28 November 2008

Guitar Power Chords Lesson

Here's an interesting lesson on power chords that will show you how to easily add some new sounds to your collection of beginner guitar chords. The lesson is offered by the Pickstroke blog.

Power chords are fairly easy to play and can be a good way to approach learning of bar chords. They will help you to learn and memorize the position of the important root and fifth notes up and down the fretboard.

But power chords also have a learning pitfall, read the article Guitar Power Chords on Pickstroke to find out what it is...

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26 November 2008

What Is Your Guitar Playing Strength?

So often as guitarists we focus on what we are not good at. We're never satisfied, always seeking to improve this or that in our playing. Today, it's time to reverse this trend and start congratulating ourselves for what we're great at.

Guitar Player Zen recently told the story of 3 Myths That Are Holding Your Guitar Progress Back.

Guitar Player Zen writes about the book "Go Put Your Strengths to Work: 6 Powerful Steps to Achieve Outstanding Success" by Marcus Buckingham.

"The key idea of this book is to harness your strengths and make them stronger, and not to focus on getting better at where you are weak. The result of focusing on your strengths is innovation, higher creativity, and passion. While it is still necessary to work on areas of weakness, you will see more impactful improvement by focusing on your strengths."
The post goes on to explain three "myths" the book claims often hold people back from reaching their potential. I want to take a closer look at myth number two:
Myth # 2 You will grow the most in your areas of greatest weakness.
Truth: You Will Grow the most in your areas of Strength.
Guitar Player Zen relates this to learning guitar.
"If you do not eliminate this myth, your development and uniqueness as a guitar player will suffer, and you may not realize your own unique guitar identity. By constantly comparing areas where you are not as good as other guitarists and trying to catch up, you only become more like them, rather than spending the majority of your time building upon your own style.

You also will be most inquisitive, most resilient, most creative, and most open to learning in your areas of strength."
After reading that I got to thinking about my own playing. Now I usually consider my playing a pretty mediocre affair. But looking at it to find what I do well I realized that there are indeed some things I do well. Even though my idea of well might be relative.

I became aware that I am generally good at rhythm guitar. I have a good sense of timing and rhythm (my wife thinks I should play percussion. This is not entirely wrong, but I like to play it on the guitar) and I can reliably chug away through a chord progression creating a decent rhythmic groove.

As soon as this thought formed in my mind I felt a warm happy glow about my guitar playing. Yes, my guitar playing. That thing I'd always been so ashamed of because I couldn't do this or that or didn’t understand so and so. That guitar playing, modest as it may be, is now something I feel GOOD about.

If my experience is anything to go by a focus on your strengths could be a powerful tool to make you feel better about your guitar playing. That's why I'm sharing it with you today. Now, think about your playing and find something good about it, even something small. Leave a comment by clicking the link below to share it with us, I'd love to hear about your guitar strength.

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24 November 2008

My Guitar Inspirational Moments

A few days ago I wrote about a guitar inspirations exercise that can help discover the kind of guitar music you want to play. I promised to post my own inspirations as an example of the exercise, and today I'm keeping my promise.

The exercise helps you identify the essential elements of guitar playing that make you want to pick up a guitar and play. Focus on these essentials helps you to learn and choose what you practice from among the myriad styles and lessons available.

In today's post I'm using the exercise to help me work out my own guitar direction and get focused on the essentials of what I want to play. So on to my shortlist of five inspirations. Believe me, there are plenty of other great guitar moments I love to hear, but I've ruthlessly honed that down to just these five.

Tribute to the Late Reverend Gary Davis, Martin Stephenson

I heard this song years ago on the Boat to Bolivia album. It's an acoustic blues in the style of, well obviously, Gary Davis. It's a lively style with lots of bounce given by the alternating bass. The percussive scratching and tapping on the guitar is also a sound I love.

Into the Night, BB King

The first time I heard BB play was in this 1985 film on which he performed in the soundtrack. The power and feeling in BBs music has remained with me ever since.

I think BB King shows us all two worthy lessons. Firstly, it doesn't have to be complicated. BBs guitar style is essentially quite simple, but this takes nothing away from its beauty and power. Second, BB plays just one thing, and does it really well. He doesn't try to be the world's best guitarist and master many styles. I think we can all learn a lot from that.

