Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Guitar Tips

One from me in guitar playing mode for once (and also guitar waiting for mode. I asked my local guitar shop to sort out one moderately tricky problem three months back and I still don't have my guitar back, which is annoying since earlier I worked out at least one simpler fix for one of the issues that they really should have suggested). Anyway, here you go. A few quick tips for instantly sounding better, or whatever it is that these things invariably promise at this point:
  1. Play in time. One of the simplest points on any musical instrument. Acquire a metronome. Use the metronome. Learn to tap your foot on the beat or otherwise mark it physically. Keep your picking hand in motion in time to the beat. Suddenly, you'll find that your playing sounds 'tighter'.
  2. Play in tune. Obviously, you should tune your guitar, but also make sure you set the intonation correctly (adjust the saddles at the bridge until the twelfth fret harmonics are the same pitch as the open strings). Practise those elements of playing (bending and vibrato) that take you beyond the fretted pitches, so that they are perfectly in tune, every time. You can do this by playing a variation on the classic blues intro lick. Play a note, go down a fret and bend up to it. Go down two frets and bend up to it. Go as far as is comfortable, and no further.
  3. Hit chord tones. If you are playing over a chord, the most 'correct' sounding notes are the notes of the chord (usually the 1st, 3rd and 5th of a scale, plus others). Be able to identify them within your favourite scales, and grab them consistently all over the neck. Use them at strong points in a phrase like the start and end to sound like you know what you're doing.
  4. Explore dynamics. Play the loudest note you can. Now play the quietest. Now take a simple phrase, start quiet and end loud, or the reverse. Or start loud, go quiet, and dig in for the last note. You could also vary the techniques you use to provide tonal variation (such as legato v picked, tapped v legato, or hybrid picked v swept)
  5. Listen to what you play. The only deciding factor on the guitar is whether your music sounds the way you want, but you won't know if it does unless you pay attention to the way it sounds. One of the classic ones here is the whole alternate v economy picking debate. Economy picking gives much greater speed when crossing strings if you're picking all the notes, but proponents of alternate picking make the valid point that to them, it sounds 'better' (probably with more pick attack and more rhythmically accurate). Whatever sounds right to you, do it. Even if that means playing your guitar with a modified electric drill a la Paul Gilbert.

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