Category Archives: Personal Development

TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW (PART II)

Hey Everybody !   This is TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW (PART II), points 6 through 10.

If you didn’t read the previous post – TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW (PART I) – definitely go back there and begin with that. The goal of that blog entry and this one is to establish a base line of understanding the guitar well enough to do just about anything you want to be able to do on the instrument.  In fact, just in the first 5 of the top 10, you’ll know more than most people out there that have a guitar propped up in the corner of their bedroom.

With these last 5 items about guitar playing, you will definitely be well positioned to go into any direction (Metal, Rock, Top 40, Jazz, Blues) that you wish.

6.  Know your “Bar” Chords off the 6th String

TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW PART II
Root on 6th String Major Chord Form

This is the Major form ->

Bar (also known as “barre”) are chords that do not rely upon the open strings for any of their notes. Because these are movable forms, you need to know which note is your root note.

The root note names the chord.  G Major – the root note is G.  G minor – the root note is still G.  G 13 b5 +11??  Guess what….the root note is STILL G.

Since these are “6th string” based forms, your root is covered by the first finger on the 6th string.  As you move the guitar form up and down the neck, the root note changes and so does the name of your chord.  If this form shown here was on the 3rd fret, the 3rd fret on the 6th string is G.  So this is G Major (or we sometimes say just “G”).

TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW PART II
Root on the 6th String Minor Chord Form

This is the minor form ->

Note the only difference between Major and Minor is the 2nd finger being present or not.  To go from A Major (5th fret) to A Minor you just remove the 2nd finger.  Viola.  No other changes are needed.

 

 

7. Know your “Bar” Chords off of the 5th String

The 6th string forms are GREAT – until you need a D Major.  Then you’re going to find yourself squeeze up at the 10th fret.  While it can be done, there is an easier more practical way.

TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW PART II
R5 Major Form

You’ll see to the right a pretty standard way to play the Major chord with the Root being on the 5th string (Say for D Maj  you would have your first finger on the 5th fret).

Note fingers 2,3 and 4 crammed in here.  I never play it this way.

You should play this form with the 3rd finger barring along the 4th, 3rd, and 2nd string and touching the 1st only to make it stop ringing (mute).  Again, a lot of guitar playing is silencing what you don’t want and sounding what you do.  On this form you don’t play the 6th string either.

HINT: inch your 1st finger up (towards your 6th string) until it touches it.  6th string dead.  1st string dead.  You’re ready to hammer it out.

TOP 10 THINGS EVERY GUITAR PLAYER SHOULD KNOW PART II
R5 Minor Form

Now for the minor form.  There are two common variations of this.  One is to bar the first finger (as pictured) and let the first string sound.  That is perfectly reasonable but I rarely play it like that.  Instead I again mute the 1st string and inch my first finger towards the 6th string and mute them both.

I make exceptions from time to time but lets stick to the basics.  There are many more ways to play chords on the guitar, but these bar forms are most commonly associated with Rock/Metal/pop/Blues.

8. Know your Power Chords

Okay – this may be a bit of a “trick” item but it’s good to know these terms.

Power Chords are the same forms as the chord diagrams above with one big difference: only the bottom 2 strings are played – the rest are muted.  So if you know your G Major on 3rd fret, only play the 6th string 3rd fret and 5th string 5th fret.  1st and 3rd finger.  That’s a G POWER CHORD.

Same thing on 5th string.  D is on 5th fret with 3rd finger barring 7th.  Change to 5th string 5 fret only and 4th string 7th fret only.  That’s a D POWER CHORD.  They are easier than their full blown parents and necessary if you’re going to do metal or hard rock.

So with the rest of the chord “gone” – is it major or minor?  Assume major in most cases.  The truth is it can be anything you want because it’s not there.  Look for more detail on that in a future lesson.

9. Know your Major Pentatonic Scale

majorpentatonicSlideThis is a very easy scale.  Pent means 5 so it’s only a 5 note scale.  There are many ways to play it but this sliding version is one I use a lot.  This happens to be in the key of G (So this is G Pentatonic).  I use 1st finger on the 1st note, which is the root G, then my third finger on the 5th fret and slide it to 7th.  Next string is 5th fret and 7th.  4th String is 5th fret, 7th fret (with 3rd finger) and slide to 9th.  And so on.

