What Makes a Great Guitar Player Great?

We’re going to take a little break today from the equipment reviews and learning lessons to analyze a question that often gets asked of us here at Guitar Talk.  What makes a great guitar player great?  Every budding young guitarist out there wants to achieve this magical term “greatness.”  What does that mean?  When will you know you are great?  What goes into the soup of guitar playing that will eventually lead you to achieving this dream?  The bad news is there isn’t a concrete answer to this question.  The good news is that the reason there isn’t a concrete answer is because it’s different for each and every single one of us.

Fundamentals

Gotta start somewhere, right? Grab yourself a classic Mel Bay book if you are unsure where to begin.

Like a professional athlete, it doesn’t matter what level musician you are.  Maybe you are still in the bedroom kicking it around with a practice amp and making your parents angry.  Maybe you have a band and you are doing the bar scene in your hometown.  Or perhaps you are playing sold-out arenas on a massive world tour with a group that is selling millions of records.  All of these scenarios have one thing in common:  without the fundamentals, they could not exist.

Before you learn the flashy, fun things, you have to learn the basics.  We’re talking scale runs, arpeggios, and of course, chords.  We’re talking good posture and building some endurance in those fingers and arms.  Everyone wants to graduate to the soaring solo, but always look to the fundamentals for a place to start.  Remember, no matter how great a guitarist is, they started in the same place doing the same thing you are doing right now.  That’s a pretty powerful message if you think about it.

Transcending Basic Metrics

Do you know how to finger tap?  You do?  Good, now you’re a great guitar player.  Do you know how to use a whammy bar?  Deep dives?  Great.  Now, you’re a great guitar player.  Wait.  You say you know all the chords in all the positions?  Wow.  That’s really something.

Basic metrics are okay.  Don’t get us wrong.  You need some guidelines to compare your playing to that of others to know how you are making progress.  This section is about how non-musicians perceive guitarists.  Use that as an inspiration.

See, when people that don’t know anything about guitar playing see musicians doing things, they don’t measure things that way.  They don’t understand technical prowess on the instrument the way someone with some experience may.  We all know examples of ordinary folks thinking a lead part is amazing when every guitarist worth his salt knows it’s not even really that hard.  We also all know stories of those same ordinary folks going to grab a beer or to the restroom at a concert while a guitarist embarks on a solo that those that know what’s up realize is one for the ages.

This may seem disappointing at first glance, but it is a great way for you to understand how this really works.  See, this intangible “greatness” we are seeking here transcends metrics.  Great guitar players connect with everyone, regardless of whether they understand how proficient they really are with their instrument.  It’s about a connection that goes beyond the technical aspects of guitar playing, and if you name any “great” guitar player, I promise you that they have this attribute.

What makes a great guitar player great?  More than anything, it’s getting his or her point across through the music.  It’s touching another person and making their spine tingle.  That’s true greatness, and that’s what you should be shooting for.

Creativity Vs. Repetition

Sometimes it depends on your viewpoint on things.  What do you put more emphasis on when you are determining whether a guitar player is truly great?  That they know lots of songs and parts and deliver them flawlessly night after night?  Or because they are constantly trailblazing and creating new songs and parts that will change the game?  There’s no right or wrong answer.

We usually know greatness when we see it, even if we don’t know that much about the subject matter.

Many bands appreciate a good, solid guitar player that nails his parts without fail.  That is the basis of a tight band, after all.  Now, don’t misinterpret what we are saying here, because everyone knows that Jimi Hendrix is a great guitarist.  However, he never played any of his parts the same way twice.  Yes, he would hit the major riffs, but he let his guitar playing breathe, and everyone that ever got to see him live was witnessing his boundless creativity on display from the opening note to the encore.  That’s some true greatness right there.

Great guitar players are solid.  They can deliver over and over again.  They also want to push the envelope and get out of their comfort zone sometimes, even if it is a creative risk.  That’s the price of greatness.  There’s a risk and reward for every choice you make, and this is no different.

Transcending the Rig

We’re all about the gear here at Guitar Talk.  No question.  We can spend hours talking about the latest, greatest effects units or guitar amplifiers.  So, we’re not trying to say that a player’s tone doesn’t weigh into this equation.  It most certainly does.  However, we think that if you want to talk seriously great guitar playing, we think the ability to move beyond the rig is a factor.

Cut the cord.

You probably know the type.  He or she turns the distortion or delay up to a massive level and they sound amazing.  They can do all the runs, all those soaring string bends, and they know how to wield it so they look cool doing it.  Then, you see them doodling around on an acoustic and you realize that those effects make that player.  Without all their fancy equipment, they just can’t deliver on that next level.

The truly great players will blow your mind, because they can deliver just the same with an acoustic around the campfire that they can with a huge stack of amplifiers and effects loops.  No one’s suggesting getting rid of those wonderful sounds that effects can bring, but if you want to to talk greatness, great guitar players can deliver the old-fashioned way as well, and we believe this is worth including in the equation if you really want to have a discussion of what make a great guitar player great.  Broaden your horizons.  Tie one hand behind your back (figuratively, not literally) and try to bring the magic without all the tech gizzmos.  It’s a challenge that can help take your playing to the next level.

The Verdict — Greatness is Hard to Define

Greatness is hard to define, but the beauty of it is that almost everyone recognizes it when they see it.  That kind of says it all, doesn’t it?  Don’t spend so much time worrying about whether you are reaching that level or whether you ever will.  It’s a lot more important to give whatever you are working on at the moment your all, because without that level of dedication, you can be assured that great guitar playing will never come.

How to Keep a Band Together

Every successful band at any level in the game fights the nemesis.  Bands don’t last forever.  People don’t stay together.  Egos flex and tempers flare.  Forming a band is hard enough, but keeping a charismatic group together usually proves even more difficult.  We here at Just Guitar Talk are going to take a moment to look at how to keep a band together if you are fortunate enough to have found a group that has what it takes to succeed.

