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.

How to Find Free Guitar Jam Tracks

So, you’ve learned some guitar scales, you are starting to mess around with a little lead, and you want to do some improvisation over some cool chord vamps.  Getting a band together is obviously the best way to do this as all of you can react to each other in real time.  However, there are going to be a lot of times when you are ready to rip some lead licks but there’s no one around.  That’s where jam tracks can really help you take your playing to the next level.  There are plenty of places to find free guitar jam tracks online, although these come with limitations.  We’ll analyze some great options here as well as how to get the most out of your jam track when you find it.

What’s a Jam Track Anyway?

Simple.  A jam track for guitar is just a recording of all the other instruments leaving it open for your improvisation.  This generally means lead licks.  Good jam tracks will have a revolving verse-chorus structure where you can really get a feel for the song and practice not just soloing constantly, but also pasting nice licks through the verses.  True improvisation isn’t just shredding all the time over the rhythm.  You also want to learn how to land those tasteful licks under a good vocalist’s lyrics.  Most of the free options are going to be just songs that you can play and it is what it is.  The premium options we will go over offer actual functionality in picking what instruments you want to hear on the track.

Where Can I Find a Free Jam Track?

It’s not hard.  They are everywhere, but a lot of people just have never thought to look.  Streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have guitar jam tracks readily available for streaming if you just search for those terms or something close to it.  Also, YouTube has hundreds of jam tracks.  You can even narrow things down by searching by the key you want to play in, the style you are after, or even a specific song that you want a jam track to be inspired from.  For example, if you wanted to jam to Prince’s classic “Purple Rain” you could search for a Purple Rain guitar jam track on YouTube.  It won’t be the Revolution, but it’ll probably capture the vibe of what you are trying to do.  And you can’t beat free.  That’s for sure.

So I Have a Jam Track…What Now?

Let it all hang out.  Play the track.  Most of them include the key.  If you are this level of guitarmanship, you should know what that means and where to start.  Let those licks go because no one is hearing them but you and your free improvisational band.  Try things you never would if other musicians were nearby.  Go for those bends that you thought you couldn’t pull off.  Try those hammer-ons.  Use the jam track as a way to experiment.  Also, use it as a way to get your timing down.  Learning how to wind down your lead phrasing in time with the jam is critical to improvising in a real band setting.  Jam tracks can be a great way to hone your skills.

With All This Available, Why Buy a Jam Track?

Well, if you wade into the pool of premium options that cost real money, what you see is more functionality.  You can actually customize the track to include whatever parts that you like.  One place you can do this affordably is our friends at Karaoke Version.  Say you wanted to download a backing track for Highway to Hell by AC/DC.  They have you covered.  Then, you can decide what instruments get played when, making your backing track fully customizable.  They have a very impressive database of songs to pick from where you will have this same latitude.  Most songs are less than three bucks, so why not pick up a few of your favorites that you can’t track down on YouTube and give this a whirl?

Play the Guitar in a Day? Don’t Fall For It

I was browsing at some amplifiers on Guitar Center’s website earlier today when I saw that magical message pop up in an ad along the sidebar.  “Play the Guitar in a Day” it said with a picture of a handsome young man really lighting up the fretboard.  That was all it said.  In the Internet world that’s called “clickbait.”  I didn’t want the company behind this ad to get a click out of me, so I didn’t follow the link, but it got me to thinking that maybe it was time to address this here on Just Guitar Talk.  See, I didn’t even care where that pretty little link went to, because I know that it simply does not matter.  You cannot learn to play the guitar in a day.  It’s simply not possible, and here on this site, we try to go in the exact opposite direction that this advertisement was going.  We want to encourage people to give the guitar a try and to stick with it, but it’s important to be realistic in your expectations.  If you really walk into this affair thinking you are going to be Eddie Van Halen by tomorrow afternoon, you are just going to be that much more frustrated when not only are you not Eddie Van Halen, but you’re not even able to play a song twenty-four hours in.  So, in honor of this ad, let’s look at all the reasons why learning to play the guitar in a day is absurd.

A General Base of Knowledge Can’t Even Be Learned in a Day

These silly promises are designed to talk you into coming to these sites and to get them more clicks and more sales for whatever product they are hawking.  The people that design these types of ads don’t care about you as a guitar player or a person.  You are just an entity that they are trying to influence to do what they want you to do.

There’s a lot of snake oil being sold out here. Proceed at your own risk.

To even start to learn to play the guitar, you are going to need a baseline of knowledge (that’s baseline, not bassline…we’ll talk about those in another article).  You are going to need to know how to hold a guitar.  You need to be able to tune it.  String it.  Are we talking acoustic or electric?  You may have to attach cables, set tone knobs, and turn on other equipment like an amp.  When you sign up for old-fashioned face-to-face guitar lessons, that first lesson is almost always an introduction to these sorts of things that must be established before you even think about actually trying to learn something for real.  So, as you can see, to think that from this point you would somehow be an expert by sundown is not just absurd, but downright impossible.

