Friday, December 18, 2009

How to Restring a Guitar

I just found this great video, produced by Musician's Friend, on how to restring a guitar. He mentions one of my favorite tips: curling the string around itself, up at the tuning peg, to lock the string in to place. Check it out here:

UPDATE: 2/8/2013

Unfortunately, Musicians Friend's videos require Flash, which means you have to watch this video on a computer or tablet that allows Flash. When you follow the link, be sure to watch the Telecaster video to see the "string locking method" of wrapping the string back around itself so that it doesn't slip off the post.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Top 10 Practice Tips: Use a Metronome (4 of 10)

I may take some heat for saying this, but I think it's a true statement: 90% of all drummers' timing sucks. They can't play to a metronome. They can't play to a click. They may not even own a metronome. And that, of course, is exactly why they can't play in tempo. Okay, granted, music is supposed to "flow" a bit, and that is definitely evident in almost all classic rock (think Zeppelin). But no matter, as a musician, your job is to be able to keep it together - at whatever tempo - no matter what your instrument.

For the guitarist, I try to play with a metronome for everything: scales, chords, sight-reading, and even rehearsing my own music - especially for sessions. I challenge my students to have better timing that 98% of the musicians out there. The remaining 2%? Well, they better be drummers.

Top 10 Practice Tips: Listen... and Learn (3 of 10)

You've heard it said that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Well, I'm "hear" to tell you that you will sound like what you listen to. Seriously.

I'm not just talking about that average, mediocre, undisciplined, unambitious, lazy musician, listening to his favorite bands. I'm not talking about visualizing the success you want to achieve in your life. That stuff doesn't work for musicians.

If you listen - truly listen - and try to imitate the artists you want to play like, eventually - eventually - you will begin to sound like that artist. Learn a lick. Learn a riff. Sing that catchy, unforgettable melody. Try to get your amp tones right, too - and your vocal tone. Just try.

You need to be a musician listening to music - not just an ordinary person listening to music. Listen for that progression, that interval, that string bend, that energy, passion, and quality that makes your favorite recording artist so unique, then learn how to do it.

Top 10 Practice Tips: Take it Slowly (2 of 10)

Probably the number one mistake that young guitarists make is playing too fast when first learning a new exercise, scale, or song. By playing too fast too soon, the player is, essentially, trying to circumvent the laws of music:

First comes technique, then accuracy, then speed. For as long as there have been musicians, that's been the sequence for mastery of an instrument. As several of my old teachers have said to me, "If you can't play it slowly, you can't play it at all." And if you can't play it slowly, you certainly can't play it fast. It makes sense to me.

Set that metronome on the slow side, make sure you can play that sheet music accurately and with perfect technique, then speed it up - slowly. And just in case you think I'm running low of wise sayings, "Slow and steady wins the race."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Top 10 Practice Tips: Be Comfortable (1 of 10)

This is the first post in a series (probably non-consecutive) about "best practice" methods for practicing guitar (well, any instrument, actually). Sometimes it won't be possible to follow all of these tips, but they're definitely things that all players - young and old - should keep in mind if they're serious about improving their skills on a given instrument.


Where you practice matters. If you're not in a place where you can fully focus on the single task of practicing, your session will be counter-productive; or, at best, just a waste of time.

Find a place free of distractions: from people, from extra noises, and from cell phones!

Find a chair that you're comfortable sitting in. A little cushion helps, but sometimes that's not possible. Remember, you're probably going to be practicing for a long time, so the last thing you want is a sore butt at the end of it - literally. Also important is the height of the seat, which should create a right angle from your thigh to your calf, when your foot is flat on the floor.

Find a room with good lighting. I realize that most schools use fluorescent lights - especially in classrooms. If there is any way to avoid them, do it. I used to keep a small, incandescent music stand light in my locker, and whenever I hit a practice room, I'd flip off the lights and plug in my own. It's easier on the eyes, set the mood, and allowed me to practice longer.

