Archive for the "Beginners" Category

Capo 2

A little over a year ago, I reviewed the Capo app, which is a music learning tool made by SuperMegaUltraGroovy. The developer, Chris Liscio, has released Capo 2.0 today. In addition to providing the ability to slow down and loop music, Capo now provides the ability to automatically detect chords within songs. Also included in the new version is a sophisticated Spectrogram that helps you visualize the music being played. This Spectrogram can also be used to help tab out songs as you play through them.

These updates make an already excellent music learning tool even better. If you have a Mac and play guitar, I highly recommend checking the Capo app out.

Posted in: Accessories, Beginners, Education

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Jonny Lang Lesson

Guitar Player magazine recently caught up with Jonny Lang, who is currently touring as part of the Experience Hendrix tour. Lang gave Guitar Player a lesson in some of the techniques he uses, including his vibrato technique and alternating between a pick and using his fingers. See the lesson below:

Posted in: Beginners, Lessons

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No Secrets, Just Practice

Anthony Stauffer of StevieSnacks.com recently wrote an article titled No Secrets, Just Practice providing his thoughts about what it takes to get better, responding in part to my article The Secret to Becoming a Better Guitarist. In that article, I posited that there actually are no secrets; Anthony agrees, but says that there are shortcuts:

My thoughts on this are similar with one exception. There are shortcuts. I spent hours, upon hours learning the things I teach here. I can tell you more in a one hour lesson than I learned in 6 months. But here’s the catch. During that 6 months, I was playing. A lot. So while I might not have had as much information as someone with my lessons will have, that forced me to play all the time just to make something sound good.

I agree with him. Finding a good teacher will help immensely. Whether it be online lessons like Anthony provides at Stevie Snacks, or in-person lessons with an instructor at a local music store, I highly recommend finding a teacher that you can relate to. However, regardless of whether you find a teacher or decide to learn by listening to albums, it’s going to take time to improve. While I’m extremely grateful that you’re visiting this site and reading what I write, I can only provide information. I can’t play for you (nor would you probably want me to!). If you want to get better at playing the guitar, you’re going to have to play the guitar. It’s that simple and that hard.

Posted in: Beginners, General

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The Secret to Becoming a Better Guitarist

For most of my guitar-playing life, I’ve been trying to find the secret to becoming a better guitarist. I’ve spent countless hours reading magazines and books, scouring the Internet, and searching for teachers. What I’ve learned is this: There is no secret.

Becoming a better guitarist takes hard work, dedication, and perseverance. There are no shortcuts. This is a lesson that has taken me many years to learn. Actually, I’m still learning this lesson. The way all the guitarists I admire got better was by playing, listening, and learning. That’s what it’ll take for me and you to get better, too.

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Resources for Beginners

I recently wrote a guest post titled “Resources for Beginners” for the Jemsite blog. Jemsite is a Web site devoted primarily to Ibanez guitars. However, the blog covers many guitar-related topics in addition to Ibanez guitars. My post includes some resources that I think are helpful for new and beginning guitarists. Check out my post on the Jemsite blog.

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Why You Should Not Major in Music Performance

In my sophomore year of college I started taking classical guitar lessons and briefly considered switching my major to Music Performance (I was a Business Administration major). However, my college guitar instructor gave me what I believe was sage advice: don’t. I was more than a little surprised when my primary interface with the Music department was steering me away from majoring in Music Performance. He went on to explain why.

First a little background. The university I attended had three music degrees: Performance, Theory and Composition, and Education. My career goals at the time were fairly simplistic: I wanted to play guitar for a living. The logical major, then, was Music Performance, the major that would allow me to spend the most time playing guitar in school. Classical guitarists have essentially three career paths. A select few classical guitarists become concert guitarists touring the world playing solo or with an ensemble. If that doesn’t work out, you can make a pretty good living playing weddings and other special events. Or, you can become a music educator and teach future musicians. Each of these are respectable career paths. Many guitarists do a combination of the last two and are music educators and perform at special events.

What my guitar instructor illuminated was that neither of the career paths available to performing guitarists (concert touring or special events) require a college degree. That is, if you’re an elite guitarist, you’ll be able to get gigs regardless of whether you have a college degree. Instead, my guitar teacher recommended that if I want to major in music, I should major in Theory and Composition or Music Education. Note that some schools offer additional music majors, such as a major in Music Business. As an aside, I ended up not changing my major for various reasons, but, in hindsight, I feel like my guitar teacher’s advice was sound. Majoring in one of these other majors provides a “fall-back plan” if you aren’t able to make a career out of performing music. In his book Practicing, Glenn Kurtz illustrates how he spent all of his college career preparing to become a concert guitarist only to find out that the career didn’t work out as he had hoped. What a discouraging realization that must have been!

I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone who has a dream of being a concert guitarist. Go for it! However, I would encourage you to be pragmatic in your college major selection and choose a music major that is not entirely focused on musical performances. I think that doing so will reap rewards in your career and will provide you with additional options in the event that your dream career turns out to be a nightmare.

Posted in: Beginners, General

Should you learn to play classical guitar?

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One of the questions that I’ve heard many guitarists ask is whether they should learn how to play classical guitar. I’ve stated often on my blog that I studied classical guitar for a few years in college, and I can state unequivocally that those two years made me a better guitar player. However, learning to play the classical guitar is not for everyone.

Learning to play classical guitar music will not make immediately make you a better rock, blues or metal guitar player. It will, however, make you a better technical player, which often translates to a better command of the instrument. This in turn will help you get better at other musical styles. During the first year or so of learning to play classical guitar music, you primarily focus on technique, rather than on making music. This lays the foundation that you can then build upon.

