Five things that will help you learn to play guitar

If you are looking into learning guitar, there are five things you can use to help you get the most out of it.  The more of these ways you use the easier and faster you will be able to improve. This is not a magic pill though; you will get out of it what you put into it. So let’s go through the five things that will help you learn to play guitar.

First is finding a good private teacher. A person who is there one on one with you can be of great value. You can show you the direction you need to go and make sure you are not creating bad habits. Music teachers are a great way to learn to play guitar because they have been there in the shoes of the student before. They have worked hard to overcome the same problems you will face. A good teacher will allow you to progress in your studies easier and probably faster than without one.

Second is to use books. Books are a great supplemental to learning. You cannot learn everything from a book, but they will help make you a well-rounded studied musician. Once you advance enough in your playing you will find books that are more specific toward just 1 technique. Books are there to help you fill gaps in your playing. They are just an overall good thing to use to supplement your learning. These cannot replace other things though. Something similar to books which are also helpful are instructional DVDs. Some are better than others, but these are helpful too.

Third is using the internet. When you come across something new in your private lessons or in a book you can use the internet to dig deeper. You can use blogs or videos sites to help you learn more about something. Beware you may come across some bad information on the internet, if you suspect this you can ask your teacher about it. You might come across different perspectives on a subject; this is a good thing because you will be alert to different thought processes. You may even learn something about the topic that you never knew before. The internet can be a great place to augment learning guitar.

Fourth is transcribing. I put this on here because a lot of people do not do this, but it is one of the most important things you can do to learn guitar fast. Of course this isn’t going to make you the next Wes Montgomery in a week, but this is a very useful learning tool.  You will learn about theory and train your ear. Transcribing teaches you things that cannot be taught.

Last but not least is gig. Get out there and play live in front of people. You learn so much by playing with other musicians and being in front of an audience. Experience is one of those things that separate the boys from the men. Go share your talent and give someone a reason to enjoy music.

All of these are good tips to learn to play guitar. Keep in mind; you will get out of it what you put into it. You cannot take 1 of these suggestions and become a great guitarist; you should take several of these. On the other hand, you do not need to use every single one of these. If you find that you learn better one way than another than work with what helps you the most. Take these basic steps and have fun learning guitar!

How to start alternate picking on guitar

When you progress in your guitar playing and start to play single note lines, you won’t be able to strum these notes so you will need a new approach for your right hand. A lot of people when they first start single note lines pick only downward. I advise against this. Only picking downward will slow you do dramatically. Consider how easily you can walk if you only moved one leg? So this is where alternate picking comes in.

Alternate picking is no different from walking. If you were walking you would first move your right leg, then your left, repeating this over and over again. Picking the guitar is the same. You pick down, and then you pick up and repeat over and over. This may feel difficult at first, but give it time and it will feel as natural as walking.

When you walk up a flight of stairs do you change your walking pattern? No! You still put one foot in front of the other. Each step you take uses the opposite leg.  When you change strings on guitar it is the exact same process as walking up stairs. You still continue to pick down up down up. This is how alternate picking got named. You are constantly alternating between down strokes and up strokes no matter what.

When you first start to practice alternate picking keep your mind focused on it. You may start to slip away from it if you aren’t conscious of it. When a baby first begins to walk it is a major feat for the child. He is concentrating hard on it. The same thing applies to alternate picking. Start slow; be aware of what you are doing. It will become much easier very quickly.

I recommend you practice alternate picking with simple scales such as the chromatic scale. If you do not know the chromatic scale I would suggest you check out my blog post called “Introduction to Guitar Scales – Chromatic Scale”.  The main idea is to focus on your right hand. Most guitarists do not spend nearly enough time practicing their right hand. Do this for a while and you will find it getting easier.

Just like when you walk, you put one foot in front of the other, alternate picking you switch between down strokes and up strokes. Concentrate on it like a baby does when they first walk. This technique really becomes second nature. Just spend a little time working on it, and watch it sink in and become muscle memory. Don’t be stuck in a rut of only picking downward. You have the capability of much more. Now go train for a marathon!

Transitioning from different open chords more smoothly

Music is supposed to be smooth and it is supposed to flow like water. A lot of times when you play open chords on guitar they don’t always sound the smoothest, so how can we add that smoothness to our playing? The concept is rather simple; we eliminate the movement we do. Well how do we do that? Let me explain.