What’s Your Definition of Playing Guitar?

I wonder what the people that design these ads are thinking when they say that you can play guitar in a day.  I mean, what constitutes playing guitar?  Does that mean you can play one chord?  Does playing a melody on one string count?  What exactly do we get for this bold, twenty-four hour promise?

Now, we may be messing around asking those questions just to poke fun at the concept of these ads, but it actually is a pretty prophetic question to ask yourself.  What are your goals on guitar?  What do you consider to be successfully playing guitar?  What’s a real time frame to accomplish those goals?  And most importantly of all, what are you going to do to get there?  From this perspective, we can actually use this absurd promise as a way to remind us of our own goals and mindset.  If you want that big payoff, you are going to have to put in the work.

Don’t Fall For the Hype

All over the Internet these days you will find promises like these.  Everyone is promising that their program can teach you to play guitar faster and better than any other program.  Often, they resort to promises like this to try to set themselves apart from the competition.  Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about making decisions off of silly banner ads on a website that have no purpose but to get you to click on them and give them a credit card number.  Sites like Just Guitar Talk will be reviewing these online lessons and letting you know which programs will give you the most bang for your buck.

There are so many ways to learn to play guitar thanks to all this great technology.  Twenty years ago, almost everyone either took lessons or started out with a Mel Bay chord book.  These days, you have YouTube, video games like Rocksmith, and even people that give real, live lessons on video streaming services like Skype.  It’s amazing what is available now, but it also leaves plenty of room for charlatans.  Always check into a program before you buy into it.  Most reputable programs have a free trial or will be happy to answer your questions before you put your money down.  Don’t hesitate to check into all of this and make sure you are making an educated decision.

Don’t Be Discouraged

If you were looking for how to play a guitar in a day and you wound up here, don’t be discouraged.  First be grateful that you landed here first and not on one of these malicious sites that just wants to take your money.  You can thank us later.  Know that this was not meant to be discouraging.  Just Guitar Talk is here to do just the opposite.  We want to encourage young and old players alike to stick with it and give them the resources to be the best guitarist they can be.  That’s why this site was created, and it is our mission statement.  So, stick around, check out our reviews and tutorials, and let us help you get on the right track to playing guitar in no time.  When we say no time, though, we aren’t talking about twenty-four hours.

How to Practice Guitar Chords

So, everyone tells you that if you want to be a great guitar player one day, you have to work hard.  Practice, practice, practice, they say.  That’s all you’ve heard.  The thing is not everyone really takes the time to explain just how to do it.  That’s why at least taking a couple of lessons from a guitar teacher that knows what’s going on can really set the tone for success.  However, even then, you have to start somewhere.  Almost every beginner guitarist starts in the same place and that’s learning a couple of chords and then trying to put them together.  So, if you’re just starting out, we’re glad to have you here at Just Guitar Talk.  Now, let’s help you figure out just how to practice guitar chords.

So, What’s a Chord Anyway?

Chord charts will be your friend in the early going.

You don’t have to be Mozart to get started playing guitar, but you are going to have to have a little base of music terminology.  Chords are simply notes that sound good when played together.  We use musical notation to organize these notes so we can keep up with them and communicate them to others.  Most chords are at least three notes played at the same time.  A chord is called by its root note.  That is basically the note that the chord most sounds like.  The other notes are different, but complement the root note to make that full sound that is a chord.  For example, a G Major chord consists of the notes G, B, and D.  Because G is the root note, we call it a G chord.

Guitar chord books are great to have around for quick reference.

That’s great information, but what you really want to know is how to get started playing some chords on guitar, right?  Lucky for you there are hundreds of sources online that will help you on your way.  Also, there are many books available if you prefer it that way or wish to have kind of a chord encyclopedia that you can take anywhere for quick reference.  The best way to get started with chords is to pick a few chords in the same key and then try to learn to use them together.  For example, let’s take some easy chords like G Major, C Major, and D Major.  These three chords are all part of the key of G Major and they are considered to be some of the easiest chords out there.  Yet, having said that, you could literally play a hundred different songs (probably an understatement) with nothing more than these three chords.

Loosen That Wrist

If you are new to guitar, you already fighting a couple of factors like trying to remember where your fingers go and pushing those strings down on the fretboard hard enough to not get the dreaded buzzing sound that comes when they are not quite down enough.  Now, with what seem to be torturous contortions of your fingers at first thrown in the mix, you can find yourself really straining your fingers and arm and wondering just how anyone could do this for a couple of hours straight.  It’s a common problem.  Sometimes you need to let the chord shape go for a second and loosen your wrist.

Easier said than done, right?  When we say loosen your wrist, we mean it.  Let go of the guitar.  Let go of the chord shape.  Let you wrist and arm go completely limp.  Then, when your arm is completely relaxed and not trying to do anything at all, make that chord shape again without tensing back up.  If you have to keep taking your hand off the fretboard and letting it go limp again, that’s fine.  Don’t focus right away on whether you are holding the strings down hard enough, because that won’t matter if your hand is cramping from trying to push it down.  Learn that these chord shapes are not meant to be uncomfortable.