You might think this is too country or you might think it’s not enough country.  Either way you’re both right.  But if you enjoy the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd then you’ve heard this scale.

There are other ways to play this scale but this is the best one to start with.

10.Know your Minor Pentatonic Scale

This is your ROCK scale.  Your Blues scale (Ok, minorpentatonictechnically it’s not the blues scale unless you add one note – that is again an aside for another lesson), and your Metal scale, although  metal guys often dip into their Phrygian modes when they feel like it.   Many guitarists have made their mark on the musical world with this scale.

The first note is the root.  So if you play this on the 5th fret you are playing the A (6th string 5th fret) minor pentatonic scale.

And another HINT: if you play this scale on the 12 fret (E minor pentatonic) you’re playing the SAME notes as the G sliding pentatonic above.  Lyndyr Skynard meets Jimmy Page.

Where to go from here

The skies the limit.  At this point you can find notes, chords (open string and bar), power chords and you know your pentatonic scales.  If you’re already at this point and want to to figure out what are the next steps, my next entry will discuss that.

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.

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

 

Product Review : Tascam GB10

Hi All –

Well, my birthday is coming up.  And if you’re like me, you need to help people know what you want or you’ll end up with another shirt to fill your closet 🙂

One of my long time friends and former students used Tascam equipment to practice with.  When I came over to jam, he’d usually play background tracks on it.  I thought it was cool, but didn’t really pay too much attention to it.

Then one of my current students got the Tascam GB10 and not being very technical, he had me help him set it up.  It’s not too confusing once you do it for the first time.

As a guitar player and teacher, I figure out most things by ear.  Once in a while I’ll look up tab on the internet, but most of the time it’s wrong (sorry guys) or incomplete.  Hey at least they’re sharing what they know, but for me, I want it to be right.

Since music is all digital now, I wanted some software that would slow the mp3 player down, but not affect the pitch.  There are several ones out there but I couldn’t make any of them work for me.  Either I couldn’t figure it out, or it was buggy.

Once I got my student’s Tascam loaded up with the right file type, he plugged it in and didn’t quite know what to do with it.  It was Lynyrd Skynyrd but Ronnie Van Zant sounded like a girl.  I finally got it adjusted down to the right key for him.

So I asked for one of these things for my birthday.  oddly, it isn’t available on musiciansfriend.com or sweetwater.com.  But it is available on Amazon so there’s where it came from.

It uses 2 AA batteries (or it can run of a wall plug, NOT INCLUDED – same thing with my Kindle Fire – why do they do that??).  It comes with one cord to plug into the USB port on the guitar.

So get the batteries in, plug into your computer, turn on the Tascam unit and it says “Power / Storage” – I took the Storage option.  This loads the unit’s directory in the Windows Explorer or Mac Finder.

Next, you need your music files in one of two formats: MP3 or WAV.  If you try an MP4 Tascam won’t display it.

Luckily, we use mostly MP3’s in the band so I had plenty to pick from.  (Note: if you’re plucking tunes from iTunes, you can export them as WAV files – that’s what I did for my student).  I had about 6 band tunes in mp4 format, but downloaded a free converter via cnet and voila!  I had MP3’s.

Then it’s a matter of dragging your mp3 files unto the music directory on the Tascam.  Unplug the unit and it will turn itself off.

Next, I plugged in my headphone in the headphone jack of the unit, my guitar into the guitar jack, and then you have to adjust the volume on the side so you can hear your guitar.  Then you have to make sure on the playback screen that “input” is “on” – by default it’s off.

Next, I found a song that I wanted to double check my chart with – “8 Second Ride”.  The introduction has given me problems on that one before and I’ve changed my chart twice.  Listening to it with headphones and slowing it down to about half speed, and immediately I found my mistake.  I was one note off.

Then in the same song, there is a lead part that is played throughout the song – I fixed a wrong note in that one too, plus it was easier to figure out the higher harmony part of the two guitar lead.  So on my first song, I fixed two mistakes I was making and figured out an additional part.  Not a bad beginning by any means.

I worked on another song that has a tricky intro – “A Woman Like You”.  Again, I could hear everything much easier when it’s slowed down and I can “loop” a section indefinitely if I need to keep hearing it.

The Tascam slows things down in 10% increments, which some people in other reviews didn’t like – they wanted finer control over this.  However, that works fine for me.