Finally, have a drink nearby. Set it on a chair beside you, or on a near table. Put it somewhere you can get to without stretching, reaching, or bending. (You're less likely to drink it if you have to move to get it.) Staying well-hydrated keeps your focus where it should be - on the music.


Thoughts, questions, disagreements? Post a comment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Minor and Major Pentatonic Scales

A cousin of mine and I were talking this past weekend about guitar stuff; and he mentioned that he's learning a lot of music (chord progressions, mostly) from other artists, but he needs to start working on scales. I told him I would try to put together a post for him, to get him started.

After teaching a new student how to play a C major scale in open position, the next scales we would tackle would be the minor pentatonics. On guitar, there are five different ways to play each scale, depending on the fingering, key, and position you're in.

To help get you started, you can download my handy worksheet, here:

(If you'd like to share this document with your friends or on your own site or profile, that's cool, but you have to include on that page a link to this blog []or to my guitar lessons website [] Thanks!)

The sheet will pretty much walk you through all of the basics of the pentatonic forms. The minor patterns connect to the minor patterns. The major patterns connect to the major patterns. And they both use the same methods for switching from one pattern to the next, as I outline.

There are a couple of other principles you need to keep in mind if you're going to attempt to tackle these scales on your own:

Rule #1: Every finger gets a fret. One finger for each consecutive fret. The exception to this is in pattern 4 on the worksheet, where there is a position shift (changing which frets your fingers are over) between the G and B strings.

Rule #2: Alternate picking. No matter what, each, new note must be played with an opposite pick stroke from the last. Note 1: Down-pick, note 2: up-pick, note 3: down-pick.

Rule #3: For those of you who are really, really new to guitar (and music, in general), the first note of a scale is its root.  (Roots are indicated on the worksheet.) From the root, play the pattern all the way to its highest note, then all the way down to its lowest note, then back to the root note.

And finally, just as another clarification, when we say "up" on a guitar, we are referring to pitch. That means that "up" on the guitar is both movement towards the body of the guitar or movement towards the high E string.

Example: Upward motion on open strings: E(low)-A-D-G-B-E(high)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Keeping a Practice Journal

Ever wonder why your playing isn't really improving - why you're not seeing a marked change in your ability to read  music, play chord progressions, or speed through those scale exercises?  You might be suffering from a lack of what we call 'discipline'.

If you're really serious about improving, there's no better way to track your practice time and improvement than by keeping a practice journal.  Here's how you do it:

Make a spreadsheet that you can use for an entire month.  Use one row for dates and one column for all of the different things you need to practice: bar chords, scales, arpeggios, sight-reading, ear-training, etc.

At the beginning of the month, make a few, key goals, then think about how much practice time you'll have to put in to meet those goals.  In an extra blank column, write down how much time you think you should practice every day next to each of the different items you need to practice (from above).

Every day you practice, keep track of exactly what you work on, using a timer to keep track of how long you practice.  As an extra motivator, use a metrenome to track and record your speed on scale exercises.  Write the beats per minute and rhythmic division you use (quarter, eighth, or sixteenth notes) in the column for the exercise for that date.

I have attached a sample, one-month journal page as a Microsoft Excel file (xls).  And because every student curriculum is a bit different, you'll probably want to go in and tweak the fields a bit.  Here it is: 

I hope this helps!  Keep practicing!


If you have any questions or comments, use the "comments" link below.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

More Guitar Recommendations

If money is one of your biggest concerns, when buying a new guitar, I've put together a shortlist of my top picks.  Be sure to read my other articles (article 1 here and article 2 here) on buying a guitar, too.  Also, a quick search on will probably get you a picture of each of these guitars (but *never* buy a guitar online!).  Without further ado, here we go...

