Decker Interview

Get Lost in Indie Band Decker’s Emotional Psychedelic Folk

Decker Interview

Indie-folk group Decker is a band on the move. When I called guitarist and singer Brandon Decker for an interview, he was signing the paperwork for a brand new van for the band.

“I think it’s the nicest vehicle I’ve ever owned. It’s gonna be very nice to not have to worry about being stranded roadside.” Decker admitted.

And with their busy touring schedule, Decker needs reliable transportation now more than ever. I chatted with Decker about his musical roots, his prolific songwriting, and the Wu Tang references on his new album Patsy.

TL: How did you get started in music?

BD: My mom had great music taste and I grew up listening to vinyl records of Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys and stuff like that. I liked rock and roll at a young age and I enjoyed singing.

So how it all came together for me is that I’ve always enjoyed emotively singing music and I also enjoyed writing, more so just words, like prose and poetry and short stories. I started playing guitar in my late teens, just covers.

I went through a really profoundly dark time in my mid-twenties, and when I came out of that I just wanted to write songs and I’ve been trying to write songs ever since.

You have written a lot of songs since then, in fact you have a few albums under your belt. What’s your process like when you’re creating an album and has it changed since you started out?

I’ve done five albums in the last six years, and I don’t know if I have a process. I don’t mean to sound mysterious or something. I feel like my songs really come out of the ether. I never know when it’s gonna happen.

I found that all my records tend to happen in these flurries. The pattern that I’ve gotten into is you make an album and it’s exhausting and all encompassing. You go and you tour it for some length of time. Then the touring ends and you just start writing another one.

All of a sudden I’ll have this set of songs and go, “this is it”, and start recording. I don’t know what’ll happen.

I’ve been going so hard for so long I haven’t been able to write lately. It’s really left-brain, right-brain. Being an artist of our stature which is so working-class and do it ourself, it requires a lot of right-brain functioning just to keep the wheels in motion.

But I’m looking forward to when this phase settles down for our most recent album that I feel really proud of and we worked really hard on, I’m looking forward to not worrying about that stuff and being musical and artistic again instead of working.

Yeah, you have to be a songwriter, a bandleader, a marketer, a business-person…

Oh I wear many hats!

Of all those hats, it’s clear to me that you’re a great songwriter, plus you have some wonderful musicians in your band with you as well. How do you choose the people you work with?

The number one requirement is that they have a pulse [laughs]. Kidding!

They have to be able to put up with me. I tend to be in my own world sometimes. Really sensitive artists don’t do well with me.

But I feel like I’ve got a very talented group of musicians playing with me and they’ve all been playing with me a few years, with the exception of one singer who just joined us.

My bass player is classically trained. The keyboard player and pianist is classically trained. She also teaches a ton of lessons and has her own studio. Same with my drummer, he is a percussionist and it’s his life, he teaches a lot (Ed. note: Decker’s drummer Henri B. teaches drums, guitar, and songwriting with TakeLessons in Phoenix).

I think it’s so many things, fate, destiny, and you wind up meeting these people. It’s just like how you don’t choose your family. When you’re playing in a band with people they end up kind of becoming your family.

So you have a new album, Patsy, out now, and a new video coming out soon. I’m hearing a lot of gospel, folk, and soul, but also some Wu Tang references? Can you talk about that a little bit?

I have this longtime friend and we always enjoyed our inside jokes, and definitely had a shared enthusiasm for ODB.

One of the first songs written on the record, one of the more gospel sounding songs, was inspired by all these people where I live talking about me that I didn’t even know, and I kinda started writing this song, and I don’t even know how the ODB thing happened. It just happened.

Obviously ODB is not a role model for life.

But I feel like there’s one thing about him, if you watch him, he didn’t give a shit about much of anything. He was just in his own world. I felt like paying tribute to how necessary that is for all of us aspiring to put ourselves out there whether it’s artistically or anything. It’s the way you have to learn to live.

I’ve seen your music described as psychedelic desert folk, and you live in Sedona which is a really special place. Are you really inspired by locations, nature, and where you live?

I think so. I love Sedona. I’m standing out in front of my house right now and I live under two mountains that I like to climb a lot, I live right by the trailheads.

When I moved here in 2008, I don’t think I would have considered myself so easily inspired by nature or anything, but I definitely believe that the lifestyle that is kind of fostered by living in this desert-mountain extremely unique place is.

I don’t know if I would say that it inspires me, but it’s fuel for my existence on a cellular level. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

You’re about to head out on the road again. What are you going to be listening to on this tour?

I don’t know the answer to that. I put out a post on Facebook asking for recommendations and I got a lot of suggestions to check out. I just heard of this singer Angel Olsen, she has a record out called Burn Your Fire For No Witness and I guarantee that that will be happening on tour frequently. On our last tour the album of choice was Kendrick Lamar. We like to keep a good mix.

Don’t miss Decker when they come to your town! Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or their website, and support independent artists.


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Photo by Matty Steinkamp

One Thing Guitarists Must Know About Chords (But Most Probably Don't)

One Thing Guitarists Must Know About Chords (But Most Probably Don’t)

One Thing Guitarists Must Know About Chords (But Most Probably Don't)

Chords are the foundation of all of those guitar riffs you love so much. Here, guitar teacher Kirk R. walks you through the basics of guitar chords and the importance of knowing how they’re constructed…

Guitar is an amazing instrument, not only because of all that it can do, but also because of how great it can sound when not doing much at all. One of the ways that guitar is most often heard is by strumming the standard chords that beginner guitarists learn.

However, I often interact with guitarists who don’t realize how many other possibilities exist on the instrument. Today, we’re going to look at just one small idea that you can use to stretch basic chords and better understand why we play the chord shapes that we do.

What Does It Mean When We See a Chord Symbol?

Let’s start with a very basic question: what is a chord? A chord is three or more different notes played together. That means that technically a power chord is not a chord at all, because there are only two different notes…but they sound good, so let’s keep using them!

Notice that there was no mention of strings, frets, or guitar in that definition? That’s because when we play a G chord on the guitar, we’re playing the same three notes as when a G chord is played on a piano, by an orchestra, or in production software. 

