Quick Hits: Essentials of Mastering the Guitar

Before you can shred like the pros, you're going to 
have to get down those fundamentals 

Happy Wednesday, everyone! We’re less than a week away until Christmas and you know what that means! Well, it means a lot of packed malls and stores filled with all of those last minute shoppers – including myself! But let’s talk guitar today. Although we here at ProAudioLand are a business first and foremost, we believe that in order to give our customers the best value on their equipment of choice is by not only giving them the best deals in town, but by giving them the best info and tips on said equipment.  Just like anything else, your brand new device will do you no good unless you know how to unlock its potential. We here at the PAL Blog try and do our best by giving our readers plenty of different articles that run the gamut of pro audio from reviews on the latest gear to instructional guides on recording all sorts of instruments – but there is only so much we can do ourselves. And that’s exactly why we launched the PAL Forum; a meeting ground where the collected minds of a community can come together and discuss, hang out and most importantly help each other out by asking plenty of questions and giving just as many answers.

Today, I want to get the ball rolling with some essential tips on becoming a master of the guitar but before we go and discuss the subtleties of Yngwie Malmsteem’s use of sweeping arpeggios, melodic minor scales and natural and/or false harmonics, let’s start off with some of the basics and then go from there. Here are a few of the concepts I believe are extremely integral in mastering the mighty guitar.


The Importance of Basic Technique

Before you master the guitar you have to understand and remember that a guitar is a touch-oriented instrument like no other. For example, depending on how hard or light you press onto the strings as you play, you’ll get a completely different sound. And just like anything else, the best way to learn how to play guitar properly is by attaining a clean technique. This means holding a firm but comfortable grip around the guitar neck with your fingers placed near the edge of the fret wire. You should also remember to use the tip of your finger to hold down a string in order for the sound to resonate properly. Although certain chords – most notably the barre chord – will need one or more fingers to press down multiple strings, using the tip is still integral.

This is especially true when playing chords and transitioning between them. Select two chords that you feel most comfortable with. If you don’t really know any, I suggest you start with G Major and E Minor as they are in my opinion the easiest to learn and transition between. Once you have chosen your two chords try strumming one of the chords repeatedly, even in one direction, and then transition to the next one. The goal of this practice is to avoid “ghost chords” or sloppy transitions when changing to the next chord. It might seem like a simple concept but you really need to have perfect chord transitions, especially if you’re going to be recording yourself any time soon.


Get to know the Classics

It seems like more and more lately I begin to meet teenaged guitarists who couldn’t tell you the difference between Robert Johnson and Robert Plant. While this is in fact a sad fact in and of itself, what these young players don’t realize is that they are limiting themselves to the true potential of their instrument. Let’s take Blues for example; blues guitar is often lost on younger players simply because it’s not fast, modern or cool with their crowd. The reason learning how to play this style – the blues scale specifically – is that it helps immensely with developing “phrasing.” Phrasing is important if you really want to make that ax of yours sing, scream or cry rather than just sound flat and dry. Bending notes and vibrato technique is also exercised when playing the blues and helps you develop a sense of distance between notes. And never forget that Blues leads directly into different styles of music including rock, jazz, and funk. Start slow with the blues scale; focus on phrasing and vibrato technique. The quality of your playing is elevated when you can create an expressive tone with what you play.


Learn From the Greats

There’s nothing wrong with taking a page or two from the pros! Even guitar legend Eddie Van Halen spent his formative years learning all of Eric Clapton’s Cream-era solos before he went and created a sound of his own. And luckily for all of those newbies out there, there are so many great guitar players from around the world with different techniques. One of the ways I learned to play was to visualize in my head the sound I was hearing and translate what I heard onto the fret board. And thanks to that modern marvel known as the internet, it’s easier than ever to take inspiration from a variety of different players. Just watch YouTube. Focus in on what they are playing and HOW they are playing it. Watch live concerts and zone into the fret board and simply analyze what they are doing. Watch it again and again if you have to. But remember to start slow, zone into your own playing, and analyze the sound you are hearing. The goal of this is to take proven techniques from other guitarists and incorporate them into your own style. The idea is to visualize and focus on ear training. Down the line, ear training will be an important and essential tool for improvising with other musicians.


Build Your Repertoire

One of the single best things about the age of the internet is that seemingly all of the world’s information is just a few clicks away and the same goes for anything music as well. This means that getting the info in order to learn almost any song you can think of is as easy as searching for the nearest pizza place.  A long, long time ago, some of us had to actually learn songs by buying these very expensive relics known as song books which were useless unless we learned how to read music. Or worse yet – learn by ear! In this age, we have online tabs. While I won’t name any specific sites, there are tons out there with a huge catalog of tabs for pretty much any song you can think of. A word of caution though; like anything else on the internet, just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true and in the case of tabs, some are notoriously inaccurate. But even with that said, most of these tabs are usually rated for accuracy or their amount of detail so it shouldn’t be that hard filtering out the duds. And in case you don’t know how to read tabs, it’s really not that difficult of a task and there are plenty of sites eager to show you how.

The important thing here is once you learn how to read tabs, start learning those songs and learn a lot of them. We all know practice is essential to mastering anything in life so why practice by playing to your favorite tunes. This essentially falls along the same lines as learning techniques by watching the pros but by building your song knowledge, you give yourself a better idea of the huge gamut of sound possibilities afforded by the guitar. Also, there are few things that feel as sweet as busting out your ax and nailing down a random song request from a buddy or a stranger. You might want to start with The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” Trust me – whether you like that song or not – EVERYONE is going to be asking for that one. 



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