Dominating On The Guitar In The New Season

One thing I realized over the years is that there is no magic wand or anyone that will come out of your computer screen to make you better as a guitar player, songwriter or anything similar. In short – the greatest way to achieve progress is to define goals of what you would like to accomplish with your guitar playing and start chiseling away at them as the year progresses.

But, being general leads us nowhere as well. We must be specific. Not so specific that you will have every day planned out, but I recommend you thinking of 3 major things you want to do with your music or playing in the p-coming Fall, Winter or whatever season is coming up.

Your goals could look something like this:

1. Get way better at alternate picking

2. Write 8 really great songs

3. Play a show with my band or play live at least once (Open mic, workshops)

Or … maybe something like this:

1. Learn and nail the solo for “I Don’t Know” by OZZY note for note

2. Learn how to change strings on my guitar so they hardly ever go out of tune

3. Learn all the notes on my guitar across all the strings and on the entire fretboard

You can make them as challenging as you want depending on what you want to get done, how much time you have for playing guitar and so on. It is important to keep the big 3 in mind as the year goes on. Sure, you can get other things done, but you would be surprised how close you can get to accomplishing your goals if you keep an eye on them and work little at a time as the year goes on.

Getting the big 3 on paper first really helps. It keeps them in plain sight, gives you something to strive for and having three goals is much simpler to process than trying to get “great” by picking up your guitar, noodling and doing the same thing a week later.

Juice Me Up – Powering Guitar Effects Pedals Right

Today, I want to write about powering up your pedals and how I go about it.

Here’s the deal.

I love to power my pedals with a 9V battery. I’m not sure if it’s a superstitious thing or what, but the pedals sound nice and warm, tone wise, when I do that. It’s probably due to the fact when a battery de-charges a bit and run at less than 9V, you probably get a little warmer tone. Honestly, nothing to get crazy about. Just a little observation here.

When I run a couple of pedals for lessons or small workshops, I run them on a 9V. The batteries I like best are called Duracell ProCell and these batteries are for pro use. Don’t you love that that the consumer world gets marketed a completely different set of products than what the pros use? These ProCells are an industry standard for music, entertainment, broadcasting, medical use. This battery line last a long time and will not rapidly deplete on you. If you must have them, go on E-bay and you’ll find some sellers. They are equivalent of what Duracell sells as Coppertop to the public I heard.

The best bang for the buck on batteries are from Walgreens store brand. The store often has sales and their batteries are good. I sometimes wonder if there are just a couple battery manufacturers in the US and they just slap different labels on them. This happens with car oil and strings, believe it or not. Not D’addario as they have their own plant. Some other string manufacturers might as well but they are far and few in between.

In my real pedalboard where I run now a tuner, Maxon OD-9 Overdive, MXR Flanger, MXR Delay and Dunlop Q95 Wah I use a power supply brick. Several good ones on the market such as the one I have in the pic called Supa-Charger from BBE. I use that one in my studio to power up pedals. In my pedalboard I use a similar one, but from VooDoo Labs. You plug it into a regular outlet and you use several little cables to power up your pedals. No batteries needed and you always run on full power.

Playing live, I usually have a battery in the pedal anyways in case the power cable gets disconnected. That’s just a back-up move.

One smaller and very good way to power up the pedals is a Power-All system from Godlyke. It is a small unit and it comes with a ton of different plugs for your pedals including ones that are perfect for powering old-school pedals that only run on a 9V battery. It is very good and I often use this myself when I do not have enough batteries in stock.

Last but not least, I use a Multimeter tool to see how strong (well charged) my batteries are. This is good if you dig up a battery you don’t know how long it’s been sitting in your drawer, etc. This is a professional way to test the batteries before a show as well. Don’t use the tongue test – although we all do on occasion, lol. You can get one of these cool tools at Harbor Freight store for literally a few dollars. Good thing to have if you are a guitar player.

Last thought – I never run my Wah Wah pedal on a power supply – even if all of my other pedals use one. I always found that running a power supply to a Wah produces noise in the amp. I always run it on a battery. Good luck.

Recording Yourself To Get Better – Quick

I meet many guitar players (and musicians in general) who have been practicing for many years, but have yet to venture into recording themselves.

