guitar accompanist

5 Guitar Tips for Accompanying a Vocalist

guitar accompanist

Thinking about taking your skills to an accompaniment gig - or maybe just jamming with some friends who want to sing along? Check out these 5 helpful guitar tips from Mount Pleasant, SC teacher Christopher A...


Guitar is a great instrument to accompany everything from horns to winds to piano to vocals. Whether you’re backing up a soloist, choir, band, or songwriter, there are a few tips to make the experience memorable for you and more importantly the vocalist or other musicians. Let’s get started by discussing some of my sideman gigs.

I’m an up-and-coming guitarist who’s auditioned for the local jazz quartet. They call me in to play along with the other members in a live setting and I’m given a lead sheet with chords. I read over the sheet and look for tempo markings, key changes, and form. Once I’ve done that and begin playing I remember my place in the ensemble. This is paramount to being a great sideman. You are providing a rhythm and chord structure to a song. It’s imperative to do so without blaring out your part and playing too loudly for the melody to be heard. Finding the pocket, or the main beat of the groove, will allow the soloists greater freedom and give the group a tight, focused sound.

My next step as a sideman comes when I visit an open mic and there’s a vocalist who doesn’t have someone to play her song. I know the tune and volunteer to play for her. As I start into the song I am deliberate with my rhythm changes and tempo of the tune. While I’m backing her up I remember to play quieter than the vocals. That means my chords and picking shouldn’t overshadow the vocals. This may mean turning your electric down or strumming lighter on an acoustic guitar. Your job as a sideman is to complement the vocals by providing steady rhythm and musical dynamics with your playing that reflect what the singer is crooning. I remember watching others back up voice majors in college and sometimes the singers were timid and afraid to sing out. It didn’t help when they had a guitarist beside them playing louder than them with their head buried in the chart, oblivious to the singer’s plight.

That leads to the next point - know the form of the tune. Be prepared to play the intro and make notes of what lyrics come in when you are playing the different sections of the song. The vocal cues will help you provide the best back up for the song and ensure you don’t get lost along the way. Remember that singers are human, too, and knowing the form of the song is helpful should they forget a verse or jump to a chorus earlier than you anticipate. You’ll be able to get to that part quicker with a chart and the knowledge of the song’s form.

That brings me to the most important tip - listen to the singer! I know it seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen groups where the singer is laying into a vocal and the guitarist is chugging away on loud chords or playing a screaming solo over the vocals. By not working together with the vocalist you can ruin their instrument, their voice, by making them sing harder than necessary to compensate for your overly loud amp and playing style. This is not something you want to be known for, so remember: if you can’t hear the vocals, you’re too loud.

The last key is to be prepared for anything. Bring a capo along. Sometimes a key won’t work for a singer and capoing up will allow them to sing their song without you relearning the chords. Sometimes words are forgotten and they sing the song differently than you’ve learned. They may come in too early or too late on a phrase. Your part in all of this is to be flexible and make them sound great regardless of what happens along the way. By putting the singer/band first, the song ends up being the main attraction and with any luck you’ll earn the respect of the singer, other musicians, and the crowd. When you play your part and listen to the other parts around you, the music sounds best.

So rock on, it’s time to shine but remember the guitar tips stated above:

  • Know your place in the ensemble
  • If you can’t hear the vocals you’re too loud
  • Know the form of the tune
  • Listen to the singer
  • Be prepared
  • Be flexible and make those around you sound great

Applying these common sense guitar tips to your sideman work will afford you more chances to accompany singers and other instrumentalists. Get out to your local open mic or audition for a band. Respond to the Craigslist ad from a vocalist looking for someone to back them up. These opportunities will help you develop the skill set to be a great sideman and ultimately a better musician.

ChrisAChristopher teaches mandolin, violin, music performance, and guitar lessons in Mount Pleasant, SC, as well as online via Skype and Google Helpouts. He has over ten years of experience in teaching in classrooms and studios, and his lessons focus on providing the budding musician with the tools to become a proficient player. Learn more about Christopher here!



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guitar exercises

4 Guitar Exercises For Faster Fingers

guitar exercises

Want to play the guitar faster? Incorporate these guitar exercises, as shared by Greeley, CO teacher Andy W., into your practice sessions throughout the week…


A crucial step to successfully melt faces with your guitar solos is to play fast! So, how can you achieve this feat? Here are some suggestions.

