Major Scales (Guitar Lesson)

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Matt Brown

Major Scales

In this lesson, Matt takes you through the major scales & helps you to understand how they can be used.

Taught by Matt Brown in Rock Guitar with Matt Brown seriesLength: 20:25Difficulty: 3.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (3:24) Introduction All scales and technical exercises must be practiced musically! The old saying "how you practice is how you play" definitely applies to playing a musical instrument. The way you practice your scales dictates the way that you will perform melodies. Scales should be practiced every day as a warm-up before you begin working on repertoire. Here is a review of why scales are so important.

1. Practicing scales enhances technical ability. Playing scales is an excellent way to monitor your hand posture (both right and left). Through repetitious practice of scales, speed can very gradually be increased. How do you think players such as Kirk Hammett or Dimebag Darrell can play such fast lines? They spent several years of diligent practice working on their scales.

2. Practicing scales is the best practice for being able to perform melodic content musically. When playing scales, they must be interpreted as a series of resolutions passing from one note to another. If you do not practice your scales musically, your solos and melodies will not sound musical. You may be playing all the correct notes, but it still doesn't sound like anything.

3. Playing scales increases your knowledge of the fretboard. In order to improvise effectively in a given tonality, you must be able to play the scale horizontally and vertically across the entire neck. In the course of a solo, you don't have time to sit and figure out where the next pentatonic box is. This must all be memorized through practice in advance. In order to play any written repertoire such as a classical piece or a jazz chord solo, one must know all the scale patterns that the piece contains. Knowing scales is also the biggest help in writing songs. Without a total knowledge of all the different scales and sounds available, how do you expect to write music that doesn't all sound the same?
Chapter 2: (6:54) Major Scale Patterns In this scene, Matt demonstrates how to play the most common Major scale patterns.

Click the "Supplemental Content" tab for diagrams of these scales.
Chapter 3: (6:52) More Major Scale Patterns In scene 3, Matt covers more of the major scale patterns at different positions.
Chapter 4: (3:08) Backing Tracks Matt provides some basic chord progressions that are great starting points for improvising with the Major scale. Record yourself playing a basic I IV V progression. In the key of C these chords are C, F, and G. Make sure to record the progression in several different rhythmic styles. Then, play the tape back to practice your improvisation skills.

Additional Information:
Refer to Matt's other scales lessons for more detailed information regarding scale theory. Also, be sure to review the Phase 1 lessons that pertain to scales.

Video Subtitles / Captions

Member Comments about this Lesson

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

d_tokid_toki replied on January 25th, 2015

Hi! Is it possible to refer to natural major and minor patterns using the corresponding pentatonic boxes? I mean, if I expand a pentatonic scale from box 1, the resulting natural scale can be always addressed as box 1?

keefakeefa replied on February 4th, 2012

Matt - I notice you often prefer to do a 5 fret stretch rather than going to the next string - such as your example with Cmaj 8th fret position. You demonstrate starting with low E 8, 10, 12 frets starting with your index. Is there an advantage to this over starting with your middle finger, low E 8, 10, then index to A 7th fret for the 3rd tone of the scale?

mattbrownmattbrown replied on February 6th, 2012

Hi! I think that the answer you'll get to this question will depend on who you ask. Essentially, there are three different ways to classify and play what are called the "diatonic scales." These scales are the major scale, harmonic minor, and melodic minor, as well as all of their corresponding modes. So, for instance, the major scale belongs to this group, and you can group its fretboard patterns into five patterns based on what is referred to as the "CAGED" system, three note per string patterns (there are 7 of them - one based on each mode of the major scale), and the 12 patterns that allow you to play in all 12 keys within a single fretboard position. The C major pattern you mentioned that starts off with 8-10-12 on the low string is an example of a 3 note per string pattern. These patterns seem to be much more advantageous if you are ascending or descending in more of a horizontal fashion. Also, since there are three notes on almost all of the strings in the pattern, it's easier to accommodate legato techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, etc. when playing a melody or solo. However, you have the added difficulty of the finger stretch, which becomes more difficult as you move the pattern into keys that are located lower on the fretboard. For the most part, the five CAGED patterns don't have these stretches. So, they are more advantageous from a vertical perspective. As a result, they are really handy for playing melodies that lie nicely in one fretboard position. They're also great for vertical-based techniques such as arpeggios and/or sweep picking. Finally, there are the 12 patterns that allow you to play all 12 keys in a single fretboard position. I.e, you could play in all 12 keys just using the open strings and the first four frets. There is some overlap with this group of patterns and some of the CAGED / 3-per-string patterns. So, in my practice time, I work on all of these patterns. When I'm actually performing or practicing music though, I just use whatever pattern happens to be most practical and advantageous at the moment. Check out Chris Liepe's rock lessons for detailed info on the 3-per-string stuff. Go to Nick Kellie's Phase 2 set for the CAGED stuff (he has a few sets that you'll have to scan through. More info on the 12 patterns for a single position is sort of scattered throughout my phase 2 reading music and rhythm set. Great question! Hope I didn't overwhelm you with too much!

