BASIC GUITAR MAINTENANCE: FIXING A SCRATCHY POTENTIOMETER

A guitar potentiometer is the volume and tone controls on a guitar. These are commonly shortened to just “guitar pot”. Over time these little mechanisms get scratchy and create fuzzy noises when you use them. This is an extremely easy fix and something that you can save yourself a lot of money doing yourself rather than hiring a guitar repair man to do it.

The first thing you need to do is buy an electronic contact cleaner. One isn’t better than any other, just buy one and it will be fine. The second thing you will need to do this job is a screw driver. The type and size of the screw driver will vary depending on the type of guitar. The third thing you may need is a new set of strings. This is because some types of guitars will require you to remove the pick guard to clean them.

Now that you have all the tools you need lets jump in. Find the part of the guitar that contains the guitar pot. It may be under your pick guard or it may be under a separate plate. Take this off so that you can access the electronics in your guitar. On the electronic that is scratchy, look for a little hole that goes into the electronic. Squirt a little of your electronic contact cleaner into the hole and then use the pot to all extremes. You need to turn the knob to fully on and fully off several times. This allows the cleaner to be spread within the pot.

Put all the screws back on your guitar and the strings on your guitar and you now have clean pots. This will take away that awful noise it was making before. I would suggest doing this to all the pots on your guitar at one time. If one pot is dirty, surely the other pot is not far behind. Repeat this procedure every time you get a noisy guitar pot.

So, you want to change how you play guitar

You decide to put on a backing track and play to a fun song. You realize that everything you play is boring, and you know you can do better. You start thinking about what is wrong with you. Good news is, nothing is wrong with you. It is just how you hear your musical lines at the moment. If you want to change how you play guitar, you need to change how you hear music.

How mind is what controls every single aspect of our lives. It regulates our sleep, it tells us when we are hungry, our mind is what determines our favorite movies and it tells us what we want to sound like. Our brain is powerful, and the first step to changing any aspect of our lives is to change our brain. You may now be wondering how to change how we think. It is easy, read on to find out.

Human being’s are creatures of habit. We create habits because of things that we do over and over again, they become ingrained in our mind so it seems like it is second nature to us.  Our past makes up a huge portion of who we are. Things we did when we are 5 will affect us for the rest of our lives. We cannot change our past, but each day our past becomes larger. What we do today will become the past tomorrow. So we can change who we become, by changing what we do today.

All philosophy put aside, if we want to change how we play guitar we need to listen to music that we want to sound like. As mentioned above, we need to do this many times, repeat it over and over. This music needs to be installed in us as if we are a computer. This is how we change how we play. You will always have pieces from music you played in the past, but you will start to evolve with time into the player you want to become.

Start working hard today, because today is our past. Today we say “Should I do this or should I do that”. Take this phrase and translate it into our past. “I should have done this instead of that”.  Start today to become the greatest you that you can become!

Basic guitar Maintenance: Tighten the screws on your guitar

When most people first learn guitar, they learn how to play. Very few people learn the basic maintenance skills for guitar until a later time. However, most people in the beginning use cheaper guitars that are not made by world class crafts men. This simple little thing will hold your guitar together and keep it in top notch condition. Even expensive model guitars sometimes need this maintenance.

When you sit down some time to change strings or there is nothing else to do, bring out one of your screw drivers and check all the screws on your guitar. Check the screws in the back of the guitar neck, the ones that hold the neck to the body. Check the screws on the pick guard. One of the most common places to find loose screws is the strap lock, especially if you play a lot with a strap. This will ensure your guitar is solid and firmly together.

It is also a good idea to check the screws on your tuners. These should not be tight, because that will prevent you from tuning your guitar, however they should not be loose either. It is best to adjust these with strings on the guitar and test them as you adjust. This will help your guitar stay in tune and it will make it easier to tune your guitar.

You do not need to do this a lot. A good time to check the screws on your guitar would be when you notice a screw looking or acting loose, and if this doesn’t happen check it once every year to 2 years.

Just one warning, make sure the screws are snug, but not too tight. Your guitar is made of wood and if the screw is too tight it can damage it.

How often should you change your guitar strings?

The life span of guitar strings will vary a lot. There are many factors to this. We will discuss these factors in this post as well as take a look at how you can make your strings last longer. This post will cover a little bit on how to assess guitar strings to see what kind of shape they are in. We will finally discuss when you should change your strings.

