Posts Tagged ‘learn guitar’

One of the challenges of learning new songs is that oftentimes chord charts that you download from the Internet aren’t quite accurate. For myself, I’ve always thought that it would be great if there was an application that could “read” a digital song and give me the chords, plus give me a way to learn riffs and leads. Sure, I’m experienced enough where I can pretty much figure out the chords to a song pretty quickly, but it would sure make my life easier if an application could do that for me, so I wouldn’t have to guess.

Enter Riffstation. This application blows me away! These guys contacted me two days ago with the following explanation:


Riffstation is a really awesome piece of software for guitar players that does some things you wouldn’t imagine possible. Load any MP3 and it automatically calculates and shows you the guitar chords synced with the original music. It does slow down, transposition, guitar isolation and a whole lot more. It’s Guitar hero for real.

Feature list:

  • automatically calculates the chords (maj, min, 7) of basic songs from any mp3,
  • Synchronises the chord diagrams with the music (any mp3)
  • Playback music (and chords) in any key
  • Allows you to easily add other chord types
  • Slow down the audio without affecting pitch,
  • Retune the audio without affecting the tempo
  • Isolate guitar solos or mute the guitar entirely
  • Beat locked phrase looping
  • Build custom jam tracks out of your favourite mp3
  • No additional files or content required…just your own mp3 collection


My first thought was: SERIOUSLY?!!! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for – literally for years! They asked me if I’d review the app, and I naturally said yes.

So early this morning, I downloaded the software (it’s for PC or Mac), opened it up, loaded Warren Haynes’ “Broke Down on the Brazos” into the app, then just started playing around. The damn thing’s so easy to use and the features are so easy to figure out, I didn’t need to look at the help (it’s online) not even once. The Riff Builder took a few minutes to figure out, but again, it was so easy to use that I didn’t need to refer to the manual.

What really amazed me was how it analyzed the song and came up with the chords. The song I loaded was in Eb, but I was able to bring the song up to E (the song is detuned a half step) to learn the song with the right chord shapes. To be fair, the app doesn’t catch everything, but the mere fact that it gets the main chords goes a LONG way towards helping to learn a new song. Plus, it’s WAY better than downloading a chart from the Internet.

Kudos to the guys over at Riffstation! This is an app that for me, goes on my game-changer list! The cost of the app is 39.99 Euros, which is about $53.00. I will say this: It’s totally worth the price of admission, especially if you’re a cover band!

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I was reading an editorial in the latest Premier Guitar issue, where the author talked about providing plenty of “space” in your playing; that is, part of what makes a great song is what you don’t play. The premise is that it’s so easy to play a bunch of notes to the point where your ears just stop perceiving all the content that’s being played.

With respect to soloing, space is more commonly known as letting your solos “breath.” Blues greats like the “Kings” (Albert, Freddie, BB) are masters of letting their solos breath. But breathing also extends to playing through chord progressions as well. Generous palm-muting and what I call “blank” space draws listeners in as their minds fill in the blanks.

Here’s something to think about: You ever wonder why a casino has flashing lights, bells and other sounds going off, highly patterned carpets and walls, complicated ceiling patterns, etc.? It has been proven that the human mind can only deal with at most seven things at once. All that stuff in the casinos is meant to disorient people. In that state of disorientation, they lose track of time (there are also no clocks in a casino), and they also lose their will to keep from spending more money. So what does that have to do with letting your playing breath? If you barrage your listeners with just too much to deal with, you’re likely to lose them. Of course I haven’t done a scientific test with that, but it’s certainly plausible.

Now what about time? Well, of course, tempo is absolutely important, and playing “in the pocket” is what great players do. But “time” goes a bit beyond that, in that you also play stuff at the appropriate time. I’ve been around lots of players over the years, and many have killer technique, but there have also been many that just play the wrong thing at the wrong time. Where a single note or maybe a simple two-string chord would do, they’d strum a full chord; or where a song’s feel calls for a more flowing rhythmic attack, they use a staccato rhythm. I don’t know if this can be taught, as being able to choose what’s appropriate for a particular segment of music really requires listening and “feeling” the song.

For instance, I was playing with a guy once and we started playing a real smooth, moderate tempo song that called for either light, even strumming, or finger picking. Though the guy was in tune, he opted to use a “bluesette-style,” syncopated finger picking rhythm. It completely threw off the entire flavor of the song! Of course, I asked him to stop, but he looked at me, and puzzled, “I don’t understand. It sounds just fine to me.” I replied that it would sound fine if the melodic structure supported a syncopated rhythm, but it just didn’t work. I pointed out how the drums were setting a simple four-on-the-floor kind of rhythm; the bassist was using a fretless, and sliding in between notes. I was using flatpick and playing triads up on the neck. His part called for just a simple claw-hammer style. In this case, it was the guitar that was actually holding down the rhythm. He finally relented, but that’s a perfect example of playing what’s right at the right time.

