Happy New Year Guitarists! 🎸
Resolutions…. Yikes! I mean, I think the general population will roll their collective eyes .. I know I do. The fact remains, we make New Years Resolutions whether we admit it (publicly) or not right?
Whether it’s a diet to take off some of that holiday weight or better Guitar Practice.. I mean myself personally.. I think I ate over 300 cookies bewteen Thanksgiving and Christmas! Who am I kidding? I need to get back on some healthier eating and exercise ASAP…
I also played a lot of live gigs in December (26 gigs in 31 days!) but honestly the quality of my guitar practice time dropped significantly with all of the parties and fun holiday actvities happening. Do I regret any of it? Hell no. It’s my favorite time of year and we should ALL take time to enjoy these things. Life is short right?
So now what? I (started) writing this on New Years Day. I’m relaxing on the couch with my wife and 4 pups watching the NHL Winter Classic. I essentially took 2 weeks off from the website, guitar lessons and all writing in general. Now that my gig schedule has a slowed down a bit this month, it’s Time to get back to work!
Guitar Playing Struggles
Ok, that guy is angry! If you’re not on my email list, a few weeks ago I sent out a question to everyone on the top 3 things they struggle with on the guitar. I kind of bribed everyone by offering a free copy of my book The 7 Day Practice Routine for Guitarists.
The response was overwhelming! If you like getting fun and informative guitar related stuff, guitar lessons, tips and articles in your inbox, you should jump on the list. I must be doing something right because rarely does anyone unsubscribe and I always get the best, most thoughtful replies from guitarists all over the world.
In my opinion, there is just no better way to learn than listening to other guitarists. Here are a few highlights from guitarists on my email list:
- Learning a complete song and not getting discouraged when hitting a difficult part.
- Finding the dedicated time to focus on a practice session without interruptions from family.
I think we can all relate a bit to Garrett’s struggles right?
Improvising is something that will always get better with time and it’s also something we all can improve upon. If you’ve got a good handle on scales and harmony… you’re headed in the right direction. Pull up some backing tracks on YouTube and try to devote a good 15-30 minutes of your practice time to just jamming over tracks in different keys.
Work on phrasing and bends. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of simply running shapes and playing licks you already know. Try going outside of your comfort zone. Incorporate more bends, slides, etc. and limit yourself to only 1 or 2 strings at a time. Try a key you’re not comfortable with too.
Learning Songs on the Guitar
Try downloading some good software like Guitar Pro 7.5 and playing along with TABS that can be slowed down and even looped. Take those difficult sections and knock them down to half (or slower) speed, loop them and work out those tough parts. It will get better!
If you can’t find the TAB, work on it by ear and use a metronome.. slow at first, then gradually increase up to the song’s tempo. That’s how all of us older guitarists did it back in the Dark Ages before the internet. 🙂
Guitar Practice Interruptions
A few years back, I completely redid one of the bedrooms in our house with the intent of making it into a dedicated Guitar Music room. I did it and it looks great.. and I keep all of my guitars and gear in there.. but I didn’t like the isolation of being ‘alone’ in a room by myself away from my dogs and wife for hours on end. Is that weird?
I get if you have kids, it’s probably a completely different set of problems.. but for me an iPad and an iRig jack solved my problem.
The iRig (or any other compatible guitar jack / tablet setup) enables me to work on songs, improvisations, write, record etc., al. all in the comfort of my living room on the iPad. The functionality of the iPad and various apps far exceeds what you can get done on a traditional practice amp.
The best part… I’m not disturbing my wife or distracted by the TV with my headphones on. It’s definitely something to consider. It may not stop the interruptions, but the feeling of headphone isolation helps with a more productive practice.
- Consistent practice – structuring my practice time.
- Motivation and Energy.
- Easily discouraged.
I’m going to take a guess… but I think Kim’s problems all kind of come back to struggle #1 – Consistent Guitar Practice!
If you’re not practicing at least 5 days a week, you’re hindering your progress, creating a discouraged feeling, which in turn will affect your motivation to play the guitar.
When you’re practicing regularly, you’re going to get better, it’s just that simple. When you’re getting better it’s more fun and that discouraged feeling will disappear.. and you guessed it… give you the motivation and energy to keep it up!
- Practicing more on a regular schedule.
- Making my guitar Improvisations better.
- Guitar scales and theory.
Noticing a trend here… These really represent the bulk of the replies I received.
You’re never too old to get on a structured guitar practice routine Dave. I’ve had students in their late 60’s go from beginner to playing the music they love in a relatively short period of time … because they stuck to a good practice routine. Good luck buddy!
Those are just a handful of the responses, but there is definitely a common thread between these and many of the other responses I received.
- Better Improvisations
- Music Theory
- Structured, Focused Practice Time
- Improving guitar technique
- Putting together a good guitar practice routine!
