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4 Common Challenges Faced By New Guitar Students (And How To Overcome Them)

As with any new skill, learning how to play the guitar comes with challenges. Here, Perth Amboy, NJ teacher Jeff S. shares his guitar playing tips to help you stay motivated…

 

I’ve been teaching guitar to students of all ages and skill levels for many years and have gotten quite adept at spotting and remedying the challenges faced by beginners. So I’ve decided to address them in this article to offer students and their parents some insight on how to get beyond the problems so they can truly enjoy the guitar experience.

Below are brief descriptions of each problem and the guitar playing tips to correct them:

Problem #1 – The guitar pick keeps slipping out of my hand

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Solution:
While the thickness of a guitar pick is an individual preference, I don’t recommend a thin pick. It’s too flimsy and offers little stability and control. So I suggest a medium gauge pick (.60 mm to .88 mm) and sometimes a medium-heavy pick (.80 mm to 1 mm). I also strongly suggest a “grip pick,” as the regular flat plastic picks can be slippery and fall to the floor. There are many varieties of grip picks, but I personally prefer the Jim Dunlop Nylon Standard pick (I use the 1 mm, but some might find it too rigid).

Besides the type of pick, it’s important to hold the pick with the thumb and index finger (tucking in the other three fingers to form a loose partial fist) and in doing so create a striking surface of no more than a quarter of an inch (at the tip end of the pick).

Problem #2 – The notes I’m trying to fret sound muffled or not very clear

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Solution:
There are three important guitar playing tips that go along with this. First, you want to be sure your nails aren’t too long (i.e. beyond the fingertips) and you’re making fingerboard contact using the fleshy part of the fingertip — not with the nail or under-nail area or the back of the finger. Second, the point of contact should be with the fleshiest part of the fingertip. Third, the left hand needs to be arced upright as much as possible (without causing discomfort) so that it’s reasonably perpendicular to the neck. And finally, the left hand fingers shouldn’t press down on the fret, but rather slightly to the left of the fret.

Problem #3- My fingers hurt and it’s tough to keep playing

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Solution:
The old-school solution would simply be to say “No pain, no gain,” or “Your finger discomfort will go away soon.” And honestly, that’s probably pretty good advice. But here are some more constructive solutions:

  • Make sure the guitar has light or extra light gauge strings on it, as the thickness of the strings directly impacts how sore the fingers get.
  • Soak the fingertips in apple cider vinegar for 30 seconds to a minute after playing (be sure to wash with soap thoroughly, as you don’t want your guitar or guitar strings to smell like apple cider vinegar!) or try icing the fingertips after playing.
  • Take the guitar into the shop and get the “action” lowered as much as possible (see my other article, “How Playable Is That New Guitar of Yours?”, for more details on this).

If none of these guitar playing tips offer sufficient help, consider trying a pain-reducing ointment with benzocaine on your fingertips. (Be sure to consider the allergic potential and also be sure that your child doesn’t put his or her fingers in their mouth after applying such a product.)

Problem #4- I can’t stretch my fingers of my left hand to reach the 3rd or 4th frets, or I’m having trouble applying enough pressure to fret a note

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Solution:
Every guitarist will need to access the 3rd and 4th frets with their ring finger and pinky, respectively. And it’s not just to play the notes on those frets, but to gain overall hand control and fingerboard accessibility.

I often assign the chromatic scale to students as a finger stretch and warm-up exercise. Using the left hand index, middle, ring, and pinky fingers, respectively, play the notes on the first four frets (delegating index to 1st fret, middle to 2nd fret, ring to 3rd fret, pinky to 4th fret) to play a total of 24 notes (four per string).

Another great way to increase reach is to pick up a small rubber ball (handball size) and squeeze it several times before you practice guitar. You can also spread your fingers apart on the ball, much the way a baseball pitcher would spread them to throw a changeup. This particular pitch calls for separation between the index, middle, and ring fingers, and that’s the perfect stretch to develop more finger reach for guitar. You can see the grip here.

Conclusion
Whether you’re the one learning guitar, or if you’re a parent trying to support your child, the most important thing to remember is that there’ll always be learning curves and growing pains to overcome and a need for patience and perseverance to get beyond them. Once a new guitar student gets used to fretting notes and how much hand pressure is needed to fret notes, and their skin toughens up a bit on their fingertips, things will fall into place. Be encouraging and they’ll get past these early challenges.

JeffSJeff S. teaches guitar, ukulele, speaking voice, songwriting, and more in Perth Amboy, NJ, as well as online. Jeff has created and taught songwriting and music business classes at colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the country for many years. Learn more about Jeff here! 

