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Posts Tagged ‘guitar instruction’

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!!!

Bwah-hahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!

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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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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modesfig2

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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New Year's ResolutionI normally don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Haven’t done it in years. I’ve always felt there was something innately dishonest about making resolutions like “I’m going to be a better person,” or “I’m going to do something nice for someone everyday.” Not that those aren’t noble pursuits, but in a lot of cases, they demand an enormous amount of self-discipline, self-sacrifice and changes in normal behavior that most of us can’t persevere. We’re good for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks, but something will happen and it all goes to pot.

In lieu of lofty resolutions, I’ve instead set concrete goals that in order to achieve, require changes in behavior and changes in thinking. I’ll share some of these goals here:

  • I will continue on my five-year plan of getting on the road and touring. I’m just starting my third year in the plan, and it’s going pretty well. I’ve release an album, and am working on my second one; a few of the songs of which I’ve entered into an international songwriters competition. I don’t expect to win, but the feedback that I get will be invaluable. Furthermore, going on the road will require that I get in shape, so I have been eating better and getting exercise in anticipation of going back on stage. I love to eat, so this has been a tough thing for me, but I’ve lost 25 lbs so far, so I’m well on my way.
  • I will study more music theory; especially scalar modes. I already started doing this a few months ago, but really want to master it in the coming year. First, because I want my improvisation to be better, and with an understanding of the intervalic nature of music, I’ll be able to move around the fretboard much easier. I don’t want to necessarily learn patterns that I chain together, I want to get to the point where I can jam in any key, and be confident that the next note I hit works well harmonically and musically with what I’m improvising. Also, mastering scales and modes will make me a better teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I have a very firm intellectual understanding of music theory, and can actually cold read charts, but in actual execution, I feel I’m lacking, so my aim is to meld the two.
  • I will have a custom amplifier built for me. I’m currently working with Jeff Aragaki of Aracom Amps to build me an amp around his RoxBox 18 Watt design. I’m “going off the reservation” with this one because I want a different speaker than what he offers, a bigger cabinet and a reverb tank, plus a built-in resistive attenuator for low volume applications. If you haven’t checked out the RoxBox, I suggest you do. It’s a great 18 Watt design that’s also a great value stock.
  • I will purchase a Reason amp. Not sure which will come first: Having Jeff finally construct my amp, or purchasing a Reason. I love the SM25 I have right now, but since I’m a StackMode freak, I’m also leaning towards the SM40 head. We’ll see.
  • I will have Adam Hernandez at Saint Gutiars build me a guitar. I’m so grateful to be able to test Adam’s guitars. We’ve already talked about what I might like in a guitar, but I really want one of my own.
  • As far as GuitarGear.org is concerned, I will rebuild the site to make it a lot easier to find things. I’ve already started doing this, but I really need to rethink the design of the site. I will probably go to a three-column layout so I can get more things “above the line” that is, the part of a page that you first see when a web page loads. Right now, the site is a bit narrow, so lots of things fall below the line that I’d like people to see; especially the companies I personally endorse.

Okay, that’s it for me. Anyone willing to share?

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teachwombat-banner

One of GuitarGear.org’s readers recently plugged his guitar instructional site, Teach Wombat, in one of my articles about moving into a new chapter of my guitar life. I normally don’t like random product plugs, but being a teacher, I’m always looking for teaching aids and resources, so I checked out the site, and it definitely showed promise. A little later after Ken left his comment, like a good businessman, he offered to let me review his material, so I did, and all I have to say is, “WOW!” This stuff is GREAT! Ken’s primary product, the Guitar Teacher’s Toolkit includes over 100 professionally produced handouts covering the C-A-G-E-D system and scalar modes, plus a bunch of other awesome diagrams.

As a new guitar teacher, producing my own handouts has been a very laborious and tedious task, but with the Guitar Teacher’s Toolkit, I’ve got pretty much everything I need for teaching. It even comes with blank neck diagrams for ad hoc instruction!

But I wouldn’t limit this just to teachers. Players of all levels and skill will find lots of value from the diagrams and can use them as quick references. Hey! For $12.00, you can’t miss! So do yourself a big favor and go to TeachWombat.com today and buy Ken’s Guitar Teacher’s Toolkit!

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