Be Inclusive

Whether you are a major recording band that puts out albums and world tours or a primo cover band in your own neck of the woods, being inclusive is a huge part of keeping a band together.  What exactly does that mean?  Easy.  A band is a group of people with different skills sets and tastes that are working toward a common goal.  Don’t let any one member of the band fully dictate everything.  Yes, there is going to be a leader.  That is not unhealthy at all.  We need leaders.  However, we want a leader that is including the views of everyone in the group and not just being a dictator.

That doesn’t mean that just because one member of the band likes reggae, for an example, that you have to turn into the next incarnation of Bob Marley.  It means that maybe you can throw that member of the band a bone and play a tune that is in his or her wheelhouse once in a while.  If your lead singer can’t pull it off, maybe you let someone else take the helm for a song or two, or better yet, go for a soulful instrumental.  Don’t let anyone get bored with the material and keep it fresh.

Understand Obligations

If you’re not a full-on professional band, everyone in the group probably has day jobs.  This is pretty normal.  Be understanding that people have jobs and families, and not everyone is going to have the same schedule of availability.  Now when we say that you need to be understanding, we mean it to a point.  If someone is clearly not available enough to fulfill their duties, then it may be time to think about a change.  Generally speaking though, members should understand each other’s obligations and pledge to work around it, especially for rehearsal.

A lot of bands have to spend a lot of time in very close proximity to each other, so getting along can be difficult.

While the focus of this article is keeping a good band together, we can’t stress enough the importance of having backups from time to time.  It’s very healthy for everyone to have some alternate players that can step in when there is an emergency or when someone just needs a good break.  Having some play in the schedule can be a big factor in whether band members stay or go.  Having backups also is a great strategy because it means when someone does bail out, the replacement is a very natural foregone conclusion.  Like a sports team, the second string moves up and gets the start.

Keep Your Finances and Equipment In Order

Many a band has broken up over money or equipment.  If you are pooling band revenue together for things, make sure it makes sense for everyone.  No one wants to pool their money into the band fund so the guitar player can get his dream axe.  That’s not a community investment.  That’s a personal one.  Understand what the community funds are for and stick to the plan.

For example, things relating to the show would be community fund situations.  Think speakers, subs, monitors, cables, and PA-related items.  These are the kinds of things that the pooled money can go for, and more importantly, there needs to be an understanding from all members that community items belong to the band and if someone up and leaves, they forfeit that item, or their stake in it.  Some bands deal with this by buying out a departed member.  Whatever the deal is, you need to stick to it and make sure that there are no exceptions.  Keep the money on the up and up and your band will always be happier.

Take a Deep Breath Sometimes

Everything always looks great on stage, but it’s off the stage where relationships suffer.

Tempers are going to flare, both on stage and behind the scenes.  If you are really angry, take a deep breath.  Remember these are your friends and co-workers at the same time.  Think about what you say before you say it.  Is it really worth it?  Is everyone just a little short because everyone worked long days at their normal job and then showed up for a three-hour rehearsal on top of it.  Sometimes a little restraint can really save the day.  Let it breathe, and don’t take every little thing that gets said to heart.  Remember how fun it is when your band is in the pocket.  Is whatever you are angry about right now worth ruining that potentially for good?  Usually it’s not.  Take a breath.  Go out for some fresh air.  Call it a night.  Do whatever you got to do, but watch out before you say something you’ll regret in the morning and in ten years.

Split the Work Like You Split the Money

It’s typical for some members of a successful band to know exactly what chunk of the take they are supposed to have in their hands when they leave, but don’t think they have any other duty to the band experience but to pick up their own guitar or amp and make for the exit.  Someone has to load all the stuff up, and some members are going to have more of their own stuff than others.

If you are a guitarist, bassist, or lead singer, realize that the drummer has a heavy load.  Don’t put your mic up and then act like you don’t see him back there.  Offer to help.  Don’t let anyone in the band become the roadie by accident.  Everyone should be jumping in and helping load the heavy equipment.  Do your backs a favor too and put it on rollers.  Don’t wear out anyone carrying heavy loads all the time.  Those kinds of things to make it easier can come out of the community fund.

The Verdict — Be Nice

At its heart, it’s not really that profound of advice we are giving here.  Be nice to your bandmates.  Be helpful.  Include everyone and listen to everyone’s ideas and opinions.  Don’t let anyone feel like they are being taken advantage of.  Keep business business and personal personal.

Actually, most of the tips here will go pretty far in helping you in general life as well, so please take it to heart.  Thanks for reading.

What Is A Good Guitar For Beginners?

So, you’re thinking about taking the plunge and starting to learn the fine art of playing guitar.  Or maybe you have a kid that is interested and you don’t know a whole lot about it.  There are so many choices out there, and you don’t really know what you are looking at.  On top of that, maybe you are concerned that yourself or your child won’t really stick with this, so you don’t want to drop a whole lot of cash on something that may end up in a closet somewhere.  These questions and more are why we are here with our latest article to help you figure out just what is a good guitar for beginners.

Electric or Acoustic?

While there are many types of guitars out there, taking a broad look, there is two definitive categories.  Electric guitars and acoustic guitars.  Now, we know there is such a thing as an electric-acoustic, but that is for a pretty special demographic.  As the title suggests, we are talking about first-time just-starting-out potential guitarists here, so let’s keep it simple, shall we?

Most people probably know the major differences here.  An acoustic guitar is made to resonate and be played without any need for amplification.  They are bigger than electric guitars because of the way the body is designed to get that sound.  You might be surprised that bigger does not necessarily equal heavier though.  Most acoustics are mostly hollow in that big part, so they generally are lighter than their electric guitar counterparts.

Electric guitars are made to be plugged into an amplifier which takes the signal from the guitar and then outputs it through the speaker.  While electric guitars do make audible sounds, they are very quiet.  You would not want an electric guitar if you were not going to have an amplifier of some kind.

Starter kits come with everything you need to begin. This can be a great gift to cover all the bases, and they aren’t really that expensive.

