PRS & Music Education: An Interview with Colin McAllister // The Great Courses

Posted Nov 29, 2018

Playing Tips

Paul Reed Smith and our company believe that guitar building is an ongoing process of discovery. In the same way, we believe guitar playing is an ongoing process of discovery. And of course to be discovering means you need to be learning!

In this blog post series, we interview music educators who love PRS and have educated tens of thousands of musicians.


Colin McAllister // The Great Courses

Colin McAllister is a Music Program Co-Director in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Colin earned both the Masters and Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of California, San Diego. As a multi-talented guitarist, and music educator, Colin produces instructional videos for The Great Courses.

The Great Courses is a Virginia-based company that has a long history of producing high-quality instructional courses on a wide variety of topics, from academic subjects such as history, religion, and science, to more “how-to” courses like cooking, drawing, and photography. Colin's first course with them, Learning to Play Guitar: Chords, Scales and Solos, was the first how-to-play a musical instrument course they had ever done, and it was very successful.

"I had the idea of modeling this course after a Cross-Fit style of exercise, where I would teach short modules on various aspects of the guitar in each lesson, and then combine those aspects together in a tune at the end." - Colin McAllister

The highly original modular format of this course is designed to immediately get you from learning to playing. Each of the 24-lectures begins with an engaging historical narrative, or personal story, and then dives right in with five modular units of instruction:

  • Technique—Learn the correct way to hold the guitar, how to move naturally around the instrument, and all of the core skills of guitar playing, from left hand fingering and shifting to right hand strumming, finger picking, and pick playing.
  • Musicianship and Note Reading—Learn how to read three kinds of musical notation, and discover that reading music is actually quite simple if you learn it in short, easy steps; grasp how to play and read rhythms, and develop the ability to play by ear.
  • Chords—Discover how to play a wide range of basic chords--the harmonic building blocks of music and the musical foundation under a melody; study chord theory, and the fundamentals of musical structure.
  • Scales and Melodic Patterns--Study the fundamental scales for guitar—another vital building block of guitar playing—as well as guitar melodic patterns or “licks,” tools that give you the ability to play lead guitar lines and melodies.
  • Putting it All Together—From the very first lesson, put together what you’ve learned in real guitar tunes and pieces, covering a variety of different musical styles. Each lesson is capped off with a song that puts all the material to use.
For the follow-up course, Playing Guitar like A Pro: Lead, Solo, and Group Performance, I thought to myself, after learning the basics, we all improve our abilities because we want to learn pieces of music, from classical repertoire to a rock solo. And then we learn the techniques of playing those pieces along the way. So I wrote 18 original pieces inspired by some of my favorite guitarists, from Django Reinhardt to Eddie Van Halen. And then I teach each of those pieces, breaking down the techniques and musical aspects. I have my band on the set to show how everything comes together. - Colin McAllister

Q&A With Colin

PRS: How did you learn guitar, and what led you to help teach others?

Colin: At first I was self-taught, like most guitarists. Later, I went to university and studied music formally with some fantastic teachers. I got into teaching because, in a profession that can easily be self-centered (after all, we have to practice all the time, book concerts, etc), it was a great way to give back the gift of music to others.

PRS: Can you provide some tips on how to be a better guitar player?

Colin: My best tip is: learn to organize your practice time, and realize the difference between “practicing” and “playing.” I like to present this as an analogy with sports. For example, if I go out and play tennis once a week with my friends, I have fun. But it doesn’t really lead to much improvement. If I really want to get better, I need to take some classes, work on ground strokes, practice serving, improve my cardio conditioning, etc. Playing guitar is of course, a blast, but I encourage players to spend at least some of their time behind the instrument practicing specific elements, and being organized about it.

PRS: What is one tip you would share with a person picking up a guitar for the first time?

Colin: It’s not about how long you’ve been playing; it’s about how often you play. Somebody who picks up the guitar for two hours twice a month for ten years is not as proficient as somebody who plays for 15 minutes every day for one year. Especially when you’re starting out, that consistency will build the initial finger strength you need to make massive progress in a very short amount of time.

PRS: What is your favorite PRS gear and why do you choose to play PRS?

II love my Hollowbody II Piezo! I play so many styles of music, and this guitar can really handle them all. My background is primarily as a classical guitarist, and so I’m very dependent on feeling the vibration of the instrument against my body. The HBII is the perfect fusion between a solid-body electric and a jazz archtop and is now my “goto” axe for just about everything.

Check out a lesson by Colin below featuring PRS' own Product Demonstrator, Bryan Ewald!

Read about Colin's latest 'The Great Courses' release below!


Playing Guitar Like a Pro: Lead, Solo, and Group Performance.

Through this course, Dr. Colin McAllister, Music Program Director at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, presents a treasure trove of knowledge for both the guitarist and the music enthusiast. From the origins of bluegrass to the rich sounds of Joni Mitchell, you’ll explore nearly a century of music from artists spanning the globe, as you unearth the secrets of some of the world’s most influential rockers, including Eric Clapton and David Gilmour. Then, discover the tricks of the trade from jazz pioneers like Django Reinhardt and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

Professor McAllister and a live band—made up partially of his own jazz sextet from Colorado—play the backing tracks from each of the songs presented through the course so you can rock right along with them.

During these music sessions, you may notice the special guitar Professor McAllister uses. It’s a PRS Hollowbody II Piezo on loan from Paul Reed Smith Guitars for the taping of this course—a partnership that Professor McAllister truly enjoyed.

“I’ve had a great time working with the team at PRS Guitars. They really helped me find the best guitar for what I wanted to do with this new course…to be able to play a wide variety of repertoire, from jazz to fusion to funk to rock.” Colin McAllister


To check out The Great Courses program click, HERE.

To learn more about Colin visit his website, HERE.