Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know (PART I)

If You don’t know the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know, you might get a bit frustrated.

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player
Don’t lose you’re cool!

Whoa!  Before your guitar looks like this, GET HELP!!  The Top 10 things every guitar player should know is in this (and the next) blog entry!!  Knowing these 10 things will enable you to grow as a musician and a guitar player at a much faster rate.

It is impossible to just grab the guitar and play like [fill in the gap] but with a little bit of time and effort and the right direction, you can get very good very fast. Following the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player Should Know will accelerate your path to get there.  Let’s get started.

  1. Know your open String notes and how to tune

I don’t touch on this for a long time with my students because tuning can be daunting for a student.  It was for me.  It took a long while before I could tune.  Then I could only tune to other guitars, not keyboards.  Yes, I was that bad.  But I learned.

You might think this is unnecessary given the ease of access of tuners today.  By all means use one, I do.  But knowing the strings E, A, D, G, B, E and self tuning are critical things to know.  You need to develop your EAR, which takes time and practice.  The chart below shows how to tune the guitar to it’s other strings.

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player
Self Tuning

 

2. Know the “typical” open string chords

Not only are these the “beginner” chords, you simply cannot play many songs without them.  Open string chords are not just chords for people learning.  They have their own “ringing” quality.  They are different.  In fact, it’s why some people use capos to, in effect, move the end of the guitar up the neck so they keep playing these chords in the same way but higher pitched to suit their voice or the song.

Chords you should know are:

  • E Major
  • E Minor
  • G Major
  • C Major
  • D Major
  • D Minor
  • A Major
  • A Minor

There are more but that will get you very far.   I’m talking 8 chords to happiness here!

If you’ve played a bit, you’ll see some chords missing that you might think should be in that list, like F Major.  I cover that in Part II of this series.

NOTE:  chords that are Major chords are often referenced by their letter name alone.  D Major can be called just “D”.  Minors must always be noted as minor.

One last thing on this topic.  The student really needs to commit these chord forms to memory.  The first chord I teach is D major to any beginning student.  I once taught this young man (a very nice guy) who  just wouldn’t learn it.  And when we got to learning songs his refusal to memorize the chords slowed his progress because I would say “ok, this song starts on D major” and he’s always ask “What was D again?”

Don’t be *that* guy!

3. Know the Musical Alphabet

We’re not talking a lot here, only 7 notes.  But you need to know how those notes are spaced.

The distance of 2 frets on the guitar – say 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 5th fret – is a whole step, sometimes called a full step or full tone.  It’s just 2 frets.  1 to 3, 2 to 4, 3 to 5, etc.

The distance of 1 fret on the guitar – like 6th string 3rd fret to 6th string 4th fret is a half step.  Or a semi step or semi tone.

So are musical alphabet is the following:

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   [then back to A]

7 notes!  Now here’s how you find them:

A -> B is a whole step.  6th string 5th fret to 6th String 7th fret

B -> C is a half step. 6th string 7th fret to 6th String 8th fret

C -> D is a whole step.  6th string 8th fret to 6th String 10th fret

D -> E is a whole step.  6th string 10th fret to 6th String 12th fret.  Your guitar may stop at the 12th fret.  So we’ll pick up E now at the 6th string open.

E -> F is a half step.  6th string open (no fingers on it – let it just ring) is E.  F will be on 6th string 1st fret.

Open strings confuse people, but think of it this way.  The nut is that white thing at the end of your fretboard:

Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player
Guitar Nut

You know where the first fret is.  Looking at the picture here it is to the left of the nut.  Think of hitting an open string as if your finger was to the right of the nut.  If you’re going to go up one fret for a half step, you’ll now be on fret number 1, which is where F is.

F -> G is a whole step.  6th string 1st fret to 6th String 3rd fret

G -> A is a whole step.  6th string 3rd fret to 6th String 5th fret

You will have then completed the circle A to A.

