Archive for March, 2010

Guitar Tune for Quality

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

The title of this article may come off as a little strange.

‘I thought that the only way to make the instrument sound good was via someone who could actually play the guitar?’

Correct, but even in the hands of a professional, the guitar will only sound as good as the tune. Thus, you must tune the guitar for quality.

If you have ever observed the professionals, you’ll note that they are constantly tuning their beloved musical instrument. Why? Simply because the guitar gets out of tune often (even modern technology cannot fix this small vice). You’ll want to tune your guitar:

  1. After it’s been bought, regardless of whether it’s new or not.
  2. You’ve been playing with some big bends which may cause the tune to change.
  3. A string breaks.
  4. You travel with a instrument and the temperature changes, the guitar is bumped, etc

In other words, you’ll tune the strings a lot. Fortunately, several guitar tuning methods exist. You may tune the instrument with:

  • an electronic tuner
  • with a piano
  • with a tuning fork or pitch pipe
  • from another guitar that is fully tuned
  • relative tuning
  • by harmonics
  • from an internet source
  • or, via your phone

Today’s Fun Fact: Betcha really didn’t think the iPhone could “do it all.”

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Regardless of however you tune the guitar, you must always start below the note and then ”tune up” to the note. Why? When you are loosening the string, the nut that keeps the string from loosening when you play may not let go of the string immediately. Thus, after you tune the string may ultimately be ”out of tune.” However, when you tighten the string, the nut has no effect because the string is already under tension.

“The Standard Tune” is tuned to the notes E-A-D-G-B-E. Some guitarists create helpful little reminders like “Eric Archer Digs Great Breakfast Everyday.”


The “first E” (6th string) is at the top of your guitar but is technically the bottom string (because it’s the thickest). “A” is the next string (5th string), followed by ”D” (4th string), “G” (3rd string), “B” (2nd string), and the second “E” (1st string). 

If you ask any professional guitarist, most will strongly recommend that you tune the strings in the following order: 3rd string, 4th string, 2nd string, 5th string, 1st string, and finally the 6th string. By tuning in this pattern, the guitarist eliminates stressing and twisting one side of the guitar neck.

While you may use several different methods to tune the instrument, innovative methods like the phone (dial tone is @ the pitch of A), are not nearly effective as say, the electric tuner. While electric tuners are expensive, they are by far the best and most accurate method. For a price of $20-$50, the guitarist may plug the electric guitar directly into the tuner and use the analog or digital device (most professionals prefer the analog needle) to read the note until it reaches the desired position.

The piano is also a very useful for guitar tuning if you are blessed with such a beautiful instrument. On March 31st, Guitar Lessons Critic will break down guitar tuning into a more detailed approach that utilizes such methods as relative tuning and tuning by harmonics. We’ll also examine some of the top guitar tuning devices on the web, such as the one located on Gieson.

Power Chords You Need to Play

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

In the entertainment industry they sometimes say, “power is money.”

In the alternative, modern rock, and metal genres of music – power chords are money. If you have money, you can rule the world. Power chords provide that raw, aggressive edge to your music. They’re brash, bold, and daring. But did you know, that power chords (PC) are technically not ”true chords”? What I mean by this, is that a chord is defined as a musical presence that utilizes three or more notes.

Technically speaking, power chords are not true chords. A chord is made up of three or more notes. ”PC’s” are only made up of two different notes. So, with that being said, it’s now time to look at these “non-technical guitar chords.”

A major chord is made up of the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of its corresponding major scale. For example, take a look at the C Major Scale. The C Major Scale is made up of the following notes:


In order to play a C Major Chord, the guitarist would strum the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes of the C Scale, or the notes: C, E, & G.

C Major Chord

All Major Scales follow the same progression, which means that regardless of whether it’s the C Major, A Major, or E Major – they all incorporate the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of its corresponding major scale.

