29 January 2009

Ear Training for Guitar - Ear Guitar

Ear training, I'm sure you've been told, is an important thing to do as you learn guitar. A good musical ear helps you to enjoy and play music more easily and makes you a better player in the long run.

A good ear is especially useful if you plan to play with other musicians, in a band, or just joining in your local jam session for fun. In those situations it's essential that you can listen to the other musicians, understand what they play and know how to join in.

I have never really dedicated a lot of time to ear training myself though. I've tried a few times but it always seemed far too hard for me to achieve.

As I had only limited time to spend on guitar I decided to forget about ear training and just play from sheet music, chord charts or tab. Of course, this limits my playing and enjoyment in some circumstances, but I just accepted that.

But a recent experience with a simple video that showing how to learn guitar songs by ear gave me the idea I might be able to learn after all.

I realised that something was missing from my guitar playing, something that spoilt my enjoyment. I can learn to play quite a lot of fun things, but in group situations I always feel uneasy because of my poor musical ear.

The ability to play be ear would open up a whole new perspective for me. I decided that this year I would make ear training one of my major guitar goals.

I was so determined to break the ear training barrier that I set myself a challenge and created a blog to document my experience. Ear Guitar is my new blog focused on ear training and applying it to the guitar.

If you're interested in ear training for guitar, please visit Ear Guitar where you can learn about my experience and cheer me on if you want. Oh, and you're free to "boo" if I don't stick to my schedule as well.

Below is the challenge I've set myself, follow my progress at Ear Guitar (you'll find a link to it in the sidebar on the left) if you'd like to learn more.

1. Learn to recognize melodies and chords within two to three months.

2. Be able to recognize the key and chord progression of blues and rock songs within six months.

3. Be able to transcribe guitar parts of songs - chord positions, riffs, licks, solos - within one year.

I look forward to seeing you there soon...

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28 January 2009

Easy Beginner Song With G, D and A Chords

Today I'm sharing a video lesson that shows you how to play an easy beginner song, Rivers of Babylon.

The lesson starts by showing you how to play each of the three chords of the song - G, D and A. In the next step you'll learn how to change from G to D, then from G to A.

Finally you'll learn how to change between all three chords, G - D - A, while you strum. When you've mastered this you'll be ready to play along with the song.

There are three things to notice as you work with the lesson:

  1. A step by step approach is applied to gradually learn the chord changes and strums. Use this approach in your own practice.
  2. The 3 views in the Jamorama course this lesson comes from make it easy to follow what is going on.
  3. Two different fingerings for the A chord are shown. Notice that when the first finger on the 3rd string it is in the same place as for the D chord. You can change chords without moving your finger.

The video lasts only six and a half minutes, but don't worry if you need more time than that to master the three chord changes. I hope you enjoy the lesson.

Jamorama Acoustic

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27 January 2009

Guitar Progress Blues

Not making progress was cited by a third of answers to the Guitar Learning Challenges survey. After addressing some of the other top challenges...

... it's time to help those who suffer from the feeling that you're not making progress, or just itch to go faster.

There can be a lot of different reasons why you're not making progress. So it's up to each player to take a close look at their playing and figure out what their problem is and how to fix it. Here's a list of tips that will help you do this.

1. 3 P's - Purpose, Practice, Persistence

Use the 3P's formula - purpose, practice, persistence - to ensure your progress.

Your purpose is like a sailor's compass, it fixes your direction and ensures you progress to where you want to. Without a clear purpose you could end up wasting a lot of effort going in circles.

Practice is the wind in your sails that pushes you towards your purpose. A regular steady wind will take you where you want to go faster than the occasional storm followed by a long lull.

Finally persistence is required to complete the long voyage. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are skilled guitar players.

2. Keep a Done List

Sometimes you feel you are not progressing, when in fact you are learning a lot more than you think. Write down all the songs you learn and master. List exercises, short pieces, and skills too.

