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Archive for the ‘learn guitar’ Category

bwb
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I purchased Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues with Brains” series. After a month, I still haven’t moved past Volume 1, but that’s only because I’m going slowly and methodically with the process. Besides, the one thing that I found is that Chuck throws A LOT of stuff at you in a very short period of time, and I’m one of those types of learners that has to let information soak in before I can move on.

There aren’t any step-by-step lessons in this series. It’s very free-form, which I find is totally cool. But as I mentioned above, there are several places where Chuck throws in lots of material in a short span of time, so I’ve found myself going back and forth and listening and practicing for a couple of days before moving on. This is a real change of approach for me because I’ve operated by this little saying for quite awhile: “If patience were a virtue, I’d be a slut.” 🙂 But this time ’round, I made a conscious decision to not move on until I could execute on what the teacher was talking about proficiently.

What about the fruits of my labor? Well… I know I’ve used this clip before, but it’s a good example of applying what I’ve learned:

Excuse the obvious mistakes, the song’s not really in a finished state (can’t decide what guitar/amp combo I want to use). But here’s what I’ve learned so far that I’ve applied to this song:

  • I now pay lots of attention to the current chord being played and playing notes that “fit.” I used to be a real pattern player – especially the minor pentatonic – but I’m learning to break free of those patterns.
  • I’ve lately put a lot of emphasis on learning various triad shapes up and down the neck. This not only helps with getting the proper fingering at a particular place, but it also helps in coloring.
  • I’m also learning to let my solos breathe. One thing that I haven’t heard Chuck mention yet – though he’ll probably share it – is taking some time to let my idea sink in, then playing to build on it. Yeah, that song is somewhat composed, but it came about through playing over the rhythm track underneath. The themes you hear are ideas that I came up with while just playing around!

Regarding that last point, that is probably the salient point that I’m getting out of the lessons thus far, and that is taking an idea, then developing it and building upon it. It’s incredibly freeing!

 

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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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SAINT Guitar Company - Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

SAINT Guitar Company - Faded Blue Jean Benchmark Guitar

…but it will also make you a better player!

Pictured to the left is the very first Saint Guitar that I ever played. Even though she wasn’t mine, I nicknamed her “Baby Blue” and the name kind of stuck; she’s technically called the Faded Blue Jean Benchmark. But to me, she’ll always be Baby Blue because I spec’d her out, and it will always be a special guitar to me. But that’s not the point of this article. The point is that Baby Blue is a great guitar, and when I first got it to test, I will finally admit that it scared the livin’ shit out of me!

Why? The answer is simple: Great guitars make you play well; no, not from the standpoint that by just playing them you immediately start playing better. It’s actually the converse: More likely than not, when you pick up a great guitar, you may find yourself flailing!

I’ve seen several good players pick up a great guitar such as this and flail away. Most, like me, don’t want to burst their bubble of pride, and simply say that it’s because the guitar is just not easy to play. But in my case, and I’m willing to bet in other players’ cases, what happens is that a great guitar takes your bad habits, emphasizes them, then throws them back in your face.

But let me qualify that a bit: What a great guitar does is pretty much emphasize everything you do. The good things you do feel and sound better, but the bad things you do well… they’ll scare the shit out of you. 🙂 That was my experience with the Saint Guitars Baby Blue and recently – but not as bad, thank God – a PRS McCarty that I had the chance to play.

I remember the first time I picked up the Baby Blue. She felt so nice to hold. The D-shape neck was a bit foreign to me, but not unpleasant, and the weight and shape were just perfect. I plugged her in, did a few chords and some standard licks, then turned on a jam track to start playing. Again, I started out with some pretty standard stuff that I normally do like bending and vibrato to listen for the inherent sustain (which Saint Guitars are known for). But when I started to do some faster runs – OUCH!!! It was like getting my ass completely kicked.

Even though I was alone in my studio, I was embarrassed and humbled. But being as hard-headed as I am, I wouldn’t let that deter me. I knew I had to swallow my pride and take some time to get used to playing the guitar – properly. The problem stemmed from my being used to playing a Strat for so long. With its narrow neck radius, wrapping your entire hand – even as small as mine – around the neck and still maintaining speed and control is easy. But with the Saint, while the neck radius is bigger, it’s the D-shape that doesn’t really facilitate wrapping. Oh I could do it, but it seriously hampered my ability to move, and seriously hampered my ability to correctly articulate the strings.

So I had to go back to fundamentals and learn to place the pad of my thumb right on the neck – like you’re supposed to do… It took me about a week of hours-long practice every day to adjust to playing with a correct left hand position. But the great thing about it is that I now play in a good position without thinking about it. I do have my lapses, but once I catch myself, it’s all good.

goldie_full

Once I got Goldie (shown at right), the initial experience wasn’t nearly as acute as with Baby Blue since I’ve spent A LOT of time working on my technique, but I wasn’t exempted from an ass-kickin – even though it may have been  just a little. I ordered Goldie with medium-jumbo frets because I wanted deeper frets to aid in producing more pronounced vibrato when I was sustaining notes, and also making it easy to do those little microtonal bends.