 

 

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How to Read & Find Bass Guitar Tabs For Your Favorite Songs

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Want to play all of your favorite songs on bass? Learn where to find the tabs you need in this guest post by San Diego teacher Justine D...

 

Bass guitar tabs can help you sharpen your listening skills, try out new skills and techniques, and — of course — learn your favorite songs’ bass lines! In this blog post, we’ll cover where you can find bass guitar tabs and how to decide which one you want to use.

What is a bass guitar tab and how do you read it?

Did you know that “tab” stands for “tabulature,” a kind of musical notation that focuses on fretted finger placement rather than the actual pitches? It’s been in use for years; in fact, during the Renaissance tabulature was used to help lute players play and write down songs! Today, many bass tabs are written and shared online by musicians like you who want a way to remember their favorite songs.

tabulature example

Bass tab features four horizontal lines that represent each of your strings; the line at the very bottom represents your low E string, while the line at the top represents your G string. The numbers on the lines represent what fret to play. Read the tab from left to right, playing only the notes indicated by the numbers. In this example, you would play the 1st fret of your E string six times before moving on to the next measure.

Where can you find bass tabs online?

  • Ultimate Guitar: Despite its name, this website does have bass guitar tabs, too! Use their advanced search to make sure you only get bass tabs in your results. I like this site because tab submitters can indicate the difficulty of the tab and the genre, making searching easy. There’s quite a range of genres here — anime to electronic to world and rap — but most of the tunes are in the rock genre.
  • Big Bass Tabs: Here, the name rings true: this site only lists bass tabs! The majority are rock songs, though you can find the occasional rap and pop bass tab, too. They have a dedicated requests page that you can try if you’re looking for a hard-to-find tab. You can also find bass lessons here.
  • 911Tabs: If you can’t find a good tab on the above two sites, this is another good website to try. This site doesn’t actually host the tabs on their server; instead, it’s more like a search engine that checks other sites’ databases (including Ultimate Guitar) and shows results from multiple places. However, they don’t show all the versions that other sites may have.

While they aren’t dedicated tab repositories, Bass Musician Magazine and No Treble share tabs from jazz, metal, and other rarer genres of music. You won’t find just any tab here, though; you’re limited to what they’ve chosen to provide to you. Many of the tabs are more intermediate to advanced, though, so it’s a good place to browse and learn more complex music and techniques. You may even pick up a new favorite artist or two!

How do you know which bass tab to use?

Anyone can submit a bass tab to any of these websites, and they don’t usually review the tab before it goes online. Because tabs are written by ear, some tabs may have mistakes. Other musicians may upload additional versions of a song’s tab to correct the mistakes they see or share the way they play it.

Many sites use a rating system that allows users to show which tabs they recommend and which they don’t; look for a 4- or 5-star rating next to a tab’s link.

Popular songs may have up to 20 or more tab versions on a site. I typically start with the highest number version (e.g. “Money (version 25)”, versus “Money (version 2)”), assuming that the multiple versions are fixing errors found in versions 1–24.

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Lastly, most tabs don’t indicate any kind of rhythm; you have to rely on your ears to help you know how fast or short you play the notes. Some tabbers will try to space the numbers out, but this can still be unclear. If you see a tab that does explicitly state the rhythm, though, try that one first! In this example, the Es at the top indicate the eighth note rhythm of the bass line.

Good luck with your bass playing! If you come across a resource we haven’t listed here, let us know where it is by leaving a comment below!

JustineDJustine D. teaches guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, and music theory lessons in San Diego, CA, as well as online. She received a double major in in music and psychology at Kalamazoo College, and joined the TakeLessons team in 2011. Learn more about Justine here! 

 

 

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Guitar Playing Tips | Eliminating Bad Habits & Reducing Injury

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As far as guitar playing tips go, understanding proper form should be at the top of the list! Here, North Wales, PA guitar teacher Nathan D. shares the basics…

 

As a multi-instrumental musician, I am constantly checking my form to prevent strain or injury. Hours of improperly played guitar, piano, violin, and even clarinet can make one’s fingers and elbows throb, and the impact of playing drums too hard with poor form can cause major injury to wrists all the way to your shoulders. All of this can even lead to multiple pricey and time-consuming surgeries to fix repetitive stress injury and carpal tunnel, not to mention the countless hours of rehabilitation and re-learning to play (properly this time, of course). Wouldn’t you rather be practicing to become proficient at your instrument?

I come from a family riddled with arthritis and spine problems, and my bones constantly crack and pop when I move. However, the more I play, and the more I play correctly, these pops and cracks seem to fade away.

So what to do? First of all, always remember to warm up slowly, then build up speed. This goes for any instrument. I also routinely do yoga and other stretches to benefit my hands and wrists. Always go slow and hold for several breaths while trying to increase mobility, and stop immediately if something hurts! See a doctor if something is chronic or recurring. In general, ice new injuries, and heat chronic ones (but only under the advice of a doctor!).

