Archive for the ‘music theory’ Category

I’ve been on this blues thing lately with my music; not going all out with the blues, but definitely having a huge blues influence on the music I write. But one thing that I was sure of was that I didn’t want to just learn blues licks – the same licks practically everyone plays. I suppose you could say I want to play with a blues style, and I’ve been searching far and wide to learn the blues. In my search to learn the blues, I’ve come across several instructional series and video tutorials, but many focus on playing blues licks, without really getting into learning or more importantly, acquiring a vocabulary to express the blues. Technique I can learn, but really what I want to acquire is an intellectual “sense” for what works in a particular phrase, if you catch my drift, then learn technique as a secondary thing.

I know, a bit confusing, and I’m having a hard time articulating what I’m after, so I supposed the best way to explain it is that I want to intellectualize my playing, then practice the hell out of what I learn. The only problem with this approach is that once I’ve mentioned that to teachers or others, they jump right into modal theory. Sure, that’s really useful, but in many ways, it’s also really abstract. Enter Chuck D’Aloia, who has come up with a wonderful series called “Blues with Brains.”

Blues with Brains is a two volume set. I’ve only gotten through half of the first volume so far, but what I’ve learned in just this short amount of time has really made me leap light years ahead in how I approach doing solos. I’ve always played by feel, and have fallen back a lot on the minor blues scale – mainly because it’s easy. But after I wrote my last song, I realized that while it sounds pretty good, and I have some interesting ideas, there was part of me that knew I could do so much more with it.

And by pure chance, I happened to read a thread on a popular guitar forum where this dude was demonstrating his new MIM Strat. His technique was absolutely flawless, and his presentation and tone were simply to die for! So I clicked on one of the links in his signature, and came to this site: Chuck D’Aloia Music. I read through the explanation, and saw that he also did Skype lessons, so I immediately contacted him about taking his lessons. In my email I explained about how I felt I could do more with my music and attached my latest song. He replied back several days later with exactly what I was thinking that ideas and tone were good, BUT rather than jump into lessons, I’d get a lot more out of his Blues With Brains series. It would be stuff that I could learn at my leisure, and once I digested the material, then we could explore the Skype lessons.

How cool was that? Rather than taking the higher money route, he just pushed his video series. So I downloaded both volumes for $40. When I got home that evening, I launched the first volume, and within the FIRST FIVE MINUTES, Chuck had effectively changed the way I looked at playing solos! That’s all it took! Obviously, I’ve had to apply and practice those concepts as I don’t have the fingering down completely, but the mere fact that I was able to attain a sense of what to do in a relatively short amount of time was just amazing to me!

Chuck’s approach is simple. He plays over a chord progression first. Then he takes apart the progression, and discusses and demonstrates what is possible to do at that particular point. The cool thing is that he also intersperses modal theory into the explanation, but doesn’t make the central to the discussion. It’s like, “Here are the notes you can play, and here’s what you can do with these notes…” It’s a very straight-forward approach, and while I realize I have a lot of practicing to do, I’ve gotten more out of the 40 minutes I’ve spent so far in these lessons than I have poring over books of scales and modes. The most important thing that I’ve gotten out of these lessons is that Chuck doesn’t teach licks. What he teaches is possibilities. He leaves it up to the student to express themselves! That is EXACTLY what I have been after all these years!

Without a doubt, I’m a total believer in Chuck’s series! If you want to learn the blues, and not just blues licks, and you want to really understand what you’re playing, you owe it to yourself to get this series. You will not be disappointed in the slightest!

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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:


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


’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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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!
Peterson VS-R StroboRack

Summary: Super-accurate, super-sophisticated, yet super-easy-to-use. With point-one cent accuracy and built-in temperament and sweeteners, plus a huge display, accurate tuning is a breeze with this unit!

Pros: The big display makes tuning extremely easy, and the built-in sweeteners (I’ll get into that in a bit) ensure that once you’re tuned you sound great.

