Stu Box Guitar Care Kit

Key Tools and Tips for Guitar Care and Maintenance

Stu Box Guitar Care KitA guitar is a big investment — so make sure you’re taking good care of your instrument! Learn some important tips for electric and acoustic guitar maintenance in this guest post by Jacksonville, FL teacher James W...

 

We have a saying in the artist community: “Take care of your tools and they will take care of you.” This is also true of guitars! Your guitar is your friend, just like your computer and iPhone or smartphone. Taking good care of your instrument is easy and simple if you just follow these steps for electric and acoustic guitar maintenance.

1. Purchase two cleaning cloths, such as a soft shammy cloth used for dusting furniture or a terrycloth. Even an old towel that is clean will work just fine. Use one cloth for cleaning and one for wiping.

2. You’ll also need to purchase string cleaner and polisher — I recommend Kyser or Jim Dunlop brands. I also recommend Lemoil by Stuart Box from Melbourne, Australia as it contains natural quality products but also smells good with eucalyptus oil added. It does a great job of cleaning and helping the wood last a long time. The tone of the wood is important, as it is pleasing to our ears. And these products are made for guitars only. Do not use furniture polish, as it is not good for the strings.

3. Use a humidifier. This will keep your acoustic from splitting across the top and sides from heat on those hot summer days when stored in its case. You can buy a guitar humidifier from Sam Ash or Musician’s Friend for about $10. If the ten bucks is hard to come by, use a small empty film container (poke a few small holes in it), and a clean piece of sponge inside that is lightly moistened. Squeeze out excess water. You can use tap water or purified bottled water.

4. Always clean your strings before you play and after. They will last longer. Spray a small amount of cleaner on a cloth, and wipe clean until you have removed all of the dirt and grime. A good time to clean the neck and headstock of the guitar is when changing strings and all the strings are removed. If you love your guitar, it will love you back and continue to sound good. Cleaning every time you put new strings on just makes it all the easier. And yes it is ok to spray the guitar as long as you are careful not to go overboard and use too much cleaner. A little goes a long way.
5. Do not store your guitar in a car trunk on summer days when there is extreme heat. Guitars last longer and retain their good sound when kept at a comfortable temperature and humidity level that is safe for the woods. Wood ages and dries out very slowly, so sudden and extreme changes are not good.

6. Always wash your hands before playing. Dirt and oil from your hands will make strings rust and sound dull. You can actually protect your strings and make them last longer by keeping them clean. I prefer Elixir Strings for my acoustic guitar, as they are coated with plastic to keep them around longer and saves me money. They cost more, but I can make them last for months. For electric guitars I use EVH Premium Strings as they are quality made but only cost around $5 a set.

My Typical Guitar Care Kit

7. Put together a guitar care kit that will fit in your hardshell case middle pocket. Use a Ziploc bag so you can easily see what is in there and keep stuff free of dust. Don’t have a hardshell case? Then buy one from SKB or from the company that makes your guitar. Any guitar maker will tell you a guitar kept in its hard case is protected from everything. My friend’s Ovation Hardshell Case kept his guitar unharmed when he was on the road and his house had a fire. The guitar case was scorched but the $800 guitar was untouched! It was worth the money paid for the case.

8. If anything gets spilled accidentally on the guitar, use a soft cloth and wipe until it’s dry, and then use your cleaner/polisher as instructed. Don’t panic — most guitars that are made to last a long time can handle a mishap or two.

9. Last but not least, replace the frets when they are worn out. This ensures that the notes you play are true and in tune. Guitars are not unlike cars in that you have to maintain them.

James W. teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons in 2010. Learn more about James here!

 

 

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7 of the Best Bass Guitar Songs

Bass Guitar

Dreaming of playing the bass? Get inspired with this list of the best bass guitar songs, as chosen by Jamaica Plain, MA teacher Christopher S...

This article is written for all those bass players out there who are looking for their staple bass lines in the musical world. I am a guitarist, however, I began my musical journey on the deep grounding sounds of the bass. I played the bass in numerous bands throughout high school and college and it has always been an instrument that has resonated with me. A bass player can hold a band together and it is often the most distinctive sound you hear in any song. It is a known fact that the bassist is always the “coolest” guy in the band. So when things get rough within a band, it is the bassist that keeps his cool and keeps the band going. And the best part about being a bass player is you will ALWAYS have a gig!

So to all those people out there who are still deciding whether or not the bass is for them, or if you’re just starting to learn the bass, or if you have already been playing bass for a while now, here are seven of the best bass guitar songs, with the most recognizable and hip bass lines in music history:

7) Queen – “Under Pressure”

Difficulty level: 2

This bass line is a staple of the instrument. Its distinct rhythm and groove is instantly recognizable and it is surprisingly not difficult to play at all. Let’s not forget that there is some controversy over whether the pop artist Vanilla Ice used this line for his hit “Ice Ice Baby”.

6) Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Give it Away Now”

Difficulty level: 6

This line is for a more experienced bassist. With a line like this, the term “funk” is instantly incorporated into the music. One has to feel the funk to get down with a bass line of this caliber. The Peppers’ bassist’s Flea has got it.

5) Michael Jackson – “Billie Jean”

Difficulty level: 5

You can tell from the way that Michael dances in this song that he is getting his groove from this groovy bass line. It’s a not-so-difficult line to play but it is always moving so you have to keep the groove up if you want MJ to dance like this.

4) Primus – “American Life”

Difficulty level: 9

When you hear the bass lines from Primus’ bassist Les Claypool you automatically think “I want to play that!” His bass lines are more like guitar licks or even melody lines. He gives the bass a distinct sound and a dominant role in any song he plays in, which also makes his bass lines on the more difficult side.

3) Pink Floyd – “Money”

Difficulty level: 4

The bass line that comes in after a variety of clicking money sounds is an unforgettable one. This popular song by Pink Floyd is a hit in most anyone’s playlist and this bass line, with its rhythm of 7/4, is one every bassist should know how to play.

2) Johann Pachelbel – Pachelbel Canon in D Major

Difficulty level: 3

This is not generally a song thought of when talking about bass lines. However, this line, or in the classical world, known as the basso continuo is in fact a legit Baroque period bass line. It is so legit that it is even featured in more familiar songs, such as Coolio’s “C U When U Get There” and Green Day’s “Basket Case.” This is a rockin’ canon and exemplifies how far back bass history really goes.

1) Herbie Hancock – “Chameleon”

Difficulty level: 2

This funky/jazzy bass line is a standard and staple of the bass repertoire that every bass player should know. If bass lines had a holy grail, this might be it. This line is smooth, classy, and above all, groovy. Herbie made this song popular, but it was the bass line that made it immortal. It’s not difficult to play, so why not learn it?

These are some of the best bass guitar songs, and they all helped in making the bass the immense and subwoofied (meaning enhanced loudly with subwoofers) instrument that it is today. The songs here give any bassist some material and good grooves to learn and develop and/or begin his or her skills as a bass player.

ChristopherS.Christopher S. teaches bass guitar, guitar, and composition in Jamaica Plain, MA. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Humboldt State University and is currently atttending New England Conservatory for his Master of Music degree. Christopher has been teaching students since 2004. Learn more about Christopher S. here!

 

 

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15 Holiday Gift Ideas for Guitar Players

SONY DSCNeed some holiday gift ideas? Check out the best gifts for guitar players in this guest post by Los Angeles, CA guitar teacher Nils B...

 

It’s the time of the year when most retailers offer some pretty decent discounts on a variety of gear. Assuming the basics (picks, tuner, strap, gig bag/case, cable, and amp) are already accounted for, these are some good suggestions, either to pick up for yourself or as a holiday gift. Most of these can be found in the $10-$50 range.

Apps & Software

• Tuner apps: These can be found for free or relatively little, and work great as a main tuner, or as a backup, since most people take their phone wherever they go.
• Metronome apps: A metronome is an absolutely essential practice aid, and these virtual versions often feature quite advanced options like polyrhythms and automated tempo changes.
• Multitrack recorder: Most phones and tablets offer a basic voice recorder, but you can open a whole new range of possibilities with a multitrack app specifically meant for audio recording and editing. It’s great for quickly saving ideas and even complete songs, or easily creating your own jam tracks.
• Modeling apps: These offer software emulations of amplifiers and effects, either as post-processing (as part of a multitrack recorder) or in real time, and usually work best in combination with interface cable.
• Interface cable: In case you’re not satisfied with your phone’s built-in microphone for accurately capturing your guitar’s sound, there are also a good number of audio interfaces/adapter cables available for phones and tablets, enabling you to connect your guitar (or any other instrument) directly to your device for a higher-quality signal. These work great in combination with most recorder or amp/effects modeling apps.
Miscellaneous apps: In addition to the aforementioned apps, there is a whole range of ear training, fretboard trainer, and chord dictionary apps available, all of which are great tools to extend your musical knowledge.

Accessories

• Strap locks: These prevent your guitar strap from slipping off the strap buttons, and have been an absolute lifesaver for me. I have them on all my guitars and all my straps, for ultimate interchangeability. There are various different models and designs available, which all pretty much do the same thing.
Capo: This is a small clamp that clips onto any position on the fretboard, shifting the key of the open position. These are essential for guitarists who prefer open chord shapes instead of barre chords, or anyone who would like to be able to utilize more advanced open chord voicings in different positions/keys. There are lots of different models available, and it is important to make sure the capo is compatible with the guitar it is intended for.
• Slide: This is a cylinder that fits around one of the fingers on your fretting hand and substitutes the frets, allowing for smooth transitions in pitch and a very expressive vibrato. Different materials (glass/metal/ceramics) give different sounds and preference is really a matter of taste.
• Ebow: An EBow is a small, battery-powered device that replaces your pick and creates infinite sustain on whatever string you float it over. It takes a little while to get used to, but it turns the guitar into a whole new instrument. You can also combine it with a slide for even more interesting sounds.