You might not feel a lot of progress from day to day, but if you keep track of what you learn you'll get a better perspective on your progress.

3. Record Yourself For Later Review

Why not keep your done list as an audio recording. It's an easy way to record (literally) your progress and give you perspective on how you've improved.

4. Take Small Steps

Achieving goals regularly gives you a sense of progress. Set yourself small goals to work one song, one skill at a time. Choose goals that don't take too long to achieve, a week or two at most. When you've completed one, set another and keep going.

5. Are You Practicing, Or Just Playing?

Guitar practice is not the same thing as playing guitar. You can easily fall into the trap of playing things are already comfortable with instead of practicing new skills. Playing guitar might be fun, but it won't bring you progress.

6. Durable Development

Hurrying from one exercise to the next might feel like rapid progress, but are you sowing the seeds of durable development? If you want long term progress you need to develop good habits, ensure you play accurately and efficiently, and master the skills and musical ideas you learn. It takes time to do this properly.

If you are always rushing after the next thing you can short change this process. You end up with half-developed skills and forgotten ideas that will slow your progress in the long run.

Keep a long term perspective and give yourself time to really learn before moving on.

7. Horizontal and Vertical Progress

Think of vertical progress as the growth of your guitar skills, their number and level. This kind of progress is usually the hardest and requires diligent practice to achieve.

Horizontal progress grows the breadth of your knowledge, your repertoire of songs and styles. Progress of this kind doesn't always require new skills so can be easier and faster.

Think carefully about the kind of progress you want and need and aim for the balance of horizontal and vertical progress that suits you. Horizontal progress can help you keep motivated while you build your vertical skills more slowly.

I hope that at least one of the ideas in this post has given you inspiration or food for thought to fix your progress problems.

Whatever your problem, remember that learning guitar is a complex process, it's normal to have ups and downs. Sometimes you will feel that you make rapid progress, other times progress will feel slow.

The final tip then is to remain patient. If you keep practicing and playing then you will improve, even though you may feel frustrated at times by the pace of your progress.

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23 January 2009

Intermediate Blues Guitar Review Update 3

It's time for what will probably be my final update on the Intermediate Blues Guitar book and CD by Matt Smith.

I've been working with it for two or three months now and previously reported on some of the rhythm skills it teaches. This time I'm reporting the solo chapters that complete the book.

The blues soloing chapters start off with some lessons on adding to the basic minor and major pentatonic scales you may be familiar with. These show you how to use passing notes around these scales to give you some more options in your solos.

One nice thing I picked up here is the idea of motives and sequencing to improve blues guitar phrasing.

The example motives and sequences have a really bluesy feel. This is one of those tips that takes only half a page to explain but a long time to master, so I'll still be working on it for some time to come.

Bluesy Feel

Another idea that emphasises the bluesy feel of your guitar phrases is the use of some special notes to end your phrases. If you have a little experience with blues soloing you are probably familiar with the idea of ending your phrases on the root note of the key or the current chord.

Page 74 gives you two other notes you can use to create very bluesy endings to your phrases. I'm not telling you which notes, I don't want to give away the contents of the book in this review, but they really make for a distinctive blues sound.

Double Stops

The soloing lessons end with some lessons on using double stop thirds, fourths and sixths. I especially like the way these can be worked into rhythm playing to spice up your chord accompaniments and create a lighter, more airy feel.

In conclusion learned a lot of useful things from this book. For me its strongest point is the blues rhythm guitar styles it teaches.

I think if you're into dirty and heavier rock oriented blues, you might be a little dissappointed. But I think that Matt Smith is more of a subtle, soulful, blues guy, and you'll certainly add some finesse to your blues guitar playing with his instruction.

Catch up on the series of reviews.

Intermediate Blues Guitar, Matt Smith
Intermediate Blues Guitar Update 1
Intermediate Blues Guitar Update 2

Matt Smith's web site.

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22 January 2009

Do You Need to Re-engineer Your Guitar Playing?