With guitar being my main instrument, here are my guitar playing tips for proper form:

Head –

  • Relax your neck, don’t slump to look down at the guitar for too long.
  • If playing with a strap, take a break if your neck starts to hurt, or sit and place the guitar on your leg for more support.
  • Take a break to stretch or do some head rotations when you’re fatigued.

Shoulders -

  • Keep relaxed, but put your shoulder blades slightly together to prevent your upper spine from curving.

Lower back -

  • It is tempting to slouch over to look down at the guitar, but don’t!
  • Keep your back straight, but not stiff.

Arms -

  • Use a seat without arm rests; they will get in the way and force you to use bad form.

Legs -

  • Rest the guitar on whichever leg is comfortable for the style and position you’re playing on the fretboard. Feel free to switch after some time. Don’t let the guitar go “flat” on your leg.
  • A foot rest (even a stack of thick books) can help eliminate some back strain and help place the guitar in a better playing position.
  • Keep your feet flat; trying to play on your tiptoes will cause you to shake your leg and hit wrong notes.

Left (or fretting) hand -

  • Thumb should be placed in the middle of the neck, behind your 2nd (middle) finger.
  • It can be bent or straight, depending on your flexibility. Vertical is usually best for learning chords.
  • Thumb can be moved over the top, but only if your fretting fingers are properly straight.
  • Use the same parts of your fingertips on the strings.
  • Keep nails relatively short on this hand, usually if the tip is slightly thinner than the thickest string this will give you good playability.

Right (or picking) hand -

  • Have about ¼-inch of pick showing as you’re holding it between your thumb and index finger. Using the front of your index finger or the side (while curling it around) has both advantages and disadvantages.
  • Don’t curve your wrist, sideways or vertically. Keep it straight but a little relaxed.
  • Your picking motion should come from your elbow; too much wrist can cause injury over time.
  • No “anchors”; don’t place your fingers on the guitar while picking. The bottom of the back of the forearm, near the elbow, is placed on the edge of the guitar, however it is comfortable to strum or pick without curving your wrist.

Most importantly, have fun! Keep yourself encouraged to play and come back!

NathanDNathan D. teaches guitar, bass, drums, and more in North Wales, PA. His specialties include rock and heavy metal styles, but he teaches every genre. Learn more about Nathan here!

 

 

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How to Translate Guitar Tabs to Piano Chords (and Learn All Your Favorite Songs!)

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Curious about how guitar tabs translate to piano chords? Learn how to convert your favorite songs in this guest post by Greeley, CO teacher Andy W...

 

Why should guitarists have all the fun playing classics like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California”? Just because a song is written in TABS doesn’t mean that piano players can’t read it also. So, here’s how to translate guitar tabs so you can play piano chords!

First, let’s establish a basic understanding of the guitar. The notes of the open strings from thickest to thinnest are E, A, D, G, B, and E. Also, each fret on guitar is a half step. This means that you can find any note by starting from the open string that the note is played on and count up in half steps, one fret at a time, until you arrive at the desired note.

What you need to know about TABS is that there are six lines that represent the six guitar strings. The bottom line represents the thickest string, while the top represents the thinnest. The numbers you’ll see on each line indicate the number of fret that is played on that string. As far as reading rhythms, TABS usually only approximate rhythms. But as you read the fret numbers from left to right, more or less spaces between numbers indicate note values and rests. So, more space between two numbers means that you’ll either hold the note or rest until the next one is played. If numbers are stacked on top of each other vertically, that means those notes are played at the same time.

Alright piano players, let’s finally sink our teeth into one of the most wonderfully cliché guitar-based songs ever made, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. Take a look at the video below that provides the TABS:

Now it’s time to figure out the right piano notes, and from there the appropriate piano chords to play! We’ll just focus on the first measure for now. To find the first note, we look at which string it’s played on. The number 7 is on the third line from the bottom, which indicates the D string. Since the fret number is 7, we’re going to count up 7 half steps from the open D string. Feel free to use your piano to help you do this. When we count up we get these notes: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A. So, A is the first note.

Next, let’s look at the second note. It’s played on the third thinnest string, which is a G. Since the number is 5, we count up 5 half steps from the open G string, giving us these notes: G, G#, A, A#, B, C. So, our second note is C. Keep using this same process to find the next notes.

When we get to beat 3 of this measure, there is a 7 and a 6 stacked on top of each other. This means that both notes are played at the same time. The 7 is on the thinnest string, E, while the 6 is on the third from the bottom string, D. Starting with the thinnest string, E, let’s count up 7 half steps: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B. Now, count up 6 half steps from D: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#. So you’ll play B and G# at the same time.