4. Know what Sharps and Flats are

If you asked in #3 above “what about the notes in between the frets we played – like 6th string frets 2 and 4 and 6?”  This is the answer to that.

Simple but not “easy”.  A sharp (#) raises a note a half step.  So in our mapping of the natural (not sharped or flatted) notes in #3 above, we have:

6th String FRET

1    F

3   G

5   A

7   B

8   C

10   D

12 (OR OPEN)  E

But now let’s include sharps:

6th String FRET

1    F

2   F#

3   G

4   G#

5   A

6    A#

7   B

8   C

9   C#

10   D

11   D#

12 (OR OPEN)  E

Now for the “weird” part.  if you understand that sharps (#) raise a note a half step or one fret, what about the notes that are already a half step apart?  B to C and E to F are only half steps.  So that must mean there is no such thing as a B# or an E#?

No, there ARE B# and E# notes.  How do you play them?  Right where C and F are (8th fret and 1st fret respectively).

So yes, B# IS C natural.  E# IS F natural.  One note with 2 names is called enharmonic.  Not extremely important to know that word but extremely important to know what it means.

A Flat (b) lowers a note one half step.  So Fret 2 on the guitar (which was F# above) is now Gb.  We lower G on the 3rd fret one half step to be Gb on Fret 2:

6th String FRET

1    F

2   Gb

3   G

4   Ab

5   A

6    Bb

7   B

8   C

9   Db

10   D

11   Eb

And there’s  your musical alphabet.

5. Know the notes on the 5th and 6th Strings

Now a purist is going to say you should know all the notes.  Why are the 5th and 6th string more important?  Easy – it’s chords.

The open string chords mentioned above all look different.  E Major looks nothing like A Major which looks nothing like C Major which looks nothing like D Major.

That all changes with bar (sometimes called “barre”) chords.  Remember the picture of the nut above?  Well your fingers become a new, movable nut.

All bar chords come in “6th String” and “5th String” versions.  You can play the full version of the chord, or just the “bottom” part of it for “Power chords” which metal is extremely fond of.

From knowing that the 6th string open is E and the 5th string open is A, you can figure out where the notes are.  I recommend learning the natural notes first.  If you know A, B, C, D, E, F and G on both strings quickly by sight you are well on  your way to learning a plethora (or TON) of songs!

Knowing these chord forms is the 6th thing that every guitar player should know, but that’s in Part II of this blog.

You are half way there to knowing the Top 10 Things Every Guitar Player should know!

Guitar Lessons in Bay Area CA

Hello, and welcome to Fast Fingers Guitar Lessons!  I offer online and in home guitar lessons to the local community.  I currently teach in Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and San Ramon on the weekends, and during the week in Santa Clara and San Jose.

Guitar Lessons
Let’s ROCK!!

Lessons can be 30 or 60 minutes, depending on the age of the student and their goals.

I’m a big believer in understanding music – not just playing songs.  My goal is not to make just a guitar player out of you, but a real musician.

 

Lessons include (but not limited to):

  • Songs – we can learn what you want along with signature solos
  • Alternate Picking
  • Hammer ons and pull offs
  • String Bending
  • Music reading – staff and tab
  • Scales
  • Music Theory
  • Soloing / Improvising
  • 6 String guitar, 7 String guitar, bass
  • Whammy Bar techniques
  • Double Hammer On
  • Legato
  • Arpeggios
  • Styles – Rock, Blues, Metal, Country, Jazz (I’ve played all those in various bands!)
  • Ear Training
  • Music Analysis – what key is this in?  How would you solo here?
  • Composition – sounds scary but it’s not.  We start simple and work our way up
  • Chord analysis
  • Alternative Tunings like Drop D
  • Relative Positioning on the Guitar
  • Fretboard visualization
  • Cycle of 4ths and 5ths
  • Analyzing the styles of great players like Randy Rhodes and Jimi Hendrix

So if you’re ready for a new adventure, email Spencer today!  I have openings on week nights and on Saturdays.

