Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guitar Tablature (aka TABs)

Just realized I have not talked about guitar tabs yet. I believe they are important to the average beginner guitar player because it is a simplified representation of guitar music that is much easier to read and follow when playing the guitar.  You will likely find all different variations of guitar tabs, from the very simple to the complex to ones that include the standard musical notation as well. Personally I suggest sticking with just the basics to begin with. When I refer to basic guitar tab it is simply a representation of the notes on the guitar strings. Each line will represent a guitar string from the highest toned string to the lowest tone string. The notes to play will then be represented by a a number indicating which fret to play on the guitar for that string. Additionally I prefer when the chord lettering is listed above when the chords are supposed to change. Below is a quick example of guitar tab pointing out the various components of basic guitar tablature.

There are a lot of places online that you can search for guitar tabs for songs. (I will cover some in the next post along with a couple other useful tools) Unfortunately many of the quote unquote guitar tabs are not actually guitar tabs but rather lyrics with chords noted above the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, those are very useful as well, but they are not guitar tabs. But if you are just looking to play some rhythm guitar with chords, those are probably a better reference than guitar tabs.

Guitar tablature is a great way to learn a new song in a couple different ways. The first is obviously if you have a a guitar tab available that makes much easier to play the song. But if you don’t have the guitar tab available, I would encourage you to create your own. I always found in school that I would remember things easier if I wrote them down. It is the same with playing a guitar song. If I actually write out a tab, I remember the song much better and longer. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

Strumming and Patterns

If you are anything like me, strumming the guitar with your strumming hand while changing chords with your fretting hand will seem like you are trying to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time in sync. Don’t fret (no pun intended), it will quickly become easier. Probably one of the best pieces of advice I found when I first started learning to play was to concentrate one either your fretting hand during a practice session or your strumming during a practice session. Focusing on what you are currently trying to practice is more important than trying to make it all work together at the same time. For example if you are practicing a new strum pattern, practice it while not changing chords. Once it comes naturally, then introduce changing chords.

When first learning to play a few songs, I actually pretty much stuck to down strokes for strumming; in fact at the very beginning I was simply using one down stroke per measure. This allowed me to concentrate on the chords and changing between the chords. Yes I know, this sounds boring and everyone wants to be really good right from the start. But unfortunately we are all not musical geniuses.  Before you know it, you will be ready to move on to real strum patterns.

Speaking of real strum patterns, let’s cover a couple common strum patterns that you will want to become familiar with. I have found that most songs I can play with one of these.


The first strum pattern and one that I have used probably the most is

DOWN DOWN  UP          UP    DOWN   UP

There are a lot of songs that you can play with the above strum pattern. A couple songs that were among the first I learned were Last Kiss and Brown Eyed Girl.


This next strum pattern throws in another concept besides just ups and downs. It is the accent. What is the accent do you ask? An accent can be done a couple of ways. The first is to simply strum the strings louder and the other way is to strum only some of the strings on the non-accent strums so in essence you get more sound from the accent strums. Below I will represent the accent strums as long arrows indicating strum all of the strings and the non-accent strums with shorter arrows indicating strum only some of the strings. Depending on the song you may want the few strings on the non accent strums to be the lower toned strings and some songs you may want to use the higher toned strings. In the future we will talk about more strum patterns where this notation may be more useful because the below is a very simple strum pattern but it is also widely used.

 All      Some      All     Some     All      Some      All     Some 

A couple songs to use that all down with every other accent strum on are Heart of Gold or Let It Be. 


Ok, now so you don’t get to relaxed and think you have this whole strumming thing down, let’s throw in a slightly more complicated pattern.. 


This last strum pattern is also relatively common. A fairly popular example of a song that uses this pattern is Every Rose has its thorns by Poison.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pick or No Pick

Let's talk guitar picks briefly. Using a guitar pick is a matter of preference. Some prefer to simply use their thump and/or fingers to strum and play the guitar. There is a pretty distinctive sound difference. A pick usually brings out a much louder and crisper tone while using your thumb and fingers will likely give you a softer tone. I prefer to use a pick, my dad prefers to not use a pick.

