Strumming Patterns

3rd August

Strumming patterns for guitar beginners

One of the very first things – if not the first thing – you want to wrap your hands around as you begin to learn electric guitar, is to understand and be comfortable with some basic guitar strumming patterns.

And sure enough, one of the most common questions you can come across on places such as Yahoo Answers, goes something along these lines: “Can someone please help me with the strumming pattern to … I can’t figure it out.” (included is one or more songs the asker wants you to explain).

Often times the same people have tried to decipher a guitar tab for the same song/s without getting any closer to nailing the fundamental strum pattern of the tune.

Before we go any further with our guitar strumming lessons, there are two things first to be aware of…

The problems with guitar tabs

Tabs (short for tablature) for guitar can be understand as a simplified notation system and a visual representation of the notes on the fretboard. When done correctly by someone with experience and knowledge, a tab can provide you with a good, basic overview of how to play a song.  So far so good.

However, there are at least to things which often creates problems for a beginner on guitar. One is the fact that guitar tabs many times have been written by people who doesn’t “quite” get it right. At times there are so many mistakes in the tabs you find, it is not even funny.

Another thing is that the tabs miss one very important thing, the rhythmical values – the element of time and timing. These are things which is integrated in proper musical notation.

In short, you will either need to learn how to pick up things and play by ear, and also learn proper musical notation. Tabs will only get you this far, and can in fact become a real stumbling block as you begin to explore the guitar.

You have to hear as well as see the strumming pattern!

The thing that often amazes me, is how some folks think they can fully explain a rhythmic figure in words – like down, down, up, up, down, up. Seriously, how do you explain rhythm in words? It will fail miserably … unless of course it is accompanied by the proper visual and auditory representation (sight and sound) from a video or guitar teacher :-)

Picking up a basic strumming lesson

Here are some things to get you on your way to learn guitar strumming.  First pick a song which has clear sound as well as picture. It should also be pretty straight forward, slow to mid tempo, without too many instruments and complicated vocal arrangements and rhythm or tempo changes.

Now, let us assume you have learned the guitar chords to the song and can play them effortlessly. Without being concerned at all about chords or notes, begin to listen to the rhythm and how the main rhythm guitar is being strummed. Now, while you mute the strings with your fretting hand, use your pick and try to follow that rhythm! Just remember, no notes, just the pick making rhythmic figures across the strings…

If you are uncertain or confused at this point, then simply watch the great, first video below from the good folks at Next Level Guitar – it’s very informative and to the point. Oh, and even though some of this stuff is played on an acoustic, it is equally important and may just as well be done on an electric guitar :-)

Now, as you tag along, you may begin to notice how there are certain accents or rhythmic shifts- places where the chord or notes seems to be hit a little harder? For instance (in a basic 4/4 song pattern), is the first beat being more accented? This is very common… Again you will notice how this may be done in the below video.

Here are more informative and easy to follow guitar strumming lessons form the good folks at Next Level Guitar, remember to check them out when you have the time! There really is a huge amount of good, solid stuff to be picked up there.

More guitar strumming tips

Some other points to remember is to use the arm more than the wrist when you do basic strumming patterns. However, you need to be loose in the wrist so that you also involve the wrist in the strumming! If your arm and your wrist is rigid, then your strum patterns will be stiff and rigid too…

If you begin to be tired as you play along, then just take a short brake  and shake loose. It helps to let your arms hang down while you shake your hands and fingers lightly for a period of time. Remember also to do some fingers and hand stretching exercises form time to time!

The pick should be held firmly, but not overly tight, between your thumb and first finger. Too tight and you become rigid and tired fast – too loose and you’ll likely drop the pick and also have problems driving that steady rhythm home. Like everything else, this is a matter of practice over a period of time.

Like one of the above videos mention, you will eventually need to learn how to dampen the strings. Both hands can dampen the strings in various ways, including also palm muting. String damping techniques is used amongst other things to create accents and variations, and thereby interest, to your guitar strumming.

Keep it simple! Remember, some of the patterns used to strum a guitar in certain song can be very complex and have many shifts and variations. Don’t be afraid to keep things more basic and to simplify things if you get overwhelmed or confused!

