Category Archives: Making Good Music

How Do I Improve My Guitar Playing?

The simplest answer to the question of how do I improve my guitar playing is practice. Yes, we heard these 3 words enough “Practice, practice, practice”. We know and are all guilty of not doing enough. But when we do play or practice, how do we ensure we’ll improve? Is there a strategy how to practice such that it’ll improve our guitar playing?

Of course, there are so many ways to do it. But most of the time, it’s very technical. I believe highlighting those technical requirements stresses more than help. My last post is about setting the right goals to improve our guitar playing and maybe that didn’t help.

So today I want to give you my take how I improve my guitar playing in a very not technical way. You’ll be surprised, a lot of these tips don’t even involve playing. I believe the song, knowing and listening to it is a big key to unlock this. So here are my recommended ways how to improve our guitar playing.

1. Establish Liking Your Basics

Modern western music essentially consists of only 7 notes (or 12 at most). Master these 7 notes., eg. A to G.

Know intimately what is 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 note of a song?

What is Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti?

Learn to like those notes as every scale and chords are built on those few notes.

Also learn your major scale and chords. Enjoy playing them. If you enjoy the basics and use it for the most basic of songs (for example”Ba Ba Black Sheep” or “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. You’ll most definitely improve your guitar playing.


Discover the joy of playing your first song


2. Get Your Confidence To Play Way Up

You have to be sure that there is a music or song, you want to play. A lot of players develop a fantasy of wanting to be a guitar player but do not have a song or music they want to play. It’s not sustainable. It is like for example to want to be a teacher but not passionate about imparting anything specific to the students.

The song and music you want to play is key.

Not only that, but that song has to be ‘you’. You have to own the music before you can get your confidence right.

So many times we play other people’s songs and we imagine we can play it like them. But in all honesty, we can’t and shouldn’t be able to.  Our confidence gets affected.

Get your confidence right in that you have picked a song that is personal to you and that you can call your own. And then believe you can bring it out … your own way. And that’s the basis of the confidence you need.

You are not doing to do it any other way other than your way.

3. Invest In Feeling the Music First Before You Play It

Feel the song by studying it. By studying it, I don’t mean with your intellect or your mind. I mean just listening to it and feeling it.

If you know how the song affects you, you will know how to play it to affect other people. Knowing what is the impact you want to bring across is crucial to playing. So invest in feeling the song first.

One of the strategy of learning to play is to listen to as many versions of the song as possible. I’ve listened to at least a dozen version of Autumn Leaves before I learned to play it. And my guitar playing improve as I feel the music I play (with the guitar) with.

So yes, If the song moves me, I’m ready to invest to play it.

4. Ask How Do You Play The Music Without Using A Guitar

Not yet. Hang on to the guitar first. There is one more step that is still not about the guitar playing yet. It’s still about the song and how you play it without a guitar.

Ask yourself how do you play it if you don’t have a guitar? Maybe you can sing it just with a metronome or a beat. Maybe you can accapella it. Or swing to it with just your body.

It is always good to know the tune and able to hum it or sing it before you start to play it. If you have another way of playing it without the guitar, how will you do it.

I always have a cajon, or a rhythm machine or even a metronome ready to play the song without the guitar.

5. Now With The Guitar, How Should You Play It Better

Now, with a song that you know, feel and are able to play without a guitar, you can bring your guitar into the picture.

With the guitar, explore if I should strum it, pick it, or just tap on it to add to the song you already have in you.

This is a tough part as you will explore the chord progression or the notes to the song. You’ll spend time here but if you do the first few steps, you’ll going to improve how you play already by a mile.

6. Play It Like No Other People

With the guitar, just play it like yourself. Don’t try to imitate anybody. Just be yourself and let the guitar be the instrument you were never born with and never had.

Now that you have it, make it a worthy extension of you. Play with your style and don’t let anyone judge you for how you play it.

What do you think? Does the article help you? If so great, if not, how do you improve on your playing?

How To Write A Song For Beginners

writing songs

Many of us start our learning journey by playing popular songs. These are songs that’s written by others. While it’s a great way to start, it’s not where our musical journey should end. We should in one way or another end with trying to bring the song we have within us out. Today I want to explore “How To Write A Song” for those who are beginning.