These are the exact types of guitarists I wrote my Guitar Practice Routine book for! This is the exact same method and structure I use myself to work on and maintain all of these common struggles outlined by my email subscribers.
If you already have the book (Thank you!) feel free to skip down to the next section where I talked to some of my favorite guitarists about what their 2019 Guitar Goals are and include some of my own too goals for 2019.
- In Chapter 1 I included a simple technical routine that works out the left hand by isolating different finger combinations while at the same time working out the right hand using alternate picking.
My Villa Lobos Picking etude arrangement is getting great feedback and as I learned myself, delivers amazing results for the picking hand. It’s fun too!
- In Chapter 2 I cover all of the basic theory pertaining to scales. The Circle of Keys is explained and harmonized including a complete explanation of modes, what they are and how to get them on the guitar fretboard.I’ve also incuded the Modal Workout which is an extended version of a daily exercise I’ve done for years.
Excellent for improvisation in Rock and Metal styles.
- In Chapter 3, I get into arpeggios along with all of the music theory, shapes and exercises needed to get these into your guitar toolbox. Arpeggios are SO important and should be added to your practice routines.
- Chapter 4 covers more scales including Pentatonic, Blues, Harmonic minor, Melodic minor and all of the theory and shapes needed for them too. I’ve also written some even more detailed lessons on Harmonic and Melodic minor scales that go even deeper than the book. Check them out:
- Chapter 5 is all about chords. Hey, we need chords for everything we play on the guitar in every genre. All of the theory from simple open poistion chords to extended voicing and altered dominants used in Jazz are covered as well.
My Personal Guitar Goals for 2019
I think like most guitarists who have played for a really long time.. I’m always wanting to learn different styles, genres or techniques outside of my comfort zone. For me, that is Classical Guitar music.
In my book in Chapters 6 and 7, I included some great Classical Guitar exercises including the 120 Arpeggio Studies by Mauro Guiliani and Bach’s famous Bouree in E Minor… which over the years has become a sort of gateway drug for Rock guitarists taking their first dip into Classical Guitar music.
When I play Classical Guitar Music, everything else just feels better. What I mean is, everything else I play when I’m NOT playing Classical Guitar such as Rock, Pop, Metal, Fusion, Jazz.. whatever.. It just feels easier because working on Classical guitar music does such a great job of balancing out my hands and mind.
(My favorite Bach piece.. and my favorite performance of it.. Forbes Henderson from 2010)
My #1 2019 Goal is to rebuild my Classical Guitar Repertoire. Aside from just being in love with the music, it also enables me to go out and get some lucrative solo guitar gigs for weddings and private events. Way back in 2016 I had this running repertoire of music going:
Fernando Sor Studies:
- Opus 8
- Opus 6 #11
- Opus 31 #20
- Opus 35 #17
- Opus 35 #22
The Sor studies are probably more commonly known from the famous “20 Studies for Guitar by Andres Segovia”. This is a great place to start if you can already read some music (not TAB), and it’s super cheap too.
- Allemande from Lute Suite #1 (BWV 997)
- Prelude from Cello Suite #1
- Courante from Cello Suite #3
- Prelude in d minor
- Prelude, Fugue and Allegro (BWV 998)
- Chaconne in d minor (video above)
Bach is hard. There really isn’t an easy Bach piece but the music is exceptionally beautiful and rewarding when you get it under your fingers.
Agustin Barrios Mangore
- Las Abejas
- Julia Florida
- La Catedral – Allegro Solemne
Barrios (1886-1944) was a South American Guitarist and Composer and one whom John Williams calls “perhaps the greatest pure Guitar Composer ever”.
If you liked La Catedral in the video above, here’s the complete score from The Guitar School in Iceland’s Website.
I had originally planned to do a whole article on just my Classical Guitar practice routine.. Maybe next week? For now, if you’re completely new to Classical Guitar playing, I’d highly recommend the Sagreras Method Books 1-3. The current version comes with a nice spiral binding and includes all 3 volumes.
If you’re already into Classical Guitar, below is an outline of a good practice routine.
Classical Guitar Practice Routine
One of my favorite Classical Guitarists and Teachers is Stephen Aron from the Oberlin Classical Guitar Conservatory. His recommendations for how to break up your Classical Guitar Practice time are as good as anything I’ve seen or could come up with myself. You could also apply this basic methodology to any other style of guitar practice…
Stephen breaks it down like this:
- Technical Exercises
- Studies (Sor, Guiliani, Carulli, Sagreras)
- New solo repertoire, specifically stuff you want to learn and have not started yet.
- Repertoire in progress that needs memorization fingering etc.
- Repertoire you know and are performing currently.
- Guitar Music Sight Reading
If you have about 3 hours of practice time you could break it down like this:
- 75 minutes Technical Exercises and Guitar Studies
- 35 minutes New Repertoire
- 35 minutes In progress repertoire.
