What is the most important day to practice? Well everyday of course!
If you are taking lessons or attending classes, however, there is a best day. It is either the day of(afterwards) or the day after your lesson. When you learn something new you need to reinforce the concepts and muscle actions ASAP. If you wait until the next day and then you get an unexpected invite, then the next day the kids need you, the next day you already had plans….etc., by now half a week or more has passed. It is easy to forget exactly what you were supposed to be focusing on. If you miss a day after you already practiced your new stuff you have a better chance of remembering everything.
The blues scale is a great way for beginners to start improvising and an integral scale for all guitarists to have in their musical tool box. It is versatile and a bit forgiving in that it is basically a five note pentatonic scale with the added ‘blues’ note…the #4.
It’s easy to know which key to use the blues scale for a minor key. If you’re in A minor you play A minor blues, E minor-E blues…etc.
What is not so obvious is which major key to use the blues scale. Unless you are playing a straight ahead blues you can’t really use the same theory…G major= G blues, etc.
The answer lies with the ‘relative minor’ key. The relative minor is 3 half steps below the root of the major key. So the relative minor of C major is A minor. G major is E minor.
Once you know which relative minor you can rip away.
Here is a list of Major keys and their relative minors commonly used in guitar. A cheat sheet to get you started, but, you will NEED to know these intimately as part of your music theory repertoire!
Major key / Relative minor key(where to use your blues scale)
For you beginners out there learning to play chords you are going to love this!
So you’re struggling making that dreaded change from C to G!(or any tough change). What are your options….practice over & over & over…best option! Practice slow and keep your rhythm…great option. Get frustrated and throw your guitar against the wall…not recommended, condoned or liable if you do try it!!!!
The not so secret is if you keep practicing you WILL get it!
The secret is there is a ‘cheating’ technique, although it is not cheating because guitarists do this all the time. Even arguably the greatest rock song of all time Stairway to Heaven employs this method.
Use a strum that ends in an eighth note, i.e., 1 2+ 3 4+ where the numbers are strummed down and the +(ands) are strummed up.
On the very last strum, the up stroke of beat 4, take your left hand off the neck and strum the open strings. Use this ‘free time’ to get to the next chord on rhythm for beat 1.
So the strum would go 1 2+ 3 4-(open strum), 1 2+ 3 4-(open strum)
Try it out it makes life much easier to change your chords and sounds stylistically correct.
Have you ever been walking around your house bored and say, ‘Ooooh I am gonna practice my guitar?’ You find that it is in the case, tucked in a room you never practice in and a full stack of junk on top. You know, just like your gym equipment….’Maybe I’ll practice later…’
It happens to the best of us!
One way to avoid this is to keep your guitar out of the case, of course you want to make sure you find a safe spot for it. Also keep it in a room you frequent so you can pick it up at anytime. If it is staring you in the face you are more likely to pick it up. If you pick it up you can get in a quick practice session. If you get in a quick session who knows it may turn into a full blown practice session.
Keep your guitar out, keep it protected and keep it where you can easily pick it up at anytime!
Last night I was working on some music and decided to find some of the pieces I played for my college recitals. Found the folder and could not believe my eyes. There was SO much music. Music I haven’t played in years. Great music that I need to start playing again! Ponce, Villa-Lobos, Bach, Scarlatti just to name a few.
Excited to play these pieces again I dug into the thick stack of sheet music. I must of spent a few hours easily sight reading. Amazing that I forgot all about so many of these great works. Not only do I need to re-learn them but I completely forgot that I ever played many of them.
So here is the ‘Use it or Lose it’ lesson. As musicians we spend a lot of time on our craft, novices to professionals alike. No one wants all that time to go to waste! This is something I preach to my students. Work on new music as your main practice items but everyday work on some old music, as well! Play a few old pieces every time you practice and they will always stay in your head and fingers. It’s when a piece is tucked away, not seen or heard that musical atrophy sets in and although anytime a guitar is in your hands is a good thing, it is NO fun to have to re-learn something you already worked so hard on in the past!
