Sunday, November 26, 2006

Greatest Underrated Guitar Players

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Ask anybody who the greatest guitar players in the history of rock music are, and you’ll likely get the standard answers. The big three, Clapton, Beck and Page; certainly Eddie Van Halen; maybe Stevie Ray Vaughn. The metal-heads will cite Randy Rhodes and George Lynch. These are all valid answers, but if you would put forth names like Elliot Easton and Andy Summers, you might be likely to get a blank stare in return. Too often great guitarists are overlooked simply because they lack the flash of a star like Eddie Van Halen or because they are part of a group that simply has an overabundance of talent and they tend to be moved to the background. Take Andy Summers, guitarist for the Police. Everybody knows who Sting is, and there is no doubt that he is tremendously talented, as is drummer Stewart Copeland. As part of that unit, however, Summers was often overlooked. What is so amazing about Andy Summers is not only his command of the instrument, but his overwhelming versatility. From ska to punk to reggae to straight ahead rock and roll, nothing is outside of his ability. His style has been described as minimalist, but that minimalism is a plus, and he is to be credited for not falling prey to his critics and trying to overplay to compensate for a lack of complex layers of sound. Below, in no particular order, I’ve listed some of my favorite underappreciated players, and the reasons why I consider them to be great.

Elliot Easton (The Cars): Elliot Easton is probably the greatest reason for the success of The Cars. Without Easton’s accessible rock guitar cutting through the synth driven Cars sound, they never would have found the mainstream acceptance that they did. Imagine the spacey pair of Ric Ocasik and Greg Hawkes playing over an equally new-wave influenced guitarist and you have a style of music that would not appeal to people on a large scale. Easton’s Buddy Hollyesque sound, however, served to make The Cars commercially viable. “My Best Friend’s Girl” from their debut album is an excellent example of how Easton’s contribution was essential in creating hit records for The Cars.

Warren DiMartini (Ratt): What impresses me most about DiMartini is that fact that despite being known as a speed demon who is content to throw a startling flurry of notes at the listener, is that he knows the value of a rest. Too many metal artists try to play as fast as possible, and DiMartini can keep up with the best of them, but I’m more taken with the fact that on songs like “Lay it Down”, “Wanted Man” and “Round and Round”, it’s DiMartini’s artful use of pauses and mutings to lend depth and character to what would otherwise be just another ripping metal tune.

Kathy Valentine (The Go-Go’s/solo): The Go-Go’s will never be known for stunning musicianship, but Kathy Valentine’s reputation suffered from being thrown together with a group of girls who were far less proficient in their playing. Not to say that the Go-Go’s were not any good. Their style of music was based on catchy beats and fun lyrics, so being technically perfect was not a requirement. Unfortunately, the fact that this was an easily exploitable fault that the critics could grab a hold of, the band was unfairly criticized for being “a bunch of girls who could barely play their instruments.” If they had bothered to check, they would have found the Valentine was actually an experienced and talented guitarist, making the switch to bass to fill the spot with the Go-Go’s. Actually, a casual listen will show that Valentine’s bass playing stands out more that Charlotte Caffey’s or Jane Wiedlin’s guitar work. At times it’s almost melodic. Since the Go-Go’s Valentine has gone solo, along with a side project called the Delpines. I would strongly urge you to check out Valentine’s appealing mix of rock and punk on her “Light Years” album.

Slash (Guns ‘N’ Roses/Velvet Revolver): Guns ‘N’ Roses now Velvet Revolver bassist Duff McKagan once claimed that Slash had “the fastest right hand I’ve ever seen.” While it may be argued that the left (fretting) hand is more important for a guitarist, after hearing Slash play, there can be no discounting the value of a fast right hand. “Sweet Child of Mine”, “Paradise City” and “Welcome to the Jungle” received more radio play, but to hear one of the best examples of Slash’s work, check out “Mr. Brownstone” on “Appetite for Destruction”.

Steve “Steamin” Clark (Def Leppard): It seems that all great artists have their demons and Steve Clark was no exception. Before alcohol claimed his life at too young an age, Steve Clark had built up a legacy of fine work that will live on. Steve’s gift was an ability to build spatial separation into his phrasing. It was almost as if he was playing in a huge empty amphitheater in which each note rang out perfectly and separately and yet, along with the complimentary work of bandmate Phil Colin, fit tightly together like pieces in a puzzle. The song “Love Bites” from the “Hysteria” album perfectly illustrates this point. Unlike previous member Pete Willis, Colin provided a perfect foil for Clark to play off of. Unfortunately, Def Leppard seemed to be associated more with the fact that drummer Rick Allen played with one arm, the result of a 1984 auto accident, taking some of the attention away from the fact that Clark’s playing made Def Leppard one of the finest pop metal bands of the 80’s.

