Life is busy. We all have slightly too many commitments or interests, and we all need some downtime too. As much as we may love our instrument, sometimes guitar practice can feel like hard work. Other times guitar practice seems easy and we wonder why we don’t always put in 8 hours a day. Most of the time however, our feelings lie somewhere between these two extremes. Whether we can put in a good practice session often depends on what ...Continue Reading →
Unless you play nothing but straight-ahead jazz guitar, vibrato is important. Good well-defined vibrato brings life to a guitar solo and is a significant part of what gives a guitarist their ‘voice’. Weak vibrato, or no vibrato at all, can leave a solo wanting.
Listen to a guitar solo by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler and you’ll hear three very different vibratos. So what makes one guitarist’s vibrato different to another? There are three main areas:
- ...Continue Reading →
For someone that’s considering taking up the guitar, or that hasn’t been playing long, it’s natural to ask this kind of question. The answer in virtually all cases however is a flat ‘no’.
Physically we are all slightly different to each other. Some of these differences bring a few small advantages in specific areas and some bring small disadvantages in others, but few are insurmountable. Someone with very small hands may not be able to stretch as far along ...Continue Reading →
So you’ve learned lots of chords and scales, you’ve developed a decent sense of time, and you have a nice armoury of phrases to use in improvisation. But how does all of this actually sound when you play?
Try recording yourself playing a familiar chord-based tune and listen back with a critical ear. Are the notes clean and pure or are you getting fret-buzz in ...
Can you sing what you play on guitar, as you play it? It’s not something that many people can do the first time they try it, but there are great benefits to be gained from developing this ability. Learning to sing what you improvise gets you inside the music and away from thinking only in terms of shapes on the neck. You learn what notes will sound like before you play them. This approach is often championed in the jazz ...Continue Reading →
Arpeggios are the notes that make up a chord when played in succession, as oppose to at the same time, and are just as valuable a resource for creating music as scales are. In a way arpeggios are mini-scales of just three or four notes.
There are as many arpeggios as there are chords but in reality, we only need to learn a moderate number of them in order to meet most requirements. ...Continue Reading →
This is a common question among guitarists, and the answer depends on the style of music you want to perform. There is already a wealth of published material and guidance for classical guitarists, so in this article we’ll focus on popular music.
The minor pentatonic scale
The minor pentatonic scale is without doubt the most popular scale in the world of popular music. Why? Probably because it sounds great, it’s very versatile, and it fits on ...Continue Reading →
So you’ve been playing guitar for a while and you want to play music with other people. In this article we’ll look at some of the different approaches of how to get in a band. To start with, there are two fundamental decisions to make. Do you want to play original music or covers? Do you want to start a band of your own or join one that’s already established?
Forming your own original band
Do you already have songs written? You ...Continue Reading →
“I can’t play guitar and sing at the same time” is something I’ve heard many times; probably about as often as ‘I can’t play guitar standing up’. If this is something that you have said, modify this statement to “I can’t play guitar and sing at the same time YET”. In this article I aim to show that really anybody can sing and play guitar at the same time. If you are looking for ...Continue Reading →
In this article we’ll look at what I call an academic approach to music versus an intuitive approach to music. By this I essentially mean the difference between performing music with or without intellectual involvement along the way.
A basic level of musical education is essential to good improvising or composing. The means by which you gain this knowledge though, can be highly varied and doesn’t have to come from formal lessons. Simply ...Continue Reading →
If you’ve been playing guitar for a while the chances are that you’re interested in doing gigs. It’s really great to get up and perform music in front of people, both from an entertainment point of view and because it’s a landmark in your guitar playing ability. Whether it’s a solo performance of your own songs with just you and a guitar, or a covers band made up of you and ...Continue Reading →
‘How to make money with your guitar – Part 1′ focussed on the different approaches to teaching the guitar (see How to make money with your guitar – Part 1: Teaching). This second part is about making money with your guitar by performing. Earning a good living with your guitar through performance and just as viable teaching guitar is. Having said that, some of these other areas of work may require a higher level guitar skills than others, some ...Continue Reading →
Making money with your guitar skills is very achievable as long as you have taken your guitar playing to an adequate level. Teaching guitar, performing live and getting booked for ‘sessions’ are probably the most lucrative areas, but even within these fields there are many options to consider. This first of these two articles focuses on how to make money with your guitar through teaching.
Teaching your guitar ...Continue Reading →
Do guitarists need to wear ear-plugs? If you play in a band, yes you should wear earplugs; plain and simple.
Why do guitarists need to wear ear-plugs? Because our ears are only built to tolerate a certain amount of noise before they start to become damaged. The damage is usually irreversible. Many musicians who play in bands become aware that they should wear earplugs quite early on but many choose to ignore this. The most ...Continue Reading →
“Why learn music theory? I don’t want to be restricted…”. To the uninitiated, music theory is often thought of as being a set of rules that must be obeyed. This is not the case; it is a well-organised system of naming and describing music and how it works. Music theory brings meaning to what would otherwise be an anonymous sequence of chords or notes. Whether a musician plays punk, funk or Paganini, the same names and descriptions apply, and it ...Continue Reading →
You may know about the 10,000 hours principle. This is the theory put forward by author and researcher Malcolm Gladwell, that to achieve excellence or expert status in a given field takes more or less 10,000 hours of practice. Not everyone accepts this theory, but there are numerous examples of seemingly natural talents who, on closer inspection, have in fact clocked up 10,000 hours or more developing their skills and knowledge in their field of choice. This includes virtually ...Continue Reading →
“I can’t play guitar standing up” is something I’ve heard many aspiring guitarists say, much like the statement ‘I can’t play guitar and sing at the same time‘. This article looks at what the causes are of this problem and how to fix them.
