3 Tips to Expand Your Guitar Skill & Ability

Courtesy of Andrew Wasson... 

Let's face it, we've all been there, acting like a lazy couch-slouch guitarist. Wasting time, doing nothing new with the instrument, feeling bored but yet not doing anything to push ourselves to the next level... 

Why do we do this... too many of us just sit around performing a traditional song or two that we've played for years and years? What a waste of time. Shouldn't we instead be constantly driving ourselves to be in the process of researching new songs, learning new techniques, and learning new musical concepts? That would be more beneficial... But instead, we choose to be lazy.

Unique guitar styles and having your own signature sound to keep audiences enthralled, isn't common-place in the music world. Unique sounds spring from the most dedicated players who devote hours to honing their craft. Let's explore a collection of unique traits that if pursued will push any guitarist past the point of boring and into new zones of creativity...

1). Listen hard and train your ears 
In the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of it all, this "playing music thing" comes down to training your ears, (which you have to do if you're going to play any type of traditional music).

You've got to train your ears to hear musical sound and understand musical direction. Just think, years ago there weren't any kind of guitar teachers around, and there was no Google and no YouTube. And, years back, there was no such thing as tablature.

In a way tablature is actually harmful to our ears development, because it teaches players to do something exactly the same as the recording – and so the player comes to rely on the TAB as a crutch and their ears are never trained.

So, listen to music and work hard at lifting off guitar parts from recordings. Learn to understand rhythms. Know what an 8th-note, a 16th-note and what triplets look and feel like. Develop a sense for how music sits upon your fret-board. Be able to sing pitches and get used to finding them on your neck. Over time, this will turn into a fantastic skill and learning this will help you play the music that in your head much easier.

2). Understand the Origins of Music and Do Research
It's easy to give up before you even start. It's easy to say, "well, Hendrix couldn't read music, so why should I learn it." I hear this all the time, I'll even have students say that this player or that guitarist couldn't do such and such. But, keep in mind, a lot of those players were doing what they did a long time ago, and what other players from 40 years ago could or couldn't "play or do" generally has very little bearing on what is going on today.

Aside from keeping us inspired, the skills of players from decades past tends to reflect quite little on what is going on right now. We're living in the year 2016. Standards are a lot higher and even generally decent players in a local music scene are ridiculously educated and skilled today compared to those legendary guitar players of the past.

For this reason, the "Modern Day" Guitarist needs to be better read, better researched and better at playing than ever before in history. Today, your average local professional player is an incredibly skilled, and versatile musician. They're capable of playing Blues, Jazz, Rock or Folk. They can read charts, they can sing, they're excellent at improvising. Compare that to a lot of the guitar players who were at the peak of the craft 40 years ago and it's quite shocking. Many of those players from back then couldn't even read music.

This is where research is so vital. Once you understand how you need to study and pursue modern playing skills, you'll give yourself the information to organize a proper practice schedule and a modern approach. Placing a focus on ear training, scales, improvisation and techniques for versatility will help you to pull-up your chops to where you'll need them to be in order to compete in today's marketplace of highly skilled and educated musicians.

3). Be Open Minded and Open to Study
When you watch someone doing something that looks complicated on guitar, and you feel blown away - what goes through your mind? Are you excited? Or, are you angry, jealous and envious? Do you think that it's one of those things that somebody invented or developed that you'll never be able to do? Or, when you watch someone doing a great job with a guitar part, and doing it easily - with little effort, do you get motivated to try and learn it as well?

The way you perceive musical and guitar oriented challenges says a lot. If the initial reaction is one where you get immediately dismissive saying something like, "I don't care about playing like that - I'll never bother learning that on guitar," Or, if you come up with an instant reason to shut the whole thing down, saying something like; "the whole point of soloing is just about showing off - I hate guys who play solos." Or if you say, "well I don't need to know how to read music because Hendrix never read music." All of these attitudes close down your mind and that places a ceiling on where your skills could potentially rise up to.

So, be open minded. Instead of shutting down and putting up a wall, try doing some study on an area you need to improve upon. Especially if it's an area that almost every other guitarist in your local scene is capable of. Rather than resorting to a "put-down" get a leg up on the idea and find out how hard it might be to study and learn how to do for yourself.

Whether it's scales, improvisation, music theory or music reading you'll always benefit from trying something in your practice routine rather than instantly shutting down, making excuses, or ridiculing it.

I'll be running through these ideas in this Sunday's release (Oct. 30, 2016) of my next "GuitarBlog Insider." Watch for it on my 2nd YouTube Channel "GuitarBlog UpDate."