Happy strumming and humming :-)

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Guitar Barre Chords

22nd May

A barre chord lesson

guitar-barre-chordsMake no mistake about it – a barre chord, or bar chord as it is also (although incorrectly) called, can be a real challenge to all budding electric guitar players.

It should go without saying that it is definitely not easier to do correctly and efficiently on an acoustic guitar.

In the following, we will examine some of the ways you can alleviate things and make it easier for yourself to pull of a barre chord/bar chord without calling it quits prematurely, wanting to pull your hairs one by one out or being in urgent need of painkillers or physiotherapy :-)

There are quite a few things you can do both to your playing as well as your guitar, in order to make guitar barre chords quite a bit more manageable.

But first…

What is a barre chord?

The correct spelling of this way of playing a chord is barré. Here, you’ll commonly use your index finger (and occasionally more than one finger) to press down multiple strings across the fretboard on your guitar. You may think of the index finger being a guitar capo or a “bar” pressing the strings down, and perhaps this is where the name bar chord came from.

This action of barring the strings across the fingerboard enables you to play chords not restricted by the notes of the open strings on your guitar.

Bar chords are some times also called moveable chords: The logical reason for this, is that you can easily and quickly move the various chord shapes on the guitar neck as you see fit.

Lowering the bar

I have had several people asking me how they should go about managing these “dreaded bar chords”. In fact, I suspect more than one person has given up the idea to learn electric guitar all together simply because they didn’t manage to play barre chords at all.

The sad thing really is this: The same folks have been chocked at how much easier it could be once their guitar was properly set-up. You see, a badly adjusted guitar makes playing these chords very hard even for experienced players.

To learn more about the importance of proper guitar set-up and our recommended guitar set-up guide, you can read more at this post: Guitar setup. I can guarantee you this: You will likely be amazed at how much easier a properly adjusted guitar is to handle. It can almost be a make or brake issue as far as playing barre chords goes…

How to play barre chords

There are quite a number of small but significant things you can do to you playing technique to make these moveable bar chords easier to do. This includes how to anchor your thumb on the backside of the guitar neck, opposite of the barring finger/s; where to place and how to tilt your bar finger to get cleaner notes and more.

It is always easier to see this in a video, rather than reading a lengthy, written explanation. I reckon the below video should be very helpful to you.

(Don’t) lean into it!

Another thing you should be aware of is that many beginners tend to slump or lean over their guitar in order to see where they place their fingers.  This is a bad habit in general, and really bad for being able to play guitar barre chords properly.

What happens is that it becomes much harder to hold your anchor thumb in the proper position on the guitar neck. It is also much harder to maintain enough pressure with the fretting hand and thumb if you don’t sit straight and hold your fretting hand at a proper angle.

Take it easy!

As with everything else, it is tempting to force yourself and being impatient. Just remember that mastering bar chords takes time. No matter how good your technique is and no matter how good your guitar set-up is, it still takes time to build up sufficient strength in your hand as well as “muscle memory” and coordination.

Remember to go easy on yourself and take brakes. Do some simple barre chord exercises for half an hour maximum to begin with, then play something else (or take a brake all together)!

Follow the above guidelines and you will soon have these chords down :-)

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A Great Beginner Guitar Course

13th December

online-guitar-courseAn acquaintance of mine, British guitarist and over all super nice fellow Phill Mason has released a brand new online guitar course: Crash Course Muso – Beginners Guitar Video Lessons.

He is graciously giving away several total beginner lessons for anyone keen on starting out to learn guitar.

And I must say, the quality of these lessons are totally jaw-dropping. The audio and video on these guitar lessons are nothing short of amazing (yes, of course I signed up to have a look – everything else would be cheating in my book…). I never, ever go about recommending something I haven’t actually tested myself.

Phill has chosen a wise slogan for his course: “Play first – learn later” With this he’s correctly stating that it is (to anyone but the hard-core – 100% theory-driven “guitar nerds”) far more satisfying to actually learn how to play some basic riffs and easy songs from the very beginning, rather than being bogged down with a lot of boring, “mumbo-jumbo” theory.

We all obviously want to actually learn how to play something worthwhile on the guitar, right?

Of course, the theory bit is also taken care of. After you have learned to play some rewarding stuff, you will be shown the basic underlying principles (in other words theory) as you progress. Smart move!