Guitars for Under $200
1. Electric
  • Epiphone Special Series (rock, metal)
  • Squier telecaster or stratocaster (rock, blues, country)
  • Peavey Raptor (rock, blues)
  • Ibanez 
2. Electric Starter Kits/Packages
  • Epiphone SG or Les Paul Jr.
  • Squier
  • Ibanez Metalpak
3. Acoustic
  • Ibanez
  • Washburn
  • Alvarez
  • Epiphone
  • Mitchell
4. Steel-String Acoustic Starter Kits/Packages
  • Fender
  • Ibanez
  • Epiphone
  • Alvarez
  • Mitchell

Guitars for Under $300
1. Electric
  • ESP solid-body (rock)
  • Squier telecaster or stratocaster (rock, blues, country)
  • Ibanez
2. Acoustic
  • Mitchell
  • Alvarez
  • Ibanez
  • Takamine
  • Epiphone

Guitars for Under $600
1. Electric
  • Fender Standard Stratocaster (rock, blues, country)
  • Epiphone Casino Semi-hollowbody (rock, jazz, country)
  • Gretsch Electromatic Hollowbody (rock, jazz)
  • Fender Deluxe Telecaster (rock, blues, country)
  • Paul Reed Smith SE (rock, metal)
  • ESP 400 Series (rock, metal)
  • ESP Paramount (rock, metal)
  • Epiphone Les Paul (rock, metal)
  • Ibanez solid-body (rock, metal)
  • Ibanez Artcore hollowbody (rock, blues, jazz, country)
2. Acoustic
  • Seagull
  • Ovation
  • Alvarez
  • Martin
  • Taylor
  • Ibanez

Guitars for Under $1,000
1. Electric
  • Fender
  • Gibson
  • Gretsch
  • PRS
  • G and L
  • Ibanez
  • ESP
  • Jackson
2. Acoustic
  • Martin
  • Taylor
  • Seagull
  • Gibson

Monday, April 20, 2009

Choosing the Right Guitar Strings

There are a million guitar string brands out there, and as far as I can tell, nobody out there has really come out and definitively said which ones are the best.  I will.  Right here.  First off, don't be fooled in to thinking that all strings are created equal.  And secondly, price doesn't always mean performance.

A couple other things to note:

  • Prices vary drastically from store to store, so shop around for prices, once you've settled on a string type that you like.
  • Another huge factor in buying strings is their gauge or thickness.  Heavier strings are harder to play, but give you a thicker, warmer sound.  I recommend 9 gauge strings for beginners.
Worst choice for strings: Ernie Ball.  I've never had a string brand break on me more, or feel so flimzy under my fingers.

Best choice for all-around playing on an electric: D'Addario Nickel Round Wound.  A good, hearty string that can take a beating.

Best choice for acoustics: Martin MSP's.  A great sound, great quality, and a great deal, depending on where you buy them.  Guitar Center isn't the ceapest either.

Have any questions or comments?  Ask them here, by posting a comment below.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Buying a Guitar 102: Electrics

Alrighty, so as I mentioned in my previous post, I most often recommend electric guitars for beginners. And yes, I understand that most parents would prefer not to shell out the $200+ for an electric up front, especially if: a) they don't know if their kid will stick with it and b) if they already have a hand-me-down acoustic lying around the house.

I'd like to start by talking just a bit about the different body types of electric guitars, then give a few recommendations.

There are essentially three main body types: the Fender Stratocaster, the Gibson Les Paul, and the Fender Telecaster. Almost all electrics can be described in terms of one or another; or at the least, one can say a guitar is "Strat-like".

The original Stratocaster was popularized by groups like the Beach Boys, and use spread to musicians like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Yngwie Malmsteen. The basic strat features three, single-coil pickups, a five-point toggle switch, and a pair of tone knobs.

Strats are often used for rock and roll, blues, and country, although there are exceptions. The Stratocaster body type is *the* classic guitar shape - it's timeless. And better yet, Strat-copies ("knock-offs") come in all prices. And don't feel like you have to buy a Fender (unless you plan to shell out the bucks for an American-made instrument). Most "strats" under $300 are pretty much all going to play the same.

