Question: How Long Should I Practice Each Day?
Answer: There’s a trick to this question. More is pretty much always better, but it’s also better to have a little bit of practice every day than to cram one day a week. My suggestion, if you’re looking for a minimum, is half an hour each day. If you can do more on one of the days, that’s fantastic! But the “every day” part is what really counts.
Question: Should I take lessons?
Answer: It’s probably a good idea, but only if the teacher you go to has people to vouch for them – happy students. It can also be hit and miss, even with a good teacher; sometimes they just won’t ‘click’ with your learning style.
My recommendation is to take a couple primer lessons, to make sure you get the basics right with someone checking. If things really work out well, keep on. If they don’t, or the cost is too high, there are plenty of materials you can use to learn from once you have the core essentials. Learning materials also tend to have more detailed reviews and you’re guaranteed a certain level of quality – teachers can have ‘off’ days, writing and video can’t!
Question: Do I need to learn music theory?
Answer: Honestly, you should pursue whatever interests you. If you just want to learn your favourite songs, you need to go after that. However, if you want to be a professional, you should think about learning some theory – I’d still count that as pursuing what interests you, though. Whatever you learn, you need a passion for it; it’s easiest to take what you’re passionate about and go from there, rather than learning what you “should” be learning and trying to get excited about it.
When it comes to the dry stuff, you’ll get to a point where you genuinely want to learn it. Once you’re comfortable playing songs, you’ll start to wonder how they work. Don’t stress about what you’re meant to be doing, just look for what keeps your excitement alive and everything else will follow. Hear a song you like? Learn it. See an interesting theory or songwriting resource on the Guitarist Academy site? Go for it. If you have the passion, it will come out in your playing no matter how you get there.
Question: Which strings or picks are the best for my playing?
Answer: The simple solution is the ones that work and are the best value. If the strings work for your tuning and guitar setup, they’re fine. If the picks feel good to use, they’re fine.
These things won’t make or break your playing, it’s best to worry about the economy of the strings’ longevity vs. price more than any effect on your sound or playing!
Question: How do I start playing guitar live?
Answer: First, make sure you have the gear you need! Make sure you have amplification if you need it, cables, spare strings; all that stuff!
Then, it depends on what you’re doing. If you’re solo, you should try to look for local open mic nights. If you’re looking to play with a band, without going into detail of how to get gigs, I suggest trying to join a band that already exists or teaming up with someone who has played local venues already. You’ll be able to learn from them.
Question: I’ve picked up a bad habit, how do I get rid of it?
Answer: First, make sure it actually is a bad habit, and not something someone’s just told you is wrong. If you get the sound you want, without any pain or other issue, you’re probably fine; it’s OK to be a bit different. If you can’t get the sound you want and/or it hurts, then you do need to fix it.
Fixing bad habits sucks. It’s like having to learn to walk again. You need to break everything down at an extremely slow pace and force yourself to build the skill again, in a way that works. It will take a long time, but will be worth it in the end.
Question: Why doesn’t my playing sound like the song’s recording?
Answer: There could be a few reasons. First of all, maybe your version of the song isn’t quite exactly the same. Then there’s the issue of gear and settings, if you’re using different stuff you’re going to sound different.
The biggest thing, though, is that it’s a recording. This is something where everything’s been tweaked and mixed to sound good together. Then, it’s being played all together out of your speakers and the guitar isn’t coming through a cab – or the acoustic guitar isn’t in the room with you. A huge epiphany for me was the first time I recorded a guitar part and then heard the final product; the difference is incredible. It’s not necessarily because you’re doing something wrong!
Question: How do I learn “by ear”?
Answer: Primarily, you’re going to need patience. Learning by ear, instead of using theory and whatnot, is the equivalent of climbing a building rather than going inside and taking the stairs – even if you do know theory tricks that would help. It’ll feel nearly impossible at first, but when you finally do it you’re going to have a huge amount of raw ‘strength’. Your musical muscle will be unmatchable and you’ll be able to work things out intuitively without much effort.
It really is just listening, trying to copy and then repeating. It’s easy to learn, but incredibly difficult to master. Training your ear is worth it, though, if you’re up for putting in the time.
Question: My pick keeps slipping! What can I do?
Answer: This is a problem I continue to have. There are many solutions! There are some picks that offer extra grip, and they absolutely work, but you’ll get icky dead skin build up in the grip pattern that decreases effectiveness over time. You can scrape patterns into normal picks, too.