And that’s the basic idea for translating guitar tabs to piano! Using this method of counting up in half steps from an open string, you can effectively steal all the guitarists’ favorite songs!

AndyWAndy W. teaches guitar, singing, piano, and more in Greeley, CO. He specializes in jazz, and has played guitar for 12 years. Learn more about Andy here!

 

 

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Cool Songs to Learn on Guitar: How to Play “Breathe” (Anna Nalick)

Ready to learn a cool song on the guitar? Here, Lowell, IN teacher Blake C. shares his guide to the acoustic version of Anna Nalick’s “Breathe”…

 

Looking for cool songs to learn on guitar? You’ve probably seen the typical suggestions, such as “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin or “Crazy Train” by Ozzy Osbourne, but there are a lot more to learn. But there’s no point in just listing them out–instead, in this article I will discuss a somewhat unsuspecting cool guitar tune that is fun to play and even more enjoyable for your audiences to listen to, even if your audience is limited to your family.

The song “Breathe” by Anna Nalick is probably not a song that comes to mind when considering cool songs to learn on guitar. However, the acoustic version of the song–I especially like the Rhapsody Originals live version on YouTube performed with one guitarist–has several nuances that spice up the simple guitar part. For the purpose of this blog article, I will review the chords used and some of the nuances that add flavor to the tune.

First, listen to the song below.

Now we’ll get into learning the chords.

Fig1

The version of the A Major chord played during the verses, as illustrated in Figure 1, is not the initial version of the A Major chord learned by beginner guitarists, but is even easier to play than the usual second fret version of the A Major chord. The chord name is normally written as an A chord without the term Major included in its title.

In this version of the A Major chord, the 1st and 5th strings are played open, which creates resonating notes that nicely connect this version of the A Major chord with the next chord played, the G chord. However, like the version of the A Major chord played, the variation of the G chord played is not typically taught to beginner guitarists, but is even easier than the usual G Major chord played on the 2nd and 3rd frets of the guitar.

Fig2

The G chord used in the song requires the guitarist to simply move the A Major chord from the 5th fret location to the 3rd fret, creating a G6/9 chord. Okay, I may have exaggerated a bit about the simplicity of this version of the G chord–if played how the guitarist plays the chord, your thumb will play the G note located on the 3rd fret of the 6th string.

Playing the G note located on the 3rd fret of the 6th string is not essential to achieve the intended feel of the song, but it is one of the “cool factors” for this version of “Breathe”. If you struggle with placing your thumb on that note, skip it for now, but make it a goal and continue to work on it.

Many transcriptions of this tune are available on the internet, but more often than not are written using the A Major and G Major chords located within the first three frets of the guitar in the place of the A Major and G 6/9 chords used for the version above. A closer listen reveals the resonating 1st and 5th strings in both the A Major and G 6/9 chords. These resonating strings within both chords create another “cool factor” for this tune. It may be simple, but it sounds terrific!

Fig3Fig4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, the version of the D Major chord is the same version typically taught to beginner guitarists, as illustrated in Figure 3. Then the guitarist plays the A Major chord on the 5th fret as illustrated in Figure 1, but then adds “coolness” to the guitar part by placing his 4th finger on the 7th fret of the 3rd string to create an Asus4 chord, as illustrated in Figure 4.

Fig5

Before he starts the musical phrase over, he plays a resonating Aadd9 chord by removing the 1st and 4th fingers, which leaves his 2nd and 3rd fingers in place while he strums the all strings from the 5th string to the 1st string–the Aadd9 chord is illustrated in Figure 5. Once again, simple, but the Aadd9 chord nicely emphasizes the end of that phrase leading to the next phrase.

Fig6

For the pre-chorus, the chords used are A Major, B minor–titled as Bm in the chord chart–and the same D Major chord illustrated in Figure 3. The B minor chord, which is not necessarily a beginner chord, is played as a barre chord on the 2nd fret, as illustrated in Figure 6. Once you develop your hand and finger strength along with fretboard balance, barre chords are often easier to play than some open position chords.

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Fig8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conversely, the version of the A Major chord played in this section of the song is the same version taught to beginner guitarists, which is located on the 2nd fret of the guitar and illustrated in Figure 7. After the A chord, the guitarist moves to an E Major chord in 1st position as illustrated in Figure 8. Leaving well enough alone would be easier, but not as cool–the guitarist embellishes by hammering the 4th finger onto the 2nd fret of the 3rd string and then individually picking the remaining higher notes of an Esus4 chordm as illustrated in Figure 9. This is subtle, yet extremely cool.

