Webinar – Improve Your Rhythm

September 19th, 2011

Sep. 24, 2011 6PM (EST) – Improve your rhythm and understand musical notation, attend this month’s webinar at GuitarGames.net. Whether you don’t know your quarter notes from your eighths or can’t tap along to a polka, I am here to help. We’ll cover the following:

  • Reading Rhythm Notation
  • Common Counting Pitfalls
  • How a Metronome can Make You a Rhythm Master
  • Simple & Compound Meter
  • Advanced Rhythms – Sixteenths, Triplets, Super-Triplets, and more

The webinar will take place this Saturday September 24th at 6 PM EST (3PM PST). The webinar is free, To attend, please contact William Wilson and include the words “Rhythm Webinar” in your subject line.

Update! Thanks to all of you who attended the webinar, if you missed it there is a recording at: http://www.instantpresenter.com/guitargames

Birds of Fretopia Competition

September 5th, 2011

photo by DVIDSHUBS

This Saturday, September 10, 2011, GuitarGames.net will host a one day competition for its game Birds of Fretopia. Starting at 12AM (PST) the scores for Birds of Fretopia will be erased. The competition will last until 8PM (PST) the same day. The person with the high score at the end of the competition will win a $40 gift certificate to Amazon.com! The competition is open to everyone.

Over the next week, tips will be sent out via Twitter and Facebook to help contestants prepare for the competition. Stay tuned and may the smartest guitarist win!

Free Webinar: Notes on the Guitar Fretboard

August 29th, 2011

 

This Friday, September 2nd, 2011 at 6pm EST (3pm PST) William Wilson will be hosting a free webinar on the notes of the guitar fretboard. In it William will discuss the three fretboard landmarks, the logic behind the fretboard, and resources that will help students learn to read music on the guitar. The webinar is open to the public, but limited to 25 attendees. To attend, please contact William and include the words “Fretboard Webinar” in your subject line.

William Wilson is the creator of GuitarGames.net and author of Guitar Games: Learn Guitar. Read Music. Fight Space Monsters. He teaches guitar and performs throughout Southern California.

Treble Clef: What the heck is it?

August 22nd, 2011

Treble Clef

Whenever a student is struggling with reading music I like to start by explaining the treble clef. If a student understands what the treble clef is and why it’s there the mystery of music notation is solved. If reading music is still a mystery to you or you would just like to find out more on music notation and the treble clef’s background read on…

What is the treble clef?

Quite simply the treble clef is the letter G. Or at least it was originally the letter G and people fancied it up over the years. To understand why we have the letter G at the beginning of guitar music, let’s travel back in time…

You are now entering the 6th century.

Music has been a part of mankind’s existence probably since Adam was kicked out of the garden (I think that might have been the first Blues song, but I digress).

Around the 6th century a really smart guy named Boethius decided to name the notes used in music based on the first 15 letters of the alphabet. At that time they only used 15 notes. So they each had a name.

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O (They weren’t really in English)

Notes that sound the same

Check out these notes:
Flash Required.

What do you notice about the notes with the same name? Notice how they sound similar? Well a little while after Boethius, other people noticed the same thing! They decided that 15 notes was way too many and that there really were only seven (Pheww!) since notes that sounded similar should be given the same name. Nowadays we call notes with the same name octaves (oct means 8 and given there are 7 notes they repeat every 8). The musical alphabet was now:

A B C D E F G A B C D E F G

Notes between the Notes

Unfortunately, more smart guys came along and decided they like to use notes between the seven existing notes making reading music harder for the rest of us. But rather than use new letter names they stuck with the original seven and added sharps (#) and flats(b). Sharps raise a note and flats lower them. So A# is a note higher than A, but lower than B, kind of like A and 1/2. And D-flat is lower than D but higher than C. But, and this is a big but, not every note has a sharp and a flat, take a look:

A A# B C C# D D# E F F# G G#
-or-
A B-flat B C D-flat D E-flat E F G-flat G A-flat

Notice there is no note between B and C, or E and F.

What does this have to do with the treble clef?

Back to our friend the treble clef. Rather than writing the names of notes down for every song, musicians draw a picture of how high or low the notes are on a grid called a staff, this is what we call music notation.

The problem with this is knowing exactly which note is which? You can see which notes are higher than others, but which one is A or B or whatever? Enter the treble clef. People began writing down which letter one line was at the beginning of music. After that the staff follows the musical alphabet. So once the treble clef is added at the beginning of the staff we know that the second line is letter G, since that is where the center of the G lies. Take a look at how the music alphabet now fits on the staff.

This is the first step in reading music notation, naming the notes. To learn more about music notation and the guitar check out our free guitar notes course. It will have you reading music in no time!

Fret Tester: Our New Online Fretboard Trainer!

August 5th, 2011

The New Fret Tester!

The first game I created was Tab Warrior, probably the worst game ever created. Second I wrote Note Fish, which is still a valuable and fun game (My oldest two sons love it!). Then I created Fret Tester, some 5 years ago! After releasing Fret Tester for iPhone just this last June, I thought it was about time I redid it.

