Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

12 Ways to be the Best Guitar Player on the Block

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

Photo by notsogoodphotography

1. Learn Whole Songs -

Many guitarists learn the introduction to a song and nothing else. They’ll play the first four bars of Crazy Train or ACDC’s Back in Black and that’s it. By learning the whole song you will appear as a guitar master! Now, with most songs there are several guitar parts: rhythm, lead, overdubs, etc. Make your way through the song using any part you like and that fit’s your level. has a great feature where you can switch between the different guitar parts, so I’d check that out. If a band is looking for a new guitarist who do you think they’d prefer, the player who can only play little pieces or the guy who is used to playing whole songs?

2. Play in Time-

The average listener picks up on bad rhythm as much as bad notes. If you are trying to dance or even just tap your foot to a song and it doesn’t stay on the beat that’s bad. The guitar is primarily a rhythm instrument, so guitarists better have good rhythm! Two tips on this one. Play along with recordings and play with a metronome. If you have tried playing along with recordings and find they are two fast I would suggest using a slow downer like the Amazing Slow Downer. A metronome is like having a drummer (albeit a boring one) with you. It gets you used to following a steady beat, it helps set your internal clock.

World's Fastest Guitarist

3. Develop Speed-

Now, speed is not the only thing a guitarist needs, but it helps if you’re trying to impress your friends! The way to develop speed is to practice slow with efficient movements. Any wasted motion while playing slows you down. Check out this YouTube video of the world’s fastest guitar player. (Scroll to the end for the really fast stuff) Notice how little his fingers move? That’s what we all need to do to get fast. Think of it this way. If I was running a mile-long race against former Olympian Carl Lewis I would lose. Big time. But, let’s say he had to run 20 miles and I only had to run 1. Then I might actually come close to victory. Same thing with the guitar. Move less and you’ll play faster.

4. Learn to Read Music-

Not every great guitar player knows how to read, but just about every great studio guitarist does. Studio players are the most versatile and dependable of players, and they have to know how to read. Learning to read music opens the door to many different styles and makes learning new music fast. Plus it helps you communicate with other musicians. Imagine if Shakespeare couldn’t write. Instead he just told everyone the lines he had in mind. Would we still be watching his plays? Our free guitar notes course should get you started if you are new to reading.

Andres Segovia

5. Learn the Entire Guitar Neck-

Knowing the notes across the entire guitar neck should be the goal of every aspiring guitarist. Too often I have seen players learn to read in the first position only (the 1st 4 frets). Then when they need to play a higher note they have to leap up, not always with good results. If you know the whole neck you don’t have to move around so much and can stay in one position. This helps players increase speed and accuracy. Also, each area of the guitar has a slightly different sound. Andreas Segovia said that the guitar is a miniature orchestra, capable of so many different sounds. By avoiding the higher regions of the guitar you are missing out on the different timbres the guitar is able to create. Plus the upper parts of the guitar offer more expressive capabilities, like a rich vibrato or pitch bending, that the first position lacks.

6. Learn Scales-

Scales have been given a bad name. I’m reminded of my first piano teacher hovering over me with ruler in hand incase I screw up yet another scale. Really scales are a huge help! It’s as if someone took 1000 songs and boiled them down to a little bouillon cube. Scales contain parts of every song you’ll ever play. So when you practice scales you are really playing 1000 songs all at once. Plus they are great for creating guitar solos. I suggest learning the CAGED system for scales. More on this in our CAGED section of our blog.

7. Learn Music Theory-

Now we’re getting to the fun stuff. Okay, maybe fun isn’t the right word. But we’re getting to the important stuff! Why? If you know Music Theory you understand music better. You know why one song sounds happy and another sad. It’s like looking under the hood of a car and knowing how it works. Music theory helps musicians learn music faster, compose better, improvise, and avoid mistakes. Start with our music theory for beginners course.

8. Develop Your Ear. Transcribe-

Music is sound. Get to know your sonic world by training your ear. Musicians should be able to identify the distance between two notes just by hearing them (without the aid of the guitar!) Chords, scales, and rhythms are equally important. The ultimate goal is that you hear music (that includes music “in your head”) and are able to produce it instantly on the guitar. has several resources for developing this ability. Start with Ear Tester and learn to identify intervals. I suggest you run through our Interval worksheet. For each interval first play the notes together and apart. Then write down a description of what you hear. For example you might play a tritone and say “Oh that’s ugly!” or a major 3rd and think “Pretty music!” Also you may recognize the interval from another song, for example the start to Star Wars is a perfect 5th and Jaws starts with a minor 2nd. After intervals I would go on to chords and seventh chords.