Those were the major differences that most people could tell you even if they have never picked up either one.  There’s more to it than that, however.  Think about portability.  An acoustic is great because you can just throw it in a guitar case and go.  No cables or amplifiers or a need for power plugs or batteries.  Electrics require all of those things if you are going to play for real, so that is something to consider.  Having said that, an acoustic can only get so quiet by its very nature.  Electric guitar amps usually feature headphones, and you can keep them pretty quiet if you need to.  So, if you are buying for your kid and don’t want to hear G chords being banged badly a million times, the electric might be the better option.

Like most things, it depends on exactly what your goals are.  It’s also important to realize that nothing is in stone.  Guitars hold their value very well, so if you decided later you wanted to trade in for one or the other, you could certainly do that.  Also, most guitarists that are serious are going to end up wanting both of these at some point, so don’t sweat the decision too much.

One last thing to consider is ease of play.  Electric guitar strings are easier to push down and hold down on the fret board.  While you can certainly bend strings on an acoustic as well, electric guitar is usually associated with string bending and lead guitar for this reason.  Acoustic guitars are going to hurt your fingers, and they may even bleed until calluses form.  The positive of this is that once you conquer that part of playing acoustic, you are good and won’t have to worry about it even if you change to electric.  If you learn on electric, you may be surprised how much harder it is when you switch to acoustic.

So, What Now?

You’ve got in mind which major direction you want to go in.  So, where do we go from here?  Well, there are plenty of great acoustic guitar brands out there.  The best way to pick out something is to go to a music store that has a good selection and give them a whirl.  Let us warn you up front.  Whether you are shopping for yourself or your child, let it be known that the more expensive guitars are going to sound better and feel like they were made just for you to go in your hands.  This is part of the game.  Now, if you are willing to drop the cash, then go for the $1500 Takamine right out of the gate.  No shame.  If you’re pretty normal, though, you probably want to limit your options for a beginner guitar to the under $500 crowd.  You can always trade up or buy something better later.  Remember, this is to get your feet wet.

Before you pull the trigger on your favorite, consider other options.  Guitars hold value well, so you will find them for sale all over your town or the Internet.  You may be able to save considerable money by finding someone out there that needs to offload one of these bad.  Every musician has that story about picking up a $1000 guitar for $250 because someone was desperate to pay the rent.  Keep your eyes open for a good deal.  Check your local newspaper, pawn shops, and even eBay.  There’s nothing wrong with secondhand, especially when it comes to music instruments.

If you are looking to go the electric guitar route, you will have the extra challenge of shopping amps and accessories.  We recommend that you get one of the cool starter packs that come with everything you need for the budding young guitarist.  These starter packs usually include a practice amp, the guitar itself, a case to put it in perhaps, and the cables you need to make it all work.  Every major brand is going to have their own take on this.  It’s hard to go wrong with big names like Fender.  Squier guitars are a lot cheaper than their Fender counterparts, but they are absolutely fine for learning too.

We are at a good point for consumers with this technology.  Really, there are not really any guitars that are just out and out bad.  Sure, the higher prices are going to bring more quality and durability.  That is to be expected, but the bottom line is that the lowest Fender on the totem pole is still a fine musical instrument.

Accessories

No matter which way you go, you are going to need a few more things to get started than just the guitar itself.  Cases are not always included in the deal.  A lot of guitars will give you a soft case with the guitar, but if you are planning on doing a lot of carrying it around, you may want to pony up for a hard case.  These are definitely expensive, but compared to finding your neck broken in two, they aren’t really that bad.  Also, a tuner and some picks is a no brainer if you are looking for some extra stocking stuffers to go with the guitar.

Learning means breaking strings. Throw in an extra pack for a stocking stuffer.

If you’re going electric, throw in some extra strings for sure.  Acoustic strings can break too, but anyone learning on electric is going to bust a string trying to bend notes pretty soon.  The sky is the limit when you are talking electric guitar accessories.  There are effects pedals galore to pick from that can influence your sound, but that is probably not something to get to involved with at the beginner level.  A lot of amps these days have built-in effects anyway if you just wanted to give it a whirl.

The Verdict — You Can’t Lose

Cheap guitars or expensive guitars?  Electric or acoustic?  The bottom line is you are making a great purchase.  There really are not that many terrible guitars out there.  The best bet is to pick something middle tier, see if you are going to stay committed, and then trade up or buy what you really want on down the road.  It’s a great hobby, and this is the entrance to that hobby, but don’t think that you have to drop thousands just to see if you like it.  Try different varieties and see what you have.  If you live in a rural area, plan that road trip.  It will be worth it to give your potential instrument a good test drive.  Guitars are not the kind of thing you want to buy sight unseen unless you are completely sure of what you are after.  Remember, this is the first step toward finding the sound that works for you, so take your time and make a good decision that you won’t regret later.

How to Use Guitar Tabs

Guitar tablature is a great way for beginning guitarists to disect some of their favorite songs without the express need to read real sheet music or even necessarily have a working knowledge of scales and chords.  While learning to read music is a definite way to take your guitar and songwriting to a new level, it not necessary at all to play along with guitar tabs.  That’s exactly what they were created for.  Still, there is a small learning curve.  You have to learn how to use guitar tabs, but fortunately, you have come to the right place.  We are going to show you how to get started playing with guitar tabs for beginners.

The Basic Concept

Guitar tabs have lines that run horizontal, very similar to sheet music.  These lines are actually the strings of the guitar.  As you look at tab, the bottom string is your thickest string, the E that is the first one you see when you look down at your guitar.  From there, the lines represent the other strings, ending in what would be your thinnest string, also E but much higher.  It is designed so that you look at the tablature the same way you look down at your guitar when you go to put your fingers on the fretboard.