Alternate Picking

Alternate picking is one of the most efficient ways to pick fast. This is simply a downstroke followed by an upstroke. Everything suggested here utilizes alternate picking.

There are many ways to alternate pick. Some people focus the movement between the right index finger and thumb. Others rotate from the forearm. From experience and from what most trustworthy musicians find, rotating from the wrist is the most comfortable and efficient method. You want to turn the wrist left and right as if turning a door knob.

Now, let’s address tension real quick. Playing with tension in your fingers and wrist doesn’t mean that you’ll play faster and more comfortably. It actually strains your hand and wrist and keeps you from increasing speed. Instead, make sure you relax your fingers and wrist.

Also, when you alternate pick, it can be easy for the downstrokes to be louder than the upstrokes, making the notes sound uneven. A way to counteract this is to play melodies, scales, or licks using only upstrokes. This is a challenge, but well worth spending time on!

Play Quarter Notes

“Play quarter notes to play fast?“ you reply. Yes, before you spend all your time playing blazing eighth and sixteenth notes, practice guitar exercises to make sure that your quarter notes can be played in time. You should be able to play quarter notes that comfortably sit in the pocket of slow to fast tempos. Once your quarter notes are in time, then you can play eighth and sixteenth notes and increase your speed from there.

Speed Bursts

Using one note, play three quarter notes followed by four sixteenth notes. The quarter notes allow you to lock into the metronome, while the sixteenth notes challenge you to play faster. Start out slow around 80 bpm and keep raising the tempo in increments of 5 bpm.

Chromatic Scale

Play a chromatic scale that takes you up and down across all the strings. Starting from the low E string, play four notes per string, until you get to the high E string where you’ll play five notes. Then work your way back down to your original starting note on the low E string. Do this exercise by playing sixteenth notes. Start out slow around 80 bpm and keep raising the tempo in increments of 5 bpm.

(If you’re unfamiliar with the chromatic scale, it’s all of the available half steps. Going up from C it would be: C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C. And going down from C: C, B, Bb, A, Ab, G, Gb, F, E, Eb, D, Db, C.)

Finally, Just Go For It!

Now I know I’ve said to slowly work your way up to faster speeds. That approach works great, but now let’s add to that another method. And that is: just go for it! If you’re trying to play a fast lick, then just try playing it fast. This forces you to feel the lick at the faster speed. Granted you probably won’t be playing very cleanly or evenly, but that’s OK right now. It’s important for you to get accustomed to new uncomfortable tempos and this method sure does that.

Now, it’s up to you to make these guitar exercises a habit. And if you do, then you’ll be playing lightning-fast solos in no time!

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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Guitar Basics: Why is Technique Important?


New to the guitar? Getting the basics down – including proper positioning and guitar technique – is important from the very start. Here, Lowell, IN teacher Blake C. explains… 


Over the years, many experienced guitarists have arrived at my studio doorstep asking for help to improve their playing. These guitarists didn’t understand why they were struggling, and merely thought they were stuck in some sort of a slump. However, the slump that these guitarists suffered was not caused by a lack of musical desire or passion or some other emotional hang-up; poor guitar technique led to their difficulties.

Correcting poor technique is often more difficult than learning proper technique as a beginner. Of course, students can learn guitar basics first, but even the basics are difficult without proper technique. Therefore, it’s a better idea to avoid developing poor guitar technique; instead, study proper guitar technique with a quality instructor who can assist you with learning guitar the right way the first time.

How Do I Know If I Am Using Incorrect Technique?

The simplest way is to set-up an in-person or online video lesson to have your technique reviewed by a professional instructor here at If you absolutely cannot take advantage of an instructional session with a Takelessons instructor, below are a few ideas to improve your current technique and guitar playing.

How Do I Identify Guitar Technique Flaws?

Video recording is a good option, but an even better alternative is a bit lower-tech and used at most music conservatories. First, locate or purchase a dressing mirror – these can be purchased for $9 or $10 at most local dollar or general merchandise stores.


Next, locate or purchase a footstool – these can be purchased for approximately $12.


Finally, locate or purchase a good practice chair – adjustable piano benches are available for about $30.