To Strum or Not To Strum?

The D chord looks like a whole lot of fingers packed in a small place, but it will be effortless before you know it.

Everyone wants to grab a pick and go to town as soon as they pick a guitar.  However, when you are learning chord shapes, don’t get so caught up in the rhythm right now.  Take things one at a time.  Maybe just practice making the chord shapes and pushing down on the guitar without bringing your other hand into the mix right now.  Make the shapes over and over again and change from chord to chord.  Try to go faster and faster as it gets more fluid.  Which leads us to our next point.

Chord Changes are One Fluid Motion

When you are starting out, you are going to be looking down at your fingers and trying to remember where each one goes for the next chord.  You may even do it in slow motion, pushing down one string at a time until you are where you want to be at.  This is a natural part of the learning process.  As you get better at that, you will start to change chords in one fluid motion instead of looking at it as moving your fingers to a new position.  Take a couple of chords and play around with them over and over.  After you get a little more used to the configuration, start thinking about what parts both chords have in common.  For example, one of the most common two-chord movements in rock and roll ballads is going from G to a Cadd9.  It’s so popular because the bottom two strings actually stay the same for both chords.  So, you make two different sounds smoothly but are really only moving your fingers on the low end of the strings.  If you’ve ever heard “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison (a song that almost every guitar player learned in his or her early playing days), then you have seen this concept taken to fruition.

Chord changes are going to be a challenge at first, but you’ll find that there are tricks that you may not see at first that make things a lot easier than you originally thought.  It’s called seeing the big picture, and almost all of musical theory is kind of like a puzzle.  When you start looking at things two or three steps ahead, you will be really getting somewhere, but for now, it’s just one chord at a time.

The Verdict

Mel Bay’s guides are still the gold standard for guitar instructional books.

Chords are a logical place to start for every budding guitarist, and you will be no exception.  It’s fun, it’s a nice introduction to musical theory, and most of all, it will get you where you can play something that sounds kind of like a song pretty quickly, and that always give a new guitarist a major feeling of accomplishment.  Keep in mind some of the tips here on how to practice guitar chords and then make sure you return for our articles that will continue to help you grow as a guitarist as you add more tricks to your repertoire.  If you do have some cool tips for how you learned your chords and want to share with our readers, please share in the comments below.  Thanks for reading.

Do You Play Electric Guitar Just to Be Louder?

I’ll never forget the sarcasm of my father.  He had smirked when I had brought home my first acoustic guitar and swore up and down it would be a waste of money because I would play it for ten minutes and never pick it up again.  He was wrong.  Then, when I showed up with an electric guitar and amplifier, he had a new quip for me.  This time, he asked me why I needed a second guitar?  Could I play them both at the same time?  With that story in mind, this article seeks to answer a question some new players might have.  Do you play electric guitar just to be louder?  If you can only have an electric or an acoustic, which one do you pick?  Which guitar is better?  Let’s jump right in.

Electric Guitars and Acoustic Guitars are Different Instruments

Electric guitars and acoustic guitars are not interchangeable necessarily.  Both have functions that they are good for, and while both can probably fit the need for a guitar in general in almost any situation, any successful player can tell you the difference.  It’s not about being loud, either.  Yes, electric guitars need an amplifier in order to make any real noise, and they are associated with loudness, but plenty of players plug acoustic guitars in to amps as well.  An acoustic guitar can be just as loud with the right equipment.

Style is probably the biggest difference here.  Electric guitars open up all sorts of possibilities in the effects department, while acoustic guitars often provide a folksy sound that electric guitars have a hard time replicating.  Most musicians would probably say that it is absolutely necessary to have both for different situations, and I would agree with this opinion.  Different situations call for different instruments, and you as soon as you have the capability, you will probably want to have access to both.  If you are just starting out and don’t have the funds to make that happen, there are pros and cons to both for beginners.  Electric guitars are easier to play because it is not as difficult to hold the strings down.  Acoustic guitars don’t need a lot of extra equipment, and there is always the fact that if you can get your fingers used to pushing down the strings on an acoustic guitar, the electric will be no problem.  That being said, there are also practice considerations.  Acoustic guitars may not be as loud as an electric with an amp, but they also have to make a baseline of noise that is unavoidable.  Electric guitars can be played quietly or through an amp with headphone capabilitiies.  All of these things are to be considered if you can only swing one or the other right now.

Guitars Are Not Power Tools

Electric guitars are not comparable to electric drills. Being “powered” does not mean it’s better.

Think about electric versus manual in the power tools department.  Think about a hand drill or an electric drill.  Few would dispute that the electric drill is going to be more efficient and do the better job.  Guitars are not power tools.  An electric guitar is not a “powered” version of an acoustic.  They have different purposes, so the moniker of electric is very different with guitars than other products.  Don’t think that electric means more powerful and therefore better.  It doesn’t work like that, and you don’t need to be using this as a criteria when deciding which guitar is for you.