Maintenance

• String winder/cutter: These make installing new strings a breeze; plus, they are cheap and fit in any gig bag!
• Multitool: These generally include a screwdriver and truss rod/bridge/saddle adjustment hex keys, essential for on-the-fly adjustments to your guitar’s setup, but they also come in handy for any odd job that requires a screwdriver.
• Cleaning kit: This generally includes a microfiber cloth, a cleaner, a fretboard conditioner, and occasionally a polish. Keeping your guitar clean does not only make it look better and play nicer, it also prevents damage to the wood and hardware.

Storage

• Single or multi-guitar stand: This is a great accessory to have if you use more than one guitar live, or if you want to keep your collection at home safely stored.
• Wall hanger: These make your guitars double as cool-looking wall decorations, plus it’s also a great way to save floor space.

Whether for a beginner or a more advanced guitarist, these are great additions to any player’s arsenal of tools and supplies, and there’s something here to fit everyone’s budget. They’ll make the perfect gift for the guitarist in your life, keeping him or her inspired and motivated, or in some cases they simply make life easier — which means more time can be spent playing instead!

NilsBNils B. teaches guitar, ear training, and music theory in Los Angeles, CA. He attended various schools for his training, including the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood. Nils has been teaching students since 2002. Learn more about Nils here!

 

 

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Tricks For Differentiating The Two Blues Chord Progressions

7489124186_1624b51ca5_k (1)Ready to get started with learning blues chord progressions? Here’s an intro by Austin, TX guitar teacher Samuel B...

 

In order to properly respect and understand both the theory and structure of ANY kind of American music, it’s essential to be able to play the blues. Although the form is said (by some scholars) to have originated in Africa within the story-telling traditions of village griots (historians/poets/musicians who would play a five-stringed instrument known as the halam, which is believed to be the banjo’s precursor), the call-and-response idiom recognizable within the tradition of singing a line and repeating it (often within the first half of a stanza) likely has its origins in the cotton field.

Unless you’re John Lee Hooker (who made a career of playing a single chord in a manner derivative of African forms — listen here), there are two blues progressions – the twelve-bar and the eight-bar.

I typically teach one song for each. The first is Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” — listen to the song here:

The other song I like to use is Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues”:

I’ve taught other students (with whom a shared enthusiasm for blues and blues-based music is not as apparent) each progression using other tricks.

  • The Eight-Bar Progression Begins With Two (Not Four) Measures Of The First Chord

The structure of the twelve-bar pattern is as follows: E-E-E-E-A-A-E-E-B7-A-E-E/B7. Although Johnson switches to A for the second measure and then back to E for the third (which is an acceptable variation), he adheres to all of the changes I’ve identified.

The eight-bar progression follows a similar albeit condensed sequence: E-E-A-E-E-B7-E-E/B7. The YouTube version I’ve included above involves another acceptable variation: an A minor chord instead of an E major one during the fourth measure of the verses.

One of the easiest differences to remember between this sequence and its twelve-bar counterpart is the opening of each. The eight-bar opening is merely half the length of the twelve-bar one as E (in this case) and is played for only two measures.

  • The Eight-Bar Progression’s First Change Lasts One (Not Two) Measures

Again, the eight-bar pattern represents 50% of another of the twelve-bar segments as A (in this case), and is played for only one measure.

  • The Eight-Bar Progression’s Closing Involves Two (Not Three) Chords

Think of the twelve-bar closing as rolling down a hill. You start at the top (at B7 in this case), roll down to the chord behind it (A), and arrive back down at the foot (E), staying on each chord for no longer than one measure. The eight-bar’s closing (by contrast) involves a simple return to the foot. You might even consider using Star Trek terminology here and think of your hand being “beamed” back down to E instead of rolling back to it.

The ending measure of each of these blues chord progressions is identical, though probably the most difficult measure (in both cases) to learn to play. It involves more than one chord and a change only one-fourth of the way in (EB7B7B7). I dub this final chord (B7) the interrupting chord. Unlike the other chords, it’s awkward and abrupt. However, it’s as essential to each progression as the other chords are. A feisty accent is a more acceptable ending for a blues stanza than merely having it drift off on the chord it began on.

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!

