30 May 2011

Today’s Guitar Practice Tip: Change Your Strings Regularly


The old strings had been on my guitar for a long time. At least six months, probably more, I don’t remember exactly when I put them on.


I’d been meaning to change them several times but as usual I kept putting it off. I preferred to spend the time I had to play the guitar rather than spending a half hour to change the strings.


But last week I couldn’t put it off any more, the strings were just to grimy and old. So one evening, I traded my half-hour of practice and changed the strings.


I know it’s a good idea to change strings regularly. I’ve read it plenty of times and each time I change mine I’m reminded how nice it is to play with recently changed strings. But it’s just one of those chores that always gets put off until the last minute.


After this particularly long session with those old strings, I think I’m finally resolved to change my strings more often. Here’s why…


1. New Strings Are Easier To Play

The biggest advantage to changing strings regularly is that fresh strings are simply so much easier to play.


Every time I get used to playing on my grimy old strings I forget just what a difference new strings can make. I’m amazed when I change them by the softer and more supple feeling of new guitar strings. I always kick myself for not changing them sooner.


I’m not sure why new strings feel like they have a lower tension. But with the new strings it really doesn’t feel like it. There’s surely some good scientific reason for this (please share it as a comment if you know it, I’d be happy to become less ignorant).


2. New Strings Are More Attractive

When your guitar is dressed in grimy old black strings with rust on them how do you feel about picking up your instrument to play? That’s right, shamed.


Compare this to the bright shine of a new set of strings. My guitar looks so good now I can’t resist picking it up and playing. So fresh strings encourage you to practice and play more guitar.


3. New Strings Sound Better

Tastes in guitar sound vary widely. Personally I’m not a huge fan of my acoustic’s sound with brand new strings, a bit too bright and full of overtones for my taste.


But when the initial brightness wears off after a couple of days, the remaining sound definitely beats the dead sound of 6 month old strings. Do your ears a favour, change those strings.



Don’t put off changing your guitar strings like I did. Keep your strings and playing fresh, change them regularly because:


1. New strings feel better and make the guitar easier to play

2. New strings are more attractive and encourage more practice

3. New strings sound better


Photo by Chloester.

27 May 2011

Guitar Practice: Should You Work On One Piece, or Several at a Time?

My son’s piano teacher gave him only one piece of music at a time. He practices that one piece day in and day out, sometimes for weeks, until its pretty much perfect.


Not too surprisingly, my son is quite bored with piano practice.


This got me thinking about the merits and drawbacks of practicing one thing at a time on the guitar versus working several pieces in parallel. I think I know where my personal preference lies, but if it’s so popular maybe the one piece at a time approach has something going for it…


One At A Time

Some people are simply more comfortable with only one piece to work on at a time. There are plenty of good reasons to work on one piece at a time.

- You can focus better and will be less distracted by other pieces that grab your attention.

- If you finish each piece before you move on to the next you won't end up with lots of unfinished pieces.

- You won't stretch yourself too thin. Sometimes you can plan yourself too many different things to work on and end up not doing any of them real justice. This can be especially important if your practice time is limited.

- Easy organization. You always know exactly what it is you're supposed to work on each time you begin to practice.


Going Parallel

But other’s among you will probably feel uneasy at the idea of having only a single piece to work on… and having to finish it before moving on the something else.


Those who like to work several pieces in parallel will point out the advantages of this approach.

- Less boredom. Not everyone has the patience to practice the same thing for a whole practice session, and day after day until it’s done.

- Interest boost. Each time you switch to a new piece your natural curiosity will lead to a boost in your level of interest and attention.

- Won’t get stuck. If you get stuck on a piece you always have something else to do until you find a solution for your problem. Often, that solution will come to you as you work on something else too.

- Perspective. If you're working on one piece and stuck somewhere it's easy to become very frustrated. You might keep trying that passage over and over but without success.

When you have several pieces progressing then it's not the end of the world if one piece is going badly. There'll be others that go better and you can see that there's just one technique or skill that's holding you up in one of the pieces.

- Cross training. Athletes develop their performance by training in disciplines other than their main sport. This works for the guitar too. You’ll develop your overall performance level when you work on several different skills.

