Thursday, December 23, 2010

Things to look for when buying a guitar

When buying a quality guitar, one should expect to spend at least $180 and up. Personally, I wouldn't recommend that anyone spend less than $180 because the craftsmanship of the instrument starts to suffer and, in some cases, can be so poor quality that it can hinder ones ability to play.  This can even be discouraging to some students.  The truth of the matter is that you don't buy a real guitar from WHATEVERMart.  If you do, expect to be disappointed. Guitars that come from WHATEVERMart are toys.

I know that parents, at times, don't want to spend too much money on a guitar for their children because they are afraid it might be a phase and that they might abandon interest.  In my opinion it is much better to give a kid a used guitar than buying a cheaply made one that's hard to play.  There are many places that one can find nice used guitars, such as music stores, pawn shops, even craigslist.

Personally, I like to play an instrument before I even consider buying it.  Ask yourself this:  Would you buy a car without being allowed to drive it?  It is this very reason that I stray away from purchasing one from a website. Yes, I know I mentioned craigslist, for those of you that don't know craigslist is an free online classifieds site, meaning you have to actually contact the people and you get to see and inspect the item before you buy it. 

Websites that sell guitars usually do just that, sell them, without ever making sure that the guitar is properly setup (neck checked for proper relief, intonation set, etc...)  also, another con about buying online is this:  Who are you going to take it to when you have problems? 

I highly recommend buying from an independently owned music store and not through a chain because chain stores usually do not set-up the instruments or offer any warranty with their instruments.  There's a local and privately owned store (Great Neck Guitars, Wichita Falls Texas) that Ive been going to now for 15 years. The reason is this, every guitar is inspected and properly set-up before it is put on display.  The other thing is that they offer a life-time service warranty on any instrument that you buy from them.  I have guitars that I have bought from them years ago that I take in from time to time to get neck adjustments and intonation checked and they do it for free! Try finding a deal like that at INSTRUMENTCENTER.

Here are a few tips:

  • Play every note on every string while checking for buzzing sounds.  Can you hear each note cleanly?
  • Check and make sure that when holding down a string that it only sounds at the fret you are holding.  Make sure it does not fret out at other places.
  • Look down the neck and make sure it isn't overly bowed one way or another.  You want the neck to have a little "relief" in it, but not too much.  That is to say that the neck should have a slight bow in it.
  • If its an electric, plug it in and play it.  If you don't know how to play then ask someone give a demonstration.
  • Take a friend with you that knows something about guitars.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Welcome Rob Bourassa!

I will soon be adding Rob's complete seven week guitar primer course on Stringmania. He's a wonderful guitarist and all around musician.  Be sure to check him out on Ukulele and Banjo too :)

I'll See You in my Dreams - Rob Bourassa Fingerstyle Guitar

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What not to do to your guitars

One of my biggest pet peeves is when I see that someone hasn't taken proper care of their instruments.  Here are a few photos of  what not to do.

While I'm on this subject, I would like to mention some words of wisdom that a friend once told me.  "Don't put your guitar in a place that you would not be comfortable in yourself". Keep your guitar out of any extreme temperatures.

Also, do not ever, ever, ever, use the following items on a guitar :

  • Lemon pledge. Its great for furniture but not for guitars. For instance, if you have a rosewood  fretboard and it looks dry, use lemon oil that is specially formulated for the guitar. You can find it in your local music store.
  • WD40. Again, this product is great, but not for guitar stuff. Using this stuff can damage your finish.

If your guitar looks dirty, use guitar polish. There are many different types and all of them are pretty good. You can find this at your local music store.

Electric Guitars and Acoustic Guitars

A lot of people ask me which is better to learn on, an acoustic or an electric?  The answer is that it depends on many factors.  You have to ask yourself several questions, the first one being:  What type of music do I want to play?  For instance, if you like folky, finger-style stuff like James Taylor or Jim Croce, then you might want to get an acoustic.  If you like rock stuff with crazy guitar solos or heavy metal and such, then you, perhaps, would want an electric. 