micklammmicklamm replied on December 30th, 2011

Sorry but just one more question as I am a bit confused. At the end of scene 3 you summarise by showing that there are 5 patterns for C Major. However, up to this point I can' only see where you have covered 4 patterns. The 3rd pattern starting on the 6th string with the 2nd finger on the 8th fret isn't covered in the lesson unless I just can't find it. Would you please clarify and let me know where you covered this pattern? Thanks.

mattbrownmattbrown replied on January 2nd, 2012

Hey Mick! Hopefully my response to your other question cleared up the confusion. I briefly play through the pattern you mentioned at the beginning of the second scene...I don't break it down though...check out the previous lesson for a more thorough explanation of that pattern. I think I break it down in that lesson.

micklammmicklamm replied on December 30th, 2011

When I try to match up the major scale patterns in the Supplemental Content I can't find the first pattern you show. Is it pattern IV? If so the pattern you show in the video is different. You play the b on the 4th string 9th fret but the pattern has the b note on the 3rd string 4th fret. Why the difference?

mattbrownmattbrown replied on January 2nd, 2012

Hey Mick! Sorry about the confusion...The scale I play at 00:18 in Scene 2 corresponds to the fourth pattern in the tabs. The third pattern listed in supplemental content contains the B note that can either be played on the 4th string at the 9th fret or on the 4th fret of the 3rd string. Where you play this note is purely a matter of preference. These days, I like to play it on the third string. I can rip through the pattern way faster that way, especially if I'm using hammer-ons and pull-offs.

stewbacastewbaca replied on March 1st, 2011

I'm still having trouble playing through all of the keys in the various positions. Does anyone have any tips that can help me learn them faster?

midlifemidlife replied on January 23rd, 2011

Maybe a light bulb is going off, maybe not? I found it confusing when the C Major Tabs and the Major patterns found in "Supplemental Content" did not seem to match what was being taught in the lesson. There always appeard to be "extra" notes in the scale. From what I can tell the "extra" notes are those that occur before or after the root note at the beginning and end of the scale. It is not wrong to include them in the scale but in the lesson Matt typically starts and ends on the root note. Ater about the 11th time of listenting to the lesson, I think I finally caught on to why what I was reading in Supplemental Content did not appear to match the video lesson. Is this correct?

mattbrownmattbrown replied on January 25th, 2011

You're exactly right. I always start a scale on the lowest root note within a pattern regardless of whether or not the root note is the overall lowest note in the pattern. Then, I ascend to the highest available note in the pattern, which is usually a note other than the note. Next, I ascend to the lowest available note in the pattern. Finally, I climb back up to the root note. Playing a scale in this way firmly establishes the tonality (major) that you're playing out of.

midlifemidlife replied on January 27th, 2011

Matt, thanks for the reply. Just when I think I am getting it, I am confused by your discussion at the end of scene 3. You talk about following the Circle of Fifths to practice all keys. You then demonstrate by playing different keys without switching position. Can you explain how you are doing this? Are you just starting on a different root note and playing bascially the same pattern? I'm guessing there is more to it than that, because of the introducion of sharps and flats in different keys?

mattbrownmattbrown replied on January 27th, 2011

Hi! Well, here's what is going on...If you look at a diagram of the circle of fifths, the first key listed at the top is C major (at 12 o'clock). In the video, at 06:05 (scene 3) I'm playing a C major scale using the third pattern that is listed under the supplemental content tab. Next, I play a G major scale in the same position (7th position). For this scale, I'm using the pattern on the second page of the supplemental content. In order to play this pattern in the key of G instead of C, you have to shift it down to 7th position. For D major, I'm using the second pattern on page one. When this pattern is played in the key of D rather than the key of C, it is played in seventh position. Hopefully this clears up some confusion! Basically, you always want to pay very careful attention to where your root notes are located within scale patterns. Then, all you have to do is start on the right note and play through the pattern.