You could try a thumb pick that clips on, Fred Kelly make something called the “bumblebee” that’s quite interesting. There are also commercial guitar pick goo pots: you dip a fingertip in and the pick sticks. Personally, I just use a generic brand of violin rosin; I scrape a bit off the block and rub it between my fingers before gripping the pick.
Question: I’m learning slowly. Do I just lack the talent needed?
Answer: No! Consistent practice beats ‘talent’ every time. You will hit plateaus, where you make very little progress, but stopping isn’t going to get you past it!
Don’t be disheartened; I know you have the ability to get past whatever rut you’re in. If you didn’t have the passion you need for it, you wouldn’t be upset about slow progress. You would have just stopped, and many people do. Keep that in mind – you have something that many don’t.
It can happen for any number of reasons, on any type of guitar. The only thing that’s always true is that buzzing sounds bad! Does it sound like an angry bumblebee appears every time you try to strum a chord? You’ve got a buzzing problem!
While this article covers a remedy for an issue you may not currently have, you’ll probably find yourself dealing with it at some point. It’s worth reading even though you won’t be following the steps as you read – you’ll probably remember the guide later, when you do have a problem! You may even want to bookmark this page in your browser.
When tackling buzz, there’s a priority list to check along. The idea is to check the easiest to change things first and then the hardest to change things last; the checklist methods means that the sooner you hit something that works, the easier it is to do and you won’t end up doing something you didn’t need to. The first point in the list isn’t even attached to your guitar!
You are the number one cause of buzzing. Not you personally, but you as in the guitarist and not the instrument. The vast majority of minor buzzing issues are down to playing technique and fiddling with your guitar won’t help you. The two main checks for this are to check each fret with your strongest finger to make sure you aren’t just pressing too lightly and allowing the string to rattle against a fret and to make sure that, when you press down, your finger’s right behind the fret itself. If you check this and the buzz still occurs, it’s time to move on; it isn’t your fault this time.
The next step will set you on a branching path – you need to figure out where the buzz is actually happening. The simplest method is to just make the buzz happen and listen, if the buzz happens with open strings it can be quite easy: listen at the nut, then at the bridge and finally just to the fretboard. If it happens only with fretted notes, do the same but also check up and down each string – especially if you are checking an electric.
If the buzzing is happening at the nut some things to try are: using a different gauge of string, using fine grit sandpaper on the nut slots in case it’s become rough against the strings and using some sort of lubricant like nut sauce.
If the buzzing is happening at the bridge it can be for some different reasons depending on what kind of guitar you play. On an acoustic, common causes include loose pins that need to be pushed in more firmly, too much or too little water content causing issues with the top if it’s solid wood – there are many humidity regulation solutions on the market – or a loose saddle that needs to be glued in or replaced. On an electric you don’t need to worry about humidity but sometimes low quality saddles can corrode and cause buzzing, saddle may even be set wonkily and shake where they are. Corroded saddles can be filed or replaced and wonky placement can be fixed with an Allen Key.
Easy fixes so far, but now we’re moving into territory where you may wish to take your guitar to a tech or luthier. I’ll start with the few remaining easy fixes but the last couple include a very strong warning to go to a professional if you have any doubt.
Buzzing that originates from the fretboard itself tends to be a bit trickier; a fingerboard is less replaceable than a saddle or nut! As always, we start with simple options. On an acoustic, just like with some bridge issues, humidity can be the culprit – it can cause the action (string height) to lower and skim frets, solve this in the same way as previously mentioned for humidity affecting the bridge position. It’s essentially the same problem, just with the buzz happening somewhere else. On an electric you want to check if the buzzing is only on one or two strings, if it is then your life probably just got easier: you just need to raise the bridge or individual saddles until the string no longer buzzes against frets.
If neither of these options are it for you, it may be a case of grooves in certain frets making the string rattle. You could hypothetically deal with this yourself but you’ll probably do more harm than good without experience – I wouldn’t try it, myself. You should bring your guitar to tech with positive reviews either online or from friends you trust. They can replace or file and refinish frets to eliminate issues.
The last main possibility is neck relief. If your guitar’s neck is made of wood (Some aren’t! I have one made of solid aluminium) it’s probably going to move. When the wood of your neck shifts, your neck curves and can either bend outwards or develop a hump. Curving outwards is a problem too, but what causes buzz is a hump. This is what your truss rod is for; you can turn it one way or the other to force your neck to shift back.
Warning: You can destroy your guitar messing with this. Do not do it if you aren’t confident you understand, take it to a tech instead.
If you’re comfortable that you can do it and have done your research, make sure to only make quarter turn adjustments at a time and allow it to settle, eyeing the neck in between changes. If this was your problem it will be sorted in no time and everything will feel better when you play.