When I started playing the classical guitar, my guitar teacher at the time indicated that the classical guitar is a different instrument than the standard acoustic guitar, and he was right. A classical guitar is not simply an acoustic guitar with nylon strings. The classical guitar contains different dimensions and has a wider neck that allows for more precise finger picking. If you’re familiar with playing a standard acoustic dreadnought guitar, then playing a classical guitar will feel awkward at first. However, I found the classical guitar to be quite comfortable after getting used to it.

Additionally, classical guitar music is very different from modern rock, blues and metal music. With classical music, you should attempt to play the music as it is written; there’s not a lot of room for improvisation when playing classical music. This isn’t always true, but more often than not it is. Thus, learning to play classical music will not directly help you improvise when playing rock or jazz music, but the music theory foundation that is often built in correlation with learning the classical guitar will help you learn the instrument in detail so that you can improvise when playing other styles of music.

Although more rigid than other playing styles, I love playing classical music and the classical guitar. As I stated earlier, I believe that the technique I built while learning to play the classical guitar has ultimately translated to other styles, but it wasn’t a direct translation. If you want to get a better command of the instrument, I’d recommend attempting to learn to play the classical guitar. To truly gain any benefits for other playing styles, you should be willing to commit to spending the time to build the technical foundation, and I believe doing so will reap rewards in the future.

* Photo from Yuen-Hui (Flickr)

Posted in: Beginners, General

It’s the Song, Stupid

Many of us have heard of the KISS principle: “Keep it simple, stupid.” It’s an old principle that reminds us that simplicity should be our goal. In many ways, the KISS principle applies to music, but I would modify it to say “It’s the song, stupid.”

For example, I was listening to some music the other day, and while the guitarist was playing great licks, there wasn’t a whole lot of music being played. There was no real song to back up the guitar playing; it was just a lot of wanking around. As a guitarist, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to master all of the scales and chords and playing fast licks, but our job is generally to play and support songs. That’s right. Songs, those pesky interludes between guitar solos.

Jimmy Page was an excellent guitarist, but he’s more well known to the general listening audience for creating and playing great songs. The same is true for Eric Clapton, one of the greatest guitarists to ever pick up the instrument. But, Clapton is also a great songwriter. In fact, I would argue that most of the best known guitarists are well known not only because of their guitar playing skills, but their songwriting skills, as well.

So, this weekend when you’re greasing up your frets so that you can play that legato lick at 160 BPM instead of 150, don’t forget to work on your compositional skills, too. You’ll gain a better understanding of the instrument, and you’ll probably become a better musician as a result. If you ever forget why you’re playing the guitar, remember “It’s the song, stupid.”

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Posted in: Beginners, General

Warming Up

As a follow up to my Perfect Practice post, I thought I’d talk a little about warming up. Warming up should be included in your practice routine.

It’s important to warm up prior to practicing or playing so that the muscles in your hands are loose. It’s possible to strain or damage the muscles in the hand if they’re not properly stretched prior to playing at full speed. Another advantage to warming up prior to playing is that you’re more likely to play accurately and with more ease if your hands are loose and stretched.

What should be included in a warm-up routine? I personally like to run through a few scales and licks; typically I’ll spend a few minutes running through a few chromatic scale sequences and then play some blues licks I’ve been playing for years. However, you might want to play a few chords as a way to stretch your hands. For instance, playing a G chord-D chord-C chord combination sequence provides several different fingerings and stretches.

When warming up, it’s important to focus on stretching the muscles in the hand and not necessarily playing the notes at full speed. Concentrate on technique, not speed.

In summary, a good practice routine consists of about 5-10 minutes of warming up prior to practicing or performing.

Posted in: Beginners, General

Perfect Practice

Have you been playing your guitar on a regular basis and still not achieved any significant results? In this post, I want to talk a bit about practicing; specifically, finding the best way to practice based on your goals. With the term practicing, I don’t mean grabbing your guitar and sitting in front of the tv and noodling around. I don’t consider that practicing; it’s fun, sure, but this type of playing doesn’t get you any further towards any goal. I mean actually sitting down with some sheet music in front of you or some other technical goal in mind and working towards that goal.

Consider for a moment that you’re training for a marathon. You wouldn’t grab a pair of sneakers and just start jogging around every once in a while, would you? You’d create a plan of action and methodically work a little each day towards that goal. Similarly, weight lifters spend hours on end training their muscles with a structured plan for how to accomplish their goals. The same rules apply to practicing an instrument.

First, you need to figure out what you want to accomplish in a particular practice session. Sometimes it might be working on a technique, while other times you might want to work on a particular piece of music. Either way, knowing what you want to accomplish in a particular practice session will allow you to better prepare for that session and make the best use of your time.

Once you’ve figured out what you want to accomplish, you need to plan how to reach your goals. Sometimes this is as simple as planning to work on a particular piece of music during your practice time. Other times, you might have several techniques you want to work on. For technique practice, I like to work with small etudes that emphasize that technique. However, you could also simply map out a few exercises and work on those exercises. The key is knowing what you want to accomplish and working towards that end.

Most of what I’ve talked about so far is for solo guitar playing. However, similar rules apply to playing in a band. Getting together every once in a while will be fun and worthwhile, but if you’re serious about playing together in a band, nothing beats practicing together on a regular basis with a plan of action, such as a list of songs to perfect for an upcoming show.

In summary, it is as important to prepare to practice as it is to practice and to create measurable goals so that you can determine your progress. Additionally, you’ll get better results from practicing on a regular basis rather than from sporadic all-day marathons.

Practicing doesn’t always make perfect, but perfect practice typically does.

Posted in: Beginners, General