Post by Artnut Post by rmjon23
I was a complete nutcase when I started playing. I always wanted to be
a rock guitarist, but never did anything about it. I had a bunch of
friends who felt the same. We played air guitar like madmen. "Dude!
Pick up the needle and put that Blackmore solo on again!" Then a
friend had a dad who had a Fender Tele he'd sell for $200, so I bought
it, not even knowing a chord or how to tune. Right after that, one of
my heroes, Michael Schenker, was interviewed in Guitar Player. He said
when he was in his early teens he practiced for four hours a day, and
if he missed a day he'd play eight hours the next day to make up for
it. So that's what I did. But practice WHAT? I made up finger
exercises and desperately tried to figure out something that sounded
I'm weird, so I went to the library and checked out Walter Piston's
famous textbook, _Harmony_. I studied that like a mofo, and tried to
make sense of it. I also had some Guitar Player magazines lying
around. I tried to make sense of them. A friend who was a fine player
was kind enough to show me how to tune with harmonics. And I remember
he'd never heard Judas Priest, and I'd just bought _Unleashed In The
East_ and I played it for him, and he really liked the guitarists. He
figured out by ear "Green Manalishi" in like, two listens. I was
astounded. It was like watching a magician up close. He was kind
enough to sit and show me really basic aspects of what Priest was
Then I bought a bunch of books: _Styles For The Studio_, by Leon
White; _Improvising Rock Guitar_, with Pat Thrall on the cover; _The
Heavy Guitar Bible_ by Daniels, and maybe a couple other books. I
studied those and made up my own stuff and tried to cop licks and
chords off records for four hours a day, like Schenker. Then I got
into a garage band with my brother and friends. I remember a guy
watched us rehearse and asked if I gave lessons. I asked him how long
he'd been playing. He said five years. I'd been playing for about four
months and didn't tell the guy. I was completely nuts over guitar, and
there were probably days I practiced for 10 hours. I actually kept
track of how much time I practiced, 'cuz I wanted to BE Schenker, and
I didn't want to cheat myself.
I saw this amazing player named, IIRC, Ruben Garcia, in a backyard
party band and the guy killed. I heard he gave lessons. I took one
lesson from the guy. He was a terrible teacher and his band members
were hanging around their disgusting apartment room, and I felt really
ripped-off by giving this guy $10 for about 45 minutes.
But a few months later I realized how valuable that one lesson was,
because all Garcia (or was it Sanchez?) did was shred, two feet away
from me. He insisted on me learning how to keep my left thumb in the
middle of the back of the neck so that my wrist was facing toward the
audience. I found that incredibly awkward, but forced myself. He
performed some pentatonics with chromatics, every note picked with
strict down-up strokes. It was a blizzard of clean-fast scale
patterns, and he just went up and down the neck like a goddamned
machine. It imprinted on me. I was blown away. I thought he hadn't
done anything for me. He was really just practicing while I watched.
But I got a lot out of that. He inspired me in a huge way. Later I got
the same buzz by going to the Troubadour and sitting right in front of
Paul Gilbert or Warren Dimartini or Mark Kendall, and a few other guys
who were great but who seem to have disappeared. (Anyone heard of
Craig Collins Turner?)
Later I taught for 10 yrs in a music store in the San Gabriel Valley.
I'd played in bands and recorded a few things. I only took one lesson
my whole life. I mostly learned from the theory I taught myself, and
by developing my ear by copping solos and chords from records. After
I'd been playing for two years or so, and had a few students on the
side, I realized how freakish I must be, because I had only taken one
lesson (where you pay a guy), but I learned tons and tons of theory
from a college textbook written by a 20th century classical
composer...and I learned from _books_, period. Most guys DO NOT go
that route. Everyone's different. Find your own way. And see if you
can practice for 28 hours a week at least!
If there was anything I should've done earlier than later, it was to
practice with a metronome. I didn't do that until I bought Kreutzer's
book of violin exercises and an old-fashioned metronome, and tried to
play stuff up to speed. That was like taking steroids for my chops.
But I'd been playing for four years before I caught on to that.
When I look at all the resources a young player has today, it's as if
I tried to learn in the Mesozoic Age. Now there are videos of amazing
players everywhere, all kinds of great books, stuff online, software
programs, etc. An embarrassment of riches!
Wow RMJON, that was indeed a great inspirational writeup. I googled many
times for guitar lessons and I was very disappointed to see some sites. Some
proved of little help as somewhere down the line they presume the student
has some knowledge of music. For me, it was indeed a Herculean task to
interpret what the site said because of no one around to help with what's
written. I can say many sites show you ABCD of guitar and then they think
you can go on your own upto XYZ by signing up ordering their softwares.