 

 

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What’s the Best Guitar Tuner? | An Introduction to Electronic Tuners

5494696834_4e7750d615_bWith so many options for guitar tuners out there, which type is best for you? Read on as Los Angeles, CA guitar teacher Nils B. reviews the pros and cons for several types…

 

The abundance of options and technical terms in combination with big price differences between tuning devices can be quite overwhelming for any beginning guitar or bassist, so in this article I will give a brief overview of some of the best guitar tuners, and their respective pros and cons.

Most electronic guitar tuners share the same general concept, in that they visually display the detected pitch on some type of dial, telling you whether to tighten or loosen the string in order to reach the desired pitch. Also, most are so-called ‘chromatic tuners,’ which means they are able to display any of the 12 notes (as opposed to just the six different pitches of the open strings on a guitar), and generally do so automatically, which gives the user more information (in case a string is way off its intended pitch) and allows for easy tuning to alternate tunings.

Where they differ is mainly in their format, way of detecting pitch, and accuracy.

1) Pedal tuners

- These are designed to be used on stage, and to be activated with your foot, like other guitar effects pedals.
- Most rugged and reliable, have brightest and clearest display, and higher-end models are generally the most accurate (thanks to something called strobe technology).
- Because of this, they’re also generally the most expensive, starting at around $30 going up to $200.
- 1/4″ input only, so they do not work with purely acoustic instruments, as they don’t have a built-in microphone to pick up the signal.
- Usually powered using either a 9v DC wall wart or a 9v battery, although not all pedal tuners take a battery.

2) Handheld tuners

- These are small boxes, with a display similar to that of pedal tuners (but smaller) or occasionally using actual physical needle.
- These start around $15 but can get a lot more expensive as they get more accurate.
- Battery powered (usually 2 x AA or AAA, and tend to last quite a while).
- Work with electric as well as acoustic instruments, as they generally feature a built-in microphone as well as a 1/4″ jack input (but generally no output, unlike pedal tuners).
- They’re light and compact compared to pedal tuners.

3) Clip-on tuners

- These are relatively new, and clip on to the headstock to determine the instrument’s pitch by measuring the vibrations that are being picked up through the clip.
- Relatively cheap, as they can be found for as little as $4, but are around $15 average.
- Small (even smaller than handheld tuners).
- Battery powered only, but they have a decent lifespan, and some even have an auto-off feature.
- Easy to use  – just clip on, or leave on your headstock permanently.
- No 1/4″ jack input, so they are not in line with whatever signal your instrument is sending out, which is a good or a bad thing, depending on the situation.

4) Virtual tuners

- These are apps that utilize the microphone of whatever device they are installed on, be it a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
- May cost you a couple dollars, but there are a couple of good free ones out there, too.
- You’re unlikely to forget it, as most people take their phone wherever they go.
- No 1/4″ jack input (unless you buy a separate input cable).
- Requires a host device.

In my personal opinion, because of their affordability and ease of use, a clip-on model makes for a good first tuner, maybe in addition to a (free) app as a backup. One of the big advantages of clip-on tuners is that they do not pick up ambient sounds, so they work even if you’re in a noisy environment, unlike the tuners that utilize a microphone (virtual and handheld types), but you do not need to physically connect them via a cable (like pedal and handheld types) either.

Also, it’s important to realize that however convenient electronic tuners may be, it is strongly encouraged to always try to tune by ear first. This can be challenging in the beginning, but is well worth the effort. Experienced musicians only really need to use a tuner to double check, when the environment is too noisy, or when they need to be more discreet (e.g. onstage).

NilsBNils B. teaches guitar, ear training, and music theory in Los Angeles, CA. He attended various schools for his training, including the Musician’s Institute in Hollywood. Nils has been teaching students since 2002. Learn more about Nils here!

 

 

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5 Best Bass Guitar Brands on a Budget

NuerIn the market for a bass guitar? Here, Orange, CA teacher Miller W. explores the best bass guitar brands to consider if you’re on a budget…

 

This list of the best bass guitar brands will give you a good frame of reference for finding a quality instrument while on a budget. While not always the cheapest options available, these basses are built to a reliably high standard for the price and can always be found for at least under $1000, if not much less.

1) Squier by Fender (Range: $279.99-$379.99)

Squier has really upped the ante on their bass offerings in the last five years or so. The Vintage Modified (VM) and Classic Vibe (CV) series are very well-built instruments and sound great for the price. Most models come equipped with Duncan Designed Pickups. The Affinity series is cheaper but of noticeably lower quality. The VM and CV Series offer all the classic tones in the Jazz and Precisions basses (in four- and five-string models), as well as less common sounds from the Fretless Jazz bass, the Telecaster bass, and the newly revived Bass VI.
Recommendation: Vintage Modified Jazz Bass

2) MTD Kingston (Range: $499-$819)

