Best place to find backing tracks

Sometimes it’s hard to get a group of musicians together and play as band. Well, it’s darn near impossible. But if you want to play in a band setting, what do you do? Well, you get some backing tracks. They are like karaoke for guitar

Backing tracks are great for so many reasons. Generic jam tracks are useful for practicing your improvisational skills and backing tracks for real songs help you fine tune your playing over a favorite tune. I use backing tracks every day, and here’s where I get them:

Free Guitar Backing Tracks
This is a great site for finding free, user-created backing tracks for your favorite tunes. There are often several versions of each tune to choose from and the quality ranges from iffy to fantastic. The library of backing tracks covers most of the standards, but don’t expect to find deep cuts or obscure bands here.

Guitar Center’s King of the Blues
I stumbled upon this treasure trove of blues backing tracks a few years ago. Guitar Center hosts a contest to find the next blues guitar hero and they provide links to a few dozen free backing tracks so contestants can practice before the competition. Here’s the thing, you don’t have to be a contestant to download them.

Jam Track Central
The backing tracks you find here aren’t free, but you get a lot of mileage out of your dollar. You get a high quality backing track, another mp3 of a pro player — like Guthrie Govan — improvising over the backing track, and a transcription of that solo. Often times you also get a video of the pro player’s performance so you can really get a good look. Jam Track Central is a very good site.

Justin Guitar
Justin Sandercoe of not only delivers quality guitar lessons from across the pond in England, he makes some damn good backing tracks too. His backing tracks are often titled in a very descriptive way, including key and genre. You can buy his backing tracks on iTunes.

If ownership of the backing track isn’t important to you, just access to it, you can use YouTube. There are lots of backing tracks for a variety of keys and genres.


For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

5 tips for playing barre chords

If you’re a beginner, there’s no denying it: barre chords suck. They are hard to play and worse yet, they’re everywhere. Barre chords stand between you and countless songs that you’re dying to play but can’t.

But don’t — wait for it — fret. I’m here to help. Check out these five tips for playing barre chords.



For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

Question: How hard should I be pressing the string against the fret?

Here’s a question that I was asked today from my student Paul:

“How hard do you press on the strings? When I watch you play chords, it seems like you are barely exerting any force at all, and I seem to be mashing the strings?”

To me, it feels like I’m barely exerting any force to get the chords to ring out nicely. That’s because, after years of practice, my hands are especially conditioned to play guitar. Since my hands are more conditioned to play guitar, it takes less effort for me to play chords than it does for a beginner.

As a beginner, you probably feel like you have to press pretty hard to get a clean sound. Beware, however, that sometimes beginners press harder than they need to. Try backing off on the pressure a little bit. If the strings start to buzz, than apply slightly more pressure until the buzz goes away.

You should continually monitor your finger pressure and relax as much as possible until the buzzes start to creep in. You’ll find that as you mature as a player, you’ll need to exert yourself less and less.

Why is it so important to press the string only as hard as you need to eliminate the buzzing? Here’s why:

  • It helps you move quicker. Guitar playing requires moving fluidly from one note to another. You can’t do that effectively if you’re tense.
  • It helps you sound better. The harder you press a string, the sharper the note gets. That makes you sound out of tune and that’s makes you sound bad in a hurry.
  • It helps you play longer. If you over-exert, your hand will cramp or fatigue faster than it should.

One more note: keep your fingers as close to frets as possible. The closer the fingers are to the frets, the less pressure it takes to make the notes ring true.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

Slash chords

Recently, I’ve had several students ask about slash chords. The question usually sounds like this: “What the heck does this chord mean: C/G?”

That is a slash chord. Before I answer the main question, let me point out something we all take for granted. When we see a chord, C for example, we correctly assume that the root of the chord will be used as the bass note. In this case, a C will be the bass note in the C chord as outlined in black:

C chord

Now, lets look at the slash chord C/G. The note to the left of the slash is the chord’s central tonality, in this case a C chord. The note to the right of the slash is the note that will be used as the alternate bass note, in this case G. That means we have to use find a G that is lower than the C that we’d normally use for the bass note. The alternate bass note can also replace the root if a lower-pitched alternative can’t be found. The C/G chord would look like this. Notice the G is now the bass note in the C chord:

C chord with G in the bass: C/G

So there you have it. A slash chord is used when you are playing something other than the root in the bass. Simple as that!

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

How to change strings on an acoustic guitar

Learn how to change strings on an acoustic guitar by watching this video:



A special thanks goes out to my wife Pam for shooting the video. I think she did a fantastic job!

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

Change it up before you hang it up

All of us get frustrated during our practice sessions. We may be having difficulties playing a scale, or learning a new chord. A section of a new song may be giving us trouble. Whatever the case may be, frustration is inevitable. How you respond to that frustration is a huge factor in how quickly you develop as a player.