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Paul Gilbert: “Why My String Gauges Are Changing All the Time”

Courtesy of Jhoni Jackson... 

Guitar virtuoso Paul Gilbert appears in a recent episode of Ernie Ball’s acclaimed String Theory series to talk about his love of guitar, influences and choice of strings and gauges...

In the video, Gilbert plays his Kikusui Sake Ibanez Custom Shop Fireman, a custom guitar inspired by the sake bottles of the Kikusui brand.

“When you see all the sake bottles at a Japanese grocery store, the Kikusui bottles always stand out,” Gilbert tells our sister publication Guitar Aficionado.

“I thought that the bottle was really beautiful, so I decided to make a guitar inspired by it. We used the bottle caps as control knobs and incorporated the same graphic designs throughout. It’s one of my few guitars that doesn’t have a scratch on it. It’s so beautiful that I’m scared to take it on the road. If I scratched it I think that I would cry.”

If you’ve seen other String Theory episodes, you’ll know they offer great insights into the minds of guitar players. Some other featured guitarists include Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, Tool’s Justin Chancellor, Joe Bonamassa, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, among others.

Below, we’ve called out four things we learned from Gilbert’s String Theory episode. But be sure to watch the entire video, shown at bottom, to hear plenty of his shredding.

You can watch other episodes of Ernie Ball’s String Theory, plus clips from its equally excellent Pursuit of Tone series and much more, at the company’s YouTube channel. 

1. Paul is constantly changing his string gauges. (:43)
“My gauges are changing all the time, because it really depends on the state of my calluses,” Gilbert explains. “If I’m a couple of weeks into a tour and I’ve got some good calluses, if I’ve done a couple sweaty gigs in a row and my calluses have been destroyed, I’ll go as light as .008s, sometimes I’ll got as heavy as .011s. And not only gauge, but for acoustic guitar sometimes i really like to use a plain G.”

2. When it comes to guitar, it’s all about bending strings. (1:32)
“It’s so satisfying as a guitar player to play stuff that’s related to the blues,” he says. “Because if you’re not bending, you might as well be a harpsichord player. With bending you get to pretend you’re a vocalist, even if you’ve got a lousy voice.”

3. His music is as much influenced by Seventies pop piano songs as it is by riff rock. (2:10)
“When it comes to songwriting, I grew up in the Seventies listening to AM radio,” Gilbert says. “So I’ve all these pop songs running through my head from Paul McCartney and Elton John, and a lot of stuff that was written on piano. And that’s really different from the riff rock that I was into as a guitar player. As a writer a lot of times I’m really sort of juggling those two things that I love.”

4. He believes it’s important for guitarists to hear the guitar rather than look at it. (3:10)
“As human beings we’re visual creatures, and it’s so easy to play the guitar by looking at it,” he says. “It’s a real challenge to go from that visual way of perceiving the guitar to getting back to that pure sound connecting to the instrument. For guitar players it’s such a beautiful way to take what you hear in your head and make it real.”


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Musical Genius Quiz - What Kind are You?

Courtesy of SonicBids... 

What Kind of Musical Genius Are You? 

Take This Quick Quiz to Find Out...



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10 Things Your Guitar Teacher Never Told You...

Courtesy of Rob Power (Music-Radar)... 

Six-string life lessons that you absolutely need to learn...

Yes, we're talking about guitar teachers, and what they 'teach' - or rather, what they don't teach.

They take your money and teach you how to play, but then what? They callously punt you out into the world as if their work is done. But it isn't, is it?

You are a confused and frightened lamb in a world of electric warrior wolves, and it is bloody carnage out there. You have questions, questions that need answering, and where is your beloved guitar teacher? Nowhere to be seen.

We contend there are many, many things your guitar teacher should have clued you in on, playing aside - and here are just a few lessons every budding electric warrior needs...

1. Basic economic theory
Guitars are expensive. Amps are expensive. Hell, even strings are expensive these days. Unless you are the first born son of a billionaire industrialist, a lottery winner, or an actual rock star, the sheer monetary cost of playing the guitar will always be on your mind.

*GAS can strike at any time, and before you know it you've blown three months' wages on a limited run PRS. The internet is a minefield, eBay a very real menace, guitar ships perennial lairs of temptation.

At the very least, your teacher should warn you of these perils. Ideally, they'd provide a complimentary spreadsheet detailing exactly how much you have to save and for how long to afford any guitar your heart desires.

*Gear Acquisition Syndrome, a very real and financially debilitating disease affecting many musicians with particularly high infection rates among guitarists.