Imagine in a perfect world that we could play all of the chords of a song without moving our fingers. Wouldn’t that be a very smooth song? The reality is that we cannot do that, but we can move as few of fingers as possible. Most chords have a common note of 2 in them. If we hold that common note down while we switch chords our music will flow much easier. So how do we do this?

Lets take the chord progression G | E min | C | D. If we hold down the notes D and G on our open chords the whole time we barely have to move our fingers at all to play these chords. It will sound wonderfully smooth. When we do this the chord it-self will change a bit, it will no longer be a D chord, but it will now be a D sus. Be aware of this, but don’t worry about it too much, because the D sus will still fit over a D chord.                 Here are the diagrams of the chords.

open chords G You will play this like the open G chord in the other blog post, but this time you will add the ring finger to the third fret B string.

open chords E minorYou will hold the 2 highest strings down while you change to the E minor. These notes will be held down the hold time.

open chords CThe C chord is just like the G chord, except on different strings. This is useful especially when switching from G to C. You can’t get much smoother than that.

open chords D

Practice switching between these open chord shapes slowly. You will see you quickly get comfortable with these and they will sound smooth and feel easy to play. You can apply this concept in many areas. The less you move the easier it is to play. Always be on the lookout for ways you can simplify what you are doing. If you can play something with les movement then you just saved yourself some trouble.

Take these chords and apply them to your music. There are many songs that can be played with these open chords. Have fun making music you enjoy. After all, that’s what music is all about. Strum and sing to your heart’s desire. Have fun!

An introduction to guitar chords – open chords

Back when I was in music theory one in college I was asked what a chord was, while they were being serious I replied with a sarcastic explanation “A group of notes that go boom”. However this is a great explanation of what a chord is. A chord is a group of specific notes that are played simultaneously. On the guitar there are many different ways to play guitar chords, but the simplest and typically the first that people learn are open chords.

Open chords on guitar are chords that are low on the guitar neck, typically 3rd fret and below. Open chords also contain open strings. If they do not contain open strings then they are not considered open chords. If you have played guitar before you probably have played an open chord already, because these are very common guitar chords.

In this lesson I am going to show you the most common open chords. Practice these slowly. Spend the time you need to learn them well. This is your basis for much more knowledge in the future. The good news is that if you work on these chords you will learn them relatively fast. Let’s dive into it, shall we?

open chords GThis is the Open G Chord. On the Low E string play the G note with your middle finger. On the A string play the B note with your first (index) finger. On the high E string play the G note with your ring finger. Strum all the strings.

open chords CThis is the Open C Chord. Do not strum the low E string. Place your ring finger on the third fret of the A string. Put your middle finger on the second fret on the D string. And your first (index) finger on the first fret B string.

open chords DThis is the open D chord. Do not strum the low E string and the A string. Place your first (index) finger on the second fret G string, ring finger third fret B string and middle finger second fret high E string.

open chords E This is the open E chord. There are 2 ways to play this and you should become comfortable with both. The first way to finger this is to place your middle finger second fret on the A string, ring finger second fret D string, and first (index) finger first fret G string. This is good to use in open position.  The second way to finger this chord is to place your ring finger second fret A string, pinky second fret D string and middle finger first fret G-string. Getting comfortable with this fingering will make barre chords easier. You can strum all the strings.

open chords E minorThis is the open E minor chord. finger this chord the same way as the E above except leave off the first fret on the G string.

open chords AThis is the open A chord. Just like the E chord there are 3 ways to finger this. The first approach which I never use, but a lot of books suggest is the classical approach. You place first (index) finger second fret D string, middle finger second fret G string and ring finger second fret B string. I find the second and third approach easier and they are both similar. You can barre your first (index) finger or ring finger across all 3 strings. the ring finger is best for barre chords in the future.

Experiment with the different fingerings for the different shapes. I suggest you become familiar with as many different options as possible. It pays off to be flexible on guitar. With these chords you can play millions of songs. A lot of acoustic guitar players rely on these chords primarily because of the open sound they have is full. If the songs are in a different key then they put on a capo. Find some of your favorite songs and start learning them and playing them with these chords to help you get them under your fingers. These chords are a foundation to a whole world of knowledge.

