Using Dynamic Effects (Boost, Compression, and Noise Gate)

Courtesy of John Tyler

Dynamic effects are often dialed in for the more subtle enhancements, whether it be a slight raise in volume for a lead part or a bit of compression for added sustain. 

Dynamic effects are one of the most crucial categories of effects and are actually one of the less apparent from the audience perspective. When used properly, these effects can give you that added edge needed for a truly wowing performance.

Let's break down what you need to know about the three main kinds of dynamic effects: boost, compression, and noise gate.

1. Boost
Boost pedals are quite simple in function: they provide a boost in your instrument's signal. Their importance is frequently overlooked because of their simplicity, but they actually can be very effective in creating a dynamically effective performance.

Keeping consistent volumes for melody/lead lines
How many times has this happened to you: you're strumming on some power chords at a volume that feels great and well balanced with the band, and then when it's time for you to play a melodic line for the song, you find that no matter how hard you hit the strings, you've lost power. You're struggling to hear the lines you're playing, and there's a noticeable drop from the volume you had before.

Fortunately, there's an easy solution: have a boost set to slightly raise the level of those melodic lines to keep their volumes consistent with fuller chordal strumming. It will give that extra bit of power you need to stay consistent, and will also result in a much more clear melodic sound than that which is provided by heavier picking.

Solo boost
This is a fairly common use of the effect. Use a less subtle volume boost than previously mentioned to put a guitar solo in the forefront of the mix and to assure that every note is clearly heard.

Hitting other effects with a stronger signal
It's important to remember that when you use a volume boost, everything further down your effects chain gets hit with a stronger signal. You can use this to your advantage to push an overdrive over the edge of breakup or raising the sensitivity/harshness of auto-wahs and filters. This technique allows for some creativity on your part, so experiment with putting the boost before various effects and see what you can make happen.

Pete Thorn demonstrates various uses for a simple boost/compressor pedal in this demo of the Bogner Harlow.

2. Compression
A compressor reduces the dynamic range of the input signal. How the compressor does this is determined by a few select parameters.

Threshold: determines how much of the signal is being affected (lower threshold = more affected signal)

Ratio: determines the amount of gain reduction in respect to the threshold (3:1, for example, would mean that if the signal is 3 dB above the threshold, it will be reduced to 1 dB above the threshold)

Attack: determines the amount of time the compressor takes to reduce the signal to the level determined by the ratio

Release: determines how long the compressor takes to increase the signal to the level determined by the ratio

For the guitar, compression can have a few different functions:

Increasing sustain 
In audio recording, compression is often used on drums to make the ring of snare and cymbals hold out longer. A similar idea is often applied to guitar performance for longer sustain, especially in guitar solos. Some players will even go so far as to activate a compressor only a few seconds at a time to enhance the sustain on specific notes in their lead playing.

Sitting in the mix
Compression can also be used to smooth out your rhythm playing to make it sound more dynamically consistent. This will keep you sitting in the mix better with the rest of the rhythm section, and create a nice backdrop for vocals to sit on top of. Punchier, clean tones Compression is very commonly used for a classic twangy sort of sound within country and blues rock styles. When dialed in just right, a compressor will add a nice "punch" to your clean tones. The same idea can also be applied to the more rhythmic comping typical of funk music.

Just Nick (for Rock N Roll Vintage) describes and demonstrates different applications for what exactly a compressor can do for your sound in this demo.

3. Noise gate
A noise gate will cut out any sound that falls below a certain volume, depending on your settings. The parameters for a noise gate look much like those for a compressor. When used right, a good noise gate can be useful in a variety of situations.

Eliminating humming or buzzing

This is probably the most common use of a noise gate. Set the threshold slightly above the point where it cuts out the undesired buzzing or humming to eliminate unwanted noise. This also cleans up your signal a bit so that it can be processed with effects more effectively.

Tightening up rhythmic rests and pauses

Setting the threshold a bit higher will assist in cutting out excess sounds that come from hands sliding along the strings, which will make hits and rests in your music sound tighter and more uniform. This should be done sparingly, as higher threshold settings begin to compromise tone and sustain.

Muting your signal between songs

This is a slightly less conventional use of a noise gate, but by cranking the threshold all the way on your pedal, you effectively create a mute that can be activated at times when you're not playing in your set to give you the freedom to move around stage quietly and tune silently using a headstock tuner.

In this demo video (for the TC Electronics Sentry Noise Gate) they demonstrate how a noise gate can be applied to your signal in a few different ways.