The Holy Grail of ear training is transcription. Guitarist Pat Metheny is legendary for his extensive transcribing. The story goes that when people would visit his practice room they would see stack upon stack of transcriptions! To get started transcribing I would suggest our Woody Says game. It helps build musical memory and pitch identification. Follow this with our Melody Game which also requires rhythmic identification. Also, just listening to a favorite song and figuring it out note by note is great. I would recommend the Amazing Slow Downer for help with the tough sections.

photo by

9. Learn to Sing (and conduct)

The best musicians sing through their instruments. They think of the pitches and the music just comes out of the instrument. A quote from guitar great Peter Sprague:

“To be able to play the guitar in such a way that it’s an extension of our voice is the goal of most great musicians. The notes have meaning when our ‘soul,’ our ‘voice’ stands behind them. There’s nothing worse than our fingers doing all this dancing on the fretboard and the person controlling the fingers has no idea what the notes will sound like until they are struck. We need to ‘hear’ the notes before they are played…No matter how strange and wobbly our voices may be, they still can help bridge the gap between our instrument and our soul.” – Peter Sprague The Sprague Technique

Conducting has similar advantages, especially when it comes to rhythm and a sense of time. With all the focus on the technical aspects of playing guitar, it is important to remember that music is meaningless if it is not expressing something. Singing helps us be expressive players.

10. Practice Well and Often

I’ve written a lot on this in my Secrets to Successful Practice, but it merits repeating. Quality practice is more important than quantity. Whatever you repeat you learn. So if you play a passage ten times with bad technique, guess what? You just engrained how not to play it. Muscles learn through repetition. You need to get something right and THEN play it over and over. Correct repetition. If you play a passage wrong nine times and get it right on the 10th you haven’t learned it! As to how much to practice I recommend our mini report on developing a practice schedule.

11. Mental Practice

As guitar players we always want to have our guitar in our hands. Unless our fingers are moving we feel like we are not accomplishing much. The truth is much can be accomplished with mental practice. From a study of music and the brain by Alvaro Pascual-Leone:

“Mental simulation of movements activates some of the same central neural structures required for the performance of the actual movements. In so doing, mental practice alone seems to be sufficient to promote the modulation of neural circuits involved in the early stages of motor skill learning. This modulation not only results in marked improvement in performance, but also seems to place subjects at an advantage for further skill learning with minimal physical practice. The combination of mental and physical practice leads to greater performance improvement than does physical practice alone, a phenomenon for which our findings provide a physiological explanation.” – Quoted in Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia

In other words mental practice stimulates are brain in a similar way to physical practice and the combination of the two produces the best result! How does one practice mentally? Visualization, internal singing, analysis of scores, etc. More on this below…

12. Memorize Music Well

It’s not enough for our fingers to know the music we play, our brain must know it too! Music can be memorized in many ways.

  1. Muscle memory – acquired through physical repetition.
  2. Sound memory – Be able to sing the melody to any song.
  3. Visual memory – Being able to picture your left hand through the entire song!
  4. Analytical memory – Know what key your in, the chord progression, where the music repeats, etc.

If you memorize all this information for a song you’ll be much better prepared for  performing it. What often happens is that a person learns a song ONLY by muscle memory. They can play it at home by themselves just fine. There is little pressure so the muscle memory (which is in the subconscious) can run things. But, when asked to perform the same piece in front of others things go badly. Why? What often happens is that the conscious memory takes over. The performer asks “What comes next?” And can not give an answer since only the subconscious muscle memory knows how to play the piece! The result is a blackout and failed performance. It’s as if you are riding in a plane that is on auto-pilot, but suddenly you need to grab the controls and don’t know how to fly.

I suggest the following routine to practice.

  1. Play a piece and sing along with the melody.
  2. Sing the piece as you visualize the left hand (no guitar!)
  3. Sing the piece as you run through an analysis of the piece (The form, repeats, chord names, etc.)

This will help you learn the piece using all four types of memory. Also it ties all types of memory using the sound of the piece (You are singing for each one). This creates more connections between your mind and the music. It makes sense that sound is central to the process since that is what music is made of! Often I’ll have a student who has a memory lapse. I tell them to sing the next note. They do, and suddenly their fingers remember where to go!

Fore more on how to practice please check out out Secrets to Successful Practice report.


So you want to be the best guitarist you can be? Now you know how! It’s not a matter of “talent” it’s a matter of preparation! The only “gift” you need to succeed at music is perseverance!