Portability Can Be Important

The grab-and-go nature of an acoustic can be a major selling point.

Electric guitars require amplifiers and perhaps effects pedal units when you want to play on the go.  Acoustics won’t have to have all of that extra stuff to deliver the sound they are intended for.  This means that if you are looking for easy portability, the acoustic may be the way to go.  However, an acoustic is going to be limited as to what it is capable of.  Effects possibilities make the electric guitar more versatile, although electric guitars do struggle sometimes to provide the same acoustic sound as a true acoustic.  While there are a lot of acoustic simulator pedals on the market now and there is little doubt that this technology has greatly improved over the last several years, it’s still hard to beat an acoustic.  Then, there is power to be considered.  An acoustic will be fine around the campfire.  An electric will always have to be tethered to a power source, another feature that limits its portability.

Don’t Take a Knife to a Gun Fight

This setup can make a lot of noise, but so can its acoustic counterpart.

A lot of the things to consider boil down to what you are going to do with it.  If you are planning on playing mostly in the bedroom by yourself, well, it’s really up to you.  If you are planning on jamming with friends that all have electric guitars with tube amps and distortion pedals, it’s unlikely that you showing up with an acoustic is going to work out very well.  If everyone is playing around on acoustics and classical guitars, you may be a little out of place coming in with your Marshall stack.  Anyone who has ever held open auditions for a band opening has seen both of these variations.  There’s the guy that thinks he has to play wide open on ten to get a good sound and there’s the guy who thinks he can make it on a classical guitar with a mic thrown in front into the PA.  Neither works all that well, usually.  You are going to want to have equipment that is the right amount of sound and power for what you are trying to do, and for many people that get around and play with multiple groups of people, that’s going to mean owning more than one instrument.

The Verdict

Electric guitars are loud.  Acoustic guitars can be loud.  Both can get louder.  That’s not important.  What type of guitar you decide to play ultimately will depend on what you are trying to do and style.  A little bit of portability and practicality goes into the mix too.  Just don’t think that acoustic and electric guitars are the same thing in two variations.  They are actually two very different things, and in modern music, they are often used together in recordings to attain different sounds.

Easy Songs to Play and Sing on the Guitar — Where to Begin?

A frequent question we get asked here at JustGuitarTalk is what are some easy songs to play and sing on the guitar.  A simple enough question, right?  Actually, it’s a pretty intriguing question.  We are not going to get into specifics here (although we will in other articles).  For now, we are going to take a general view of this question and where we might start to look for songs that are easy to play and sing on the guitar.

So You Can Play

The first step to finding something easy to play is discovering exactly what easy means for you.

The first question is what exactly is your playing level.  What do you deem to be easy guitar playing?  While Jimi Hendrix may see no reason that Castles Made of Sand is difficult to play and sing at the same time, it is safe to say that most average guitarists in the world probably would say that an “easy” song to play would while singing would be one that included fairly normal chords, a pretty average rhythmic strumming pattern, and little or no nuance.  By nuance, we mean little lead fills or bass notes that create the song’s character.  However, check out Dave Matthews and you will find someone that would say that those notes and fills are absolutely necessary.  The first thing you have to ask yourself is what exactly is your playing level.  Can you improvise some cool fills off your chords by yourself with no backing accompaniment?  Can you keep up a good funk rhythm?  Do you need a capo fix to play or can you use your barre chords to instantly transpose to the key you are most comfortable singing in?  These are the things you need to ask yourself before you begin your search for some “easy” material.

So You Can Sing

There are plenty of great books that feature easy guitar songs for intermediate-level guitarists.

It’s not going to make that much of a difference if you can play a funky song like Prince’s Kiss if you can’t deliver those amazing falsetto vocals.  Or are you going to jam some Elvis but you can’t get that deep?  Your vocal range and singing ability is just as limiting as your guitar ability when it comes to determining what is an easy selection.  If you are searching for songs like this, you are probably planning on playing them in some capacity in front of a live audience.  You want to sound good on both fronts.  Fortunately, there are plenty of transpositions out there to help you get a song in the key that you are most comfortable singing in.  And a capo is always an easy way to raise or lower a song’s key without having to relearn the chords all over again.

So You Have an Audience

If you are planning on jamming some songs for your family or friends, you probably will want to take into account just what kind of songs would go over well with your audience.  Let’s face it.  You probably aren’t going to play some hardcore Metallica while you’re showing off your guitar and vocal skills for grandma at the retirement home.  Conversely, if the old folks aren’t around, you might be tempted to throw in some more contemporary numbers.  You are playing to show off your talents, but no one cares if you are playing songs that don’t appeal to them.  Do a little research, think about who you are playing for, and make educated decisions that fit into your skill set on guitar and vocals.

Don’t Let Easy Equal Bland

So many songs and just not enough time, right?