Open chords are a valuable thing to know. They are just a group of notes played simultaneously with open strings that are typically played low on the fret board. Spend the time to learn these shapes and learn to strum some of your favorite songs with these shapes. In the end you will be glad you did. All guitar players that are past the beginning stages of playing know these chords, they are so vital that it would be almost impossible to progress without knowing them.

How to use a metronome to get the most out of guitar practice

Metronomes are a useful tool when you practice guitar. They can be used to measure progress on a certain piece of music, they can help your technique, and most of all they help you play in time. This tool will help make the long journey to learning guitar easier.  Metronomes can also be a fun and challenging tool. The first step to using a metronome is having one at your disposal. There is a metronome on GitGuitar. Click on the word Metronome to be directed to the page. There are many other places you can get a metronome from, but there are 2 easy places to get them. First you can search a search engine for an online metronome. This is the cheapest and most reliable because it won’t break. The second option is to go to a music store and buy a metronome.

You may be asking when you should use a metronome. The answer is almost anywhere. I suggest that when you practice guitar scales you play them with a metronome. This will measure your progress in speed. You don’t want to try to play fast, but you will notice that you can play guitar scales faster and easier as you gradually push up the tempo. Another example of when you should use a metronome is when you practice an etude.  This is to make sure you are playing everything in time. You can also use a metronome when you are learning a new song. There are so many places to use a metronome and I am sure you will find many uses for a metronome during your guitar practice.

How do you use a metronome while you practice guitar? The simplest way is to have the metronome click on all the beats. For this post I will assume the music is in 4/4 time. So you will have the metronome click 4 times per measure. If you want to make it more challenging you can start eliminating some beats. You can play with the click on beats 2 and 4, or 1 and 3. Another way to have fun with the metronome is to put the click on beat 1 only. This is challenging because you have to stay in perfect time while you count 2 3 4 in your head. Once you are comfortable with the click on only beat 1, try putting the click on only beat 2, then beat 3, then beat 4. These exercises are fun and challenging.

As you can see, a metronome is a useful tool to aid your learning. It can also be fun and can keep you on your toes if you like a challenge. For such a cheap tool (or free if you use it online) there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to get some benefit from the metronome.  Whether you use it for 5 minutes a day, or 30 minutes a day, you will get the benefit from it. Best wishes with you and your new Best friend, the metronome.

How to play guitar scales with proper fingerings

Out of all the incorrect ways to play guitar, improper fingerings is probably one of the most common bad habits we create. This is because the correct way to play doesn’t come naturally at first. When you approach a new scale or lick it is important that you play it with correct fingerings. This will help you learn faster and it won’t hinder you in your future studies. Correct fingering is closely related to positions on guitar. Let’s take a look at the definition of guitar position.

A guitar position is determined by the fret number your first finger is on. If you lay your first finger on the fifth fret then you are in 5th position. This is important because when you correctly finger a scale you should have one finger per fret. So if your first finger is on the 5th fret, your middle finger will be on the 6th fret so on. There are a few exceptions to this.

The first exception is when you switch positions during a scale. Certain scales require you to slide down a fret to play them correctly. You are still playing with 1 finger per fret, but you changed the set of fingerings to fit the new position.  The scale could also require a slide up to a new position. This does not change the rule of one note per fret, it just changes the position you are in.

The second exception to this is when a scale requires a stretch that cannot be handled with sliding to a new position. You may alter your fingerings to be able to play these scales because they cannot be played one finger per fret. The fingerings for these are not important until you are more advanced, but this exception does exist. Now let’s take a look at what people do that is incorrect.

The most common incorrect finger I have seen is when a person refuses to use their pinky. Yeah, I know the pinky is the weakest finger. This is not a good habit to create and should be avoided and fixed. Another problem I have come across is when people play with one finger. They slide that finger around. Don’t waste the energy. This is bad, it slows you down and you waste 3 fingers. Maximum efficiency is what we are aiming for.