Through time I found that recording yourself is one of the greatest tools you can use to improve your playing. As the saying goes – The Recorder Never Lies. The recorder doesn’t bend the truth. It plays back exactly what you played.

Listening back to your performances and being able to hear yourself “on tape” is extremely important. It is important because you can hear the things that you like or dislike about your playing. As a matter of fact, you can’t come as close as you can to mastering your instrument unless you master the art of recording.

Hearing yourself back can be a tough exercise. Your flaws come back at you and stare you in the face. But, what a great chance to know exactly what you need to work on! Think of this as if you are looking into a mirror before you go out. Why do we do this? Simply, so we can some clues of what works or doesn’t.

Side note: Ladies, metal guys have it easy. Pretty much any black T-shirt matches black jeans. Thank you very much. 🙂

Are you getting my point?

My playing took another turn all together when I started to record myself. I started with cheap 4-track, moved onto a better 4-track like the one pictured, then an 8-track, a better 8-track and eventually into a studio quality computer based Pro-Tools system. I wore these things out. Working with an outside ear such as a producer also elevated your game. Objective opinions can be great.

Lastly, recording yourself will help you know how much you’ve improved on the guitar since it is hard to judge your progress from day to day. You can even use the tool of recording to tape your band rehearsals. Then, bypass the need to argue as everyone will hear the part they are not together on. Good luck!

Are You Ever Too Old To Learn An Instrument?

Just a few thoughts below as I often get asked if someone is too old to learn how to play a guitar, etc. In short – your age has nothing to do with it. Unless you are so old that you have no strength left in your arms, if you are thinking about learning how to play, or getting back into playing, I must say – Go For It.

The only real disadvantage that you might have when trying to learn how to play is that adults are usually much busier than their younger counterparts due to families, work, overtime, etc. They often have much less time available to devote to practice. It’s simple and in most cases true.

However, I must also mention that it is very easy to chisel out 45 minutes a day by saying bye, bye to facebook for the night or skipping the evening news. There many time vultures prying on your time.

The advantage is that by now you have learned to how to ‘learn’ by getting through school and various life experiences, which can actually make applying new material easier.

Unfortunately, you can’t cram playing an instrument like we did before tests in school, so constant repetition through practice is what you need to do in order to get results.

I started to play the guitar late (age 15/16) in comparison to some of my guitar playing friends who started at 9. My friends were much better than me, played songs and some were already in bands while I was just trying to perfect a power chord. However, later in High School as their focus drifted to parting and going out, I made up the difference and quickly surpassed them. I also remember reading an interview with Jeff Hanneman of Slayer where he stated that he did not start to play the guitar until he was 18 and that motivated me.

I also tell younger players to ‘put their time in’ when practicing. Due to travel, and running a business side of things, many professional musicians do not get to practice as much as they did when they were much younger. Think of practicing like putting money into a piggy bank. There will be a time when you will need to pull out some of that practice at a later date while continuing with your instrument.

Many people ask me how much to play and it always goes back to the goal. If someone wants to play good enough to play metal songs and simple solos or even jam one time a week with buddies – then 45min to and hour a day for 3-4 months should get them very close to the goal. I have taught 100s of guitar students in person and I have never met one person whose fingers were too short, too stubby or just not meant to play guitar. And, that’s the truth.

When’s The Right Time To Change Guitar Strings?

Many guitar students have a very valid question as to when is the right time to change their strings. The answer depends on a personal as well as a technical aspect – so let’s check it out.

A new set of strings provides a nice bright tone, improved intonation, less string breakage and the ability to stay in tune better.

Many players, including myself, prefer a slightly worn in sound of the string. This does not mean that the strings on my guitar are a year old, but I like the way they feel after a couple days of playing. The strings then feel less tense and the tone rounds off a bit meaning it is less bright. This is a personal preference and not true to all guitar players. Some touring guitarists prefer to change strings every night. I like to play 2 shows on a new set of strings before changing to a fresh set. On the guitars that I use for daily practice it is not uncommon that I don’t change strings for a very long time and I mean months. This is what I refer to as a personal preference.

Now, let’s take a look at a few other things.

If your guitar no longer stays in tune, the strings sound dead or break easily – these are another dead giveaways it is time to change strings. It is hard to tell how many playing hours a new set lasts for. It depends on the amount you sweat while playing and if you take care to extend the life of your strings while they were on your guitar.