Set Up Your Practice Area 

To begin, the footstool is for your left foot if you play guitar right-handed.  For left-handed guitarists, use the footstool for your right foot.  Next, place the mirror directly across from you, setting it up so you can see your hands.

Once the mirror is in place, get into a proper sitting position for practicing guitar. Sit toward the front of the bench – this will help your posture. Keep in mind, after you have a good handle on using proper technique, your sitting position will not be as critical for performing simple guitar parts or songs. However, when you perform more difficult pieces, you’ll need to be in a proper sitting position. Many guitarists will sit for difficult pieces: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and of course, classical guitarists such as John Williams are usually seated when playing difficult guitar pieces.

Next, if you are a right-handed guitarist, place the guitar on your left leg. Left-handed guitarists, place your guitar on your right leg. After the guitar is in place, angle the guitar neck slightly upward, approximately 45 degrees (everyone is different and the angle must suit your body size and shape).

Next, try playing a few musical phrases to check the comfort level of the position. Adjust the guitar angle to the natural and relaxed position of your hand, which typically angles slightly upward. This placement of your guitar is for electric and acoustic guitars.  Positioning the guitar in this manner provides the least strain on your hands and body.

Here is an example of proper guitar position demonstrated by one of my young students:

Blake's student

Now that you are in position, let’s begin by focusing on the position of your left hand. First, you should press with the ball of your thumb on the center of the guitar neck.


Your thumb position will change for different styles, pieces of music, and even sections of songs. However, to begin this adventure into correcting guitar technique, press from the ball of your thumb onto the center of the back of the guitar neck.

With your thumb in position, extend your fingers forward and take a look at your left hand in the mirror – it should create a flat surface that is almost parallel to the plane created by the bottom of the guitar neck.

thumb position

Now, to prepare for a simple, yet very good left-hand exercise, move your hand position to the fifth fret and place your first finger on the “C” note on the fifth fret of the third string.

Keep your first finger depressed while you place your second finger on the sixth fret of the third string, which is a “Db” note.

Next, keep both your first and second fingers depressed while you place your fourth finger on the eighth fret of the third string, which is an “Eb” note.


Make sure that you press with your fingertips and don’t collapse your joints.


Notice how the second finger in the image above incorrectly collapses. You will intentionally collapse the joints of your fingers in many instances, but try to avoid it. Next, we’ll dive into some exercises to try – check out part two of the article here!

blake clifford

Blake 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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5 Guitar Tricks to Impress Your Friends

Even if you’re new to the instrument, certain guitar tricks are sure to impress your audience! Here, Greeley, CO teacher Andy W., shares five to try out…


What better reason to play music than to impress your friends? Below are five guitar tricks that are guaranteed to impress your friends:

1. Slapping

The slap technique is most commonly used by bass players. But slapping can also be done on a guitar, typically electric. There are three basic elements to slapping. One is to slap with the thumb of your right hand over the pickups. The second is to slap with multiple fingers of the left hand onto the strings over the fretboard. The third element is to pluck notes using available fingers on the right hand. Using these three elements to make a slap sound, you can combine them in any order to make whatever rhythms you want.

Guthrie Govan breaks down slap guitar in a very easy-to-understand video here:

2. Tapping

Tapping is a technique where the right hand taps a string and alternates with notes played by the left hand. A basic way you can start tapping is to find three notes that you want to play on one string and play them as triplets using this sequence: tap, pull-off, pull-off. The first note is tapped with your index or middle finger and then pulls-off onto a note held by one of the left hand fingers, which is then pulled-off onto another note held by a left hand finger. Other ways to tap are to use more right hand fingers, use open strings, and to use different rhythms.

The same Guthrie Govan video above also explains tapping.

3. Open String Runs

If you alternate fretted notes with open strings you can create a cascading sound of awesomeness. The video below describes how you can take a scale and substitute as many fretted notes as you want with open strings (E, A, D, G, B, E). The beginning of the lick in the video starts off by descending the G Mixolydian scale (G, A, B, C, D, E, F) from G: G (fretted), F (fretted), E (open), D (fretted), C (fretted), B (open), A (fretted), G (fretted). The video below shows the rest of the lick. This second video demonstrates descending and ascending scales while using open strings!

