance were written by classical guitarist Karl Wohlwend. Click here for more information about Karl.

1. Keep your nails well-maintained. A shorter, smoother nail will be less likely to break on door handles, guitar case latches, etc.

2. Be flexible. Nails are almost never prefect. However, being adaptable will allow you to play with your nails in a variety of conditions.

3. Be strict. Even though it is possible to play with no nails and / or nails in various conditions, never play with nails that produce poor tone quality. Your ear will get accustomed to hearing poor sound, and you will not push yourself to create good tone.

4. Keep in mind that nervousness affects accuracy. For performance situations, it may be helpful to grow the nails slightly longer than usual.

5. Nails break more often when dry. In dry climates, breaks can be prevented by moisturizing the nail. Vaseline Intensive Care Hand and Nail Formula works very well.

Solutions for Broken Nails or Undesirable Nail Types

Nails break rather frequently. Or, your nails may naturally grow in a way that is not conducive to playing the classical guitar. Unfortunately, nothing can compare to the feeling and tone produced by natural nails. However, there are some synthetic options that work almost as well. Acrylic nails such as Lee Press-On nails are made of a much harder substance than the human nail. Consequently, they produce a louder tone. Unfortunately, due to their hardness, they produce a rather harsh tone that is undesirable. The vast majority of guitarists prefer to glue ping pong balls to the underside of the nails.

Alaskapiks present an effective third option. Alaskapiks are attached underneath the nail and wrap around the fingertip. They can be shaped and buffed like a natural nail or an acrylic. The advantage to these picks is that no gluing is necessary. This allows the nail to breath and grown in a healthy, natural state. Unfortunately, many classical players find that these picks feel awkward since they wrap around the finger.

Right Hand Positioning

In order to position the right hand correctly, the rest of the body, especially the shoulders, must be positioned correctly. If necessary, review all of the proper posture guidelines presented in lesson 1 at this time.

Make sure that the shoulders are relaxed. Do not shrug the right shoulder to adjust the height of the right hand. If the guitar is not sitting at the ideal height for you, adjust the height of your footstool.

Forearm Position

The upper forearm must rest on the body of the guitar where the side and lower portion of the soundboard meet. This allows the entire forearm to pivot up and down like a crane.

The elbow must sit behind the edge of the body. It should not make contact with the guitar at any point.

Hand Position

The most powerful tone is produced when the index finger lines up with the back edge of the soundhole. The remaining fingers relax as they rest on the strings. The thumb extends beyond the remaining fingers. The strings respond best when the hand is positioned exactly halfway between the bridge and the neck. Also, this position allows vibrations to escape from the soundhole and travel throughout the room. Playing directly over the soundhole produces a quieter tone since some of the vibrations are blocked by the hand.

Two different right hand strokes are used when playing classical guitar. These two strokes are referred to as "free strokes" and "rest strokes" or "tirando" and "apoyondo" respectively. Each type of stroke produces its own unique sound and has its own applications. The free stroke is used far more often. It is used for the vast majority of material that you will play. Many guitarists don't even begin to use the rest stroke until they have significant experience playing classical guitar. The rest stroke produces a louder and slightly rounder tone. It is used to highlight scale passages or important melody notes.

The proper technique for both strokes will seem very awkward at first. Do not be tempted to cut any corners with these techniques. The quality of your tone is largely determined by the quality of your plucking technique.

Free Stroke Movement

When performing a free stroke, the finger plucks through the string on its way towards the palm. The plucking movement must originate from the knuckle joint. This produces the loudest, most desirable tone possible.

Note: The three joints in the hands are called the base joint, middle or knuckle joint, and tip joint. Memorize these names. They will be referenced periodically throughout the course of this lesson series.

Hand Positioning for Free Strokes

The base joint of the hand must hover directly over the string that is being plucked. This positioning produces the loudest tone, because it allows the finger to displace the string as far as possible. If the joint is not positioned above the string, you will experience problems with accuracy.

Free Stroke Exercise Guidelines

-Practice playing strokes on each open string.

-Do not even worry about rhythm at this point. Focus your attention on the mechanics of the right hand.