Hopefully any buzz you face is due to an easier issue. You can probably see why you should check if it’s something simpler first!
Image Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/ju-x/
Imagine that, right now, you’re painting a picture. You have a selection paints, all different colours: green, blue, red, yellow, purple… In front of you is brown and green woodland. Do you just indiscriminately use all the colours available to paint the scene?
Now imagine you’re a chef. You’re trying to make a roast dinner and you have a whole kitchen full of ingredients. Would you use a bit of every single available ingredient in the dish?
Hopefully you answered no to both of these! In most creative arts it’s almost a case of the result being decided more by what you didn’t use than what you did. A cake with vinegar, cheese, beef stock, shrimp and mustard isn’t really a cake anymore – in fact, that would probably be pretty horrible.
How does this relate to music and scales, though? Well, if everyone always used all the notes they could then everything would sound the same. It would also all be pretty intense and dissonant. That’s not to say there isn’t a time and place for that, but you probably wouldn’t feel too comfortable sitting through an hour of it!
When you play in a certain key, or use a certain scale, what’s making it stand out is the notes that are missing. A major scale can be looked at as taking all the notes in an octave and cutting a few out. Let’s visualise this:
Look at the low E string on your guitar.
The note produced when you pluck it open is E and then each fret until the 12th is a unique note, at the 12th you reach E again and the sequence repeats an octave higher.
Play all these notes, fret by fret.
Now, play the notes again but miss out the 1st, 3rd, 6th,8th, and 10th frets.
Following the last step will make you play an E Major scale. Can your ears pick up a certain sound to it in contrast with playing every note? This is the point I was making about cutting out notes from the full selection. Major and Minor scales are the perfect example of “less is more”.
Figuring out major scales by missing out notes from the chromatic scale can be a bit slow in practice, though. The other way to think about scales is as a sequence of intervals; in other words you can memorise the size of the jumps instead of the placement of gaps.
Using the E Major scale we already looked at we can see a pattern:
Start at open.
Move up two frets.
Move up two frets.
Move up one fret.
Move up two frets.
Move up two frets.
Move up two frets.
Move up one fret.
You can use that, starting at any point, to form a major scale on the guitar’s neck. It’s a bit of a pain to remember though, right?
Let’s use a bit more musical knowledge to make this easier. One fret is the same as a half tone, or “semitone”, and two frets are the same as a “tone”. So, instead of talking about the pattern for a major scale as a series of instructions, we can think about it as a sequence of tones and semitones.
Pick a starting note and then follow this pattern of jumps:
Tone, tone, semitone, tone, tone, tone, semitone.
A little bit easier than the other set of instructions but still not super compact. We can take it to the extreme, let’s say that “T” means tone and “S” means semitone.
Major Scale Pattern:
T T S T T T S
If you understand this notation, it becomes really easy to pick up more scales. Try this Minor Scale pattern – start with an open E string:
T S T T S T T
If you used it correctly you should have played the open string and then frets 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 10 and 12.
Assuming you started this article without any knowledge of scales, it’s pretty cool that you now understand how the two most common scales in contemporary music are formed. The next step is to use them to make actual musical ideas.
I want you to pick a note on the guitar neck. When you have one I want you to decide whether you’re going to write In a major or minor key. From there, form and play either a Minor or Major scale based on your chosen “root” note. Now, the creative bit! Make a simple melody using only those notes.
If you manage to do it, well done! You’ve just gone from not understanding scales at all to using your new knowledge to write a simple piece of music in a key of your choice. If you continue to do this with different keys you’ll soon even find yourself able to quickly work out other people’s music without any effort.
Signature Guitars are pretty snazzy. Namely because someone pretty good at Guitar-playing has decided that said Guitar is worthy of their name. It makes sense I guess.
Here are some signature guitars I recommend checking out…
This classic rock ‘n roll Guitar is almost 1950’s-esque! Complete with a Mahogany Body and 2-piece scratchplate, this 24-fret Guitar includes a custom Tremolo Arm for all your Queen solo needs!
Ah Eddie Van Halen, it doesn’t get much more Rock-Star Virtuoso than this. His signature Guitar is named: “Wolfgang”, which is also what he named his son. To be fair- “Wolfgang Van Halen” is literally the coolest name ever, and anyone who argues with that is wrong.
The signature Wolfgang series features a 22-fret Maple Neck, as well as custom Humbuckers for smooth pickups. For the true 80s Virtuosos- we also have Fine Tuners and a Floyd Rose Bridge to play with- everything you’d just about expect really!