Let’s take a look at this three note chord idea. If you play a G chord on your guitar like this:

1 G Chord

You’re playing (from low to high) G-B-D-G-B-G. Yes, despite all that stretching and playing all six strings, you end up with just three notes! So when the bass in a band plays a B, the lead singer sings a G, and the tuba player plays a D, what chord do you hear?

That’s right, a G chord!

What does that mean for us guitarists? If I’m noodling my way up the neck and then quickly have to play a G chord, jumping all the way down to the 3rd fret might not be an option. However, if I can find some combination of G, B, and D near where I’m already at, I don’t need to. How about something like this:

2 G Chord

There are tons of options that open up when you realize that every time you see a G printed over the lyrics, you don’t have to do the same chord. Of course, the usual G shape wouldn’t get used so much if we didn’t like the sound, so if it’s convenient to get to and you like the sound, use it by all means!

How to Build Guitar Chords

Now that you know a little bit about how a chord works, let’s talk about how we build chords from scratch. This can get a little complicated, but stick with me – I’ll keep it simple to begin with.

The usual major and minor chords (if it’s just a letter without an “m,” it’s major) are built of just three notes like we’ve seen. Notice that in the G chord they’re also just two letters apart:


Luckily, this pattern works for all chords within a key. Let’s take a look at the key of C, so we don’t have to worry about sharps or flats. So what notes would we use to build a C chord? Let’s take a look:


So we now have our three notes, C, E and G for the C chord that we can play anywhere on the guitar. If we want to play an Am chord along with it, we can use the same pattern:

C D E F G A C 

…uh oh, we ran out of letters. Let’s just rearrange a little bit:

F G A C E 

So now we end up with A, C, and E to play anywhere we like.

Here are a few examples of different sounds you can get from the Am chord:

A Chords

What Difference Does It Make?

Hopefully you can now add a little extra flair to some songs in which the guitar part might have seemed a little boring at first glance. Perhaps you’ve run into this chord progression before:

C G Am G C

Here are a few ways that I might have improvised the chord voicings (depending on style and context) if I were to see a progression like this. Some are faster than others, but they’re all fairly simple if you know the basics of how to build chords on the guitar.

Below are a few options for C and G chords that you could use in this progression. Remember the point isn’t so much to memorize all the shapes, but to understand how these chords work so that you can find the notes of the chord anywhere that you need them.

C Chords


Now it’s your turn to take a few minutes, go back to a song that you thought sounded too boring, and add some pizzazz! Chords are so easy and versatile that you can transform any song.

If you have questions after reading this, or you’re not sure where to go next, click on the “Ask A Question” button on my profile!


Kirk RPost Author: Kirk R.
Kirk is a classical, bass, and acoustic guitar instructor in Denver, CO. He earned a bachelors of music in Guitar performance at The College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and he is currently pursuing a masters degree in performance.  Learn more about Kirk here!


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Tabs and Videos; How to play Acoustic Guitar like John Mayer

Video Lessons: How to play Acoustic Guitar like John Mayer

Tabs and Videos; How to play Acoustic Guitar like John Mayer

Learn how to play acoustic guitar like John Mayer in these video lessons from guitar teacher Jonathan B.

John Mayer has been called one of the new “Guitar Gods.” Claiming Stevie Ray Vaughn as one of his biggest childhood heroes, the blues and jazz influence on his pop style has given him more than just a niche in the radio market.

It’s also made him able to influence millions of guitarists with his playing style and techniques. He continues to release a steady stream of new music and fans continue to take interest in his songwriting as well as his guitar techniques.

John Mayer is equally well known for his electric and acoustic guitar styles; in this article we will focus more on the acoustic. There are several tricky picking hand techniques he uses which throw many would-be cover artists off the trail.

A few of his most popular songs in guitar circles are “Stop This Train”, “Who Says”, “Neon”, “The Heart of Life”, “Clarity”, and “Your Body is a Wonderland”. Although these songs have a few notable techniques in them, we’re going to focus on just one in this article.

The Pluck and Chuck/Pick and Flick Technique

Notorious for confusing guitarists for the last several decades, this technique involves a basic reversal of hand mechanics. You must learn to ‘flick’ the pointer or middle finger and ‘slap’ with the thumb at the same time.

The thumb does not play a note; it simply pushes the string into the fretboard and plants itself there. This creates a percussive effect that imitates the snare drum backbeat. Mayer’s sound is heavily influenced by music with a strong groove, so this technique lets you integrate softer fingerpicking with soulful rhythmic styles without any hitches.

This video has a detailed introduction to chuck/flick techniques, with the most detailed explanations starting at 4:33.

When you start to get the basic stroke to sound good, progress to the following exercises.

They are very simple but they contain the most essential set of motions needed for pluck and chuck songs. When you feel you need a variation or you want to explore a bit, try improvising with these patterns over some chords or making up a solo using the thumb to create a rhythmic drone and playing melodies with the finger plucks and chucks.

Chucks are a tricky technique that take some time to adjust to. It’s usually wise to start learning a song that doesn’t require too many flicks on top of the thumb slaps.

“Clarity” is a perfect example of this, and the main riff to the song is an excellent starting point as you tune your hand position to accommodate the new role of the thumb in your playing.

How to Play “Clarity” by John Mayer

The trickiest basic technique to learn is the ‘single chuck.’ John Mayer’s guitar style uses a lot of individually picked notes that coincide with thumb slaps, so this technique is very important. Aside from basic issues of hand position and accuracy, you have to also learn to mix different fingers into patterns of both plucking and chucking.

Mayer has a strong tendency to do all the flicking with just his index finger, although there are at least a few of his patterns that probably also need to be flicked with the middle finger since the string crossings would be very awkward otherwise.

A good pattern to start with is the opening riff to “Stop This Train.”

How to Play “Stop This Train” by John Mayer

As you start to get this down, it’s good to reach for something a little more adventurous. The opening riff to “The Heart of Life” requires you to pick out a specific melody, which requires you to cross a lot of strings and you chuck out individual notes. Here’s the tab for that passage.

