Archive for the ‘guitar theory’ Category

I’ve spoken about him before, but Mark Wein of Mark Wein Guitar Lessons really knows his stuff, and I’ve gotten a lot mileage from his free video tutorials. One set of tutorials that I found as a real useful review, plus learning some new stuff as well, is his series on Partial Chord Shapes. Really great stuff!

Anyway, here are links to the lessons themselves:

Partial Chord Shapes Primer
Partial Chord Shapes #2 – Backbeat Rhythm Guitar!
Partial Chord Lesson #3 – Funk and R&B Guitar Parts
Partial Chords #4 – Rock guitar parts on the first 3 strings.

Mark is such a great teacher! I love his no-nonsense approach to teaching guitar. Anyway, definitely give these videos spin!

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Jam Center

Wow! Amazing what taking a few days off can do! I spent last weekend in Las Vegas deflating from the rigors of everyday life, and when I came back, made a conscious effort to play as little guitar or writing as possible. Sometimes you just need to take a break. But I’m back now, refreshed, restored, and fully recovered.

So yesterday, not feeling like writing any music – actually not feeling very creative at all – I just picked up my guitar and started noodling. Within a few minutes, I wanted to play to something, so I did a search on “jam tracks” and the first search result was a link to a place called Jam Center. Intrigued, I clicked the link and was taken to the site.

There really wasn’t much there; just a navigation bar on the left that listed “Jam Machine Keys.” I clicked the Key of A, the page reloaded and the following “machine” appeared on the page:


Cool, I thought, this looks really promising. I clicked on “COOL” and was rewarded with a nicely produced jam track. I slung my guitar and started playing… Two hours later, I still hadn’t gone through all the keys and all the jam tracks, I was enjoying myself so much!

Yeah, there are lots of different sites offering jam tracks out there, but what I like about this particular site is that instead of just playing MP3s in another tab or window that eventually end, the jam tracks are arranged in a loop, and not only that, many of the jam tracks have two different “feels” to them. Usually, the first part of a track will have a mellower feel, then jumping into the second half of the track, the feel gets more intense. Having this type of variation makes you play differently. So not only can you practice your technique, you can practice changing your tones and attack. What I found very useful with having two different feels to a track was it allowed me to practice switching pedals and pickup selections. How cool is that!

One thing I forgot to mention was that when you click on a style on the machine, text appears on the machine suggesting the type of scale to play like “A Harmonic Minor” or “E Blues.” It’s a small thing yes, but it’s cool to have a starting place. For instance, in one of the tracks, the suggestion came up with “A Mixolydian.” I’ve never been that much into modes and such, even though I’ve studied them, but as an interesting and added value, the site has some great graphic examples of the different modes.

I looked up “A Mixolydian” and was greeted with the pattern, and started playing the pattern over the jam track. That was really cool; a way to immediately use a mode over a piece of music, as opposed to having to intellectualize. What that sparked was using different modes starting with different tonics or root notes over the different keys. Some didn’t work at all, but it sure helped me understand how modes can open up a whole different world when jamming.

Anyway, check this site out. It’s a great tool!

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yodaAh, Padawan. Come to receive the wisdom of the ages, you have I see. Into the realms of guitar playing greatness delve deep do you wish; to play among the stars of guitar such as Vai, Satriani, Johnson and others of that ilk. Good for you! Welcome you with open arms, do I. Now dispensed with the pleasantries have we Padawan, it is time to let you down…

  1. There is no magic wand I can wave to make you great
  2. Wish all you want, and you’ll never become a guitar god.
  3. Meditate on the virtues of truly great guitarists – It will do you no good.

Now that sufficiently crushed your dreams of guitar greatness have I, tell you I will the secret to achieving your place among the titans:

There are no shortcuts!!!