Another advantage to practicing many songs weekly is to develop a full repertoire. When friends and family know you play guitar they WILL ask you to play for them. So you get set to perform and realize you have only been working on a couple of pieces and they are in the development stage, not really ready for prime time. But if you have a handful of songs ready to go you will be the life of the party!
When you are done with your practice session…put in 5 more minutes. These extra five minutes often turn into much more and can become very inspired. This might have something to do with the fact that you have done your regimented practice and are now playing for your own fulfillment on the instrument. Also it takes time for your brain and muscles to coordinate the way you want. It is no different than a workout. Those first 10 minutes of exercise can be rough before you hit your stride with endorphins being released, etc. Musicians and athletes both use the terms being locked in or being in the zone.
There have been countless times I was not having a great session and been ready to call it a day when I decided to add an extra 5. Some of my most productive sessions have come out of this practice. I’ve written some of my best compositions and infused strong musicality when I have gotten into ‘the zone.’
Give it a try…if nothing else, you get an extra 5 minutes of practice!
Note to parents of guitar students: This may or may not work with young kids. Even if they love to play their guitar they are often driven to fill their duty i.e., a 20 minute practice session and can get frustrated over extending the time. Of course you know your kids and how they work best.
February 2016 we tapped the keg on Aces & Ales Guitar Classes w a Pint of Craftbeer. The classes began at Oceanside Ale Works(Home of the Dude Double IPA) Maybe you heard about it…lol
Two and a half years later and the classes are still going strong!
We’ve held classes at Oceanside Ale Works, Green Flash Cellar 3, Thorn Street Brewery, Second Chance Beer Co. and for the wine lovers we have been holding classes at Koi Zen Cellars in Carmel Mountain.
The classes are all about guitar and the beauty is getting all levels involved; there is something for everyone.
-Absolute beginners join in and get their feet wet. Rhythm and getting comfortable with a guitar and making cool sounds is the focus.
-Intermediate players come for the chance to play in a group setting. No matter how much you practice at home you just cant substitute playing with other musicians.
-Advanced players come to pick up tips on improvising and music theory.
All levels really do fit together! The key is the relaxed atmosphere no matter what experience you have you will learn something and did I mention you get a pint of craft beer?
Win-Win! For everyone!
Classes mix it up with classic rock, blues, classical, flamenco, jazz…
One of my favorite SRV stories is about his calluses. The story is that he practiced so much they would literally fall off. Well if you know how pink the skin is when you lose a blister you know how tender that skin is! No way you can play guitar on that…unless you are Stevie Ray Vaughan and you just super glue the loose calluses back on your fingertips. That is dedication to practicing for sure!
I always like to relay this to my beginning students as they work through the tender finger stage.
An ABC Award has been bestowed on yours truly and this humble blog, ’12 Notes & the Truth!’ Thanks so much to my blogging colleague on the other side of the pond…Heavy Metal Overload…a true music fan if ever there was one…make sure you pay his blog a visit!!!
Without doubt the hardest part of this ABC list was deciding on a topic. I have been so busy, performing, teaching and networking that I didnt have a lot of time to devote to this spot for a while. My first and favorite idea was to write a description of each musical key, A, B, C…. Even the novice can see the flaw in that theory. The musical alphabet ends on letter G what would I do with H-Z? And what about the ‘#’ & ‘b’ keys??…scrap that idea.
Went through a host of other blah ideas before it hits me! Why I am trying to be so cute just write about what I know…the guitar!!!
So here it is the A-Zs of the worlds greatest instrument…the guitar!
A, AXE- Ever heard the term axeman? Well unless it is some crazy Jack Nicholsonesque dude it refers to a guitarist(no jokes please)….the axe being his guitar. Of course every other instrument has had to steal the idea…there’s just something uncool about hearing a saxophonist saying he “needs to grab his axe.” Here is Michael Schenker an axeman supreme on, “Attack of the Mad Axeman.” BTW the ‘axeman’ on the left of the video doubling on keyboards is San Diego’s own Wayne Findlay and one of my music buds back in our younger days. Have I ever mentioned that? Haha, well guess I am just proud to see one of us San Diego kids living the Rock n Roll dream!