When the frustration starts to boil, you might be inclined to say, “You know what, I’m done with this. I’ve had enough for one night.” But before you hang up that guitar for the night, consider throwing yourself a change-up.

You change it up by simply practicing something different. If you were playing scales when the dark clouds swept in, practice your chord. If you were practicing a new song when steam started coming out of your ears, play a song that you already know.

You should try something else before you stop practicing for the night. Guitar is a complex instrument with lots of techniques to practice. Don’t let frustration with one facet of your practice derail the whole session.

You may find that your practice session gets back on track once you make the change. As a result, you will practice for a few minutes longer than you would have if you just hung it up when the vein in your forehead started to throb. More practice equals more development.

So change it up before you hang it up.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

Memorize the notes on the fretboard

On a typical 22-fret electric guitar, there are 138 notes available to us. Memorizing the note names of all of 138 positions on the fretboard takes time and patience, but it isn’t as difficult as it seems.

On the outset, memorizing the fretboard’s notes may seem like an inescapable labyrinth of confusion. That’s only true until you’re handed a map. Consider this article your map through the guitar-note gauntlet.

First, some tips for general fretboard memorization:

  1. Memorization is important. Guitarists don’t realize how important note identification is. Guitarists often ignore the note names of the what we play because we didn’t need them when we started playing the guitar. Tabs, and patterns and grips were all we needed to begin playing. Since we didn’t need the notes early in the process of learning to play, we tend to avoid learning the notes later when we’re better. Only when we get good enough to play in a band do we realize that other musicians communicate using note names, not grips and patterns that are unique to the guitar. Once you understand that note memorization is important, you’ll be ready to follow the steps to memorize the notes.
  2. Know what you are playing. When you learn a scale or a chord, identify the notes within them. When you practice them, recite the names of the notes as you play them. Use a reference fretboard, like the one you find here in this article to help you
  3. Be patient. There are a lot of notes on the fretboard so be patient with yourself and remember that memorization for most of us is gradual and incremental. Keep at it and you’ll do great!

Now, lets look at the entire fretboard.

The very first set of notes that all guitarists should know are the notes for the six open, unfretted strings: E, A, D, G, B, E. If you tune up every time you practice, memorizing these six open-string notes should be easy. The next thing to realize is that the twelfth fret is an octave above the open-string notes. Therefore, the twelfth fret notes share the same note names as their open string counter-parts.

To make the memorization process less daunting, I encourage my students to memorize the notes on the dots, one string at a time. By dots, I mean memorize the notes found on the third, fifth, seventh and ninth frets, where the four, single-dot inlays are found on most guitars. To do this, I recommend simply repeating the four-note sequence of dot-notes on each string. Start with one string and add another after you memorize the first. Here are the dot-notes for each of the six strings:

String #1: G, A, B, C
String #2: D, E, F♯, G
String #3: A#/B♭, C, D, E
String #4: F, G, A, B
String #5: C, D, E, F
String #6: G, A, B, C#

Notice that the E strings (string #1 and #6) have the same notes on the dots, and everywhere else for that matter. Once you learn the note names on one of the E strings, you’ve learned them on the other. After you can remember the notes on the dots, it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks for the other notes. As long as you know the chromatic scale, finding notes that aren’t on the dots should be a snap.

Next we’ll learn some fretboard patterns to help you navigate through the maze of notes. You may look at the fretboard and think that it is just a jumbled mess of notes. In fact, there is an order to where the notes fall on each string. To help you navigate around the fretboard, here are some rules:

One up, five bridge; enharmonic notes. Each pair of strings shares enharmonic notes. That’s right, you can play the same exact note in different places on the guitar. To find these enharmonic notes, start on the A, D, G, or high E strings. Move up one string higher (towards the ceiling). On that string, move five frets towards the bridge. One up, five bridge. For example, let’s say we start with open G on the third string. To find the enharmonic G, we just move to the fourth string, five frets toward the bridge. We land on the fifth fret of the D string. Check the fretboard diagram to be sure. There is one exception to this rule. If the note you want to start from is on the B string, you should only move four frets towards the bridge on the next higher string. Say we start with D on the third fret of the B string. To find the enharmonic D, we move one string higher to the G string and four frets towards the bridge. Bingo! We land on D!

Two down, two bridge; the next octave. If we want to find the next octave higher in pitch from the note we’re on now, we move two  strings lower toward the floor and two frets toward the bridge. Check out the fret diagram for yourself. There is an exception here too and it involves the B string. If you skip over or land on the B string, you must go 3 frets towards the bridge. The diagram lays it out for you.

Another octave: same string, 12 frets away. Ever wonder why most guitars have two dot inlays at the 12th fret? That’s because the 12th fret is exactly one octave above the open string pitch. That means that all octaves appear on the same string 12 frets away. Take a look at the diagram. Find any note and move twelve frets toward the bridge on the same string you will land on the same note but one octave higher.