Okay, enough of the Yoda talk… 🙂

To be completely serious, if you want to be a great guitarist, there is no other way to get to greatness without dedication and focus. Simply put, you have to practice – a lot! You can learn all the theory in the world, you can take all the A/V classes out there. All of these things are absolutely helpful. But until you apply the things that you learn and master the techniques, you’ll never get there.

Playing guitar, or any instrument for that matter, isn’t something that you can be good at simply by intellectualizing being good. It takes practice – every day – to develop the skills to play well. I look on my own experience with playing guitar. Yeah, I’ve been playing for over 35 years, but I’ve only reached a certain level of proficiency in the last five years when I decided that I wanted to change the direction of my music, which was almost entirely acoustic, to include more electric guitar.

The experience in the last five years has been both rewarding and painful. When I was starting out, it was so frustrating because I could hear in my head what I wanted out of my guitars, but I didn’t have the technique. So I put my head down, so to speak, and started playing and practicing everyday, seven days a week. I’d even bring a couple of guitars and an amp on vacation! I try to play at least a half-hour each day. It’s not necessarily just straight practice of scales, and different techniques, I also spend a lot of time exploring how to express music that comes into my head.

I’m still learning. I feel I have so much further to travel, but I have also come a long way compared to where I was five years ago. Back then, all I knew were chords and playing chords in alternate tunings. I could fingerpick pretty well, and do a lot of stuff with an acoustic guitar – that’s all great, and I don’t want to discount what I could do on acoustic, but my abilities on the electric guitar, especially with doing improv, were sorely lacking. But from constant practice, I can do at least a basic lead in pretty much any key. That’s the reward; having the satisfaction of knowing I’ve made a lot of progress.

I originally got the inspiration for this article from a blog entry I read at GuitarVibe. It really got me thinking about what I’ve accomplished over the past few years, and moreover, how I got to where I am. Like with anything in life, learning is often fraught with moments of despair and discouragement, but it also has its times of complete satisfaction and reward.

So go practice, young Padawan, and may the Force be with you!

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As GuitarGear.org has grown, so has its readership, but trying to keep a constant feed of fresh content isn’t as easy you might think, considering that it has only been me doing it for the past couple of years, with a couple of contributions from folks like Tweed Demon in the past. One of the areas that I wanted to expand to was providing more education pieces; partly because I’ve started teaching beginning to intermediate guitar players, but also because music theory is something that really interests me. But far be it from me to share any formal knowledge – I’m self-taught. I can only describe theory in terms of how I’ve experienced it, not in any real academic ways.

So it comes as a real pleasure to introduce to you GuitarGear’s newest author, “wesman.” Wesman started commenting on the site a couple of months ago, and his feedback has been both honest and insightful. So after he “corrected” me in a recent post about music theory, I felt compelled to contact him and ask him to contribute his knowledge to the site. He gracefully accepted. Here’s a transcript of a quick interview I gave to him:

How did you discover GuitarGear.org?
It was suggested to me in google reader

What’s your musical background? Did you study formally or organically?
I started playing guitar around the age of 10.  I took fairly standard guitar lessons in that they were lax on theory.  I never learned notation and only minimal (practical) theory.  In high school some friends and I were able to persuade the school to do a theory class for the 6 of us as an elective and that was my first exposure to “real” theory.  My the time I graduated I was competent on guitar, bass and drums.  I took a few classes in theory, history and composition in college while majoring in computer science and worked on my playing in various bands.  I picked up the harmonica and also started experimenting with a cassette 4-track which started my love of recording.  Since college I’ve become proficient on piano and organ, honed my guitar skills and focused on composition and live performance.  I’m working on picking up the sax now!

What styles of music do you play or write?
I play primarily rock music – typically fast, loud stuff – punk, not metal or anything too evil sounding – I have done a lot of intimate quiet recordings as well, but I usually prefer uptempo music when playing in a band – I’ve got some demos on my myspace:  myspace.com/angoraluvu <http://myspace.com/angoraluvu&gt; .