B, BLUES- Sure, blues is not necessarily a guitar term, but, can you imagine the world without blues guitar? No Robert Johnsons who influenced the BB Kings who influenced the whole Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton generation who influenced the whole Eddie Van Halen generation who influenced me and my generation…I would be calling my saxophone an ‘Axe’ if it wasn’t for this lineage. Oh yeah don’t forget Stevie Ray Vaughan!
C, Capo- A capo is a small clamp that guitarists place at different frets on the neck to change the ‘key’ of the guitar which facilitates easy transitions to other keys.
D, Dreadnought- A Dreadnought guitar is a style/body shape made famous by C.F. Martin. The term ‘Dreadnought,’ was used in reference to the British Navy’s large battleships of the day, early 1900’s.
These guitars are characteristic in having large ‘squared’ bouts and a booming sound.
F, Fifth-Now some of you are really interested! No not a fifth of Jack…the musical interval of a perfect 5th. The fifth is the skeleton of all chords(Maj. & Min.) and for rock guitarists extremely important for the formation of power chords which are made up exclusively of the interval of root & 5th.
G, Golpe- Golpe is a technique stemming from the Spanish/Gypsy Flamenco tradition. The guitarist strikes the top of the guitar creating a percussive sound while strumming with other fingers. Note the use of the previously mentioned capo in the video, as well.
H, Harmonics- Harmonics are not exclusive to guitar by any means but they do play a large role in playing guitar. The technique actually cuts off part of the overtone series(lower end) which make up a musical note. The resulting sound resembles a high, thin, bell like texture. The intro of Van Halen’s “Top Jimmy,” uses this technique.
I, Inlay- Inlays are part of the artistic design of a guitar. Inlay can be placed all around the sound hole(rosette) soundboard, front, back and sides of a guitar. Some of the fanciest inlays are put into the neck of a guitar. Sometimes just dots and sometimes elaborate as seen here.
J, Jimi Hendrix Chord, The ol’ Dominant 7#9 chord! Also called a V7#9. To build this chord you would take your root chord say C7 and add the note ‘#9’ which is the 9th note above C -C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, D and raise that note one half step to D#. The chord symbol will appear as: C7#9, etc., for any root note. I call it the Jimi Hendrix chord cause he used it a lot and when I was a kid learning his songs is when I was first introduced to the chord. Check out Foxy Lady or Purple Haze for examples. The sound is a bit bluesy and has some dissonance with the #9 against the Major 3rd.
K, Keys- The guitar has a handful of musical keys that are conducive to the instrument and a handful that are not! Guitarists tend to like sharp(#) keys vs flat(b) keys. Flat keys take away the open strings making the guitar harder to play as noted in the letter O, Open Chords. Popular guitar keys include C, G, D, A and E (as well as, their relative minor keys). Any key with more than one flat is often avoided especially by beginners.
L, Lick- This is a great guitar word somewhat synonymous with the term ‘Riff.’ Guitarists practice hours on end trying to create new ideas and phrases which are, ‘Licks,’ and ‘Riffs.’ Licks are more of short phrases placed in improvised solos while riffs are more like a composed guitar part think of the intro to “Smoke on the Water,” or “Iron Man.”
M, Mute- The most common type of muting is done by placing the palm of the strumming hand against the strings near the bridge of the guitar. Notation is often ‘P.M.’ for palm mute.
N, Nut- The nut is simply the piece of bone or plastic, among other possible materials, at the top of the neck. It has carved slots for the strings to rest inside which keeps them inline as they lead up to and wrap around the tuning pegs.
O, Open Chords- One of the nice things about the guitar especially for beginners is the use of open chords. They are somewhat simple to play as they make use of a combination of fingered/fretted notes and open strings. Bar chords are harder to play as all strings need to be fretted.
P, Percussion- Believe it or not the guitar is classified as a percussion instrument, not a string instrument(chordophone.) By definition a percussion instrument is one that is put into vibration by being struck and consequently the pitch fades away. Piano is another such ‘percussion’ instrument. Electric guitars fall into another category, that of ‘electronic’ instruments. Electronic instruments can have their sound altered and lengthened through electronic means.