 

Guitar strings have many variables that cause decay at different speeds. Here are some of the more common factors involved.

 

Company:

The Brand that makes the strings does make a big difference. They sound different, and they are made different.  There isn’t one company that has “bad strings”, but keep in mind that each company makes their strings differently.

 

String Coating:

Strings can come with different coatings. Some have anti rust coats on them others don’t.

 

Price:

This may seem simple, but you really do get what you pay for. More expensive strings are usually made better, made of better material with better machines. A set of strings worth 4 dollars won’t sound or last the same as a set of 20 dollar strings.

 

Amount of use:

This is the greatest factor in the life span of strings. If you use your guitar a lot, they will weaken faster.

 

You may be wondering what shape your guitar strings are in right now. Here are some ways you can tell.

Do your strings have any rust on them?

Do your strings have dirt on them?

Do your strings have any dents or bumps of them?

Do your strings sound flat and dull?

Do you have a broken string?

 

If you said yes to any of these, then your strings are not great.

 

How do you know when it is time to replace your strings? Well the answer will come down to personal preference. Based on money you may not be able to afford strings, and you may decide that even though there is dirt on your strings you won’t replace them yet. Some people like the sound of dull strings. This is something that you need to find out for yourself.

 

If you have a broken String, it is extremely recommended that you replace all your strings. If one string is broken, they are probably all old and worn. It is just a couple extra bucks and your guitar will sing for you in return.

 

How do you make your strings last longer? It boils down to one word, Care. If you care for your strings they will last longer. If you clean them after you use your guitar you are less likely to get rust or dirt on them. Having clean strings will also keep them sounding vibrant for longer. Also clean hands can help keep your strings clean. So a nice wash before you rock wouldn’t hurt.

The secret to getting good at guitar

Everyone will agree that there is no substitute for practicing. You may have heard about the 10 thousand hour rule to becoming an expert at something, but don’t let this scare you. This lesson will teach you the trick to getting better at guitar fast. We are not breaking any laws of science or anything; we are simply using a little to gain a lot. So let’s jump in and learn the secret to getting better at guitar.

 

The secret: Don’t freak out on me. It’s not magic. Learn to do one thing very well… Yep, that’s it. Are you disappointed?  Don’t be.

 

Most people when they practice guitar, they working out of a book, practicing strumming chords to songs they like, learning new chords, learning to play melodies etc. Try breaking this down and work on just learning new chords. Instead of jumping in and learning all 7 modes at one time, try to learn just 1 and use it the best you can.

 

Focusing on one idea at a time is going to take you much farther than over whelming yourself. So keep it real and keep it focused.

Using intervals to build chords for your chord melody

We just covered some interesting ways you can use intervals to add harmony to your melody. You can review that lessons here. In this lesson we are going to learn how to build chords by using intervals. This may sound hard, but don’t worry, this is easier than it sounds. Let’s jump in and get started.

To refresh our memories of previously covered material that is important on this topic, the most stable interval for harmony is the third. Chords are built in thirds, this makes this interval a good candidate for making chords. This does not mean that you cannot experiment with other intervals as well. For the sake of this lesson I am going to use thirds, however you can do the same process with other intervals.

You have your melody note that you want to add harmony to. Now you added a third below it. What if you add a third note to this? If you add another third below the harmony note you get a triad. A triad is a 3 note chord. You can continue to add as many harmony notes as you desire. Once you get comfortable creating chords using thirds, you can build chords using other intervals.

The cool thing about building chords under the melody note is that often they build the same chord that is originally written in the tune. If the chord is not the same, it can most likely be labeled as an extended chord, rootless chord or substitution.

One more cool trick that can be done with this style of creating harmony is creating varied intervallic chords. If you take different intervals and apply them to the same chord you can make some interesting sounding chords. Some may be a challenge to play, some may not. It is worth experimenting with them to see what works for you. Also you can take these chords and try to harmonize the whole major scale with the same intervals. I will cover this soon in another lesson. You may be asking how you create these chords. It is easy, take different intervals and create a chord with it on the melody note. For example You can play a 6th below the melody note, second below that, then a 4th below that. (These numbers were created at random as an example.) You may find some combinations sound better to you than others. Experiment to find your sound.

Good luck on your path to chord melody playing!

