10 of My Favourite Guitar Solos

There are so many great guitarists and fantastic guitar solos.  Here are some of my favourites ...

1) Under a Glass Moon (Band: Dream Theater, Album: Images and Words, Guitarist: John Petrucci)
2) All I want (Band: Lynch Mob, Album: Lynch Mob, Guitarist: George Lynch)
3) Where Were You? (Album: Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop, Guitarist: Jeff Beck)
4) How can you do what you do (Band: Mr.Big, Album: Mr.Big, Guitarist: Paul Gilbert)
5) Flight of the Bumblebee (Album: Above, Below and Beyond, Guitarist: Jennifer Batten)
6) For a Million Years (Band: Lynch Mob, Album: Lynch Mob, Guitarist: George Lynch)
7) For the Love of God (Album: Passion and Warfare, Guitarist: Steve Vai)
8) Eyes of a Stranger (Band: Queensryche, Album: Operation: Mindcrime, Guitarists: Chris DeGarmo, Michael Wilson)
9) Flying in a Blue Dream (Album: Flying in a Blue Dream, Guitarist: Joe Satriani)
10) Anything by Paco de Lucia, Paco Pena

Martyn

'Friday Night Fiesta' - My International Guitar Hero Competition Entry

From the archives, here's a video of the original piece that was submitted for the 2009 International Guitar Hero competition and reached the online finals.  It's in the 'Flamrock' style, a mixture of Flamenco and rock guitar playing.



The Benefits of Transcribing

I started playing guitar well before we had the Internet. The only way to learn a song was to buy the songbook (most of my favourite songs weren't in print), or to work it out yourself. I spent almost as long working out songs as I did actually playing the guitar, but I believe these were in no way a waste of my time.

It certainly has come in handy and helped with my song writing, improvisation, learning songs for my gigs and students, working out something after I had improvised it, and as a service to help other players learn songs that are not offered accurately elsewhere.

Now, we have countless websites helping players learn songs, using tabs, video lessons etc. This is clearly a great tool for all players. However the on-line transcriptions on offer are only as good as the transcriber's ear, and virtually anyone can upload a song tab to a site, so it's important to know if the tab is accurate.

This is where ear training, including transcribing comes into it's own. If you have developed a good ear you can at least hear that the transcription, when played is correct, close, or very wrong. And if there are no tabs for the song you want to learn, you can at least do it yourself.

Just like any skill, transcribing music takes regular practice, but the more we do it, the more acutely our ears start picking out important things such as hearing the difference between a fast slide (glissando) and a hammer-on, or hearing the tone quality that gives away which string a note is really being played on etc.

Here are some tips for those of you who are interested in starting-out transcribing music:
  • Set aside just 5-10 minutes of time daily to transcribe something-anything!
  • Start with simple melodies, slow solos, single note riffs etc.
  • Use technology to help-you can slow down fast passages or loop them to aid in working out notes.
  • Take-up general ear training to compliment your transcribing skills.
  • Every time you play anything on guitar, really listen to the notes and try to familiarise yourself with them.

Music is an art form based on sounds, so every musician should be working on hearing notes and rhythms as well as they possibly can to aid in reaching their musical goals. To not do so would be like a painter who can't recognise colours very well. Not an ideal scenario.

Happy transcribing!
Martyn

Guitar Buying Tips for New Learners

Buying Your First Guitar


Budding guitarists now are spoiled for choice and generally even cheap guitars are well made so there's no need to spend a lot of money when starting out.  However, very cheap guitars will make playing difficult and may inhibit the learning process.

The first thing to do is ask yourself what type of music you want to play  If you love, say, Jimi Hendrix, you should buy an electric guitar.  If you listen to, say, James Morrison, go for an acoustic.

One option is to buy a guitar ‘package’ deal aimed at beginners.  These are available for electric, acoustic, and classical guitars and include all you need to get you started: guitar, small practice amp, cable, plectrum, spare strings, tuner, etc.  A few companies that specifically offer guitars and guitar packages aimed at beginners are: (Fender) Squier, Stagg, Epiphone, Aria, Yamaha and Encore.

If you don’t get a package deal, make sure you at least buy an electronic tuner for your guitar.  These can be readily found for under ten pounds.

Children


The most important thing for younger players is to get the right sized guitar.  Many companies make one-half (1/2) or three-quarter (3/4) sized guitars for the smaller person.  The softer nylon strings on classical guitars make it easier on the fingers, but the type of music your child likes should decide the type of guitar you buy.

The Next Step - Buying a ‘Better’ Guitar


If you have been playing a while and want a better quality guitar (or if you are really keen and can afford to spend a bit more) buying second-hand can be a good idea.  You will get a much better guitar for less money.