Fig9

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Finally, the chorus of this acoustic version of Anna Nalick’s “Breathe” begins with a relatively standard G Major chord, as illustrated in Figure 10. Although this version of the G Major chord is not always taught to beginners, it offers better balance than the usual versions of the G Major chord. The standard version of the open D Major chord, as illustrated in Figure 3, is played which leads to the version of the A Major chord illustrated in Figure 1.

The little nuances of this version of the song are somewhat typical in the world of guitar, and are definitely worth working on until you can effortlessly insert them into this tune as well as others. Keep practicing, and if you would like to further develop your music skills, contact TakeLessons.com to locate the best guitar teachers in your area or online!

BlakeCBlake C. teaches songwriting, singing, and guitar lessons in Lowell, IN. He specializes in classical guitar technique as well as modern rock and blues styles. Blake has been teaching for 20 years and he joined the TakeLessons team in July 2013. Learn more about Blake here! 

 

 

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17 Tips For Recording Acoustic Guitar At Your Home Studio

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Curious about recording acoustic guitar tracks at your home studio? Check out these helpful tips for before and during the session from Perth Amboy, NJ teacher Jeff S...

 

If you’ve tried recording acoustic guitar before, there’s a good chance you know how demoralizing it can be to think you’ve captured a wonderful performance, only to learn later that it’s sonically flawed. I’d like to offer some tips, with hopes they will assist you in rendering consistently clean and clear acoustic guitar tracks.

Before you even begin, here are some tips for setting up:

  1. Find the place in the room that you feel your acoustic guitar or voice sounds best, make a mark on the floor, and also take detailed notes. Include the height of the mic off the ground, the distance between you and the mic, and the angle of yourself and the guitar in relation to the mic. Better yet, have someone take a picture of you recording in your “sweet spot.”
  2. Spend some time choosing and verifying the tempo at which you’re going to record the song. Experiment with a few different tempos until you find just the right one.
  3. Determine the mood of the song you are recording and base all your decisions around that. Is the guitar meant to be gentle? Aggressive? Graceful? Attacky? Both the guitar part and the vocal approach will fly or die by your accurate assessment of the mood!
  4. Record acoustic guitar and vocals in mono, as these are monophonic sources. Once you get a beginning-to-end performance of the main guitar part, you can think about recording it again and either using the second part to beef up the sound or run one guitar track on the left channel and one on the right. Some engineers like to record with two different mics simultaneously, pointing one at one part of the guitar and one at another part of the guitar. Experiment and see what floats your boat.
  5. Record both guitar and vocal without any reverb, effects, or EQ adjustments. Add what you wish after it, but cut the tracks dry. This gives you much more flexibility when you mix.
  6. Set your volume levels so that you don’t end up pushing the meter into the red more than once or twice per track (even that might cause distortion enough to ruin an otherwise good track) and then focus on maintaining that level and waveform size as you replay or re-sing the part.
  7. Count in one or two measures before you start recording the guitar part.
  8. Don’t have the volume of the click track up so high that it bleeds through the headphones into the microphone. It’s prudent to record with a click track, but you need to make sure it’s not so loud that the clicks get picked up in your vocal or instrument mic.
  9. Consider extra purchases. If your recording room isn’t soundproofed and you don’t have the time or the budget to make it so, don’t worry. There are several effective and reasonably priced options that will quell the bleed-throughs. Three you might consider are sE Electronics Reflexion Filter X Portable Vocal Booth (just under $125), sE Electronics Reflexion Filter Pro model (just under $250), or the Auralex Pro Max (just under $350). You might also want to consider getting a wind screen.

Next, here’s a list of some of the most important tips to keep in mind during your session:

  1. Be cognizant of noises, including your own breathing, arm, and hand noises as you move them on the guitar, and other noises that could come from the chair you’re sitting on, the floor, and so on. These will all contaminate your tracks. Nothing is more agonizing than thinking that your performance and recording were pristine, only to later discover that your stomach rumbled or the chair creaked.
  2. After you record a track or two, listen to the guitar track for squeaks. Some guitarists’ hands and styles lend themselves to more squeaking than others. Squeaks are hard to avoid altogether, but aside from being aware of them, you can get coated strings that help reduce squeaking. If you’re generally pleased with a performance you record, but it has a few squeaks, write down the times where they occur and then decide whether you’re going to punch in replacement sections or look for a squeakless performance of the section in another part of the song (that you can cut and paste into the squeaky area).
  3. Remember to re-tune your guitar (and all other instruments) often during the recording process.
  4. As soon as you think you have recorded an acceptable main acoustic guitar part, throw down a quick reference (scratch) vocal (one or two takes—don’t finesse the performance) to see if the vocals work well with the guitar part. In evaluating their synergy, make sure the guitar is not “stepping” on the vocal (i.e. interfering or drawing attention away from) and that there aren’t any glaring rhythmic or chordal anomalies. Sometimes when you separate the guitar and vocal parts and record them independently, you might alter how you play the guitar part, which makes for a stilted performance. Also, listen to make sure you are not holding out chords or notes too long (or not long enough).
  5. If your digital audio workstation (DAW) doesn’t automatically save your recordings as they evolve, then you need to remember to click the “save” button early and often.
  6. If applicable, let the final chord of the song ring out until you can’t hear it anymore. And be ever so quiet as it does. Be sure not to breathe loud or move your hands or body.
  7. If the song has a fade-out ending, play the fade at least 15 seconds longer than you think you need.
  8. Before you decide to end your recording session, listen to the track all the way through. It’s easy to lose perspective when you are doing both the engineering and recording. Take notes as to possible EQ modifications you need to make, possible spots you need to punch in, and times and specifics about any performance or recording anomalies that you hear. This way you have a game plan of things to tackle when you return to the project.