How to Play “The Heart of Life” by John Mayer

Mastering this song is an excellent way to develop pluck and chuck technique. Once you’ve completed this song, you’re likely to find that you can improvise melodies over various bass notes, provided that you’ve already learned a little about improvisation.

One of the best ways to capitalize on your newfound skill is to try to write or improvise on your own changes in the style of “The Heart of Life” and “Stop This Train.”

The first time most guitarists attempt a John Mayer acoustic song they stumble on this technique. Most western string players learn to ‘pluck’ or ‘pick’ strings, where Chinese Pipa and Indian Sitar players prefer to ‘chuck’ or ‘flick’ the strings.

It’s a fundamentally different stroke than what most guitarists are used to, so learning it often makes players feel like a complete beginner.

Never fear, your guitar teacher will be happy to help you, and more and more guitarists are tackling this technique as time goes by, and the number of songs that use it has increased dramatically in recent years.


Jonathan BPost Author: Jonathan B.
Jonathan B. is a guitar instructor, Temple University Music Theory graduate, and YouTube creator living in State College, PA. Learn more about Jonathan here!

Photo by Do512

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How to Master the F Chord

Beginning Guitar Tips: How to Master the F Chord

How to Master the F Chord

You’ve already seen the best tips and tricks for learning guitar chords, but what about the playing the infamous F chord on guitar? Guitar teacher Kirk R. shows you how to approach the F chord and gives you some advice for making it easier…

Three Misconceptions About the F Chord

The six-string F chord is, in my opinion, the hardest standard chord shape to play on the guitar. Even similar shapes are often easier, such as the Bb minor, which is the same hand position, but one string higher and only five strings; or the same shape as the F chord, but played higher up the neck. Barres generally become easier as you move up the neck.

However, I’ve seen tons of people try to play the F chord on guitar (and often succeed!) but with far too much struggle and effort than is actually necessary.

Even extremely influential guitarists can have a hard time with barre chords. There are plenty of guitarists who can play the F chord without keeping the following points in mind, but for those of you who aren’t as fluent with guitar skills, here are a few things to watch out for as you practice your F (and many other six-string barre) chords.

11) Barre chords are too hard, can’t I just play a different F shape?

This is a good point, and to be honest, sometimes you shouldn’t bother with all six strings. Maybe three or four notes are plenty for the sound you’re looking for.

But there are other times that you really need a full six-string sound or perhaps you need the low F to keep the bassline across the chords shaped the way you want.

In case that you don’t want or need all six strings, below are a couple of other options. I’ve include the six-string F shape, two Fs with fewer strings, and a common chord that is often played when guitarists don’t want to play the full F chord.

Beware, this last example is actually an Fmaj7 chord (notice the open E on the first string). Often, it sounds great, but I think that us musicians should always know which guitar chords we’re playing.

F Chord 1 F Chord 2 F Chord 3 F Chord 4


2) I have to press down all six strings with one finger?

NO! This is where many people struggle when first learning the F chord. If you look carefully at the chart above, you should notice that there are only three strings with dots on the first fret.

This means that you can hold down the low F (first fret, sixth string) with the tip of your index, and curve your finger slightly above the center strings and press the two highest strings with the base of your curved index finger. This means that you only have to press down half the number of strings as most people think! It may take some time practicing but it will save you tons of energy, especially if playing barre chords for long.

Once this is mastered, it’s possible to actually cover all six strings gently, muting them all, and then while strumming, isolate specific strings to press down one at a time with the same finger muting the rest. It sounds impossible, I know. It can be done, but if you can’t get it right away, don’t worry. I still struggle to isolate all six strings one at a time!


3) If I can’t make all the notes play, I should just squeeze the neck more, right?

Another big misconception that I hear among guitarists is that barre chords require lots of pressure from the thumb pressing forward on the neck. This often works, but takes much more energy than players usually realize.

Because of this, after a few measures of a barre, beginning guitarists often complain of pain or cramping in the thumb or wrist. I always compare this to running backwards while throwing a baseball when explaining this to my students.

If you’re moving in the opposite direction as you’re throwing the ball, it won’t go as far as if you threw it just as hard standing still or running forward.

The pressure you put on the back of the neck works against your fingers pressing on the strings. Because of our natural reflexes, our body then tells our fingers to press extra hard, so the notes tend to ring but with lots of extra work on our part.

In fact, I often play barres without my thumb touching the neck at all. In cases where I have a barre in combination with a large stretch (plus my small hands), I frequently can’t reach the back of the neck with my thumb at all!


Best of luck with your F chord practice! To be completely honest, it will take lots of time and effort to comfortably play the F chord without thinking about it too much.

Only practice as long as it takes before injuring your fingers. A good guitar teacher will show you every variation of the F chord, so if you have any problems with the normal F chord, have no fear! Let’s hear about your previous experiences with the F chord and other barre chords in the comments below!


Kirk RPost Author: Kirk R.
Kirk is a classical, bass, and acoustic guitar instructor in Denver, CO. He earned a bachelors of music in Guitar performance at The College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and he is currently pursuing a masters degree in performance.  Learn more about Kirk here!


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How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

One Simple Thing That Will Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

It takes a lot of skill to stand out as a guitarist. Here, guitar teacher Bernard M. shows you exactly what it takes to pull off an amazing solo and how you should approach phrasing…

You may or may not be ready to play a guitar solo, but it’s good to know what elements go into one. What is it that makes a great guitar solo? While there are many ways to answer this question, there is one crucial element that often goes overlooked by even the most experienced players: phrasing.

Phrasing is the way in which a musician or composer combines notes to create a musical sentence, or phrase. Although it can be very subtle, it often makes the difference between a memorable solo and “note soup.” What does this mean for you guitarists? Play less, leave space.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Let your ears lead the way, not your fingers.

Many musicians suffer from the misconception that faster, more technical playing is somehow better and more “musical.” This can be very discouraging to new players, who have trouble competing with their more experienced peers. Never fear! Creativity and imagination are what make great music, and this is what phrasing is all about.