Today I'm guesting on Jemsite, a community of fans of the Ibanez JEM guitar. Here's an extract from my post.

Here's a post about a technique from Software Engineering that can help you organize your guitar practice to get the most out of the skills you learn. When I'm not playing guitar I work as a software engineer to pay the rent. I was recently reading about the new features of a developer tool I use when I came across the passage below (edited slightly to make it appropriate to this context) that gave me an idea to improve my guitar practice.
If you want to learn what software engineering can do for your guitar skills read Could Your Guitar Playing Use a Re-engineering Cycle?

I'll be back tomorrow here on Not Playing Guitar with a new update on my progress with Matt Smith's Intermediate Blues Guitar method. Meanwhile, happy strumming.

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21 January 2009

John Lee Hooker Video Lesson

I love blues guitar and John Lee Hooker is one of my favourite players. Today I'm sharing a series of video lessons from deltablues on You Tube.

The lessons show you step by step how to play a boogie riff on an A chord.

You'll see that the style requires lots of rhythmic feeling to get a driving groove going. Notice too how the style relies on playing effects around the basic chord to create its distinctive sound. This kind of percussive sounds and implied notes around the basic chords is used by a lot of blues guitarists.

Enjoy the lessons and get to work on your delta groove.

John Lee Hooker Lesson 1
John Lee Hooker Lesson 2
John Lee Hooker Lesson 3

Check out deltabluestips page for more blues video lessons.

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19 January 2009

Ibanez RU10 Jam Tuner - A Cool Practice Tool

If I had to design a guitar practice tool for myself then it would most definitely be a lot like the RU10 Jam Tuner.

In one package small enough to fit in a guitar case you get a chromatic tuner, metronome, rhythm machine and mini-amp with guitar and line input for your backing tracks.

It's ideal for those short practice sessions when you want to get started fast.

The unit is powered by a 9V battery and has headphone and loudspeaker output. You can also control the volume of the metronome, rhythms, and amplifier. Here's a quick tour of the features...


The chromatic tuner displays a tuning needle and also has LEDs you can use in low light conditions. It captures your instrument through either a jack connector or a built-in mic for acoustic guitars.

Metronome and Rhythms

The metronome can play varied time signatures and is controlled easily with a simple up-down button to select the tempo. As well as the metronome you can also select from 20 preset rhythm patterns using realistic drum sounds.


The mini-amp is a feature that should be especially appreciated by electric guitarists. It provides gain and distortion controls for your guitar so you can jam along to the rhythms without a separate amp. One minor point here - you can't get a clean electric sound, only varying levels of distortion. Update: I later learned that the distortion level control also serves to turn off distortion with a click over at the end of its range to get a clean guitar sound.

Finally, you can also plug-in an external audio source, so you can jam along to your favourite tracks from your portable music player.

The Ibanez RU10 is a very well thought out practice tool. It has everything you need to get in tune, practice in time, and even jam along to your favourite audio tracks. I know of no other product offering all these features in a single device, it is a complete solution for portable practice of acoustic or electric guitar.


Similar products: Boss Dr. Beat Metronome, Vox Amp Plug.

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16 January 2009

Guitar Strings - How Often Do You Change Yours?

I hate changing guitar strings. I'll do almost anything to avoid it so I usually end up waiting until my strings are in a horrible state, full of rust and crud before I change them.

I know that the guitar would sound better and be easier to play if I changed the strings more often. I still prefer waiting to changing strings, though.

Strings or Practice?

In my limited practice time changing strings takes me about half an hour. That is equivalent to a good long practice session for me.

So when I have the choice between picking up the guitar and playing or practicing for a half hour or going through the tedious task of changing strings, guess which one I choose?

Too Many Guitars?

My dislike of string changing does have one benefit. It saves me plenty of money on buying guitars.

