Posts Tagged ‘guitar instruction’

Guitar teacher and guitarist extraordinaire Chuck D’Aloia has just added some new material to his instructional video arsenal, and I have to say that again, Chuck has hit another couple of homers. The first video, “Modal Studies,” covers the 7 modes of the major scale, the melodic minor, lydian b7, alt and the diminished scale. And in typical Chuck D’Aloia style, he teaches the concept then immediately demonstrates how it can be applied, with little “tricks” to help remember them. For me, I’ve always had a bit of a mental block with learning modes mainly because while I could intellectualize the note structure of each mode, I couldn’t immediately match that up with how it actually sounds and how to apply it. Chuck makes it easy! For instance, when explaining the Lydian mode, Chuck spelled out the note sequence, but he said something that really stuck: “…to get a Lydian sound, one way of getting it really easily is to take the root and play the triad one step above it.” Now THAT’S useful information, and easily remembered!

The other lesson he has available – and I haven’t gotten to it yet – is called “Playing over One Chord Grooves.” As Chuck writes, “The material is designed to open doors and present different options when playing over one chord grooves. Using pentatonic scales, triads, substitutions, chord scale relationships and other devices you will be using some of this material on your next gig as well as having new concepts to study.” How cool is THAT?!!!

In any case, each of these lessons is only $25. I highly recommend checking them out! For more information, go to Chuck’s site!

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When I first started learning guitar, I really wanted to be able to solo and improvise. I was told to do that I need to know my scales up and down the guitar neck. I especially heard of this scale called the “pentatonic” scale. Supposedly, if you knew this scale it was instant “money,” or rather, it was the key to soloing success and you’d be all set.

So I started learning my pentatonic scale patterns and major scale patterns all up and down the guitar neck. I got to know these patterns in every single position pretty well. But still, I felt like I had no mastery over the guitar fretboard. All I knew was a bunch of patterns, and I didn’t know how any of it connected or related, let alone, how to make it sound beautiful.

Perhaps you’re wanting to master and learn the guitar fretboard, or you are pretty rusty and you wish you knew it better than you do. Here are three exercises you can incorporate into your practicing. These exercises assume you know some of the theory behind guitar scales.

Perpetual Motion

For this exercise, you are going to choose any scale. For this example, let’s choose a C major scale. Choose a starting position for your C major scale. For example, start on the “C” note on the 8th fret of the low E string.

Once you’re ready, start the metronome at a slow tempo (maybe around 60 – 70 BPM). From your starting point on the 8th fret, you’re going to play any notes in the C major scale as perpetual eighth notes in time with the metronome.

In other words, it doesn’t matter what note you play or where you play it as long as it is a note within that scale. Try not to play the scale pattern just up and down. Jump to any notes within a C major scale but play everything as eighth notes in time with your metronome.

In a sense, the exercise is sort of like organized chaos. You’re staying within the C major scale but you’re not just playing a pattern up and down the neck. Your jumping between scale positions all the way up and down the neck perpetually as you play eighth notes. Once, you’ve done this with your major scales, go to melodic minor, and then harmonic minor. You can do perpetual motion with any scale.

Ascending & Descending Circle of 4ths

For this exercise, you’re going to start on a C major scale. You can choose any position you want to on the fretboard. Let’s start again on the “C” note on the 8th fret of the low E string.

You’re going to ascend up the C major scale in that position on the fretboard and then once you reach the top you’re going to descend with an F major scale. Then, you’re going to ascend with a Bb major scale and then descend with a Eb major scale. You’re going to continue in this pattern in the circle of the 4ths until you’ve played every key.

Basically, you are changing the scale from ascending to descending by an interval of a 4th. So if you follow the exercise all the way through you’ll cover all these keys in this order:

C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, B, E, A, D, G

And again, once you’ve mastered your major scale in ALL positions, go on to this with melodic minor and harmonic minor.

One Octave Circle of 4ths

This is similar to the past exercise except you’re only going to ascend and descend up only one octave. So if you started on the “C” note on the 8th fret of the low E string, you will ascend a C major scale all the way to the “C” note on the 10th fret of the D string. When you get there, you’ll descend in F major all the way back down to the “C” note on the 8th fret of the low E string.