Check out these two samples to hear the difference between a busy solo and one that uses creative phrasing.

The Problem: A Run-On

Example B Full

Not bad at all, but can you hum a bar or two of that solo? Does any part of it stick in your memory? The problem with this solo is that it’s practically one long phrase. Like a run-on sentence, it’s difficult to follow and needs to be broken up!

In this next sample, I add space and punctuation to the previous solo, creating different musical phrases.

The Solution: Adding Space

Example A Full

By simply adding space to create distinct phrases, I have made the solo much more memorable and effective. Each phrase has room to breathe before moving on to the next. By playing less, the notes that are played gain much more power, adding strength to the solo as a whole.

Hopefully, by now I’ve convinced you to focus on your phrasing the next time you go to take a solo. This, however, is easier said than done. Phrasing is very elusive and intangible.

It has a closer link to creativity than technique, and therefore, is difficult to learn or teach methodically. Instead, it’s something that constantly develops as you grow more experienced and more tasteful. Here are few suggestions to help you develop your phrasing and taste.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Take your time.

This is perhaps one of simplest yet most profound suggestions on how to improve your soloing. Being comfortable and confident while playing allows you to sound your best. If you try to fill your solo with every last lick you can conjure up, you will very likely end up feeling rushed, nervous, and stumbling through the solo.

Slow down! Savor the solo and don’t overthink it. When you relax and give yourself plenty of time, it allows your creative instincts to take the wheel. Some great ways to leave yourself this room to breathe include long, expressive bends, sustained notes with some tasty vibrato, and even simple rests.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Break it up.

Even the most creative players can fall into the trap of putting their fingers on auto-pilot, aimlessly playing up and down familiar scales in monotonous eight notes or triplet lines. One of the best ways to combat this common ailment is to break up the patterns.

Playing a long descending eighth note line? Throw a rest or two in there to punctuate your phrase. This can be a very powerful move and make an otherwise boring lick fresh and interesting.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Think like a drummer.

We guitar players spend a lot of time thinking about chords, scales, arpeggios, and intervals. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, we sometimes forget about something just as, if not more, important; rhythm.

Thinking about what you are playing rhythmically is at the core of phrasing. What are you doing on the third beat of the measure, or the “& of 2?” What beats do you want to highlight or downplay? Do you want to play along with the beat, or use syncopation to emphasize unexpected accents?

This might seem overwhelming to players who are not used to thinking this way, so I will refer to my advice above; take your time, play what you are comfortable playing and above all, follow your creative instincts.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Emulate the experts.

My final piece of advice is to study the players that inspire you the most. How do they use phrasing in their solos?

Learn your favorite guitar solos, note for note, and study them closely. This is a great way to pick up the playing habits of your heroes and start developing your own individual sound.

Studying the solos of players like David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, or Derek Trucks, who have a keen sense of phrasing, will help you make even the simplest licks powerful, expressive and inspiring. Some of my favorite songs to play are classic rock guitar solos. They feel good and they sound incredible.

As always, make sure you set aside time for plenty of practice. Try to not go a day without playing for 15 minutes. You will start to see significant progress in just a couple of weeks!


Bernard M Teacher Post Author: Bernard M.
Bernard M. is a guitar and songwriting instructor in Philadelphia, PA. He teaches lessons online and will travel to his students. Learn more about Bernard here!


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guitar man1

Quiz: What Should You Write Your Next Song About?

guitar man1
Writing songs is hard enough work without having to deal with songwriters’ block! To help you find inspiration for your next song, we created this easy personality quiz.

Take the quiz and find out what your next hit single will be about…

For more songwriting tips and songwriting prompts, check out our infographic guide 25 Ways to Break Free from Songwriters’ Block! Share your songwriting ideas, struggles, triumphs, and questions in the comments below.


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Songwriting Tips- Songwriting Prompts for When You're Stuck

25 Ways to Break Free from Songwriters’ Block

Songwriting Tips- Songwriting Prompts for When You're Stuck

Every songwriter runs into writers’ block at some point in their career. To help you dig your way out of the dreaded doldrums of songwriters’ block, we put together 25 songwriting tips and prompts plus great songs to inspire you.

Check out these songwriting tips and find your muse today!



Bonus: Take the quiz to find out what you should write your next song about!

Write about your day.

Think your life is boring and you have nothing to say? Check out the lyrics to this Courtney Barnett song and think again. She starts “Small Poppies” by describing a yard and finds unique meaning in those every-day details.

Write about your favorite book.

You don’t need to have a degree in classic literature, and you don’t need to be an overtly bookish artist to pull this songwriting move off. For inspiration, look to Led Zeppelin. Their catalog is full of Lord of the Rings references, especially apparent in songs like “Ramble On”.

Literary references don’t have to stay on the page. Another great track that takes on this prompt is “Soma” by The Strokes. This song walks a line between referencing Brave New World and commenting on contemporary drug culture.

Write about someone from history.

No need to write a history lesson to follow this songwriting prompt. In her song, “Amelia”, Joni Mitchell drew on the amazing story of Amelia Earhart and combined it with a personal story to create a poignant and heartbreaking song.

Write a response to someone else’s song.

Got a song stuck in your head? Maybe you can write a response by taking on the subject of that song from a different point of view. For example, The Mamas & The Papas’ classic “California Dreamin'” is all about feeling restless and wanting to run away to California.

Wolf Parade’s 2008 song “California Dreamer” pulls imagery from The Mamas & The Papas original and tells the story of being left behind in the snow.

Write about something that makes you angry.

Odds are, the things that really grind your gears are super relatable. Tap into your anger and let it all out in a song.

Write about your favorite food.

Feeling hungry? Why not write an ode to your favorite food. “Grilled Cheese” by Cherry Glazerr is a fun and playful display of the band’s teenage attitude and garage-rock vibes.

Write a song with no chorus.

If you usually write songs with a predictable verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure, breaking out of that box can be great for your creativity. For song structure inspiration, check out “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel, and their full album by the same name.

Use the chord progression from another song.