As a performing musician, John Tyler Kent has played with a wide variety of artists for all kinds of audiences, from small clubs across the country to international music festivals. In addition to his work as a performer, Tyler has working experience in marketing, production, and composition.

Micro Lesson 257: "B Minor" Smooth-Jazz Progression

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 257"

This Micro Lesson in the key of, "B Minor," covers the sounds of harmonies that are popular in, "Pop-Jazz," and, "Jazz-Fusion," songs, (sometimes also referred to as, "Smooth-Jazz," music). 

The chord changes in this example are typical to those applied in many different styles of jazz music. In measure one, we begin with the key of, "B Minor's," VI-chord, "Gmaj7," played up at the 7th position.  The next chord drops down a 1/2 step to the V-chord, "F#m7," of this key. The tonic chord of, "Bm7," introduces our second measure. 

The next chord is a very popular smooth-jazz chord type called a, "triad over bass-note chord." In the case of our chord here, we find the VII-chord of the key played with the key's tonic as the bass. This produces an, "A/B," chord. It should also be mentioned that this type of chord will often be seen called a, "Dominant 7th sus." 

In the third measure, the initial chord is another triad over bass-note type. Here we find a, "G/A." This is essentially the key's VI-chord with the key's 7th scale degree played as a, "bass-note." It is important to clarify that these triad over bass-note chords are not a, "Chord Inversion," process, but rather a new chord chord altogether. 

The progression wraps-up by flowing through our key's V-chord once again and then coming into the final resolution to the root of, "B Minor 7." 

Take your time developing all of the different chord movements and fingerings. If some of these chords are new, spend extra time working on their shapes until they feel smooth and easy to perform up to the tempo of this piece. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 257: "B Minor" Smooth-Jazz Progression

5 Reasons Why You Need to Learn Slide Guitar NOW...

Courtesy of Matthew Wendler

Slide guitar is one of the oldest guitar sounds out there. And, gifted guitarists can still come up with fresh musical takes on the method. If you've never tried to play this way and you are looking for some new sounds to experiment with, stop in at your local music store and buy yourself a slide.

Slides are most common in glass and brass, (chrome dipped), and are usually inexpensive and come in enough varieties to fit all fingers.

If you're feeling handy, you can make your own. Regardless of whether you're steeped in Delta Blues or have never heard a slide before, here's why all guitarists should give slide guitar a try at least once.

1. It'll help you learn other tunings
Slide guitar can be played in any tuning. However, many songs that use a slide are in one of the open tunings. The three most common open tunings for slide guitar are G, D, and E. If you didn't know, in each of the open tunings, all six strings are tuned so that they make a major chord when strummed. The slide provides a convenient way to play all six strings on different frets to make other major chords. If you aren't accustomed to playing outside of standard tuning, playing slide is a great way to get a good grasp on them.

2. It'll help your fingerpicking
If you've had difficulty learning fingerpicking, slide is a great way to help you focus on it. You can play slide guitar in any tuning and with any type of pick, but using an open tuning and your fingers will help you get the feel for syncopated bass and melody fingerstyle more easily. Since you don't need to focus on your fretting hand as much with slide guitar, it's easier to focus on your picking. Your technique will improve rapidly with practice. If you don't use a pick, you'll get a soft and warm sound out of the instrument. Buy some finger picks for a few dollars and get used to playing with them. With a little practice, you can have your guitar roaring at the audience, very different from the sensitive accompaniment that most audiences expect out of an acoustic guitar.

3. The slide works well on both electric and acoustic
You've probably heard the bluesy snarl of a slide over an electric guitar and the quiet, anguished moan of one over an acoustic. However, both instruments offer a wide variety of sounds with a slide. Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers creates a clean, melting, honey sound while sliding over an electric. And when Leo Kottke slides over a 12-string acoustic, it calls to mind a rusted runaway train. Whether you prefer one to the other or use both, learning to play slide will add a menagerie of sounds to your repertoire that no serious guitarist should pass up.

4. The slide is more expressive
The concept of a slide over a string is incalculably old and is present in the music of many different cultures. The first slide was likely a bone over a gut string. The reason for this ubiquity is no doubt the slide method's aptitude for capturing the subtle inflections of the human voice. Playing slide gives a guitarist a continuous range of notes to play over, rather than being restricted to the half steps of frets. It has all the expression of a fretless bass (or guitar), but has a feeling to it that I can only describe as liquid. That liquid can feel like anything, from cold water going down your back to submerging yourself slowly in a bubbling hot tub. It's a difficult dichotomy to express. The only way to fully understand what I'm talking about is to give some slide guitar music a listen.