So, for example, you need to play a C Power Chord. Which notes do you need to play. All power chords use the 1st and 5th notes on the scale. As you’ll note from above, the 1st note in the C Major is C while the 5th note of the scale G. Thus, to play the C P. Chord, the guitarist would simply strum the guitar with the C and G notes:

C Major Power Chord

Despite popular opinion, power chords are not difficult to play. They may ring off this thunderous, complex sound in your earlobe, but these chords are accessible for both the advanced and beginner guitarist. If you are looking for some of the most popular PC’s, try your hand at a few of these notoriously simple and common chords:

A Major Chord A Power Chord
B Major Chord B Power Chord
C Major Chord C Power Chord
D Major Chord D Power Chord
E Major Chord E Power Chord
F Major Chord F Power Chord
G Major Chord G Power Chord

It’s important to keep in mind that while power chords are easy and fun to play, the beginner guitarist too often gets caught up with the sound. Sure, they really pack a nice punch. But as previously stated, they are not “guitar chords.” Learning to play complex three to four note chords will really expand your musical spectrum.

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As always, the web provides numerous opportunities to expand your knowledge and learn about guitar chords. If you are an absolute beginner, check out this great “Power Chords for Dummies” explanation. Also, Guitar Allegiance provides a nice lesson for free and as always, Guitar Lessons Critic features a detailed review of some of the best guitar courses available.

Another useful reference is to begin with basic music theory and guitar chords. It is here where you will understand the many, many different chords available at your disposal.

Intermediate to Advanced Guitarists: Improvement, Yes, Even for You…

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

It doesn’t take a genius to discover that the vast majority of lessons and guitar content on the web is directed toward the “beginner guitarist.” While this makes perfect sense, it does arrive as a frustration for the “intermediate to advanced guitarist” searching to take their level of play to an even higher level.

Beginner guitar lessons and content are easy because a lot of people need this information (think of how many “guitar made easy” lessons you’ve been flooded with of late). Over time, you’ll get to a point where you no longer need the help of others to play. Yet, I’m sure those intermediate and advanced guitarists are searching for a form to learn those advanced techniques. Intermediate to advanced guitarists need a challenge, because nothing is as frustrating as reaching a plateau and no longer feeling the need or means to improve.

Guitarists all around the globe face this problem. The question, then, is what do we do to continue and improve our skills? Intermediate to advanced musicians need a focus. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do I realistically want to do with the guitar? Do I want to use the guitar as a means to make a living or merely as a hobby?
  2. If you want to start a band, what do you want to stand for? Ask yourself…What type of music do I want to create? What influences will I blend together to create my sound? Will I also write the lyrics or serve as a backdrop for someone else?
  3. What areas of guitar have I yet to explore and discover? If you think you already know the guitar, chances are you’re dead wrong. Will you merely learn the same thing over and over again, or expand and become a more versatile performer?

True art simply comes down to something that is a little unique and different from what everyone else is doing. If you really want to challenge yourself, you need to explore the guitar at all levels of it’s existence. Say you like country music…what’s stopping you from learning to play the blues? What’s stopping you from playing heavy metal?

Challenge yourself, because it’s likely the only source that actually wants you to succeed is you. If you don’t believe in yourself, than who will? If you really want to become a great guitarist, consider these lifestyle choices:

  1. Surround yourself with good musicians. You’re a product of your environment. If you meet other successful guitarists, not only will you share a common interest but you’ll also find a source of inspiration and motivation.
  2. Jam out to music. This may sound easy, but you need to make a promise that you’ll listen to  music in the right way. How do you listen to music in the right way? You explore all genres of music, learn what makes each genre special, and find ways to sprinkle those sounds into your own band.
  3. Connect with a complete beginner on the guitar. Not only will this “novice” think you’re a stud, but it will also help reaffirm your knowledge in the instrument. Keep in mind that even advanced guitarists need to go back to the basics from time to time. 
  4. Practice Wisely. I would say, “practice makes perfect,” but that’s an over-used cliché. The bottom line is that you need to practice consistently while also using that time wisely. Once you have become an intermediate to advanced guitarist, consider taking a little time out of each practice session to learn and try something new. Slowly develop those news skills into your arsenal. 
  5. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain. It’s important to learn and “borrow” from others, however at the end of the day you need your own sound. Like snowflakes, there are no two guitarists in the world who are the same. Embrace that and find your own style. You don’t have to follow everything “by the book.”
  6. Believe in yourself. If you don’t, than who will? Have you ever noticed that a lot of the most popular guitarists in the world are not only very gifted but also supremely confident. It’s not an accidental coincidence.
  7. Last but not least, work through your weaknesses. Every great musician still lacks talent in certain areas. It’s important to not only learn your strengths but also your weaknesses.