Good Mornin' Little School Girl, Folk Singer, Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters and his band are best known for their shaping of the Chicago electric blues sound. But the day I came across this acoustic recording in the midst of the three volume Chess Box I was struck by the beauty of his acoustic sound. These recordings with Buddy Guy were made in the 1950s when the folk music revival was in full swing.

They are full of nuances that are not present in the more forceful electric playing. Good Mornin' Little Schoolgirl also has a nice upbeat feel to it. This was one of the first recordings that got me on to the idea that you don't need an electric guitar to play in a blues band.

Rhythm Is Love, Keziah Jones

As a long time fan of the acoustic guitar sound I am thankful to Keziah for showing us all that funk guitar doesn't have to be played on an electric. Rhythm Is Love is a great example and one of my favourite funky tunes.

Intro to Good People, Jack Johnson

This intro on the 2005 album In Between Dreams sums up the sound and feel I want in only 12 seconds. It is bluesy and funky but played on an acoustic guitar and sounds great. It is followed up with a similar solo that lasts about ten seconds half way through the song. Another important lesson here, the best solos are short and sweet.

Putting it All Together

You probably already noticed, but I have a marked preference for acoustic guitar sounds. But my taste is not so much for solo finger style pieces, although I do like plenty of those. What I really like is the sound of the guitar within a band, and preferably one who's playing is funky and bluesy, something to get people up and dancing.

How about your guitar inspirations? Do you know what they are? Are you building your own unique guitar style that you can play with passion, or are you just following what somebody told you to do? Share your inspirations with us in the comments...

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21 November 2008

Best Tips to Learn Guitar

Hello readers, today I want you to help me and your fellow guitar learners. I plan to create a free report with some of the best tips and advice from Not Playing Guitar. I'd like your help to ensure the report is a really useful resource for guitar learners, you can help me to select your favourite tips.

The report's goal is to provide tips to make learning the guitar easier and more enjoyable. I'm thinking of things like practicing effectively, figuring out what to work on, keeping motivated, and so on. There won't be so many technique or song lessons in this report (but I will give some pointers to where to get those).

As well as tips already published on the site I plan to include some stuff that hasn't made it here yet. So don't forget to return to Not Playing Guitar to download your copy when it's available.

How You Can Help

To make the report as useful as possible I'd love to hear what tips have done the most to help you learn guitar. Let me know what tips you found most useful, a little description of the problem they solved for you and how would be most welcome if you feel up to it.

Add a comment to this post to help other readers learn about the best guitar learning tips on Not Playing Guitar. Oh, and if you're unsure how to leave a comment, here's how...

Simply scroll down to the bottom of this post and click the "comments" link - shown by the red arrow in the image. If you're on the post page, rather than the home page then the link is "Post a Comment", shown below.

If you're reading it in a feed reader or email then you'll have to click the post title to go to the site first. Anybody can leave a comment, if you don't have a Blogger account you can select "Name/URL" or "Anonymous", as shown below.

To help get you thinking I have listed some of the tips I am thinking of including below. Maybe your favourite is there already? Great, let me know why you like it.

Best Tips

Here is a list of a few of my favourite tips from the Not Playing Guitar archives.
Of course, maybe you don't like some of these tips. Speak up and say why - your view counts just as much as mine.

I'd like to finish off by thanking in advance all of you who take the time to leave a comment. I'm looking forward to making a useful learning resource for us all. You should be able to download your free report about two weeks from now, don't forget to come back for your copy - it will be completely free. You can sign up to the RSS feed (get it by email) to be sure you don't miss it.

19 November 2008

It Doesn't Have to Sound Perfect

I often see questions from beginner guitarists worrying how to strum a song. It's quite easy to find out the chords for most songs but the rhythm or strum pattern is usually not easily available. What I want to tell all these guitarists is that it doesn't really matter.

I was planning to write about this when by coincidence the Rock House Blog addressed this very issue last week in Does it Need to Sound Perfect?

I think it's true that us learning guitarists often get hung up on trying to reproduce a song just like the original. But it is really not necessary. You have to realize that until you reach a certain level of playing, and have the right equipment, you can't reproduce the exact sound of the songs you hear. Well, unless you play Should I Stay or Should I Go by The Clash, that is.