Best Of Both Worlds?

Maybe there’s a way to get the best of both worlds? Simply work on one song at a time, but approach it from several different angles at once?

Say you have a song to learn. It might have several passages, the intro, verse, chorus, etc., there might also be a solo, and there's certainly a melody. The melody might not be played by the guitar but it's a good idea to learn it anyway, it can provide a basis for solos and it’s good ear practice.

Break down your practice session into several pieces that each make up a part of the song. That way you can have a little more variety and have something else to move on when you are stuck.

What about you? Do you prefer to work on only one piece at a time or have a variety of things on the go? Do you have any useful tips to avoids the pitfalls of your chosen approach? Share your thoughts in a comment using the link below.

25 May 2011

Maybe This Question Could Help You Learn Guitar Better…

Sometimes as we learn guitar we intimidate ourselves with the pressure we create thinking of all the things we "should" do and learn as guitar players. Pressure creates fear, fear that we're not good enough, not doing enough, won't learn enough. Fear stops us from practicing and trying new things, because... well because we're just not4119454234_d26563b2ef good enough, are we?


Typical goal setting only makes this situation worse, it makes us focus on all those things we can't do yet. So, instead of worrying about hard-to-get goals, here's a simple and flexible solution that can help you move forward without fear.


The other day I came across an article on 20 Life Lessons Worth (Re)Learning which aims to capture a set of “things I wish I’d known earlier”. I read lesson 6, below, and was struck by how useful it could be to help me continue to learn guitar:


“For me, dreams are the current of life.  Maybe I could start a business?  Maybe I could get a small role in an indie film?  Maybe my book will be a best seller?  Dreams are what keep me occupied when I’m waiting for the plane to arrive and excited about the future when some other thing hasn’t gone my way.  I don’t worry about achieving all my dreams–that’s not the point.  It’s how we keep childhood enthusiasm alive when hide-and-go-seek loses its thrill.”


I guess all of us guitar learners are dreamers in some way. This could be a much better way to think about all those things we’d love to do, but haven’t got around to yet. It would make a nice change from beating ourselves up about them instead.


What Are Your Maybe’s?

Maybe you could learn a new chord this week? Maybe you could learn a new song this month? Maybe you could learn to play the major scale in all twelve keys in the next three months?


Asking "Maybe...?" turns all those hard goals into endless possibilities. And because the possibilities are endless there's no reason to beat yourself up because you're not doing something. “Achieving all the dreams is not the point.” Instead of thinking you're bad when you haven’t achieved something, realise that maybe you just haven’t achieved it yet.


Maybe one day you will do it, if that's what you need or want one day. In the meantime there are plenty of other maybe's you could choose and work with. Maybe you could even leave a comment to share your “maybe’s” with us…


Photo by Tsar Kasim.

23 May 2011

Learning Blues Guitar Licks

Last week I wrote about 3 things I struggle with in my blues guitar playing. In summary:

1. Develop a vocabulary of blues guitar licks and use them to build solos

2. Master blues guitar rhythm styles in different keys

3. Learn to play a half-dozen blues songs by heart


Since then I’ve been researching a few tools that could help me and I’ve chosen one to help me work on my blues guitar licks.


I’ve decided to focus on blues licks vocabulary and soloing to start with to be sure I have enough time to work on it properly. I aim to master each of these three things well so I don’t want to spread my efforts too thin and mess them all up.


Blues Licks and Solos DVD

The Blues Licks And Solos DVD by Jody Worrell is published by Watch and Learn. It looks like it’s just the thing I need.


This DVD and book package teaches 12 blues guitar solos over 6 songs in different styles. From the sample pages of the accompanying book it looks like there are three licks taught for each solo. Then the licks are put together to make up the whole guitar solo.


It looks like a great way to pick up some genuine blues sounding blues licks. Have a look at the sample video below for a better idea. I’ll be following up later with a review. Be sure to sign up for updates if you want to learn how I get on with it.

18 May 2011

Blues Guitar - 3 Things I Struggle To Master

I’ve been learning to play blues guitar for a while now. A long while. During that time I’ve made plenty of learning4695483486_b43cdd41f8 mistakes and still have challenges to solve.