It’s okay to use the same chord progression as another song that already exists. There are hundreds of songs you can play using just a few chords. Experiment with some common chord progressions and feel free to put your own spin on it!

Write a song for your best friend.

Friends are some of the most special people in our lives, so why not honor your bond with your best bud in song? For inspiration, check out this song by The White Stripes.

Try writing in a different style than you’re used to.

Working in different styles is great way to avoid getting stuck as a songwriter. For example, check out this lovely acoustic song by drone-metal artist Chelsea Wolfe. On her album Unknown Rooms, Wolfe took a detour from her heavier, dronier electric material and wrote a beautiful album on acoustic guitar.

Write about your pet.

You can write a song about your pet without heading into childrens’ music territory. Pinback’s 2001 hit “Penelope” is actually about a pet goldfish.

Make your lyrics a conversation between two characters.

Thinking of a song as a conversation can open up tons of new songwriting possibilities. Even if you’re not as adventurous as David Bowie in his “Space Oddity” days, consider using dialog in your next song.

Write about your favorite holiday.

Holiday music doesn’t have to be sentimental or overly saccharine (unless that’s what you’re going for, of course). Take a cue from Misfits and write your own dark Halloween ballad, or be a trailblazer and write the first song ever about a more obscure holiday.

Write a sequel to one of your own songs.

Do you have a song that people seem to really love? Why not write part two! Ever since the 50s and 60s, pop artists have been following up hit singles with sequels, like Leslie Gore’s follow up to “It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To” entitled “Judy’s Turn To Cry”. Take that, Judy!

Write about someone in your family (you don’t have to tell them).

Family can be wonderful, horrible, comforting, difficult, or all of those things at once. There’s likely a lot of fodder for songs in your family story if you look. For inspiration, check out “Feet Asleep” by Thao, written about the singer’s relationship with her mother.

Write about your fondest memory.

Memories are a rich source of inspiration for many songwriters, so tap into your happiest memories to find your next song. Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath wrote “Come Down” about bathing with her cousins as a small child.

Write about something that scares you.

Fear is a powerful, primal emotion that we all experience. Whether you’re afraid of intimacy, loss, or monsters under the bed, your song about your fear is sure to resonate with many people.

Draw inspiration from your religion or spirituality.

If you’re a spiritual or religious person, you can absolutely find deep inspiration in your faith. Many of Leonard Cohen’s classic songs, such as “Hallelujah”, use religious imagery to illustrate personal stories and feelings.

Write about something in nature.

Get off  your computer, put down your phone, and write a song about something you see outside. Often, when you unplug, you’ll find inspiration is right there waiting for you.

Write about your daydreams.

Dreams and daydreams are great source material for songs! Don’t limit yourself to writing about the real world. You might even find themes from your dreams repeating throughout multiple songs, like Lorde’s frequent references to royalty in her work.

Write about something you regret.

We’ve all done things we’re not proud of or that we would rather not think about. Get in tune with your regrets and you’ll likely find something worth singing about. For inspiration, listen to “Cat’s in the Cradle”, one of the most well-known and haunting songs about regret.

Write about a social issue.

Do you have strong feelings about a social issue, like racial equality, LGBT rights, or feminism? Like Beyoncé, use your music to speak your mind and maybe even inspire change.

Write about the town where you grew up.

Evoke feelings of nostalgia by writing about the town where you grew up. How has it changed since you were young? What do you miss?

Write about the last time you cried.

You might not enjoy dwelling on pain or sadness, but there is something deeply satisfying about a well-written sad song. Check out this song by Angel Olsen for inspiration and try writing an emotional song of your own.

Write about someone or something that always makes you smile.

What makes you happiest? Whether it’s watching your favorite show, going to the beach, or just seeing that special someone, you can put that happiness into a song. The most important thing is to have fun!

For extra help or feedback with your songs, it’s always a great idea to work with a partner or private music teacher who can help you hear your songs in a new way.

What inspires you? Share the odd or interesting things that have sparked your songs in the comments below!


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12 Addictive Apps Every Musician Needs - top music apps

12 Addictive Apps Every Musician Needs (2015 Update)

12 Addictive Apps Every Musician Needs - top music apps

Since the invention of the app store, aspiring and experienced musicians have been finding inspiration, practicing their skills, and immersing themselves in their craft — all with the help of some of the top music apps!

There are so many noteworthy apps that can benefit all musicians, from guitarists to singers and songwriters. Whether you are looking for something educational or creative, this list will benefit your collection of apps. And best of all, they are all fun to work with… and pretty addictive, we might add!

Here are our picks for top music apps…

12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)Songwriter’s Pad

Songwriter’s Pad is the ultimate songwriter’s tool. It contains powerful idea-generating tools to inspire creation while making lyric-writing easier than ever. Everything you need to write music is packed into this one application. Finally, an app to defeat writer’s block once and for all!

Download: iOSAndroid


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)Songsterr Tabs & Chords

Songsterr Tabs & Chords was featured in the Wall Street Journal as, “one of the best apps for learning to play music.” With a huge catalog of 500,000 accurate tabs and chords, all musicians can learn something with this app. Most songs have tabs for individual instruments too, including the guitar, bass, drums, and vocals.

Download: iOS, Android


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)GarageBand

Do you need a full recording studio on the go? If so, this is the app for you. GarageBand turns your phone into a collection of instruments, including piano, organ, guitar, and drums. Guitarists can even plug their electric guitar in and play through classic amps and stompbox effects!

Download: iOS


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)My Note Games

This is a fun music game that teaches music theory and instrument mastery, including lessons for saxophone, piano, guitar, recorder, trumpet, violin, viola, and cello, plus vocals and whistling. The app actually listens to you playing your instrument, checking your tone, pitch, and accuracy.

Download: iOS


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)Beatwave

With Beatwave, you can make unique music just by tapping on your screen! No musical skills are required, and you can create songs anywhere from your phone. In minutes, you can make complex songs with multiple layers of instruments and sounds — and then share them on social media!

Download: iOS


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)Ear Trainer

Ear Trainer is an educational application designed for beginner to advanced musicians, music students, and anyone interested in improving one’s musical ear. There are more than 260 individual exercises covering intervals, chords, scales, relative pitch, and melody.