The Kingston Brand is the mass-produced branch of MTD USA, a high-end bass custom shop run by Michael Tobias. Kingston basses are designed to be as close to the handmade standard at the best price point. The three models that make up the Kingston line are the CRB (with one P-type pickup, starts at $499), the Saratoga (with two J-type pickups, starts at $529), and the Artist (with one MM-type pickup, $689). The pickups and build quality are astonishingly high quality for the price, and the asymmetrical neck construction allows for incredibly fast shifting up and down the neck. The Artist is the only active model, and it includes a very versatile three-band EQ.
Recommendation: MTD Kingston Saratoga

3) G&L Tribute (Range: $449-$749)

G&L was the last company Leo Fender started before his death, consequently the models offered by G&L and their more budget-friendly brand Tribute are the natural evolution of the Fender Models. The Tribute Line has more individual models, all of which are very well built and contain almost any combination of J pickups, P pickups, and Humbuckers. The L2000 ($699), arguably their flagship model, is one of the most versatile instruments available, as its two Humbucker pickups are augmented by a three-way pickup selector, a series/parallel switch, and a switchable three-mode preamp which controls volume, bass, and treble.
Recommendation: G&L Tribute L2000 or L2500

4) Spector Legend (Range: $499-$849)

The Spector Legend Series offers slightly less in the way of variety, but that is made up for in the quality of construction. The Legend Series contains the Standard line, which comes in four- and five-string versions, as well as the Classic Line, which is available with four, five, or six strings. All of these basses are equipped with two SSD Humbuckers, with the exception of the Standard Four String model, which has an EMG P/J pickup set. Spector is also known for its beautiful paintjobs and exotic wood tops, both of which are options when purchasing a Legend. These basses are incredibly durable. Dan Briggs, of Between the Buried and Me fame, played the same Spector Legend Five String he bought when he was 16 until just a few years ago, which is a true testament to the longevity of these basses.
Recommendation: Spector Legend Classic 5.

5) Ibanez (Range: aprox. $300-$900)

This is where things get a little tricky. Ibanez makes a huge range of basses, from the lowest of the low to highest of the high, more or less. The trick is finding that range in the middle that is high quality but doesn’t break the bank. I’ve found the best bang for your buck range is minimum $300 — anything below that is pretty shoddy workmanship — and somewhere around $900 at the top. The Soundgear series is always a safe bet; they are pretty much all equipped with two Humbuckers and a 3-Band onboard EQ, which gives them a serious leg up in versatility, although not to the same extent as the G&L Tribute L2000. Ibanez also offers the Artcore series, which consists of shortscale hollowbody basses with a very classic vibe. Artcore basses are some of the only Passive Ibanez basses and generally come with two more subtly voiced pickups, while their Active counterparts generally lend themselves to a more Hi-Fi tone that cuts through the mix.
Recommendation: Ibanez AGB200 (Artcore) or SR505 (Soundgear)

These are some of the best bass guitar brands out there, all with prices that won’t completely break the bank. Good luck finding the bass for you!

NuerMiller W. teaches acoustic guitar, bass guitar, music theory and upright bass in Orange, CA. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Music at Santa Barbara and has been teaching students since 2008. Learn more about Miller W. here!

 

 

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The Little-Known Difficulties Of Playing ‘Beginner’ Guitars

3127634646_ff42324d9e_bIf you’re in the market for a guitar, you’ve likely seen “beginner” models and packages offered. But are they worth it? Find out in this guest post by Austin, TX teacher Samuel B...

 

Recently some of my beginner students have requested shopping tips for more advanced models of guitars. Though my familiarity with standard models for various genres is considerable, I don’t train aspiring musicians to master one specific genre. Although jazz sounds best when played on a hollow-bodied electric with “f” holes on either side of the strings (just as blues-rock is played best on a Fender Stratocaster, electric Chicago-based blues on its cousin the Telecaster, and so forth), I don’t recommend that you purchase one of these models for the reason cited above.

Beginners frequently learn to play “beginner” guitar models (miniature instruments made by obscure companies). If you’re a beginner, I recommend that your brand of purchase instead be recognizable. It need not be brand new or first-hand, but it should be a model of some note. Martin is one name of repute. So are Fender, Yamaha, Washburn, and Epiphone. These models are known not only for their sound, but for their relatively uncomplicated maintenance. While inexpensive, the “beginner” guitar models you see have multiple drawbacks:

  • Beginner guitars produce a poor sound

My first acoustic guitar (a “beginner” model) did. This is not an issue when you’re being introduced to the instrument, but will likely become one once you reach an understanding of your potential as a musician. You want an instrument that broadcasts (not simply delivers) your sound. You might as well start with one.

  • Beginner guitars are generally more difficult to re-string than their mainstream counterparts

I’m remembering several bridge-related hiccups with my first electric (another obscure model), some of which required the use of Allen wrenches. At one point, I even lost a weak tuning peg on it and had to resort to an ill-fitting replacement during the rest of the instrument’s shelf life. If memory serves, the pickup itself wobbled as it appeared to have been poorly fastened.