I thought I had developed a much lighter touch through all the practicing that I’ve been doing over the last couple of years, but with the jumbo frets, I REALLY had to lighten my touch. This is a great thing because playing with relaxed hands ultimately makes you faster. But nevertheless, it’s still a little unsettling. The positive thing is that I’m spending every bit of spare time I have learning her every subtle nuance; and I have to tell you, this guitar is capable of producing A LOT of different tones from Strat-like chime to full-on, thick, rich, and chocolate overdrive tones.

Sometimes a good ass-kickin’ is a good thing…

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I normally don’t write about instructional sites, mainly because they’re a dime a dozen, and most follow the same model of discussing theory, and providing scale diagrams that accompany the theory. Not that these aren’t helpful, but I tend to be the type of player that learns more effectively by actual example. So it was fortuitous that I happened upon a discussion on a forum about guitar lessons. Someone asked a question about guitar lessons online, and to a person, the respondents all replied that the original poster should go to: Mark Wein Guitar Lessons (http://www.markweinguitarlessons.com).

Intrigued, I went there, and was totally blown away by what Mark Wein offers: Free instructional videos that not only cover theory, but provide instruction on practical applications of the theory. Take, for instance, the following video on the minor blues progression and some variations:

While Mark mentions some theory in the video, it’s mostly about interesting ways to “liven up” the minor blues chord progression. Now that’s useful!

After I viewed several of the videos, I decided to give Mark a call and just chat with him about his vision for the site. Here’s a transcript of the interview:

GuitarGear: So Mark, tell me about the site… Why would you just give away great lessons like these?

Mark: I wanted to differentiate my site from other instructional sites that simply offer text-based discussions of theory and give you a few diagrams of scales. Frankly, the videos draw in a lot of business for us. But as far as the videos are concerned, I didn’t want to just show the information, I wanted to provide the “why” behind the instruction. It’s all about communicating these ideas; teaching them in an easy way for students to understand and adopt in their playing.

GuitarGear: So what would say your overall philosophy is with respect to teaching?

Mark: There’s a real concentration on really teaching the guitar and more importantly, making music. I found that it students progress a lot faster when they have a context. Sure, I can teach mechanics, but to me, it’s more important to teach students to play music.

GuitarGear: Mark, I have to tell you that it’s refreshing to hear that. I work with a lot of young people who join my Church band, and some of these kids are incredibly talented, being able to cop their favorite guitarists’ licks like there’s no tomorrow. But ask them to strum some simple, funky blues progression, and they flail hopelessly.

Mark: Right. That’s my point exactly. Lots of people know technique, but are they really playing music? Probably not.

GuitarGear: Let’s move on… Can you tell me a bit about your history? How did you start with guitar?

Mark: It’s actually kind of a funny story. Like a lot of kids I got together with a few guys to start a band. I had been around music all my life, so it was only natural that I’d do the band thing. Anyway, I wanted to play drums, but one of the guys already played. So I couldn’t do that. I did bass for awhile, but another guy did that. You really don’t want me singing, so I basically got stuck with guitar. When I got older, I went to a local community college to study music theory and performance, then I got accepted to USC – unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend, so I started working in a couple of bands, produced some stuff, and did teaching as well. Anyway, I decided to put a real focus on teaching, which I loved anyway.

GuitarGear: So you’ve had this business for awhile…

Mark: Actually, we’re celebrating our fifth anniversary this year. But it was my wife who was really behind me opening up a school, and since we’ve opened, we’re up to ten teachers, teaching all sorts of styles. Plus we have a performance program so bands and musicians can learn performance.

GuitarGear: Very cool…

Mark: We also offer online lessons…

GuitarGear: Really? Now you’re talking. That’s exactly what I’m looking for! And since we share similar philosophies about guitar playing, I’m going to set up some lessons in the near future…

At that point, the interview kind of ended, because we got into a discussion about what I was after, and how I could take lessons and stuff, then of course, we got into the obligatory discussion about gear. Here’s a brief synopsis of what Mark plays:

Guitars

Suhr Classic
Suhr Classic T
Les Paul Standard (cream-colored – nice)

Amps

’66 Bassman
Silvertone 1484
Peavey Pentone

Tons of pedals…

It was great talking gear with Mark. He’s a true believer in using lower-wattage amps so you can take advantage of the power tube grind. He shared a story with me that had me chuckling where he played a gig on this HUGE Van Halen-size stage and only had a 22 Watt amp. People laughed, but the sound guys loved him. And that’s a great story because unlike the bad old days when sound reinforcement wasn’t nearly as good as it is now, you had to have multiple stacks to get your sound out. But nowadays, you have great PA gear, so it’s just a matter of getting a stage volume that you can hear, and let the PA handle the rest. That makes a lot of sense, and Mark’s sensible approach to guitar is what has given him success so far.