All You Can Sight Read Buffet

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Bach Invention No. 1

When it comes to learning to read music the more material the better. Whether it be classical, jazz, rock, or bluegrass read as much as you can. By varying style you keep things interesting and cover lots of ground. It doesn’t have to be all guitar music either. In fact, it is often better to read non-guitar music. Why? Well, there isn’t tab or fingerings for one. That forces you to rely totally on your note reading skills. Also, it won’t always fit neatly into one position, which also pushes your reading ability.

Petrucci Music Library

When it comes to scores to read there is one amazing online library you should check out. It contains 82,000 scores, all available for free! It sounds too good to be true, but visit it for yourself. It’s called the Petrucci Music Library, and is a collection of public-domain scores. It’s all classical music of various sorts, and there is tons of great stuff to sight read. Start with the Bach Inventions or Paganini’s Caprices, and then feel free to try anything in there. Piano works provide a great challenge since there are multiple parts. Flute and violin are  usually single line (one note at a time) but often the range is greater (higher pitches). You may find that you need to read things an octave lower than written to fit the guitar, but that too is a great challenge! Give it 5 minutes a day and your reading will improve tremendously.

Use a Tuner To Name Notes!

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

This is a tip I got from Rick of Rick’s Guitar Shop in San Diego. First you’ll need a Snark Tuner. (They’re also great tuners!) Attach it to your headstock and play any note on the guitar. The tuner will display the name of the note since it’s a chromatic tuner! Think of the possibilities. Say you are learning the fifth position, but you have forgotten what note is on the fourth string seventh fret. Play the note and watch the readout on the Snark tuner. It will read “A” telling you the note name! What a great reference for learning to sightread. Get a Snark Tuner and try it out.

Snark Tuner

Snark Tuner

Kid’s Guitar Chord Chart and Chord Flash Cards

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Just added: our new Easy Chord Chart for Kids! It uses only the top three strings of the guitar, making the chords much easier for little hands.

Kid's Chord Chart

Kid's Chord Chart

And Chord Flash Cards:

Chord Flash Cards

Chord Flash Cards

I suggest using the flash cards to play little games in order to learn the chords, rather than for drilling. Two of each chord are included. They can be used in a memory game, where all cards are placed face down and the student needs to find a pair. When they find a pair they have to play the chord correctly to keep them. Or sometimes I line them up on the floor and place a game piece on one end. The student rolls a die and moves the game figure. If they play the chord they land on correctly they stay if not they go back. Who ever gets to the end first wins. Or print two copies and play “Go Fish.” The possibilities are endless!

Another Way to Remember Key Signatures

Monday, March 15th, 2010

There are many ways to remember key signatures. One of which I describe in the introduction to Key Hunt. Another is the famous circle of fifths, which is a great way to do it, but somewhat challenging for the beginner. Well here is another one!

First off, a reminder of what a key signature is. Basically a key signature shows the accidentals (sharps and flats) within a key. To build a major scale using a key signature start with one note of every letter name. For example the key of “A”, start with A B C D E F G. Adjust the notes to fit the key signature. The key signature for  ”A” has F# C# G#, so adjust all those notes and you get A B  C# D E F# G# A, which is the “A” major scale.

Now on to memorizing key signatures. Let’s take a look at the key signatures for sharp keys:

G: F#
D: F# C#
A: F# C# G#
E: F# C# G# D#
B: F# C# G# D# A#
F#: F# C# G# D# A# E#

Notice that all keys follow the same pattern. They all start with F#, then move to C#, etc. They differ in the number of sharps, but not in the order of their appearance. If you can memorize the order, and the number each key has, then you would know is signature! To remember the order sharps appear in (called the order of the sharps) use the sentence: Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bananas. (F C G D A E B).

To remember the number of sharps a key has, I put together the following music theory number lines. (Sounds fun, eh?) On a music theory number line sharps are positive and flats are negatives. Any time you move in the positive direction you add sharps, in the negative direction you take away sharps/or add flats when you go below 0. The number lines show the name of a key and the number of sharps or flats in its signature. Notice the following, any time you move up 2 whole steps (2 frets) a signature adds 2 sharps, or if you move back you take a way 2 sharps (or add flats). That is pretty convenient. Move up 2 add 2, move down 2 take away 2. Notice there are two number lines, since if you move by 2s you only get odds or evens. A good place to start on the number lines are the keys of “G” and “C”. Remember that “C” has 0 sharps or flats, and “G” has 1 sharp. Then move up or down the number lines and you can easily find key signatures. Let’s try the key of “B”. “B” is four half-steps higher than “G”, so it will have 4 more sharps for a total of 5. That means it’s signature is: F# C# G# D# A#. Try it out with a few and see for yourself.