Recognizable Plug-In Acoustics Give You the Most Options

I can only recommend the genre-specific models listed at the beginning of the article if you’ve made your desire to master only one technique unequivocal. Otherwise, recognizable plug-in acoustics give you the most leverage, whatever your aspiration — be it to perform, record, lead singing, teach singing, or even embark on a musicological endeavor like collecting and learning little-known folk songs. They’re durable, sonically pleasing, and are proper equipment for anything from “Kum Ba Ya” around a campfire to a CSN&Y reunion show at the Hollywood Bowl in that the simple element of electricity (or lack thereof) determines the role they’ll play.

So, What Type of Guitar Should Beginners Purchase?

As a performer, my act falls within the singer-songwriter category, which typically involves the use of an acoustic guitar plugged into a sound system. I own two: a Yamaha (purchased from some former housemates for less than $100) and a Takamine (which I obtained roughly 10 years ago upon trading in both my first black electric model and my Telecaster imitation model — I may have even sacrificed an inexpensive amplifier or two in the exchange as well).

My Takamine has been a faithful sidekick during innumerable sets at local coffeehouses here in Austin. It’s also one of the most recognizable acoustic-electric brand names. I always have it in my lap when I teach and I believe it to be among the top user-friendly models; it has proved itself the most versatile and reliable guitar I’ve ever owned or played. It sounds cleaner and is more robust than any other model familiar to me. Its durability has allowed me to serve the multiple roles of performer, teacher, and independent recording artist. I can also maintain my relatively low-consumption lifestyle — the backpack straps on its case (a separate purchase) make for easy transport on bike, bus, and even plane.

Be Patient And Open-Minded While Shopping

The best shopping advice, of course, is to explore multiple options. Despite my mainstream-oriented advice about the brands, I recommend that you seek your model in a pawn shop or locally-owned music store, as these outlets tend to have better deals than large chains. You might even have luck on Craigslist. I also recommend that you compare prices as much as possible.

Just as you need a reliable vehicle to carry you long distances, you need a sturdy, versatile, and aurally-attractive instrument to accompany the ongoing development of your musical knowledge and enthusiasms – preferably from the very start. That way, you won’t have to anticipate replacing your instrument down the line.

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!

 

 

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The Real Reasons Why You Need To Learn Guitar Scales

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Is it really necessary to learn guitar scales? If you’d rather just focus on chords and songs, you’re not alone. But here, Austin, TX teacher Samuel B. shares why practicing your scales will ultimately make you a better guitar player down the line…

 

I’m a 25-year veteran of playing the guitar. In seventh grade, I took an introductory class to both the guitar and keyboard, in which I received only a “B” as I pretty much neglected the keyboard altogether. Besides, I’d taken piano lessons already and was, by that time, more interested in portable instruments with strings and a neck as played by my musical heroes (i.e. Tom Petty and George Harrison).

A few years later, I purchased a hand-strengthening tool. I suppose I had in mind (for some reason) that I’d be able to use it to practice when an instrument wasn’t handy. Needless to say, the hand strengthener did not serve this specific purpose. I see nothing wrong with purchasing accessories (such as this one) provided that you understand their intended effect — strengthening your hand, in this case, rather than improving the fluidity of your playing.

As far as fluidity is concerned, nothing beats practicing your scales. I now introduce a relevant one for each of the first two sets of first-position chords you’ll learn (the ones in the key of C and the ones in the key of D, respectively). Beyond that, there’s more room for experimentation (particularly with blues progressions in E — the next key slated in the curriculum).

Scales serve multiple purposes:

1. They condition your fingers for playing chords.

Think of playing scales as warm-ups. As I type, I’m considering a relevant metaphor. One of the computer programs that taught us how to type in second grade (The Typing Teacher) focused on our recognition of the home-row keys (ASDF, JKL;) and the proper positions for pressing each. On the basis of our mastering the home row, we were subsequently taught the fingerings for the keys in the upper row as well as the lower one.

Along comparable lines, the C fingering is the same as that of its D counterpart a full step up the neck — just with (in this case) your use of four (not three) left-hand fingers to press the notes otherwise played openly. However, the comparison itself presents a pretty simple concept — that your mastery of one body of knowledge provides the basis for your branching out into mastering another.

Regarding both playing scales AND typing, I don’t even think about what I’m doing nowadays. As a matter of fact, I sometimes have to pick my brain a little when I help students learn guitar scales as I play the ones I know (the major and the blues scales predominantly) with natural ease. At some point, I also began sensing a correlation between the components of the chords in the key of E and the notes of the blues scale. I now play them interchangeably, which is another purpose served by scales — they are the foundation of improvisation.