4. Sweep Picking

Sweep picking may seem intimidating, but it really just combines fretting an arpeggio with the left hand and strumming slowly with the right. The trick with this technique is to simply match up the fretted note with the pick. The video below explains step by step how you can sweep pick without having ever tried it before:

5. Harp Artificial Harmonics

This guitar trick is a variation on artificial harmonics, which itself is a variation on natural harmonics. The natural harmonics are most commonly played on the 5th, 7th, and 12th frets. To play these, you lightly press the left hand on top of the fret without pressing the string to the fret. Then, you pick the note. To make an artificial harmonic, you regularly fret a note with the left hand and then use your right hand index finger to lightly press on that string twelve frets above the fretted note. Then, you pick the string. With this technique, you have to hold the pick between the thumb and middle finger. Finally, to play harp artificial harmonics, you alternate plucking a note using the right hand ring or pinky finger with picking artificial harmonics. This creates a harp-like sound! This technique works well when you can fret a chord using four or more strings without repeating any notes. The video below shows the great guitarist Lenny Breau describing how to accomplish this:

Are your friends impressed yet? If not, then you either need to turn it up louder or practice these guitar tricks even more!

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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Improving Technique on Guitar: Exercises to Try

guitar strings

In a previous post, Guitar Basics: Why is Technique Important?, guitar teacher Blake C. discussed the importance of utilizing proper technique, along with examples and ways to check your guitar playing technique. Here in Part Two, he continues with a helpful guitar exercise to try… 


If you want to improve your technique, there are a few guitar exercises you can try. I call the first exercise “1-2-4 Exercise” merely because of the fingers used. This exercise is designed to improve multiple aspects of guitar playing technique for beginners or even more advanced guitar players. The first improvement aspect is fret-board balance, which is practiced as you focus your attention on utilizing proper finger position – pressing each note with the fingertips of the left hand (for right-handed guitarists or pressing with the right hand for left-handed guitarists) while not collapsing the joints of the fingers. Refer back to the pictures in this post to see the difference.

It is critical for guitarists to develop dexterity and nimbleness in order to attain a higher level of mastery of guitar playing. The “1-2-4 Exercise” addresses these skills as you increase the rate that the exercise is performed, while maintaining proper technique.

That in mind, begin this guitar exercise at a relatively slow tempo – for example, the 50 bpm setting on your metronome – allowing you to center your attention on proper technique. Keep in mind, if you simply play this exercise without concentrating on proper guitar technique, your efforts will not accomplish nearly as much in the long run.

Below are the notes and tab for the exercise. Although I began on the “A” note located at the 5th fret on the 6th string, the 1-2-4 pattern is obviously a moveable pattern. Beginning the exercise at the 5th fret is a better starting point than the first few frets because of the additional space your fingers must reach, as well as the additional distance your arm must reach. Conversely, beginning beyond the 12th fret creates a different dilemma as you begin the exercise – your fingers are crammed together!

So let’s begin the exercise at the 5th fret as shown here:

guitar exercise

Music and Tab written using Guitar Pro 6

Remember, pick each note at a relatively slow rate when you first begin practicing. Focus your attention on pressing with your fingertips and not collapsing any joints of your fingers. As you practice this exercise, play one note for every metronome click.

After you are confident in your ability to play the notes fluidly without a pause when you change from one string to the next, increase the tempo in increments of 10 bpm on your metronome. With time and diligent practice, you will be able to play the exercise at a tempo exceeding 320 bpm.

After you successfully accomplish the exercise at the 5th fret, practice at other locations on the fretboard. In addition to improving your fretboard balance, dexterity, and overall nimbleness, this is one of the guitar exercises that is an excellent lead into soloing.

blake cliffordBlake 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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For Beginning Guitarists: Right- and Left-Hand Basics


Want to improve your coordination and guitar technique? Here, Goodyear, AZ guitar teacher David A. shares two simple guitar exercises to try out… 


Do you love listening to guitar music and do you want to learn how to play? Well, in addition to having a passion for guitar, it is important for you as the aspiring guitarist to maintain a consistent practice routine that incorporates guitar exercises to improve your right and left hand coordination and timing, which will, in turn, boost your overall musicianship and enjoyment of the instrument!