Easy enough, right?  You got it.  Next, there are numbers on these lines.  These represent frets.  Depending on your guitar, you may have the dot system to help you know which frets are which at a quick glance.  Guitars with these features usually have dots at every third fret and two dots to show the twelfth fret which is the octave.  That just means that at the double dots, it basically starts over, albeit higher in pitch.  So, all you are doing is playing the note that corresponds with the string and the fretboard.  If a zero is on the tab, it means to play the note “open.”  This means that you strike the string with no fret pressed down.

If more than one note is in a perpendicular line, they are to be played together.  This could be a chord shape or some sort of lead guitar double stop move.  This is the basics of guitar tablature.  It’s really that simple.  The rest is up to you.

Higher Levels

Tabs may include moves for more seasoned guitarists.  For example, string bends are denoted on tabs with symbols that connect two numbers together.  The idea here is to bend the string until you reach the pitch of the fret connected.  Half and whole-step bends are common in tablature.  You may also see a line that goes straight down all of the lines.  This usually indicates using your index finger to bar all the strings shown to make a chord shape.

Open For Interpretation

There are many ways to play any note or chord on a guitar.  When you are reading guitar tabs, you are basically viewing the interpretation of whoever made the tab.  On the Internet, these interpretations could vary widely.  Sometimes it’s good to get a second opinion if the tablature you are following doesn’t sound like you thought it would.  It’s also possible that the way it is tabbed is not necessarily the most fret-economic way to play it.  Maybe using a different string or scale might make a note more accessible.  Sometimes it has to be the way it is to get the desired sound, regardless of fret locations and convenience.  Tabs vary widely, especially in the uncontrolled web environment.  If you think the tab isn’t turning out all that great, it may very well be because it’s wrong.  Take online guitar tabs with a grain of salt.  They are better to use as a launching point for figuring things out on your own than as guitar gospel.

Where Tabs are Lacking

Tabs can have a difficult time portraying timing and things like that.  Sometimes the best way to follow a tab is to throw the record on and see if it makes more sense when playing with the actual music.  You may find that the notes move much faster than it seemed in tablature form.  Or you may be rushing through them when they actually have a lot of breathing space in reality.  Tabs are a great way to get an idea, but a lot of the feel and rhythm is going to have to be determined some other way.  For this reason, tabs are not nearly as accurate as sheet music.  For example, it would be very difficult to play a guitar tab of a song you did not have any knowledge of and play it exactly right by the tab alone.  Sheet music is actually designed so that someone can come along and play it straight from the music.  This is where tab is different and much less consistent.

The Verdict — Use Tabs At Your Own Risk

Tabs are a great way to crack that amazing solo that is giving you fits, but don’t rely on tabs too much.  Learn the scales and even some music theory, and you’ll find yourself relying on tabs less and less.  This will pay off big dividends in the long run for your playing, both privately and when you jam along with a band or friends.  Still, tabs are very useful tools, and there are dozens of sites online where people have donated their own interpretation of the tablature for songs.  It’s fun to check these out, and maybe you’ll even want to make a contribution of your own.  Just know that not every tab is a slam dunk for accuracy, and there’s always a second or third opinion out there just a click away.

Where Can I Get Help Writing Songs?

Sometimes you sit down with your guitar and find yourself writing a song as if you were fishing in a pond and just caught it on your line.  That’s a great feeling, and many hit songs have been written this way over the decades.  However, if you are going to be a decently successful songwriter on a daily basis, you are going to have times when it doesn’t go quite like that, and that is where a little collaboration might come in handy.  Now, if you have family or friends (or a band, better yet) that are into this sort of thing, well, that is obviously the first place you ought to start.  It can be hard to find someone who is in to exactly what you are, and even if you do, there are scheduling conflicts and all of that.  It’s hard to get a band together for the same reasons, and even more difficult to keep a band together.  Fortunately, the Internet is here with other ways to get help writing songs on your schedule in a way that is beneficial for all parties.

For When You Know Exactly What You Need

So you have the music, but you need lyrics.  Or you have the lyrics but you don’t have a clue what to do with the music.  These are easy situations here.  There are tons of websites and forums that exist just to help people get together on these types of pairings.  Maybe you are Elton John looking for your Bernie Taupin.  There are plenty of places to get started.  There are even sites that claim to create song lyrics with artificial intelligence.  Don’t know how much I would trust something like that, but you never know.  It might give you some sort of inspiration to set you off in the right direction.  Here’s some good sites to give a try if this is the sort of thing you are looking for:

  • Song Lyrics Generator – The title says it all.  This site will take into account a few answers to your questions and then spit you out your next #1 hit on the charts.  Like we said above, that’s probably fairly unlikely, and we’re not sure who gets the songwriting credit if it did work, but still, it can inspire you to look at things from a way that you hadn’t before.  It may be worth a look in a pinch.
  • Lyric Critique – This site is a general songwriting forum that helps connect people.  It also is a great place to get some constructive criticism about the ideas you already have.  These sorts of forums are nice because you can often peruse the lyrics out there without having to go to a lot of trouble or pay any money.  This way you can get an idea of whether the community there is going to be in line with what you are trying to do.
  • Muse Songwriters – Another great site for feedback and to find others of similar interests.  These are not just good for finding music or lyrics but for finding all sorts of general information about getting started in the business.  You may make some very important connections socializing on forums like this.

For When You Really Know Exactly What You Need

Maybe you have a song and you want a certain musical instrument in there that you don’t own or know how to play.  Maybe you want to see what another musician might do improvisationally in a certain instrumental break.  Well, the Internet is to the rescue here yet again.  Kompoz Music Collaboration is the place for you.  This site allows you to share your creation with the community and request certain parts for others to deliver on.  The great part is that it doesn’t have any effect on your original recording, and you can audition as many of these potential collaborations as you like.

This type of community songwriting is something that has been going on in bands and songwriting clubs for years, but the Internet brings a new level of convenience and the ability to connect over thousands of miles.  That means more people out there to possibly connect with.  That can never be a bad thing.  The best thing about this is while there is a premium element to it with upgraded features, you can do everything we just talked about without spending a dime.  It’s definitely worth checking out.