There are literally thousands of songs that share very, very, excruciatingly similar chord progressions.  If your guitar skills and vocal range limit you to a certain key range, then you are going to want to be careful about what songs you select.  It can be very easy to prepare a set list of ten songs that all sound like slightly different versions of each other.  This numbs your crowd and leads to them all getting more lost in their own chatter than what you are doing on stage.  Regardless of whether your chosen genre has a lot of variety, try to organize your songs in some kind of way to induce variety.  Maybe that means making sure not to play slow songs consecutively and making sure to throw in something up tempo in between to keep everyone awake.  Or, if your skillset allows, maybe it means deftly jumping genres with ease.  Once again, the “easy” part is determined by you, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone that has exactly what you are looking for.  You are going to have to piece together what you have in mind from the resources available.  Just make sure that you are selecting songs as different as they can be.

The Verdict

Easy is as easy does, but in the world of guitar songs, easy can mean a lot of different things.  What’s easy to one person may not be all that easy to another.  Think about your abilities, your audience, and of course, what it is exactly that you enjoy, and then you can pick the right songs to match your skillset.  In the meantime, you can always be honing those skills so that next time you are looking for easy songs to play and sing on the guitar, your range for both is greater.

Guitar Playing Made Easy — We All Want the Quick Fix

I hate to write this article.  I really do.  This isn’t fun for me, and I’m not trying to take a giant crap on anyone’s dreams.  What I’m about to talk about is not that uncommon.  It happens in many others industries and fields as well.  We all want the quick fix.  Wanna go on a diet?  You want to lose twenty pounds in a week.  Trying to build muscle?  You want to be deadlifting like a bodybuilder within at least six weeks.  Saving money?  I want to see thousands, not hundreds in no time at all.  Guitar playing made easy is a common search term on Google for a reason.  Everyone is looking for the quick fix.  Well, folks, I’m here to tell you that the unfortunate news I’m delivering today about guitar playing is that there is no quick fix.

But What About [Name Your Favorite Virtuoso Guitarist Here]?

Is that Carlos? Or you after 3 guitar lessons?

There is a such thing as a guitar virtuoso.  They can do amazing things on the guitar, that’s for sure, and they often do it quicker and at a much younger age than anyone else.  The odds of you being a guitar virtuoso is unbelievably small.  I don’t have any real quotable statistics here, but I’m guessing that you might have better odds of winning the lottery than turning out to be a world-famous jaw-dropping guitar virtuoso.  Even if you are, you’ll find that even those virtuosos had to start somewhere.  They still probably took lessons, and they sure had to practice.  The fact that their innate talents made it easier for them to get to the top of the mountain makes for a great story, and we all like to watch the videos on YouTube and Facebook where a 5-year-old is knocking out Stairway to Heaven note for note.  The reality is that those videos get millions of views because it is so unbelievably unusual.  Chances are your five-year-old is not going to be able to rival Slash a month after he picks up a guitar.  The same is true for you.  We want to emulate our heroes, but most of our guitar heroes spent years and years polishing their craft.  If there wasn’t a quick fix for an international superstar guitar virtuoso, then do you really think there’s a chance for you?

Joining a Band Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Guitar newbie to guitar god in 3.5 seconds.

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  Practically everyone that ever picked up a guitar in earnest at least dreamed about joining a band.  And bands are absolutely great opportunities for fellowship.  Not to mention that if you are early in your guitar career, the influence of older and more experienced bandmates can make a huge impact on your playing and where you are going.  Having said all of that, bands can be a negative too.  I was once in a band for over five years.  We had a core of about 75 songs that we played and we did add some songs from time to time.  Believe it or not, for all the endurance I had as a guitar player back in those days from those four-hour gigs, I actually became a worse guitar player.  Why you say?  Simple.  I knew the songs, and between band practice, gigs, travel time, and a full-time job, I had no time to explore my own interests guitar-wise.  So, I was really good at playing those songs that we played, but that didn’t mean I was really enhancing my playing.  After that band finally ended, I found myself taking exponential leaps in my playing because I wasn’t limited to that setlist anymore.

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

I know, right?  What a downer.  We all have seen the informercials and the endless barrage of ads on the Internet promising to make us awesome guitar players overnight.  Just make your three equal payments of a huge sum of money, and you’ll be on your way in just a few working days.  Well, there are tons of great programs out there for learning guitar, and many of them we will be reviewing right here at JustGuitarTalk in the not-so-distant future, but if you need some advice, we’ll willingly give it.  Real guitar programs that get real results will not be promising you the earth, moon, and stars in a few hours or weeks.  A real lesson plan will be preparing you for the long haul, and the long haul is that you will never reach a point where you have learned to play the guitar.  Eric Clapton is still learning to play the guitar.  Jimi Hendrix would if we were fortunate to still have him with us.  That’s the most beautiful thing about it.  You are about to make a friend for life.

So How Long Does It Take?

You can get there. Just don’t fall for that mirage in the desert.