A bit about me:

I’m Spencer Clark and I’ve been in music nearly all my life.  I play guitar (6 and 7 string), bass, and some keyboard.  I have a degree in music from West Valley College in Saratoga, CA. and worked my way through college earning other degrees by playing in bands and teaching.  I taught for 12 years at Guitar Showcase in San Jose.  I was teaching guitar lessons since I was a teenager out of my parent’s house.

Guitar Lesson: Diatonic Steroids Part I – Major/Minor Keys

Guitar Lesson
Let’s do this!!

Greetings and welcome to another online guitar lesson!

I added a new header photo to my site, the un-cropped version you can see here ->

This was actually a nod to a pod cast I listen to – Jocko Willink – and while I don’t “know” the guy, I follow his Twitter posts and podcast episodes religiously and enjoy them immensely.  I found out he plays guitar (how well, I don’t know) and he’s a big Sabbath fan so i thought I’d return the favor and devote a guitar lesson to Sabbath.

As with any online guitar lesson, it’s challenging to to convey everything in text so I’m trying a new format: mixing text with video I’ve posted on YouTube.  In a lesson like this with a whole song and solo, it only makes sense to use Video as text alone would be nearly impossible.

But me being me, I can’t just do it straightforwardly.  Yes, you have to learn something along the way.  All my guitar lessons are like that.  Which brings me to the title of this piece, which is a pun off of Anabolic Steroids.

Definitions:

“Anabolic Steroid” – Anabolic steroids, technically known as anabolic-androgenic steroids, are drugs that are structurally related to the cyclic steroid rings system and have similar effects to testosterone in the body.  In other words, they are a performance enhancement drug.  Don’t worry, there’s not a test.

“Diatonic” – involving only notes proper to the prevailing key without chromatic alteration.  Don’t worry, I’ll explain those terms.

“Diatonic Steroids” – Way cool things to explore with a guitar!

So the diatonic concept is about scales.  What do people think of when we mention scales?  An exercise.  Technique.  Finger dexterity exercises.  Yawn.  I/we want to learn cool licks!  I want to play like [fill in the blank] and you’re going to give me scales?  Can I get my money back on this lesson?

Well before you kick your scales book to the trash can, let’s take a look at the structure of basic music.  This won’t apply to Black Sabbath just yet.  But give me some time.  One thing builds on the other.

Here’s is a 10 minute video of me explaining Major and Minor scales:

Check this out:

So the gist of this is Sabbath likes Minor keys.  And the song we’re going to work on is in E minor.  Which is a lot like G Major but there are some differences.

Knowing the scales is a start.  But scales can be derived from scales.  (Don’t worry, it gets simpler).  Here is a discussion about the Pentatonics.

So that gives a somewhat “lay of the land” between the Major and Minor 7 note scales and the Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales.

But I still don’t see how i can play like Tony Iommi!!

Let’s apply it to a real Sabbath song.  How about War Pigs?  This is a 15 min video getting you through the song up until the 1st solo.

After this, it gets to the first solo.  Tony Iommi does some interesting things with a droning E string in the background, before he gets into some “basic” blues licks:

 

And finally towards the end, Tony Iommi gets more into the Natural Minor scales:

 

So to sum up the main points from this lesson:

G Major is a 7 note scale:

G A B C D E F#

G Major Pentatonic is a 5 note scale:

G A B D E

E Minor is a 7 note scale (just like G but starts and stops on E):

E F# G A B C D

E Minor Pentatonic is a 5 note scale, just like G Pentatonic, but starting and stopping on E:

E G A B D

War Pigs makes a lot of use of the D (bVII of E) to E (I chord in E minor).

The solo makes use of the major 3rd of E (G#) since the harmony of this part of the song was all E power chords

Much of the solo makes use of E Minor Pentatonic scales.

Towards the end they make a melody in E Minor – using more notes than the minor Pentatonic offers.

I hope you enjoyed the guitar lesson!  Drop me a note and let me know what you thought of it.