-Exaggerate the free stroke movement by pulling the plucking finger all the way towards the palm. When playing rapid scale passages, this exaggerated movement is not always practical. However, practicing in this manner will enhance your tone and the strength of the right hand fingers.

-Practice this exercise several times each day to get acquainted with proper right hand technique.

Rest Stroke Movement

The positioning of the fingers must change slightly when a rest stroke is performed. However, the overall positioning of the hand should not change at all. The finger is held slightly straighter when performing a rest stroke. A slight bend is made at the middle joint.

When performing a rest stroke, the plucking movement still originates from the base joint. The base joint should hover two strings above the string being plucked. For example, if you are plucking the first string, the base joint should hover above the third string.

Regardless of whether a rest stroke or free stroke is performed, the tip joint of the fingers must remain as relaxed as possible. This will allow you to play with maximum speed, accuracy, and endurance. It will also produce the best possible tone.

Components of a Stroke

Every stroke consists of three fluid steps.

1. Planting or preparation
2. Pressure
3. Release

The finger rests on the string during the planting stage as it prepares to play. Next, the nail applies pressure to the string, which in turn displaces it. Finally, the string begins to vibrate when the nail releases from it. When performing a rest stroke, the pressure is applied towards the soundboard. The string is displaced in an upwards direction during a free stroke.

Technique Tryout

Practice your free stroke technique with the thumb on the first string. Focus all of your attention on creating a clear, solid tone. Watch and emulate Pamela's technique as she demonstrates some free strokes on the first string at 07:00 in the lesson video.

Practice your free stroke technique with the remaining fingers on the first string. Remember to always plant your thumb on the string below the one you are playing a free stroke with. You want to make sure that the tone produced by each finger is identical. Make sure the volume remains the same regardless of which finger you are using.

Also, test out the tone of your thumb nail by strumming through some chord voicings that you know. Make sure that you are not producing a snapping, brittle sound as the nail passes through the string. The tone should be warm, round, and loud. Also, make sure the nail isn't getting hung up on any of the strings.

Free Stroke Exercise

Pamela repeats the same chromatic exercise from the previous lesson. This time around however, the right hand fingering is different. Alternate fingers I and M throughout. These are the fingers that are predominantly used to play scalar runs. If you have experience playing with a pick, think of i as a downstroke and m as an upstroke. Thus, by alternating I and M you are essentially alternate picking and able to play twice as fast.

Remember to keep the thumb planted on the second string as you play through the exercise. Focus on creating a nice tone with equal volume between both of your fingers. Practice very slowly in time with a metronome. Speed is completely irrelevant to this exercise!

Pamela provides a demonstration of the exercise at 13:27

Practice through the same exercise alternating m and a. Do not neglect the a finger in your technical practice!


To further practice your right hand skills, play through the scales that you know at this point in time. Alternate fingers I and M throughout. Then repeat the same process while alternating the M and A fingers.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Supplemental Learning Material



Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

Rocker816Rocker816 replied

Hi Pamela, not sure if youll get this or not, but love your lessons! Can I find finger picks? I'm unable to grow my nails out, as I am in medical school, and it makes surgical technique/examinations a bother... Played guitar for a long time, just learning classical, and my fingerpads (obv) don't create the same tone that nails do! What are your thoughts!?

pbolgerpbolger replied

Also a doctor who cant grow nails. Any solutions to this?

grburgessgrburgess replied

Now I have to return my frying pan after learning that it's not good for nail care.

hylidaehylidae replied

Thanks! Now I have a reason to stop biting my nails!

BarsymesBarsymes replied

I always had nails that I constantly broke playing guitar and didn't want acrylics. My wife recommended taking the hair and nails vitamin from Costco which is mostly just Biotin. After about one month of tAking it I could beat the hell out of a steel string with no affect on pretty long nails. It's crazy how strong my nails are since I started taking it. A must for any finger style player.

shiroshiro replied

it could have been the supplement you were taking, but my guess is that it could also be from playing! The more you lose nails from playing, the more your body will realize what's going on and work to rectify the situation (by making stronger nails). So yeah, I'll bet at least part of the strengthening of your nails was from your body's natural reaction.

vividvivid replied

I enjoy the lesson can wait to be some what decent by December but way when I press the string on the fret it sound like vibrate is not coming out clear