Phill has a very relaxed, pleasant and laid-back – still firm, direct and no-frills – style of teaching. This makes you believe in him as a teacher and trust in his ability to deliver the goods. You will also very soon begin to believe in your own abilities to actually learn guitar.

Is it all guitar rosy then?

Anything negative to say at all, it can’t all be total guitar nirvana? Well, the only thing I have found so far is the fact that this is strictly a total beginner guitar package as far as I can see.

If you have some basic skills already in place, you might want to opt in for the more advanced, paid options. Mind you, these are still very, very cost effective.

Even if this is, by nature and design, basic guitar skills being presented, you are also being shown how to do proper right hand (strumming hand) damping of the strings. A vital lesson to be learned early on indeed!

A rocking good way?

If you’re seriously interested in the fastest way possible to learn electric guitar, then I would urge you to have a look at the Crash Guitar Course! For a free guitar course option, it doesn’t get any better that this – definitely amongst the absolute best online guitar courses I’ve come across so far.

Five thumbs up … eh…, could I borrow three of your? You’ll get them back – promise! :-)

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Cheap Electric Guitar?

8th December

Buying A Beginner Guitar

When someone is starting out to learn electric guitar, this is a very common question: “Where can I get a cheap electric guitar? I’m about to take this guitar course I’ve been recommended, and now I need a beginners guitar … nothing expensive”.

If you had asked me that question some years ago, I would probably have told you to save up some cash until you could afford something else. Today however, things are way different. It is in fact quite easy to fine great playing – and really nice looking – cheaper electric guitars.

Thanks to modern day production methods, you can pick up a really good beginner electric guitar  from China and other places – perfect for your beginner guitar lessons – for as low as a $200. I kid you not, when we started out (many moons ago), we would have gone to great lengths to get hold of guitars of such decent quality! Man … the beat-up things we would play…

Here are just a few of the newer guitars we can recommend


First of all – do take a look at the almost ridiculous value for money found in the Agile brand! These instruments easily compare to stuff which costs many times as much. I often times prefer to play an Agile over my way more expensive Gibsons guitars. Really, really good stuff!

The Fender Squire Affinity or Standard series. They have both Tele and Strat model guitars – oh and even a Hello Kitty version (in pink, of course).

The Epiphone range of beginner guitars. You have for example a cool Les Paul Special II, which I have seen online for as low as $200. A bargain!

Yamaha has a number of fantastic instruments, played by top notch guitar players. Some of these are more expensive. However, they do have some good, cheaper ones as well, such as the Pacifica series.

Ibanez is another company that caters both to high-end instruments (Joe Satriani is one artist who uses Ibanez guitars) as well as the less expensive models, such as the GRX and GRG models.

A third company that caters for the higher end artist models as well as the cost effective beginner guitars is Dean. Models in the Vendetta series is well worth checking out if you’re on a budget.

Why are some guitars so much more expensive?

Well, there are a number of factors that are determining the cost of a guitar – like where it is build for starters. It goes without saying that it is much more expensive to build an instrument in the US or Europe, as compared to say China.

That said, there are in general better hardware components on the higher end guitars: pickups, tuners, bridge, electronics etc. Also the woods are generally better, and sometimes the finish is much more sophisticated. Furthermore, you will notice that the workmanship – such as the fretwork, finish, bindings, inlay, neck fit etc. is way better on the more expensive guitars.

But here’s the thing…

As a beginner, you really don’t need these somewhat “fancy pants” things – you just need a beginner guitar that stays in tune, sounds OK, looks decent and is not hard to play (the set up is OK). And that is commonly what you get with these beginner guitars!

I will encourage you to make sure that the guitars are properly adjusted (set up) though. A guitar that is hard to play can be a painful experience and may kill your ambitions dead in the tracks.

Personally, I have found some killer deals on eBay. Amongst other things, I recently bought a Les Paul copy that was just amazing to play.

What I tend to look closely at is the seller’s feedback score. I also want to be assured that the guitars are being properly set up before shipping. Some sellers do this really pro – again look at the feedback!

How about used guitars?