5. You'll get better at phrasing
The expressiveness and continuity of the slide comes at the expense of the speed and precision that frets offer. Playing lead with a slide will require you to learn to take your time and choose your notes carefully. This is an approach and skill that every guitarist should try to learn. There's nothing that engages the ears and emotions of your audience like a solo that swells from a short, quiet phrase into a thunderous, galloping climax. Of course, building up to that sort of skill takes time and practice (but what kind of musician is afraid of that?). Regardless of whether you stick to slide or not, the things that you learn about phrasing will translate to other styles of playing as well.

Like all styles of music, slide guitar is a tradition that's best carried on with adaptation. Feel free to start by mimicking someone else's sound; everyone does. If you pool enough influences, you may emerge with your own adaptation of slide, and you, too, can be a part of the storied lineage of slide players.

Matthew Wendler is a blogger and multi-instrumentalist from New Jersey. He specializes in guitar, bass guitar, and bagpipes, and is passionate about writing both professionally and for enjoyment.

Micro Lesson 256: "F Minor" Pop-Rock Riff

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 256"

This Micro Lesson works through a "Pop-Rock" style of riff from the key of "F Minor." 

The riff is best performed using either Hybrid Picking or Finger-picked Technique. In measure one we're working from an "F Power-Chord." The chord is separated with bass to treble tones. The chord is followed up by a short "Pentatonic Lick." The next measure applies a very similar chord and lick idea on the VII-chord of the key, (Eb power-chord). 

In measure three, the VI-chord is covered by running through an arpeggio of the chord, (Db power-chord). After that, there are a short series of 6th intervals performed between the 4th and 2nd guitar strings. The 6th intervals run laterally from 8th to 6th to 5th and 3rd frets. This is a great sound that really helps connect the phrasing into our final measure. 

In measure four, the progression turns around by playing arpeggio concepts across an "Fm" and a "C7" chord. Both chords use the note of "C" in the bass. Overall, this progression is fairly easy to perform through and since it uses very popular chord movements in it's harmony, it can be transferred to many other musical situations. 

Memorize the movements prior to building speed. Use a metronome to really get this riff flowing nicely. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 256: "F Minor" Pop-Rock Riff

Guthrie Govan's Tips for How to Improvise on Guitar...

Courtesy of Metal Temple

The winner of Greatest Guitarist of 2015 Award on Ultimate Guitar, Mr. Guthrie Govan, shared his take on improvisation, explaining when you should and shouldn't utilize the improvisational approach.

He tells Metal Temple: "Maybe in the world of rock and metal it's not encouraged that much, but blues and jazz guys have always thrived on improvisation."

"A lot of it is context-specific. If you go see a band and they're playing 'Hotel California' or 'Bohemian Rhapsody,' they better play the solo like it is on the record, because it's part of the composition."

"People have heard that recording so many times that they would rightly feel indignant if some guitar player would say, 'I think what Joe Walsh meant to say was this!'"

"So there's a time for recreating the music the way people know it and love it."

"I have some experience with this when I've been playing with Asia. There were some solos from the original early Asia which I didn't necessarily like that much, but as a mark of respect to the band and the audience - you don't try and modify it."

"I think when people come to see The Aristocrats, hopefully there's this unwritten understanding that we're gonna take risks and explore - be a bit naughty."

"Hopefully people would be disappointed if they came to see one of these shows and every note was just the same as the album."

"The thing that we found is - we write the song for the album, go into the studio, crystallize some kind of recorded version of the song, but then we go out on the road, play it another 40 times, and the true nature of the song starts revealing itself."

"And we'll go, 'Hang on, that section should be longer,' or 'That tempo should be 5 BPM quicker," or... Something that was just an accident that happened on stage one night will turn out to be a good accident."

Micro Lesson 255: "D Major" Triad Chord Progression

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 255"

This Micro Lesson breaks down a rapid-fire (stylistically generic) Triad Chord Progression in, "D Major." 

This progression places its entire focus upon the use of small three-note chord shapes based between the 4th through 2nd guitar strings. 

The riff is also very lateral moving along the neck, from 7th position into the open. Rhythmically the progression operates with the same movements along the span of the fingerboard. The meter is essentially a 2-bar phrase. 