Trying to reproduce a song note for note and beat for beat is a useful learning exercise to test your skills at some point. But you can also learn to play lots of songs without trying to be exactly like the original. As long as you have the right chords you can make up any strum pattern you like. It's fun to even change the rhythm completely, like playing Should I Stay Or Should I Go with a reggae rhythm, for example.

Remember that music is a creative exercise, so don't be afraid to experiment, change things and make them your own. The results will be far more interesting than simply reproducing what everyone else is doing. And the bonus is it's harder for listeners to spot your mistakes ;-)

Thanks to Rock House Blog for inspiring this post.

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17 November 2008

Great Guitarists on Story of the Guitar

The BBC, the UK's national broadcasting corporation, offers us guitar fans a delightful collection of videos of guitar legends including BB King, Pete Townshend, Bob Brozman, Steve Cropper, The Edge, and more.

These videos are part of the series The story of the guitar in which legendary guitarists attempt to describe their playing and their relationship to the guitar. Seems that most of them have a hard time with the former, much remains a mystery.

If you are a guitar fan then you'll certainly want to check out this unique collection.

Thanks to the Blog Qui Gratte (in French) for passing on the news.

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14 November 2008

Intermediate Blues Guitar Review Update

I have to tell you, Matt Smith is a bad bad bad bad man. The rhythm guitar chapters in his Intermediate Blues Guitar method are just full of seriously bad rhythm chops. I am delighted to have discovered these, I love to play his funky blues rhythms.

As a reminder, Intermediate Blues Guitar is a book and CD method from the National Guitar Workshop teaching blues guitar, rhythm, blues techniques and soloing. You can read the initial review of it that I wrote a couple of weeks ago here. I'm posting occasional updates as I work through it to share my experience as I learn from it.

I've been working with the rhythm chapters for a couple weeks now and I've learned some great new blues rhythm ideas.

I skipped through the Stevie Ray Vaughan boogie rhythms at the start of the chapter. They're pretty cool and I have some work to do on the picking hand coordination and accuracy. They sound really good on the book's accompanying CD where they're played properly. More practice time for me, though...

I had more success with the rhythm chucks that followed. I learned some new 13th chord positions that sound great, they are tricky to play and take a little practice. Played with a swing feel these 9th and 13th chords give a jazzy blues feel. Played more up tempo and you can create some funky sounds.

Right now I'm working on a really neat technique that involves mixing three note chords from another key with dominant chords. This creates rhythm parts with some funky movement that sounds great. It's taking me a little while to get the hang of picking the right triads fast enough, but I'm looking forward to applying this technique once I can play it right on all the chords.

That's all for this update. I'll be back with more later when I've finished working through the rhythm chapters. I'm also going to experiment with making some recordings so you can hear the kind of thing you can learn, too.

Sign up for the RSS feed or email updates if you don't want to miss more news of my experiences with this method. If you want to read my initial review you can find it here.

12 November 2008

Discover the Guitar Music You Want to Play

Here's an exercise that helps you to identify the kind of guitar music you want to learn and play. This exercise lets you tune in to your favourite guitar elements and blend them into your own guitar style.

Use the exercise to discover what is important to you as a guitar player. You can identify the styles, sounds and kinds of playing that you are passionate about. The results will help you to focus on what you need in your guitar learning journey. This focus helps you make effective use of your practice time.

The exercise involves three steps.

1. List five inspirational moments.

Grab a pen and paper and list five guitar moments that really made, or make, you want to play guitar. It might be a song you heard, an album, or a live performance. Whatever the format it should be something that really grabbed you and make you feel that you wanted to pick up a guitar and play like that.

You might have more than five of these moments, but try to limit yourself to the five most important.

2. Detail your inspirations.

Write a few sentences to describe the details of each inspirational moment in your list. What is it about that moment that really grabs your attention? Write full sentences, or use a bullet list if you are more comfortable with that.

Here are some questions to help you start.

  • Is it acoustic or electric guitar?
  • What style of music is played?
  • Is the guitar part more rhythmic or a lead or solo?
  • Is the guitar played solo or is it part of a group of musicians?
  • What is the rhythm like, slow, fast, funky, jazzy, ...?
  • What kind of chords are played? What is the chord progression?
  • What about the playing techniques used - fingers, pick, slide, slapping...?

