EW Explains: Muting


Learn how to sound like a pro with this latest video about muting:

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

Expanded practice tip #4: Have a goal


In an earlier post, I outlined five tips for practicing. For this article, I’m going to elaborate on the fifth tip: have a goal.

Part of the fun of learning to play the guitar as a hobby is that it is relaxing and open-ended: a reprieve from the fast-paced structure in our day-to-day lives. It may be tempting to remove all structure from your time with the guitar to give yourself some down time. I’ve been there, too. I’ve picked up the guitar and noodled aimlessly on it for an hour and put it down. Occasionally, that’s great and I recommend that each of your play sessions should involve some noodling.

But to get the most out of your time with the guitar, each session should be a continuation of the last session in some way. In other words, there should be a goal in mind for at least a portion of your play sessions.  The goal can be anything. For example, you could try to perfect a new song, memorize a new scale, make a tricky barre chord sound better, or learn some arpeggios. The list is endless. Pick one goal and incorporate exercises into your play time to help you meet that goal. Do that, and you’ll get better. Do it not, and you could be noodling forever.

 

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

Expanded practice tip #4: Use a metronome


In an earlier post, I outlined five tips for practicing. For this article, I’m going to elaborate on the fourth tip: use a metronome.

In order to convince you of the importance of using a metronome, let’s do an experiment. Listen to each of these three music clips a few times each and choose the one that sounds the best to you:

Clip #1

 

Clip #2

 

Clip #3

 

I’m willing to bet that you picked Clip #3 as sounding the best. Perhaps you picked Clip #1. I’m confident, however, that you did not pick Clip #2 as sounding the best. How do I know this? Because of your basic human nature.

MetronomeYou see, we humans are very good at detecting patterns. In fact, our incredibly well-tuned ability to detect patterns is one of the main reasons we are at the top of the food chain. Music, at its most fundamental, is organizing sounds into patterns that we enjoy hearing. Patterns of pitches and patterns of rhythms. It is precisely rhythms that I’m talking about now.

We are so good at detecting patterns that we can even detect when that pattern is broken or compromised. Let’s return to the audio clips. Clip #3 is a perfect electronic version of the opening riff to “I Don’t Need No Doctor” by John Mayer. Each note is precisely where it should be in perfectly mechanical way. Clip #1 is identical to Clip #3 except that it has been altered so that each note occurs out of time by a random amount, as much as 15%. Clip #2 has been altered so that its notes are as much as 30% out of time.

Here’s the thing: even within Clip #3, with its deviation from perfect time of up to 30% percent, notes are only moving out of time by mere milliseconds from perfect. That’s it, milliseconds. Yet, you were able to detect that the pattern, the timing, was broken. And I hate to say it, you’re not special. Any average person, including non-musicians, can hear it too.

So, if you want to be a better musician. If you want to sound as good as you possibly can, your sense of time needs to be undetectable by the human brain.

You can’t get that good without using a metronome.

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

Expanded practice tip #3: Play slowly


In an earlier post, I outlined five tips for practicing. For this article, I’m going to elaborate on the third tip: play new material slowly and deliberately.

As a teacher, part of my job is to learn new material in the shortest period of time possible, so I’ve picked up a few tricks over the years. The most important of which is to play slowly and deliberately when learning something new. Its tempting to play that new scale or lick at full speed, but you’ll only end playing sloppily and working against your goal, which is to play it well. Here’s why.

Scale.Muscle memory is the name of the game. We’re trying to teach our hands to make a particular series of movements, so we force them to repeat those movements over and over again. Eventually, our hands memorize the movements and we’ve learned the lick, riff, scale, etc.. But here’s the thing: our hands are dumb. It doesn’t recognize the difference between repetitions full of mistakes and repetitions played properly. To our hands, they are no different. So every time we make a mistake, we confuse our hands, keeping us a step farther from reaching our goal. In order to make significant progress, most of our repetitions need to be good ones without mistakes. And to do that, we need to play slowly and deliberately. Keep your mind ahead of your hands and be sure you know exactly what the next note is and how to play it before you play it.

Imagine a scale, with a tray on either side of a balance point, like the scale of justice. Every time we play the riff properly, we put a marble on the “good” tray. Every time we make a mistake, we put a marble on the “bad” side. We want the scale to tip in our favor as quickly as possible by minimizing the mistakes and keeping most of the marbles on the “good” tray. Do that and you’ll learn new material faster than ever.

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

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.