The harmony of these triad chords applies a lot of inversion patterns, yet only plays through 3 chords from the key center. To the ear, this progression seems extremely busy. However, at the core, these changes are simply nothing more than a I,IV,V chord progression. This means that the chord changes operate within only the chords of, "D, G and A," major. 

The rapid changes that occur with these chords means that you'll not only need to memorize the chord patterns and their order, but you'll also need to commit the fret-board positions to memory so that each of your position shifts are smooth and easy to navigate. 

Take your time developing this riff, it can be a challenge to reach an up-to-tempo speed with the part. Have fun both learning and using what you develop from this progression!

Micro Lesson 255: "D Major" Triad Chord Progression

8 Traits for Creating a Killer Guitar Solo...

Courtesy of Jim Kelly

For guitar gods like us, the crown of our creation is the killer guitar solo. It's our chance to step into the spotlight and show what we've got – not to show off, but to come up with a solo that elevates the song to another level.

Easier said than done? Maybe. But here are a few things to think about if you want to craft a guitar solo – whether onstage or in the studio – that will make ears perk up and take notice.

1. Sing it in your head before you play it
If you think about it, playing a guitar solo is like making the guitar sing. So, think about it – literally! Imagine you're singing the solo. Can you hear it in your head? Good. Now translate that to the guitar strings. Play on the guitar what you hear yourself singing in your head.

Not only will this help you create a more naturally melodic solo, but it's also a good way to avoid some of the same old familiar patterns and boxes and scale runs we all tend to fall back on. Sure, it might take some practice, but what doesn't?

2. Listen to other instrumentalists
Play a sax solo, or an organ solo, or a harmonica solo. But play it on your guitar. In other words, don't just look to other guitarists for your inspiration. Listen to what other instrumentalists are playing.

Roger McGuinn was inspired by sax legend John Coltrane's "India" when he created his distinctive 12-string solos in the Byrds' "Eight Miles High." Lots of other guitarists have turned to vintage R&B horn players' parts or piano licks to inspire their guitar solos. Think outside the Gitbox.

3. Use space and silence
Sometimes the best note you play is the one you don't play. Yeah, that's very zen or Yoda or something, but it's true. In other words, try to use pauses and silence in your soloing for dramatic effect.

If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. When you're listening to someone deliver a speech, for instance, and they just ramble on and on and on with verbal diarrhea, you're likely to tune them out pretty quickly. Expert orators, on the other hand, know when to pause for effect, to let what they're saying sink in and build anticipation about what they're going to say next. It's all about communication, right?

4. Mix it up
The human ear loves variation. That's why we find vibrato pleasing. So when you're putting together your epic solo, mix things up a bit.

If you tend to rely on single-note melodic lines, throw in some arpeggios or 6th intervals, or fly high way up on the neck, then get nasty down at the nut – slow it down, speed it up, play it soft and sensitive, then crank the intensity to 11.

5. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself
Varying the dynamics is great, but repetition can be cool, too. In fact, psychologists tell us that repeated sounds do something magical to our brains. So you don't always need to come up with a fresh lick every bar. Dwell on it a bit. Maybe even see how far you can take it, bringing the listeners along with you 'til they're just about to lose their minds… then break the spell! Great blues players are masters of this.

6. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself
See above.

7. Don't think – feel
Like other kinds of artistic creation, or even playing sports, things can often go sour when you start overthinking it. For the most part, playing music isn't an intellectual exercise; it's about conveying emotion and feeling. You're better off getting your brain out of the way.

That's where practice and rehearsal come in. When you know a song to the point where you don't have to think about the structure or the changes – when you really have it down – then you're free to play with all the feeling and mojo you can muster.

Don't let your fingers call the tune – they should follow what you're feeling in your heart and soul.

8. Above all, be you
Shakespeare said, "To thine own self be true." Oscar Wilde reportedly said, "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken" (although Wilde apparently didn't actually say that). Point is, when you're playing your thing, make sure it's your thing.

It may take a while to find your own voice on the guitar, but eventually all your influences and tendencies will get distilled into a sound and style that's all your own. Once you have that, bring it. The game isn't to sound just like somebody else – somebody who's probably better at sounding like them than you are – it's to do what you do best and sound like nobody else.

Jim Kelly has been a freelance music writer for more than 15 years and has served as the senior copywriter at Columbia House Canada. Based in Toronto, he’s been a regular contributor to nationally distributed music magazines, websites, and organizations, and has created promotional and press copy for independent and major-label artists. He’s been a guitarist in Toronto bands and claims to be the world’s third-best tambourine player.