Steve Vai has always had a good little relationship going with Ibanez. It should come as no surprise- then- that Ibanez also make his signature Guitar range!
The Ibanez JEM505 features a fine Maple neck with a nice Basswood Body. It also features an Edge Tremolo Brisge for the classic Vai tone. Its quite aesthetically pleasing too- which some interesting hand-grip designs built into it (you’d have to see it to understand).
Another Ibanez fan, Paul Gilbert gave his name to the Ibanez FRM100- and it’s all about the pickups with this one. Guitar enthusiasts around the world were pleased to hear of Gilbert-approved DiMarzio pickups being included on this Guitar, as well as DiMarzio Injectors on the neck/bridge and around the middle. From what I can gather- Paul Gilbert just really likes DiMarzio. The Mahogany/Maple set-in neck makes for a lot of free playing space and a sturdy build.
Nirvana led the Grunge movement, and this Guitar is evidence of it too! The finish has been made to look distressed and worn on purpose, to match how Kurt’s used Guitar looked. This one is a Fender one, called the Fender Jaguar (a re-hash on the 1950s Jaguar). The Maple neck contains a 22-fret Rosewood fretboard, as well as Dual Humbuckers, which seems strangely.. ermmm… good… for a Grunge Guitar I mean.
I hear a chordy riff! Must be Mister Young prancing around in his schoolboy outfit and playing that blasted Guitar. Of course Angus Young’s signature Guitar is simply one of the most well-known ever and it would be shameful to not know it.
It’s only the bloody Cherry Red Gibson SG! Complete with devil horns and everything. Young’s “Thunderstruck” model is of course a clear choice for those influenced by Classic Rock. The solid Mahogany top is lightweight which makes it an ideal choice for energetic players or those that just prefer a lighter Guitar. The neck is also narrow and extra slim- Angus doesn’t seem to like unnecessary clutter on his Guitars. The pickups are 1957 humbuckers, and just when you thought it couldn’t get any cooler- the fret inlays are lightning bolts! Clearly the best thing ever made.
So there we have it! A list of some signature Guitars I recommend playing! There are plenty more good ones out there of course- so look around and see what’s right for you.
No one likes paying for things, but alas it is often inevitable. They say that change is necessary and inevitable, but I would argue that it’s actually money.
Anyways, you can save yourself a lot of cash if you don’t have to pay for instrumental lessons- Guitar being no exception. 30 dollars for half an hour is not everyone’s idea of cheap- especially seeing as minimum wage is less than half of that in an hour. At risk of this becoming an eco-political article, I shall move on from the financial side of things.
There are some things that Music Teachers don’t want you to know about. Some because they are techniques that are just simply not used very widely- some because they will simplify things that they will get more money off by making more complex. I can’t blame them to be honest- everyone needs money, and they’ve got to be creative, but you know… errmmm… yeah. Screw ’em. Rock ‘n Roll et cetera et cetera.
To cut to the chase- there are things they won’t teach you in guitar lessons because it will benefit them more if you aren’t in the know. I will be highlighting some of them right here and right now so if this interests you, then keep reading on…
CLASSICAL TRAINING IS NO LONGER RELEVANT
Most instrumental teachers are classically trained musicians- and Guitarists are no exception. Not all Guitar Teachers are classically trained but quite a few of them will be- and unfortunately it’s not very relevant any more.
If you’re going to be a Guitarist in the modern world- it really isn’t that important to know your Fortissimo from Pianissimo- just knowing the difference between “very loud” and “very soft” should suffice. I highly doubt that a band member is going to ask you to work on your falsetto range in a modern setting. It isn’t 17th century Italy, as much as some people might wish it was. Musical knowledge is still important, but modernising the way we talk about it is important too, unless you’re the kinda musician who just likes to look cultured and/or pretentious (the terms often seem inter-changeable).
THE BEST SONGS ARE SIMPLE
We can talk about Tonics and Cadences until the cows come home (where are the cows meant to be anyway?) but it’s not really that relevant anymore either.
I guess this one depends on your musical interests though- if you like your Symphonic Rock with super-complicated arrangements then yes- it’s going to get kinda complicated- but if you like more popular music- including Blues and Rock n Roll- then the best songs really are the simple ones. Even advanced genres such as Jazz can benefit from simple song arrangements- “Mustang Sally” springs to mind.
I was watching an interview with Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters/ Nirvana fame the other day, in which he said a similar thing. He said he went to Guitar/ Drum lessons and he found that they over-complicated things for him- he said his favourite songs have always been: “those simple, 3-chord catchy rock songs” and that is the style he has tried to emulate. Last time I checked- Nirvana and Foo Fighters are two of the biggest bands that have ever… Happened.