While all of the above is very important, I still personally feel that the old cliché of “you’re never too old to learn” is quite possibly the most important thing you’ll ever learn while playing a music instrument. Advanced guitarists, you don’t know it all. You can still learn through a wide variety of online courses, DVD videos, and personal instructors which are predicated toward the “intermediate to advance” guitarist.

Scales for the Acoustic Guitar

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Despite what some may say, the acoustic guitar is still alive and well. Sure, it may seem like 75% of the guitar content online is related to the electric guitar, however the acoustic guitar still have a special niche audience. Several of the beginner guitar lessons and information posted online can cross-over regardless of whether you play on electric or acoustic guitar. However, there are a few minor differences (JamPlay and Jamorama both do a very nice job of explaining the differences).

A question that is commonly asked about acoustic guitars is what guitar scales are suited for the beginner player?

The best way to understand musical scales is to learn them in the context of keys. Learning the keys will allow you to see how everything works and fits together in this special little universe we call music. The most popular musical scale for beginners to learn is called the pentatonic scale.  The pentatonic scale is a musical scale with five pitches per octave in contrast to a heptatonic (seven note) scale such as the major scale. The scale is very popular and widely used in pop music, rock music and especially in blues.

Major Pentatonic Scale

The shape of the scale is symmetric, and therefore very easy to visualize. Anhemitonic pentatonic scales, do not contain semitones and can be constructed in many ways. One example of the scale takes five consecutive pitches from the circle of fifths; starting on C, these are C, G, D, A, and E. Transposing the pitches to fit into one octave rearranges the pitches into the major pentatonic scale: C, D, E, G, A, C. This common scale is found in the opening bars of “My Girl” by The Temptations.

C major pentatonic scale

Another construction works backward: It omits two pitches from a diatonic scale. If we were to begin with a C major scale, for example, we might omit the fourth and the seventh scale degrees, F and B. The remaining notes, C, D, E, G, and A, are transpositionally equivalent to the black keys on a piano keyboard: G-flat, A-flat, B-flat, D-flat, and E-flat.

G-flat major pentatonic scale

Omitting the third and seventh degrees of the C major scale obtains the notes for another transpositionally equivalent anhemitonic pentatonic scale: {F,G,A,C,D}. Omitting the first and fourth degrees of the C major scale gives a third anhemitonic pentatonic scale: {G,A,B,D,E}.

Minor Pentatonic Scale

Although various hemitonic pentatonic scales might be called minor, the term is most commonly applied to the relative minor pentatonic derived from the major pentatonic, using scale tones 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 of the natural minor scale. The C minor pentatonic would be C, E-flat, F, G, B-flat. The A minor pentatonic, the relative minor of C, would be the same tones as C major pentatonic, starting on A, giving A, C, D, E, G. This minor pentatonic contains all three tones of an A minor triad.

A minor pentatonic scale

Songs on the minor pentatonic scale include the popular Canadian folk song “Land of the Silver Birch”. Because of their simplicity, pentatonic scales are often used to introduce children to music.

As with all scales, you must first practise slowly and then gradually progress after you have memorised the scale. If you find that acoustic guitar scales are difficult and quite challenging at first, please understand that learning acoustic guitar scales are challenging and difficult in the early stages, but become entirely normal over time. You are trying to unlock the ability to express yourself musically through a scale and this process is always a challenge at first.

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Other Acoustic Guitar Scales recommended for beginners: The Major Scale, Harmonic Minor, and Melodic Minor