Micro Lesson 254: "E Major" Pentatonic Melody

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 254"

This Micro Lesson covers a Pop-Country style melody (with a Blues twist) built exclusively from the 5-tone scale of, "E Major Pentatonic." 

This melody is set within a framework of the country /blues tonality. It applies a swing feel to the overall rhythmic idea and uses a lot of triplet based passages to fulfill the melody lines. 

The melody begins from a triplet based pick-up note line that leads us into the first measure. Here we move into a swung passage that sustains into the 5th chord tone (B) of our home chord. The end of that measure wraps up by influencing the next bar's harmony of "A Major." This bar of music is identical rhythmically to the first but highlights the tonality of the key's IV-chord (A Major). 

The next measure maintains the shuffle /swing feel with notes that influence the harmony of the key's V-chord of "B Major." The melody wraps-up by pointing toward the 5th chord tone of the home chord (E Major). 

Take your time and be sure to count across the measures. The melody is also a little challenging with respect to the abundance of position shifts so watch the fingerings and watch each shift closely. Memorize the passages and use a metronome or drum machine (set on a shuffle feel) to build your feel and phrasing as well as speed. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 254: "E Major" Pentatonic Melody

20 Tips for Guitar Care...

Courtesy of Gibson Guitar's Michael Leonard

There are certain ways to clean your favorite guitar, and certain ways definitely not. 

Are you doing it right? Or, are you doing it wrong? 

Look into it, ask around some of your trusted guitar experts. Below are 20 various tips on cleaning your favorite guitar.

You may hanker for the filthiest tone ever, but a clean guitar is always good. It can even make you play better. General grime, sweat, unwanted moisture and dust can all build up. And that's not good for a guitar. 

Tip #1 Remove your strings by loosening them and cutting them around the 12th fret. If you have a guitar with an unmounted bridge and saddle, (arch-top jazz guitars), remove only two or three at a time, to minimize any sudden changes to neck tension at your saddle. Remember, if that bridge and saddle moves in any way, your intonation will become adversely affected.

Tip #2 If you're not going to be changing all of your strings, try and wipe them down with a dry lint-free cloth after every playing session. Keeping them clean will make them last longer.

Tip #3 If cleaning your strings when still on your guitar, loosen them slightly and pinch your cloth around the whole string to banish finger and fret-board grime.

Fresh Fret-boards

Your 'board doesn't need too much love, possibly only two or three times a year. It’s crucial not to mess too much with the natural moisture the fret-board picks up from oils on your fingers.

For a quick rubdown, (when the strings are off), and use a soft damp-ish cloth... but not “wet”. You do NOT want visible water drops on your 'board. Work your way down the 'board and keep turning that cloth (even a clean old T-shirt will do) so you don't simply transfer dirt from one fret to another.

Tip #4 If your fret-board is really grimy, finish off with a light rub over using extra fine #000 or #0000 steel wool.

Tip #5 If you follow Tip #4, cover your guitar's pickups with another cloth. Even steel wool's tiny particles will be attracted to your pickup magnets. You don't want that. It’s best to cover up your pickups when cleaning with steel wool. Even better, grab some masking tape, (painters tape) and cover the pick-ups prior to using the steel-wool.

Tip #6 Don't needlessly dump that ol' toothbrush in the garbage. Wrap some colored tape on the handle (so everyone knows it's not for yo' mouths) and use it to clean up against the frets. Old soft toothbrushes are good for kitchen and bathroom tight spots, too! I rarely throw old toothbrushes away. Alternatives? An old credit card (I got plenty of them, too!) or a toothpick. Be gentle.

Tip #7 You may see hairline cracks on a dried-out fingerboard. Rub one or two drops of oil (100% pure almond oil) into the fret-board to condition it. Please don't overdo it, and make sure to wipe off excess oil with a soft, dry cloth.

NOTE ABOUT LEMON OILS: The jury remains out on some Lemon Oils – as they are advertised – because many will contain additional ingredients. If you don't use a natural almond oil, go for special guitar oil: no silicon, no wax, and as minimal chemicals as possible. If you own a guitar with an exotic wood; i.e., rosewood or ebony - those fingerboard's should still get a light oiling at least once a year.

Finish Lookin' Fine

You shouldn't need (or use) anything too abrasive on your fave guitar's body and neck. A bit of hard polishing with a dry cloth or, if it's really filthy, a slightly damp but not “wet” cloth will mostly do the trick.

