Category Archives for "Practice"

February 3, 2018

5 Reasons You Are Not Improving On Guitar and What to Do About It

You’ve played for hours and your cat still sequels, your dog still whines, and your family runs for the nearest exit every time you pick up your guitar. What is going on? Why are you not getting better?

Well there can be any number of reasons for this. But Here are five top  reasons that your guitar skills are not progressing as fast as you would like.

1) You Don’t Record Yourself

When I first started playing guitar I recorded every practice session. And then after recording, I would listen to it. This did a couple of things that helped my guitar playing. First it taught me that I wasn’t as good as I thought I was. My chords were not as clean as I thought. My pattern was a little off in places. My singing needed some help.

But another thing it taught me that was just as important. Recording my practice sessions taught me that I actually was getting better. Sometimes when you are in the weeds of daily playing you don’t realize that you are actually improving. I sometimes say, if you want to feel bad about your guitar playing, listen to your recording from yesterday. If you want to feel good, compare yesterday’s recording to your recording from six months ago.

I bet you are improving, and a recording of yourself would prove it. So go head and pull out your smart phone or some other recording device and begin recording your practice sessions. Save them in the cloud or something, cause you are gonna want to listen to them later.

But still, you might be asking, why am I not improving as fast as I would like?

2) You are Not Practicing Daily or Close to It

OK, we all got lives. We either got school taking up a huge chunk of our time or we have a job a mortgage and a family all with demands on our time. We can’t do what we would like to do as far as practice time goes. So we play 2 hours on a Saturday and then 2 weeks later we play 5 hours on a Sunday. And then 5 days later we play an hour on a Friday. And so on. Our practicing is hit or miss.

This is gonna give us frustrating progress. Remember with guitar we are training muscle memory. So we want to go for regular practice sessions. If regular means less time in each session, then so be it. So lets say that you can squeeze 3 hours a week in practice. It would be better to do 30 minutes a day for 6 days a week than 3 hours one day on the weekend. Even 15 minutes a day 6 days a week will be better than those 3 hours a week on Saturday. Especially when you are very new to the guitar and training your muscles to go to the exact right place.

So what do you do? You will need to carve out 15 to 30 minute blocks of time for sustained guitar practice every day.

OK, you are practicing daily and recording myself, but still you don’t see the results you want. What is wrong?

3) You Only Practice What you Know.

This is a great danger, especially when you learn a few chords, in only practicing a small subset of your skills repeatedly. I remember when I first learned the A, E, and D chords and a reasonable strumming pattern. As soon as a I learned those things, I spent my practice time just playing songs. All in the same key. And all with the exact same strumming pattern.

Now don’t get me wrong, I was still getting better just by virtue of playing. I was learning how to play the A chord better and the E chord better. I was learning how to tune my instrument. I was driving that strumming pattern into my muscle memory. When my family started listening they no longer would have to leave the room. It was sounding kind of cool. And I was learning about how far I can go with 3 chords and how many songs I could shoe-horn into a 3 chord structure. And I was feeling good. However, after more time than I should have spent there, it hit me that I was not getting better as fast as I would like.

I needed to learn how to alter my strumming pattern for different kinds of songs. I needed to learn a few more chords so that I could use some chord substitutions as well as play in different keys. I needed to play without rushing the tempo. I even had to learn how to use a capo. I had a lot to learn, but I looked at my practice time and saw that all I was doing was simply playing different songs in the exact same way.

You may have the same problem. So how do you fix that? Practice should be a combination of maintaining skills by spending a little time playing what you know and a lot of time playing what you don’t know yet.

OK, you need to practice what you don’t know, how do you know what to practice when you don’t know what to practice?

4) You are not following a Guitar Learning Curriculum

You know YouTube is cool. You can learn whatever you want to learn on a YouTube Channel. If you know what you are looking for it will tell you. But you are a new guitarist, you don’t know what you need to learn. What do you do?

You find somebody that teaches a full curriculum of training for a guitarist. It may be a private teacher (this is best, because the teacher will zero in on you individually) or a YouTube instructor that has such a curriculum. Not a teacher that just posts song covers without systematically teaching you everything you need to know.

Now there are a number of instructors out there with such a curriculum. Justin Sandercoe has such a system. There are others. I like Sandercoe’s method cause he gets you singing and playing songs quickly, but I don’t like how long it takes him to get into playing individual notes and scales. Also he probably spends a little too much time in the open chords. But hey he has been teaching guitar longer than I have so I’m sure he got a good reason for it, at any rate, he will put you on a solid footing.