As you can see, there are a lot of important details to keep in mind when recording acoustic guitar on your own. But along with those concerns and oversight measures comes an enpowering experience with lots of advantages. Those include the freedom of recording any day and time you’d like without a reservation, deposit, or committing to a minimum block of hours; the ability to leisurely listen and evaluate the quality of various “takes”; experimenting as much as you’d like with altering the position of equipment and recording environment without oversight or added expense; using and comparing different types of mics and guitars, etc. So take your time, enjoy the experience, remember to have fun, and pat yourself on the back every once in a while.

JeffSJeff S. teaches guitar, ukulele, speaking voice, songwriting, and more in Perth Amboy, NJ, as well as online. Jeff has created and taught songwriting and music business classes at colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the country for many years. Learn more about Jeff here! 

 

 

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The Easy Way to Learn Guitar Chord Transitions | 5 Steps

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Chord changes tripping you up? Here, Brooklyn, NY teacher Jef B. shares his secret for the easy way to learn those tricky guitar chord transitions…

 

“Gaah! I want more fluidity while playing Stairway to Heaven, but there are so many chords and the song is so long and I can’t switch between them well and…!!”

Sound familiar?

When I was first learning to play guitar, I didn’t realize how much something as simple as switching from one chord to another would help me overcome other challenges I faced in my daily life. It’s true, and learning guitar is a great way to overcome any challenge. Chords are like little mini challenges that support the songs of life. Once they become fluid you will be skipping merrily along from one place to the next.

Like most people, I struggled with being fluid when changing chords on the guitar. I felt at times that I would never be able to achieve what I saw professional guitarists do with such ease. It’s a bit like when I used to draw: one day I realized I couldn’t draw like Michelangelo, so I stopped! But all I really needed was some encouragement, guidance, and, well, some drawing lessons!

I recently took saxophone lessons with a great teacher and was reminded of something crucial when it comes to fluidity: it’s about taking baby steps. My teacher suggested that I practice my scales at the rate of my heartbeat (60 BPM). No faster, until it’s perfect. It’s funny because I hadn’t thought this way before on the horn, yet here is what I teach on guitar about being fluid with your chords. It’s remarkably similar.

So you are having difficulty switching from the G chord to the D7 chord. Anybody would at first. The shapes are so different from one another. Here’s my advice for the easy way to learn guitar chord transitions:

Step 1: Get your picking (or strumming!) hand outta there. It wants to help out, but right now it is getting in the way, so put it behind your back. Forget that it exists if you can! Or tell it to take a coffee break because it’s been working so hard…

Step 2: Slowly switch back and forth between the two chords that are challenging you with your fretting hand only. Breathe and relax. Try to notice how little your fingers actually need to move. I emphasize slowly; there is no rush. It’s easy to get into the mindset that there is some pressure on you, or maybe you feel the need to impress your teacher. Let those notions go! You are learning guitar because you want to play! Do this slowly until it feels like habit to build up your muscle memory. It will eventually become effortless, like having a conversation over tea about something you love.

Step 3: Add your strumming hand back into the mix. Don’t forget to breathe! Strum as slowly as you need until it takes no effort. Great music is relaxed no matter how intense a song is.

Step 4: Take a little break to absorb what you have just achieved. Think of it as a celebration. Celebrating helps me face the next challenge with ease.

Step 5: REPEAT 1-4 on your next challenging chord change.

It’s taking these little bite-sized steps that will get you there, just like learning anything else. Break it down and practice the little things SLOWLY. Those little things add up quickly and before you know it, you’ll be a chord master!

I also encourage you to play with other people as often as you can. We have a way of leading each other when we work together, much like dancing. Be amazed at what you can do!