Howard Leese (Heart): Fated to share the stage with two of the most beautiful and talented women of the rock era, Howard Leese continued to lend his creative talents to Heart long after its other founding members had departed. It was Nancy with her beautiful blond tresses that stole the spotlight, but it was Howard’s guitar that powered the group. Secure in the knowledge that he was a key component in Heart’s driving guitar based sound, he was never bitter about the fact that his name was only recognizable amongst true fans of the group. Listen to “Barracuda” or “Magic Man” or “Even it Up” and you are instantly struck by the inherent “coolness” of the opening riffs, and his mastery of harmonic overtones is second to none.

Mick Mars (Motley Crüe): Mostly thought of as a fair to middling heavy metal guitarist, Mick Mars phrasing is perfect for the Crüe’s sound. Chunky, dirty and staccato at times, it still manages to be melodic. Upstaged by Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee and their bad-boy images, Mick stays cool and aloof behind his powerful music. Despite the darkness inherent in some of their tunes, you cannot fail to be uplifted by Mick Mars’ musical skills.

Really there are so many worthy players that I could go on and on, but this is just a listing of those few that have bugging me for years. It’s true that people have their own tastes, and for some, these guys wouldn’t even make the top 10, but it makes me feel better to have my sentiments known. If I’m lucky there may be a few of you out there – just a few – who will say, “Man, I’ve been saying for years that he (or she) has never got enough credit.”

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

When I Grow Up I Want To Play Guitar

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The secret to becoming a really good guitar player is, start playing and never stop. It really IS that simple!

Many people say "Gee you know, I've always wanted to play guitar, or I'd like to play guitar but I don't think I'll be very good at it".

You know if you really want to play guitar, just start. Don't listen to all the advice of all the people around you.

Now, here's a little story I'm sure many of you will be able to relate to. It's a story about Paddy - a guy who knew what he wanted to do and followed his heart.

When Paddy was in grade five at school, the teacher asked the class "What do you want to be when you grow up?". She would ask each member of the class.

"What do you want to be when you grow up, Jimmy? "

Jimmy would say. "A doctor miss".

"Oh that's very good choice Jimmy, that's great".

"What do you want to be when you grow up, Mary?"

"I'm going to be an accountant miss"

"Excellent choice, very good choice"

Now when it came to Paddy, she asked.

" What do you want to be when you grow up, Paddy?"

Paddy replied, "a guitar player".

The whole class errupted in laughter. The whole class .... it was just amazing. Paddy wasn't expecting this reaction. He had no idea why this was happening . Paddy hadn't started to play guitar or anything yet, but that's really what he wanted to do.

So the teacher asked again.

"What do you really want to do when you grow up, Paddy?"

Paddy said, "play guitar".

And the same thing only louder, everybody laughed. Paddy just couldn't work out why they had this reaction. So he sat down red faced and quite puzzled trying to work this out.

Anyway, a year later, the teacher asked the class, "what do you want to be when you grow up". When it came to Paddy's turn, the teacher said.

"Now Paddy, what do you want to be when you grow up?"

So Paddy stood up, he wasn't as confident this time as he was the previous year, but he said.

"A guitar player".

And the same thing, the whole class erupted. Paddy looked around for support from the teacher but.... she was kind of buckled up in pain trying to hold back the laughter. And so anyway he got to thinking that maybe he wasn't giving them the answer they want.

So the next year, he was prepared for it. Paddy thought, right, I've got the hang of this now. So when it came around to his turn again, she asked.

"Now Paddy"...... and of course the class is just waiting for his answer.

"Now Paddy, what are you going to do when you grow up? What do you want be?"

this time, he said............"a swimmer".

And the whole class laughed AGAIN!. By this time he was REALLY angry ... he looked down to his, (now) ex -friend , who was sitting pretty close to him and Paddy asked....

"What's SO funny about that?"

The guy just looked up and said...

"But you CAN'T swim!"

Paddy exclaimed, " does that matter?"

He just couldn't really get the hang of this. Of course the thing was Paddy really wasn't giving them the stock standard answer that they wanted. Like a doctor or a dentist or something like that. But that's really what Paddy wanted to do and the reality is that all he's ever really done.

Now the reason why I'm telling you this is because the formula to become a really good guitar player is quite simple. There's only two steps.

Decide to do it. Do it.

Now, along the way you'll need a properly set up guitar. You'll need your equipment to be easy to play. And you'll need top quality information. But the most important thing is you need to be internally motivated. That's if you want to be really good. If you are internally motivated that means you REALLY want to play guitar, that's what you want to do. There's really nothing that can stop you.

So until next time have fun with your guitar playing and if that's what you want to do, just go for it!

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How To Be Successful At Practicing The Guitar

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Practice: to work on something repeatedly for the purpose of improvement.

That says a lot. It tells you what to do (work), how (repeatedly), and why (to improve).