Rock on, Mark!

For more information, go to http://www.markweinguitarlessons.com

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audrey_hypnosis

I recently read a press release on Harmony Central where this company, Hypnobusters, has just released a self-hypnosis audio to improve your guitar playing. I snickered at first because when the word “hypnosis” is mentioned, my gut reaction is, “Yeah, right… just some more of that New Age crap…” But then again, over the years, I’ve developed meditation techniques to help focus and quiet my consciousness to develop and extend my “chi” (for those martial artists out there), and even so far as performing self-healing. In a way, those meditation techniques are a form of self-hypnosis. And if I’ve used self-hypnosis to accomplish different things, why not apply it to guitar playing?

The mind is a very powerful tool. And if you have the ability to quiet your consciousness, and filter out the hustle and bustle of your waking mind, you’ll find that you can much more clearly analyze different subjects or help steer yourself towards accomplishing many things. It’s not hocus-pocus. It’s pure focus.

For instance, have you ever been playing guitar at a gig or in the studio, and you close your eyes because you’re so in tune with the song that what you’re doing is just pure expression? While you’re in that “groove,” nothing else exists. It’s just you and your axe reverberating with the song. That, my friends, is a form of self-hypnosis. That’s happened to me many times in my studio, and when I listen to the printed track, I’m sometimes in total disbelief that I actually played what I played! I’m not really all that good of a soloist, so I suppose any clean take is a good take. 🙂

In any case, I went to the HypnoBusters site, and found their guitar improvement page. The audio session only costs $9.95, so I said, “What the hell? I’ll give it a whirl. Besides, I could use a little mind quieting time.” And really, that’s what it’s all about – quieting your mind, and allowing yourself to explore the limits of your playing. I’ve often found that the limits of my skills on guitar aren’t merely technical – there is definitely that – but also because my conscious mind often tells me “You can’t do that.” It’s like an inherent fear. But as I break through those boundaries, I find that my actual limits are much further than what my conscious mind tells me.

I’ll give this audio a try, and report back. I’m not sure that it’ll make me a better player – that’s purely up to me. But one thing I know about things like this: They help you give yourself the permission to improve.

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Pick up one of the major guitar mags, and you might think that to be considered a “good” guitar player nowadays you have to be able to shred it up playing 64th notes up and down the fretboard non-stop. I know, that’s a bit of an exagerration, but the major mags’ focus on shred disenfranchises a very large sector of the guitar-playing population that either can’t play that fast, has no interest in that kind of music, or want to focus on other things rather than speed – like musicality and expressiveness.

Hands-down, Jeff Beck has earned the right to be called a Guitar God. No one sounds like him, and while many people have been able to glean certain Jeff Beck techniques, and can get somewhat close to what he can do with a guitar, duplicating his style of playing is next to impossible. But I’m not here to talk about technique. I’m here to talk about the whole musical package that Jeff Beck delivers in his guitar playing. It’s pure magic. He’s not fast by any stretch of the imagination, but his ability to communicate with his audience through his playing is unrivaled.

Sound like a bunch of hyperbole? Just watch the video below. But don’t just observe what he’s doing with his left hand, which really isn’t all that difficult. Look at what he’s doing with his right hand, manipulating the tremolo bar and volume and tone knobs to achieve different voicings. That’s the magic in the performance of the song! No one does it as well!

Let me be absolutely clear here: The things that Jeff Beck does with his right hand while playing aren’t just parlor tricks to show off. They’re done to ellicit specific responses from his guitar, and make it sing like no one else can. To me, being a good guitar player isn’t just about technique; it’s about getting your message across. As Albert King once said (and I’m paraphrasing Steven Segal here), “The challenge [speaking in reference to the blues, but can be applied to any style of music] is to get your message across in as few notes as possible.” Sometimes that takes a bunch of notes; more often than not though, you can say the same thing with just a few, but express them in a such a way to make your point.

I’m of the school of thought that playing music is having a conversation with your audience. The best conversationalists do it with an economy of language, fully conscious not only of their glossary of terms, but the expression and inflection that goes along with communicating.

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My friend, Vinni Smith of V-Picks is an incredibly talented guitar player, and one of the things that has really sparked our friendship is our love of Peter Frampton’s music. It was hilarious to find out that his favorite guitar solo in the world is the middle lead break in the song “Do You Feel Like We Do?” from Frampton Comes Alive. It has been my all-time favorite guitar solo since I was in junior high way back when. Now, after all these years, Vinni shows how to play the middle and ending solos in the following clips:

In this next solo, Vinni is demonstrating his new pick, the Dimension, while playing with Saint Guitar Benchmark.

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