If you are going to use a pick, one of the first things you are going to need to learn is how to hold the pick. Although it seems like a simple thing at first there is a right way and many wrong ways to hold a pick. It will not likely come naturally and most likely you will revert to simply using your thumb at some point or another. But if you stick to it, holding and using a pick will become second nature after a while.

Instead of trying to describe how to hold the pick, I will point you at another one of my early resources for online lessons. The following is a youtube video of Jen on Mahalo.com. Mahalo has videos for everything including guitar lessons. You should definitely check out their other lessons if you get a chance.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Strumming OR Finger-style OR Flat-picking

These are three fairly common techniques used to play the guitar. The technique you chose will depend a lot on your own personal preference as well as the piece of music actually being played. First, here is a short description of each.
  • Strumming – Strumming is probably the most common and recognizable way to play a guitar even from a non-guitar playing point of view. It is where, either using your thumb, finger, or a pick, you play several strings in a single motion in an up or down motion. Usually these strokes are combined to form a strum pattern which we will discuss in a future post.
  • Finger-style – Finger-style is the technique of playing the guitar where each finger (and thumb) is used to pick strings individually in a specific order for the piece of music being played. Often this could be a pattern performed on each chord in succession, or this could simply follow the melody line of the piece, or it could also be a combination of the patter as well as the melody line.
  • Flat-picking – Flat-picking is a technique that similar to finger-style but through the use of a pick and can provide a distinctive sound and style to a piece of music. In flat picking you may be picking single strings or strumming across several strings to get the correct melody.
Many times you can use a combination of the techniques, strumming along with either of the others, in order to get some of the melody into a piece.  I actually try to take this approach. Not being much of a singer and not having coordinated singing with my guitar playing yet, I find a little flat picking within a song helps to make the song recognizable.
You don’t have to stick with one technique. In fact I would encourage everyone who plays guitar to try them all out. I originally wanted to learn guitar because I have always enjoyed listening to my dad play. He play almost strictly finger-style guitar and strictly creates his own pieces that he plays, sometimes making it up as he goes. So I naturally decided when I started to learn that I wanted to mostly play finer-style guitar. I learned a couple songs and then started to wonder about flat-picking because I had run across a few videos of flat-picking that caught my attention and sounded great to me. So then I learned a couple flat-picking songs. Strangely, those are the only strictly finger-style and flat-picking songs that I play. I now play mostly strumming with a little melody flat picking here and there and enjoy it as much or more than I enjoyed listening to my dad play. So don’t just stick to one technique, experiment.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Capo

Even while you are just getting to know your guitar and learning the basic chords, you will want to start considering the use of a capo. Some hardcore experienced guitar players may scoff at the use of a capo. I however not being very experienced nor hardcore would highly recommend buying and using one. Especially for the beginner it opens up many more options when it comes to being able to play the songs and music you want to be able to play.

I suppose I should tell you want a capo is for those of you who are not aware. A capo is a basically a clamp that you can clamp on a particular fret of your guitar in order to quickly change the tone of the strings. For example, because each fret is a half step,when you put the capo on the second fret everything you play will be a whole step higher. That is the open C chord shape will produce a D chord sound and a G chord shape will produce and A chord sound and so on. Please keep in mind that most tablature and lessons will still refer to the chords by their shape and not their sound despite the use of a capo or not. So no need to panic, if you have learned your chord shapes you shouldn’t have to calculate any based on where you place the capo.

Why and when to use a capo? When you are first learning, you will likely be reading tablature online or watching a video lesson. In those instances you will likely be told to use or not use a capo for that particular lesson. There are multiple reasons to use a capo. One reason is to simply change the tone of your guitar to suite a particular piece of music. The other reason, which is why many of us newer guitar players use one, is so we can avoid those much more difficult chords such as the F chord or Barre chords. If you have not tried playing a Barre chord yet, when you do you will be reaching for that capo very quickly. I have been learning to play now for about a year and a half and have yet to figure out how to hold a Barre chord correctly so all the strings are pressed down correctly. Fortunately most songs I have wanted to learn I have found variations where I can either skip them all together or cheat my way through it.