In the coming months I’d really like to improve my playing, so I’ve been thinking about my problems to work out what to focus on.


Here are the top three playing problems that I came up with.


1. I still don’t know how to improvise a convincing blues guitar solo

2. I’m not fully at ease with a variety of blues guitar rhythm patterns

3. I don’t know what to play


Blues Guitar Solos

I think my biggest mistake learning blues guitar solos has been to spend too little time copying licks.


Instead I spent most of my time learning scale boxes. When I improvise with my scale boxes I play all the notes of blues solos. But my efforts just don’t sound like a blues solo.


I’ve come to understand that it’s not about the number of scale patterns you know. What I really need is a vocabulary of tried and tested licks. Licks that sound like blues.


Blues Guitar Rhythm Patterns

I love to play rhythm guitar, more even than playing solos. But I’ve noticed that when I play blues rhythm guitar most of the time one of two things happens:


1. I play the shuffle

2. I strum 7th bar chords in the same old way


I know there are a whole lot more interesting ways to play rhythm and create more varied patterns. But I just don’t feel comfortable enough with them and can’t think them fast enough to play them.


Don’t Know What To Play

My third problem is this. When I get a chance to play, I pick up the guitar and I’m there with my pick, but then I don’t know what to play. Nothing comes to mind. Blank.


Sometimes a little fragment comes to mind. But it’s not a whole blues song that I can play right through by heart.


How Will I Fix These Problems?

I have picked the following 3 practice approaches to improve my blues guitar playing in the coming months.


1. I will stop trying to improvise all my solos from scale boxes. Instead I’m going to learn a bunch of tried and tested blues guitar licks, study how they’re made and learn to plug them together to build my own solos.


2. Just learning blues guitar rhythm examples as they are given in a book or video isn’t enough. To really master the styles you need to dig deeper into them. I plan to revise all the patterns and styles I’ve already seen in several different keys. Then I will go on to make up new rhythm parts using the same techniques and chord types and practice those in different keys too.


3. I’m going to get myself a video or a book that will teach me a half-dozen blues songs and learn them by heart.


I’ll be blogging about the results I get from these three approaches over the coming months. You can join-up to learn how I get on. And if you know of a good book or video that teaches real songs and not just techniques, then I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment or email me with your experience.


Photo by Shane’s Stuff.

16 May 2011

Fingerstyle Guitar Workshop

401965129_056cdc77fdHere's an interesting guitar event for readers who will be in the UK this July.


American fingerstyle jazz guitarist Duck Baker and acoustic blues guitarist Woody Mann are giving an American Roots Guitar Workshop in Salisbury, UK, on the weekend of 1st to 3rd July 2011.

Woody Mann and Duck Baker are both internationally known through their touring, recordings, books, and instructional DVD’s. Their music covers a wide spectrum of styles and sounds and both have been teaching guitar workshops throughout the world for over two decades.


The workshop will cover the styles and playing techniques of country blues,ragtime, gospel and swing guitar as well as fingerstyle arrangements of Irish tunes, with the emphasis on learning new repertoire. You’ll get to work on guitar techniques of guys like Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Blake, Skip James, Lonnie Johnson and Robert Johnson.


As described by Duck Baker, “Our goal is to create a relaxed non-competitive workshop environment where everyone from beginning students to advanced players will be able to focus in on ways to further their music, understand their craft.”


To learn more about the workshop and find out how to participate visit the fingerstyle guitar workshop information page on Duck Baker’s web site.


Photo by Brian Finifter.

9 May 2011

Today’s Guitar Practice Tip: Warm Up

If you often feel intimidated by the idea of guitar practice warm ups can save you.warm-up


Racing car drivers warm up, athletes and dancers warm up… guitarists need to warm up too.


When you warm up you make a switch from your everyday mind set to your guitar playing mind set. You build momentum that gives you a sense of flow to work effortlessly on your guitar practice list.


Here are two of my favourite warm up exercises.


Pick a song, any song

Pick a song you know how to play fairly easily. You can use your song book or mp3 playlist to help you or just grab the first song that pops into your head.


Play through the song you’ve chosen at a steady tempo.


Kick off with someone else’s lick

This warm up is lots of fun too.