Many Guitars have several coats of a high-quality nitrocellulose lacquer. “Nitro” ages nicely but is also porous. Avoid dripping-wet cloths at all costs.

Tip #8 For a thorough clean, you can try using some of the name brand Guitar Pump Polish or a quality Hi Gloss Polish. These guitar polishes are specially formulated for your Guitar.

Tip #9 Always squirt cleaner onto a rag first, not directly onto the guitar. You'll probably have read this before with all manner of household cleaning products, and for good reason.

Tip #10 Try and keep fret-board and guitar body cloths different. It sounds tough, but it's not. And it will stop you simply transferring dirt from one place to another.

Tip #11 Do not EVER use everyday furniture polish on a guitar. Never, Ever... The oils in most furniture polishes will likely seep into wood and change density and sound. Furniture polish is fine for a wooden table: that's why it's called furniture polish. But you don't care how your wooden table sounds, right?

Hardware Care

When it comes to bridges, pickups, tuners and nuts, you shouldn't have to do much. Again, a slightly damp cloth can clean your bridge, but a pipe cleaner or (again) a small, soft toothbrush can be used here for brushing away any major grit and grime.

Tip #12 A dab of glass cleaner (i.e., Windex), on a cloth is good for giving a polish to metal tuners.

Tip #13 Use that old toothbrush again to gently scrub any grime from your bridge. A slightly damp cloth can usually do the trick as well. Especially with Titanium fittings on many of the new 2016 guitar models.

Tip #14 Pickups can get a bit mucky. But NEVER put any moisture near them. A dry, clean cloth is the only advisable way to polish the electric /magnetic pickup covers.

Tip #15 Compressed Air Spray is good for just blowing away initial dust. On anything. It's cheap (well, for air!) and will help your laptop keys and vents clean, too.

Gibson’s Vintage Reissue Restoration Kit, (which includes two polish cloths, a low abrasion Metal Cleaner, Fret-board Conditioner, and Restorative Finish Cream specially formulated to treat and protect older finishes and fret-boards), is an excellent kit for the guitar player who is new to doing their own guitar care.

Tip #16 A quality, soft, small, clean paintbrush (try a camel hair) is also good for a regular dust-away before you clean.

Tip #17 Even if your Guitar is clean, don't leave your guitar exposed to direct sunlight for long periods: it could prematurely damage and crack the finish. Give it a wipe down and, when not in use, put it back in its case.

Tip #18 If you're low on cash and can't even afford new strings, some players recommend boiling strings, sometimes with baking soda or a dash of vinegar. Do not expect a long term fix! They might be gunk-free and more zingy for a while, but boiling causes metal fatigue. They'll soon sound dead, or simply snap. It can't be helped. Just buy some new strings.

Tip #19 I've seen some people recommend boiling strings in water with added ethanol. Don't ever do this on your stove, players. Boiling alcohol can be a serious fire hazard.

Tip #20 Bottom line, do not use any abrasive cleaning products on your guitar, no matter what grime state it's in. Buy specifically guitar-recommended products. Long-term, they will keep your Guitar good for life.

Play a Guitar Solo in 3 Easy Steps

GuitarBlog: Play a Guitar Solo in 3 Easy Steps...

This week on the GuitarBlog we cover how playing a guitar solo can essentially be broken down into a system that works around three main areas of study. 

In order to play a lead, (within a piece of music), the guitarist needs to first  have a good basic awareness of the Guitar Neck. This includes having both an understanding for where notes are located and how movable chords work. 

Guitar players will also need the ability to play and comprehend scales that are useful for the popular tonalities in music. Those would of course be the tonal areas of, "Major and Minor." 

Lastly, players need to possess some of the foundational technical skills for actually playing a solo. Initially these can include; legato, bending, slides, and vibrato, just to name a few. Once guitarists have these three soloing areas under some decent control, they should be able to perform a basic lead guitar solo in a song. Enjoy the Lesson!

Play a Guitar Solo in 3 Easy Steps

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Micro Lesson 253: "A Minor" Arpeggiated Riff

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 253"

This Micro Lesson works through an arpeggiated progression from the key of "A Minor." 

The overall generic flow of the lines in this progression come together to create an interesting sound that applies several chord outlines from the key but yet never actually uses the tonic chord itself through the arpeggiated harmony. 

In measure one the IV-chord of our key (Dm) gets outlined with an arpeggio built from its root of "D." The line ends upon the "D" octave and helps promote the appearance of our second measure where several double-stops introduce coverage of the chords, "C," "G," and "F major." 