Naturally, you may also opt for finding a used guitar as your first (or indeed second) instrument. As long as you know what to look for … or get help from someone who can sort out the fluff, then you’ll be good to go.

Again, you may also have a look for used and second hand guitars at eBay. As with new guitars, I personally only buy from reputable sources with good feedback score across the board. If in any doubt at all, just don’t buy!

If you buy used directly from a person (or from sites such as eBay), do make sure that everything is guaranteed to be working properly – including the neck truss rod! Needing to change the neck or the truss rod is expensive…

Also do make sure that the frets are even and properly installed (no lose frets). Again, if you need to re-fret, or fix the fret work, you’re looking at quite a hefty sum of money.

Hope you’ll find the guitar that is just perfect for you!

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Beginner Guitar Lessons

5th December

Your First Guitar Lessons

When you’re starting out with electric guitar, it is always beneficial to consider early on what type of beginner guitar lessons you could see yourself having on a regular basis. As with everything else in life, it is fare more likely things will go according to plan, if you have a plan to begin with :-)

Your options are more or less these:
- Doing it all by yourself, “happy-go-lucky style”
- Using on-line tools, such as the much applauded Jamorama or Guitar Superstars
- Picking up stuff from friends
- Playing along to free on-line video on YouTube and similar places.
- Taking guitar classes at a school or institute
- Learning from guitar books or DVD’s
- Hiring a private guitar tutor
- Any combination of the above

beginner-guitar-lessonLearning on your own

Honestly, the only advantage I can see here is that you’d probably be more inclined to develop a unique style – for better or worse.

Seriously though, this is not something I would even consider. It is so easy to pick up bad playing habits. And if you want to learn electric guitar properly, bad habits and sloppy technique is the last thing you want to have!

Learning from a friend or with free video

This is an OK option I guess … if you have absolutely no money at all to spend on tuition. Still, you would need to consider this: How much real life skill and teaching qualifications does this other person have?

When you’re starting out it is a real challenge to be able to spot these things. And – the difference can mean a world of difference to your future ability as a guitar slinger. Sure enough, when you have gained quite a bit of experience, it is absolutely crucial to learn from others – left and right. At a more advanced stage, you’ll be able to pick up things and adapt the major or minor stuff you see fit.

Another thing to think about is the structure – or rather: lack thereof. Proper on-line or off-line guitar learning tools take into consideration a proper sequence and schedule. Without these guiding principles, you will likely, sooner or later, become stuck and frustrated. What you really need is a tested system, not videos or friends showing you some random cool licks…

Learning from guitar books and DVD’s

There are heaps of guitar books and DVD’s out there – some great, some not so great. If you find a book and/or DVD that is specifically geared at beginner guitar lessons, you can’t go much wrong. I would personally take a DVD over a book any time. It is much easier to see a playing sequence on video than than it is in a static book format.

However, the same DVD tends to be kind of boring and stale after a while, and it can be expensive to buy new ones all the time. Also, you don’t have the option to get feedback on your playing with these learning tools.

On-line guitar learning

This is where special tools such as the earlier mentioned Jamorama course (perfect for beginners) and Guitar Superstars come into play. Here you have on-line video, Jam tracks (play-along possibilities) proper learning structure laid out, feedback systems in place, fresh content being added, varied learning styles and more.

If you can’t afford a private teacher, this is the route I would advise you to take. I have tested both the above places, and they are both totally cool!

Guitar school or private teacher

Some schools (public or private) have classes or courses designed for teaching guitar. I would absolutely check this out if I were you!

Then you have of course the advanced, specialized institutions like LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) in Liverpool, UK; Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, California – as well as a host of other, similar places. Here you will definitely need some skills before you apply though!

If you really want to be as good as you can be in the shortest amount of time, then nothing can beat a professional guitar teacher. Whether you want to learn classical, blues, rock or anything else – this is the way to go.

However… Having your own teacher will cost you – not an arm and a leg – but still, it’s an investment. Think of it more in terms of the time you will save!

If you choose this route, then do make sure you spend enough time to check out qualifications and if that persons style and personality is something you can be happy with.

Sounding off

Hope you’ve found some of this information helpful? I will come with more information on the issue of having a plan, as well as other stuff. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! Happy hunting for proper lessons in beginner guitar skills!

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