midlifemidlife replied on January 27th, 2011

AWESOME! Both you and JAMPLAY! The quality of the instruction and the instructors continues to blow me away. I have struggled off and on for 30+ years trying to play the guitar. I was convinced I just lacked musical talent. Although talent helps, what it really takes is hard work and practice. My wife complains that I play my guitar too much (her favorite is the triplets in Metallica's One). I tell her it is a cheaper (and safer) midlife crisis than a Harley!

pmd18pmd18 replied on January 9th, 2010

Hey Matt, you show pattern 1 without the position shift. Are there any advantages or disadvantages to doing it this way? Thanks

mattbrownmattbrown replied on January 18th, 2010

I assume you're talking about the first pattern I demonstrate at the beginning of Scene 2. That's the one without the shift. I think learning multiple scale patterns is really important when it comes to understanding the nature of the guitar and how notes are laid out on the fretboard. Sure, you can play the exact same group of notes with the two patterns that I play at the beginning of scene 2. However, these notes have a slightly different tone. Compare the tone of a C note played at the 5th fret of the 3rd string to the same note played at the 10th fret of the 4th string. The option on the fourth string isn't quite as bright and treble-y sounding. These minute differences in tone really do affect the overall sound of what you play.

gwilkin9gwilkin9 replied on August 27th, 2009

Matt, I am obviously being a dumb-ass! I can do the Major scale pattern and get the circle of fifths (in principal anyways). The thing I am struggling with is when you start the major scale on the A, not the top E string. What pattern do you use e.g. you can start a D major at the 10th fret on the E string, but what if you want to start on the A string 5th fret...I feel like something obvious is staring me in the face, but I can't see it.

mattbrownmattbrown replied on September 11th, 2009

In the tabs, the location of the root note of the scale is written in parenthesis. All of these patterns can be transposed to a new key, assuming that you don't run out of room on the fretboard. When transposing a pattern, simply shift the pattern up or down the fretboard so that it begins on the appropriate root note. Of course, you must have the note locations on the fretboard memorized to find the appropriate root note. I hope this answered your question. Please let me know if you still need help. Thanks! Matt

crashballcrashball replied on March 17th, 2009

matt's last position of the C major scale (scene 3, the stretching one) has stretching for the second note on the 6th string with your second finger. It feels more natural for me to play it 3rd finger, then strech my pinky to hit the 12th fret on the 6th string (same for 5th string), Is there any reason i shouldn't so this? I don't want to engrain a bad habbit, only to make it harder to break later.

mattbrownmattbrown replied on March 29th, 2009

I recommend that you finger this pattern the way that I demonstrate it. Although it may seem awkward at first, this fingering will enable you to play the scale faster in the long run. Also, it's easier to get hammer-ons and pull-offs going with this fingering.

rob_smithrob_smith replied on March 10th, 2009

In the supplemental content there are the major scale patterns. I'm a bit confused because they look different from the major scale patterns in the scale library and those shown in other teachers lessons. E.G. Pattern 1 looks like pattern 3 Am I missing something ?? Cheers, Rob

crashballcrashball replied on March 17th, 2009

it is important to remember where the root of the scale is. If you are looking at the lowest note in the pattern, then yes it would be A minor. Important to rememebr that a "pattern" isn't a scale. The patters are useful when playing scales, as the pattern doesn't change, but if you drop the pattern down 2 fret (1 whole note) you would be playing a Dmajor scale. I've been jumping around a bit between instructors/lessons as i am trying to get a nhendle on the thoery of it all. I like this particualar approach so i can see the different major patterns over the whole board not just 1 or 2 positions. That way if i spot some tab, or a riff it'll click when i see it and i can say "hey, that is a G major" or whatever.