I even heard that not all guitarists know how to read music in the notation
form. Tabs were created for the ease of internet learning but tabs lack in
one major thing is it cannot show the time breaks, gaps, as some say that
tabs can be played if one has heard the song before.
Hats off to you for being so persistent in your efforts to learn. Perhaps
God was on your side when you were learning because when I play, I think
even the ethereal bodies around me must be vanishing in the thin air! And
how do I know if my chords are producing the intended sounds. My electronic
tuner tells me the guitar is tuned but my playing doesn't bring out any
music. Its cacophony :-(
For a layperson anything sounds good or bad. And I must admit that
frustration sets in easily. I took few lessons for chords but realized it
wasn't worth the time and money because the chords, scales are available
Maybe you know even Eric Clapton was soo frustrated with his learning that
he nearly threw away.
So how does one go about it? You say 4hrs, hell for me 4mins is too much if
its just strumming without any melody coming out of it.
Arty- Hide quoted text -
- Show quoted text -
Well, I'd say there are a lot of little tricks to bump your playing up
a quantum and get you out of your rut. You mentioned chords. Take a
four-chord pattern. Let's say: Am, C, G, and D.
1.) Tap your foot and play them in the standard positions you see in
every "beginner" book.
a.) Play the chords for 4 beats (taps of the foot) each, then two. (If
some creative impulse takes over, go with it.)
b.) Play those chords in varying orders and use your ears to decide
what you like. Experiment.
c.) Now play the notes of the chords separately. "Arpeggios," right?
Experiment like mad with picking sequences that not only go from
lowest string to highest and back down, skip strings and practice
certain permutations that sound good to you. For EX: on the Dmajor
chord, go open D string, G string, D again, B string, D again, E
string, D again, (notes: D, A, D, D at 3rd fret, Dagain, F#, D again,
D note, etc. See that simple pattern? Then try D open, G string, B
string, D open, E string, B string. Note how a rhythm suggests itself.
d.) Do this same kind of thing with the other three chords, and then
combine strumming with arpeggios.
e.) Without worrying what the "names" of the new chords will be,
MUTATE each chord a bit and, using your own ears, decide what you
like. For EX: using the D major chord again, put your pinky down on
the 3rd fret, high E string (temporarily replacing the F# note with a
G note). Sounds pretty cool? Most people think so. Now try taking your
middle finger off the high E string entirely, so when you strum or
arpeggiate the chord your hear open D string, 2nd fret G string, 3rd
fret B string, open high E string. Sound good? Aye! Now combine all
three in some pattern you cook up after experimentation.
f.) Using the same D chord, move your index finger down one fret on
the G string (that is: 2nd fret, G string to 1st fret G string), then
follow that by playing the G string open, all the while keeping the
other notes of the D major chord the same. Vary in rhythm, and combine
strumming with arpeggios. Dampen/mute with your right hand for
dynamics. Combine this idea with all the stuff you've already done so
g.) Taking any one of the shapes/fingerings for these four chords,
experiment by sliding them up two or three of maybe five or seven
frets and judging for yourself what sounds cool. When you find
something that you like, experiment...using strumming and
arpeggiating, of course! And rhythmic variations you feel. Play sorta
"fast" and then very slowly.
h.) Using basic knowledge of the neck, write down the three different
notes that go into the chemistry of each of your four chords. NOW:
find at minimum three (3) other places on the neck you can play those
same notes as chords. You will be playing the "same" chord, but in a
different "voicing", so the hand shapes will be different. At first
this seems like math homework, but it pays off big-time. At this point
you may be accidentally playing stuff that sounds vaguely like famous
songs you've heard. Or not. It's really about you experimenting.
i.) Give these new voicings the same experimental treatment you gave
the ones at the bottom of the neck (frets 1-3). Strumming and
arpeggiating and tweaking a note by a fret or two here and there, etc.
Playing the chords in altering sequences, using two chords more often
than the other two, etc.
j.) Practice sliding one chord up and down the neck. EX: take the
Aminor and slide it up two frets. Then hit that chord and slide it
back down "home" to the original Aminor chord. Slide that up three
frets. Back down. Etc. Note anything that sounds good to YOUR ears and
play around with rhythm, strumming, a brief moment of silence,
arpeggiating, tweaking notes, etc.
k.) "Write" a song now, using all you've taught yourself. It doesn't
have to be great, just sorta challenging for you to play...and FUN!
2nd little experiment: Using the C major scale (A string: 3rd fret,
5th fret, 7th fret; D string: 3rd fret, 5th fret, 7th fret; G string:
4th fret, 5th fret, 7th fret; B string: 5th fret, 6th fret, 8th fret;
High E string: 5th fret, 7th fret, 8th fret), sound out from memory or
sing out loud "Happy Birthday" (traditional version people sing at b-
day parties), "Yankee Doodle," and "Auld Lang Syne." Why these three?