These chords produce a more rapid harmony in the middle of the progression that generates punches along the progression and help to introduce the final measures of our arpeggiated idea. In measure three the "F6" chord appears and is fully arpeggiated with a leading line taking us into the last bar. In measure four our final harmony of "Em" is outlined and wraps up the chord changes. 

The progression is fairly easy to perform and does not include any complex chord voicings. Watch the areas that are labeled as, "let ring." There are moments when fingerings will need to be held across several beats. As always, use a metronome to get the progression up to speed. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 253: "A Minor" Arpeggiated Riff

8 Ways to Improve Your Guitar Solos

Courtesy of Matthew Wendler

Improvisation is a complex beast to tackle. You can't go about the process by just "making it up." 

If it seems to you like that's all Miles Davis is doing when he plays, keep in mind that the best improvisers are the ones who manage to create an illusion of effortlessness, but actually put meticulous study, ridiculous amounts of  time and crazy dedicated effort into their trade, (i.e., soloing).

So what are the most effective ways to improve your improvisational skills? Start with these eight pieces of advice, and you'll be well on your way.

1. Take down the mental barriers
Yes, I did just say that improvisation is extremely difficult, but don't let that scare you. If you go into the process weighed down by doubt, you'll most likely fail.

Take a few deep breaths and listen to your favorite music. Perhaps cuddle up with your dog or cat in the sun with a cool beverage in your hand. Whatever your style is, find a place to be loose. Listen to the various aspects of your surrounding. Listen to each sound separately, then as a whole unit, and then pull them apart again.

Some may call this meditation, mindfulness, or complete metaphysical jargon. Either way, as long as you realize that you're completely capable of improvisation, it'll make the process that much easier. With practice, you CAN play what you hear in your head.

2. Start playing along to something basic
Now that you’re in the zen-like state of the improviser, you can begin playing. Find some time alone with your instrument and put on some of your favorite music. Keep it simple at first – nothing with too many chord changes or complex rhythms. Personally, I find a lot of pop-songs and some hip-hop to be pretty good for this. The groove usually remains very repetitive and constant, allowing you to feel out the space and add in any notes that you may feel fit along with the vibe.

Even if you're capable of shredding on your instrument, don't give in to your urge to "noodle" and play too many notes right out of the gate. Just as you would in a conversation, listen respectfully and respond with an intelligent and well-thought-out answer. If you're one of those chatty Kathys who talks over everyone, perhaps this is the moment you can change your life around.

Aside from learning about patience, this technique can help you absorb the style of whatever artist you may be listening to. Improvisation isn't only about originality; it's also about using the style of your influences in your own unique fashion. The more diverse your musical palate, the more tricks you'll have to bring out in a jam.

3. Voice your (musical) opinion
Now that you're comfortable, it's time that you spoke up a bit more. Don't be afraid to raise your voice, so to speak, and change up the melody from time to time. Start by changing a note here and a note there until you've completely reworked the phrase into something you like. The more you do this, the more natural it'll become in a live setting.Keep your amps volume turned up too. A lot of rookie soloists have their volume set far too quiet.

4. Change up the rhythm
Rhythm is the secret weapon of improvisation. You can play the same melody over different rhythms, and it'll sound different every time, (see; "Black Dog"). Practice changing up rhythms sporadically and without stopping. Learn to flow seamlessly between grooves, even if you're just playing a couple of notes in order to do so.

Ultimately, (most) people won't be impressed with how fast you can play scales on the spot. It all comes down to that perfect note in a well-timed spot that will really move your listeners.

5. Use failure to your advantage
Speaking of the perfect note, we all know that sometimes the not-so-perfect note decides to rear its ugly head. Personally, this is my favorite part of improvisation. That wretched, wrong note can be turned into the most beautiful highlight. It all depends on how you react.

Sometimes a little dissonance can be okay, so if you feel you may have hit a wrong note, just keep playing. Not only will the odds of anybody standing in the audience picking up on it be low, but it'll build your confidence to continue on instead of getting hung up on that single mistake. As they say, a wrong note is only a half step away from a right one. Mistakes will always happen, but it's how we handle them that dictates our future success.

6. Trying too hard to be "in the moment" will only distract you
Improvising is not so much about living in the moment, but more about separating yourself from it. If you're too self-aware, you will feel every mistake you make. Take yourself out of the environment and let go. Don't think about how well you're playing or how people are judging you. This will only serve as a distraction from the purpose of free playing.