meganmegan replied on March 12th, 2009

I have seen treatment of C major like the way Matt does it in other guitar places. I guess he's trying to show the notes of the C major wherever they appear on the fretboard, around the tonic (C). In his patterns, what I think of as, a proper C major scale, starts on the E string at the 8th fret (C). Matt's first pattern starts on F. His second on A. The third on B, and then the fourth on C. For me starting in F without hearing a Bflat just sounds wrong. Same thing with A. Not hearing F#C# and G# causes me a problem, etc. So maybe that's what's got you confused. A minor may be the relative minor to C major, (same key signature) but to play it so that it sounds right, you'd probably want to raise the 7th (G#), to create what's called a harmonic minor. But there's several ways to play minor scales so that they sound right. What you've got there is a natural minor, yup. Sorry, piano lessons since I was three ... gibberish ... How I learnt to find the relative minor of a major scale (same key signature) is to count three (steps) semi-tones down from the tonic. (C major scale starting in C and down three steps is A minor, D major scale starting in D and down three steps is B minor etc.)

hazeldinehazeldine replied on June 16th, 2008

nice to see you not paying attention when playing the backing track there Matt : P ( yes, we did notice the missed strum! )

kajkagenkajkagen replied on March 23rd, 2008

Some scale patterns would be a great help. Thx for another good lesson Matt

mattbrownmattbrown replied on May 12th, 2008

They're at the bottom.

kevinacekevinace replied on March 23rd, 2008

Click the "Supplemental Content" tab. There is quite a bit of info (both audio and visuals) on scales there.

Rock Guitar with Matt Brown

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Chuck Berry among others pioneered the style of rock and roll in the 1950's. Today, rock and roll remains the most popular genre of music. Over the years the genre has progressed & spawned many sub-genres: soft rock, classic rock, punk rock, and more. Dive into this Phase 2 set of lessons to become a master of rock.

Lesson 1

Proper Practicing

Learn how to get the most out of your time when practicing.

Length: 29:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 2

Introduction to Lead

Matt Brown discusses some of the fundamentals to playing lead.

Length: 15:41 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

Figuring Out Notes

Matt shows you the basics of figuring out any note on the guitar.

Length: 7:00 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 4


Learn the basic minor, natural, and major scales. Quite a few techniques & ideas start with scales - they're an essential building block.

Length: 34:15 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 5

Major Scales

In this lesson, Matt takes you through the major scales & helps you to understand how they can be used.

Length: 20:25 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Natural Minor Scales

Matt teaches the most common natural minor scale patterns.

Length: 13:24 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 7


Learn & master the most popular types of bends.

Length: 27:48 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 8

Sweep Picking & Rakes

Learn sweep picking and string rakes.

Length: 18:36 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 9

Solo Techniques

Learn various techniques to use when improvising / soloing.

Length: 12:51 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 10

Tuning Down

Matt explains the most effective way to tune your guitar down.

Length: 7:18 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 11

Barre Chords

Learn how to establish finger independence and a few tips and tricks with barre chords.

Length: 37:18 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 12

Rock Licks

In this lesson, Matt Brown introduces a rock lick and shows how several famous players have modified it.

Length: 19:30 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

Rock Sequences

In this lesson Matt teaches some crucial rock sequences. He also explains how these sequences can be integrated in to your playing.

Length: 34:52 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 14

String Skipping

Matt Brown focuses on string skipping technique. He provides several exercises designed to improve this aspect of your playing.

Length: 33:09 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 15


Lesson 15 in Matt's rock series is all about intervals.

Length: 34:47 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 16

Rock Lead Guitar

Matt Brown demonstrates lead guitar techniques using Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" as an example.

Length: 29:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 17

Solo Using Diatonic Scales

Matt Brown explains which scales can be used when playing a solo over a diatonic progression in a major key. As an example, he teaches the solo section to Candlebox's song "Far Behind."

Length: 33:02 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 18

Diatonic Natural Minor

This lesson covers the natural minor scale and diatonic natural minor progressions. Matt uses the solo section to "Stairway to Heaven" as an example.

Length: 24:55 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 19

Right Hand Technique

In lesson 19 Matt provides instruction on developing right hand skills including string skipping.

Length: 26:38 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 20

Non-Diatonic Progressions

In lesson 20, Matt discusses chord progressions that don't follow a diatonic tonality.

Length: 29:07 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 21

Harmonic Minor

Matt begins to discuss and demonstrate the harmonic minor scale.

Length: 29:46 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 22

Improvising Over Harmonic Minor

In lesson 22, Matt continues his discussion of the harmonic minor tonality.

Length: 14:36 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 23

Sweet Child O' Mine

In lesson 23, Matt takes a look at the solo section for the song "Sweet Child O' Mine."