3. Pick the most important playing elements.

In the final step look for common elements in your inspirations. You might have chosen widely different musical styles, but it is likely that there are some similarities in all the moments that please you most. Maybe it's the kind of guitar sound, maybe they all involve playing beautiful melodic lines, or groovy rhythms, or ...

Try to choose the one inspirations that passions you the most right now. If you could play just one of those pieces, which one would you like it to be? This one should probably be your main style to focus on learning.

There you have a simple exercise you can use to help you figure out what you really want to play on the guitar. There are just three steps:

  1. List inspirational guitar moments that gave you the desire to learn guitar.
  2. Describe the details of each moment, you might need to do a little research to answer more technical questions.
  3. Pick your favourite moment and the common elements that attract you to all of them.

You can do this exercise in your guitar journal to create a blueprint of the guitar style you'd like to learn or create. Then it's up to you to find out the skills you need to learn to get there.

If you are serious about realising your guitar dreams and finding your style then grab a pen and paper now and write your influences down. Maybe you'd like to share them in a comment, I'd love to hear about your inspiring guitar moments. I'll be following up in a day or so to share my own inspirational moments with you.

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10 November 2008

Get Out of a Guitar Learning Rut

Do you feel like you are stuck in a rut with your guitar learning? It happens to all of us at some time or another, so first up, don't panic about it. It seems to be a normal part of the process so you don't give up right away and sell your Strat on eBay.

Here's a three step process to help you to get out of your rut and set you on your way to guitar happiness again.

1. Stop digging

The first thing to realize is that it's what you are doing that got you into the rut in the first place. So stop doing it.

If you push on and hope the rut will go away you will most likely only dig it deeper. There's something in your approach or what you are working on that is not right for you. The rut is trying to tell you this, so hold up and listen to it for a moment.

2. Take stock

Once you've stopped digging the next step is to work out where you are, what you're doing and what's wrong with that. You need to figure out what your rut looks like so you can climb up out of it and head for a new prairie of playing pleasure. In short, get your head up over the edge of the rut to see where you want to go instead.

Sit down and take an honest look at where you are, where you thought you were going, and where you're really going. There are different ways to do this, and you might have to experiment a little to find what works best for you. Here are a couple of good things to try, though.

Take a break from playing guitar. During your break pay attention to signs that you receive. For example, you might start to notice a certain song, a particular guitar sound, or a band or player that catches your attention. Note these things down.

Another approach is to use your guitar journal to get a grip on where you are. Find yourself a quiet space, sit down and write down where you are at, right now, in your guitar playing.

First write down all the skills you've learned. List all the chords and scales you can play, as well as the songs, licks and solos you know.

Next write down how you feel about your playing. Here are some questions to help you start.

  • Do you enjoy practice and playing?
  • Do you like the songs, licks or solos you play or are you tired of them?
  • Are these songs and skills what you really dream of playing?
  • What do you love most about playing?
  • What do you like least?

3. New direction

Once you get a good handle on where you are you can start building a new path to your guitar playing future.

Review the things you discovered in step two. What holes in your skills, knowledge or repertoire do you need to fill to play your dream guitar music? Decide that you are going to drop the things you don't like. Don't practice them anymore.

Maybe you noticed there was something new that you'd rather be doing than what you play today. Decide how you are going to work that into your practice routine.

Maybe you are happy with your general direction and what you are working on but need a change of pace. Are you unhappy because you put too much pressure on yourself?

You can be a good and happy guitarist without playing everything. And you don't have to rattle off notes at 400 mph, either. There will always be better guitarists than you, faster guitarists than you. It doesn't matter. Focus on being the guitarist you are and don't compare yourself to other guitarists too much.

If you feel you're in a guitar playing rut then take a little time to work through this process. Figure out what's causing your rut and decide where you want to go to get out of it.

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7 November 2008

Develop Your Guitar Goals

Goals, goals, goals. Seems like whatever you want to do in life nowadays everybody is telling you to set goals to do it. And learning guitar is no exception.

But how do you go about setting guitar goals when you are a complete beginner? If you know nothing about music how do you figure out what to aim for? What is reasonable and how do you get to it?