JamPlay.com has a number of such teachers teaching a full curriculum. The key is that the internet has everything you need to know. The problem is you don’t know what you need to know. So you may have to pay to learn what you need to learn and JamPlay is a good place for a small monthly fee to give you a lot of training.

In short, follow a full guitar learning methodology. OK, you are on really sound footing now. You are recording yourself, you are practicing daily, and your practice routine specializes in what you don’t know rather than what you know. Finally, you are following a full guitar learning curriculum. What else is there?

I have one final thing that I want you to keep in mind as you practice. You will be tempted to fall into this trap that will rob success from your playing.

5) You Have Too Many Teachers

OK, I started playing with Justin Sandercoe’s method and was getting better. Then I hit JamPlay.Com. I started a teacher’s method over there. Then I went to a few other YouTube teacher’s channels. I then purchased a ton of guitar method books. And really started spinning my wheels. What was my problem?

I had too many teachers. What do you do with this problem? I ain’t gonna say you only follow one method, but I am gonna say that you take one method and put it in the driver’s seat. Use other methods as supplemental to that main method. So if you gonna roll with Justin Sandercoe then roll with him. Use his practice methodology as your own. Look and try to understand what he is teaching and why. Then add in a FEW other teachers here and there to supplement and enforce what he is teaching.

There is simply not enough time for you to go grab tons of lesson books and YouTube channels and practice them all. So again, take one, put it in the driver’s seat, and supplement that main method with a few others. Systematically following just about any method will help you as a beginner. Stop trying to find the perfect system and start practicing and get yourself to the intermediate level more efficiently.

Conclusion

The main takeaway I want you to get from this is that you are probably getting better. Record yourself to prove that to yourself. Practice daily and whether it is 15 minutes or 30 minutes or an hour don’t allow life to rob you of those practice minutes. Practice what you don’t know more than what you know and follow a full curriculum. Finally, take one teacher and make that teacher your primary one so that you don’t fall into the trap of not progressing because you got too many teachers.

Now I gotta go to the woodshed and put in my time for today. See yall next time.

Six Steps to Playing And Singing Simultaneously

When I decided to play guitar, what I had in mind was playing and singing at the same time. Doing both at the same time is not an easy thing. There are so many moving parts. You have the rhythm part playing with your right hand. You then have the chording happening in your left hand. And finally you have the melody part that you sing with your voice. And that doesn’t even take into account reading the chord sheet as well as reading the lyrics. Each of these parts can range in complexity from the simple to the extremely difficult.

So how do you do it? I’m gonna give you 6 steps to follow so that you can play and sing at the same time.

Before we begin we must recognize that even though you are accomplishing a lot of things at the same time when you play and sing at the same time, your mind can only actively think about a limited number of things at once. And those of us who are new to “Singing and Strumming” can only actively do ONE thing at a time. This brings us to our first and most important step:

Step 1) Choose that One Aspect of Playing that will be more Complex.

So even though my right hand is doing things and my left hand is doing things and my voice is doing things, I can only actively think about ONE of these things.

Now technically your mind has to think about everything you are doing, but the key is that they are not actively in your mind. They are being done on autopilot.

So choose the one aspect of playing that will not be on autopilot. Now as we get better our “autopilot playing” will get better. So maybe your “autopilot right hand” is going to begin as just one down-stroke on every beat, but as we get better and learn more strumming patterns, our “autopilot right hand playing” will get more complex. But in the beginning the very first thing you should do is figure out where is your complexity going to be. 

Simplicity versus Complexity. Simplicity for everything but one aspect.

Will you work on a more complex rhythm of your right hand? If so, then your singing and your chording of your left hand should be very simplistic.

Will you work on some difficult for you chords of your left hand? If so, then your singing and your rhythm in your right hand should be very simple. 

Step 2) Choose a Song You Know the Chords and Lyrics.

Your first forays into playing and singing should be to sing songs that you already know.  So you know the chords A, E, and D. OK, then play a song that only uses A, E, and D. It is not as difficult to find as you might imagine. Go grab an old blues song. Or perhaps an Christian hymn..

You can also go hit YouTube and search for, “3 chord songs”. You will find a large number of them. Now select one that you already know the lyrics to. 