The Mechanics of Playing the Guitar

Guitar exercises involve the right and left hands doing two separate things at the same time. The challenge can be just that: get the right and left hands to do those two things at the same time! The right hand, hovering over the body of the guitar and using a guitar pick or just the fingers, strums, plucks, or picks one or more strings, while the fingers of the left hand press down on the appropriate strings at the other end of the guitar on the neck fretboard. (Note: I am describing hand movements from the point of view of a right-handed guitarist, so if you are playing a left-handed guitar, the actions of the hands are reversed.)

Exercises to Strengthen the Hands & Improve Coordination

Although it is not possible to cover all of the many guitar exercises or go into specific detail regarding proper technique within the scope of this article, I will describe a couple of drills that would certainly be a great start for the beginner. For the following examples, let’s assume that you will be using a guitar pick. You hold the pick between your thumb and index finger, with the pointed end of your pick striking the strings. There are three basic picking patterns to strike the strings: downstroke (toward the ground), upstroke (toward the sky), and alternate (down, then up).

To fret with the left hand, make a loose fist with the knuckles bent. Place your thumb along the back of the guitar neck. Place the other 4 fingers on the front of the neck. The finger assignments for the left hand are as follows: index is 1, middle is 2, ring is 3, and pinky is 4.

If possible, use a metronome to help keep time. A good starting metronome speed is at or around 60 beats per minute (BPM). Allow at least 5 to 10 minutes to complete each exercise and practice them daily!

Exercise 1: This is a simple drill on the high E string. Fret this string on the first fret with finger 1 of the left hand. Try to use the tip of your finger to fret the note. (You will build up calluses on the tips of your fingers.) With the right hand, play downstrokes with the pick with each click or beep of your metronome.

Repeat this exercise by playing upstrokes, again hitting the string on each metronome beat. Finally, play a repeating alternate picking pattern. You can gradually increase your metronome speed as you feel more comfortable. Since this exercise does not involve moving the left hand to fret different notes, try experimenting by using a different finger on a different fret to fret the E string, while you play the downstroke, upstroke, and alternate picking patterns with your right hand.

Exercise 2: This time, you will play the 3 right-hand picking patterns, but we will add left-hand finger movement. Start with finger 1 on first fret, and with each consecutive click of the metronome, place finger 2 on the second fret, then finger 3 on the third, then finger 4 on the fourth. Increase your metronome speed as you feel more comfortable. The goal is to coordinate the timing of the picking of the right hand with the fretting by the different fingers of the left hand.

Repetition is the Key

Practicing the guitar resembles, in some ways, practicing a sport. Just as baseball players have to develop the mechanical ability to throw and catch a ball through repeated drills, guitarists have to acquire the ability to sound the correct notes on their guitars through continual practicing. The trick is to develop technique through the repeated execution of guitar exercises that promote hand coordination and timing.

While there are many exercises that you can practice, it is important that you play them slowly and evenly at first, and then gradually build up speed. With regular and consistent practice, you will notice that as you gain greater control over your right and left hand picking and fretting technique, your speed of execution will increase. As your guitar technique improves, you will start being able to learn how to play the music that YOU enjoy and ultimately, achieve your guitar lesson goals and beyond!

DavidADavid A. teaches guitar, piano, singing, songwriting, and more in Goodyear, AZ. He has performed in numerous and varied musical situations, including with The University of Maryland Jazz Orchestra and the Pavement Chasers Tribute to Adele. He currently performs as a freelance keyboardist and guitarist in the Phoenix metro area.  Learn more about David here! 


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Piano Guitar

5 Contemporary Songs for the Piano, Guitar, and Voice

Practicing any song on the piano can be fun at first, but after a while playing the same songs by yourself can be a bit boring. Why not find some songs for the piano, guitar, and voice? You can perform for others in a talent show or an open mic night, or just for yourselves and have a good jam session!

With any of the songs for the piano, guitar, and voice, your music teacher can help you with some pointers, and might even be able to teach you the chords by listening to the song. Be sure to ask your instructor before setting out to practice one of these songs by yourself, because there might be certain techniques that he or she wants you to focus on within the song. Here are a few ideas to get you started!

OneRepublic – “If I Lose Myself”

While this acoustic cover of OneRepublic’s song also features a violin part, you can easily do without it and still get the same feel. This might not be one of the newest songs for piano and guitar, but it’s still out on the radio now and then and you’ll have no problem getting into the groove of it.