Another great way to tell if it might be time to change strings is to run your right hand index finger under the string up and down the fretboard. If you can feel the fret markings (ie: very faint indentations) under the string, this should tell you that you might be ready for a new set.

If you are curious as to how to extend the life of your strings – simply wipe them down after each time your play. You can use simple guitar polish on a flannel, cotton or microfiber cloth. Remember to wipe underneath the string as well as this is where a lot of the dirt hides.

Dispelling The Myth Of Being Self-Taught

Is Anyone Really Self Taught?

Here is a topic that is much discussed in the music circles. It is the idea of being a self-taught musician and also the possible pros and cons of it.

There is a certain level of pride that many musicians carry with them for being presumably self-taught and I can understand why. By considering themselves self-taught some take pride that by not taking “lessons” the ins and outs of playing an instrument were found on their own time, by their own skills. On the surface this seems to make sense, but I don’t buy it.

Now, to me, the topic in itself off the bat is fairly silly since I do not think that anyone is ever self-taught. Let me explain.

If you think about it for a second, a self-taught person would have their own way of tuning and holding the instrument, their own scales and a sense of meter. They would not even know what to use to pluck the strings or how to string a guitar so the chord patters or scales fall properly in place. Would they even know strings existed? This is just a beginning. In a nutshell, we all learned it from somewhere. It could be a video, a friend, a fable, a music school or a combination of several outlets. Even if you saw someone strum a few chords and learned a few … initially, you got them from somewhere. Even listening to music can surely be a way of learning about rhythm, melody or song construction. If you really were self-taught your guitar playing would make Jimi Hendrix sound like a Julliard professor.

Think about this. This is great news. By knowing this, you could open up the previously shut doors to the idea of studying your instrument with great teachers. The point is – if you are going to pick it up from somewhere, you might as well go to a great source. Allow the teacher (private or at school) to guide you, bring out your strengths and save you time with their invaluable input and accelerate your playing.

Will studying with a teacher or being formally trained stifle your creativity? Not from my experience. Think of it this way. Imagine you decide to brush up on the English language. You study it from a reputable source and become great at it. You learn many new words, ways to put together sentences that flow and many other amazing things. Can you still forget all about it and talk like a cave-man? You sure can. This is always your choice. No one is going to pull out words from your mouth. Would it make it easier to know several ways you can express a thought with variety of new words you learned? Of course.

You see, by learning more you now have choices and possibilities you did not know existed. And, this is what learning about music theory and how music works is all about. Heck, even if you refuse to learn music theory, just studying with a teacher or jamming with someone better will open up many doors for you. A new riff you picked-up from someone can inspire you to write the greatest song of your life. What you do with it is completely up to you.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against a musician who decides to “teach” himself or herself how to play. As a matter of fact, most of my favorite guitarists were not formally schooled. I don’t care if you go to school for music. What I’m saying is that since we all learn from somewhere, sometimes we can accelerate our learning and playing ability by having a coach or a teacher. This is exactly what happens when a top golfer or a football teach needs to win championships. Even if you are a top athlete you still need someone to offer a different perspective and see if you are getting stuck in a rut somewhere, where you make mistakes. This can be applied to music. I just want you to entertain the option.

The idea is to take new information and suck out the juice that is important to the way you want to play the instrument. When you do that, the new information is super valuable. Don’t close your eyes to new info and ways to absorb it – embrace it. The rest is truly up to you.

There Are No Plateaus In Playing Your Instrument

I want to briefly touch upon a subject that many guitar players (and musicians in general) seem to have a mis-understanding of.

Often I hear people tell me that they want to take a lesson with me because they have reached a certain ‘plateau’ that they can’t seem to get past. It sounds good, but it’s unfortunately wrong.

In guitar playing there are no plateaus. We never arrive and stay at some flat, secure place.

Not for long, and certainly not over 24 hours.

This means that if you are not getting better, you are getting worse.

It’s true. For example if you get pretty good at playing a particular scale and take 2 weeks off … your ability will slide back from where you have left of when you put the guitar down.

Even a task like song-writing is a skill that must be practiced. Sure, there are people who write only one song and it becomes a hit, but this is an exception to the rule, kind of like winning the lottery. If you want to be wealthy, you have to constantly work on it. Becoming better at your instrument is very much like it.

