31 August 2007

Guitar Learning Mistakes

This is the first of a series of posts about mistakes I've made learning to play guitar. I learned these mistakes through plenty of time spent making them.

Don't worry if you think you're making some of them too. Mistakes are a vital part of the learning process. But I hope that these posts will help you to avoid spending too much time on them.

Here's a brief summary of my personal top five:

1. Playing too fast

This for me is the top mistake because it seems that everybody makes it and few teachers emphasise it enough. A few people mention that you should practice slowly. I thought I was doing that but it took me a long time to realize just how slowly. I'll be giving plenty of tips on how to practice really slowly.

2. Trying to learn everything

OK, so I'm a perfectionist and this problem really doesn't affect anybody else. Just in case, though, remember that you can't play everything. At least not in the first twenty years of playing :-)

3. Learning too much technique

I spent a lot of practice time diligently collecting techniques and moving on to the next. Along the way I forgot to spend time just playing with the techniques I already had. After a while I ended up with quite a lot of technique but couldn't play a lot of songs. Even with only a little technique you can play a lot of songs in different styles. And playing songs is really what it's all about.

4. Not training ears

Lots of people say it, but I just didn't listen. I'll be giving some tips on how to practice your ears that don't take a lot of time.

5. Practicing what I already know

Another trap that it's easy to fall into is spending time practicing stuff that you can already do. When you have little time to practice, you must be really ruthless and focus clearly on the bits you don't know.

That's my list of top mistakes, although as I'm good at them I've made plenty of others over the years. I'll be going through the gory details of these and the others in future posts...

28 August 2007

Songs are Made of Bars

In previous posts I've begun describing some of the basics of song structure.

You need to know about one other important part of song structure before you start playing your first song. This is the bar, also known as a measure. The song parts that you'll be playing - like the verse or chorus - are divided into bars and each one lasts for the same duration.

The bars are divided further into beats. Many popular music songs have bars made up of four beats. For now, we'll keep things simple and work only on such songs with four beats per bar.

Now for some practical exercise. Form the G chord or C chord you learnt earlier and strum down across the strings for times. Count "one two three four" as you strum. Concentrate on keeping the strums evenly spaced, don't try to go too fast at first. Regularity is more important than speed. After four strums, don't stop, keep strumming and start counting at "one" again.

Once you're comfortable strumming the four beats try changing the chord after each series of four strums. You should be able to change the chord while continuing to strum evenly. You shouldn't have to slow down or stop while you change chords. If you do, then you're going too fast - slow down and try again.

Keep practicing and in the next beginner's post I'll show you how to use your new skills to start playing a song.

26 August 2007

Blues Lick in A #2

Today's blues lick is in the key of A. Here it is:

e----------------------------
B----------------------------
G-----7p5---5h7--5h6---------
D---7-----7-----------7~~~~~-
A----------------------------
E----------------------------

This lick is similar to this one I posted the other day. You can play this lick after the previous one - in the following bar, for example - to build up a solo.

This lick uses the same mixture of notes from the major and minor pentatonic scales. These notes establish the A chord sound. The lick also uses the characteristic minor - major 3rd sound in the hammer-on from the 5th to the 6th fret.

Building on a lick by adding or modifying notes or changing the rhythm is another common feature of blues playing. You can try applying this with your own licks.

24 August 2007

Blues Lick on A Chord

Today's blues lick is in the key of A. Without further ado here it is:

e----------------------------
B----------------------------
G------5h7--5h6--------------
D---7------------7~~~~~~~~~~-
A----------------------------
E----------------------------

The lick starts on the root note, A. It continues with a pair of hammer-ons from the minor 3rd. The second hammer-on finishes on the major 3rd. This kind of minor/major sound gives a very characteristic blues sound.

Finally, the root A note is played again. Let this note ring on and give it some vibrato effect. The root A notes at the beginning and the end of the lick work with the major 3rd to establish the key.

This lick can be played over a I chord in a blues progression.

20 August 2007

Putting Two Chords Together

In previous posts you learned two chords, G and C. Once you're comfortable with them both it's time to start putting the two together. This post will get you playing the two chords one after another. As usual, start by practicing slowly; the worst enemy of the beginning guitarist is haste.

Start by placing your 3rd finger slowly in the position for the G chord. Don't press the chord just yet, rest it lightly on the string at the 3rd fret. Now, check that you're breathing in and out calmly. This might sound strange, but often in an excess of concentration when learning something new I find that I stop breathing.

If you're breathing calmly then you can try slowly lifting your 3rd finger. Then place your 1st finger on the 2nd string for the C chord. Again, just rest it lightly on the string. Repeat the movement in reverse: lift your 1st finger and place the 3rd finger for the G chord.