BuffyLOLBuffyLOL replied

I enjoyed this lesson very much.

weebaldyweebaldy replied

Really enjoying this course. Coming from an electric background I must have fallen into some very bad habits as I can't believe how much I have to concentrate to alternate my picking correctly.

wayfaluawayfalua replied

Actually this is an exceptionally lesson, never knew how to take care of my nails for the guitar

ammoammo replied

Question about the exercise at the end: after I play the string with my 1st finger (on my fretting hand) do I leave that finger on the string as I play the 2nd finger and then leave that one on the string as I play the 3rd and so on? It seems like that's what you're doing and I just want to make sure I shouldn't be lifting the finger off the string after I am done playing the note. Let me know if this question isn't clear. :)

rnak12rnak12 replied

For some reason my thumb wants to hit the string with the flesh rather than the nail.

grungiegrungie replied

what about persons with no nails... i mean.... i had taht habit of bite my nails,... but they dont grow anymore.....

Pamela.GoldsmithPamela.Goldsmith replied

Make sure the tips of your fingers are smooth. It sounds weird but you may have to lightly file your flesh to smooth out any dead skin on your fingertips. Play into the strings for nice volume. You won't get as much color contrasts unless you really move your arm close to the bridge, soundhole and fretboard, but you get good results if you play into the strings with color contrasts.

infinitrinfinitr replied

Will stop biting!

dagchristiandagchristian replied

....or fingerpicks?

dannycdannyc replied

I gotta stop biting those nails..bad, bad habit...more guitar to relieve stress..

ned20ned20 replied

Why doesn't the second lession play?

Tyler.RughTyler.Rugh replied

Lesson 2 Is Up and Running Great.

Classical Guitar with Pamela Goldsmith

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

The origins of the classical guitar date back to the fifteenth century. The vihuela, lute, and baroque guitar are the early predecessors of the guitar. With its origins reaching deep into the past, the classical guitar repertoire spans over five hundred years worth of material. Pamela Goldsmith explains the techniques necessary to mastering this timeless art form.

Introducing Pamela Goldsmith With Classical GuitarLesson 1

Introducing Pamela Goldsmith With Classical Guitar

Here we go JamPlay! A new instructor is joining the squad. Her name is Pamela Goldsmith, and she is here to teach us about classical guitar.

Length: 14:58 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Picking TechniqueLesson 2

Picking Technique

In lesson 2, Pamela provides more introductory information about playing classical guitar. You will learn about nail care and proper tone production.

Length: 17:08 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 3: Working in the Key of C (1st Position)Lesson 3

Lesson 3: Working in the Key of C (1st Position)

Pamela demonstrates how to get your fingers warmed up while working in the key of C. Using The "PIMA" technique, this lesson will help open doors to classical style playing. Enjoy!

Length: 11:18 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Working in C Major (2nd Position)Lesson 4

Working in C Major (2nd Position)

In lesson 4, Pamela continues from her last lesson by moving the C major scale to second position. She demonstrates a few new technical exercises in this position.

Length: 14:01 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
More Picking TechniqueLesson 5

More Picking Technique

Pamela is back in lesson 5 with more right hand technique. Here you will learn how to advance the "PIMA" technique and work through each finger as you transition from chord to chord.

Length: 9:38 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Learn MalaguenaLesson 6

Learn Malaguena

Pamela Goldsmith once again grants us insight in our quest to learn classical style guitar. In this lesson she explains how to play the classic piece "Malaguena." Lesson topics include right hand patterns,...

Length: 13:28 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Learn Slurring TechniquesLesson 7

Learn Slurring Techniques

Pamela introduces proper slurring technique. Also known as hammer-ons and pull-offs, this lesson will take you on a knowledge bound adventure. You will learn some exercises that muscle memory and dexterity....

Length: 12:31 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Applying Slur Technique to Your PlayingLesson 8

Applying Slur Technique to Your Playing

Need more information on how to perform slurs? In lesson 8, Pamela provides additional slur practice with an original study in the key of A minor.

Length: 12:25 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Matteo Carcassi Study in DLesson 9

Matteo Carcassi Study in D

Pamela is back with a great lesson on a Matteo Carcassi study in the key of D. Here you will be able to apply the slurring techniques you have learned in previous lessons with an in depth look at Matteo...