Keep Shreddin’!!

Spencer

Tesla Vintner House Band – 7/12/15!!

Since the Turbo  Fuegos imploded on New Years Eve (that story to remain untold on this site!) I joined forces with Steve Powell, entrepreneur, and known for his singing as much as his wine making at Tesla Vintners.  The picture here was our first incarnation:TV I’m in the back and if I look a little weird, I was actually quite sick the evening we took that photo and in about 3 hours I was in the ER with appendicitis! The guys thought I was crazy for showing up for pictures like that but hey, I didn’t know.

Not long after that we had our fist gig.  Since then one member went back to the East Coast and our bassist is on vacation so we are playing Sunday at 2:00 with a fill-in bassist.

Details:

Address -> 5143 Tesla Rd, Livermore, CA 94550

Do you have to be 21?  No!  This is a family run place.  They are even dog friendly.

Is there a charge to get in?  Again, No!  Show up and have fun.

Is it just wine?  Nope – although there are 3 wine makers offering tasting (all for $20) there will be beer and food to purchase.

Hope to see you there!

 

 

Just What Do I Offer in My Lessons?

With my Ibanez at the Mountain House

Hey folks,

I was asked recently what exactly do I teach.  My teaching approach has changed over the years and it’s more suited towards what a student wants, plus what I feel they should know.

My styles include Rock, Metal, Blues, Country, Classical and Jazz.  I am currently playing with a Country/Country Rock/Classic Rock band called the Turbo Fuegos and we are expanding outside the Livermore club circuit to San Mateo, San Jose, Fremont, and Gilroy.

I have developed my own system for learning music. Here is some of what I offer:

  • Songs (I will learn and transcribe your chosen song for you)
  • Scales (Major/minor, Major Pentatonic/Minor Pentatonic, Blues scales, Diminished, whole tone)
  • Chord Construction (just what goes into a G Major chord?) and to be able to find chords all over the neck
  • Music reading
  • Chord Progressions and Song analysis
  • Arpeggios
  • Picking – alternate, country plucking, and finger picking
  • Heavy Metal techniques including legato and two handed tapping)
  • Vibrato bar techniques (also known as Tremolo or whammy bar)
  • 6 and 7 String guitar playing (7th String being a low B)
  • Alternate tunings
  • Finger Vibrato

It’s always nice to use whatever I’m doing in a band situation to include in my lessons.  Lately I’ve been working on my “country pluckin’ hybrid style of picking.  It’s called “hybrid” because some times you use your pick, some time you use your middle finger to “pluck” the string.  I’ve also been using my 7 String a bit so if you’re  a 7 string guitar owner, contact me for lessons.

That’s it for now!

Blues vs Country Improvisation

Hey all,

As promised, this blog will be about the different approach I take to Country playing vs Blues.  At first it might seem like they have nothing in common but they oftentimes make use of the same Chord Progression.

Let’s look at the key of E:

1     2      3      4     5      6     7

E    F#    G#    A    B    C#    D#

So a I IV V progression would be:

I            IV        V

EMaj   AMaj  BMaj

Blues Approach

The most straight forward Blues approach is to use the E Blues Scale:

1   b3   4   5  b7

E   G   A   B   D

The blues scale makes use of the flatted third against an E Major chord.  While that sounds like it might clash, the rhythm on blues often times leave the full chord out:

——————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————–

2–2–4–4—2–2–4–4——————————————————————————

0—0–0–0–0–0–0–0——————————————————————-

So the chords is E (6th string open) and B (5ths string 2nd fret) and then E and C# (5th string 4th fret).  C# is the 6th of the chord and the rhythm alternates between the two.

This gives the soloist some room to stretch out.  So the E Blues minor feel doesn’t clash with the chords.

Advanced Blues Soloing treats all the chords above as Dominant 7 chords:

E7  A7  B7

E7 is :

E  G#  B  D

So all the notes are there in the Blues scale  for the chord except the G#  – the E Blues scale has a G.  A very common lick is to coming the two – G -> G# -> resolve to E.  This can be done on any of the 3 chords above, but you have to pay attention to which chord is being played.