Cons: None, at least from the standpoint of features and capabilities. But as I’m not really a rackmount guy, lugging this around would mean having to get an enclosure. But in the studio, IT IS THE BOMB!!!


  • 0.1 Cent Accuracy
  • Large, Backlit Virtual Strobe™ Display
  • Exclusive Sweetened™ Tunings For Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Dobro®, Baritone, Steel Guitar, Electric Violin- total of 34
  • Buzz Feiten Tuning System® Presets
  • 8 User-Programmable Sweeteners
  • 25 Presets
  • Built-In Mic
  • Mute Button & Remote Jack
  • Tone Out Jack
  • All Metal Construction
  • Neutrik® Jacks
  • 12V BNC Output For Gooseneck Light (not included)
  • Built-In Power Supply (No Wall Wart.)

Price: $359 (street)

Tone Bone Score: 5.0. I’ve used a lot of tuners, and this by far is the most accurate I’ve ever used. Despite it being a rackmount, my use of it in the studio has proven

I used to never be into rackmount gear, let alone sophisticated tuning equipment. But the Peterson StroboRack has me reconsidering both those things, especially in my workshop/studio where tuning accuracy is incredibly important.

I received the StroboRack a few days ago, and since I set it up (which required all of two minutes to plug in the cords), I can see why so many people love these tuners. It’s a completely different way to tune an instrument. Instead of lining up a needle or LED, or even using the “strobe” effect on a TU-2, you tune by making the “checkerboard” pattern on the LCD stop moving. If it moves the left, you’re flat. If it moves to the right, you’re sharp.

Tuning with one of these things does take a little getting used to. First off, I had to really lighten my touch with the tuning keys, and also had to make sure I didn’t put any pressure on the neck. At .1 cent accuracy, even a slight pressure throws off the tuning. But once I got used to it, tuning was a breeze!

Do you take sugar with that?

The StroboRack includes what are called “sweeteners” for specific types of instruments. I’m not sure I understand this idea completely, but it has to do with setting the right intervals between notes – compensating for the type of instrument – so that the tuned instrument doesn’t just sound great tuned up, but when you actually chords, the chords are much more tonally accurate. Apparently a lot of math goes into calculating these sweeteners.

All I can say is that my guitars tuned up with the StroboRack, actually sound better than when tuned up with my little TU-2. It probably has a lot to do with the high degree of accuracy, but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with the “GTR” sweetener. For instance, I did an A/B comparison of tuning with the StroboRack vs. my TU-2. I took my time to get the most accurate tuning I could with both tuners. When I struck an E chord after tuning up with my TU-2, I had to make a couple of minor adjustments to my G and B strings – it wasn’t that the chord sounded bad, it just seemed to sound a bit “off.”

On the other hand, the E chord struck after tuning with the StroboRack with the GTR sweetener engaged sounded absolutely right on!

Fit and Finish

The StroboRack is encased in a nice, heavy-duty aluminum casing. It is really built like a tank, so I have no doubts that it could survive the rigors of the road. But I do advise getting an enclosure for it. It’s still a precision instrument, and should be handled with some care.

Overall Impressions

To say The Dawg digs this unit is an absolute understatement! Last night, I used it to set the intonation on a new guitar I got, and I have to tell you, the big display and scrolling checkerboard really made it easy. I know, a lot of folks would say, “But it’s just a tuner.” Well yeah… but the accuracy it affords you – especially you tone freaks out there – just can’t be beat. This is a unit that I will definitely be adding to my rig!

At $359 street, it’s not a cheap proposition by any means, but hell! We gear sluts spend tons of money each year on gadgets to make us sound better. One would think that sounding better also means being in tune. Of course, Peterson has several other tuners, like the StroboStomp that doesn’t have all the features of the rack unit, but it uses the same “Virtual Strobe Technology” as the StroboRack, so you know you’ll get the accuracy you need.

Mind you, I didn’t try out all the other features like outputting to two outputs, which is pretty cool, or using the XLR jack to go into a board. Those are great features, but frankly, they’re secondary to what’s important with this unit: Accurate tuning.

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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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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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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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