Key Signature Number Lines

Key Signature Number Lines

For flat keys the number lines work equally well, except they follow a different order. The order flats appear in is: Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb. Which is the sharp order in reverse. I remember that it starts with the word BEAD, and adds “GCF.” Lets try using the number lines and the order of flats to find the key signature for Ab. Ab has a -4 (4 flats) on the number line, so it’s key signature is Bb Eb Ab Db.

Each method for memorizing key signatures has its advantages and disadvantages. The benefit of using number lines is that they are relatively easy to build and use. I like that they follow a predictable pattern, move up 2 frets get 2 more sharps, move down 2 frets take 2 away. Musical number lines also have other uses (they are helpful in finding parallel minor keys and modes). By thinking of sharps as positives and flats as negatives much of music theory can be simplified to basic arithmetic.

Performance and the Fretboard

Thursday, June 25th, 2009


photo by gonc._a

One of the best ways to improve performance ability is knowledge of the fretboard.  By knowing the fretboard guitarists are able to learn a piece at a deeper level, not simply muscle memory. Combined with a basic understanding of music theory mistakes can be overcome in more graceful manner. Truth be told, most guitarists make mistakes during performance. But, the good ones are able to move through the mistakes. I always say that if you don’t stop or swear most people won’t notice.

Here’s one way to do it:

  1. Figure out what key a piece is in. (Hint: check the key signature at the beginning)
  2. Find all the notes in that key all over the neck.
  3. Practice making mistakes (Yes, you read that correctly). Pretend to make a mistake at any given point, or have a friend yell out “mistake” as you play for them. Work your way out of the spot by relying on the notes from the key your in. Make something up to fill in where you made a mistake until you find a place to jump back in.

For more tips on how mental practice can can make you a better player see page 6 of our Secrets of Successful Practice Course.

Tips on Birds of Fretopia

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The competition is off to a great start! We have Michael Moore out front with an amazing 1196. I came up with a few tips on how to maximize scores. Good luck!

  1. Get more points per click. By changing the range in settings and using a larger section of the fretboard you will get more points for every bird.
  2. Learn the fretboard. If you are going to use the whole fretboard, you better know it well. Try our guitar notes mini-course and our Learn the Guitar Neck in 10 Easy Lessons (members only).
  3. Don’t waste the Wilds and UFOs. When you see a wild or UFO don’t click it right away. First check to see if the correct answer is already somewhere on the page. Hit that bird, then move right away to the wild / UFO to maximize points.

If you have some other great ideas, let us know! And remember, be careful, you might learn something.

CAGED System for Guitar

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

We put together a 17-minute video introducing the CAGED system. For the uninitiated, the CAGED system is a way of dividing up the guitar neck, making it easier to find and play chords, scales, and arpeggios. The CAGED system is based on the first position chords C, A, G, E, and D. Since most guitarists are familiar with these chords it is much easier to learn than other fretboard systems. It is very useful for all guitar players, but especially those interested in improvising. We divided the video up in to two parts.

The first video discusses the need for the CAGED system and the basics of how it works. It introduces the concept of moveable patterns upon which the CAGED system is based. Also the origin of the name “CAGED” is discussed as it is relevant to its use. General examples of the system’s use are also included.

The second part of our study of the CAGED system deals with how the CAGED system can be used to find scales or arpeggios in a specific area of the neck (Great for improvisation). It also shows how’s Super Scale Trainer can be used while learning the CAGED system.

Develop Speed

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

I put together a short video explaining how our Super Scale Trainer can be used as a Speed Trainer. It’s based on the experience I had studying guitar at college. My teacher would start every lesson by playing scales with me. What I found was that my own speed came up quite a bit s a result. Watch the video below for all the details.


Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Guitar players are people of routine. It comes with the territory. Mastery of music requires consistent repetition. With this in mind we added “shortcuts” to our member sidebar. “Shortcuts” are links to the games / pages you decide are most important. You create them by clicking on “Create Shortcut”, and you can organize them by clicking on “Manage Account.” (Make sure you are logged in ot you won’t see any of this!)

Here’s one idea for you: Put together a GuitarGames routine. For instance 5 minutes of Note Squish, followed by 5 minutes of Birds of Fretopia, followed by 10 minutes of Fret Tester. Put each of them in a row on the sidebar, and you have a super fast practice routine that’s easy to access, remember, etc. Do this for two weeks and you will see huge progress in your music reading abilities. Have fun!