Download: iOS


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)Sing! Karaoke by Smule

Are you ready to take karaoke to the next level? With Sing! Karaoke by Smule, you can sing your favorite karaoke songs and show them off to the world. Record yourself, add audio effects, and share with the app’s global community!

Download: iOS, Android


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)Polyphonic!

Polyphonic! is a simple interface app for creating your own complex layers of music, even without any prior musical ability. Each square represents a different sound and each color represents a unique group of sounds. This app is perfect for anyone interested in music creation.

Download: iOS


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)Hum

Hum makes note-taking and audio recording of song ideas easier than ever! Every aspiring songwriter needs this tool in his or her arsenal. Hum keeps your lyrics and song ideas organized and sortable so you never lose anything again.

Download: iOS


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)Lyrics Pro

With this app, you get access to the lyrics of millions of tracks, straight from your phone. You can search by artist, song name, or the lyrics themselves. It also has a cool auto-loading feature that delivers the lyrics to any song that is currently playing!

Download: iOS


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)Figure

You now have the ability to create awesome music in minutes! Simply open Figure and start by creating a beat, then share it with your friends. Whether you are new to music production or are a seasoned veteran, this app is super fun to use. All musicians can use it to improve their rhythm and expand creativity.

Download: iOS


12 Addictive Apps Musicians Will Love (2015 Update)SongPop

Do you know everything about music? Test yourself against friends with SongPop. As you play, you’ll listen to song clips from thousands of original artists in more than 300 genres, and the idea is to guess the artist or song faster than your friends.

Download: iOS, Android


Readers, what top music apps are missing from this list? Let us know in the comments!

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Wanna Be a Music Major- 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

Majoring in Music- 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

Is a music major in your academic future? Guitar teacher Brett M. shares 10 things you need to know to have a great guitar audition at the music college of your choice…

If you’re a guitarist who’s planning to continue your music education at the college level, then this may be one of the most important articles you could ever read.

In fact, it’s something that I wish I could have read, before auditioning and (luckily) getting accepted into Berklee College of Music over a dozen years ago.

Let’s meet someone…

His name is Dwayne, and like you (and me, back in the day) he is interested in majoring in music. Dwayne loves to play guitar, and he’s passionate about learning more.

He’s a sophomore in high school, and has played in a couple of bands off and on. Dwayne’s not a huge jazz guy, but he’s thinking about trying out for the school jazz band, just to get the playing experience — but he’s not too sure he’d know what to play.

Dwayne’s got above-average technique on the guitar and he knows he wants to get faster, but that’s about as specific as he could say.

He’s also got a feeling that there’s a lot more to learn about scales, chords, etc. In fact, his overall knowledge of how everything fits together is a bit sketchy. But he’s hungry to learn all there is to know, and is planning on attending music college for guitar after graduation.

Problem is, he’s not too sure what he’ll need to know to get in, and he’s a little worried about it. Actually, he’s a lot worried.

Sound familiar? If so, then read on – you’re about to find out the 10 Guitar Strategies For a Successful College Audition!

1. Have The Right Reasons

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

If you’re really serious about wanting to attend college for guitar (and then making a go at a career in music) you’d better be doing it for the right reasons. Here are two of the wrong reasons:

  • I want to be famous.
  • I want to make a lot of money.

Those two things may in fact happen to you, and if they do, GREAT! But to have a sustainable, lifelong relationship with music — one that continues even when the going gets tough — there’d better be more behind your desire.

For me, I simply couldn’t (and still can’t) not do music. The desire to create, to challenge yourself, to deepen your character, and to share music with others is what will fuel a successful and sustainable music career in college and after.

Do it for the right reasons for long enough, and getting rich and famous (while more importantly, being fulfilled) could actually happen.

Here’s a wakeup call for you: Even if you go to music college and decide to major in performance (in other words, in playing guitar) the majority of work that you do, especially for the first two years, will not be on playing guitar. You must be willing and excited to spend a lot of time away from the guitar, learning about all aspects of music. If you don’t enjoy this part, you won’t last.

Examples of all the fun stuff that comes with learning about music include: ear training, text book music theory, music analysis, conducting, music history, arranging, and solfeggio (sight singing).

You need to crave knowledge about all of these things, or don’t even bother. Sound harsh? Not if you’ve got what it takes! If hearing this actually gets you excited to be in an environment like that, then music college is probably a good fit for you. It definitely was for me.

2. Know Your Audience

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

For a contemporary music college, the application process usually involves sending an audition tape of music “from the standard repertoire”.

In my case, not really knowing what this meant at the time (and being a metal guy!) I chose to play an intro to a Testament song by Alex Skolnick, who’s a pretty rippin’ player. I figured that if a song was from a CD I had, then it must be “from the standard repertoire”. I pulled it off alright, but in hindsight it was kind of a dumb idea to choose a song like that.

You see, while Berklee and many other music schools certainly embrace many kinds of music, they are historically jazz institutions. So, what they’re often really looking for are pieces that demonstrate your ability to improvise a bit, play chord solos, interpret melodies, etc. In other words, start learning to play jazz music from “the standard repertoire” (out of a big book of songs called “The Real Book”). 

Even though my audition turned out okay, if I had to do it again, I would have been smarter to choose some performance pieces designed to achieve a specific goal — in this case, impressing the instructors at a “jazz school” — and not just choosing music that I thought was impressive.

3. Listen

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

Start to immerse yourself in music daily, and not just the styles that are your current favorites (I’m still a metal guy!).

Listen especially to classical music from all time periods, as well as jazz. You will absolutely pick up and absorb some important musical concepts simply through osmosis.

Check out Jamey Aebersold’s extensive library of CDs for jazz students, great learning tools even if you don’t understand what he’s talking about yet. They’re mostly for putting on and listening to while you’re doing other stuff, and getting used to the sounds of jazz harmony and soloing.

And, if you listen to Bach or Beethoven every day, you will reap rewards a’plenty!