When You Just Need to Jam

There are a few websites out there that connect musicians over the net to actually have jam sessions.  You can connect a webcam if you like and use your computer’s audio interface to have a real-time jam session with other musicians anywhere in the world.  That’s impressive for sure, and there are those stories of bands using this type of application to actually hold rehearsals in different towns or even countries.  The caveat here is that you really need to have a great Internet connection to pull this off.  Not to mention the others you are jamming with will have to have great connections as well.

You are asking a lot from your bandwidth here.  You may be broadcasting video of yourself playing.  You are also sending audio, and maybe even holding a chatline open.  Then, on top of that, because you are playing in real time, you have to have as close to zero latency as possible.  Latency is what you hear gamers talking about when they say that hated word “Lag.”  There is always some latency in Internet applications, but when you are playing music together, it is going to be even more noticeable than ordinary activities.  Still, if you do have the right setup, this is a wonderful way to meet other musicians and collaborate on new ideas.  Just go to Google and type in “online jam session” and you will get plenty of results.  Some of the sites are free and some are paid sites.  You will have to try your luck and see what kind of results you get with them.  It varies depending on your connection, what you are trying to do, and where the site is in relation to you and the ones you want to play with.

No More Excuses

You see, there are no more excuses for you now.  You can’t blame not working on your songwriting on not having anyone around to play with.  You can’t blame it on not knowing how to write good lyrics or how to put the music together.  As long as you have something, you can use any of these strategies we have listed to get help writing songs.  So, get to it.  There’s not time like the present to get started.

How to Write Your Own Song Lyrics

So you’ve got some good licks or a nice chord progression put together, and maybe you even have a melody line worked out to go over it.  What now?  Well, if you really want to take your songwriting to the next level, you are going to have to write lyrics.  For some people, this comes really naturally, and for others, there may be a definite line of separation between creating music and creating lyrics.  Whichever side of the fence you fall on, we here at Just Guitar Talk are going to help you out with some tips about how to write your own song lyrics to hopefully jump-start your imagination.

The Approach is Up to You

Some guitarists try to write lyrics and music all in one go.  Others see it as a two-part operation.  There is no right or wrong way to write lyrics to your songs.  It’s also entirely possible that you could come up with a verse or a chorus that sounds okay for now and then a few weeks later, you come up with something entirely different that you feel is better.  It’s all part of the process, and it’s important to not limit your approach.

Let’s face it.  Everyone would pick to do it simultaneously if they could.  And in your songwriting career, you may have some songs that come that easily.  Others you may have to really work at.  Don’t write off a musical idea just because the lyrics aren’t speaking to you right now.  That’s where recording comes in.  We’re not talking necessarily studio quality recordings, but get that musical idea down in a medium so you can revisit it later.  You can always review your ideas on down the road and see if the lyrics speak to you then.  Also, some people find that taking a more absent-minded approach works better.  For example, play your music in the car.  While you are driving, it seems like a certain portion of your mind is caught up in the managing of the vehicle, but your subconscious takes over and you may find lyrics drifting in even though you are not really focusing or trying that hard.  Many a song has been written while not necessarily trying to write a song at that particular moment.  This is all part of the game and what makes songwriting so special.

It Doesn’t Have to Happen All At Once

So you have a great chorus that is sure to be a hit song, but you still have nothing for the verses.  Don’t worry.  Rome wasn’t built in a day as the saying goes, and you don’t have to write a song all in one go for it to be a masterpiece.  You might have to take a few lines here and there as they come.  That’s okay.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t good at what you are doing.  As a matter of fact, it might just indicate that you are really good at it because you understand that perseverance and looking at things from different emotional standpoints is a major piece of the songwriting puzzle.

Listen, Listen, Listen and Read, Read, Read

There’s probably no better way to get inspired than to listen to the work of others.  We’re not talking copying them, but listening to phrasing and how songs are put together.  Become a student of the craft of songwriting, and start listening to every song you hear and analyzing the structure and the theme.  Notice how important phrasing can be, and how it can take two very similar chord progressions and make them sound completely different.  Also, listen to how different songwriters use the silence.  Silence is severely underrated in songwriting.  Know when to say nothing at all.  Much like soloing for lead guitars, knowing when to keep it simple is what usually separates the masters from the average.  Silence can be your friend at times.

Also, don’t limit yourself to music for inspiration.  At the heart of any song is usually poetry, and reading some poetry that is not meant to go with music can still be useful to you.  Poetry is famous for meters that pace the way the poem is read, and this is very similar to the basis of rhythms in music.  Read all you can get your hands on and explore new types of poetry that venture outside the classic rhyme scheme that we are all so familiar with from childhood.  Expand your horizons and you might find yourself with bold, new ideas that take you in directions you may have never explored on your own.

Use a Thesaurus

Have an idea for how the lyrics should go in a part of your song but don’t like the ring of it?  Use a thesaurus.  That’s right.  That book that no one uses after high school that gives you synonyms and antonyms for words.  Well, now is one of those rare occasions when it can really help out.  Don’t have one lying around the house?  No problem.  The Internet is full of similar things, and you can even get one for your smartphone.  There’s never an excuse to not be able to explore the myriad of options the English language has to offer to your songwriting.

The Verdict — You Can Do It

The theme of this article is good.  Don’t limit your approach.  There is more than one way to write a song.  Try different combinations until you find the one that is right for you.  Get inspired by those that have come before you, and put that inspiration to work every chance you get.  Remember, songwriting is not a job with a schedule and a time clock.  While you are driving down the road, you are songwriting.  While you are working at your day job, you are songwriting.  While you are enjoying Thanksgiving turkey, you are songwriting.

You can’t turn creativity off.  That’s a good thing.  If you got it, you’ve got it, so you may as well use it.  Thanks for reading and stay tuned because we will have more articles that zone in on all of the topics presented here in more detail.