On the topic of maximum efficiency I would like to mention that while you practice scales you should be conscious of how far you take your fingers off the strings. The closer you keep your fingers to the strings the smoother you will play, and it will help with speed greatly. Try this exercise: put your palm of your hand on your leg. Tap your leg starting with your pinky rolling your other fingers in order one at a time. First keep your fingers close to your leg and tap as fast as you can. Then I want you to lift your fingers as high as you can and try to tap as fast as you can. Which one is faster and easier? Paying attention to how close you keep your fingers is an important part of playing guitar.

We have covered the basics to correctly finger guitar scales. You keep your fingers one finger per fret unless it is one of the exceptions and keep your fingers close to the strings. These may not come naturally, but be patient and it will get easier to the point where you don’t have to think about it anymore. Practice smart!

Guitar Scales – Modes Shapes

In this Post I am going to show you the patterns for the major modes. If you have not read the post called “Introduction to guitar scales – modes” I recommend you read that first. I put all the fingerings on each diagram so you can see how you finger it. I put an R on each diagram as well which indicates the Root of the key. All these scale patterns are based off of the G major Scale.

When you memorize these scale patterns I suggest you then transpose them to every key. Become very familiar with these scales in all 12 keys. Let’s get started and jump into it.

guitar scales

This is the Root position major scale, also called the Ionian Mode. You start this with the second finger.

guitar scales

This is the Dorian Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Phrygian Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Lydian Mode.

guitar scales

This is the mixolydian Mode.

guitar scales

This is the Aeolian Mode, Also known as natural minor.

guitar scales

This is the Locrian Mode.

By the time you place all these shapes you should be an octave higher playing the first scale again. Do not worry about memorizing each scale shape in 1 day. Learn the major scale First, once you have that memorized then memorize the Dorian. Keep reviewing these scales even if you have them memorized already. These scales need to become second nature to you.

Keep in mind. Guitar makes shapes easy to move. For you to play in A-major just move these scale shapes up a whole step. That is what makes guitar unique from many other instruments. These patterns will never change, but the position you play them in will. Good luck!

Introduction to guitar scales – Modes

Seven 0’clock, and the alarm clock starts screaming. Ionian Mode rolls out of bed to get an early start on the day. He starts by making his wife Dorian Mode a couple pancakes and wakes her up by the smell of the pancakes so she can eat them in bed. Ionian then goes to wake up their 5 kids to get ready for school. He first wakes up his daughter Phrygian who is a sweet little 7-year-old girl. Then Ionian wakes up his 2 sons Lydian and Mixolydian. Mixolydian is their oldest son and he shows many traits like his father. Then Ionian finally finishes waking up the horde with yelling for their daughters Aeolian and Locrian to wake up. Now that everyone is awake they continue to live their day.

What does the above story have to do with modes? Well it is quite simple. A mode is a family of scales. They have a parent scale which all of the scales come from.  As mentioned in the above story Ionian (Major) Scale is the father of the mode family. All of the other modes contain exactly the same notes as the father. In other words, each mode has the exact same biological Make. There is only 1 difference between these scales.

The note these scales start and end on is what determines the mode. You have the major (Ionian) scale, if you start the major scale on the second note and end it on the second note then it becomes a Dorian Scale.  If you continue this process and start the major scale on the third note and end it on the third note it then becomes a Phrygian scale.  Pretend you are playing musical chairs. There is 1 black chair and 6 white chairs. The black chair is the root chair. You start walking around the chairs and the music stops. You sit down on a white chair. This chair is one of the modes of the major scale. The music starts to play again so you walk around over and over, stop! You sit down on the black chair. This is the major scale chair.

You may be asking what the difference between a guitar scale and a mode is. The difference is a Scale is a group of notes played in Ascending and Descending motion. A mode on the other hand is a Scale derived from another scale. A mode is part of a family. It has a father and siblings.

There is one more lesson to be learned from the first story. The Gender of a Scale is important. Is it a major scale or a minor scale? In the story above all the major scales have been labeled as Males. Likewise, all the minor scales have been labeled as Females.  This is important to know because you will be using these scales over chords and different keys. I recommend you memorize the names of the major scale modes, the order in which they go and if they are minor or major scales. To learn the scale shapes for all the major scale modes please check out my other blog post on mode shapes here. Below is a list of the major mode names in order.

Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian, Locrian.

How to practice guitar Scales

Everyone says practice makes perfect, but believe it or not some practice habits are better than others. If you are going to put time and effort into something wouldn’t you want maximum use out of it? I am going to share some of my experiences with you that have helped me achieve the best results when I practice guitar scales. I will also discuss how you can start applying these principles to your practice.