Decide which parts each instrument will take, as the song has a few different riffs that happen simultaneously. The guitar player should be able to pick a fairly fast rate, as the riffs can get going pretty fast!

Miley Cyrus – “Wrecking Ball”

If your singer really likes to croon, this is the perfect song to try! With a melody that is fairly slow and methodical, you won’t have to worry about things picking up speed and getting left behind.

Both the piano player and guitar player should be prepared for powerful chords throughout the chorus, and lighter playing during the verse. You can mix it up and make this one of your own songs for the piano and guitar if you’d like though, by making a few simple changes here and there.

The YouTube video above does not feature any vocals, but that just means that the melody is picked up by the piano and guitar. In the long run, having someone sing along with the piano and guitar parts can make things easier, as they can concentrate on the harmony and rhythm of their own playing, and the singer can carry the melody!

Coldplay – “A Sky Full Of Stars”

The YouTube video for this song again has no vocal part, so the melody is covered by the piano and guitar. Both this Coldplay song and the Miley Cyrus song can be much easier songs for the piano and guitar if the vocal melody is actually sung instead of played!

The guitar part for this song is mostly chords above the 12th fret, so be sure you’ve got those polished up! The piano part has many staccato chords scattered throughout the song. The vocal part is picked up by the piano, so the right hand octaves the melody.

Adele – “Skyfall”

If you haven’t seen the latest Bond movie, the opening credits alone are definitely worth watching. Adele lends her signature sound to the James Bond saga, and definitely does it justice! If you’re looking for songs for the piano and guitar with soaring vocals, look no further than this tune.

This is another song that’s a little bit more contemplative and dramatic than just upbeat and fast-paced. While it might be easier to learn, be careful, as the slower pace of the song leaves more space between notes. And it’s easier to notice your mistakes with this pace, if you happen to make any!

The vocal part is played by the guitar in this particular cover (above), but doubling the vocals and guitar is a great way to add some depth if your guitar player also sings (otherwise any late or early notes on the guitar would sound well out of place). You could also make this song a duet for piano and either guitar or voice, if you’d like.

Maroon 5 – “Payphone”

This final song is a great closing number. It can really rock, and most people know the words, so it’s good for a crowd sing-along at the end of a set. In the video, the piano plays chords and doubles the vocal melody, and the guitar doubles the chords played on the piano.

While this isn’t one of the most complicated songs for the piano, guitar, and voice, it is a crowd favorite. If you’re playing an open mic or talent show, sometimes that’s the best way to leave things, with a familiar tune that everyone can enjoy and hum or sing to even after the show is over!


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guitar myths

Learn to Play Guitar: 4 Common Myths Debunked

guitar myths

Always wanted to learn to play guitar? Sometimes the first step is the hardest one – just simply getting started! Here, Philip R. shares the top myths and realities when it comes to playing…

“Not me,” “I can’t,” “but you don’t understand.” How many times have these phrases held us back? How many plans were scrapped by us over the years, as negativity held its death grip around our throats? Answer: too many. As you learn to play guitar for the first time, most students are susceptible to such doubtful thinking. We marvel at musicians as doing something magical. But it is imperative that you remember they ALL started somewhere.

That being said, there are several nagging myths the newcomer to guitar struggles with before even holding the instrument. I am here to debunk some of the most common myths I usually hear as students learn to play guitar. I believe overcoming these persistent myths is the first step to learning the guitar.

So, without further adieu, here they are:

Myth #1: “My hands and fingers are too small.”

Simply NOT true. I personally have small hands and fingers and it hasn’t held me back or been a detriment to my playing guitar. In full disclosure, it does help to have long fingers but mostly for very technical tricks you will learn much later on in your development. Please remember, it is not VITAL to playing the guitar and you can play thousands of songs with short fingers and hands. Don’t let this common myth hold you back from as you learn to play guitar. My fingers aren’t much bigger than my nine-year-old nephew’s fingers.

Myth #2: “I am tone deaf.”

This one can be overcome easily, if you find the right guitar teacher who knows how to train your ears to hear and distinguish tones and more importantly changes in tones. This is a skill that can be learned, like riding a bike or tying your shoelaces. It is best achieved through tuning exercises, practiced again and again, as well as comprehensive ear-training drills. It is necessary of course to be able to tune your guitar. I have personally helped my students overcome, in nearly every case, their perception of being tone deaf in a few short months. These students even went on to listening to a song and recognizing the chords and notes BY EAR, without the aid of tabs, sight reading or YouTube videos.