JefBJef B. teaches bass guitar, guitar, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. He currently plays in a jazz band called Gospel Of Mars, and recently started a project called Gardens that leans heavily toward trip hop and psychedelic. Learn more about Jef here

 

 

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How To Find New & Interesting Guitar Chords Using a Capo

using a capo

So you’ve memorized the basic major and minor chords, and learned a few easy guitar songs. What’s next? Check out what a capo can do for you in this guest post by Perth Amboy, NJ teacher Jeff S...

 

In case you’re unfamiliar with a capo, they’re those metal devices that clip onto the neck of a guitar, as you see in the photo above. If you’re a guitarist and you don’t own a capo yet, but are curious about them, my hope is that you’ll want to get one after reading this article. And for guitarists who already own a capo but haven’t fully exploited its potential, this article should tweak your interest.

What Exactly Can a Capo Do For Me?

Capos come in incredibly handy in instantly providing a one-step solution to play along with songs written and sung in keys “unfriendly” to guitar (such as Ab, Bb, Eb, Cm, Fm, etc.). For instance, if you wanted to play Adele’s “Rollin’ In The Deep” on guitar so that it matches up with the recording, all you’d have to do is put the capo at the 3rd fret and play Am, E, G, and F chords (that you likely already know in 1st position).

Simple, huh? There are countless other songs you can use capos for to play on guitar, even if they weren’t written on guitar or if there’s no guitar in the recording. All you need is basic guitar chord knowledge.

How Does It Affect the Sound?

Depending on how far down the neck the capo needs to be placed to match up with the key of a song, it can either subtly or drastically alter the “personality” of them. The results will vary from song to song, but capos will immediately render new tonal “colors,” increasing the brightness and making your playing and songwriting more diverse and engaging.

If you want to hear some amazing examples of how magical songs can sound with capos, listen to the Beatles’ classic “Here Comes The Sun”, written by the late great George Harrison. The capo is on the 7th fret, which creates a feeling of optimism and sparkle that would be completely missing without the capo. The use of the capo has increased exponentially since then and just about every artist (or their guitarist) has one and uses it extensively. Check out the incredibly mood-inducing and engaging capoed guitar on Passenger’s “Let Her Go” and the guitar work on Taylor Swift’s “Safe And Sound”, for example. If you’re still in doubt about the power of the capo, try playing those songs without the capo and listen to the difference.

What If I’m Not Super-Knowledgeable About Keys and Chord Names?

You can effectively integrate the capo into your playing even if you know little to nothing about music theory and don’t know too many chord names. Let me illustrate: say you want to create a higher-pitched G chord. Just clamp your capo on the 5th fret and play a conventional D chord form (see chart below) and you will instantly hear it in a crisp and refreshing new way.

Next, let’s say you want to brighten up the otherwise deep and dull E chord in first position. Just clamp your capo on the 7th fret and play a standard (1st position) version of an A chord (again, see chart). Voila! You’ve instantly brightened the previously low-end E chord. Play that while your jam partner or singer plays the conventional E chord and you’ve got a very rich tonally-diverse sound. Familiarize yourself with all the capoed versions of the major and minor chords in the chart and soon you’ll be thanking the capo gods every night.

Is There an Easy Way to Get Started With My Capo?

You bet! I suggest you pick out two or three of your favorite guitar songs that you’re really comfortable with and can almost play blindfolded. Then use the chart below to find different places further down the neck to play the chords that you’ve been playing in 1st position.

revised Capoology table (1)Try several voicings of the chords until you find one you’re drawn to. Relearn the song using a capo and these new chord shapes. Just doing this will widen your tonal range on the guitar without you having to play (much more challenging) barre chords, and it will also add a new chordal dimension to your playing. And the added benefit is that these new capoed versions of your favorite songs will make your future jams much more interesting. All you really need to get started on your capo adventure is a little time, an open mind, and (of course) a capo!

JeffSJeff S. teaches guitar, ukulele, speaking voice, songwriting, and more in Perth Amboy, NJ, as well as online. Jeff has created and taught songwriting and music business classes at colleges, universities, and music schools throughout the country for many years. Learn more about Jeff here! 

 

 

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5 Easy Guitar Songs to Play at Weddings

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Accompanying vocalists or playing solo guitar at big events like weddings is a great way to share your talents (and even earn some extra cash!). Get a head start on your side business by mastering these five easy guitar songs, as compiled by Greeley, CO teacher Andy W...

 

At some point in your guitar playing life, it’s likely that you’ll get the chance of playing at a family member or friend’s wedding. When that happens, do you accept the challenge or run away thinking that you can’t do it? Well, I bet that you can do it! This article lists several songs and some suggestions that will guarantee a memorable performance.