Guitar playing made easy is attainable.  It’s not even that hard to get it.  You just have to work at it, and no one likes to hear this life lesson, and believe me, I would much rather be pointing you in the direction of a magical program that will make you a guitar virtuoso overnight (preferably with a fat commission leading right back here to me).  The reality is that this site doesn’t exist to sell pipe dreams.  It’s not possible to find that easy fix because it doesn’t exist.  Becoming a good guitar player is going to depend very much on you.  The faster you get started, the faster you will get there.

The Verdict

Guitar playing made easy is a sales pitch, and the people selling it to you are trying to take your money and leave you high and dry.  That’s the reality.  The good news is that you don’t need them.  The tools to become a good guitar players are easy to come by and outside of having an instrument to play, the only thing that is really required is perseverance to stick out the hard parts of practice and conviction to get to the good parts.  You know, like when you’re rocking out on stage.

 

 

 

 

Why Do You Play Guitar?

It’s a question that gets tossed around sometimes.  See, the truth is that while I enjoyed my songwriting and touring with a good band in my youth, I never struck it rich.  I never became an icon.  I still play guitar and about 95% of the time, it’s just for my own personal enjoyment.  So, this article is not to ask Eric Clapton or Joe Perry why they play guitar.  This article is to ask someone like me what it’s all about.  So why do you play guitar?  I want to hear your answers in the comments below, but for now, I will try to answer for myself.

The Release

There’s nothing more relaxing than strumming on an acoustic. Or fingerpicking. That’s even better.

After a long day at work, a few minutes of playing guitar can really help me draw that much-needed line in the sand between where work ends and your personal life begins.  Some people have a beer and read the paper.  I play a little guitar.  Maybe some fingerpicking.  Maybe some strumming, or even some lead licks.  If you really want to know, when I’m in “wind down” mode, I rarely even use a pick and I never plug the electric in.  I like to hear that genuine acoustic sound of the string ringing with no accompanient.  Don’t get me wrong.  Take a cruise around this site and you will see that I definitely have nothing against effects and amplifiers.  But not for the release.  This is just hearing the sound, the good old physical sound and that’s it.  But that’s just me.  How do you think of your release when it comes to guitar playing?

It’s Fun

I never knew a campfire that didn’t need an acoustic guitar to go with it.

So I don’t play to sold out stadiums, but I do play at family functions and parties with friends, and it doesn’t take much to feel like a guitar hero again.  Every guitarist that plays in this capacity knows that it doesn’t take a whole lot to impress people that don’t know any better (Sweet Home Alabama, anyone?).  It’s fun, and I enjoy having those few people closest to me giving me the “You know you really could have made it” speech, even if the other side of my brain knows they are full of it.  Playing guitar is fun, especially when you get to show out a little bit to the people around you.  That may sound cocky, but it’s true.  Guitar players want to do their thing, no matter what size the venue.

Originality Never Gets Old

When I was younger, all I did was scarf down every guitar tab I could find for a cool riff or some biting lead licks.  I was subscribed to every guitar magazine there was, and I owned who knows how many songbooks.  Now, years later, when I pick up the guitar, I just wanna be me.  I play what I want in the key that I want to at the speed that I want to.  It’s freeing, and it often leads to creating some pretty cool ideas.  I may not ever have a #1 hit in my repertoire, but I love to create music and still find it both rewarding and relaxing and exciting all at the same time.

It’s Like Riding a Bike

I’m not going to tell you a story.  I go weeks sometimes and don’t pick up the guitar.  I hate that.  I don’t like it at all.  It’s not just because of the lack of the experience of getting to do it, but I also have a major feeling about neglecting my guitars.  See, in my world, guitars are not inanimate objects and need love and care.  It’s pretty disgraceful to do your guitar like that.  What’s more, I know there are people out there absolutely pining to play a guitar that don’t have one, and that is even more painful to me.  Honestly, there’s nothing worse than a guitar that is not getting played.  You wouldn’t do your dog like that, would you?  He gets petted.  I have sold instruments that I absolutely loved on this very principle.  If I don’t have time to dedicate a little something to it, then it needs to go to someone that wants it and does have the time.  I stand by this.  Left completely to my own devices, I would horde guitars all over the place.  I never fret about letting one go if I know it wasn’t getting the “attention” that it deserves.  Call me crazy if you like, but it’s the truth.

Having said all of that, one of the great things about guitar is that it’s like riding a bike.  Yes, practice makes perfect, and yes I couldn’t hold up to a four-hour gig right now on stage.  What I can do is play for a little while just like I ever did.  I haven’t lost a thing when it comes to scales, chords, and strumming patterns.  Those, when you put in that hard time to learn them, are stuck with you forever.  And that’s a pretty great thing.  So you don’t have to relearn all that much to step back in and pick it up.  Just another reason I will never leave it behind totally.