Two potential solutions
Over the years, this is something that I have heard from some guitarists. The only reason a person feels that they can’t play guitar ...Continue Reading →
Comparing can be a good thing
Making comparisons between ourselves and other guitarists is very useful in order to progress as a musician. Just about all guitarists have learned from players that they admired, whether this was people they knew personally or their rock and roll heroes on old LPs. We need to identify characteristics, approaches or ‘tricks’ of other players in order to add to our own skillsets. This kind of comparing is healthy and positive. It is very easy, ...Continue Reading →
A simple question
How well do you really know the guitar fretboard? With the exception of classical guitarists, most guitarists start by learning open chords. These are learned as shapes with fairly meaningless names such as C, Am, G7, etc (see ‘Why learn music theory?‘ for more on this). There is no immediate reason to set about fully learning the guitar fretboard, so no one does.
A question of necessity
Why mistakes are you friends
If you are not making any mistakes on the guitar, either you are amazing or, more likely, you are playing material that is well within your current level of ability.
Playing well within our abilities is desirable when performing live or recording. These situations require good performances that are free from mistakes for obvious reasons. The practice room however is where we should strive to improve our abilities. This could ...Continue Reading →
Young, keen guitarist gets a guitar. He spends time diligently figuring parts out, learning from recordings and magazines. He starts to feel quietly pleased with his progress and looks for ways to improve further. He hears that it’s a good idea to get a metronome so he keenly buys one and heads home to give it a try. “Hmm… this isn’t very much fun at all… I know how to play this tune but this damn ...Continue Reading →
‘…And do you know, [insert name] can’t even read music? Isn’t that amazing?’. We’ve all heard this line or something very similar to it. To someone that dabbled in learning classical piano or violin back when they were at school, it might seem that the ability to read music is essential but really it’s nothing more than a method of communicating information.
So, do guitarists need to learn to read music? This depends primarily on two things: 1) The style of ...Continue Reading →
My tennis years
When I was in my teens, my friends and I joined the local tennis club. It was a small place with no coaching so none of us knew what good tennis technique was. We just battered the balls around with boundless enthusiasm in a way that felt right to us.
A couple of years later, with our abilities having developed steadily from poor to questionable, a tennis coach came to our school offering a crash course in tennis skills. ...Continue Reading →
From time to time it happens to just about everybody from writers to Olympic athletes, and guitarists are no different. For no apparent reason we can sometimes find ourselves feeling demoralised and unhappy with abilities that we used to be proud of. Practice can feel like an unwelcome chore instead of something that we look forward to. Worse still the whole idea of developing our guitar skills can begin to seem a little pointless. We are stuck in a rut.
First ...Continue Reading →
Why should we learn guitar licks?
Isn’t it better to just improvise? The thing to recognise about improvising is that nobody does it in the purest sense of creating entirely original phrases spontaneously. In reality an improvised solo is a combination of phrases (aka ‘licks’) that the performer has already picked up in the past, and which are all glued together with some improvisation. Some guitarists may disagree and claim that they have never consciously sat down and learned and guitar ...Continue Reading →
Chords are the backbone of popular music. Guitarists spend lots of time learning all the necessary shapes so they can perform accompaniments to well-known songs or their own compositions; aka ‘rhythm guitar playing’. What about making more of these accompaniments though? How can we improve our rhythm guitar playing from an adequate performance to an excellent one?
Some guitarists ...Continue Reading →
Time – our most valuable resource
Music is a vast subject with many different styles and areas of study. Time is a limited resource that very few of us feel we ever have enough of. How can we make the best use of the time we have with regard to guitar practice? A practice log certainly helps to keep you focused on specific skills and tasks that you want to master. Even this, though, can be ...Continue Reading →
A natural question
“Have I left it too late to learn guitar?” is something that a lot of people ask themselves when they first consider taking up the instrument. Many regret not having learned an instrument at school, or not having stuck it out, and worry that they will now find it too difficult. The implication here is that learning to play an instrument is easier for children than adults. Is there any truth to this though?
Over ...Continue Reading →
Around the time when I first decided to study music, I was introduced to an aspiring guitarist by a friend. We started chatting about who inspired us, and who we were listening to at that time. We shared similar tastes in music and it was a nice conversation – right up to the point when I mentioned that I planned to study music full time in London. ‘Why would you want ...Continue Reading →
Thanks for dropping in. This is a collection of articles that I’ve written on various aspects of guitar playing, learning, practising and teaching the guitar. If you like these articles please share them with others using the social media buttons, and if you have any suggestions for future articles I’d like to hear from you. You can drop me a line by email or in social-media-land.
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