Guitarists whom I have admired over the years who are always in the pocket and always playing the right thing at that right time include: Davey Johnstone (Elton John), Steve Cropper (Otis Redding), both Matthias Jabs and Rudolf Shenker of the Scorpions (especially Rudolf), Dominic Miller (Sting), and lest I forget, John Frusciante (Chili Peppers). There are lots more, but these guys popped into my head immediately.

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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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Though I’m quite a bit out of shape to play nowadays, I’ve always had a love for the game of tennis; especially watching the tennis greats over the years, and thoroughly enjoying the pure artistry in their playing. Having played a bit of competitive tennis myself – albeit, nowhere the level of my tennis idols – I have a good idea of the hard work that goes into being good. These guys and gals make the game look so effortless that it shadows the fact that they literally spend hours each day developing their craft.

Within the past couple of decades, I have been privileged to witness history being made in tennis. In the 90’s it was Pete Sampras who had won an unprecedented 14 major singles titles. That guy was an absolute machine! No one at the time could even match that! But early Sunday morning, between 12:30 am – 3am PST, I witnessed Roger Federer become the first man to win his 16th major singles title, and the thing that hit me afterward was that I’ve had the fortune to live in a time to watch the greatest tennis players to ever walk the planet play.

Watching these guys play, the one thing that strikes me is their absolute calm and focus on the job at hand. Few visible outbreaks of emotion. Just patiently playing and doing their thing – and this is important: Responding, not reacting, to different situations; adapting their games to fit with the current conditions. It’s as if – though I’d say there’s a bit of truth to this – they are hyper-aware of everything that is going on around them, and sculpt their play in response to whatever may come at them. It’s thought-filled as well as instinctive.

The Zen term for this hyper-awareness and “intuitive instinct” is called “satori,” which literally translates to “understanding.” Satori is the first step of enlightenment to achieving nirvana. Japanese martial artists liken this state of satori as thought being the equivalent of action. Western cultures refer to this state as “being in the Zone.”

The Zone is a state of duality: Extreme focus and hyper-awareness; analysis and action; emotion and stoicism. In other words, being completely centered in your consciousness. We’ve all experienced “being in the Zone” in some way, whether we’re writing, running, or just sitting quietly, though it is most often associated sports or something active. But here’s the rub about being in the Zone: It doesn’t require any expertise at a particular activity. And while many people have experienced this sporadically and spontaneously, it is actually possible to get into the Zone at will.

Okay, I’ll pause for a moment and ask the question you’re all probably thinking: What does have to do with guitar? 🙂

Simple. Playing guitar in the Zone – no matter your experience level – is the difference between playing purely mechanical and playing with true expression – what’s really inside you. I know that people may argue that you should have some expertise and mastery of your current level of playing to really get into the Zone, but remember, being in the Zone is completely independent of any mechanics. It’s a state of mind, and that doesn’t require any expertise. Furthermore, I will also posit that playing in the Zone makes learning much easier because your heightened awareness and “centered-ness” makes you more open and much less analytical.

So given that, as I mentioned above it is possible to actually get into the Zone at will. But this takes a bit of practice, and a bit of mental preparation. People have different ways of getting into the Zone, but there are some fundamental things that you can do to get you on your way.

  1. First, breathe. It’s amazing how much we constrict our own breathing. I won’t give you any breathing exercises, but take note of and be aware of how you’re breathing. The more even the better.
  2. Relax your mind. Relaxing your mind is not that you block out everything going on around you, you just don’t allow your mind to wander onto things that are outside of your focus. This is a key of getting into the Zone.  From a neurological point of view, relaxing your mind means quieting your alpha waves, so your more creative beta waves take precedence.
  3. Relax your body. This doesn’t mean go limp. You could be jumping around on stage and still be relaxed. More to the point, relax your chest, which most of us have way too constricted.

Simple things, and I know they may sound a bit nonsensical, and for those of you who are more familiar with relaxation techniques, these steps are akin to getting into a meditative state. Being in the Zone is very much like being in a meditative state. Your mind and body are relaxed, and your attention is focused. But at the same time, you are completely aware of what is happening in the periphery of your consciousness.

To practice this with guitar, pick a piece that you know really well. But this time, do those preparation steps to quiet your mind a bit, then try to play it with your eyes closed. I suggest this so you’re playing completely by feel. Listen to what you’re playing, and just for shits and giggles, play the piece in response to things you hear around you, trying to express the emotional imagery you get when you hear the sounds. I do this occasionally when I’m trying to work out a phrase in a song, and I’m just not “feelin’ it.”

Don’t buy it? I’m not surprised. But there’s a reason that martial artists have practiced relaxation techniques for thousands of years. A quiet mind allows you to respond to any given situation with clarity; with a mind not cluttered by things it shouldn’t be thinking about – especially in the heat of battle where even a slight hesitation due to mental distraction could mean the difference between life and death.

Granted, with playing guitar, we’re not talking about a life or death situation. But imagine the level of expression – no matter your level – that you could experience when your mind is quiet, and you’re playing with the intensity of purpose that comes from absolute focus. That’s never a bad thing.

Give it a try. You may surprise yourself at what you create. From my own personal experience, whenever I’ve been in the Zone, I’ve created my best music be it on stage or in the studio.

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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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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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