The Tascam can also change the Key of the music (as noted above in my student’s Lynyrd Skynyrd song).  I’m not sure if I need to use that at this point, but could come in handy later if we change  a key for vocal reasons.  It might also help with artists like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Van Halen who tune down a half step.  Why re tune the guitar when you can press a button?

You can also record with this thing but I haven’t gotten that far with it yet.

So for $112, it’s a bit pricey but if you can call in some birthday or Christmas favors it might be worth it.  I’m glad I got it.  I’m also working on Stevie Ray Vaughn’s version of VooDoo Chile and there are 2 or 3 bursts of notes in his solo that I can definitely use this tool on.

Happy Jamming!

Spencer

 

But I’m not Chinese!!

Hey folks –

Yes I know that title makes no sense, but hear me out.

The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article written by Amy Chua entitled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” which inspired thousands of comments, both for and against Ms. Chua’s article.

Her article boiled down to a few main concepts –

1) Getting A’s is the most important thing (no sports, sleep overs, etc)

2) You MUST take piano or violin

3) Anything less than an “A” is unacceptable unless it’s gym class.

Well, I read the whole thing and to be honest, I didn’t see it as all bad or all good. There were aspects in that article I liked.

No, I’m not advocating taking away your child’s right to food, water, and bathroom breaks when practicing. I think that hammering a young person into conforming stifles creativity and self expression. But some of the ideas expressed in the article might be key to getting past road blocks in your (or my) development.

First, I would take “failure is not an option” and instead use “Aim High”. When my boys struggle to get good grades in a class, I don’t push for a B anymore. I tell them “There’s no reason why you can’t get an A in this class so work for it”. Even if the A doesn’t come, they will do better than if they’d aimed to get a “B”.

Second – positive mental attitude. My sons have struggled with this at times and I have too when it comes to my day job.

Four years ago I had my dream job – the one I’d worked for, gone to school for, and finally had it. I was successful, I’d built a team that was getting the job done. But a reorganization of upper management put in place a new VP who played favorites. Unaware of this, I went about business as usual and when I went on vacation (2 months before reviews) I came back to a list of complaints from my director who had gone through all my work while I was gone. The complaints continued, I got a bad review and pushed to another team. My replacement, who I met with, said within the first minute of our meeting “The VP said I had a job here as long as I want it!”.

I went to manage a team in an area I didn’t like. A year later I was moved to manage a team I liked even less. Then I was given a chance to go back to computer programming in Java again, I took it, and while the work was interesting, my new boss hated me. Another bad review, kicked off THAT team and landed where I currently am now.

Now my new boss has been fine, the work somewhat interesting, but guess where my attitude was by now? Right, in the dumpster. And it stayed that way for a while.

Recently I’ve been working on changing my attitude, if not for the company, at least for the quality of work I should be doing. With a bad attitude towards your school, your teacher, your work, your boss, there is little room for success. My son criticized his school everyday and came home with some really bad grades.

My suggestion?

Stop saying/thinking negative thoughts. Catch your self in the act “this job is horrible” – and interrupt it with something else. Find satisfaction in SOME aspect. For a student, you can watch that D turn into a C, then into a B, and finally an A.

Focus (i.e. stop being lazy): When one of my sons struggled with math, I asked him how many hours a week does he spend on soccer? His answer: 30. How many on math? 2. Guess which one he was better at?

We need to make up our mind that we are GOING to do something and it starts now. Once started, it gets easier. I hate to clean my desk. Hate it. But once I get started, I don’t want to be interrupted until it’s done, cleared, and smelling like some sort of furniture polish.

Set goals – I will do “this”, “this” amount of time or for this long or this many times a week.

The more you accomplish, the more fun something gets: This is a point that Ms. Chua makes towards the end of her article after berating and ceaselessly pressuring her 7 year old to play a piece on the piano. When her child was able to play the piece, the joy, the relief, the sense of accomplishment gives the child new confidence. Ok, this is a valid point. But for her, the ends justifies the means. I won’t do that to my kids (as much), but I will push. I will remove distractions, I will ground my kids, and I will work with them on what’s stopping them from being successful.

The same thing goes for my work. My work had been sloppy. My manager has noticed it and mentioned a few things. From here on, I plan to dot the i’s and cross the t’s – and maybe I can stay here long enough to find a new job elsewhere 🙂

Check your attitude, focus on goals, and remember success builds on success.

Spencer Out