What kind of capo to buy? There are several different kinds and many more brands of capos out there. Let’s first look at the type of capos that are available.
1)      The first type of capo is the elastic capo. This is typically the cheapest type of capo and consists of a piece of plastic or other hard material and an elastic band that is used to apply pressure to the plastic piece across the strings.

2)      The second type of capo is the trigger type. If you haven’t actually seen one, I would compare it roughly to an old spring cloths pin. There is a slight difference in shape but the general movement is the same. Basically you squeeze the two handles which opens the clamping side which can then be placed on the correct fret.

3)      The third style is the Screw type capo. Basically this type of capo you place on the appropriate fret and then using a screw mechanism you clamp it down to compress the strings.

My personal preference is the trigger type capo. It is quick to put on or take off and I have had no issues with any of the ones I have used. In terms of brand I don’t have a lot of experience with different brands. I will tell you that Kyser does make good capos and they are one of the preferred brands. I have no reason not to recommend then from a quality stand point. However I will also give you the tip of looking on EBay and perhaps other locations online. Although not Kyser brand, you can get capos relatively cheap there along with other guitar accessories. They probably would be quite a s good as Kyser but if you have less money to spend, you can’t complain. Again Kyser is an excellent capo and if you want to pay the slightly higher price then you can’t go wrong. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

At the Beginning

When you first decide to learn guitar, you then have to figure out where to start. Each of us could be a little more experience in music or aware of how the guitar is setup. Some may be brand new to all of it. I personally have dabbled a little in both music and the guitar in the past to have some of the very basics done. I apologize to the readers who are a little further into it, but I figure I should start with the absolute basics first so that no one gets left behind.

The very first things you are going to want to learn before you play anything are going to be some of the following

           1)      How to hold the guitar
           2)      What string is what
           3)      How to hold a pick, if you are going to use one
           4)      What are guitar tabs

Once you become familiar with all of the above then it is time to start learning your basic chords. I searched around a lot of places online when I decided to learn guitar (again) and I personally thought Justin Guitar offered the simplest and easy to follow online lessons that were available free of charge. So my first stop for all of you absolute beginners is the Justin Guitar Beginner Series Lessons page. For good or bad, I will tell you that I personally could only handle going so slow, so I used Justin’s lessons to learn the basics and the majority of the open chords by skipping around his lessons. But then I wanted to be able to play more songs than what he was getting to. So although I highly recommend his lessons, I won’t discourage you from moving on after learning the basic chords. Especially since I know I will soon be making posts about some other very useful sources for learning the guitar online.

One tip I will give you is don’t feel the need to memorize every single chord to start. Eventually as you use them you will remember them better. To get started I would say be able to remember and play the D, C, G, E, and A chords. Perhaps the F chord as well although for a beginner I would stick with the “cheater” F chord. Once you have those down, you can gradually add other chords as you need them. I do recommend having easy to use chord references available. Below is a nice free chord sheet you can print out for your wall or you could do like I do and put a chords app on your phone. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Guitars

Well let me start with introducing the guitars I currently own. For some I suppose 4 may be too much for others 4 may be too few. I actually would love to buy more but have for the moment convinced myself I am good with these. Although I really do need a good electric guitar since the one I have is just a squire. Anyway below you can see the picture of all of them. The first is my current favorite to play which is a Fender Resonator. I just love the tone and it is a very forgiving guitar. Next is my Ibanez Exotic wood series guitar. This has great tone as well. I prefer this one when I do a little finger picking instead of strumming. The next is the Ibanez Artcore.I love the look but have not unleashed its full potential I am sure. And finally is my cheap electric Fender Squire. Like I said I really need to buy a decent electric at some point. This one is not bad for beginners but I like to think of myself as slightly above beginner now.

Thats all of them...for now. If and when i purchase a new one I will be sure to share. Now tell me about your guitar.