Chord Melody – using intervals to harmonize your melody

Mentioned previously in the last post, there are a couple of ways to add harmony to your chord melody. One of the easiest most effective ways to do this is to use intervals to build harmony. Last lesson we discussed putting thirds below the melody note. In this lesson we are going to take this technique a little bit further.

Once you are comfortable adding a third below the melody note, you can extend this interval for different sounds. Now you can experiment with putting fourths, fifths, sixths, or sevenths under your melody note. This adds more interest to the melody and can give you more options to work with. The more tools you have in your tool box, the more options you have to do something great. This isn’t a hard step to accomplish. Once you understand the concept of adding a note below the melody note, with a certain interval, this is easy to accomplish. Now here are a few ways you can use different intervals to build interesting harmony.

1)      You can use a simple scheme of just a certain interval to harmonize your melody. For example you could use the interval of a 6th exclusively. Keep in mind that chords are typically built in thirds and the third is typically one of the strongest notes to use for harmonizing. Ultimately, use your ear to decide what sounds good.

2)      Buildings your intervals through a period of time. For example for 2 measures use the interval of thirds exclusively. The next 2 measures use the interval of fourths exclusively. The next 2 measures use the interval of fifths exclusively. This could build an interesting sound.

3)      Last, but not least. Contrary motion! This is one of the most important things for good voice leading in classical music. You may be asking how you do this, it is easy. If your melody note is going higher in pitch, harmony goes lower. If the melody is going lower, harmony is going higher.  The easiest way of thinking of this is while a melody is walking up the scale, the harmony is walking down the same scale.

This is just a few things you can do to get your toes wet with this technique. With this information you will be able to create more interesting chord melodies that have movement in them. Try playing with these ideas and see what works for your own personal style. Chord melodies are very personal and can be played many different ways, so find what you like and go with it.

Chord Melody basic techniques

If you are unfamiliar with what a chord melody is you can review the previous post about it here.

We have a good song picked out, and we have learned the melody on the top 4 strings of the guitar. You may be wondering what the next step is. The next step is what we call harmonizing the melody. This implies we will add more notes under the melody note of choice. Another word for harmonizing is called “Adding Chord”. This is where specific techniques come in for chord melody playing.

Before we jump right into playing music with lots of thick chords under the melody, I want to mention that the melody is the foundation for chord melody playing. We do not need to add harmony (or chords) to every melody note. Actually the opposite can be true. Sometimes it is better to not play any harmony on a melody note. You can think of chords as embellishments. Let me give you an example of what a chord melody is like. If you go to a burger joint and ask for a hamburger. They bring one out and you can go to the bar where they have all the condiments put out for you to choose which extra flavors you want to eat with your meat. If you decide to leave off the pickles, is it still a hamburger? If you take off the bread is it still a hamburger? Yes! If you take the meat away, but have all the bread, pickles, ketchup and onions on it, is it a hamburger? No, how do you know it’s not a chicken sandwich? A chord melody is very similar. The melody is the meat and everything else just adds flavor.

Suggestions on when to leave the melody plain:

1)      Fast melody passages.

2)      Whenever you want that particular effect

So let’s take a melody note of choice and put harmony to it. There many ways to do this. In this lesson we will cover the 2 most basic approaches to chord melody. The first approach is to harmonize the melody note by adding a third below the melody note. The second approach is to play the given chord in the tune and add the melody note to that.

 

TECHNIQUE ONE:

This is the easiest approach to learning to play chord melody. This approach makes it easy to sight-read a melody and to add harmony to it. How we do this is take the key center that the melody note is in. In the same scale, add a third lower to the melody note. In other words, skip a note in the scale and there is the note you need to add below the melody note.

It is a good idea to practice playing scales with the third below. These 2 notes together give the sound of a chord, and it will make your harmonizing faster to practice scales like this. When you come across a note in a melody you will already know which harmonized note goes with it.

Warning:

1)      Accidentals should be harmonized with a note in the diatonic key. So find a third below that is in the key. Accidentals don’t mean you can play anything.

2)      Jazz tunes often change key centers for part of the song. When this happens the scale you harmonize with will change.

 

TECHNIQUE TWO:

Approach 2 is a little different. This approach is centered around the chords of the original tune rather than the melody. How you go about doing this is you play the chords of the song and figure out how the melody can fit into it. You will need to build a good chord vocabulary for this. For convenience you will need to know how to add all the extensions on to chords, including altered note (Notes not in the scale). You will also want to know these chords in multiple areas of the fret board. When you come across a melody note you will ask yourself what chord tone it is, then play that chord with that note in the highest part of the chord.