2. Once mastered, a scale provides you with everything you need to launch a heartfelt solo — even one involving fewer than five notes.

From that point, the sky’s pretty much the limit. I even remember being prompted to play a ONE-note solo during a jazz band rehearsal. Without scale knowledge, though, I’d have had no basis for playing a solo whatsoever unless it simply involved picking out the notes comprising chords, which makes for pretty dull and predictable listening.

3. Scales also serve as teaching tools for introducing music theory.

I’m quick to point out that the C scale (the first thing you’ll learn) is the only one that contains no sharps or flats. I even mention its relevance to the white piano keys periodically. A “Do a Deer” reference would work here too. Similarly, I tend to explain the basic building-blocks of major chords (the first, third, and fifth notes of the scale) and the half-step difference between major and minor ones (regarding the lowered third note in this case). You’ll also hear me mention the added seventh note in seventh chords (G7th in C for example).

As a teacher, I’ve found scale mastery to be the sole factor determining a student’s rate of progress. As you learn guitar scales, you’ll have a greater level of musical confidence. Just as your mastery of home-row keys determines your readiness for learning to type essays, your mastery of scales will serve as a cognitive lubricant welcoming upcoming knowledge and skills with aptitude and enthusiasm. Substitute “practice your scales” as the punchline to that old “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” joke.

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!

 

 

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The Surprising Benefit of Learning Guitar Without Sheet Music

learning guitar without sheet music

We’ve talked about how to read chords and tabs before on the blog — but what about a new approach of learning guitar without sheet music at all? Here, Austin, TX teacher Samuel B. explains his teaching technique…

 

During my college years, I was given a brief introduction to instructional methods common to Japan. Specifically, I was told that playing the shamisen or the koto (two native stringed instruments) is a skill learned by way of the student facing the teacher and playing what the teacher plays. I continue to use this teaching technique, and feel it has many little-known benefits.

I should begin by making it clear that I’m a kinesthetic learner — I learn by doing more naturally than I do by seeing or hearing. I didn’t even know that I was kinesthetic until I was in my early 30s. Up until that point, I knew of only two orientations (visual and auditory) and I had no idea which one I was.

I began learning guitar — the blues, specifically — by hearing the music of Delta artists such as Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson while I was in my teens, and I began developing my adaptations of their techniques simply by building on basic first-position (first three frets) chord patterns, which most of my students master in fewer than five lessons. I picked out various riffs that now seem to me to have been more like tributes to these giants of the form than actual attempts to imitate them. In reality, I was just experimenting.

How I Teach My Students

These experiments have given way to effective instructional techniques based squarely on factors such as your coordination and the development of your left-hand muscles. ”F” in first position is a good example. Given that the chord involves holding down two strings with one finger, I taught my first student to play each half of the chord (the index finger holding the first and second strings, the third and fourth fingers holding down the third and fourth strings). Several go-arounds of playing each half of the chord solidified her understanding of it to the point of her now playing it as proficiently as I do.

Learning guitar doesn’t have to include sheet music. In fact, I’ve never actually taught with it, because I regard it as an emotionless third party to my very personal teaching style, which is tailored as closely as possible to your individual needs and rate of progress. I’m committed to focusing squarely on your gradual accumulation of knowledge, confidence, and personal initiative beginning literally on the very first note. I believe that sheet music widens the distance between you and I, producing weaker results that the ones achieved by imitation. As a former classroom teacher (who still retains a New Jersey-based K-8 certificate), I’m a veteran of alternative education that provides exactly this — fluid individualized instruction with minimal deadlines that develops your personal strengths rather than your ability and/or willingness to assimilate.

I’m remembering a scene in the film “Hoosiers” in which the coach reminds the team that the dimensions of the hoop and the backboard (width and distance from the floor) are EXACTLY the same on the state championship court as they are in the small-town gym back home. Similarly, I will remind you of the following:

  1. The progression of triads in the middle of the neck are the EXACT SAME chords you will have learned in first position during your introduction to the blues. As you are learning guitar with me, you will learn “Sweet Home Chicago” and “How Long Blues” (or similar tunes) involving the first-position versions E, A, and B7.  Afterward, the fifth-position triad version of “Mailbox Blues” will be taught.
  2. Any scale can be transposed to another key in another position. It’s easy to lose sight of the identical fingering of a scale in first position (which typically involves playing open strings) and its counterparts elsewhere, which involve using the left index finger to play the transposed versions of the open-stringed first-position notes. As you may have guessed, I will merely be teaching you different versions of the same thing and/or the same thing in different keys.

My body of musical knowledge is not exclusive to only one genre. I specialize in folk, rock, blues, and (some) jazz. I consider it fitting to create a space where you can explore your preferences of genres, playing styles, and hand-strengthening processes, in a space squarely conducive to the development of all three. “You cannot teach (a person) anything,” said Galileo. “You can only help (the person) find it within.”