This complete lack of judgment is hard to achieve and can be different for everyone. There's no real way to practice besides repetition. You'll feel comfortable in your skin while improvising eventually; it just may take longer than others. Nobody learns at the same rate and pace. Keep at it, and your ability to separate your critical mind from your musical one will eventually come out more easily.

7. Brush up on your music theory
Didn't see this one coming, did you? Yes, you're creating original music on the spot, but that doesn't mean you can go gallivanting around a "D diminished seventh chord" while everyone is happily jamming in "C major."

Learn the various aspects of harmony and how they relate to each other. Master all your scales and practice them daily. Learn to play a bunch of arpeggio patterns. Understand intervals. You may not need to use all of them, but just like a conversation, it will give you a larger vocabulary to use when you're "talking" to other musicians.

Some people (my past self included) believe that theory will stagnate one’s creativity. Why I ever thought that, I'm not sure. Honestly, if anything, having more theoretical knowledge opens up a whole new realm of improvisation possibilities. It's far less exciting than jamming, but feel free to thank me later.

8. Have fun with it
Not to beat a dead horse here, but music is fun, so go have some... Too many musicians over-analyze their songs, and especially their solos. That moment when you and your band-mates are all clicking and create a masterpiece solo right from scratch - live on stage - can hardly be described in words. Those magical moments come more easily when everyone is loose and enjoying themselves, so don't get too hung up on the complexities, and start to have some fun!

Anthony Cerullo is a musician, writer, and world traveler. He has spent the past few years touring the US in bands, and now finds himself exploring the musical spectrum that various countries of the world offer.

Micro Lesson 252: "Ab Major" Modal Jazz Progression

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 252"

This Micro Lesson explores a modal Jazz progression based out of an "Ab Major" key harmony. 

The progression moves through a relationship of tonality between the color of "Ab Major" and "Ab Minor." The modal aspect functions around a concept called, "Modal Interchange." This involves flipping between the harmonies of both tonalities throughout the progression. 

In measure one we perform the tonic major chord first, then the IV-chord appears but borrowed from the "Ab Minor" tonality. The next measure introduces the diatonic V-chord of the key, but once again shifts up a 1/2 step to the borrowed chord from "Ab Minor" tonality. 

The third measure applies the II-chord from "Ab Major" along with a smooth sounding 6th interval lick to really highlight the measure. And, in wrapping up on measure four we get a real twist to the flow of the progression by ending with a relative minor's; II, V7-chord turnaround. 

The chords used are all quite common, as there are no extended or altered chords. If these chords are new, take your time developing the shapes. Use a metronome to build speed and the flow of the parts. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 252: "Ab Major" Modal Jazz Progression

4 Guitar Drills for Incredible Finger Coordination...

Courtesy of Matthew Wendler

Spider exercises are not only a great way to develop finger independence, but they are also essential for improving our ability for generating more speed and higher clarity.

Keep in mind that going fast is not important with these drills. Go nice and slow, and after many repetitions, it will feel like each of your fingers has grown a brain overnight. Next time you watch Netflix and chill with your significant instrument, run through these drills to improve your chops.

Exercise One:

When you do these drills, start nice and easy. You'll generally be able to do the harder drills better if you warm up first. Keep each note even and the same volume while you play, and remember to use strict alternate picking to give both of your hands a challenge.

Exercise Two:


Reversing the fingers from the first drill forces you to think a little about what you're doing. Make sure not to accidentally lapse into the first exercise while you do this one. It happens easier than you may think.

Exercise Three:



These drills are in the same position as the first two. Leading off with your third and fourth fingers can be challenging because they tend to stick together. These two drills are great for separating them from one another.

Exercise Four:



Starting the exercise with your two middle fingers may seem a bit odd at first. Take this one as slowly as needed, and it will go a long way towards putting brains in your fingers.

There are numerous different patterns to use for spider drills. This one may not be the most difficult, but it's very effective at getting your fingers to act autonomously of each other.

Once you get these into your hands, try to find (or make up) another challenging pattern. Any guitarist worth his or her salt has invented many bizarre spider drills with equally bizarre explanations as to why they're the best. So once you start getting bored of a particular drill, go ahead and invent some new, harder ones.

Matthew Wendler is a blogger and multi-instrumentalist from New Jersey. He specializes in guitar, bass guitar, and bagpipes, and is passionate about writing both professionally and for enjoyment.