Another thing you might do is search Google or even one of those Tablature sites. You will find a number of songs that are not too complex. Grab one that you already know the chords and the lyrics to. 

Step 3) Simplify Everything

OK, we chose to keep our complexity in our singing. So that means that we gonna add in a little vocal run here and there and maybe add in some improvisation. That’s cool.

But before we add in those elements we are gonna simplify the song all down and then slowly add in the complexity to one aspect. So get a very simple strumming pattern for the right hand. Maybe one down stroke on every beat.

Now in simplifying everything you gonna simplify the chords. You see some A7 or Asus4 or Asus2. Simplify them by just playing A. 

So that A->A7  chord transition becomes just an A

And that A->Asus2->A->Asus4->A  transition becomes just an A

In your vocal you will simplify things as well. Cut out all improvisations in the melody. Sing it straight. Remember we are looking to simplify it so we don’t have to think about it. Remember the key to singing and playing is to place everything into the background.

 

So now you have simplified everything and that brings us to the next step.

Step 4 – Write Down Everything

OK write out the lyrics. You will forget them. I don’t care if you singing an old hymn you have sung millions of times or a pop song your brother knows word for word cuase you have sung it so many times, if you get in front of folks, you will forget it.

Write out the lyrics and then write in the “simplified chords.”

Go head and write down the strumming pattern. 

Step 5 – Memorize Everything

Well..Step 4 and 5 are an iterative process. Yep, you must memorize everything. You need to know the chords you will play (that you have simplified above). You must know the lyrics. And you must know the pattern you will use.

It will be very difficult for you to sing, play both hands, and also read the lyrics or the chords.

Remember. You can only actively do ONE thing at a time, so that means that 2/3rds of the Musical Triad (Voice, Left Hand, Right Hand), must be on autpilot.

Step 6 – Start Playing

To get things on autopilot we gonna have to play it repeatedly. First play it simple. Once you got that simple approach going, then start playing around with that one aspect. Start adding complexity to that one aspect of playing that you chose in point 1.

Follow this step by step.

  1. add a little more complexity to one aspect
  2. Play it
  3. Make mistakes
  4. repeat

Keep doing that and eventually you will not be making mistakes.

Get it going well and then add another song

Conclusion

Playing and singing is not easy, but it can be done. You just have to put a number of aspects of your playing on autopilot. So simplify everything. And then practice. Only adding in a little complexity. Then master that. Now add in a little more. You will get better and then you will be able to go grab another song.

Now it is time for me to pull out my acoustic and put in my time for today.

Till next time.

 

January 31, 2018

Options for Practicing Guitar Quietly

You have started playing the guitar. And they always tell you to practice often. Daily if you can. OK. But the only time you can play is when everybody in the family is sleeping. You don’t want to bother anybody. And on top of it all, you don’t think you playing well enough for anybody to hear you either.

Now I used to play the trumpet. And back in the day there weren’t many options for practicing without bothering anybody with that instrument, however, for the guitar, you have plenty of options.

Now these options are mostly for the Acoustic Guitar. If you only play electric guitar your instrument is tailor made for playing quietly, you can skip to the last option. Everybody else check it out, you can play quietly.

So you may have to keep quiet, but don’t let that keep you from practicing your guitar. Follow one or more of these options and go head and get to work yall.

Option 1 – Hit The Strings Softly

I remember when I first started playing guitar. I was almost afraid to hit the strings. I was playing softly, but tentative. But then one day I almost accidentally started hammering those strings hard. My down-strokes and my upstrokes were hitting all 6 strings and all equally hard. I began liking the sound of playing so hard. Felt kind of cool.

But, I was quickly losing my ability to play loud and soft notes. It really hurt my articulation. I could only hammer the strings. Then, I began attempting to play ballads. I started playing softer. I started hitting the strings softer. This was not like before, but this was intentionally playing soft and loud as the song dictated.

So this is the first option. Play the strings softer. Try to see how soft you can play them. I was surprised that just a little more than rubbing your fingers across the strings can give you some sound. Use the time that your family is sleeping to work on the soft note playing.

Now if you do this, you must find time to really let loose and play on the loud side of the dynamic range. You want to be able to play a wide variety of styles. But go head and work on on playing softly during these times when you don’t want to bother anyone.