Sometimes I find myself wishing I had another guitar, different sounds. But then I get an "Ugh, I'd have another set of strings to change..." thought. So I quickly get over my desire. I can't imagine how those players with four, five, six or more guitars get on.

A Confession

All this talk of strings and string changing is in fact a feeble attempt to work up courage to change my strings. This weekend I really want to get back that slinky smooth, new string feel, hence this pep talk to motivate myself.

This time, I'm going to try some new strings, those long-life Elixir ones. My hope is that I can continue to change strings infrequently and still enjoy a fresh feel and sound.

I usually use standard Martin acoustic steel strings, light gauge. I'll fill you in with some news on how the Elixirs do later on.

Weekend Guitar Workout

What about you. Do you change strings as often as you should, or do you forge on with grubby and sticky strings like me? Dare to share your dark string changing secrets in the comments...

Meanwhile, I'm off to change the strings now. Oh, and if you don't have strings to change this weekend and want to get in some good guitar practice, try this weekend guitar workout proposed by the Rock House Blog. It looks like a lot of fun.

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15 January 2009

Can't Afford Guitar Lessons - Part 2

Here's another follow up to the Guitar Learning Challenge "Can't afford lessons" showing you how to get cheaper guitar lessons.

Last week I gave you some ideas to reduce the cost of lessons with a real guitar teacher. This week we're going to look at some effective alternatives to a real teacher that cost less.

Your alternatives to a teacher basically involve studying a course in a book, video or online. Nowadays there are excellent video lessons available and you'll find them easier to learn from than a book. Video also has an advantage over a real teacher because you can watch and work with it at any time you like and as often as you like.

You will find three basic formats for video training, online, downloads, or DVD.


Online training offers a fast and effective way to access thousands of guitar lessons. There are many offerings for all levels in different styles.

Video for these courses is streamed from a server on the Internet each time you view it. This means you need a reliable and reasonably fast Internet connection, you also need your computer connected to Internet each time you use the course.

Here are some things to look out for in good online guitar training:

1. Structured program to follow if you are a beginner or learning a new style
2. The ability to pick and choose custom lessons to fill in gaps or extend your skills
3. Interactive support from guitar experts - check this is available at the times you need it


Online courses are good at delivering flexible lessons that you can pick and choose from to build your own course. But you do have to be connected to the Internet whenever you use them, and you need a fast enough connection to support the video streaming.

One alternative that avoids these drawbacks is a course that you download to your own PC. You can use it whenever you want without your Internet connection.

A download is also a good option for a structured course where you are going to follow all the lessons. It is particularly well suited to beginners or novices looking for a general introduction.

Downloadable courses are usually cheapest because the costs of producing and distributing DVDs and accompanying books are minimized. The other plus points are that you can download and start using them in only a few minutes and once you have downloaded the material is on your computer all the time without the need to connect to the Internet.

Here are the things to look out for:

1. Well structured, step by step training programme, not just a hotch potch bag of lessons.
2. Samples you can view to check the video and lesson quality before you buy.
3. Support to get technical or guitar help and ask questions.


Of course you don't have to use your computer to follow your guitar video lessons. There is a huge variety of lessons and courses available on DVD.

DVD based lessons may cost a little more than a download because of the extra production and distribution costs. But if you are the kind of player that doesn't want to use anything more complicated than a TV remote control then DVD could be for you.

Not all DVD products offer interactive support, so check this before you buy. The Rock House is one publisher that offers support and extras through its web site.

You now have three low priced methods to get guitar lessons. Below you'll find some suggested resources, maybe one of them suits your learning needs.


Workshop Live offers great online guitar lessons. From $10 a month you get access to 16,000 video lessons covering beginner guitar, rock, pop, blues, folk, bluegrass and jazz styles. You can try it free for 7 days by clicking here.

Jamorama Acoustic is a leading multi-media guitar learning package that you can download. It covers everything the novice to intermediate guitarist needs to learn and progress. It includes several bonus tools including 26 acoustic backing tracks to jam to.