2. Physical education
'Play the guitar', they said. 'It'll be fun', they said. What they didn't say, of course, was what it will do to your body.

The skin on your fingertips will shred into a messy pulp until finally rock-hard calluses form, forever changing the geography of your delicate little prodders. Your back, your strong young back, will eventually buckle under the strain of years stood with a weight round your neck.

Your eyes, forever squinting at pedals in the dark, will fail. And that's before we get to busted toes from dropped cabs, wrists racked with RSI, livers pickled from the booze, lungs leaden from the smoke. It's the price we pay to rock: literal physical pain.

Back then, sat there in a warm room with a 3/4-size nylon acoustic perched on your trembling pre-teen knee, it all seemed so easy, didn't it? If only you'd known then what you know now...

3. A brief history of time
How long does it take to get halfway decent at the guitar? A month? A year? 10 years? The answer, as any self-respecting guitarist will tell you, is a lifetime.

There will always be more to learn… always another chord, another riff, another lick, an endless stream of things to learn stretching interminably off into the void, forever

But they never told you that, did they, when they took your hard-earned cash and taught you that "D Major Open-Chord"  and made you feel special and clever; no, they never revealed the horrifying truth, that there will always be more to learn, to explore, to fumble around in the dark trying to find, always another chord, another riff, another lick, an endless stream of things to learn stretching interminably off into the void, forever.

Vai is still learning. Clapton is still learning. Hendrix is still learning, (and he's been dead for 40 years). Learning the guitar is to commit to a lifetime of never quite being as good as you'd like. Which, when you think about it, plays right into the hands - and hourly rate-lined pockets - of guitar teachers everywhere. Clever.

4. Haggling: putting theory into practice
We all know how it's supposed to work. The guy behind the counter gives a price, you give a lower price, and you both work your way towards some point in the middle. Banter ensues, fun is had by all, you feel like you've got a deal and he's bagged a customer for life. Easy. And yet, it never quite works like that does it?

Instead of rosy cheeked shopkeeps with a friendly disposition, they are invariably steely-eyed deal-killers with an eye on the bottom line. You're a sweaty mess, an idiot on legs. They name a price, you pay it, and that is that.

You need guidance, a steady hand, the key words to say and the correct time to say them.* Damn your guitar teacher and his "chords" and "scales".

*We'll help here: before paying, simply ask 'is this your best price', and always be prepared to walk away if you don't get a decent deal - 'tis the secret to all haggling, children.

5. Advanced guitar maintenance
Your teacher might have shown you how to change a string. They might have even walked you through how to clean your fretboard. Any more than that? Unlikely.

As a result, there are a staggering amount of guitarists out there whose instruments are filthy, rusting, barely functioning hunks of metal and steel. Necks caked in years of sweat and God knows* what else from your mucky hands, disgusting strings, broken pickups, buzzing necks and badly dressed frets - it's a nightmare, frankly.

Some folks aren't even aware that their guitar doesn't have to be that way. It's an entirely preventable tragedy.

*And he does know, you filthmonger.

6. Basic band management
The singer is a narcissist and he hates the bass player. The bass player is shagging the keyboard player's girlfriend. The keyboard player is well-liked but always late, (and why does he always change parts, but not tell us). Everybody hates the drummer. Welcome, friends, to the twisted dynamics of the average band.

There is no human construct more black hearted, more ruthless, more fiendishly Machiavellian, than a rock 'n' roll band. Held together by in-jokes and ambition, most bands are simmering pits of barely suppressed tension. It doesn't matter if you're playing with your best friends or people that answered an ad, at some point you will want to take a top E string and garrotte your way into musical history.

You must be prepared for backbiting and infighting, politics, dirty tricks, musical frustration and arch-manipulation. You may also have more fun than you've ever had in your life. Still, would have been nice to have a heads up from Teach about all this, eh?

7. Recording for dummies
Not everyone wants to be one of those producers sat behind a mixing desk, banging on about headroom and mic placement. That's fine - you got into this caper to be recorded, not to record. But here's the rub: without some very basic recording savvy, how are you going to catch ideas as they happen, or sketch out demos to play to the rest of your band?

Beyond that, knowing how to record your guitar to a decent standard should stop it sounding like absolute garbage when you get into the studio. You can't tell some metal-crazy engineer how to make your cherished jazz rig sound all mellow and fruity if you don't have the first clue about recording. Avoid making dog-shit records: learn to record!