Length: 13:10 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Etude Inspired by Leo BrouwerLesson 10

Etude Inspired by Leo Brouwer

Today, Pamela has the pleasure of teaching you an original etude inspired by Leo Brouwer. Here you will utilize all the techniques you have learned so far. In addition, you will walk away with a beautiful...

Length: 12:12 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Enhancing Your Overall TechniqueLesson 11

Enhancing Your Overall Technique

In lesson 11, demonstrates how to play the C major scale in diatonic thirds. This lesson will hone your technique and overall knowledge of the fretboard.

Length: 8:55 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Fernando Sor Lesson 12

Fernando Sor

Pamela brings us Fernando Sor's "Andante." This is a short and sweet piece that reinforces the techniques that Pamela has demonstrated in previous lessons.

Length: 8:12 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Leo Brouwer Inspired EtudeLesson 13

Leo Brouwer Inspired Etude

Pamela brings a cap to her first 13 JamPlay lessons with another original etude inspired by the great Leo Brouwer. This is a short but sweet lesson in which you will mainly stay in 1st position but will...

Length: 8:38 Difficulty: 2.0 FREE
P, M, I Picking TechniquesLesson 14

P, M, I Picking Techniques

Welcome to lesson 14 in the Classical Guitar Series! Here Pamela demonstrates some fingerpicking exercises that use fingers P, M, and I.

Length: 12:07 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
P, I, M Easy EtudeLesson 15

P, I, M Easy Etude

Pamela demonstrates what she calls her "Easy Etude." This short piece utilizes the P, I, and M fingers.

Length: 17:28 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Dionisio Aguado StudyLesson 16

Dionisio Aguado Study

Pamela takes a look at a study written by Dionisio Aguado. It's in the key of A minor with a P, I, M, I pattern.

Length: 30:39 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Free Stroke & Rest StrokeLesson 17

Free Stroke & Rest Stroke

Pamela demonstrates the difference between free strokes and rest strokes.

Length: 11:29 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Chords with P, I, M, ALesson 18

Chords with P, I, M, A

Pamela covers an exercise that uses the rest stroke technique within some simple arpeggio patterns.

Length: 6:53 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Francisco Tárrega - LagrimaLesson 19

Francisco Tárrega - Lagrima

Pamela teaches "Lagrima" by composer Francisco Tárrega.

Length: 28:32 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
E Major & Minor ScalesLesson 20

E Major & Minor Scales

Pamela explains the theory and fretboard patterns pertaining to the E major and E minor scales. She also demonstrates Andrés Segovia's famous three octave scales.

Length: 38:49 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Slur TechniqueLesson 21

Slur Technique

Pamela takes an in depth look at some different slur techniques.

Length: 13:48 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
OrnamentsLesson 22


Pamela works off of lesson 21 and demonstrates different ways to create ornaments within your playing. You can hang this one on a tree.

Length: 10:30 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Developing the Fret HandLesson 23

Developing the Fret Hand

Welcome to Lesson 23 of Classical Guitar with Pamela Goldsmith! Here she demonstrates some exercises to develop your fretting hand for classical application.

Length: 11:11 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Spider WalksLesson 24

Spider Walks

Pamela introduces a new fret hand endurance building technique known as "Spider Walks."

Length: 15:41 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Fret Hand StretchingLesson 25

Fret Hand Stretching

To help continue with fret hand development, Pamela demonstrates an exercise that improves fret hand reach, finger independence, and flexibility.

Length: 11:21 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
A Major Octave ScalesLesson 26

A Major Octave Scales

Pamela demonstrates 1, 2, and 3 octave patterns for the A major scale.

Length: 27:15 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Op. 44, No. 11Lesson 27

Op. 44, No. 11

Pamela teaches Fernando Sor's Op. 44, No. 11.

Length: 28:36 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Aguado Study In ALesson 28

Aguado Study In A

Pamela presents this study by Aguado. It has a cheerful, circus-like sound and will be a great addition to your repertoire.