Shop for guitar DVDs or Rock House Guitar at Amazon.

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14 January 2009

Minor Pentatonic Lead Positions Exercises

Minor pentatonic scales are one of the most widely used in blues and rock music. The Rock House Blog recently offered a useful post that will teach you five minor pentatonic lead patterns along the fretboard.

These patterns are useful to any guitarist interested in learning some lead guitar skills.

They will develop your fluency in moving around the fretboard as they teach you positions that move up and down it. Horizontal patterns like these give you more options to break out of the vertical scale boxes you might be familiar with.

View Multi-position Pentatonic Lead Patterns.

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9 January 2009

Can't Afford Guitar Lessons?

This follow up to the Guitar Learning Challenges survey addresses the challenge "Can't afford lessons" reported by a third of readers who responded. The bad news is I don't have a solution to make anyone rich quickly, the good news is that I'm sharing some ways to get guitar lessons for less money than you might think.

In this post I'll discuss cheaper ways to get lessons with a teacher, next week I'll follow up with some alternative tuition methods that can reduce the cost even more.

Private guitar teachers charge about $25 for a half hour lesson in my neck of the woods. If you plan on taking weekly lessons then that's a cost of around $100 per month. But using one of the two methods described below you can reduce that amount by up to a quarter.

Group Lessons

One simple way to reduce the cost of guitar lessons is to share the cost with several other people. If a teacher charges $50 for an hour of lessons you can divide the cost by sharing that hour with other guitar players.

Ask your local guitar teachers if they offer this kind of lesson arrangement. They might organize slots with several students for you. If not you could find other guitar learners who are interested in this idea yourself.

To find learners to share with try advertising in a local music shop or ask around your friends, at school, at work. You could also try advertising in other public places like your local library or corner shop.

On the Internet sites such as Virtual Rock Band could help you find musicians in your area. Maybe they'll be interested in sharing a guitar teacher with you?

Music School

An obvious place to look for group tuition is a music school of some kind. My local town has a community centre where music lessons are organized. Weekly guitar lessons in groups of four cost less than $300 for a year.

Space Your Lessons

Another way to reduce the cost of a guitar teacher is to space your lessons out. There's no law that states you must take lessons every week. A half hour guitar lesson can give you many hours of practice. I took lessons once every two weeks a couple of years ago. Not only did it halve the monthly cost it also left me enough time to work on the new material before my next lesson.

If you space out your lessons with a guitar teacher you might want to combine this approach with a video or book course. You can work your way through a method or a song book and use your sessions with the teacher to address your problems and questions. With this approach you might well find that one lesson a month is sufficient.

There you have two ways you can get lessons with a guitar teacher for less money than you might think. Even if you don't visit a teacher every week you can still learn a lot through some regular contact to get help and advice with your problems. You will also find that sharing a teacher not only gives you the benefit of cheaper lessons but also provides you with other musicians to share your learning with.

Next week I'll be sharing some cheaper ways to get guitar lessons. Be sure to sign up for updates by email or to your RSS reader if you don't want to miss it.

If you enjoyed this post you might want to catch up on other responses to the survey:

7 January 2009

Learn Guitar Songs by Ear - Here's a Method That's Helping Me

This post shares a video lesson showing an easy method to learn guitar songs by ear. I've made several attempts at this in the past without much success. I came across this video recently and tried the method it describes. It has helped me to find many of the chords for three songs I tried it on, not 100% but a lot more than I usually manage.

The video lasts less than two minutes and could help you improve your ability to learn songs by ear so why not give it a try?

Did it work for you? Do you have any other good tips for learning songs by ear? Please share your experience as a comment.

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5 January 2009

Guitar Finger Independence Exercise

Here's a simple finger independence exercise you can use as a warm up for your guitar practice. In this exercise you will pick the notes you fret, but you can easily leave that out and work on only the fretting hand if you wish. Let's get right to the exercise.