4. Watch

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

I don’t just mean to watch random videos on YouTube! I’m talking about getting your hands on some good guitar instructional videos, preferably some no-nonsense ones from the late 80s or early 90s, put out by the companies REH or Alfred.

Be sure to check some out some killer guitarists who are way over your head, like Scott Henderson, Al DiMeola, Allan HoldsworthGreg Howe, and Frank Gambale. Don’t fret if you can’t understand anything they’re talking about (a lot of these guys play great, but couldn’t teach their way out of a paper bag)!

What’s important is to start getting an idea about what skills are out there that you don’t know about yet. These types of videos will help you figure out where your weak points are and the areas of knowledge or technical ability that you need the most work on. They can be equally inspirational and frustrating!

5. Know Your Notes

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

Knowing notes is more than simply reading them on the page. It’s about actually finding and understanding them with the guitar. One of the biggest problems that plagues most guitar players is not having all of the notes on the neck memorized.

Everything that you do, especially at the college level, has to do with notes. So does it make sense to not know where they are on the guitar? Of course not. It’s absolutely essential knowledge for a serious player.

6. Scale Knowledge

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

Memorizing scales on the guitar is of immense importance. There are six “families” of scales (including all of their modes) that you must know to play contemporary music:

  • Major
  • Melodic Minor
  • Harmonic Minor
  • Diminished
  • Whole Tone
  • Pentatonic

Knowing the fingerings and shapes on the neck is an important first step. But the actual ability to build them in your head in any key, to know the sound, and to start them from anywhere on the neck is vital for reading, improvisation, and writing.

It’s a big task, but one that every aspiring college guitar student needs to tackle.

7. Chord Knowledge

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

Understanding how to build chords, from triads to extended harmony chords like E7susb9 and other weird ones, is an absolutely essential skill to master before attending college for guitar.

Analysis of chord progressions is a necessary skill for really understanding how songs work and how they’re structured.

Chord and scale relationships also help you understand how to play or improvise over daunting chord progressions (like Dm7b5 –G7alt –CmMaj7) and actually sound like you know what you’re doing!

This will give you an edge over your competition when applying or auditioning for music school — not to mention an increase in confidence.

8. Arpeggios

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

Arpeggios are the same as chords, but played one note at a time. They help you unlock the potential of chords as a resource for soloing, and it’s important to be able to build and play them all over the neck, including everything from the standard major and minors, to the 7th arpeggios and all of the extended harmony arpeggios (9ths, 11ths, etc.).

9. Sight Reading and Rhythm Reading

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

What’s the best way to get a guitar player to turn down? Put sheet music in front of him! It’s a joke, but completely true.

Reading music (and especially rhythm) is one of the biggest blind spots for most guitar players, and it will be a major handicap for you if you’re thinking about continuing your education at the college level.

So why hide from your fear? Tackle it head on! I find that rhythm really intimidates many of my guitar students. It can look like a foreign language with all those beams and squiggles and dots.

But it’s really not that bad when you have the proper guidance. After that, reading the pitches on the music staff isn’t that hard at all, it just takes some practice.

Being a strong reader is very impressive to the people you’ll be auditioning for, so it pays to spend the time getting good at it.

10. Technical Ability and Speed

Wanna Be a Music Major? 10 Guitar Strategies for a Successful College Audition

Believe it or not, when it comes to getting into a music college for guitar, your raw technical ability and speed aren’t as important as some of the other areas that we’ve mentioned.

You don’t have to be a shred master — but why not go for it anyway! It can’t hurt. Playing fast is a goal for many guitarists, and increasing your technical skill will add to your confidence and ability to impress at the college level.

So, is your guitar teacher preparing you for all this stuff? If not, show them the door! For many students, finding a top-quality guitar teacher is one of the first steps on the road to majoring in music.

Remember, there’s a lot of competition to fill those limited spaces in the school that you want to get into.

Here’s the good news though: If you’ve got a good work ethic, a passion for learning about all aspects of music and the guitar, and a great teacher with experience in all of this, then getting into the music college of your dreams is a thoroughly achievable goal.

Good luck – and keep practicing!


Brett M teacherPost Author: Brett M.
Brett is a guitar book author, metal recording artist, and video game composer. He has over a dozen years of private instruction experience, and is the creator of the popular free audio course “Unleash Your Speed: How to Shred on Guitar”. Learn more about Brett here!


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10 Acoustic Guitar Songs for Beginners That Are Not Even a Little Cheesy

10 Acoustic Guitar Songs for Beginners That Are Not Even a Little Cheesy

10 Acoustic Guitar Songs for Beginners That Are Not Even a Little Cheesy

Nobody likes trudging through difficult music that they don’t like. If a song is too hard, it’s not going to sound good. And if you don’t like the song, why bother putting in the effort?

To solve this problem for you, here’s a very eclectic list of easy songs to play on your acoustic guitar.

DISCLAIMER: Making music is tricky business. There’s a lot of multitasking and it takes time to get things flowing the way that you want to hear them. Additionally, guitarists all have different strengths and weaknesses, so a song that your friend told you was easy, might be really difficult for you. Don’t get discouraged!

My hope is that this list includes enough styles and techniques that you’ll be able to find something that you enjoy and something that is easy for you.


Ventura Highway – America

This is a cool old song with great, simple harmonies and a fun lead lick, that’s a little more challenging. If you’re looking for an easy song to start with, you’ll want to focus on the chords first.

You can get through the whole song using just two chords: Fmaj7 and Cmaj7. If you play the two chords as shown in the link below, the switch between them should be fairly easy.

If you’re still having any difficulty, try keeping the first finger in the Fmaj7 chord down so that you’re playing the standard C chord shape. If you’re playing this along with the recording, you’ll want to capo at the 2nd fret, to make the chords Gmaj7 and Dmaj7 (played using the same shapes and fingerings).

Get the chords: Ventura Highway


Bend the Bracket – Chevelle

A little heavier of a song, but still great. Originally played on an acoustic, “Bend the Bracket” uses almost exclusively power chords, which you can just slide around on the fifth string. One tricky bit of business is that Chevelle plays this on a guitar tuned down one half-step.