What’s in your rig?
oh man – I love talking about this stuff – my main amplifier for live use is the mesa/boogie mk iv which I think is nearly perfect.  at home I have a mid-70s Fender Vibro-Champ.  For guitars, I primarily play a les paul classic and my backup is a double cutaway les paul special.  I also have a 70’s RI strat and some foreign-built epiphone casino (the label came off – I think it’s indonesian or something, but it is nice for playing at home).  live, I typically use just a fulltone clyde deluxe wah pedal though lately I’ve been bringing a line6 FM4 which I use for uni-vibe, flanger, tremolo and ring modulator effects.  For acoustics, I have a beautiful 1970’s gibson j-200 artist and a seagull m12 12-string. I play bass in a band as well – I use a 1982 gibson ripper and a recent rickenbacker 4001 through an ampeg v4b that, I think, is from the 90s

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Note: This isn’t going to be an instructional piece… just a sharing piece… mostly…

I’ve been playing guitar for over 35 years, but it hasn’t been until the last couple of years – actually the last few months – that I’ve really started focusing on scales and modal theory. Chord theory I had down cold, but I really didn’t focus on the scales part of the equation. I figured that if I could get some lead patterns and tricks down, I’d be in pretty good shape; and for awhile, that worked just fine.

But then I realized that in many of my recordings, I was using the same patterns and tricks, albeit in different keys and in different combinations, but the same stuff nonetheless. This prompted me to rethink how I approached playing solos, so I started out by learning major and minor scale patterns. I got a couple of books to help me along, and I proceeded to practice them.

But in the back of my mind was this idea of modes. I’d heard them bandied about for years, and pretty much ignored them partially out of the thought that as a rhythm player, they weren’t too important; though that really masked an innate fear that modes were WAY beyond my ability to grasp. But during this past weekend’s study/practice session, I realized that modes are not difficult at all! The names of the modes just scared the livin’ crap out of me! 🙂

Think about it: The mode names are all in Greek: Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, and Locrian. From my previous life as a bio-sciences major, terminology in Greek or Latin would evoke feelings of anxiety similar to, “Oh shit! More frickin’ terms to memorize just to regurgitate later on.” 🙂 Such was the case when faced with modes.

I now feel a little foolish about my anxiety with modes. Once you understand what they represent, they’re totally easy to play!

Here’s my explanation in a nutshell, just in case you too have the same anxiety about modes as I did:

  1. Modes are simply starting points within the scale of a particular key.
  2. For instance, if you’re playing in the key of C and want to play in the Mixolydian mode, you’d start and end on the 5th degree of the C scale which is G.
  3. Now don’t get confused here: You don’t play a G scale. You merely start at G, and play the notes of the C scale, so: G A B C D E F G

So what’s the big deal? Lots of players don’t give a whit about this stuff. For me as a teacher, this stuff is pretty important. But from a player’s standpoint, it gives you a much deeper understanding of the fretboard, and also, playing in a mode gives you a different tonal center to play from, which actually has an effect on how a solo sounds and feels.

I found that a great example of this is to play the Lydian mode. The Lydian mode starts on the 4th degree of a scale. Going back to the C scale, this means that the Lydian will be F. If you’re familiar with chord theory, a chord with an added 4th is notated as Csus4. The sound of this particular chord connotes a feeling that the chord must be resolved – it’s not something you’d finish with; you’d typically use a “sus4” chord before either the major root chord or minor root chord. In our case of a C chord, we’d do something like: Csus4 – C. In playing in the Lydian mode, you’ll evoke a sense that you have to resolve your scale somehow. After all, starting and ending on the 4th creates a feeling that your phrase is unfinished. The point of all this is that where you start will have a huge effect on the general coloring of what you’re playing.

Note that this discussion only brushes the surface of modal theory. For a much deeper discussion, check out Guitar Noise or this excellent article that I found on Modes of the Major Scale.

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