How to Write a Song With a Guitar

So, you’ve mastered the basics, learned some good songs for the cover band crowd, and now you are thinking it’s time to create something of your very own.  That’s a great step.  I, for one, believe that there is nothing more important for guitar players than to embrace your own creativity.  Maybe your chords and lyrics will eventually inspire a fanbase, or maybe you are just playing on the porch swing.  Doesn’t matter.  Creativity is the absolute heart of guitar playing, and everything you are aspiring to be wouldn’t exist if no one was intent on writing songs.  It’s never too early to start trying to create your own music, but this article assumes that you are an intermediate player at least.  With that being said, let’s get down to the basics of how to write a song with a guitar.

The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

Tools to help you come up with new progressions are priceless.

One of the best ways to write songs with a guitar is to play around with rhythm guitar.  An important thing to remember is that there is more to rhythm than just the chords you select.  The way you are strumming the strings can be just as important.  Remember, when you are playing guitar alone, the strumming is the backbone of whatever you are creating.  Try different patterns and see what inspires you.  Try new chord progressions you may not usually go for.  Start to lose yourself in the music and see what comes to your mind.

Record Everything — You Just Never Know

Many a musician can tell the story of the one that got away.  Sometimes when you are vibing off of a great riff or progression, you think there’s no way you are going to forget this awesomeness.  Then, you go off to school or work for hours and you come back, and suddenly, those same combination of chords just doesn’t speak to you the way it did before.  That’s why if you want to be a songwriter, you need to always have a way to document a good idea when it comes to you.  Smartphones make this easier than ever.  You don’t have to have a polished concept.  Just record you playing your idea and capturing the all-important vibe.  Even if you don’t have lyrics, but you do have a melody line in mind, then just hum some nonsensical lyrics over the rhythm.  The important thing is to not lose the idea.

Every Day is a New Day

So you have a good progression, but for the life of you can’t come up with any decent lyrics.  Don’t scrap it.  Tomorrow is another day.  Revisit old ideas regularly and see if they speak to you in different ways.  It’s very common to hear songwriters talk about how they threw an idea on the trash heap and it later ended up inspiring a hit song.  The way you are feeling today might not lend itself to the kind of music you have around, but you never know what the future holds.  Keep it all, and when you are feeling particularly uninspired, give it a play.  You might be surprised what you find.

Change Your Approach

It’s easy when doing creative things to get in a rut.  That’s why you have to keep it fresh.  Maybe you usually strum chords and try to find a progression that moves you.  Not working lately?  Change it up.  Start by finding a bassline groove instead.  Or play with some riffs.  Make a lead lick first and then try to plot some chords around it.

If you have been going at it all acoustic, maybe picking up an electric guitar with a little drive might lead you in a whole new direction.  Don’t limit yourself to one way of trying to write songs.  There are so many ways to approach it, and if you keep some variety in your process, you can help yourself stay out of a slump.

Change Your Environment

Everyone has a special place where they mostly do their writing, but sometimes a change of scenery can lead you on a whole new adventure.  Get out in nature.  Sit on the porch swing.  Go to the park.  Hang out by a waterfall.  People-watch on a street corner.  Take your guitar out into the world and see if it summons up new things as you try to create your next masterpiece.  A change of scenery can sometimes change your attitude.

Don’t Be a Loner

If you look on any CD jewel case you have around the house, you’ll often see two or maybe even three or four names as songwriter for some of your favorites.  That’s because more often than not, creating like this is a community effort.  Sure, people do write songs alone, but the roundtable style is very popular, especially in songwriting meccas like Nashville. If you know other people in your circles that are into songwriting, seek them out and get together.  There is no better way to challenge yourself creatively than to be social about it.  Be open to criticism, but more importantly, be open to creating even stronger ideas by bouncing them off of someone else.

There is no sure, definitive way to write a song with a guitar.  Fortunately, there are many, many non-definitive ways, so don’t let this get you down.  Try some of these tips to see what you can come up with, and always set aside time in your busy schedule to try to be creative.  The results could be a song that you cherish forever, and sometimes it feels like there are special moments where that song had to hit right then.  Otherwise, it would have never been a song.  So, when you are wondering if just sitting down and playing around for ten or fifteen minutes when you should probably be doing something else is worth it, just remember the potential payoff and the potential lost opportunity.  Now, get to strumming, and make sure your phone is charged up in case you need to record some of these fresh ideas.

Can You Learn Guitar Songs Online?

Back in the old days, the only way you were going to come up with some guitar tablature was to hope that there was a store in your area that carried sheet music.  There, if you were lucky, you might find a few major artists with a guitar songbook for sale.  The Internet changed all that.  Never before has it been easier to find information to get you started with almost any song you can name, whether its popular or not.  So, the answer is simple.  Can you learn guitar songs online?  Absolutely yes.  Now that we’ve got that spoiler out of the way, let’s talk about how to do it.

Too Good to Be True?

Yes, for no money at all (except the money you pay for an Internet connection of course), you can find guitar tabs and chords to almost any song you can think of.  You can even browse an artist’s entire catalog if you like.  It sounds great and it is great, but there are some things to consider.

First of all, the reason that there is such a wealth of tabs and chords out there is because it is created by the community.  Guitar tabs are not “official” in most cases.  This means that they were not tabbed from the official sheet music of the recording.  The good news about this is that it isn’t that bad because guitar songbooks were notoriously bad at this anyway.  Even really expensive songbooks from quality companies were a crapshoot.  They will show you how to play the notes but they might take great liberties on the method and style to do so.  For example, a songbook might teach you to play a simple open chord that has the right tonality when in reality there is a lot more embellishment going on.  I used to have a Prince songbook  when I was starting out for his greatest hits, and I can assure you that the tablature did not come close to helping you learn the unbelievable funk vamping going on on songs like Controversy or even Kiss.  It showed a chord box and told you what lyrics to play it under.  In some cases, it was actually a detriment.