Length: 19:43 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 24


Matt will be taking a look at the solo section from the live version of the Smashing Pumpkins song "Today".

Length: 7:29 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 25

Back In Black Solo

Matt Brown reviews and discusses the solo section to AC/DC's hit "Back In Black".

Length: 9:34 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 26


In lesson 26, Matt covers the solo section from the Alice in Chains song "Brother".

Length: 9:42 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 27

Matt's Rock Manifesto

Matt Brown discusses lead guitarists, what makes a good solo, and tips for your own lead playing.

Length: 41:06 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Legato Playing Exercises

Matt Brown teaches a number of exercises aimed at improving your legato playing technique.

Length: 37:16 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 29

Right Hand Exercises

Matt Brown demonstrates a few exercises to build skill and speed in your right hand.

Length: 15:06 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 30

String Skipping Etude

Matt Brown teaches Heitor Villa-Lobos' 1st Etude as a lesson in string skipping.

Length: 38:47 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 31

Three Octave Scales

Matt Brown demonstrates how to play three octave versions of the minor pentatonic and the major scales in all 12 keys.

Length: 16:56 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 32

Diatonic Intervals

Matt Brown demonstrates how to play all seven of the diatonic intervals within the framework of a horizontal major scale.

Length: 23:01 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 33

Diatonic 7th Arpeggios

Matt Brown discuss diatonic arpeggios as a theory lesson as well as demonstrating the technique.

Length: 9:55 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 34

Diatonic 7ths Across the Neck

Matt Brown explains how to play the diatonic seventh chords of the major scale. Similar to lesson 32, this lesson takes a horizontal approach to the fretboard.

Length: 10:46 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 35

Solo Ideas #1

Matt Brown teaches a progression and accompanying solo to demonstrate ideas for creating your own.

Length: 21:34 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 36

Solo Ideas #2

Matt Brown takes a look at another chord progression and solo.

Length: 17:29 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 37

Legato Playing Ideas

In lesson 37 of the Rock Series, Matt Brown demonstrates and talks about legato playing ideas.

Length: 21:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 38

Rhythm Concepts

Matt Brown switches gears in lesson 38 to start talking about rhythm concepts for rock playing.

Length: 27:44 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 39

Compositional Techniques

Matt Brown discusses some often used techniques to build effective rock compositions.

Length: 17:27 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 40

Creative Chord Voicings

Matt Brown shows off some ways to add some creativity and originality to your rock chord voicings.

Length: 11:59 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
Lesson 41

Lead Approach

Matt Brown takes another look at his approach to soloing. He demonstrates ideas you can use in your own playing.

Length: 12:10 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 42

Lead Approach #2

Matt Brown adds practice to his lead approach by giving you another chord progression to solo over.

Length: 7:14 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 43

Lead Approach #3

Matt Brown has another chord progression and solo exercise to go over in this lesson on lead approach.

Length: 10:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 44

String Skipping Revisited

Matt Brown takes another look at string skipping. He breaks down some key areas of Matteo Carcassi's Allegro as an exercise.

Length: 16:29 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only

About Matt Brown View Full Biography Matt Brown began playing the guitar at the age of 11. "It was a rule in my family to learn and play an instrument for at least two years. I had been introduced to a lot of great music at the time by friends and their older siblings. I was really into bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Smashing Pumpkins, so the decision to pick up the guitar came pretty easily."

Matt's musical training has always followed a very structured path. He began studying the guitar with Dayton, Ohio guitar great Danny Voris. I began learning scales, chords, and basic songs like any other guitarist. After breaking his left wrist after playing for only a year, Matt began to study music theory in great detail. I wanted to keep going with my lessons, but I obviously couldn't play at all. Danny basically gave me the equivalent of a freshman year music theory course in the span of two months. These months proved to have a huge impact on Brown's approach to the instrument.

Brown continued his music education at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He completed a degree in Classical Guitar Performance in 2002. While at Capital, he also studied jazz guitar and recording techniques in great detail. "I've never had any desire to perform jazz music. Its lack of relevance to modern culture has always turned me off. However, nothing will improve your chops more than studying this music."

Matt Brown currently resides in Dayton, Ohio. He teaches lessons locally as well as at Capital University's Community Music School. Matt's recent projects include writing and recording with his new, as of yet nameless band as well as the formation of a cover band called The Dirty Cunnies.

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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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