Once you understand what "practice" is, you can proceed to learn how to use this new tool to your best advantage.

1. TUNE UP: It's important to play music at correct concert pitch.

2. WARM UP: Play through an easy piece, slowly. The idea here is to loosen up your muscles. Don't play anything that is hard or fast.

3. DIRECTION: Before you go any further, settle your mind upon what it is you wish to achieve today. At this point it's important to remember two things.

a. You are practicing to improve. this means getting results.

b. You learn the guitar, or grow into music, in the same way you grow into an adult - over a period of time. You may experience fast progress, or experience a slow gradual growth. There may even be times when you don't seem to progress at all.

However, if your practice program is directed towards results (whether they come fast or slow), you'll see them soon enough - providing you keep on working systematically at your study program. Don't be overly concerned about mistakes - if you keep looking for mistakes, you'll succeed in finding mistakes - and very little else.

4. TODAY'S PROBLEMS - YOUR CURRENT LESON: Here you confront new material that must be learnt. As you progress, this part of your practice schedule will change. That is to say, as you complete one assignment you will move on to the next. (Keep working with the thought in mind that you are practicing to improve).

5. REPEAT: In learnng the guitar there are three things you're doing.

a. Acquiring and storing information in your memory.

b. Developing muscles.

c. Developing muscular and mental co-ordination.

Usually you will be working on all three at the same time, although from time to time you will encounter information that uses only the first process.

You will make the best progress by repeating any new idea's over and over until it is properly internalized.

6. MAKE NOTES: Get out a piece of paper and write down your questions, problems, discoveries, things that seem to keep going wrong, things that seem to need extra work etc. If you make notes about the problem areas, you'll find answers to your questions, solve your problems, remember your discoveries, and save a lot of time.

8. WORK SLOW TO FAST: When learning is new, go slowly. As you improve. you will naturally play the assignment faster. Don't think about playing anything fast until you have properly worked it out.

9. RELAX: Stay as relaxed as you can. Steps five, seven and eight are especially helpful in doing this. You should also understand that when the material is new, you will naturally be more intense - you may even find your muscles tightening up. As you come to know the material you should be able to relax more, but you must think about it. Feel the muscles - try to make them relax. Remember too, that you can tense up just from an excess of concentration - so that's a good reason for taking regular breaks.

10. WORK ON THE PARTS: If you're having a problem with something, take it apart. With every few exceptions, you play the guitar with two hands. They both work together to produce one result. This means that the combination of the two moving together could be causing the problem. Work on developing right and left hand synchronization.

11. Review: At the end of your practice session, go over your lesson and give some extra attention where it's needed. This could also include past assignments that still need additional attention. Use a review as a way to wrap up you day's practice.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

How To Play Three Chord Songs On Guitar

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Sooner or later you are going to take your guitar along to a casual sing-a-long type jam and hope that someone will start singing in the only key you know.

Or perhaps you'll be playing along, converting the chords you know, quite well until someone pulls the plug out by saying, "Do it in A flat". This is followed by an embarrasing five minutes while you struggle to find chord changes in this unfamiliar tonality.

It happens to everyone, so read through to the chart at the end of this article and let a little light in.

There are twelve major keys. Each one has a minor key closely associated with it - this is called the relative minor.

Each key (major or minor) has the same basic relationships.

Any melody or chord progression can be played in all twelve keys. this was not always so. Earlier European music systems utilized modes that did not have this quality.

The introduction of the piano around 1720 helped consolidate this "one Key relationship transposable to twelve different levels" as the system best suited to the needs of Central European musicians.

The name given to it is:-

The diatonic system or tonal system

The name simply refers to the fact that all notes and chords constantly resolve back to one Key point - the tonal centre or footnote of the scale.

There is a key for every note, but 99% of folk or song accompaniment on guitar takes place in six of these -

C, D, E, F, G or A.

In each of these keys there are three chords which will almost invaribly be used. In the Key of C the most likely chords you will encounter are :-

C F G7

In order, these chords are called in musical terminology -

C - the tonic, F - the subdominant, G7- the dominant

In the diatonic scale


the TONIC is the chord built on the 1st degree (C)

the SUBDOMINANT is the chord built on the 4th degree (F)

the DOMINANT is the chord built on the 5th degree (G7)

A simple way to find the three principle chords of any Key is to begin counting a specific number up from the tonic of the Key chord.

e.g., In the key of C the tonic is the C chord.

Then by counting up four full notes from the tonic chord, C D, E then F you arrive at the subdominant of the C Key.

To find the dominant simply move up to the next scale note (G), or count five full notes up from the tonic chord.

C, D, E, F then G

Dominant chords are usually sevenths - so now you know the whereabouts of the three main chords in the Key of C.