You see, it all hinges on what type of player you want to be.  In general, I would say that electrics are easier to play on.  They have thinner necks and usually lighter gauge strings, both of which are aspects that are easier on untrained hands.  If you do decide you want an electric, you will probably want to purchase an amplifier as well.  You don't necessarily need an amp,  you can hear the music without it, but an amplifier does provide much more volume.

Acoustic guitars can be heard much easier than an unplugged electrics, however, it takes more hand strength to play on one because of the thicker gauged strings and the necks are a little bigger.  The plus side of this is that when you do play an electric, it will be much easier due to you being used the acoustic.  Go in a music store and try both. That's the best way. In a nutshell, you will have to find what works for you.

If you do decide to get an acoustic, you should be aware that there are basically two different types as far as quality of craftsmanship is concerned.  They are known as solid top acoustics and laminated top acoustics. Solid top acoustics are more finely made. The top of the body is made out of one piece of wood.  This provides a better resonance for the instrument. The tone of a solid top will also improve with age.

With that being said, the laminated top is the cheaper of the two. They are made from several layers of wood, sort of like plywood. Now don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with having or buying a laminated top guitar. Ive played and owned some wonderful laminated tops.  Its just that solid tops are generally higher quality, as far as tone and craftsmanship are concerned.   I've included some photos with notes on how to tell the difference between solid tops and laminated tops.

Another thing to take note of is whether or not the neck is made of one piece of wood.  I've included a few photos of some necks, as well.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Welcome Banjo Ben!

Banjo Ben is a very talented friend of mine that I studied music with.  He is a multi-instrumentalist and has recently allowed me the privilege and honor of hosting some of his video lessons.   Hes a touring musician who has played with many greats.  Simply put, Ben is the real deal! So be sure and check out  all of his guitar, banjo and mandolin lessons, as well as his site:

Donald Fagen talks about PEG pt 1

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Music is Personal

          Music is personal.  Everyone has different reasons for liking something.  Not everyone is going to appreciate, (insert musician of choice here), nor are they going to feel as passionate about them as you do.  Growing up, I found it hard to comprehend how my friends could not like the same artists that I did.  I hated what they listened to and found it absurd that they didn't like who I liked to listen to.  There were even times where I would ask myself "Seriously, do they choose the most horrendous stuff to listen to, on purpose?"
       The thing is to realize is that music is personal. I learned this from one of my mentors in college when I gave him a cd to check out and he couldn't stand it. I asked why, and he simply said "music is personal".  In other words the music you like might not move someone in the way that it moves you.
         Personally, I prefer instrumental music. I would have to say that most of my music collection is instrumental stuff. That is to say that I like to listen to the actual composition, however, if I do listen to music with lyrics, I like them to make sense and I want them to have a theme and meaning, not some trite topic.  One of my personal pet peeves is when someone says "man that's so deep even I don't understand it"  To me there's true creativity and then there's those who just put something out there that is total BS.  With this being said, I like to say that there is art in everything and there is also crap in everything. Ultimately, its up to you to discern between what is art and what is crap.
         Also, you will discover that as time goes by, your tastes will change.  I used to say that I liked everything except rap and country. After a few years began saying I liked everything except rap.  Nowadays I listen to everything from Snoop Dogg to John Coltrane to the Allman Brothers to Metallica to Cole Porter.  The Best advice I can give you is to check all genres out.  Its like watching movies. Do you only like comedies or do you watch other types too? Do you also like romance, westerns, horror, etc...?  Get the idea? You don't limit yourself on movies, food, clothes,etc... then why would you limit your musical tastes?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Joe Satriani Guitar Exercise

Picks and Strings

Everybody has different tastes and preferences.  I like to encourage my students to experiment and find out what works for them.  Here are a few guidelines to help you:

Electric Guitar Strings:    Strings come in sets such as 8's, 9's, 10's etc... in general I would recommend 9's.  Overall 9's are a good place to start.   I would especially recommend these for someone who doesn't know what they want.  By the way, 9's refer to the gauge or the thickness of the string.  There are all types of brands of strings and in my opinion all are pretty good I mean to say its pretty hard to make a crappy string.  I prefer the brand Ernie Ball. In trying to find what works for me, I settled on 10's. I have small hands and 11's are a little too much for me.  The general idea is that the thicker the gauge the fatter the tone, however thicker gauge strings are harder to play on, and also harder to bend.  Ultimately, its a toss-up. You have to decide what kind of music you want to play and what type of tone you want to have.  For heavy metal, you might want to try heavy gauge strings because they tend to be good for tuning low. The general rule for this is: "for lower tunings use heavier gauged strings"  For country lead, you would probably want a light gauge such as 9's or 10's in order to get that chicken pickin', twangy, country sound.  These guidelines aren't set in stone, but they are what most professional players do. Overall, you have to figure out what works for you.

For acoustic guitar strings I personally wouldnt use any set lower than 11's.  When dealing with acoustic guitars one generally wants to use a higher gauge string set than they would on an electric guitar because thinner gauges on acoustic guitars do not resonate as well nor sound as pronounced.  That is thinner gauges on an acoustic guitar sound, well, thinner.  (pun intended) 

For picks I like to use Dunlop Tortex .88mm  sharp.  I encourage you to experiment and see what works for you, picks are cheap so go and get a variety of them.  Try different thickness's and shapes.  I like to use thick picks because they do not bend.  I don't like them to bend because its harder to control.  To me thin picks give a boingy sound.  I read this in an issue of guitar player and found that I agreed with this.

Dave Mustaine's Spider Chord

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jimmy Rosenberg Made for Wesley

Networking and Creating a Community

    It has been said that its not who you are, its who you know.  In my experiences, that has always been true. I once saw a documentary on a famous actor in which he kept a notebook that was filled with contacts he had made over the years.  The pages had states written on the top such as Nebraska and under that he had all of his Nebraska contacts listed. 
    Networking is essential to survive in life.  When I was in college studying music I bought a recipe box and took all the recipe cards out and had all the (good) musicians I knew write down their names, numbers, and addresses along with what instrument they played.  I still have that box of contacts and from time to time I've had to rely on it.
    Another thing that I recommend is to get your own business cards. Mine had my name and what instruments I played along with all of my contact information on them.  These were great when I was out and about meeting different people. You never know who you will run into, so its better to be prepared and personal business cards are more professional than writing down your name on a piece of paper.

Ways to become a better musician

Here are a few ideas that I had that will improve your musicianship:

-Listen to a variety of different artists.  Explore other genres of music.  Listen to different instruments.

-Devote a certain time of the day to practice each day

-Get real organized about your practice.  Devote certain amounts of time to specific areas, such as 15 mins on arpeggios, or 10 mins on chords.

-Start working with a metronome. Learn how to play along with it.  Try different rhythms or strum patterns with it.

-Learn new musical terms. Learn new chord/scale/arpeggio families.

-Read up on music history, watch a music documentary. 

-Try learning a second instrument

-Play with other people. Everyone has something to share, if nothing else, what not to do.  Jam with people, create jam sessions, or better yet, get in a band.  In fact, if you have never been in a band you should get in with one as soon as possible.

-Take lessons from everyone. Get a broad education. I've had countless instructors and each one had a different perspective on things. Sometimes one would have a better way of explaining a topic than a previous instructor.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Must Have Albums

Here's a list of artists and must have albums. These are some of my favorites. I feel every musician should have these.  I do not think of them as having an order, so to speak. These were just from my stream of consciousness.  Of course, there are many others but you can think of this as a starting point.


Prince - Purple Rain
          - The Gold Experience
          - The Hits

Guns and Roses - Appetite for Destruction

Led Zeppelin - I
                     - II
                     - III
                     - IV
                     - Physical Graffiti
                     - Houses of the Holy

Jimi Hendrix - Smash hits
                    - Electric Ladyland
                    - Are You Experienced?

Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life

Pink Floyd - Wish you were here
                  - The Wall

John Scofield - Agogo
                     - Bump

John Coltrane - Blue Trane
                      - A Love Supreme
                      - Giant Steps

Sonny Rollins - The Bridge

Chick Corea - My Spanish Heart
                    - Now He Sings, Now He Sobs

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

Bill Evans - Everybody Digs Bill Evans

Elvin Jones - Live at the Lighthouse


Stevie Ray Vaughan - Texas Flood

Elmore James - The Sky is Cryin'

BB King - Live at the Regal

Johnny Winter - Whoopin' (with Sonny Terry)            

ZZ Top - One Foot in the Blues


Metallica - Kill 'Em All
               - Ride the Lightning
               - Master of Puppets
               - And Justice for All...
               - Metallica (The Black Album)

Ratt - Invasion of Your Privacy

Dio - Holy Diver
      - Last in Line

Megadeth - Cryptic Writings
                - Youthanasia


Tony MacAlpine - Maximum Security

Joe Satriani - Crystal Planet
                   - Flying in a Blue Dream
                   - Engines of Creation
                   -Not of this Earth

Eric Johnson - Ah Via Musicom
                    - Tones

 Steve Vai - Passion and Warfare

Paul Gilbert - Fuzz Universe

Jeff Beck - You Had it Coming

Joe Pass interview


How often do you take the time to actually listen to music?  As a musician I highly recommend devoting a specific time of the day for just listening to music.  One of my friends even likes to listen to music in the dark, His logic is that music is an aural art and therefore he doesn't want to focus on anything else but what hes listening to.  I agree and actually got this idea from him, I do this all the time but where he and I differ is that I always am listening to music,  every chance I get, in the car, while Im doing manual labor, house cleaning, etc...

    Another friend of mine likes to lay down in the dark, put on some Coltrane and burn some incense.  I have yet to try the incense thing, but I will say Coltrane is great in the dark.  I like to just listen and let the music take me where it does.  I mainly do this with jazz albums but there are a few other genres that are good for this as well, such as world music or Indian music such as Ravi Shankar.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Satisfied (Ian Moore)

Understanding Rhythm

Rhythm is perhaps the most important of all the musical elements.  Thus it is of the utmost

importance that we understand how it works.  The pulse of music is known as the beat.  The

rate at which the beat (or pulse) happens is known as the tempo.  The most common of the

times is called 4/4.  A basic way of thinking about is just to realize that we are counting

to 4 over and over.

When one is counting, equal time must be given to beats 1-4

Beats 1, 2, 3, 4  can be thought of as our quarter notes. An easy way of remembering this is

to think about 4 quarters to a dollar, or better yet 4 beats to a measure.

there are other types of notes that we will discuss as well, such as 8th notes, 8th notes

happen on the numbers as well as the "ands".  It takes twice as many 8th notes to fill a

measure.  8th notes are counted 1 and, 2 and, 3 and, 4 and.

Sixteeth notes are counted 1 e and a, 2 e and a, 3 e and a, 4 e and a.
it takes twice as many 16th notes to fill a measure. 

In general all we are doing is dividing the time into smaller units.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Roles of the Musician

The musician in general can be thought of as having three roles. They go in the following order:

  • The Functionary

  • The Accompanist

  • The Soloist

The Functionary can be thought of as a member of a group.  Someone that has a certain assigned role within the group such as playing rhythm, bass, etc...  The functionary should think of their role as someone that compliments the group and helps keep the group together musically.

The Accompanist is someone who backs up another musician, such as a singer or some other leading instrument.  They work backing musician within a duet type setting.

The Soloist possesses the skills of the other roles as well as the ability to hold their own on their instrument by playing solo pieces.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guitar Wizard - Little Wing Instrumental (Monte Montgomery) Jimi Hendrix

Shut up and play your guitar!

Frank Zappa once said "Shut up and play your guitar!".  Those words still have relevance today.  Personally I couldn't tell you how many times Ive seen people with high-end, top of the line equipment, that do not know how to play.  Ive had students with better gear than I have that couldn't play a D chord to save their life.  The truth of the matter is only way you are going to get any better as a musician is to practice.  Whats the point of having awesome equipment if you do not know how to play it?  Having high-end equipment will not make you play great. Your skills will not fall out of the sky.  You have to develop them.  here's a list of things that warrant the response "Shut up and play your guitar!":

1. If you know what type of capacitor is on your tone pot, then you need to shut up and play your guitar.

2. If you have four or more different types distortion pedals, and yet you dont play rock, then you need to shut up and play your guitar.