Playing the dominant chord shapes on the guitar for each chord as it is being played is a nice exercise to get used to where the notes are.  From there you can start to stretch out:

E7: E G# B D

A7: A C# E G

B7 B D# F# A

The B7 is most unlike the notes in the blues scale – when you start to outline them you’ll probably recognize the difference since you can’t get that sound in the blues scale.

Country Approach

So with Blues they accent the “minor” or “dominant” feel of the chords.  Instead of that, Country accents the “major” sound of these chords.  Again, most of that “boogie woogie” rhythm doesn’t include the 3rd of the chord (E and B, E and C# alternating) so the third is up for grabs.

Country really likes the sounds of major pentatonics against a major chord:

1  2    3  5   6

E: E F# G# B C#

Country really likes the G# or the major third of the chord, as well as the 6th – the C# – which is being played in that boogie woogie rhythm.

With this approach, similar to the Dominant 7 approach above, your notes will change with each chord.

1  2    3  5   6

E: E F# G# B C#

A: A B  C#  D  E

B: B C# D#  F# G#

This can get tricky if the chords are changing a lot, but your playing country is going to require that you know these 3 scales and how they overlap.  At first you’ll hop from scale to scale (nothing wrong with that) but eventually you’ll want to smooth out your transitions the way the pros do and make a melody that fits in the scales as the chords change.

Send any questions or comments my way.  You can also follow me on twitter fastfingers76

Happy Playing

Happy 2014

Hey Fellow Shredders….

2014 is off to a fast start around here.  I’m in the process of finding a new place to live (always fun!) as my landlord wants to sell his house that I’m renting (but still wants guitar lessons from me 🙂  It’s all good).

The Turbo Fuegos just added a 2nd guitar player.  This is the third guy in 11 months.  The first guy lasted 2 weeks.  The second lasted 5 weeks.  Let’s hope Steve sticks around a while.  He has a different style than me which is great – I don’t need another “me” up on stage but someone with a contrasting style.

We are playing the Sports Page in Mountain View right by the Shoreline Ampitheater on January 18th.  Admission free – come check us out.

It’s been a while since I’ve given a real “lesson” blog – quite a while in fact.  My next blog will be on the difference between Blues and Country soloing.  It will be useful info.

So I’m not even halfway through January yet and I have to box, move, work in a new guitarist, and my day job has me handling two big clients.  I worked back-to-back 15 hour days last week.  Looking forward to sleeping in on Sunday!

See you next time….

Shreddy

Happy Thanksgiving!!

To the Faithful Shredders,

It has been crazy busy in Fast Fingers land, but it is time to pause and give thanks to the wonderful things that have happened to me this year:

1) My girlfriend and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary this year.  That’s no easy feat when you’re dating me 🙂

2) I repaired an important family tie.

3) I quit my dead end day job and began working for a small but profitable startup.  Not a lot of sleep but getting a fast education in Jquery, Jquery Mobile and Project Management.

4) My band – The Turbo Fuegos – has gained momentum throughout the year.  Ok, well we lost 1 bassist and two guitarist but the current line up feels committed and we are only geting more busy for 2014.

5) My teaching schedule is bursting at the seams.  I cannot take any more students at this time.

All five of the above for me have been important priorities in my life.  All of the above came with challenges – nothing is really free in this world.  You have to work at it.

I’ve been going back to the gym a lot more recently and hope to get an early jump on that New Years Resolution that always seems to come up.  While I’m doing resistance training, I pretty much focus on what I’m doing, but when I get on the elliptical, I have more time to people watch.

I’m going to dump these people into two very broad categories: The Workers and The Loungers.  When you go to the gym, any gym, you’ll see guys and girls, completely focused.  I don’t go to any classes so I normally see them in the free weight section.  They watch themselves carefully in the mirror as they do their reps.  The guys will sometimes grimace as they get to the last 2 reps – sweat breaks out and a look of determination appears on their face as they squeeeeze out that last rep, and with a tired sigh of relief, they put the weight down.