Another option is to trade-in your old guitar at a music shop to bring the price down of your new guitar.

Guitar Companies


Some great guitar companies include: Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, Jackson, B.C Rich, PRS, ESP, Tanglewood, Takamine and Peavey.

Martyn

Great Songs for Learner Guitarists

Often it can be hard for new guitarists to find popular practice pieces that are enjoyable to play and that listeners will recognise. Here are some well-known rock and pop songs that are relatively easy to learn and let students quickly develop their skills to the point where they are playing real music:

- Smoke on the Water, Deep Purple
- Chasing Cars, Snow Patrol
- Back in Black, AC/DC
- Time of Your life, Green Day
- Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
- Sunshine of Your Love, Cream
- Beat It, Michael Jackson
- One, U2
- Use Somebody, Kings of Leon
- Wish You Were Here, Pink Floyd

Webcam Guitar Lessons - Flexible and Convenient

More and more of my guitar students are having webcam lessons.  There are several benefits, including:
  • Students who are not local or find it difficult to travel can have lessons
  • Lessons are in the comfort and convenience of the student's own home
  • It's cheaper!
  • No time wasted travelling and no travel expenses
  • No time wasted packing and unpacking your guitar at either end
Lessons can be conducted using videoconferencing software such as Skype and that you may already have on your computer.

Stretches and Massages for all Guitarists

It is an all too often over-looked subject, and even many guitar teachers fail to explain the importance of warming-up before practising or performing. Staying physically fit is very important to guitarists who otherwise may sit around for long hours slumped over a guitar (see my previous post on posture) .

Equally important is to strengthen and improve the flexibility of fingers, wrists, and in fact out whole body. As part of a thorough warm-up, it would be a good idea to do some form of light exercise (a short walk or slow jog), then after stretching off your main muscle groups, move onto the stretches and massages I illustrated for my students (see diagram below) It would also be beneficial to perform some 'joint rotations', slowly rotating wrists each direction, rolling shoulders each direction etc. Only then would I suggest guitarists start to run through basic finger warm-ups on the guitar itself, gradually increasing to 'performance' speed.

Hold each stretch for 10-30 secs

There are a few reasons why it is so important to loosen-up, and stretch before and after playing, and I'm confident that if a student starts regular stretches and massages they will quickly see (and FEEL) the benefits, including:
  • Improved playing skill
  • Injury prevention
  • Longevity of playing time
  • More comfort and consequently greater enjoyment
  • Improved hand and wrist health in general
So, if you are one of the many players who just grab the guitar and start playing then I would suggest you try adding in these warm-up ideas, alongside a well designed warm-up guitar playing routine.  Then you can enjoy healthily playing guitar for many years!

Motivation for Continued Improvements

It's all too easy to lack motivation, and find ourselves gradually doing less practice, and feeling less inspired to pick up the guitar.

It's easy to start focusing on 'negatives' - what we can't yet play, or constantly comparing ourselves to more accomplished players. When we then feed that negativity it will eventually lead to a gradual decline of enjoyment for guitar playing.

But we have a choice in what we think. We can choose to enjoy the whole process of improving!

Remind yourself how far you have come and how much you have learnt from the beginning of your playing. Focus on any small accomplishments, and give yourself permission to feel very proud of even the smallest improvements you notice in any area of your playing. This is paramount to self-motivation, and therefore seeing continued improvements. Maybe choose one small thing to work on/learn for that week and know that by the end of the week you WILL be better at it than you are now.  It's your most powerful tool...Your mind! This is also very important in other areas of life where we should try to improve ourselves, and not compare ourselves to others.

Enjoy the journey!

An Easy Way to Work Out the Chords in any Major Key

To find the Diatonic chords in any Major key, the scale notes are played using an 'every-other-note' approach, to 3 notes at a time, then played together as a 3 note chord (Triad): e.g C Major scale = C D E F G A B (C) 3 every other notes starting on C = C E G.

Then, 3 every other notes starting on D = D F A.

Then the pattern continues: E G B, F A C, G D B, A C E , B D F

These 'Triads' are the basic forms of the chords in C Major. They spell-out the chords - C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, B diminished

To quickly find the Chords in ANY Major key, we simply do 2 things:

  1. Work out the names of the notes in the Major scale (the Major key you want to find the chords for)
  2. Apply the 'formula' Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor (Relative Minor), Diminished to these scale notes to create the chords.

So, in G Major: 1) Scale notes are: G A B C D E F# (G) 2)

Applying the 'formula', the Chords therefore are - G, Am, Bm, C, D, Em (Relative minor), F# diminished.

This is great example of learning a simple 'formula', and getting a lot of information for a very small amount of effort.

You will need to be able to name the notes in the scale, so that's yet another good reason to learn the notes on the guitar neck.