I think you’ll find the new improvements will help you master the fretboard faster than ever. I made the following changes:

  • Audio playback of the notes
  • Custom Tuning
  • Left Hand mode
  • Show your speed at finding notes as beats per minute (like a metronome)
  • Added five-string bass and Mandolin
  • Combined Guitar Flash Cards, Fret Tester, and Fret Tester Bass into one game.
  • Added new “Find Notes” mode
  • Added new “Notes on the Staff” mode
  • Made game larger and easier to use
  • Added Timed mode of play
  • Added fretboard charts for all four instruments

I’m sure there are one or two more, but you get the idea.

For those of you who may miss our old friends Guitar Flash Cards, Fret Tester Bass, and the original Fret Tester they’ll still be available. Have fun!

Fret Tester Released for iPhone and iPad

June 10th, 2011

Fret Tester for iPhone

GuitarGames.net is proud to announce the release of Fret Tester for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad. Fret Tester for iOS combines the original Fret Tester with Guitar Flash Cards, as well as many new features. These include:

  • 2 new modes of play: Find Notes and Notes on the Staff
  • Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, and Five-String Bass (All with playback).
  • Custom Tuning
  • Left-Hand Mode
  • HD Graphics
  • Track speed as well as fretboard progress
  • and more!

For more info check out our Fret Tester for iPhone page.

CAGED and Other Scales

April 30th, 2011

photo by basheertome

Question:

In the CAGED system, do the shapes ALWAYS match up to ANY and ALL scale shapes in that area? I was watching your youtube video again, and the second part at the end you reference the Eb mixelodeon (sp?), and how the d shape and a shape fit into it. but do these CAGED shapes fit into all scales?

Answer:

The CAGED shapes can serve as the basis for most scales. Certainly the Major, Mixolydian, and Lydian scales fit well. Also any major based arpeggio works. When you get into minor and more altered scales, you can still use the CAGED shapes, but some of the notes will need to be adjusted. The 3rd of the scale won’t match the note used in the CAGED pattern. If you use the Super Scale Trainer to view minor scales in reference mode with the CAGED display turned on you’ll see what I mean. The CAGED shapes still make a great starting point, but a little extra work is required.

Example:

Start with the “E” Shape at the 5th position. This gives you an “A” major chord.

"E" Shape at 5th Position -> A major

If you build a Mixolydian scale off of this shape you get the following:

A Mixolydian Scale

Notice that you can build this scale straight off the CAGED shape. Not so with minor. In minor we have to alter the CAGED shape a little. Take a look at the following:

A Minor

Most of the strings include the original CAGED note (shown in red). However the third string does not, because that CAGED note is not in the minor scale. But, since the CAGED shape is providing a note on 5 out of 6 strings it still makes a good starting point for building the scale.

If you look closely at the above minor scale, you may notice that even though the full “E” shape is not in the scale, the full “E minor” shape is. Instead of using the major chord as a skeleton (CAGED shape), a minor chord can be used, in which case you’d have a note on every string. That would look like this:

A minor scale using "minor shape"

The concept is the same: Use a first position chord as the skeleton for scales and arpeggios. The only difference is you use a minor chord instead of a major. Try it out!

If you are new to the CAGED system watch our introduction to the CAGED system.

Rhythm Game First Look

February 15th, 2011

Rhythm Trainer in Progress

Even though it’s not quite finished, I wanted to introduce the new Rhythm Game. Two reasons for the early introduction.

  1. Illicit feedback as it is developed as well as find bugs earlier in development.
  2. Even though it’s not done, it already is useful and should benefit students!

The game can be played here:

Rhythm Game

Here is a list of things still in progress:

  • Presets
  • User presets
  • Option for two lines simultaneously
  • Support for microphone input (I’ve done the initial testing on this and so far so good).
  • Option to click / tap (for touchscreen devices)
  • More rhythmic choices
  • Varying degrees of difficulty
  • Instruction page
  • Navigation and replay controls for redoing an exercise

Is there anything I missed? If you have a suggestion on features or a bug to report please do so in the comments below. Thanks!

12 Ways to be the Best Guitar Player on the Block

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. Songsterr.com 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. GuitarGames.net 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 chrisbb@prodigy.net

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.

Conclusion-

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!

Mental Practice – Member Writes In

January 19th, 2011

photo by BlatantNews.com

I received some really great feedback on our mental practice lesson. This from a user named Dan McDonald Great stuff!

Ive been mentally practicing things for years. I had read a study which 2 teams of similarly skilled basketball players were asked to practice free throws for 1 hour a day for a month. One group physically did the process, the other just pictured it in their heads. They were told to think about as much as possible about the activity…the feel of the ball, the position of your hands etc. Most importantly envision every ball swishing through the net.

A month later the mental group had progressed substantially while the group that actually carried it out barely gained any improvements. Seems parts of the brain (not all, but many that are involved in the training/learning process) cant tell the difference between picturing it and actually doing it.

It doesnt work well for things you havent learned yet, you cant picture playing the piano and suddenly your BIlly Preston before you’ve even touched a key in your life…its more for things you know how to do, like fret a note on the guitar, but require a bit more dexterity by building a mental connection to how to carry out the process, like playing a solo faster/cleaner than you presently do. You know where to put your fingers, you just need to build that connection in your brain.

I just started playing again after not playing for over 20 years. Man, you forget ALOT and worse your brain and fingers just arent connected like they used to be. Things I could do effortlessly I cant do at all. Dont think it helps that i wasnt that good to begin with. Mental practice helps alot though. I do it alot while driving, laying down to sleep (agreed, it beats sheep!) or wherever im unable to play.