Practice these two movements, nice and slowly, and remember to breathe all the while. As you become comfortable and can accurately perform the two movements, you can try pressing down the string for each chord.

When you're comfortable with pressing down the strings add a strum. One for each chord is fine for starters. As you gain skill and confidence you can try strumming each chord four times.

Congratulate yourself. You're well on the way to start playing songs...

11 August 2007

Your Second Guitar Chord

Your second guitar chord is the chord of C. Like the G chord a simple version of this chord can be played with just one finger.

The C chord is played by pressing the 2nd string at the first fret. I recommend that you use the 1st, or index, finger for this. Start by putting your thumb on the back of the guitar's neck right near the head (the end of the neck). Then, slowly place your 1st finger on the 2nd string behind the 1st fret.

Don't press yet, just rest the tip of the finger on the string. Practice this movement a few times until you get comfortable with placing your finger tip on the string.

Now, try pressing down on the string. Keep the finger tip "upright" and ensure that it doesn't touch the other strings either side of the 2nd string. This is a little more tricky than for the G chord because there are two neighbouring strings. Practice pressing down a few times to get the hang of it.

On to the final stage, press down the 2nd string and strum the bottom four strings with the right hand. All four strings should sound clearly if you're pressing correctly. Practice strumming a while, but remember to release the string and relax your hand after a few strums.

Congratulate yourself, you're now on your way to playing C chords. Practice it for a few minutes each day and in no time you'll be playing it cleanly.

Song Basics - Song Structure

You already learned in my first song basics post that songs are made up of a series of chords. This post introduces a few more simple ideas about song structure that will help you to learn and remember songs.

The chords in a song are arranged into groups whose names are familiar to you I'm sure. The basic song structure is:

  1. Introduction
  2. Verse
  3. Chorus
  4. Ending
There are usually a number of verses, and the chorus is repeated several times. The verse and chorus usually have a different series of chords to play. So you need to learn and remember these different series to play a song.

Each verse or chorus is divided into equal length parts called bars, or measures. In popular music the verses and choruses are often based on patterns of 8 bars. These patterns are repeated which makes the job of learning and memorizing a song easier.

That's really all you need to know about song structure to get started. I'm sure you found that you already knew quite a lot of this music theory.

9 August 2007

Your First Guitar Chord

This post shows you how to play one of the easiest chords on the guitar. I'll be following it up with more posts showing other easy chords so that you'll be able to start playing songs.

The chord I'm starting with is G. This chord can be played in a simple form with just one finger. Place your finger on the 1st string (the thinnest one) just behind the 3rd fret. I recommend that you try using your 3rd finger, the ring finger, to press the string.

Put your thumb on the back of the guitar's neck around about the position of the 2nd fret. Rest your 3rd finger lightly on the 1st string. Practice putting your finger in place a couple of times, just touching the string lightly without pressing it down. Perform this movement slowly, there's no hurry.

When you're comfortable with this try pressing the string down onto the fretboard with your fingertip. Again, practice this movement slowly until you're reasonably comfortable with it. Check that your finger is touching only the 1st string, and doesn't interfere with the 2nd.

Got that? Great, now go ahead and play the chord. Strum the bottom four strings of the guitar with your right-hand. You can use your thumb, a finger or a pick. If you're pressing right, then you should hear all the strings ring out clearly.

That's it, you're playing a G chord.

4 August 2007

Song Basics - Chords And Notes

This post introduces the basics of songs. Songs are the things that you're aiming to play on the guitar, pretty obvious right? But just what does that mean?

A song is made up of a series of sounds called chords. A chord sound is made up of several individual sounds called notes. A chord usually has three notes. Don't worry about this for now, just take my word for it.

Songs also have a melody, or tune. The melody is a series of single notes. You sing the words of the song using these notes. In songs the chords and the melody sound together in a way that is pleasing to the ear. The sound is said to be harmonious.

Your goal as a budding guitarist is to learn to play the series of chords of a chosen song. On the guitar, a chord is played by strumming or picking the chords with one hand. The other hand presses some or all of the strings down onto the fret board to sound the notes of a chord.

So, there you have some basic knowledge of songs and I'm sure you're pleased to have found that you already knew quite a lot of useful music theory.

Welcome

Hello, welcome to my guitar blog. I'm a keen amateur player with a few years experience and I love playing blues, rock and funky sounds. I prefer the feeling of playing acoustic guitar and use mine for all these styles as part of a group of four friends.

Through this blog I hope to share what I've learned on guitar playing with you. I started learning quite a number of years ago with no musical background. Just a guitar and a book to start with. I've taken a few lessons since then but I've done most of my learning from books, CDs, the internet, and some friends.

I hope my tips can help answer some of your guitar playing questions, especially if like me, you have little or no musical background.

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