Q, Quadrant- This is a term I use to differentiate parts of the neck. I divide the neck into sections for study. For instance I will play on the bottom three strings first 6 frets. In this territory I will work on as many permutations of a particular scale, arpeggio etc. Then move to the top three strings same frets. Then down to fret 7-12 on each side of the strings.
R, Rasgueado- Spanish term meaning to strum. Usually associated with Flamenco guitar playing. Rasgueado is a rhythmic use of the fingers and thumb while strumming a guitar. It is a percussive strum by nature. In the video watch how his fingers fire in succession.
S, Solo- The beloved guitar solo! Ruined forever since the demise of rock. This demise can be traced to the weak musicality typically displayed in late 80’s hair/glam metal giving way to Grunge. Grunge was a movement that sought to distance itself from the aforementioned Hair Bands.
Maybe ruined forever is a bit harsh, but, music sure has changed since the early 90’s. I grew up on the rock guitar solo and it is not something I want to see go away. It is often the most musically adventurous part of most pop music. My music heroes were the guitar solo shredders…Eddie Van Halen, Michael Schenker, Jimi Page, Randy Rhoads, Tony Iommi, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani…. Here is the quintessential rock guitar solo Eddie Van Halen’s Eruptions.
T, the ‘Thumb’- The Thumb is the nickname given to jazz guitar legend Wes Montgomery. His unique technique employed a drastically positioned thumb. One of my all-time favorite guitarists.
U, Upstroke- An upstroke is simply a strum across the strings in an upward motion. Typically, upstrokes happen on a weak beat. A strum of down-up-down-up etc. would sound as STRONG-weak-STRONG-weak.
V, Vibrato- Vibrato is a technique employed by stringed instruments where the string is actually moved in a controlled manner either ‘side to side’ or ‘up and down’ to add articulation to a note. As mentioned before the guitar is a percussion instrument. Vibrato is one of the few ways we as guitarists can actually manipulate a note after it is struck into motion.
W, Whammy Bar- Also called a vibrato bar, tremolo arm…The whammy bar is a short piece of metal(a stick) inserted into the bridge which can either lift or depress the bridge forcing the strings into some ‘unnatrual’ sounds. The whammy bar in the hands of an amateur becomes a gimmick. In the hands of a skilled musician it becomes a devastating way to command a guitar with unique and angular articulations.
X, X Bracing- Have you ever dropped a pick inside your guitar? No problem you can just slide it out right? Nope. The top of a guitar, the soundboard, is braced underneath with a lattice of wood to help project the sound off the top of the guitar. One technique of bracing is called X Bracing.
Y, Yuquijiro Yocoh- Was a Japanese guitar composer (1925-2009.) Yocoh is most well-known for his variations on the theme of the traditional Japanese folk song, “Sakura.” I played the piece for my Senior Recital in college and still play it to this day. The video features John Williams on guitar. Listen for the previously mentioned palm mutes at :40 & 4:25 and harmonics at 2:25.
Z, The Flying Z- Most people even non guitar aficionados have heard or seen a flying V guitar. But, lesser known is the flying Z also known as a Destroyer.
Well it’s definitely that time already in the music teaching biz!
If you are like me, you know it is way too early for Christmas music, at least for listening. However, with student performances and CD recording projects coming up SOON it has been my experience that the day after Halloween needs to be the official start of practicing holiday music.
Gotta love the Frank Sinatra Christmas Songbook…has NOTHING to do with him other than the picture on the cover.
For those looking for music I strongly recommend the FJH series of Methods and Xmas books. I’ve been using them for 7 plus years now. Their books are a bit more contemporary than the ol’ standards. My students laugh cause I know what page every song is on….they test me but they never trick me.
Tips on practicing for the holidays…
-Don’t bite off more than you can chew! Pick one or two songs with arrangements at your skill level. Learn those and then dive into another. If you start too many at one time you might burn out and lose your steam.
-Practice at least one song you play the notes or tab and a couple with just chords. People love to sing their favorites this time of the year and you can strum away and accompany them.
-Have fun!! Making music with others is a blast. Be confident, but, don’t take it too seriously!
BONUS TIP: Unless you are really comfortable sight-reading make copies of the songs you intend to play and leave the book at home! If you have the book people WILL start to browse and make requests which can be an uncomfortable situation for beginners.