The information online is probably of no less quality in that regard, but it has a good possibility of being wrong.  A lot of contributors just have a bad ear for music and think they are playing the right chord or tab.  You will immediately know when you hit that wrong note that you have gotten hold of a garbage tab.  Also, a lot of people that contribute these on the net are just doing it by themselves with a guitar.  They are not playing along with a record.  While they may have the right chord progression for whatever key they have decided to go with, when you play along with the record, you may realize that you are way off base.  Of course, depending on the situation, that might only be a quick capo move up or down the neck from being right.  It’s also possible that you like a different key than the record, especially if you find yourself unable to sing along in the original key.  Basically, there is good and bad to it, and you are going to encounter both.  That’s the price of getting free stuff.

How Do I Find Free Chords and Tabs?

We’re not trying to be smart here, but it couldn’t be easier.  Just use the old Google and type in the song you are after and then add in something like “guitar chords” or “tabs.”  Unless you are looking for something remarkably obscure, you will probably find at least a couple of hits for your search.  Then it’s just a matter of trying a few of them until you find one that is right or works for you the way the contributor did it.  It’s also possible that it might be right enough to set you on the right path to figuring out the missing parts yourself.

But I’m More Visual

You’re in luck.  YouTube is absolutely stacked with instructional videos, and while many are guitar lessons, there are plenty of lessons that are just geared toward one song.  Give the search engine a try.  If it’s anything even halfway popular, there’s bound to be more than one instructor showing you the ropes in close-up.  Even if it’s not that popular, give it a try anyway.  You might be surprised what’s out there.  Some of these channel operators even take requests or will teach you a song for a nominal fee.  There’s really no substitute for someone literally showing you one chord at a time how to play a song.  That used to cost big bucks if you wanted your guitar teacher to do it in person, but now there are dozens of ways to get lessons just like this on YouTube and the Internet in general.

The Verdict — Guitar Songs are Easy to Come By

The Internet has really changed the game on this, and now you most certainly can learn guitar songs online if you know where to look and have a little perseverance.  Google and YouTube are two excellent places to start.  If you don’t find them by searching easily, consider searching for fan pages of the artist you are looking for.  Many people have forums where they might post obscure songs from artists for the community that they know is interested.  For example, there are sites that specialize in Prince guitar tabs where you might find a B-side track that you wouldn’t be likely to stumble on through search engines alone.

These are viable strategies to open your horizons and learn new things.  In addition to just showing you the chords, many of the instructors on YouTube will introduce you to techniques along the way, many of which you may have not realized were being employed in the song or maybe you just hadn’t tackled yet.  The key to getting better on guitar and especially getting out of a learning rut is to keep challenging yourself with new and exciting things.  The world out there of chords and tablature makes it easy to always keep exploring the musical landscape to see what you can absorb.

Who is the Best Guitar Player in the World?

It doesn’t matter whether you are talking to hardcore, lifelong musicians or casual friends or family that no next to nothing about the guitar.  We at Just Guitar Talk constantly get this question.  Who is the best guitar player in the world?  It sounds simple enough on the surface, but the truth is that this is an extremely difficult question to answer.  We hope you won’t see this article as a cop-out, but let’s analyze this and see what we can come up with.

The Limitation of the Living

When people ask this question, they usually mean the best guitar player ever, not necessarily in the world right now.  After all, if you limit the options to the living, you are taking a lot of bad, bad men out of the mix.  That automatically disqualifies Jimi Hendrix, an artist that makes almost anyone’s short list for the GOAT.  As a matter of fact, Jimi is probably the only guitarist we could bring up that is almost universally recognized as being at least top 5.  He’s just one of many, many deceased guitarists that definitely could have made the claim to fame when they were alive.  So, first of all, what do you really mean here?  Are we talking living or all-time?  It makes a big difference.

Styles and Technology Make a Difference

It’s like asking someone what their favorite song is.  That’s tough, unless you have a very limited taste in music.  It’s probably a little easier to ask someone “What’s your favorite reggae song?”  To name just one song that is your overall favorite would be pretty tough for most people.  The same is true when trying to crown someone the best guitar player in the world.  Think of all the styles out there.  Think of primarily rhythm guitarists versus lead players.  Yes, most can do both at a comparable level, but we all know that most famous guitar players are known for one or the other predominantly.  Those that are recognized equally for both, such as Jimi again, almost deserve extra credit, don’t they?  What is the criteria here?

Some song books combine the best of both worlds with downloadable online tracks to play along with.

It gets difficult when you start crossing genres and styles.  Most people don’t associate country musicians with being unbelievable guitarists, but truthfully, a lot of country guitar solos would blow the socks off of their rock Pentatonic-loving counterparts.  See folks like Brad Paisley or Keith Urban for some living examples of this.  Then, you have genres like rock and funk where it’s difficult to set your playing apart because everything has been done before.  Think rock.  You can only play open and power chords so many ways, and you can be a really solid rhythm player, but no one is going to give you credit if most of the songs you jam to are power chord marathons.  The same is true for funk.  Everyone knows funk when they hear it, but making yourself sound different from the pack is challenging.  So, what makes the difference here?  Being really good at what you do?  Or being multi-faceted in your playing?

Then, on top of all that, there is an equipment barrier.  Technology does matter in this discussion.  Now, everyone alive now has pretty equal access to technology (if you were including the non-living, this would be much more critical), but there’s still an obvious difference between someone who can make an acoustic sing in its complete natural form and then someone using a ton of effects to get their sound.  Not that either is inferior, but if you are judging “the best,” then you have to think about these things.

Overplaying and Showing Out — A Factor?

See Eddie Van Halen if you need more explanation.  Eddie doesn’t let a song go by without getting in some fingertapping, stocatto bursts, and unbelievable bends.  It’s cool, and everyone knows he’s good.  However, there are tons of guitarists out there that don’t get as much respect as Eddie because they just don’t show off that much.  Think John Mayer or Richie Sambora, for a couple of active examples.  John Mayer can emulate Jimi or Stevie Ray Vaughan at will, but you wouldn’t really know that if you just listen to most of his studio recordings (Continuum excluded… that is a masterpiece, guitar included).  Richie has played pretty elementary rock solos with Bon Jovi for decades, but pick up his blues solo work and you will will be wondering if this is the same person.