Of course these three chords are not necessarily the only chords used in songs but merely serve as guidelines in finding all the chords of a tune. However thousands of folk songs and pop tunes are playable with these three.

Here is a chart of the 3 main chords in each Key.

Tonic (key) - Subdominant - Dominant

Tonic - C, Subdominant - F, Dominant - G7

Tonic - F, Subdominant - Bb, Dominant - C7

Tonic - Bb, Subdominant - Eb, Dominant - F7

Tonic - Eb, Subdominant - Ab, Dominant - Bb7

Tonic - Ab, Subdominant - Db, Dominant - Eb7

Tonic - Db, Subdominant - Gb, Dominant - Ab7

Tonic - Gb, Subdominant - Cb (or B), Dominant - Db7

Tonic - B, Subdominant - E , Dominant - F#7

Tonic - E, Subdominant - A, Dominant - B7

Tonic - A , Subdominant - D, Dominant - E7

Tonic - D, Subdominant - G, Dominant - A7

Tonic - G, Subdominant - C, Dominant - D7

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Stringing Me Up (With Guitar Strings)

Most musicians know that different guitar strings are better for playing different styles of music. For playing rock, lighter gauge strings are better because bending the strings can raise a note up 3 or 4 semi-tones and lighter gauge strings are easier to bend. However, jazz would be the other extreme. Jazz guitarists prefer strings that are of a heavier gauge because they rarely bend a string to raise a semi-tone but rather they pick the notes. Classical guitarists use nylon strings. Blue Grass guitarists most often use standard wound strings. Country guitarists usually use medium to light gauge strings.

The problem with buying sets of strings, no matter what genre music you play, is that prepackaged string sets don’t allow for personal preference and individual styles. As you become more accomplished, you will most likely find that you like certain gauge or type strings over others.

Several (more than a few) years ago I found that by using different gauge strings, I could bend the strings and play a different chord using the same chord position. For example, when making a simple F chord, I could also play a Bb by bending the strings.

Years ago I discovered that using a .009, .011, .016, .024, .032 and .038 were the gauges that gave me the added effects that best suited my style. I had to buy each string separately because prepackaged strings didn’t come in those gauges. Now Erie Ball has prepackaged sets of guitar strings that are pretty close and other string manufacturers do as well. There are Ernie Ball prepackaged sets of guitar strings that use the .009, .011, .016, .024, .032 and .042. Now I buy that set and a single .038. (I have a drawer full of .042’s if anybody needs them.) :-)

Personally, I prefer Ernie Ball because they seem to hold their brightness longer but you might prefer another brand. The best thing to do is just to experiment until you find the brand and the gauges that suit you best.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Learn and Master the Guitar at Home

As a guitarist, I'm often asked this question - "What is the best way to improve my guitar playing given my limited time and budget?"

In this article, I'll explore how you can use a Guitar Learning Method on the the Internet to learn and master the guitar in the comfort of your own home. Compared to a personal tutor, learning the guitar online is a much more flexible and cost effective route.

You can take the lessons at your own pace and work it around your schedule, plus its far more affordable than a private guitar tutor.

So, what do you need to get started? Contrary to popular belief, you only need a few basic things to get started. Don't be caught up with all the hype around equipment, gadgets and learning aids.

First of all, you'll need a guitar. Bet you already knew that, but you don't have to wait for that perfect guitar to start, a basic acoustic guitar with fresh strings will do. Secondly, you'll need a PC with a decent set of speakers. Third, a private place to practice and learn is an added bonus. Finally, the most important thing you'll need is a whole lot of determination and tenacity. Guitar learning can be frustrating and you really need to keep at it to see results.

Now that you've got all that sorted out, get online and start learning! A good guitar training program should have step by step instructions with videos. You'll learn how to read notes and tab, form chords and recognize chord progressions by ear. Some programs will even provide you with custom software to help you develop a musical ear.

You'll be surprised at how much these excellent online music lessons will cost. Its a lot more affordable then you. Once you purchase it, it'll always be online for you to login and learn.

Be prepared to develop callous on your fingers and some pain on your wrists when you start. Some programs will also provide finger training exercises to help you strengthen your fingers (and you'll grow stronger skin on your fingers to compensate the callous).

The secret to learning the guitar successfully is persistence and practice. Don't rush the program and only move to the next lesson after you've mastered one. Many people give up when they don't seem to get anywhere in their playing, but remember that everyone needs to learn to crawl, then walk, then run! Get down your basics well and work on foundations like playing chords, developing a good sense of rhythm, the correct fingering techniques (bad habits will be hard to break later on), proper posture and handling of your guitar so you can enjoy playing long hours without hurting yourself.

I hope that this article will be useful to you on your musical journey. Remember to keep practicing and don't give up. If you read biographies of any great guitar players, you'll see a similar pattern: dedication to their craft and practice!