Well, one good way is to start by asking yourself some questions. Not just any old questions, mind you, but questions that will lead you to what you need to study and practice. Over on the Guitar Site you can find a really useful resource about setting guitar goals.

Not only does it show you an example to get you asking the right kind of questions, you also get some free worksheets to help you develop your own goals.

The first exercise helps you to think about what kind of guitar playing you want to aim for. Once you've done that one you can try the next step proposed by the Guitar Site and find out what to work on.

If you're a complete beginner you will probably need some help to answer some of the questions. You can ask a guitar teacher, a guitar playing friend, or try asking in a good forum.

If you're already somewhere along your guitar learning journey, you might need less help. But I think you'll find this approach useful to figure out where you want to go next.

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5 November 2008

Blues Guitar Video Lessons with Arlen Roth

This post introduces you to a small treasure trove of blues guitar lesson videos at the Gibson web site. The series with Arlen Roth shows lots of useful and interesting blues techniques and ideas that you can add to your playing.

Arlen Roth has played and taught guitar since the 1970's, working with some of the top names in the music business. He was a pioneer of video based guitar teaching when he created his Hot Licks video lessons back in the days of VHS tape. Arlen was ranked in the top 100 influential guitarists of the century by Vintage Guitar magazine.

Here are my three favourite lessons from his Gibson selection.

Funky guitar

This is my favourite lesson where Arlen shows you some really funky blues riffs. Weaving neat little bass riffs around a few dominant chord forms, Arlen makes it look easy. His riffs don't use that many notes or very sophisticated techniques but they are very effective.

The riffs look easy, but playing them is another story, so it's off to the practice room for me...

Funk Rhythm Guitar

R&B arpeggios

This lesson shows how to create some of those great sounds you hear in good ol' rhythm and blues ballads. These slow numbers have some beautiful sounding arpeggios for you to work on. Reminds me of the great song, To The Lord, on Ben Harper's album with the Blind Boys of Alambama. Oh, yessee Lordy! I hear ya!

R&B Arpeggios

New Takes on Old Turnarounds

"What can I play on the turnaround?" That's a question I often find myself asking whenever I learn a new blues song. It's not easy to play something that marks the turnaround feel but doesn't sound too cliched.

In this video Arlen shares some great ideas for building original turnarounds. Not only do the examples he shows you sound good, they also give you ideas you can use to create new turnarounds of your own.

New Takes on Old Turnarounds

That's just a small personal selection from over 50 blues guitar lessons by Arlen at Gibson. I love his calm and clear delivery, his style is so cool and soothing that watching a lesson is better than meditation!

One thing to note is the way you can see how all Arlen's riffs relate to chord positions he plays. I think that's something useful to learn, I'm working on trying to integrate my scales and chords knowledge like that.

Gibson has built a valuable resource for guitarists on this site. The material, presentation, picture and sound quality are all excellent. I think it is well worth your time to visit, whatever guitar you play. You can even sign up to receive updates of new lessons by RSS.

By the way, Gibson doesn't pay me anything for writing this, I just think the lessons are cool.


Arlen Roth's Hot Licks guitar instruction videos from Amazon.

Arlen Roth, Toolin' Around Woodstock, Arlen's new CD featuring some great guitar playing.

Arlen's personal web site www.arlenroth.com.

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3 November 2008

Guitar Finger Independence without the Guitar

This post shows an exercise to build finger independence that you can do without your guitar. In this post I showed you how to use the chord positions you already know to develop finger independence. But this is one area where you can really benefit from some of your time not playing guitar.

You can do basically the same exercise anywhere. All you need is a flat surface to rest your finger tips on. You can do it on a desk or table, an armrest or even on a thigh (but be sure to have the permission of the person the thigh belongs to first!).

Once you've found your flat surface just put your hand down on it, palms facing down and curl your fingertips so they rest lightly on it. Now you're all set to go, you can practice all the finger cycles you saw in the previous lesson. You can practice them with both hands, too. So it's not only good training for your fretting hand but you can also use it to work on your finger picking, too.

You can do this one on your way to work, in meetings, at the dentists, eating lunch, watching TV... You can have fun not playing guitar everywhere!

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