3.  If you have ever sprayed any type of string lubricant on your strings, then you need to shut up and play your guitar.

4.  If you have ever considered the BlahBlahBlah tuning system, then you need to shut up and play your guitar.

5.  If you have purchased a hand exerciser of some type or other, then you need to shut up and play your guitar.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks - Old Friend

The Cycle of Fourths

The cycle of 4ths is one the most useful tools for practicing, it has other uses as well, but for right now lets just talk about what it is.  The Cycle of 4ths is a 12 note cycle that spells out all 12 keys, all of the notes are a perfect fourth apart.

A perfect fourth refers to an interval, now dont freak out, an interval is the distance between two notes.  The smallest interval we can have in music is a half step. Music only has 12 half steps.  A perfect 4th is 5 half steps. Of course there are other types of intervals, but for now lets just concentrate on 4ths.

Lets start with C and count up 5 half steps, if you have done this correctly you should end up on F.  Now go 5 more half steps you should end up on Bb. Eventually if you keep doing this you will eventually start over.  It  is to your advantage to memorize the cycle of 4ths.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How I Practice

I like to think of my musical knowledge as a dictionary in my head.  Ill spend time working on the following categories:  Chords, Scales, Arpeggios

Here's how I practice these.  Ill start with chords, playing through all the chord families i know such as major chords. Ill play them in the cycle of 4ths.  I like using the cycle of fourths because it uses all 12 keys. after Ive completed the cycle ill then move on to a different chord family.  After I'm finished working on chords, ill then move on to playing scales with the cycle of 4ths, then its on to arpeggios.

Of course I'm assuming that you already know the cycle of 4ths.  If you don't know it, learn it.  Its only 12 notes that repeat themselves.  For that matter music in general only has 12 notes so don't let the system intimidate you. 

I highly recommend that you memorize the cycle of 4ths,  it is one of the most useful things you will learn in music.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How to get the most out of your practice time

Try creating a practice routine in which you concentrate on certain areas that need practice, I often tell my students to think of their playing as an old car that we are restoring, one day we might be sanding down the finish, the next day perhaps we are redoing the interior of the cab.  There will always be some aspect in which we are trying to improve.  As a musician I ask myself, what aspect of my playing needs the most work?  This is how we grow as musicians.  I divided my practice into sections that I will work on for extended amounts of time.  First thing I check my tuning.  Then I warm up, I run through a series of exercises before I play that are designed to get me ready for practicing.  Warming up before you play or practice is very important, it gives your hands a chance to prepare for the workout they are about to receive.  Even if I do not want to practice and I just want to play I still warm up.  A warm up should only last about five mins or so.  After that you should be playing stuff.  We as musicians warm up before we play just like an athlete would stretch before they run.  I have enclosed a layout of how I practice.

Also another thing to think about is when to practice, I once had one of my professors recommend that i practice my technique in the mornings and work on my improv and writing during the evenings.  His logic was that its not until later on in the day that our creativity is at its best and that our technique is best worked on while we are still trying to wake up and get going.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The 3 Elements of Music

Music in general has three elements:




No matter the style or genre, the music itself will contain one, if not all three of these elements.  I listed them in order of their importance too, in my opinion rhythm is the most important,  if we do not have rhythm then we do not have anything so to speak. Rhythm is also one of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language:)

Harmony refers to chords.  A chord is two(diad) or more notes played together.  Chord possibilities can be infinite, however with instruments such as guitar, we are  limited to six strings(notes) that can be played simultaneously.  Other instruments such as piano are able to play many more notes simultaneously.

Melody is in reference to scales.  We get our melodies(riffs/licks) from scales, Scales are a group of notes that are played in a sequence or order.  There are all kinds of different scales.

This is just a simple generalization of music


This is the beginning of my blog, a place where people can come and learn how to play guitar, banjo, slide guitar, and bass.  I will be posting lessons, in the forms of articles as well as videos.  My goals are simple, I want to share my love of learning music with others.

more to come soon......