Myth #3: “I don’t have the time to practice.”

Well, I have to admit it; in our busy world this is a big one. However, I have always recommended to my students, at all levels, that they put aside only 20 minutes to a half-hour of time. Two to three times a week of slow, deliberate practice is all you need to grasp the concepts and techniques required for playing the guitar. Now granted, practice is repetitious. There is really no way around this. Guitar is learned through repetition but the rewards are so great. Imagine being able to put a CD into your stereo, listening to a song for 15-20 minutes, writing down the chords you hear as you go along, and then PLAYING that song you love. It can happen. I’ve seen it with my own students, mostly within the first five months, if they met me halfway and practiced regularly. It is always a two-way street.

Myth #4: “Guitars are really expensive.”

These days a new, decent quality guitar can be had for $99. I don’t recommend spending a ton of money up front until you see if you like playing the guitar first. Of course, you get what you pay for, but remember you can learn on cheaper guitars just as well as on expensive ones. My first guitar was $40 and was purchased out of a catalog. I had it for years and that was the guitar I learned on. Besides, you can always get a better guitar as you progress on the instrument. Just be patient. You have to start somewhere, but you can do it.

Well, there you have it. Four guitar myths debunked and up in flames. Please don’t let these or any guitar myths hold you back from taking guitar lessons. You can do it! Make the most of your life and have fun. You deserve to play your favorite songs on guitar. It will be a skill that lasts a lifetime.

PrintPhilip R. teaches online guitar lessons. In beginner lessons, students will learn how to tune a guitar, change strings, strum, scales, finger exercises and 28 chords used in today’s most popular music. Book lessons with Philip here!


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What Are Your Guitar Leads Missing? | Lead Guitar Tips


Ready to impress your friends and family with your lead guitar skills? Check out these guitar tips from Dallas, TX teacher Mike E


A student new to lead guitar recently asked me, “What do my leads need?”

I told him they need four technique tricks. 1) Skiing, 2) Crying, 3) Dog Whistles, and 4) Double Dribbles.

I didn’t use technical terms. One of my best guitar tips is that playing music should be an expression of emotions and feelings. It is not just which notes are played and in what order. To sound like professionals, you need to consider exactly how they played those notes, including not just how loudly or softly they played the note, but also how they get to a note and how they leave a note.

1) Skiing is sliding up to a note or down from a note. This adds flow to your sound.
2) Crying is when you silently stretch (bend) a string up and then pick it so you only hear it go down. Try it. It sounds like crying.
3) Dog whistles are repeated up-stretches, killing the sound at the top of each stretch. Try three or four and you’ll hear the same sound as whistling for your dog.
4) Double dribbles are things like hammering from one note to another then pulling off back to the starting note, or hammering from one note to higher one and then to another higher one. Also you can pull off from one note to a lower note and then pull off again to a lower note.

These “tricks” are the techniques that the pros use. Listen closely to leads on songs and listen not only to which notes are played, but HOW they are played.

As an example, listen to the introduction lead guitar part of the song ”All Along the Watchtower” by the great Jimi Hendrix:

You can hear on the first note that he “skis” up to it. Then, after one more note, he performs the “dog whistle” technique, stretching to a note four times. This is immediately followed by his picking the note at the top of the stretch and releasing the stretch while still pressing against the guitar neck, giving the “crying” effect. A few notes before the end of that introductory lead, he performs the “double dribble” with a hammer and pull. This is followed by a stretch to the key note and then a release of the stretch to ski down the neck. In this approximately 10-second introductory lead part, Jimi Hendrix executes all four of the techniques listed above.

The Importance of Listening

One of my “teachers” (at least from his records) was Eric Clapton. In the mid-70s, he was on the cover of Guitar Player magazine. They asked which guitarists he most admired. He mentioned B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, and a few others. When asked why he chose those players, he did not reply with “because of how fast they play” or “because of the unique scales they use.” Instead, he said, “Because whenever they stretch a string to a note, they never miss.” Most stretches are to the sound two frets above. Play that note, then back off and stretch to it, but be sure to listen carefully and try to hit it exactly. Missing a stretch is the kiss of death for a guitarist.