Length: 17:51 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Another Aguado StudyLesson 29

Another Aguado Study

Pamela presents another fantastic Aguado study that utilizes all P, I, M, A picking fingers. Pamela also tells a little history about Aguado himself and his style of guitar playing.

Length: 23:53 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Fernando Sor's AndantinoLesson 30

Fernando Sor's Andantino

This Fernando Sor piece features light, free flowing movement in 3/8 time. Pamela demonstrates the correct fingering and chord positioning.

Length: 12:07 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Simple Sextuplet Study in GLesson 31

Simple Sextuplet Study in G

This study features a sextuplet arpeggio pattern. Expand and apply your current knowledge of classical guitar with this great lesson!

Length: 21:09 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
6 String Barre ChordsLesson 32

6 String Barre Chords

Pamela dives into techniques that develop your fret hand for barre chords.

Length: 24:54 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
5 String Barre ChordsLesson 33

5 String Barre Chords

Pamela continues to discuss barre chord techniques. This time around, she moves to the 5th string.

Length: 18:38 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Matteo Carcassi - Op. 60, No. 3Lesson 34

Matteo Carcassi - Op. 60, No. 3

This beautiful Matteo Carcassi piece labeled "Andantino" is presented by Pamela. Op. 60, No. 3 is a great piece to work on to develop your dynamic control.

Length: 39:40 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Romance - Part 1Lesson 35

Romance - Part 1

Pamela introduces the first part of a two part lesson on the classical song titled simply "Romance."

Length: 20:42 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Romance - Part 2Lesson 36

Romance - Part 2

Pamela demonstrates the second part or B part to the classical piece titled "Romance." This lesson complete the piece as a whole and presents yet another opportunity to practice dynamics.

Length: 16:01 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Carcassi Slur Study in DLesson 37

Carcassi Slur Study in D

Pamela uses this Carcassi study to help demonstrate more slur techniques.

Length: 18:51 Difficulty: 3.5 Members Only
Pamela Goldsmith

About Pamela Goldsmith View Full Biography "A native of New England, Pamela Goldsmith was first introduced to classical guitar by Joe Zuccala in Massachusetts. His inspiration and guidance prepared her for her future as a student and teacher. Since studying with Zuccala, Pamela has worked with Keith Crook at the University of Maine, Jeff Ashton and Bryan Johanson at Portland State University and Scott Kritzer in Portland Oregon. Pamela has performed in master classes and continues to perform solo concerts in the Northwest.

Pamela received her Master's Degree in Classical Guitar Performance from Portland State University and her Bachelor's Degree in classical guitar studies from the University of Maine in Orono. She has served as a graduate assistant teacher at Portland State University in downtown Portland, Oregon, and is an adjunct faculty member at Linfield College (McMinnville, OR) as well as a private guitar instructor. Pamela is passionate about the history and vitality of the pieces in her repertoire.

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Mike H.

"I feel like a 12 year old kid with a new guitar!"

I am 66 years young and I still got it! I would have never known this if it had not been for Jamplay! I feel like a 12 year old kid with a new guitar! Ha! I cannot express enough how great you're website is! It is for beginners and advanced pickers! I am an advanced picker and thought I had lost it but thanks to you all, I found it again! Even though I only play by ear, I have been a member a whopping whole two weeks now and have already got Brent's country shuffle and country blues down and of course with embellishments. Thank you all for your wonderful program!

Greg J.

"With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace"

I'm a fifty eight year old newbie who owns a guitar which has been sitting untouched in a corner for about seven years now. Last weekend I got inspired to pick it up and finally learn how to play after watching an amazing Spanish guitarist on TV. So, here I am. I'm starting at the beginning with Steve Eulberg and I couldn't be happier (except for the sore fingers :) Some day I'm going to play like Steve! I'm self employed with a hectic schedule. With Jamplay I can fit in a random session when I have time and I can go at my own pace, rewinding and replaying the videos until I get it. This is a very enjoyable diversion from my work yet I still feel like I'm accomplishing something worthwhile. Thanks a lot, Greg


"I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students."

I am commenting here to tell you and everyone at JamPlay that I believe this is the absolute best site for guitar students. I truly enjoy learning to play the guitar on Yes, I said the words, ""enjoy learning."" It is by far the best deal for the money.

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