Combine these rules with the dot-name memorization and you’ll be able to find notes quickly and easily. Eventually, you’ll be able to simply look at the fretboard and find any note you want instantaneously. But remember to be patient with yourself. You’ll be free of the guitar gauntlet sooner than you think.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

The Three Phases of Awesome

Practice makes perfect right? Well, no. We’ll never be perfect. Who is? But if we follow this highly scientific and brightly-colored road map, we can at least be awesome.

Your Road Map to Awesome!


Phase One: I suck
This phase begins when we first learn a new song, scale, chord, etc. We are terrible. Our fingers misbehave and we feel like beginners all over again. We practice hard to get out of this phase as soon as possible because, hey, who wants to suck?

Phase Two: I’m okay
This phase begins when we start to gather some momentum. We’re playing better and we get it right more than half of the time. We start to feel satisfied. Hey, maybe we don’t suck after all.

Phase Three: I rock
This phase begins when we can play it right just about every time. We feel completely confident in our ability to melt people’s faces. We are undeniably awesome.

Most of us have no problem practicing our way out of Phase One: I suck. We’re motivated to prove to ourselves that we can do it better. The reality, however, is that most of us are compelled to stop practicing our material somewhere in Phase Two: I’m Okay and we move on to something else. Where does that leave us? Smack in the middle of mediocrity. We’re on the road to awesome though, and mediocrity won’t do.

In order to be awesome at whatever it is we are working on, we need to self-evaluate. I use the above scale to measure my progress. I move on to the next song, scale, chord, etc. only when I’ve made it to Phase Three: I rock. I try to be honest with myself and practice accordingly.

Sometimes making it to Phase Three: I rock with a song, scale, chord, etc. takes a lot of time. Stay with it and be patient. You’ll be awesome soon enough.

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

Holiday Gift Ideas

The holiday season is upon us. It’s time to start thinking about gifts for the guitar players in your life. Here are recommendations for guitar-related gift ideas. In many cases, I’ve linked to Guitar Center’s website, but please feel free to explore other retailers for the best deals.

Stocking stuffers ($1 – $19.99):

Gifts that won’t blow your budget ($20.00 – $49.99)

A little more expensive ($50.00 – $99.99)

Blow your budget and their mind – high end gifts ($100.00 and beyond)

My wife pointed out that there is a ton of cool guitar stuff on Etsy — decorative picks, pick containers, jewelry, wall art, etc. Just go to and search for “guitar.”

For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit

How to recycle your strings

As a practicing guitar player, you should change your strings every month or so. When you do, be sure to recycle your strings. Don’t just throw them in the trash can. Put them to good use. Here are some ideas of how to recycle your old guitar strings.

1. Second Strings Project
This project, run by Darryl Purpose, is a humanitarian effort to give used strings to guitarists around the world with limited or no access to new strings. To do this, you must save the string set’s original packaging and you cannot snip the strings or shorten their length in anyway in the removal process. Detail are available here.

2. Arts and Crafts
A creative individual can make wonderful things out of guitar strings. Check out this jewelry maker who specializes in crafting bracelets, rings, necklaces and such out of used instrument strings. If you have children, I’m sure there are many opportunities to used old strings to make costumes or science and art projects.

3. Recycle them with your soda cans, newspapers and plastic bottles
Guitar strings are made of steel, bronze, and nickel. Metals can be recycled and therefore your municipality should accept old strings with the rest of your recycling. When in doubt, call your public waste officials to find out if used guitar strings can be recycled in your area.

    You can minimize how frequently you replace your strings by doing the following:

    1. Use coated guitar strings
    Coated guitar strings cost more but last longer. More specifically, coated guitar strings keep their shimmering, “new string sound” for a lot longer than standard strings. The main reason that your guitar strings start to become dull-sounding after a few hours is that your fingers’ dead skin accumulates on the strings and inhibits the strings’ vibration. This effect is minimized by the teflon-like coating applied to the strings. Your finger gunk doesn’t stick to the strings as much and they vibrate more freely.

    Bob Taylor, the founder and president of Taylor Guitars, had this to say about coated guitar strings in the Fall 2010 issue of Wood&Steel:

    “Coated strings will last longer, and they sound the way they sound. If I were to describe their sound, I’d say they lose that brand new sound of uncoated strings, but that sound only lasts a couple hours on a guitar anyway. A coated string sounds like a three-hour-old set of uncoated strings, basically. I like the sound of coated strings, and their sound lasts a long time. I like Elixir® strings because they really stay clean and sound and feel fresh for a ridiculously long time. And since I’m a guitar maker, I’m really crappy about changing my strings, so I need all the help I can get.”

    2. Clean your strings
    You can keep that “new string sound” much longer just by wiping down your strings after every use, especially the underside. I won’t claim to do this, but it does help keep your strings sounding like new for longer.

      For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give, visit


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