Each octave you will play in one scale position only covers three strings (if you look at the C major scale ascending picture above, it’s basically the lowest green dot to the next green dot in the scale pattern). Practice this exercise on all string sets (set #1: E, A, D; set #2: A, D, G; set #3: D, G, B; set #4: G, B, E) and all scale positions for all scales. Whew! That’s a lot!


As you can see, these exercises are pretty endless and give you a lot of room for practice. I like these exercises because they get you away from the pattern of scales. Sure there’s a pattern to all of it, but you really have to be thinking on your feet and thinking about the individual notes and how to change from one scale to another. You can’t merely get by knowing some patterns. You’ll be better off because you’ll be able to see how the notes relate to one another and you’ll be able to navigate much better across the fretboard as you try to apply this to improvising or soloing.

Brett McQueen is a full-time music student, guitar player, songwriter, and blogs in his spare time. Brett is passionate about teaching free beginner’s guitar lessons so other guitar players can take their playing to the next level and reach their goals.

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Wow! Two days in a row, and yet another e-mail received from a reader, and yet another pretty cool idea. This time, it’s from Guitar Scale Magnets located in Houston, TX. These help players learn scales by attaching a magnetic strip to the bass side of the fretboard. The premise is that learning guitar is a visual as well as tactile and aural experience, and having a visual cue as to where you should place your fingers in relationship to a particular scale will help you learn faster. Interesting indeed. Here’s a picture of the pentatonic scale strips:

There are 12 strips representing each note in an octave, so you can learn the five pentatonic box shapes in any key! Cool! Each strip is attached to the guitar via a “base” strip of magnetically receptive material (not metal) tape. The tape has a weak adhesive, to stick enough to stay in place, but not damage your finish. In any case,  very ingenious idea!

At this point, only 25 1/2″ scale length strips are available, but according to the manufacturer, slight variations won’t throw the strip off much.

Personally, I wish I had these strips for when I was learning guitar. I just memorized the box shapes, then learned how to connect them through osmosis. But if I had to do it all over again, I would’ve invested in stuff like this to help get me started! For you teachers out there, you might consider getting a few sets of these – you can pass the cost of them to your students. But then again, that might shorten the time it takes to teach your students to play the guitar. 🙂 Seriously though, if my teacher provided me with stuff like this, it would make learning a helluva lot easier!

For more information, go to the Guitar Scale Magnets web site!

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Like many gear sluts, I’ve got several guitars and each guitar, no matter how much I’ve spent on it, has its own little quirk or quirks. One might not have much natural sustain, another might have tiny frets, yet another may have wide neck profile. But no matter the quirk, in the end, if I can work through a guitar’s particular quirk or quirks, it’s the sound that comes out of my amp that counts. But the cool thing that I’ve found is that these very quirks have also served to help me become a better guitar player. Mind you, these aren’t flaws in the gear. They’re simply, well, quirks that make either consciously or sub-consciously make me compensate for a particular quirk in some way.

For instance, my Squier Classic Vibe Tele has pretty little frets, making vibrato a challenge; especially the violin type of rolling vibrato. But what it has taught me is to get much better at bending vibrato to coax sustaining tones out of that guitar. The net result is if I take the time to make a note sing, I’m rewarded with this beautiful bloom as the string vibrations resonate through its pine body. The reward of that is priceless, and what I’ve found while playing that guitar is that I actually try to play slower and express whatever idea I’ve got in as few notes as possible. That has affected my entire playing style.

Building on that, the other night I played guitar in the band at my kids’ school’s Christmas pageant. This is a cool production in that unlike most pageants, it’s presented as a theatrical production, replete with story line. The various classes then sing a song as part of a scene of the play. For the first time, the show was done with a simple rock combo in addition to the standard keyboard to fill up the music. And even cooler was the fact that this particular production had very rock and roll flavor. I originally rehearsed the play with my Tele, but I wasn’t satisfied with the overall drive sound, so I switched to my LP copy, a Prestige Guitars Heritage Elite.