My first recommendation is to prepare. If you sit down without knowing what you want to practice you are wasting time. When you finally decide you will practice example number 5 out of book blah you then have to find it and set it up. Yeah those 30 seconds adds up over 50 years. Save time by preparing for your practice.  I suggest that you put together a playlist of songs you want to transcribe and put them on a CD. This way you have around 12 songs that you want to transcribe on 1 CD. There is no need to switch CDs every time you want to hear a different song.

My second Recommendation is to stay focused. I use to have a problem with getting off track and I would start doodling around. I have found that when I start jamming out I end up wasting time that I would have use for something more productive. Getting sidetracked also causes you to lose concentration.

My third Recommendation is to spend the time to master it. Steve Vai claims he would spend an hour doing one thing such as vibrato for an hour. He claims that when you do it for an hour concentrating deeply on that 1 technique you will find new ways to approach it. I am not saying that you need to do this, but spend time with stuff you learn. Something I do when I play an Etude is I require myself to play a section perfectly 20 times before I move on to a new section.

My Fourth Recommendation is to repeat what you learn every day. Say you learn a new scale. I suggest you review it every day. Review it over and over. The longer period of time you review it every day the stronger memory it will be. Of course, you will be constantly learning new ideas so you don’t need to review it forever. You can choose a week or 2 to review it every day. This can a valuable tool to use with scales, songs, chords or anything new to you. Keep reviewing it.

My Fifth recommendation for enhancing your practice is to take breaks. There are researchers out there that claim you don’t retain nearly as much information after a certain period of time. This time period varies depending on the researcher, but it is good to remember. What I suggest is separating your practice into sections. Spend a little time practicing your scales then take a break, come back and practice your etude, take a break then come back and transcribe.

My last piece of advice is to enjoy what you are practicing. Even if you don’t really enjoy it, pretend you do. People learn something that they like much easier than they learn something they dislike. If music is not fun, then make it fun. This is the best way to maximize your practice time.

How to do you apply all of these tips? Well I would pick one of them and apply it. Once you feel comfortable with your change then add a new change. Remember, not everyone is exactly the same. We are all different and we will find different things work for different people. Take this advice; make it your own knowledge.

Introduction to Guitar Scales – Chromatic Scale

Out of all the guitar scales available, the chromatic scale is the most important because it is the foundation of music.  The chromatic scale contains every musical note, chord, and all the scales possible.  Once you have learned to play the chromatic you only need to take away notes to create every scale possible. Once you have a scale you subtract a few more notes to get an arpeggio.  The chromatic scale is also a great way to learn the note names all over the fret board.

To help you learn the fret board better I suggest you play these guitar scales slowly while saying the note names out loud. Speed is not important for these guitar scales. Focus on learning these scale shapes and the names of the notes. You should play these scale shapes on different areas of the guitar neck and different strings.   You should also play them both ascending and descending.  Let’s jump into it and learn these scale shapes.

chromatic scale shape 1

When you play this chromatic scale shape ascending you should start with your first (index) finger and you will slide up one fret with your 4th (pinky) finger. When you play it descending you should start with your 4th (pinky) finger and slide down with your first (index) finger.


chromatic scale shape 2, one string

You start this chromatic scale shape with an open string. You can and should practice this shape on all strings; I chose to make the chart on the G string. You can continue this shape past 1 octave.

chromatic scale shape 3

This chromatic scale shape works backwards on the neck. When ascending, you will slide up on the high E string with your 4th (pinky) finger. Descending you will slide down with your first (index) finger.

You can use these scale shapes for future reference to help you visualize a new scale.  All guitar scales are formed from these scale shapes. You can take any of these scale shapes and take away a couple of notes then you will find that you have all your guitar scales in these 3 chromatic scale shapes.  From here you need to learn which notes need to be omitted.

As you continue on your journey do not forget these scale shapes. The chromatic scale will always be a very important part of music. There is no end to things you can do with the chromatic scale. As you see, you can use the chromatic scale as a reference point for learning and visualizing, but this guitar scale also comes in handy in soloing as well. Check future lessons for more lessons that utilize the chromatic scale.