Friday, December 29, 2006

The Art of Playing Jazz Guitar

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I'm not going to kid you; playing Jazz Guitar is extremely difficult at best and almost downright impossible at worst. However there are things you can do to improve your improvisation skills and feeling and we'll discuss them throughout this multi part series so look for additional parts in the near future.


What can I say about practice? Just do it and do it often! Do it everyday. When you think you have done enough do it again.

I am not just talking about picking up the guitar and playing a few songs I am talking about real practicing for the environment that you will eventually be playing in which is, of course, in an ensemble with other musicians who we hope will always be better than you.

Here are the basics...

When practicing always use a metronome!

If I didn't make that part clear perhaps this may help: ALWAYS USE A METRONOME!

If you feel that you don't need a metronome stop reading this article, stop practicing and go get some ice cream because you will get the same or even better results and you certainly will enjoy yourself a whole lot more in the process if you do. If you are committed read on.

Still with me?

When using your metronome try to feel your timing on different clicks. For instance for a swing feel have your metronome click on beats 2 and 4 rather than 1 and 3. This will give you an instant swing feel and also take away that nasty crutch so you are forced to know where beat 1 really is.

We never, ever, want to rely on our drummer, who may be in the middle of a complex experimental improvisation just when you need him/her the most, to tell us where beat 1 is. How many times have you been in that situation?

Sound simple? It is!

Sound easy? Try it for a month and you let me know how it goes.

Let's delve into this a little. When practicing using this technique of displacing metronome clicks for beats try these: practice a 3/4 tune using the metronome clicking once per measure and only on beat 2. Then switch to only on beats 3. See how the feeling changes. Practice it, learn it, feel it and then you can start to own it.

If you want to get fancy place the metronome to click every fifth beat while you play a tune in 3. This will shift the accents and feeling from bar to bar and will also allow your brain to break free from it's learned behavior which is designed to make you not want to think.

What did you say?

That's right! More times than not the human brain is your biggest enemy. It always seeks comfort and practicing in the fashion described above is not at all comfortable for your brain. In these cases I recommend telling your brain what my son often likes to say, "To bad..., so sad!"

We as musicians need to experience and comprehend the natural tendencies of the brain's normal behavior so we can learn to truly challenge ourselves to open up our minds to the gargantuan creative possibilities that await us when we do. This doesn't happen by accident nor does it happen by itself nor will it come easy. It takes an extreme effort on our parts.

Whether you have your instrument with you or not you can practice your timing. If you get a small battery operated metronome, which I recommend, you can bring it with you when you are driving back and forth to work. Practice the above examples in your car while singing. Don't worry if you can't sing you are trying to own these feelings and if you can't articulate these feelings with your voice you will never truly own them.

I have outlined several examples for displacement of beats. The idea is simple enough so that you can come up with more deviations on your own and you should keep changing them when you practice.

The point here is that true understanding and your eventual ownership of various beats and feelings associated with them do not reside strictly inside those beats and feelings. By looking only inside the beats you are shutting off all creative thinking that is necessary to truly exploit their full potential.

Real understanding resides outside and you must find out what that means. To truly find it you must force yourself and be willing to look everywhere else but the beats themselves. This simple metronome technique will get you started and point you on your journey to achieving that goal. Don't limit yourself to applying this technique only to timing but that statement is for another part of this series.

Have fun, practice and always play your heart out!

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Practising Guitar - The Sneaky Person's Way To Get Better

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People taking up the guitar generally fall into one of two categories: the first just want to learn to play a few chords so they can accompany themselves while singing their favourite songs. Or maybe they want the social life and perks that come with playing in a band. For them, practising can be a pain.

The second type is the person who from day one knows they want to be as good as the best in their chosen field, whether it's rock, funk, jazz, or classical. In other words, they want to emulate their heroes. And practice is the pain that leads to the gain.

If we're honest, most guitarists will admit to starting off with approach one and ending up on the road to approach two, simply because no matter how good you get, you have a nagging doubt that you could do better. You also feel that anyone listening to you knows this too, and they're wondering why exactly you don't sound like a profesional. (Although that's just paranoia--they aren't thinking that at all.)

Fortunately, the guitar is an instrument that will cater for both approaches. Someone once said it's the easiest instrument to play sloppily and the hardest to play well.

Personally, I'm not so sure: a church organ, (think of all those pedals) and the bagpipes have got to be at least contenders for the title.

No matter, there is some truth in the statement.

But who cares? If your intention is to make your delivery of your favourite songs sound fuller, does it really matter what standard you are? Of course it doesn't. (As long as you aren't really, really terrible and inflict it on other people, that is.)

And besides, every time you pick up the guitar (or anything else), you improve. You build up muscle memory, for one thing. Practice really does make perfect.

And that's the important thing: it is necessary to practice.

Only ever playing while you sing those faves of yours does count as practice, if that's all you want to accomplish. And the good news is you can get to play pretty decent pretty quickly, just by learning the necessary chords, persevering, then learning how to play rhythm with a little variety.

If you want to be more versatile, though, practice will probably mean learning moves before being able to apply them to something meaningful--a bit like the wax-on-wax-off sequence in the movie The Karate Kid. And just like Daniel-san, you're going to get to the point sometimes where you wonder what the point of it all is, and whether you can take it without losing your sanity.