8. The history of the North American Guitar
And lo, on the third day, Leo did createth the Stratocaster, and he looked upon his works, and he was pleased. But why should you care what some guy did in the 1950s? Well, you little ignoramus, we shall enlighten ye. It is only by knowing the past that the future becomes possible. Say it one more time with me now: it is only… okay, you get it.

The point is, if you don't know about early Strat players jamming the pickup selector switch between positions, or Les Paul's innovations, or the straplock thing with the Grolsch bottle tops, then how the hell are you going to discover new things?

Guitar companies will do some of the work for you, but the real change happens down in the trenches, with players pushing their instruments to places they weren't supposed to go (okay, Leo Fender didn't actually play guitar, but you get the picture). How are you supposed to break the boundaries of modern music if you don't know where they are?

9. How to spot a fake 101
The dream is real and it is happening. It was raining hard that afternoon, so you took shelter in one of those shops you thought were long gone, with piles of army surplus gear everywhere and a faint whiff of something illegal. You are scared but curious, so you dig around. A flash catches your eye from a dusty corner: the unmistakable glint of a machinehead. You investigate.

No. Surely not? Can it be? It's a Les Paul, a Black Beauty no less, and look, there's Gibson on the headstock. Your hands are sweaty. You try to stay cool, stay calm. Don't blow this. 'How much for this, guitar?' you ask. 'Um… $150?' Your heart nearly explodes. You immediately proffer your card; you don't have the money, really, but this? This is a sure thing.

You leave the shop, and there, in the uncertain post-storm sunlight, you see what you've bought. Cheap corroded machine-heads. Body too thin, hardware all wrong. And the final indignity, right there on the head-stock: "Gobson." You have been duped... You are a fool. Your guitar teacher never taught you how to spot a fake, did he?

10. Guitar shop etiquette for beginners
Guitarists are cool, right, cool for cats, with their hair and their studied nonchalance and their bluejeans - cooler than the average schmuck, certainly cooler than drummers and keyboard players and cello enthusiasts, cooler than a cool thing in a cool box, right? Right. So guitar shops are surely the place to go for laid-back fun times. Except no. Absolutely not. Guitar shops are home to a set of rules so rigid and unbending they verge on the totalitarian.

Think you can just pluck any guitar off the wall and start strumming? Think again, scum citizen. Upon entering these hallowed caverns of rockitude, you have silently agreed to a covenant as old as time itself, a mystifying code of conditions and clauses as labyrinthine and convoluted as any legal system.

Of course, you'd know all this if your guitar teacher had given you the slightest hint, but no, there you go, grabbing at limited-run Les Pauls and banging out wonky John Mayer solos way too loud. Doomed. You are doomed. We are, all of us, doomed.


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5 Ways to Make More Time for Music...

Courtesy of Jhoni Jackson... 

Even musicians who truly love the craft can find themselves short on time for practice, songwriting, or playing gigs... 

If you really care about something, you'll find a way to make time for it, right? Whoever believes that hasn't struggled to balance a full-time job, a DIY music career, and the general obligatory stuff of being a human. 

You meant to allow a half hour to tweak that new song today, but a stop for gas, some unexpected traffic, and a surprise call from a friend you've been neglecting and – bam! There goes your songwriting session.

Life getting in the way of your music-making is inevitable, but it's also manageable. These five tips can help you reclaim that lost time and develop new time controlling habits that will help you avoid losing your valuable time in the future.

1. Designate personal social media time
Step away from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whichever platform is your time-killing kryptonite. Think about how much time you spend scrolling through your feed. What are you even getting out of it? Probably not any improvements in your skills as a musician, how much is it helping your guitar playing... and that's what really matters to you.

You'll need to spend some time on social media for your band for marketing purposes. (But even that can be trimmed in time if you do things efficiently.) You might use your personal account for networking, too. All of that is understandable and it is necessary.

What we're referring to here is the fruitless stuff we all indulge in: Viral videos, funny memes, historical trivia articles, Reddit, celebrity gossip, and anything starring the cutest and silliest cats and dogs. We get most of that content through social media, where we're also inundated with political arguments and updates from other people about their lives and baby photos and whatever else they want to share. We're not asking you to give all that up – only that you keep it to a minimum.

Designate specific windows of time for personal social media use and stick to them. Allow yourself a realistic amount of time; you can always lessen it later. After a while, you'll find yourself less compelled to constantly check your various social media feeds – which gives you a lot more time for playing music.