Pick a lick from a player you enjoy. Using that lick as a starting point make up and play five more licks.


A lick dictionary is a great source of inspiration for picking licks. Or you can take an exercise, sheet music or tab. Just pick one phrase, or one bar of the music as your starting point.


Keep It Simple

Remember, your warm up is a tool to break down your resistance to practice so make it something that’s easy and enjoyable for you to play.


What’s Your Warm Up?

What about you, do you use warm ups to kick-start your guitar practice? If so, what are your favourites? Let us know by leaving a comment using the link below.

6 May 2011

The 8 Habits of Highly Effective Guitarists

Do you want to be a successful guitarist?


I do.


I try to learn all I can about how to learn guitar effectively and make the most of my limited practice time.


If you want to be a the best guitar player you can, you should, too.


There is a lot of advice and many tips on how to learn and play guitar. Too much to follow in fact. So I've tried to stop focusing on all the little things. Little things like what equipment to use, what kind of tab software to use, or how to use modes.


I want to focus on a bigger picture. What do the best guitarists do? What is their mind set, their mental habits?


Today I’m happy to share my list of the 8 habits of effective guitarists.


The good news is that even if you don’t have all these habits already, you can develop them over time. Best of all, if you can cultivate these habits, you’ll become more effective in the rest of your life as well.


1. Effective guitarists play a lot

The first key to being a successful guitarist is to play guitar. A lot.


2. Effective guitarists are curious

Successful guitarists ask lots of questions. And they seek out the answers.


They are curious about what other guitarists do and learn from them. They are always on the look out for new tricks to learn and new ways of doing things.


3. Effective guitarists are analytical

Successful guitarists don’t practice without thinking about what they're doing.


They study what they've been practicing, observing carefully to see what works and what doesn't. They think through problems and look for ideas that might solve them. Then they try them out until they find one that works.


4. Effective guitarists are lifelong learners

If you’re new to playing guitar, you probably face a steep learning curve.


Maybe you think that things will get easier when you’ve been playing longer. There won’t be so much to learn. You’ll have things mastered soon and everything will run smoothly. Happily, I think this is a myth.


No matter how long you play guitar, the great thing is there's always a new discovery that will bring a smile to your face.


5. Effective guitarists are systematic

Successful guitarists choose a style to work on and stick to it.


They learn about and practice their chosen style with a consistent approach. They stick to regular practice schedules and use systems to ensure they practice what they most need.


6. Effective guitarists plan ahead

Successful guitarists know where they’re going. They have a plan and they stick to it. Yes, they adapt to feedback, but always in service of their vision.


7. Effective guitarists are persistent

The best guitarists understand that success doesn’t happen overnight. They know that if they persist in working towards their vision they will end up getting there, even if there are a few rough patches and diversions along the road.


8. Effective guitarists are self-starters

A lot of people like the idea of playing guitar, creating music and even impressing people with their skills. But if you want these things, you need to be able to manage yourself.


No one will fire you if you don't show up to practice. No one reminds you of deadlines you've set or nags you to get your scales in shape.

What trait do you think is most valuable?

What do you think the most important trait of a good guitar player is? It might be one of the eight described above, or maybe you think it's something completely different. Let us know by leaving a comment using the link below.

2 May 2011

12 CAGED Chord Progressions To Practice

A few days back I posted an Introduction to the CAGED chord system. In today’s follow up post I’m sharing 12 chord progressions using CAGED shapes that you can practice. These progressions are a great way to develop your knowledge of the CAGED chords and build skills at playing them.


To start off with a series of I-IV-V progressions will develop your familiarity with the relative positions of these chords starting from each of the five CAGED shapes. These are followed by some more progressions that introduce more chords using the CAGED shapes.


Have fun as you practice all these progressions!


I-IV-V in G Major Starting with C Shape



I-IV-V in D Major Starting with A Shapeimage

I-IV-V in E Major Starting with G Shape



I-IV-V in C Major Starting with E Shape



I-IV-V in A Major Starting with D Shape



I-IV-V in G Major



I-vi-ii-V in B Major



I-iii-IV-V in A Major



Cycle of Fifths



I-IV Groove in E Major



I-vi-ii-V-I in A Major


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