Why not? You can find your own alternate favorites, but these three
are so well-known, and besides, after years of experimenting like a
mutha with them, they WILL come up in social situations (well, at
least two of them will), and you will have an extremely well-rehearsed
version of some sort to wow a small crowd with them. For starters.
a.) From long experience, this exercise can go on for years, with you
always experimenting with single-note techniques and harmony. At
first: however long it takes, work out these classic melodies until
you're pretty sure you have a reasonable facsimile of them.
b.) Use vibrato! One way you can work on your vibrato is by taking any
one note in the melody - esp one the melody gives extra "time" to, for
EX: the B note you play for "you" when "Happy Birthday" has just
started. (It might be the 6th note overall, depending on your how you
interpret it.) take that B note, and taping your foot, play 8th notes
and bending that note slightly up and down (amybe up a 1/2 step so
that the bent note sounds exactly like a C note, but the most
important thing is to do your bends evenly and in time with your
tapping or metronome!), saying ("one and two and three and four and")
in time to your tapping. Do the same thing with triplets (say "one
trip-let, two trip-let, three trip-let, four trip-let"); finally try
16ths notes (saying "one-ee-and-uh, two-ee-and-uh, three-ee-and-uh,
c.) Pick each note in the melody twice, three times, or four times.
Then use variations, giving some notes only one pick, others more than
d.) Use hammer-pulls when you can. EX: You may play "Yankee Doodle"
starting on the 3rd fret, A string. You pick that first note twice,
("Yank-ee") but you can get the 3rd-7th notes of the melody using only
left-hand gymnastics. And note: the next note is G on the low E
string. That's still in the C major scale...There are all kinds of
hammer-pull combinations in those three classic melodies.
e.) Bend up to a note rather than fret it. EX: in "Auld Lang Syne"
bend the 7th fret G string note up a full step and release it back
instead of playing the notes D-E-D. Use vibrato! The 8th fret, B
string note calls for some major bending madness in this tune!
f.) Play the entire melody in the "thirds." This means each note of
the melody is "harmonized" by the note that is either a major or a
minor 3rd below the melody note, as found in the C major scale. EX: In
"Happy Birthday" the 5th fret, D string note (a "G" note") is
harmonized by the 7th fret, A string note (an "E" note). That's for
the first note(s) of the melody. This is followed by 7th fret D string
(an "A" note) harmonized by 8th fret, A string (an "F" note).The first
"third you played (with the G and E notes) were a minor 3rd sound. The
second notes (A and F) were a major 3rd sound. All the notes in the
melody can be harmonized like this, and I recommend you use your ear
first before figuring it out logically. There's more adventure and
happy accidents that way.
g.) Play every note in the melody by sliding UP to it from below. That
means going from a lower fret to the note in question. EX: say you
decide to start "Happy Birthday" with the 5th fret, D string (a "G"
note). Slide VERY quickly from the 3rd fret on the D string to that G
note twice, then slide from the 3rd fret to the 7th fret, then back to
the 3rd to 5th fret slide. Also try sliding from some note ABOVE (that
is, from a higher-numbered fret to the note in question). DO not
accent the note you begin the slide from; accent the note that's
really in the melody. This creates a sort of bluesy, swaggering feel,
but it all depends on the way you do it.
h.) Practice trills (rapid hammer-pulls) between any two notes on one
string in any of the melodies. See if you can apply one of two to make
a good effect.
Have FUN!!! Improvement on guitar, no matter how much you practice,
seems just slow enough so that it seems like you're never improving.
But you are. Be willing to "suck" for awhile, but note how much better
you are on the next first of the month than the last.
If you're a rock/blues lover. (You mentioned Clapton.) The three
melodies I recommended for experimentation are all VERY major-
sounding. The Cream riffs you learn eventually will probably be more
minor-y sounding. Knowing the major scale as a feel makes the minor
scales sound that much darker and bluesier and more mysterious.
Words are just not enough to express my gratitude to you for giving such
wonderful tips. Since am pretty much a greenhorn yet as far as guitar is
concerned, it will take time for me to imbibe the tips you listed. But as
you implied, there ain't no substitute for practice, thats what I intend to
do...practise practise and more practise.
Btw, I wanted to know if there's any "right age" to learn. Its a fact that
with age, the learning process slows down. Saul Hudson aka Slash started
learning guitar at 14. Some start by 10 and some are late comers like me who
suddenly realize life is somewhat worthless if one can't even play any
musical instrument. And then getting out of the stupor, we start scouting
for related info! Better late than never, as they say.
My heartfelt thanks once again to you and others who have shed some light on