This story also reminds me of The Runaways- the 1970’s all-girl hard rock band. More specifically it reminds me of what happened after they broke up. In the band you had 2 Guitarists- Lead Guitarist and solo player Lita Ford, and Rhythm Guitarists/ Songwriter Joan Jett. There was no doubt that Ford was the more skilled Guitarist, shredding solos away to her heart’s content. Jett however was criticised for writing songs that were often based around 3 or 4 simple power-chords. Ultimately, when they launched their Solo Careers- Jett became much more successful because although she couldn’t play amazing solos- she could write stupidly catchy songs using stupidly simple chords/ melodies. “Bad Reputation”, “Any Weather” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You” come to mind.
So there’s some anecdotal examples of simplicity not always being a bad thing. “Sometimes- less is more” as they say.
YOU CAN TEACH TECHNIQUE, YOU CAN’T TEACH SONGWRITING
This kinda harks back to the previous thing I said, in that most good songwriters are just Born that way. You can be taught how to structure a song but at the end of the day it’s down to YOU to say to yourself: “This song is bad and needs changing” or: “This song is good and is fine as it is”.
To write good music then you need to be a perfectionist and a very self-critical person. This is one of them things that is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. It’s also a state of mind that can’t really be taught be any teacher- you can only do it to be true to yourself. A 2-minute improvised solo might be technically impressive- but are people REALLY gonna want to sit down and listen to it again and again? Probably not. Maybe people who are extremely musical or into Prog Rock, but the majority of people will probably find it uninteresting despite how technically accomplished it is.
What I’m trying to say here is that technique is of-course important, you need to know some basic stuff or you’ll never get anywhere. A guitar teacher can give you the basics, but they can’t teach you how to be a good musician with the skills you have. Anyone that tries to convince you that they can teach you to be a good music-writer is lying. You can be given the tools but you need to assemble music from your own talent and judgement.
FRETTING ISN’T UNIVERSAL
Not everyone frets the same. They just don’t. People have differently-sized hands and fingers, people have different ideas of comfort- and people are just generally… different from one and other. It’s the facts of life kids.
Not while it is true that most people will benefit from fretting things (mainly chords) in the same way, occasionally some people may not. I have mentioned before that I often fret powerchords using my index, middle and ring fingers rather than the standard index, ring and little fingers. Guitar Teachers would generally say this was wrong and should be changed- but at the end of the day I find it more comfortable and my fingers are long enough to easily stretch it.
As long as it won’t hinder your comfort or technique, incorrect fretting really isn’t that big of a deal. As long as you can switch chords and whatnot efficiently then it will all sound the same when played. You can fret with your toes if you like. Someone has probably already done it to be honest.
BASIC SCALES CAN WORK WONDERS
A Guitar Teacher’s job- once they have taught you the basics, is to teach you the advanced stuff. The “advanced stuff” will more than likely include some advanced scales. If you plan on being a Jazz or Virtuoso Guitarist, then advanced scales are indeed an issue- but if you know how to form good licks and solos with just your basic pentatonic and blues scales then you shouldn’t have a problem.
The key thing to understand about scales is to not stick to them (as counter-intuitive as it may sound) because otherwise you are in the danger of sounding very samey to everyone else- at least when you’re still a bit of an amateur.
Have any of you seen the first Pirates Of the Carribean film? Chances are that many of you have. You may remember the famous scene where Keira Knightley claims that the Pirates cannot hurt her because of the “Code of Parley” which basically states that Pirates have Rules that they must follow. Evil Captain Barbosa subsequently tells her that “they’re more like guidelines than rules”. Well the same is true with scales. Sometimes stepping out of your scales and playing an out-of-key note will sound good! This is especially true in Blues and Rock genres. So sticking to a scale, no matter how complex- may not be the world’s best idea- you may end of limiting your creativity. That said- if you know how to use scales to your advantage and when to stick to them then you may benefit from learning some complex stuff. It’s different for everyone- but it’s not of huge importance. Plenty great Guitar Solo players have little or no knowledge of scales at all- Pantera’s Dimebag Darrell is a famous example.
So there we have it! 5 things that Guitar Teachers do not want you to know! Now I’m not suggesting that we mutiny all Guitar Teachers (it seems that we have a bit of a Pirate Theme in this article) but I’m just saying that you should probably understand that eventually they will have taught you enough information- and learning ridiculously complex techniques might be a waste of your time and money unless you plan on becoming a virtuoso.