This thought process was always very motivating to me throughout time. I always remembered that if I am not getting better – I’m getting worse. This stuck and kept me practicing through the years.

Wind Me Up – Winding Strings On Your Guitar So It Stays In Tune

Today, I want to talk about winding strings as I think many players are frustrated with keeping their guitars in tune. We all, at least at some point, experience frustration with keeping it in tune.

A lot of the time this has to do with (a) how we put the strings on the guitar and (b) the winding of the string on the tuning keys.

As a general rule, I like to have 2 windings of the string on the tuning key post. I feel that too many windings and you just add too much string and the numerous windings keep stretching (very slightly) as you play and you loose some tension. You NEVER want to double up on the windings so they lay on top of each other of course, but I think everyone here knows that already.

I never feel comfortable with only one loop of the string around the key peg not because it would not work in theory, but it just does not seem “enough” for me. So, I stay at the 2 loops method. Sometimes I get get it exact, sometimes it’s close. (As you can see in the pic, the string below has 3 loops. I am also ok with that. I strive for 2 or 3 loops – this seems to be the happy medium.)

One thing everyone should keep in mind is that when you are tuning – you should always come up to pitch. What I mean is that when, for example, you are tuning your 4th string “D” and you are a little sharp, do not lower your string so it hits D exactly. What you want to do is actually lower the pitch so it is slightly lower than D and tune into the exact D. This method keeps the string nice and tight and it helps to keep your guitar nicely in tune.This is the only way to tune successfully.

Last thought. I used to tie my top 3 strings (G, B and E) on the little pegs, but I never do that that anymore and have not done it in 10 years. I never experienced tuning issues because of it, in case anyone wondered about that.

What’s In A Guitar Pick? (Or, Rather What’s With The Struggle)

What’s in a guitar pick? Well, apparently a lot. I have been thinking about how I found the guitar pick that I have been using for the last 15 years – the amazing Dunlop H3 Tortex. I have been using and experimenting with different picks for a long time and when I found the Dunlop Jazz III I thought I had it. But, as it turned turned out the smoother side of the Tortex pick worked out even better for me.

When choosing a pick pay attention to how it effects your sound. Do you get a lot of swoosh, flap or noise when you play? It could very well (and, probably is) be your guitar pick.

Most metal players use a pick that is at least medium in heaviness. If the guitar pick gives too much because it is too thin – you get a significant amount of noise in your playing.

I like the H3 which is a small pick and it took me a while to develop the exact technique that I can use it effectively in playing rhythm and lead. Many guitarists find that they find a pick that works good for leads, but not so much for rhythm. There is a little give and take. With some work, I found out my H3 to be great for both. There were times in the studio when I had a different pick for different sounds that I wanted to get out of the guitar, but I later scrapped that idea in favor of using one pick and learning how to get the most out of it.

Ultimately, you’ll have to find a pick that you can use equally well for both rhythm and lead. Of course, this is essential when playing live as there is no time to switch picks between lead licks and riffs.

As you know, picks are made from different materials and they all affect your guitar sound. Some players might prefer a nylon pick, while you might find Tortex to work best for your tone. This is important to keep in mind.

Usually a pick with some sort of an edge at the tip is better for leads. Smaller picks are tougher to use when you play heavy rhythms as you have less plastic to hit the string with and your hand can get tired sooner. (This is also a technique you need to master.) You adjust and see what you can improve. Light Fender type rounded picks are better for acoustic playing and when I see a student use them while wanting to play metal we quickly make the adjustment to something slightly heavier in order to gain better tone, clarity and precision.
Good luck on your search.

2 Quick Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Playing

Here are a couple of quick tips that I hope will help you in getting the best out of your instrument.

Number one. Remember that your live performance will usually never be better than your best practice session. Use this fact to gauge how much work you or your band might still need to truly be great.

Number two. Picking up your instrument is similar to starting a car. It takes the most juice out of the car’s battery to crank the engine. Once it is running … things go a lot smoother. Same principle applies to playing your instrument. It takes the most energy to simply pick up your guitar, drum sticks, etc. Once you are playing and in the zone (this usually happens when you are 15 minutes into it), you will see time simply disappear while you make some amazing progress.

Good luck and practice hard.