Remember I mentioned my Tele forcing me to get better at bending vibrato, well, from repeatedly practicing that on my Tele, once I picked up my Heritage Elite, it was game over! I really felt my expressiveness go through the roof! Now that guitar just sustains forever, but add some technique, and I couldn’t believe how good that guitar sounded! It was as if I was playing a completely different guitar.

The same kind of thing goes for Goldie. Now she has jumbo frets that are both wide and tall, so that it takes a minimal amount of pressure to articulate a note. What that guitar has taught me is to relax my left hand. The net result is that I’m much quicker over the strings. But that lightness of touch has extended to my other guitars as well.

So the net of all this is that quirks in your gear aren’t necessarily bad, and oftentimes can help you improve your playing.

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Over the past few weeks, I’ve been really getting into Chuck D’Aloia’s “Blues with Brains.” and I’ve extolled the matter-of-fact and easy way Chuck makes learning how to play the blues. With just a few sentences, he reveals some incredible things that I’ve inherently known, but could never really articulate or understand.

The other day, a buddy of mine sent me an e-mail that contained a link to one of Doug Seven’s free videos. For those who aren’t familiar with him, Doug Seven is a chicken-pickin’ master, and he teaches this stuff online. Like Chuck D’Aloia, his stuff isn’t meant for the rank beginner, but if you have some experience in playing, what he presents will boost your technique.

I’ve got one of his courses, though I haven’t spent much time with it – it was mostly learning chicken-pickin’ licks, but this video that my buddy sent me falls right into line with Chuck D’Aloia’s approach; that is, it’s not necessarily technique, but it covers an important aspect to soloing. The cool thing is that a guitarist of any level can benefit from this.

Before I give you the link, I’ll give you the crux of what he talks about. Essentially, when you’re playing over a minor blues progression, let’s say an Am progression – Am Dm E7, for instance – you can play a major scale against it. Doug talks bout experimenting and finding what that major scale is against the root chord, and he shows you how to find it on the fretboard in a single step, without knowing what the major scale is. The assumption is that since scales fall into a pattern, once you’ve got the root note, you just follow the pattern. Very cool.

For a more theoretical answer, what you play is the scale of the relative major to the root minor chord for the minor blues progression. So for Am, the relative major is C. Basically, the notes of the scale of a relative major and minor are the same. They just have different starting points. In any case, check out the video.

Here’s the link: http://moderncountryguitar.com/play-blues-guitar-riffs-blues-licks-solo-blues-guitar.html

Admittedly, this was a bit of a review for me, but I don’t want to discount its value. Yeah, yeah, experienced soloists may scoff a little at this, but I think it’s incredibly powerful. Why? Simply because there are times when you’re gigging where you can’t come up with an idea, and something like this gives you a great fallback position to perhaps stumble upon an idea. And it works both ways! If you’re playing in a major key, you can use the relative minor scale – remember, same scale notes as the major, but different starting point, so it’ll give you a different “color.”

I once was playing a ceremony where the band had to play an instrumental in D for something like 20 minutes – half of which I had to quietly solo over. I did some exploration for about 5 minutes, and was coming up with some great ideas, then suddenly, I hit the wall. Just drew a blank. So, I did a couple of standard licks that I know, then just started noodling a little in Bm. After about thirty seconds, I was able to stumble upon an idea, and used that idea for the rest of my solo time!

I love coming across stuff like this, even if I know it already, because I love sharing it.

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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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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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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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Greg HoweLooks like guitar maestro Greg Howe is getting into the act and offering lessons via Skype. I wrote about guitar great Charles Sedlak doing it, but Greg Howe? Awesome. The price isn’t outrageous either: It costs $75 for a 1-hour lesson. That’s significantly more than what Charles charges, but hey! It’s Greg Howe!

This lessons on Skype are really intruiging to me. Apparently they work, otherwise people wouln’t be offering them. For more information, check out: Greg Howe – The Official Website.

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There’s a new site called “I Perform 3D.” Check it out! It’s a trip! http://www.iperform3d.com/.

Don’t know if I’d join, but I’ve never seen anything quite like it! 🙂 Here’s a video:

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