Warning: This approach by itself can be limiting and can take a lot of practice. It is a valid approach that many people use, but it will require a lot of chord shapes under your fingers. You may not want to use the same chord shape multiple times, which means you will need variations of the same chord as well.

 

Eventually you will combine these 2 techniques and have many options to make a great chord melody. There are many ways that one can expand upon these and make them more interesting. There are also other valid approaches to playing chord melodies. Check back for up coming lessons on chord melodies.

Chord Melody Basics and Introduction

 

A chord melody is exactly what the name describes. The Chords of a song and the melody of a song played at the same time. This is a style of music all on its own, but often times it is used for jazz tunes. Almost any song can be played as a chord melody, but some make for a better arrangement than others. Let’s take a look at some things that make a song worthy of playing as a chord melody.

 

1)      Easy melodies. This typically means a slower melody with fewer notes. If a song has a melody with lots of long fast lines in it, it may not be the most friendly to this style of playing.

2)      Longer songs. I am not suggesting that a blues cannot be turned into a chord melody, but why? If a song is short, the essence of the style is missed. A lot of the beauty of a chord melody is that it doesn’t end too soon.

3)      Chord changes. Chord changes make songs typically more interesting. I am not saying that you cannot harmonize a song that is modal (1 chord), rather It is easier to start out with a song with built in interest.

4)      Any style. Any song in any style of music can be made into a chord melody.

 

Now we know what type of songs make good chord melodies. You may be wondering what rules go into making a chord melody. This is very simple. Let’s look at the rules.

1)      Play the Melody. Preferably an octave higher than written. This means that you will need to work out (or sight read) the melody on the top 4 strings. As a rule of thumb, melodies sound bad on the lowest 2 strings. (There are exceptions)

2)      Harmonize certain notes in your chord melody. Without any kind of harmony in the background, it is just called a “melody”.

 

We have covered the essence of what a chord melody is. We have talked about picking a good chord melody song, and we discussed the rules of a chord melody. If you follow on to the next lessons on chord melodies you will find specific techniques that you can use to create chord melodies. Next Lesson. Good luck!

Rhythmic Variation makes solos interesting

One of the most fundamental ways you can improve your soloing once you figure out what notes you can play is to use a wide variety of rhythms in your solo.  Just because this is fundamental does not mean this is easy beginner stuff. Some of the most challenging things in music are the rhythms. So what makes up rhythmic variety?

There are many different rhythmic groups, using rhythmic variation simply means to switch between these to create an interesting sound.  When this is done well, your solo will sound more interesting and less like rambling. Lets discuss the different rhythmic units so we can know what the possibilities are to use in our solo.

 

Silence:

Silence is music too. The musical term for silence is rest. Whenever you use silence in your solo lines you will cause rhythmic variation. Experiment with using silence, putting it in different places. Sometimes Silence says more than noise.

 

Swing, or not to swing:

What is the definition of Swing? This is a question that will give you 100 different answers if you ask 100 different people. The most universal definition of swing is a Dotted 8th note 16th note feel.  Have you ever heard great big band songs from back in the day? In The Mood is a good example of swing. It has a bouncing feel. Now, don’t be fooled, Swing can be used in any style. Its origin is in the 1930s swing era of jazz, but country, blues, rock, bluegrass and any other style you can think of uses it as well. It can create a cool rhythmic feel. Try it.

 

Note Length:

There are many different lengths of notes that you can use. Here is a list of note values in music:

Whole note

Half Note

Quarter Note

8th note

16th note

32nd note (mostly used in slow songs, otherwise it is too fast)

 

Triplet note values:

All the note values above also have triplets. If you are playing a long 8th note line in jazz, throw in triplets for interest. One note value by itself will get boring. Triplets can sound extremely awesome.

 

Don’t be boxed in by note values:

There are no rules against holding a note longer than a whole note. There are no names for these rhythmic values, but they exist.  Also there is no law against going out of time and coming back into time. (Be very careful with that option, but it can be done)

 

This wraps up the main ways to add variation. Experiment with mixing all of these together and see what you can come up with. A great way to practice this is to pick one note and try to make an interesting solo with it. Listen to a lot of musicians solo and see how they use variation in their rhythm. Listen a lot, you can even transcribe rhythms by themselves, or sing the rhythms as they play. Have fun going out there and making interesting music.