Or maybe you'll start to feel it's taking up too much of your life, that you could be doing something more useful or enjoyable (because, let's face it, practice is always dry and unenjoyable, isn't it?)

But should you ever get into the position where you feel you just can't face those exercises, there's a sneaky trick you can play to fool yourself into doing it.

(It works for other things, too, like exercise, and research).

It's this: tell yourself that you're only going to practise for two minutes. One hundred and twenty seconds, maximum. After that, no matter whether you're enjoying it or not, you absolutely have to stop. No carrying on. No excuses. And make yourself put the guitar down.

Try it. See what happens. You'll be a better guitarist in no time.

Jamie Jones helps you go from complete beginner to intermediate guitarist. Get the building blocks for your guitar success: to receive your free online guitar lessons, visit:

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Monday, December 11, 2006


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So, you’ve got your eye on an electric guitar, or an acoustic with a pick-up. Then you’re going to need an amplifier! But there’s such a huge range, it can be daunting to even know where to start looking. Well, there’s some key questions that can help guide you…

How good does the sound of my amp need to be?

Well, are you aiming to form a band and play some gigs, or just be able to hear your electric guitar in your bedroom? If you’re a bedroom player, then any old amp will do to get you started. It’ll come down to your personal preference as to how much you invest. If you want to get out and play live, then you might need to think about a quality amp - like a Marshall, Fender or other top brand. In the Pro Guitar Tips course, we devote a whole chapter to ‘How to Get a Great Tone’, to help you decide between a solid state or valve amplifier. It could actually take over a whole blog, it's such a personal choice too. But as someone starting out, the next question you need to ask yourself is:

How loud do I need to play?

As loud as %&*^ing possible, I hear you say! Well, to simplify things a bit, amplifiers come in all different volume sizes. It’s fair to say the bigger the amp, the louder the sound. Amp power is rated by watts, with really loud amps ranging from 50-200 watts. If you’re just looking for a bedroom practice amp, then around 10 watts will do you nicely. If you want to be able play with a live drummer and still hear the sound of your guitar, then you’ll probably need 30+ watts of amp power.

How am I going to transport the amp?

I know a lot of guitarists who think they need the biggest amp. But I don’t know a lot of guitarists who do stadium sized shows! Bigger doesn’t necessarily make you play any better! Remember, the bigger your amp, the harder it’s going to be to transport to rehearsals and gigs – at least until you get your own road crew! You don’t want to put too much stress on your back just trying to lift the thing. Use common sense! Most gigs you'll play will use PA systems, where a microphone is placed in front of the amp, which is re-amplified to be mixed with rest of the band to heard by the audience.

How much money should I spend on an amp?

If you’ve got a limited budget, then I recommend spending the bulk of it on your guitar. A better guitar will be easier to play and will deliver rewards when it comes to sound quality. You can always upgrade your gear, but it’s great to start with something with longevity. Exactly how much to spend on an amp comes back to your intended use, and personal preference. As usual, the more you spend the better the amp will sound. (The next figures are a rough price range guide in US and Australian dollars.)

Beginner: US $100-200 AUD $150-300
Intermediate: US $250-500 AUD $300-700
Professional: US $500-3000+ AUD $700-4000+

The combination of equipment is really important to your overall sound. A great amp with an average sounding guitar (and/or guitar player!) is still going to sound average. Trust your ears to tell you what sounds good, and practice hard!

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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Choosing An Electric Guitar: Main Points To Consider

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Ask any guitarist, and they will you that nothing comes close to jamming with a guitar. In fact, no other instrument has influenced modern music so much as the guitar, and its ongoing popularity is reflect in its ubiquitous appearance in bands, radio stations and music videos throughout the world. Certainly one of the coolest instruments, the guitar is synonymous with contemporary pop and rock music. That said, no guitar is more symbolic of rock music than the electric guitar.

Whether you are an expert or a mere learner, getting a new electric guitar is a thrill. Perhaps you have only ever played an acoustic guitar, and want to branch out? Maybe you are simply learning guitar from scratch? Whatever your reasons, buying an electric guitar means you will be able to play searing riffs and haunting melodies like you have never experienced with any other instrument.

There are a number of things to decide upon when choosing an electric guitar.

The first decision you need to make is what body shape you want your guitar to be. To date, the most popular guitar shape is the solid-body Les Paul shape. You can also opt for the SG Style, which has a thinner double cut-away body. Other most common shapes are the Stratocaster and Telecaster.

Once you have chosen the shape of your guitar, you will need to decide what pick-up you want, either single or humbucker pick up. These refer to the copper wire that is wrapped around the bar magnets. As its name implies, the single pick-up it is composed of one copper wire wrapped in a single coil around a single bar magnet or several rod magnets. The humbucker pick-up, on the other hand, uses two coils which tends to increase the intensity of a guitar’s sounds.

Choosing the right bridge is another important step. You will need to decide between the stock tremolo, double-locking or Floyd Rose double locking system. Depending on the style, the strings may be positioned differently, looser or tighter, and more or less responsive to your touch.

These are just some of the things you will need to consider when you select your new electric guitar. The choice you ultimately make will vary depending on the sort of music you want to play, as well as your knowledge and level of experience. Your budget will also bear upon your decision, and for those with less money, secondhand guitars are always an option.

Seeking help from friends who play the electrical guitar, or staff at the music store is always invaluable. Once you have the right guitar, your playing will be more enjoyable... and the better for it.

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