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Archive for November, 2009

A few techniques for electric finger style

Monday, November 30th, 2009

 These are a few of my techinques for playing electric guitar sans plectrum

Referencing notes from the chords when soloing.

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

This is an informal demonstration of referencing notes from the chords when soloing. Enjoy!

Are you writing and playing in the same keys all the time?

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Guitarists tend to write and play in certain keys.  This has to do with ease of use of open strings. E, A, G, D, seem to be the most common keys for guitarists.  However, before we go guitar player bashing keep in mind that Pianists, and Woodwind players tend to prefer keys such as F, Bb, Eb, and Ab.   This has to do with fingerings required to play in these keys.  Most vocalists also have keys within certain range that they prefer.  If you tend to work in certain keys it doesn’t mean that you aren’t proficient on your instrument.  You are simply sticking to your comfort zone.  Breaking out of “your zone” is a great way to find new sounds and spark creativity.


Here a few tips:


  1. Instant key change. Just add Capo!  Place a capo at the first fret and you are instantly in whole new key.  There is really nothing more to it.  Simply play your riffs etc… they way you usually do. This is a great way to accommodate a vocalist’s range and still have access to all your favorite open string riffs and licks.


  1. Alternate tunings are another option.  By simply retuning one string you will find a whole new world of sounds, riffs, licks, and songs.  “Drop D” is the most common alternate tuning of this current generation of rock guitarists.


Keep in mind that just because you are playing with the guitar tuned to drop D doesn’t mean that your song/riff has to be in the key of D.  There are other ways to utilize this tuning. Start your Riff or chord changes at the 2nd fret. This is E…  You now have “room” to move a whole step lower.  This opens up all sorts of new possibilities.  But wait!  Now we’re back to the key of E again.  No problem. Start your riff/chord changes at the third fret.  This makes F your home base.  You can descend an entire step and a half now and that low D note is diatonic to the Key of F.  These waters are definitely less traveled than E or even D for most rock guitarists.


Of course drop D is only one of about a thousand tunings you could use.  Tune the guitar to a power chord. For instance (from low to high) E A E A A E. By doing this you will find all sorts of very useful sounds by simply adding or subtracting one note.


  1. If you don’t want to have to think about retuning the guitar or you’re too broke to by a capo, try taking your favorite riffs/songs and playing them up or down one fret.  What you hear my not be pleasing to your ear at first esp. if your riff uses open strings.  That’s okay…we are looking for new sounds.  Take time to listen to the “intervallic” differences you are hearing.  Allow yourself to absorb these sounds.  Once you are comfortable try adjusting your riff by one note.  You may also want to modify the phrasing.  You will have to experiment but there are rewards to this approach.


  1. Eliminate open strings completely.  By playing fretted notes only, the key of the riff/song becomes a much less significant factor.  Start by transposing some of your favorite songs and riffs into “fretted only” versions.  You must discipline yourself not to revert to open strings.  This may be difficult at first.  Stick with it.  It will get easier the more you do it.  You will find that very often a certain note may require an impractical finger reach.  In these cases substitute this note with a fretted note in a different octave or if this is not practical pick a note that sounds good.  Doing this may cause you to want to adjust other notes as well. Adjust the entire riff if you like.  Before you know it you will have a killer riff in some key like Bb and it’s all your own.  I think that you can see the benefits here.


Doing just one or two of these exercises will help you to see the neck in a totally new way.  This will lead you to many new sounds that you would not find by sticking to you comfort zone.


Happy Jamming!


Playing the changes

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

A young guitarist recently asked, ” How important is it to play the change when soloing?”


My Answer:


If you aren’t playing the changes, what would you play?

I’m not asking to be a smart ass.  You should be playing as part of a group which means playing with the other members.  The chord changes, bass line, melody, and percussion line will all be factors in what you play during your solo.  Without this frame work then you are simply playing by yourself.  Music is about communication.  You wouldn’t start talking about politics if some one asked you for the time of day.

You will have more leeway if the changes are quick.  In this case it becomes less of an issue to strongly articulate or outline the notes of a particular chord.  However, if you are resolving a phrase it is mandatory that you resolve with a note from the chord or an implied note (meaning a note that would be part of the extended harmony like a 7th, 9th, 13th etc…)

Most players would say that you sound “more intelligent” if you pronouncedly acknowledge the chord changes.  This can be tricky.  Without total command of your instrument and the song, your solo could sound forced…or “square”.  It’s helpful to practice over annunciating the chord changes at first. Create a short phrase, and practice resolving it on each note of the chord. Do this with a few different phrases.  This is for practice purposes only. 

Hint: Avoid resolving (ending) your phrases on the first beat of each measure.  This is a sure way to bore your audience.

As soon as you can you will want to find or create situations to play solos with other musicians.  You will need opportunities to implement these ideas.  You will learn a lot more from playing in live situations than you will practicing or jamming along to rhythm tracks.

In the long run it is much more important to listen than to “think” about what to play.  Listen and play what you hear, and you will NEVER make a mistake!