Also, you will need to be able to play the progression of chords, in various orders without pausing. But that's another lesson ...

Good luck
Martyn

Mindfulness in Music

It's very easy to be playing or practising music with only half a mind on the task at hand. Musicians should always play to the very best of their ability whether they are practising at home or performing live.

Every note should be focused on completely, the timing carefully monitored. This is where I believe mindfulness can be a huge help. The very act of focusing fully on the music or exercise you are performing is itself a form of meditation.

So, the next time you are mindlessly 'noodling' or playing a through a 'comfortable' song whilst wondering what's for dinner, or with half a mind on the TV... stop, and immerse yourself fully in what you are doing and try to do it the best you possibly can, every time. You will make far greater gains, and benefit from the musical meditation.

Martyn

Chord Exercises

Many guitarists neglect to practice chords, whether it be learning new chords, or changing chords or progressions.

Here's a simple exercise to start players assessing not only their chord changing abilities but also their knowledge of the 5th (Dominant) chord in relation to the Root (Tonic) chord. Here I have the chords starting out in open position, but there are many variations such as higher positions, mixing positions, or only allowing certain chord 'shapes'- only using E and A shapes for example.

The important thing is to play to a metronome, and gradually speed up. Start playing each chord change on every 4th beat at 120 BPM. The idea is to get through all the changes without missing a beat, and with each chord sounding perfectly clean. Try to memorise each chord pairing.

  1. Play an open position C Major chord 
  2. Play an open position G7 chord (5th of C)
  3. Play an open position G Major chord
  4. Play an open position D7 chord (5th of G)
  5. Continue with D to A7, A to E7 etc, until you have gone though the whole circle of 5ths
There are countless other chordal exercises. Why not try to invent your own chord building exercises that helps both playing ability and musical knowledge? Just 5-10 minutes on these types of exercises at each practice session can make a huge difference.

The Importance of Posture

There are countless guitar players who suffer from back, shoulder or neck pain, 'golfer's' or 'tennis' elbow, tendonitis etc. Many believe that repetitive strain injuries such as these only happen to players who don't warm-up properly. However, although warming-up is important, the bodies posture during playing is equally important if such problems are to be avoided.
We must try to have our heads upright and correctly aligned. Most people's head has a forward lean through bad postural habits, including their guitar playing . For each inch that the head moves forward from it's resting position it adds the weight of the head to the neck extensor muscles. The head weighs 8% of the body weight, so a 100lb person with a 2 inch forward lean of the head has a 16 pound of weight on their neck extensor muscles all day. It is very common for people to have a forward head carriage of around 3 inches, which is 3 times the weight of the head added to the neck extensors!
Irregularities in the spine can manifest in various ways, affecting other limbs, for example a lower back problem may cause pain in the legs.

So what can we do?

We must take charge of our health and learn good posture, and stay active (a lot of guitar players are very sedentary) Here is a list of things that can help avoid postural problems:

  • Learn about human posture, and start to improve ourselves
  • Take regular exercise
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Practice guitar standing up
  • Practice guitar into a mirror-looking too much at the guitar is bad for posture, eyesight, and looks unprofessional
  • If seated, try the guitar over the left leg, or an ergonomic guitar rest. I use these for Spanish guitar
  • Stretch regularly, especially if practising for long periods (hours) 
Above all, however much we love playing the guitar, sitting down with poor posture is NOT a natural position for our bodies to be in for any period of time.

Martyn

Understanding Dominant Chords

Dominant chords are like Major chords (135) that have a flattened 7th (b7) added to the 135 chord formula (135,b7=dominant 7th). So, if a C Major is C(1) E(3) G(5), we add a Bb (flattened 7th note of the C Major scale). Then, depending on which dominant chord you want, you simply add that note to the 7th chord:
  • Dominant 7th-135b7
  • Dominant 9th-135b79 (add the 9th to the dominant 7th formula)
  • Dominant 11th-135b7911 (add the 11th to the dominant 9th formula)
  • Dominant 13th-135b791113 (add the 13th to the dominant 11th formula) 
Notice that dominant chords are only 7, 9, 11, 13. Also notice that each successive dominant chord has exactly the same formula as the previous chord, but with the new 'chord name' note added. (For example, dominant 11 is same as dominant 9 -1 3 5 b7 9, but we add the 11.)

We don't need to try to play every note in the chord. In the case of 11 the 9th isn't as important, and in 13 the 11th isn't as important. The important notes are clearly root (as a tonal centre), 3rd (to sound major) b7 (to have 'dominant/bluesy' sound), and 11th to add that colour tone that gives the chord it's name.

When playing any chord voicing, work-out which note is which chord tone. This will not only help you to understand the relationship between modes and chords, but also increase your knowledge of the notes on the guitar neck.