The Verdict

I play guitar for all of the reasons that you see above, no doubt.  If you want to dig deeper, though, I play guitar because I have to.  It’s in my blood, man.  I couldn’t stop doing it if I wanted to.  My wife knows that there are two rules that won’t change.  I will always have at least a baseline of guitar equipment, and I must be able to record music reasonably.  These rules don’t change even if I don’t do it for years.  If that inspiration hits, I will not be denied.  These things are very important to me, and I don’t expect that to change as I get older.  However, as I said before, I am still against hording things that you have no intention of putting any effort or time into.  So my guitar collection is sparse by some standards, although I have owned dozens of guitars, dozens of amps, and probably hundreds of effects pedals and accessories.  It’s in my blood.  I like it.  What more do you really need to know?

 

 

 

 

How to Write a Song With a Guitar

So you learned some chords, maybe a few scale runs, and you are tired of playing other people’s music.  You’re ready to chase the dream and learn how to write a song with a guitar.  Well, you’ve come to the right place.  Creating music is one of the most rewarding parts of playing guitar, and it’s not as hard as you might think.  The songwriter strumming a guitar hoping for inspiration from the heavens is stereotypical for a reason.  It’s still the way most people write songs.  We will delve into the technical aspects of songwriting in other articles (including how to break into the biz), but for now, we are taking a general look at songwriting with the guitar as the weapon of choice and how you might get started in this time-honored tradition of musicians.

Practice Can Be Your Muse

Sometimes a change of scenery can bring new inspiration.

The fist question most people ask that have never written a song on guitar before is how do you get your ideas.  Lyrics first or music first?  Well, this is going to be different for everyone.  Some will have a lyrical idea and attempt to set it to music.  This style of songwriting was how the wizardry of Elton John and Bernie Taupin progressed.  Others may experiment with chord progressions or a riff and then when they have something they like, maybe try to fashion some lyrics over it.  There’s no right answer, but one great way to get started with songwriting is to let practice be an opportunity for you to experiment with new things.  Your practice sessions are already important to your guitar development, but why not let them be important for your songwriting development as well?  Experiment with a chord progression you’ve never tried before.  Try a new chord for learning and hearing a new sound.  Try those same chord progressions with different guitar tones and styles.  Let practice time double up as creative time and reap the rewards.

Get (or Make) a Key Chart

Songs should come from your heart, of course, but a little music theory can’t hurt sometimes.  If you’re having trouble deciding what chords to try in succession when you are coming up with a progression or melody, a key chart can be your best friend.  A key chart simply lists the major and minor chords in each key.  These chords basically work well together, so if you have a couple of chords you like in sequence but can’t really find the next one you want, chances are if you use a key chart, you can easily have a few chords to experiment with that are likely to work in theory with the others.  This can be a great way to break out of a slump or to be encouraged to try a brave new direction if your songs sound a little stale or all the same.  Key charts can really be lifesavers when you are writing a bridge.  A bridge is usually a turning point in a song that is unlike any other part of the song.  A key chart can really help you branch out and try things that may not have occurred to you otherwise.  It should be in every songwriter’s toolbox.

Use the Guitar to Think Beyond Guitar

Everyone tends to visualize a guitarist writing a song as strumming chords for a backing to a sung melody.  Well, don’t limit yourself to this thinking.  Use the guitar as vehicle to think beyond just the guitar.  Remember, bass guitar utilizes the same notes as the top four strings of the guitar, so you could devise a clever bassline on an acoustic just as easily as a real bass (and without a lot less equipment).  We all know songs where the bass absolutely makes the song (think Hotel California by the Eagles or Under Pressure by David Bowie…or otherwise known as another very popular song about ice).  Maybe you can use the guitar to think about a catchy bassline that will lead you in a new direction.  Maybe fingerpicking your chords could give you a feel for what your song might sound like if it goes to piano or another instrument.  Lead lines could easily act as transcription for other instruments as well.  It might all start with a few chords, but the guitar is versatile and can be a creative outlet in more ways than just playing rhythm.

Don’t Let It All Slip Away

Be prepared to capture your ideas wherever you may be.

So you’ve got a good groove with a couple of chords.  Maybe you even imagined a smooth bassline.  Got a few lyrics swirling through your head.  But now it’s time to do your homework or go to class.  No way you’ll forget a vibe as good as this one.  And you remember the chords anyway.  This is a huge mistake that all songwriters will make at one time or another.  You might remember the chords were G, C, and D, but you may not be able to bring back that mystical vibe that had you spouting off lyrics from the ether.  Keep something handy to make quick recordings when you think you have something that works.  These days, a smartphone or iPad can make this really easy.  It may also be helpful to sing gibberish to help you remember a melody even if you don’t have the words worked out yet.  And when you are done recording, why not recite the chord progression or key spoken into the recording device?  You don’t want to lose it, and you may never get it back.  Don’t let your song be the one that got away.  Always be ready to document your ideas in some way so that you can revisit them later.  Many songwriters never throw anything away, and we all hear stories of popular artists dusting off a song idea from ten years earlier and taking it to number one on the charts.  Record all your ideas so you won’t be sorry later.