Option 2 – Ditch the Pick use your fingers

When I started playing guitar, I went on a quest. A quest to find the perfect pick. I have used light picks, heavy picks, inexpensive picks, forty dollar picks, picks with holes in them, dimes, and even used a pick-punch machine that turns your credit cards or other hard plastic into picks.

I found out that my favorite pick is the Dunlop 0.6mm gage of pick. This is a light-medium pick. I like how it doesn’t get caught in the strings but still holds a little bite if I need it. It definitely gives you a softer sound than say a hard pick like a 1.0mm gage. So if you play softer as in our first option above and you use a lighter pick, you can get a much softer sound.

So you can try a lighter gage of pick. And that will aid in bringing the sound down.

But even more than a lighter gage of pick. Why not ditch the pick altogether and use your fingers. One of my teachers told me to just drop the pick altogether and check it out. I did it and like the sound. It is a more mellow sound. I tis easier to play softly. And it opens the door for some finger picking. It also gives me more control.

But changing your pick, as noted above, will change your sound. So you want to keep that in mind. Like all these options, don’t only practice with soft picks unless you like the sound and gonna run with it as “your sound.”

Option 3 – Use a Sound Hole Cover

“What is a sound hole cover?” Well, these things are used to cut down on audio feedback from the sound hole. You don’t want the Acoustic Guitar Sound hole to mess with the sound coming from the plugged in Acoustic/Electric Guitar.

Now the Sound Hole Cover really mutes the “acoustic” sound of your guitar. If you love that sound, you ain’t gonna hear it. But hey we talking about using it for “special practice sessions.” The sound hole cover is essentially a cheap way to turn your Acoustic/Electric Guitar into an Electric Guitar.

Not a bad option. It is much cheaper than buying an electric to play around with. Especially if you don’t particularly want to play an electric guitar.

Option 4 – Palm Mute

OK, you gotta be silent. Why not use this time to practice your palm muting. Go head and get it sounding good and work on that rhythm. What is a palm mute? Well, the palm mute is when you lay your right hand on the guitar strings as you strike them to keep the strings from sounding out as you play them. It is a percussive guitar technique that really adds a drum-like quality to your playing.

If you ain’t doing some palm muting, then you need to, cause it adds another dimension to your playing. You need to learn how to do this. You really do. If you been playing for over 6 months, then you need to add some of this into your practice routine.

But be that as it may, when you palm mute the strings it greatly cuts down on the volume of the strings. So why not learn this technique while your wife and kids are sleeping and need some peace and quiet?

Option 5 – Get an electric guitar and/or pull out the plug from the amp.

Really this is the best option. You can play as loud as want and few will hear it. I sometimes practice my Electric Guitar unplugged while sitting in the living room with the family as they watch TV. The question is often asked, “Can you play an electric guitar without an amp?” The answer is yes and it is the perfect practice instrument, it really brings the volume down.

Actually an Electric Guitar that is not plugged into an Amplifier really has a very quiet sound. It doesn’t totally eliminate the sound of striking the strings, so you can still hear yourself play, but it doesn’t bother anyone who is not sitting right next to you.

Another thing you can do, related to this option, is instead of unplugging the amp, why not just put headphones in the amp. Again, only you hear it and you get some of the experience of playing with the amp. Get a good set of headphones and go at it.

You also might try to plug your guitar into your IPhone or smartphone using some kind of device like an IRig. The IRig is a small device that you plug your guitar chord into. You then use an IPhone Amplifier App. Now you simply plug your headphones into your smartphone and you get a sound very close to plugging headphones into a physical amplifier. The app I use is AmpKit. (http://agilepartners.com/apps/ampkit/). Very Cool.

Sometimes when I am using my IRig, I use the UberChord app (https://www.uberchord.com/) which is a full teaching curriculum to learn rhythm guitar. There are a number of apps that can be used, but all of this is beside the point. The thing that is important is that an Electric Guitar opens many doors for practicing silently.

Conclusion

There are other options like a Silent Guitar. I have never tried it, but it looks like it may give you some of the benefits of having an electric guitar. At any rate, you don’t have to stop practicing when you can’t bother anyone. You can either play softly, get rid of your pick or lower your pick gage, use palm muting, use a sound hole cover, or get an electric guitar. One or more of these options will work.

As for me, right now, I need to get back to some barre chords I need to practice…

So Keep on Jamming yall…