1. Spread the four fingers of your fretting hand above the 6th string, one fret per finger. You can start at any fret you like.

2. Play the note under your third (ring) finger, press down the string, pick it, then lift your finger to return to its starting position.

3. Play the note under your first (index) finger, as you did for the third finger in step 2. Then do the same for the fourth (pinky), and second (middle) fingers.

4. Move down to the 5th string and play the 5th string frets in the sequence you used in steps 2 and 3.

5. Repeat the process for all strings down to the 1st string.

6. Now work your way back up to the 6th string, one string at a time. You can use the same sequence of fingers or a different one, it's up to you.

You're done. This simple exercise makes a good warm up for your guitar practice, both stretching your fingers and developing their independence. Practice the pattern several times using a metronome to keep a steady tempo. As you become better you can increase the tempo ensuring that you can play cleanly without errors before moving on to a higher speed.

The sequence suggested above is just one example of how you can do the exercise. You should choose different orders for the finger movements for more variety and development of independent finger control. Be careful not to let your fingers fall into random movements - pick a pattern first and then apply it in a controlled way.

You can extend the exercise to play notes across several strings rather than one string at a time. Here's an example tab pattern starting at the 5th fret. Use quarter or eighth notes and remember to use one finger for each fret:


This exercise is also a good candidate for visualization - practice the finger movements in your head as you shower, walk, run...

As always, use your metronome to build up speed and fluency with this exercise for maximum benefit.

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4 January 2009

What Would You Do If You Had More Practice Time?

Today I'm guest blogging over at the Jemsite Community blog. This site is inspired by the Ibanez JEM guitar and offers news and tips for learners as well as a forum to share your experience and ask questions.

In the post I ask the question "What would you do if you had more practice time?". A lot of guitar learners wish for more practice time, but if you don't really know exactly how you'd use more time, is it really what you need? Read the post to find out...

Not Playing Guitar will be back with a regular post tomorrow.

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2 January 2009

Learn Guitar - What to Do Next

Here's a post to help those who said they don't know what to do next in the Guitar Learning Challenges survey. If you enjoy it you might want to catch up on other responses:

Almost 40% of respondents to the Guitar Learning Challenges survey said they didn't know what to do next. Here's a tip that will help you if your guitar learning is held up because you don't know what to do next.

This tip can be boiled down to just four words, four words that can help you to move forwards from wherever you may be, "Figure out one step.". There is nothing new about this idea, two and a half thousand years ago the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tse said"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step". The same is true today for your guitar learning journey. You might not plan to travel a thousand miles, but this idea will help take your guitar skills to the next milestone.

Figure Out One Step

Forget about fancy goals and intricate plans, your job is simply to figure out one thing you can do next.

Sometimes you don't know how to break down a long term goal, where to start, or maybe you're just confused by the overwhelming number of possibilities. One thing you can do though is figure out just one small step from where you are now. An easy way to do this is to pick something that you want to play. A song, a riff, a lick, a solo. It should be something you've heard that you really liked and you'd love to play it.

I bet you can think of at least one song that fits this bill. Now figure out what you need to play that song. Get some tab or sheet music, find out what chords the song uses. What about the riffs, licks or solo parts?

Take A Step

When you've figured out what's in the song, go practice it.


When you can play the song, solo, or riff you chose, congratulate yourself, and then go right ahead and choose another. Repeat this process taking small steps each time to continue your guitar learning journey.

Make sure you choose something you really like at each step and you'll end up somewhere you are happy with. Don't choose things you don't really like that much just because someone claims it's a "must play song". The only must play songs are the ones you enjoy.

Use this simple process next time you fret over what to do next with your guitar. Cut away the confusion and doubt by simply picking one thing. Then get on and do it.

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Read more answers to the Guitar Learning Challenges survey:

How to Fix Stupid Guitar Fingers
Guitar Practice: Never Be Stuck For Ideas Again
Instant Guitar Practice Routine

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