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!

 

 

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A Song of Guitar Effect Pedals and G.A.S. | Tips for Buying Guitar Equipment

6503538807_5daf773668_oWith so much equipment available for guitar players, how do you know what’s worth your hard-earned money? In this guest post, North Wales, PA teacher Nathan D. shares what you need to know about finding the best guitar effects pedals and more…

 

In the never-ending quest for the tone of their dreams, guitarists will spend countless hours experimenting with pickups, cables, amps, speakers, and much more. And at some point if you have an electric guitar, you’ll get the uncontrollable urge to try some effect pedals. They’re adorable, mysterious, and really fun, but some can be downright expensive.

Where Do I Even Begin?

As you experiment with guitar effects pedals, I recommend starting with the standard, simple effects, like distortion and reverb (if your amp doesn’t already do it very well). Moving forward, try choruses and delays. Test it out in the store with a similar setup to (or bring) your own. Don’t forget to try all of your pickup selections and play with your volume and tone knob. Compare and contrast with what you have and what you’re looking for. Don’t try just one specific pedal for the effect you want, try as many as possible!

Used pedals are typically well-abused, so be wary of noise and crackling. Bring dependable cables to test them. The salesperson may swear that it’s their test cables making the noise, and that they have no others to provide you with. Make sure you have some kind of warranty from the shop before any purchase. If you find your dream pedal on eBay, make sure the seller accepts returns (and that shipping costs don’t burn you).

You might find conflicting reviews for many pedals (such as MXR and Danelectro), and many pedals from the same brand that have varying reviews as well. Be wary of manufactures that make various products. Zoom makes a great portable recorder, but many lousy pedals. Ibanez makes great guitars, but some really bad effects. That’s why the demo chain at your guitar store has mostly pedal-specific, high-selling manufactures like Boss and DigiTech.

Nothing is worse than a budget distortion pedal that is, and sounds like, thin plastic. Save up to buy decent ones that are well-received and can take a hit (like a Boss, no pun intended!).

However, some cheaper pedals may surprise you. Behringer makes some great stuff for the price — just make sure to test it out, because budget manufactures with foreign manufacturing tend to let more defects slide through to keep prices low.

Avoiding a Bad Case of G.A.S.

Pedals are a guitarist’s number one gateway to Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or G.A.S. (a common condition in any hobby and profession). You spend all of your money on junk you never use, and all of your time researching it, while you should concentrate on practicing and playing out!

When you take a break, do something that doesn’t cause you to spend money, like exercising or reading an actual book, instead of flipping through the latest gear catalog and circling items that make you go “oooh!” with a pen or highlighter.

You don’t need a $400 effect pedal that makes your guitar sound like a synth trumpet. Please recycle that catalog before one of your friends or bandmates comes along and starts reading it. A handful of people who buy pedals like these may use them for a few seconds on one song, which is not really worth the hours of research and hundreds of dollars.

Stay Within Your Limited Budget

You don’t need the latest and greatest model of the best guitar effect pedals, especially when you get into larger multi-effect ones. The manual that accompanies this caliber of pedal is typically a quarter- to a half-inch thick (in one language). They are complicated, and will take weeks of fiddling around to get used to and months to master, as you learn each effect independently and then in conjunction with each other (plus signal order and other jargon). Ask a sales rep for help with these if there’s a test model.

I have a used Boss GT-6 that I bought more than 15 years ago as an upgrade to the poor DOD TEC-8 (DOD is a budget subdivision of DigiTech). I use it daily and have learned it inside and out. A friend insisted on buying the newest version of the pedal when it came out, and even applied for the store credit card to purchase it. It was so complicated that he only uses maybe an eighth of the effects, and never read the manual. He spent hundreds more than I did for mine, just because he had to have the newest thing and get it brand new. There was a price drop and rebate on the pedal three weeks later. So early adopters, be warned! There is no shame in having an older pedal, as many give you most of the same effects you’re looking for in the later versions.

Sometimes more complicated amps, like those by Line 6, have their own multi-effect boards. If you enjoy everything your amp offers already, try finding the pedal for it used or refurbished.

Finally, if the pedal hasn’t been made since the ’80s or ’90s, beware! This was the pivotal time to launch countless pedals onto the market that disappeared into obscurity for good reasons. If it’s still available new, it’s good for someone, just not necessarily for you and your tastes.

Now That You Know, Go!

OK, you mad scientists, get out there and experiment! Find your dream tone!

NathanDNathan D. teaches guitar, bass, drums, music recording, and more in North Wales, PA. He is an ASCAP songwriter, and has played guitar and bass for more than 17 years and drums for about 15 years. Learn more about Nathan here!

 

 

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