Songwriting 101

This is just a few ideas to get you started.  We will be going into detail about all facets of this in articles to come.  However, these are a few good tips on how to enter a new world.  There is something special about moving on from just trying to mimic the songs of others and actually becoming a creator yourself.  There are few things in life as moving and enriching as creating a piece of music all your own.  Not to mention that in a cruel old world, writing a hit song is one of the few remaining ways to become an “overnight success” although most artists that have hits have actually been working on their craft for years before they caught the big one.  In any case, the journey to a hit song is going to take however long it is going to take, so why not start today?

 

 

 

 

How to Become a Good Guitar Player?

Millions of people on planet Earth will pick up a guitar and learn a few chords, but only a select percentage of those will go on to become a good guitar player.  What can you do to maximize your odds?  That is what today’s article is going to be about.  We are going to look at the nuts and bolts of becoming a good guitar player from a high-altitude, general kind of view, and then in other articles soon, we will look at each area of this in more detail.  For now, let’s just see what it takes to take your playing from just messing around to the real deal.

Practice

Practice may not be what you want to hear, but it is what you need to hear.

I know it’s boring and no one wants to hear it.  The truth is the biggest key to becoming a good guitar player is going to be tons and tons of practice.  Hours and hours.  Weekends.  Holidays.  Good guitar players usually enjoy practice and don’t see it as a burden.  If you feel that practice is a drag, it may be a sign that you are in a hobby that may not be right for you.  Many a guitar wannabe had visions of ladies throwing panties on the stage and high-flying lead guitar solos, but never considered lonely nights at the house doing scale runs.  It’s not glamorous, but all the old adages are true.  Practice makes perfect.  If you want to play in the game, you have to practice.  Finding ways to make practice fun is important, and we will definitely be looking at that in a future article.  Keeping practice fresh is definitely the road to polishing yourself into a real guitar talent.

Investment

This means time, like in the practice section above, but also in terms of spending a little cash.  Spring for the guitar lessons.  Buy that book that shows you a new style or some chords you never thought about playing with.  Get a good, quality instrument.  The investment of time and money kind of goes hand in hand.  Chances are, if you are throughly invested in your mind, you won’t mind opening your wallet to take your hobby to the next level.  While you can just buy an acoustic guitar and go from there without any more money on the table, those that really desire to become good guitar players will probably invest in more ways than one as they go forward.  Sacrificing time and money to get better?  That’s definitely the sign of a guitarist that is serious about getting to the next level.

Support Groups

Yes, a lot of guitar players will go on to join a band, but we weren’t going to use the dreaded “B” word just yet.  By support groups, we mean that guitar playing is like working out.  It’s a lot more likely to happen if you are competing or at least playing with someone else on a regular basis.  Someone else to keep you accountable.  Someone to impress when you walk in showing off your African scale runs or arpeggios.  It doesn’t have to be a band or even someone that plays a different instrument.  Make friends and hang out and jam.  You will want to get better just because you want to show off.  And every guitar player out there somewhere deep inside wants to show off a little.  It comes with the territory.  Formal or informal, a jam support group will help keep your guitar playing on the straight and narrow.

Listen to Great Guitar Players

When you don’t have the guitar in your hand, listen to good guitar players.  Examine the intricacies of what they do and what makes their playing speak to not just you, another guitar player, but the masses.  Disect their style.  Find out what kind of equipment they use.  Read guitar magazines that always have good information about popular artists.  Make notes about how they create their music and perfect their sound.  There is no better influence than seeing greatness.  Go to a concert and watch it live if you can.  Feel that surreal connection that is so big a part of guitar’s appeal.

Never Leave Home Without It

Take it everywhere!

Sure, everyone likes to play guitar around the campfire, but if you are really serious, take that thing everywhere.  Going to the beach?  There is no better way to mellow out on acoustic than letting the ocean waves keep rhythm for you.  Family gathering?  Show them what you can do.  Time in between classes?  Find a park bench and strum away.  Too many would-be guitarists have given up their hobby because of time constraints, but the truth is that we all have ten minutes here and there through our days where we could fit in practice time, but we so often don’t have our guitars with us when those times come along.  Be prepared.  Have your guitar at the ready even if you didn’t expect to find the time.  Those ten and fifteen minute sessions will add up to hours, and your fingers learn just as well in small spurts of practice as they do in marathon sessions (perhaps even better).

Dedication

It all comes down to this one word, and that’s what every one of these topics above is really about.  If you really desire to become a good guitar player, it’s going to be about dedication.  Every second of every day, you will be thinking about how you are going to get better.   Put that plan into action.  Find people of like mind and play guitar with them.  Maybe when the time comes you will want to start a band.  Spend the cash to get the lessons, reading materials, videos, and equipment that you need to keep moving forward.  And perhaps most of all, there is one more thing to remember.  Never let anyone convince you that you can’t do this.  Maybe Mom or Dad is tired of the noise.  Go outside.  Sit on the tailgate of your truck.  Get an electric guitar so you can be quieter.  Do what you have to do to make it work.  The good guitar players of the world are not going to let anyone stop them from practicing and getting better on a daily basis.  Be determined and dedicated, and the rest will come naturally.