If you’d rather not worry about retuning but still want to play with the CD, just move everything down one fret. There are no open strings, so you won’t have to worry about that. The one thing that could become difficult with the wrong fingering is the intro. If you play the power chord on the fifth string at the seventh fret (or 6th if you’re moving down a fret), you can reach the sixth string at the eighth fret with your middle finger without having to lift the power chord.

Get the chords: Bend the Bracket


Heroin – Velvet Underground

Despite the length of this song, there are only two chords in it, and one can be played with only one hand. How’s that for easy? Similar to the song by Chevelle, Lou Reed also has his guitar tuned down a half step. If you already retuned for the last song, then don’t tune back up yet!

If you can form a D chord with your left hand, you’re already well on your way to playing this entire song. Essentially, he bounces between a D chord in the usually formation and a G which can be played using the open 4th, 3rd and 2nd strings. Of course if you’re already comfortable with a six-string G chord, feel free to mix it in as you think sounds good.

These chords are generally played whole and then picked with the notes separately while the left hand stays unmoved on the chord. The only other part to the song is the ending.

Okay, I sort of lied when I said only two chords, but mostly only two chords. Besides, the chords at the end are played using the same D shape that you’ve already mastered, just slide up to the 7th and 9th frets.

Get the chords: Heroin


Bard’s Song – Blind Guardian

Metal you say? On an acoustic you say? Yes, and it can still be EPIC! Now, I may get some pushback on this being an “easy” song, but like I mentioned before; everyone has their own strengths.

I’ve personally had students for whom this would be less difficult than previous songs on this list. That being said, if fingerpicking isn’t one of your strengths, use this as an easy introduction to improve!

Get the chords: Bard’s Song


Disarm – Smashing Pumpkins

This song remains a favorite of mine. You may see versions of the chords of this song listed as G-Em-C-D. While you could play these chords along with the song with no trouble, it would lack some of the sound of the original, and, not to mention, be more difficult.

So in the same vein of keeping it easy and sounding better anyway, let’s look at the real chords. G-Em7-Cadd9-Dsus. If those look more complicated, don’t worry. While they’re more complicated from a music theory standpoint, they allow us guitarists to keep two fingers down for the WHOLE SONG!

Go ahead and plant your ring and pinky fingers on the 2nd and 1st strings at the 3rd fret. The rest of the chords can be formed as follows:

Get the chords: Disarm


Dumb (acoustic) – Nirvana

Another song that is all power chords, also known as 5th chords (A5 ). Like some others here, Kurt often played his guitar tuned down a half step. As with the Chevelle song, the power chords make it easy to play a fret lower if you’re in standard tuning.

Get the chords: Dumb


One Less Addiction – Embodyment

This is a hauntingly beautiful song that I’m guessing many of you haven’t had the pleasure of hearing before. I’m guess that it’ll also be a breeze for most of you to play.

The majority of the song just switches between these two chords in the seventh position. I like to keep my middle finger planted on the third string at the eighth fret as an anchor between these two chords.

Get the chords: Embodyment


Moorish Dance – Aaron Shearer

Another one will be really easy for the left hand, but if you have a hard time playing without a pick, it could be tricky. If you have trouble stretching for chords and getting all the notes to ring, this song will give your left hand a break. You’ll only need it for six, yes six, different notes.

Beyond that, your right hand will alternate between playing the tune with the thumb and playing some higher accompanying notes with the index and/or middle fingers.

Fun story: I was recently talking with a friend and fellow guitar teacher who had broken a bone in a right hand that connected his ring and pinky fingers to his wrist. He mentioned that some of his older students weren’t convinced he could still be a good teacher without all his fingers. He used “Moorish Dance” as his “show-off piece” to prove otherwise.

Get the chords: Moorish Dance


Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Crosby, Stills & Nash

Technically speaking, this is actually a set of four songs, but they’re all played as a complete piece of music and they all use the same tricks to keep it easy on the fingers. This is one of the more complicated songs on this list, but that doesn’t mean it has to be hard!

If you look at a bare and accurate chord chart of this song, you’d see a whole bunch of complicated looking chord symbols with ‘sus’s and numbers and slashes. While you’re all smart players and probably know what those mean, it’s still more information to process and send to our fingers.

The key here, rather than dealing with all of these complicated and frequently difficult to change between chords, is to make sure you’ve got the tuning right. We’ve already covered songs in this list using an alternate tuning (Eb or half step down tuning), but this is a bit more radical. We’ll leave the highest two strings alone, so they’ll remain at E and B, going down from there, we’ll tune the 3rd string down to E, the 4th string **up** to E (always use caution when tuning higher than standard), and finally the 5th string down to E, to match the 6th string.

If you’ve been keeping track, that leaves us with, from low to high, EEEEBE. From there, follow the tab, since your sense of where chords usually are will be totally out of whack. It’s a whole bunch of open and straight barre chords with a few little licks sliding down the first two strings.

Get the chords: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes


Cruise – Florida Georgia Line

Were you worried there wouldn’t be any country on here? What good is an easy acoustic list without a little twang! Remember the chords from “Disarm”? Same deal here! If you prefer the sound on the Dsus chord, you can play a standard D shape, but keep that 3rd finger planted! The order is G-Dsus(or D)-Em7-Cadd9. Have fun!

Get the chords: Cruise


Hopefully you found a few new things on this list, even just something you can enjoy listening to. With a list like this you’re bound to find a song that suits your strengths and weaknesses.

If you haven’t, this list isn’t exhaustive, so don’t give up! A well versed guitar teacher is a great resource to find the right songs for you. You’ve got a knack for guitar (everyone does in one way or another) and you just have to figure out what it is.

Once you get some traction with that, then go after your weaknesses! There’s no problem in your guitar playing that can’t be fixed.


Kirk RPost Author:
 Kirk R.
Kirk is a classical, bass, and acoustic guitar instructor in Denver, CO. He earned a bachelors of music in Guitar performance at The College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and he is currently pursuing a masters degree in performance.  Learn more about Kirk here!


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