2. Delegate and share responsibilities where you can
In any area of your life – the band, work, home – are you unfairly carrying the heaviest load? Do your roommates never help you clean, and you're always stuck with all the chores? Do you take more tasks on at work than your job description allows? Are your band-mates making the term "DIY" feel painfully literal - to YOU?

You shouldn't be expected to bear the brunt of the work of any relationship, whether professional or personal. If you think that's your situation, talk to the people involved about how it affects you. Make the changes necessary to ensure you've got the time you deserve, and dedicate it to your ambitions.

3. Eliminate distractions, and use time more efficiently
Besides social media, there are plenty of other focus-annihilators to dodge. And the less focused you are on whatever task, the less efficiently you'll complete it – which eats up the time you should be spending on music.

Consider what's interrupting you, and fix it. If you have room-mates, shut the door. Close yourself off. Ask to NOT be disturbed. Silence your phone, turn off notifications, turn on auto-reply if you need to, or just shut it down altogether.

Once you've gotten distractions out of the way, now make sure you're dedicating the appropriate amount of time to non-musical responsibilities.

Are you over-explaining your email responses? Use concise answers to move through your inbox faster. Do you go out to eat a lot? Cook meals for the week in advance at home instead. Do you tend to chip away at tasks rather than tackle them all at once? The latter actually saves time - a lot of time.

4. Fill your downtime with music
Staring at your phone is one option, but listening to music podcasts, reading about music, or reviewing your own recordings while you're riding the train or waiting in a long line are far better choices for your career.

Anytime you find yourself with nothing to do but wait - you can be using to educate yourself or get inspired. You can do a few of those things while driving, too, of course.

5. Go to sleep
If you've run out of gas, head to bed. Rather than spending your last two or three hours groggy-eyed and unproductive, you should turn-off and just get sleepin'. You can always wake up a little earlier the next day. At that point you're more rested and ready to devote that extra time, either right away or somewhere later in the day - to the study of and the creation of - MUSIC.

Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.



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Composing Melodic Minor Guitar Ideas

GuitarBlog: Composing Melodic Minor Guitar Ideas...

Melodic Minor Guitar Parts can be a real challenge in the early days of learning this scale. It's layout combines the minor quality of the Natural Minor's lowered 3rd along-side the major 6th and 7th of the basic major scale... 

 This combination of tonal qualities creates a sound that can confuse the guitarists ear in the early days. It's a little bit minor, (in the lower note groupings), and it comes across as very major at the upper tones. This blend often causes the student a challenge when learning how to apply it. Plus, there is the scales very different harmony. It's got a few strange chord types within the harmony which often make it difficult to phrase melodies with. Plus they can also pose issues when trying to write good backing tracks. In this lesson, we'll take a look at a group of chord progressions built around Melodic Minor, (used as Jazz Minor). We'll also compose melodic lines over them.

PART ONE: Example one uses the harmony of "C Minor" and applies three chords from the key. The tonic, (Cm), II-chord, (Dm), and III-chord, (E aug.) are used to create a jam track. A melody is given built from "C Melodic Minor" scale. Example two uses chords of; "Cm," "B dim.," "G," F," and, "Am7(b5)." The effect of the diminished chords builds a unique sound in the melody line.

PART TWO: In the third example we focus on the unique I-chord of the "C Melodic Minor" scale. The tonic chord of Melodic Minor is a Minor /Major7 chord. This chord sounds great performed after the triad followed into a "Minor 6" chord. The example three progression moves from the "Cm," to the "Cm/maj7," to the "Cm6," and then to a "G7." A melody line is also provided to cover these changes. In example four the "Half-Diminished" chord is applied as "Am7(b5)." This effect is applied around the chords of "Cm," "Dm7," "Am7(b5)," and "G7." A corresponding melody ties everything together. Enjoy the lesson!

Composing Melodic Minor Guitar Ideas

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Good Guitar Player vs. Bad Guitar Player


Good Guitar Player vs. Bad Guitar Player

Good guitar players have developed a series of traits that enable them to play extremely well. They understand exactly what it takes to be the best that they can be and they strive to achieve in every situation... 

Find out what separates good guitar players from bad ones. What does it take to become a good guitarist? Is it great rhythm, versatility or a great ear? Or, is it all of the above and then some? 

This short video runs through a majority of the traits found from the better guitar players out there. This is not a "be-all /end-all" list. There are plenty of other factors and traits involved. The points are essentially a series of generalizations.

Are there more traits? Sure, but these ones are the primary skills that separate the good from the bad. These skills (once developed) will help any guitar player polish their ability and reach their playing goals much faster. Enjoy!!

Good Guitar Player vs. Bad Guitar Player



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