The bottom line is that overplaying and showing out often makes the general public think you are better than others, but should we also consider doing the right thing at the right time for the song and the band as part of our equation?  That really changes the discussion, doesn’t it?  So, you can play your licks at 250 beats per minute, but does that matter if you are playing over a ballad?  Sure, you can fingertap, but does it work?  These are questions that come into play if you are really thinking about who is the best.

Having said that, some showing out is mandatory.  At their heart, every guitar player wants to go off a little bit on a solo or whatever they are doing.  That’s part of it.  But is it all of it?

The Verdict — Eye of the Beholder?

The bottom line to all of this discussion is simple.  Crowning a guitar player as the best guitar player in the world is not an easy job, and no one is going to ever be universally recognized.  If anyone is even close, it would be Jimi Hendrix for sure, but still, there are those that would find a way to disagree.  At the end of the day, the best guitar player is probably going to come down to the eye of the beholder.  Different people have different ways of looking at it.  Experience level counts big here too.  Experienced guitar players are probably going to have a different opinion than the layman that doesn’t know anything about it on a technical level.  That’s not saying that anyone’s opinion is invalid.  After all, people that don’t know a lot about guitar are still the primary puchasers of music.  Their opinion speaks volumes.  Still, many an everyday fellow thought a guitar lick was out-of-this-world difficult while a seasoned player is asking “What’s the big deal?”

So our question is who do you think is the best guitar player in the world?  We want to hear about it in the comments below.  Just be prepared to defend your case.  That is all we ask.

How to Tune a Guitar Without a Tuner

Technology is great these days, and almost every guitarist probably has a guitar tuner of some sort lying around.  The conventional way of tuning a guitar has been with a guitar tuner, but this has changed over the years.  Now, there are so many ways to tune your guitar that there really is no reason that you should ever not be able to get perfect tune no matter where you are.  That being said, we will review several different ways to tune a guitar without a conventional tuner in case you find yourself in a pinch.  We will even go over a way for you to tune up even if the nation suffers an electromagnetic pulse attack and the entire electrical grid goes down.  After all, in a situation like that, entertaining yourself with an old-fashioned acoustic guitar may be more important to you than ever.  In any case, let’s take a look at how to tune a guitar without a tuner.

Why Do I Need a Tuner Anyway?

Well, you don’t.  If you have a good enough ear, you can tune your guitar to itself.  Most guitar players learn how to tune their guitar to itself very early on and we are going to publish an article that outlines this procedure from beginning to end in the future.  For now, let’s just say that there is a pattern of holding down the strings that allows you to tune the five strings lower on the guitar to the one on the top.  That is, you tune the strings to be “in tune” with the low E bass string.  This is only as precise as your ear, although it has been successful for guitarists for generations.  The problems arise when you want to play with someone else.

Tuning — it’s pretty important if you want to sound good.

Guitars slip out of tune with time, especially if there is moisture or significant temperature differences.  Some guitars simply are more prone to slipping out of tune than others.  Of course, your string selection may play a part in this as well.  In any case, if you only tune your guitar to be in tune with itself, you may find that if you ever want to play along with a recording or with some friends that you guitar is way out of tune despite sounding just fine when you are strumming around by yourself.  So, even if you have an ear for tuning up, you are going to need to start somewhere.  The various types of tuning mechanisms we go over below will give you that way of knowing that at least your low E string is tuned to something relevant before you worry about the other strings.

Smartphones are Lifesavers for Tuners on the Go

You no longer have to have a standalone electronic guitar tuner with you to tune up.  It was a pain anyway.  You either have to have a plug going to a wall outlet or a battery that is just sure to run out of juice at the most inopportune time.  Nowadays, almost everyone is toting a smartphone in their pocket anyway, and luckily, there are now a multitude of applications available that allow for quick and accurate guitar tuning on the go.

Most tuning applications for smartphones use the built-in microphone on the device to “listen” to you as you pluck the strings.  Then, you get real-time feedback on how high or low your pitch is.  More advanced tuner applications include some pretty amazing features, like setting different tunings and even a metronome.  There’s really no reason to not have a tuner with you at all times when it is just this easy.

The Web Can Help

There are numerous websites that help out with guitar tuning in a pinch as well.  Some just play the pitch so you can match it, and others can actually use the computer’s inputs to analyze your signal and pitch.  These are useful because they are anywhere that you have Internet access.  The drawback, of course, is that you to have a computer or something capable of viewing web pages to use one of these.  Still, it’s a good option if you are just looking for a quick step in the right direction.

Kick It Old School With a Pitch Pipe

Pitch pipes give you the ultimate portability.

Before all of this electronic nonsense, people still tuned their guitars.  Your average guitar dealer probably has one for sale still in today’s world.  These are just little pipes that are engineered so that when you blow into it, you get the exact sound of the note that you are trying to tune your guitar to.  Once you get that one string in the right pitch, matching up the others is no big deal.  The obvious advantage of a pitch pipe is that it requires no power and can be taken absolutely anywhere, so it’s a great item to have in your backpack if you like to take your guitar off the grid.  The main disadvantage to this style of tuning is it is relying on your ear for accuracy, where as most electronic tuners are going to more precise.  This may not be a big deal if you are jamming by yourself, but could be more important when playing with other people.

As we mentioned earlier, the pitch pipe may be the gold standard if anything ever happened to the United States’ electrical grid, but mainly, it’s a surefire way to make sure that you can tune your guitar no matter what the situation.

The Verdict — Tuners are Plentiful These Days

Learning to tune your guitar by ear is a great skill, but it’s not as necessary in this age as it would have been a couple of decades ago.  There are all sorts of devices and mediums to help you get your guitar tuned up and playing in a perfect key in no time.  Always be prepared by having one of the devices above available just in case you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have your normal setup.  In the meantime, we will be reviewing several styles of tuners here on Just Guitar Talk, so stay tuned.