The Gibson Les Paul is these days most often associated with the guitarist Slash. He's pretty much the LP poster child. But other famous players include Jimmy Page and Randy Rhoads. The Les Paul features two, humbucker pickups, which, along with a heavier wood used for the body, gives the instrument a warmer, thicker sound, as compared to either the Strat or Tele.

The Les Paul is often used for hard rock and heavy metal, though, again, there are exceptions. The only rub with the Les Paul is it's price tag. You won't find a quality "copy", like with the strats. You're looking at $900, easy, to pick one of these up.

Finally, the Fender Telecaster has found similar uses to that of the Stratocaster, though the Tele is more closely associated with country and country rock. Again, a pretty versatile instrument. A couple famous players include Keith Richards and Bruce Springsteen (though they play all kinds of guitars). Again, no knock-offs here. Only the true, blue original will get you the sound, and it will set you back $600 or more.

As you can imagine, I'm not going to recommend a $600 guitar for a beginner. But what may be a bit unexpected is my final word on purchasing that first electric guitar. Abide by this one, simple mantra and you'll be okay:

Generally speaking, the more you spend, the better the instrument you'll get. So spend as much as you feel comfortable spending, and feel good about it - whatever the body type. Many of the "low-end" guitars are pretty similar, and it might even come down to something as simple as "I like that color and shape". That's okay.

There are several "starter kits" that are out there for beginners, and I'd definitely recommend an all-inclusive kit. Here are just a couple you might want to look at:

Fender SE Special Strat Pack

Epiphone Les Paul Special II

Two more final words here:

1. No matter what, don't let your child *sell* his first guitar down the road - especially if it's an electric. There's serious sentimental value there that he won't understand until years later.

2. Never buy a guitar online. You want to make sure the instrument feels comfortable in your hands, and that it sounds good to your ears. Every single guitar is just a little bit different, and it's important to check it out first by playing it in the store. Even if you don't really know what you're playing, you can still tell if it sounds "right". Again here, let your ears tell you if the guitar or amp is a quality one.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Buying a Guitar 101

For nearly every parent whose child wants to learn how to play the guitar, there is a single, nagging question: which guitar should I buy for my kid? The answer is not that simple, but with a little forethought, you can be sure to get a guitar that works best for you.

The first thing you need to know is that there are two, main types of guitars: electrics and acoustics. From there, each category gets broken down further. The two, big types of acoustic guitars are steel-string and nylon-string (or "classical").

It might seem obvious, but each, different type of guitar is used to play a different type of style. Electric guitars are typically associated with rock 'n' roll and playing guitar solos; steel-string acoustics are associated primarily with singer-songwriters, country stars, and delta blues; and classical guitars are (obviously) associated with classical and flamenco guitarists, like Andres Segovia and Paco De Lucia.

Furthermore, generally speaking, different types of guitars are easier or more difficult to play. Solid-body electric guitars are by far the easiest to play, so if your daughter has never played guitar before or is young (and doesn't yet have a lot of strength in her fingers), then I'd say this is the way to go. Classical guitars are the next easiest to play, because the strings are softer and easier to press down.

And finally, guitars come is different sizes, too - just like most other stringed instruments. In general, if your child is over 11 years old, I'd suggest a full-size instrument. (And when you go to a store to pick out an instrument, don't worry too much about trying to figure out if a certain guitar is full-size or not. Most of the time, guitars that aren't full-size will say so on the tag.)

So before you purchase a guitar, you have to ask yourself three questions:

1. What style of music does my child want to play, and what will he enjoy?

2. Is he big enough to wield a full-size guitar?

3. What are my expectations for my child - what styles or music do I hope for him to learn?

More info coming in the future. If you have any questions, post a comment!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lets Start at the Very Beginning

So we begin. Right here. Right at the beginning. I'm sure by now you've checked out my new guitar lessons website, which just launched today ( If you haven't, well, now you have the link. Over the coming months, I hope to build a body of really helpful content for my own guitar students, as well as the guitar-learning community, at-large. For now, a simple introductory entry will have to do. Ciao!