Expanded practice tip #2: Play everyday

In an earlier post, I outlined five tips for practicing. For this article, I’m going to elaborate on the second tip: play everyday.

Our eyes and ears take in tons of information every second that we are awake. So much information, in fact, that it would be impossible for our brain to retain all of it. There’s simply not enough room in our head to remember everything we see and hear moment to moment, all day long. In fact, our brains typically can only hold seven pieces of new information in it’s short-term memory at any given time. That’s right, just seven! Consequently, our brain has to be selective about what it remembers long term and what it flushes out of memory after a short time.  It is continually analyzing the the things we observe and parsing it out to determine if it should be converted to long-term memory or kept only for a short period. This process is involuntary, so we can’t control it directly, but we can influence it indirectly. How? Repetition.

Important information is gradually transferred from short-term memory into long-term memory. The more the information is repeated or used, the more likely it is to eventually end up in long-term memory, or to be “retained.” (That’s why studying helps people to perform better on tests.) Unlike sensory and short-term memory, which are limited and decay rapidly, long-term memory can store unlimited amounts of information indefinitely. – http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/human-memory2.htm

As you can see, learning a new scale, chords or song is simply a result of repetition. Daily repetition. The more repetitions on consecutive days, the faster you will learn. Period. It’s science.


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

Expanded practice tip #1: Call it by another name

In an earlier post, I outlined five tips for practicing. For this article, I’m going to elaborate on the first tip: don’t think of your sessions with guitar as “practice” but think of it as “playing.”

Most of our time is spent doing things we need to do: school, work, grocery shopping, cooking cleaning, laundry, yard work and so on, leaving us precious little time to do the things that we want to do. For me, those things are hanging out with my wife, playing videos games, going to Orioles games, reading, and, of course playing the guitar. Sometimes, even for me, playing the guitar can feel more like a chore than a leisure activity. When that happens, I try to think back to when I first decided to pick up my guitar. What was my motivation? Why did reach out and grab a guitar for the first time, put it in my lap and pluck the strings? Because I wanted to play. I wanted to mess around and see what fun I could have. I didn’t gravitate to the guitar because I was looking forward to practicing. I didn’t wrap my hands around the neck and place my fingers on the strings because I eager to practice some scales. No, I was looking forward to playing, to making some music.

After playing the guitar enough, you’ll inevitably get better. When you get better, you’ll want more from the instrument, to learn more songs and techniques. To do those things, you’ll feel motivated to continue playing, now with a more focused approach, driven by your desire to improve. You’ll want to explore concepts and skills beyond your current aptitude. Your desire to improve will push you to try new things and spend more time with the guitar, which in turn leads to your development as player. And it all starts with simply playing.

So when you’re not feeling motivated to practice, remember that it’s not really practice at all. It is playing. If you start your sessions with the guitar with the mindset that you are going to play and have fun, you’ll find that guitar will remain one of your favorite and most rewarding leisure activities and never feel like a chore. When I get in those moods when guitar starts to feel like work, I remember how I felt about the guitar when I first started. I didn’t need to practice. No. Rather, I wanted to play.

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

Five Tips for Practicing

There’s only one way to get better at guitar: practice. I already gave you some thoughts on practicing from some of the great guitar players, but now it’s my turn. Here are some tips to help you improve your playing at a faster rate.

  1. Call it by another name. Don’t call your time with the guitar “practice.” Rather, call it “play.” The word practice makes it feel like a chore, and no one like to do chores. If you think of it as playtime, you’ll be more likely to pick up the guitar on a daily basis, which leads me to the next tip.
  2. Play everyday. We get better faster if we remind our brains everyday what it is we are trying to learn. It takes many reminders for our brains to convert short term memory into long term memory. If we play everyday, we convince our brains that guitar playing is important and it’s movements and concepts should be stored in long term memory.
  3. Play slowly. Every bad repetition negates a good one. The trick to learning a new song, lick or chord as fast as possible is lots of quality repetitions where every note is played well. If you rush and play at too high of a tempo too soon, you’ll make mistakes. Mistakes set the clock back and keep you from your goal.
  4. Play with a metronome. Not only will a metronome improve your sense of time and groove, it will also help you benchmark yourself. If the lick that you want to learn is played at 140 bpm, but you can only manage it at 110 bpm on your metronome, that gives you an idea of how far you need to go. And when you improve the tempo to 120 bpm the next day, you will feel good about your progress.
  5. Have a goal. Don’t just pick up the guitar and play aimlessly, but rather set a goal for each session. Learn the next section of a song you’re learning, for example. Figure out that cool lick in that song you like. Work on the next three pages in a method book. Any goal is better than none at all.

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

It’s time to hydrate your guitar.

It’s November. The leaves are falling, the days are shorter and, much to the dismay of your acoustic guitars, the air is crisp. That’s right, your guitars hate the fall and winter. Why? They can die of thirst.

Your acoustic guitar needs about 45% to 55% relative humidity to remain healthy and free from potential harm. Fall and winter weather here in Maryland brings drier air. To make matters worse, the heat from our furnaces sap the most of the remaining moisture out of the air. Unless you have a household humidification system, chances are the humidity levels inside your home will drop to below 20% during the fall and winter months.

So, what happens when your guitar dries out? Wood is an organic material that needs to be hydrated. When it dries out, it shrinks and becomes brittle and prone to cracking. Repairing a cracked guitar is a complicated and expensive process that rarely brings the guitar back to its original condition.

Your best bet is to avoid letting your guitar dry out in the first place. Here are some tips to help keep your acoustic guitar healthy and happy:

  • Install a hydrometer (a device that measures relative humidity) in your guitar room. When it consistently drops below 45%, it is time to take action.
  • When that time comes, buy an Oasis or D’Addario guitar humidifier and use as directed. Each of these products releases moisture into the air in a manner that is safe for the guitar. The guitar will happily drink the moisture that is released.
  • Keep your acoustic guitar along with its humidifier in the guitar’s case. The humidifier works much more efficiently in the enclosed space of the guitar case than it does sitting on a stand.
  • When you are playing the guitar, keep the lid closed on the guitar case. That will help keep the humid air in the case from escaping.
  • If you suspect your guitar is severely dehydrated, consider bringing it into the bathroom with you as you shower for a week. The steam from the shower will help rehydrate the guitar. Immediately return the guitar to the case after your shower.
  • When spring/early summer rolls around, start monitoring the hydrometer. When it consistently reads humidity levels above 45%, you can release the guitar from its prison and keep it on a stand for the rest of the summer.

Here are some additional resources:

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

Learn a new way to play an A chord

Learn a new way to play the trusty old A-major chord in this video.

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

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 justinguitar.com 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 www.ewguitar.com.

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 www.ewguitar.com.