That’s the Worker.  He or she is in there to make the session count.  They went to the trouble of packing clothes, getting water, grabbing a towel, and driving down there and so, doggone-it, they are going to get something out of it.  The same can be true of the person running hard on the treadmill or bike or elliptical.  Or trembling to hold that yoga position.

Then you got the Lounger.  You don’t see them in the free weight section.  I’m doing machines right now since I’m coming back from a long layoff and some old injuries require that I ease into it.  But other people will saunter through their workout, and many of them are on their cell phone.  What?  This is a time for focus.  I once was on the elliptical machine and the woman next to me was talking so loud on her phone (and I was listening to my iPhone music!) that I had to move away from her.

And we all know the guy who won’t get out of the abdominal machine.  You’ve just burned through 3 sets of two different exercises and this joker is still sitting there.  He should be paying rent to stay in that machine.

The same goes for guitar practicing.  Be a Worker, not a Lounger.  If your cell phone keeps buzzing (and who’s doesn’t?) turn it off for 30 min and get your uninterrupted practice time in.  If people support you, they will understand.  If my girlfriend texts me when I’m at the gym, I text back “at gym ttyl” and she gets it – “ok have a good workout”.  That’s support.

So enjoy today, eat, drink and be merry, enjoy your families, be grateful for the good things in  your life, and tomorrow get back on it.  And one day someone will look at you playing your instrument and comment “Wow, you make it look easy”.  Which should make you smile.

Shred on.

Spencer

 

How Did I Get Here??

Ok, folks, I really didn’t mean to take this long to post.  A number of things were going on, and I think we just rounded the bend, so I’m going to talk about them here.

First, the main thing that held up my post is I wanted to post the songs I talked about recording on Mother’s Day.  Way back in March.  Way back.  Well, one thing that didn’t turn out so well was the mix.

If you ever read Slash’s book, he talks about how Axle Rose refused to go into the studio, so they sent tapes back and forth – he would write down his comments and mail the tapes back, they’d work on them and send them back to him and the cycle starts again.  Doesn’t sound like a very efficient way to make a hit record.  Well it’s not a very effective way to make a demo tape either.

We must have passed those three songs back and forth 5 times to get the mix right.  And each time it took longer and longer to get their attention to mix it and send it back.  Most likely it’s because they were already paid (NOTE: No one gets paid in full until the job is done).

Then, about the 4th iteration of this, the mix came back very, very close.  Just a few tweaks were needed.  Maybe 6 things.  Well, the songs came back and the guitar – my guitar – was awful – it was way too loud and too harsh sounding.  Our singer went back to the engineer and he fixed one of the songs.  So 2 out of 3 were ok, but the third still had a messed up guitar sound on it.

My son also went through a similar experience with a guy in Sacramento.  The guy took his time on the mix and finally gave them some of the money back and cut them loose.

This is where all those music lessons you took don’t help you.  You need to have a clear plan, a clear timeline, and keep them on it or they forget about you.  I actually had something similar happen to me when we were putting a pool in the back yard.  We paid the guy in installments and when he was 75% paid, we saw less and less of him – he was off to his next gig.

Our persistence paid off – we finally got the songs mixed.  I will post links when I have them.

In the meantime, we played one heckuva private party in Livermore in June, then added a new guitar player into the mix.  Frank has good rock and blues chops, which I guess makes me the country guy.  How did I get that title?

On Labor Day we played at R place.  It was one of our best shows yet.  Frank was only in the band 2 weeks at that point, we used Kenny’s sound system and we rocked the joint for 3 hours.  For a holiday, we had well over 50 people in that club.

Our next gig is at Downtown Ollies on Oct 11 in Livermore.   I will provide pictures and links to our demo.  Promise!

Peace Out

Spencer

“ShredZilla”