If you’re a beginner who is starting to learn these songs, I would suggest playing the melody by itself first. Then, play the chords without the melody. For the performance, you can have a singer or an instrumentalist play the melody as you accompany them. Or once you get the melody and chords down, you can eventually combine the two, to play fuller sounding chord/melody arrangements with just solo guitar. Now, here are the five easy guitar songs to play at weddings:

1. Here Comes the Bride

If you’re playing at a wedding, there are good chances that you’ll be asked to play “Here Comes the Bride.” The video below shows how to play a beautiful and easy chord/melody version of it. Also, towards the end of the clip, it goes over how to play “The Wedding March.” This is another traditional wedding song that is great to know.

2. Here Comes the Sun

You can always count on The Beatles to please an audience, especially the song “Here Comes the Sun.” Here’s a great demonstration of how to play this classic as a chord/melody arrangement. The video below does a great job of breaking down the song in a very easy-to-understand way.

3. Ave Maria

This is an instantly recognizable classic that has been made famous by many artists and was originally written by Franz Schubert. The video below first shows how to play the melody and then shows how to play the chords. Once you have learned the two parts separately, try playing both at the same time to make your own chord/melody arrangement. This is challenging and takes time, but it’s well worth the effort!

4. Make You Feel My Love

This is a favorite wedding song from the last decade or so. Adele, Billy Joel, and Garth Brooks are some of the many artists to have made commercially successful recordings of this, but it was actually written by Bob Dylan in 1997. The clip below shows how to play an easy finger-style version of the chords. After you get the chords down, learn the melody by ear or by using tabs. Then, try playing the chords and melody at the same time to make your own chord/melody arrangement.

5. My Cherie Amour

This has been a wedding favorite since it was recorded by Stevie Wonder in 1969. It’s a soul classic that is sure to receive a warm reception. The video below shows how to play only the chords. Once you learn the chords, learn the melody separately. Then, try combining the chords and melody to play your own chord/melody arrangement.

I hope that this list has given you some confidence to say “yes” to playing at weddings. These five easy guitar songs can be played easily and are sure to win over an audience!

AndyWAndy W. teaches guitar, singing, piano, and more in Greeley, CO. He specializes in jazz, and has played guitar for 12 years. Learn more about Andy here!

 

 

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Teach Yourself to Play Guitar: Is it Really Possible?

How To Teach Yourself To Play GuitarThere are a lot of resources available to teach yourself to play guitar. Whether you’ve found an online cache of instructional videos, or a book for beginners at your local music store, there are many ways to become a self-taught guitar player. But how effective it is? Read on as we review two of the ways you can teach yourself to play guitar, and how far each can take you:

Online Learning

A quick Internet search will turn up tons of websites that boast claims of being able to help you learn guitar through video tutorials. These are good resources that allow you to quickly reference a specific topic. When you’re trying to master a certain technique, or need to look up an obscure alternate fingering of a chord pattern quickly, you can usually find these without too much difficulty online. You can also easily find printer-friendly charts for easy guitar chords.

The downside? It can be all too easy to get stuck. When you’re watching videos and repeating what you see, you’re missing one critical thing – feedback from a professional about your technique. That chord may sound right, but is your posture off? Is there a certain technique you’re just not understanding – no matter how many times you rewatch that video clip? Without a guitar teacher there to answer your questions on the spot, you may find yourself hitting a wall.

“Teach Yourself to Play Guitar” Books

Any brick-and-mortar music store will have a wide selection of books available for purchase. These books are quite similar to the online learning resources, in that there will be photos of each technique, and diagrams for chord fingering patterns as they are discussed in the lessons. The advantage of a book over online resources, of course, is that you don’t need an Internet connection or a computer to teach yourself to play guitar. You can practice outside on a nice day, or in the car while on a family vacation.

The downside to using a book to teach yourself to play guitar is that you won’t have any of the technological advantages on your side. A book won’t be able to play videos of the techniques, so you will have to rely on the photo and the description alone to help you understand the concept. And although most books will contain a chart of all the common guitar chords, with primary and alternate fingering patterns, nobody is there to check your technique or offer tips for getting the finger placement correct.

How to Really Improve

While it might seem exciting to teach yourself to play guitar, the truth is, it’s not the best method for learning. Sooner or later you will run into a situation where your resources, whether online or in print form, can’t help you completely understand the technique. In the end, there really is no substitute for learning with a private guitar instructor.

A private instructor will guide you through the basics of guitar, cater the lessons to your individual learning style and goals, and show you the best exercises to practice in between lessons as well. Most of all, they can provide an important source of motivation, holding you accountable and keeping things fresh. After all, even the most dedicated guitar players sometimes need an extra push! So keep on strumming – and have fun!

 

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