- 10 minutes Chamber or Group music
- 15 minutes Performance ready repertoire
- 10 minutes Music sight-reading
For the Technical exercises, you can break down that 75 minutes like this:
- 5 minutes on tone production & nails.
- 10 minutes 120 arpeggio studies by Giuliani (included in my guitar practice routine book)
- 10 minutes tremolo exercises.
- 5 minutes ascending slurs (included in my guitar practice routine book).
- 5 minutes descending slurs (included in my guitar practice routine book).
- 5 minutes Left hand independence (included in my guitar practice routine book).
- 10 minutes i-m/m-i right hand velocity.
- 15 minutes on scales (included in my guitar practice routine book).
- 10 minutes on studies, say 5 minutes each for 2 new ones.
Of course, if you have less time you can cut those down a bit.. but the basic premise should remain: Balanced, structured practice that covers a variety of technical and musical issues.
Some other Guitarist friend’s 2019 Goals
Bart Baker, a local Guitarist here in the Orlando area who also happened to recently buy my book:
“My main goal is to sharpen up on theory.”
“I’ve made it to the circle of 5ths so far (Chapter 2). It’s well explained and easy to digest. I plan on running the routines as soon as the holiday crazy passes.”
Bart is on the right path for sure. Every musician needs to understand the Circle of Keys or some way of constructing the Major Scale so he can continue to learn more theory and understand basic harmony and of course improve his reading skills which is something else he wants to work on.
Bart: “Yeah, I grew up on the violin and cello. I was super lazy and pretty much just repeated what my teacher played while acting like I was reading the chart..Great for where I am with my ear, but bad for chart reading.”
“In the band I’m in currently, everybody reads charts except a couple of us. Not super needed for all of the guitar work, but still makes me feel illiterate”.
Sound Familiar? I hear this a lot with guitarists of all ages who primarily played by ear or just used TAB when they started on the guitar. One of the best books I’ve found for learning how to sight read and read charts is the Musicians Institute book “Music Reading for the Guitar” along with the Berklee series 1-3.
I wrote about these and other guitar books in my 5 Books every Guitarist Should Own article.
My friend and also a fantastic guitarist Chris, had a funny reply… “STAY EMPLOYED”. Ha! Well for any of you pro guitarists out there reading this, you know exactly how that feels right? Guitarists and Musicians in general are probably out there constantly looking for work and income opportunities throughout the year more than any other occupation I can think of. It’s just part of this career path.
When we’re not playing gigs, teaching guitar lessons or recording, we’re always looking for new gigs, students and trying to sell our stuff. Not everyone can be a Rock Star! Just like Realtors, Land Developers, Small business owners etc,.. Musicians who aren’t filthy rich have to get out there and work for a living too! It’s all part of the gig.
“I’ll probably casually dive more into Gypsy Jazz and steal more techniques from those guys.”
Learning New Guitar Styles is one of the best and most rewarding things we as musicians can spend our time on. Gypsy Jazz sounds like a blast!
If you read my recent interview with one of my favorite hometown guitarists, then you remember Canton, Ohio Guitarist Bill Hall. Check it out for some amazing videos and insights into what makes Bill such a great guitar player.
“My guitar goals for the new year are to record a new CD and play live as much as I can. Pretty much write and record a bunch of stuff and play live as much as possible. Just keep improving!”
Keep improving indeed! One thing that ALL of the best guitarists I’ve ever known or met have in common… they all want to keep getting better regardless of their age or level of success.
Chris teaches at Music & Arts in Sanford, Florida. I met him about 10 years ago when I was teaching there too. Chris is an exceptional Guitarist with a real flair for modern techniques and progressive music. Check out his Youtube Channel.
“Incorporate chromaticism in a more authentically bebop way, into my lines.
Employ melodic minor more fluently.”
This is one goal we have in common. I’m always working on incorporating more Melodic Minor into my improvisations. It’s a great way to incorporate a jazzy sound and exploit those altered dominant chords that pop up in all types of music.
“My goals for 2019: Continue making new music with my band HoneyJack. Add new lessons to my Rut Bustin Guitar site. Try and push myself to play more Country guitar. Listening to too much Dokken led me astray from my Tele in 2018.”
I love this! T.J. is a monster Rock and Metal guy who also loves Country (he’s great at that too!). Notice the recurring theme.. Getting better, expanding outside our comfort zones, trying new genres, writing, recording, teaching.. I’m with you T.J.!
Here’s to a great 2019 on the guitar for all of us!
Until next time,
Craig Smith is a professional Guitarist, Teacher, and Writer living in Sanford, Florida. Craig has taught guitar lessons, performed 200+ gigs per year for nearly 30 years, and published 4 guitar instructional books. When he’s not gigging or writing, you may find him by the pool with his wife Celeste, 4 Chihuahuas, and a drink. 🎸