More great guitar tips come from the great Eric Johnson, from Austin, Texas, who was quoted as saying, “If you want to learn to play lead guitar, learn 1,000 leads by other players and learn them note-for-note, exactly the way they were performed. If you do this. you will gain a few small ingredients from each lead that you can use in your own recipe for improvisations.” I wholeheartedly agree and pass this along to all my students as one of my best guitar tips. Listen to the greats. Again, listen to how they play the notes, not just which notes they play. Technique is what separates the men from the boys.

MikeEMike E. teaches guitar, bass guitar, piano, music theory, and more in Dallas, TX. Mike’s teaching style combines “by ear” knowledge with theoretical training to provide a unique approach to music, chords, music theory, ear training, and more. Learn more about Mike here!



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3 Mistakes You’re Making as You’re Learning Guitar Chords


Don’t make learning guitar chords any tougher that it has to be! Read on to check yourself with some helpful advice from Stillwater, OK teacher Chris F...


I have been teaching guitar for several years now. Every now and then I evaluate the effectiveness of my teaching methods. What I’ve discovered is that there are many bad ways to go about teaching and learning guitar chords. Based off my experience, here are some ineffective ways people try to learn chords:

  • They try to learn too many chords at once (and don’t learn any of them well).
  • They don’t use a capo.
  • They don’t use Roman Numerals.

Let me break these problems down one by one and suggest some alternative habits that will get you learning guitar chords and playing better in no time.

Trying to learn too many chords at once 

95% of popular music is made up of four kinds of chords. Often, these chords are G, C, D, Em. These are the first four guitar chords that you should know like the back of your hand. Countless songs in all genres can be played with these four chords. If you can play these four chords quickly and well, you’re better off than someone that can play 15 chords just alright.

The next two chords you should learn are Am and F. Those six chords will open up countless songs. Keep in mind that you’ll run across chords like Em7 and Cadd9. Those chords have additional details which will be easy to add down the road. For now, just play the first letter in the chord. Similarly, chords like G/B and D/F# should just be read as the first letter for now. Don’t make the mistake of getting caught up in too many little details. Learn the six chords above and play as much as you can with them.

Not using a capo

A capo is a device for guitar and other fretted instruments that moves all the pitches on the guitar up a certain amount (e.g. up two frets or five frets). They are inexpensive and are absolutely essential for learning guitar chords and songs. With a capo, countless songs can be played with the six chords mentioned above. The songs are still playable without a capo, but much harder chords are required to play them. Fortunately, the six chords above are easier to play and sound better than the non-capoed chords. Invest in a capo and you’ll use it all the time.

Not using Roman Numerals

Roman Numerals in music is a way of thinking about chords like numbers. For example, when we’re in the key of G (all that means now is that we’re using G, C, D, and Em together), G = I, C = IV, D = V, and Em = vi. These numbers are based off of the musical alphabet. G is 1, A is 2, B is 3, C is 4, D is 5, and E is 6. These numbers represent something much more important than G, C, D, and Em. In fact, it’s these numbers (and no so much the chords) that are going through the brains of the pros when they’re playing through a song. Why these numbers are used will become more and more clear down the road. Memorizing and practicing them is the important thing to start with as a beginner.

To practice this, take ten or more chord charts and replace G, C, D, and Em with I, IV, V, and vi. For example:

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are grey. (G – C – G)
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away. (C – G – Em – G – D – G)

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy, when skies are grey. (I – IV – I)
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away. (IV – I – vi – I – V – I)

If you get these numbers in your head now, you’ll learn songs much more faster down the road. It may seem pointless, but it’s one of the most useful things you can do as a guitarist. There is much more to be said about Roman Numerals, but that will have to left to another article.

Avoid these three mistakes and you’ll have a huge advantage as a guitarist and a musician. Happy playing!

ChrisFChris F. teaches guitar, piano, music theory, and more in Stillwater, OK. He has been active in collegiate percussion ensembles, marching and concert bands, various choirs, chamber music groups, jazz combos, an award winning jazz big band, bluegrass combos, drum and bugle corps, and private lessons on several instruments, as both a section leader and as a teacher. Learn more about Chris here! 


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