Understand the 3 Component of a Song

1. Get The Chord Sequence
2. Compose The Melody
3. Write The Lyrics

Step 1: Pick one way to start and the spend the whole day working on it.

The reason to pick one of the ways above is so that your song has a unique element. That element will gives its a unique flavour that people can remember. Some call it the stickability factor of the song.

Do you know songs with strong stickability factor? I remember my favourite songs either it’s strong melody or riff (Wham’s Careless Whisper), or some interesting or memorable lyrics (Sting’s Russian) or a swinging chord sequence (Muddy Water’s Hoochie Coochie Man).

It’s also a good way to start to get us out of the songwriting rut. I recall many times when I’m dry in my creativity juice, I realise I’m only dry in 1 or 2 of the 3 components and not in all 3 areas. So having to choose an alternative way to start writing a song keeps me fresh and ever ready to write one.

Spend a whole day so you give yourself time to come up with the best of many many you have come up with in that day. Once you have a good chord sequence or a melody or a great set of lyrics, you are ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Spend an hour working on the second element

You don’t have to do this on the same day. Give your mind and soul a rest. Attempt this the next day. You’ll find yourself spending a shorter time with it. Your first element is there and has become a strong foundation to guide you. For example if you already have the melody, and your second step is to write the chord sequence, you just work out the chord sequence. It’s more mechanical and is a science than an art.

Or if you already have a strong melody and your next step is to write the lyrics, you fill in words that has the right number of syllable or those with the correct rhyme.

Just get it done.

And the last step is

Step 3: Work out the last element which connects the first two

Huh?

Ok, ok. By now you maybe wondering, have I tricked you into not teaching you anything because it all seems obvious.

Well, it is. But my response to you is to tell you that writing a song is a creative process. It has a structure but the structure only helps you to hold your creativity. The creative work itself depends on you. So at the end of the day, my 3 steps only will facilitate the creativity that is always in you.

What kind of chord sequence, melody or words that come out of you depends on you, not your teacher.

I hope after teaching you the above structure on how to write a song for beginners, that it will inspire you to attempt to write a song.

Many students (or even intermittent to professional) players never got into getting the song out of their heart. They could play many of other people’s songs but never got to write out their own. And that’s a pity because there’s so much joy for us as it is for our listeners when they get to hear it.

I hope this post will inspire you to want to not just play good guitar but to bring out your song.

Let me know what you think? How do you write your songs? What works and don’t work for you?

How To Be More Musical In 7 Ways

My journey of learning to play guitar has brought me to places of frustration and struggle. In those places, I realised that I’ve been alone, isolated with a set of wrong questions I was asking. The questions weren’t about how to play good guitar (like what chords should I play or how do I bend the strings etc) but it is how can I be more musical? 

Of course being able to play chords or bend strings are important techniques but doing those doesn’t mean we become more musical but on the flip side,  being musical inevitably means being able to play good guitar.

The 2 ways of playing is to #1. Use techniques and methods to play back written music. #2. To bring what is already inside of you out. The first way represent most of today’s music educators and schools. They teach you to excel in bringing out the music that is already written or recorded using very precise and delicate skill. However today I’m talking about how to bring out the music or song we already have inside.

I want to explore how we can be more musical and leaving the being technical to another time. Here are 5 ways we can be more musical.

  1. Train Your Self To Listen

    Perhaps this is unnatural to most people. People like to talk more than listen. Developing this ability makes us more anchored to our environment. It makes us present, mindful and happy to be alive. Developing our ears to listen is about being centred and ready to receive what inspiration has to tell us. It is one will discover the most natural instinct of a human being despite our inability to know how to do it.It is good to sit still for a few minutes and listen. Without being too weird to others, focus on whatever dominant what you hear. It’s likely your own breathing or it could be the constant chatter from many parallel conversations in the room. Play the game of identifying which is dominant. Then listen to it intently.

  2. Recognise the Tonal Center In What You Hear

    Develop your understanding of the 7 Tones in this world. (or 3 or 5 or 12 but I’ll be comfortable knowing the 7). These 7 tones are the tones from the Major Scale. (Ok if its 3, then its a triad, 5 it is the pentatonics and 12 its the whole chromatic scale)Then try to map that understanding to your environment with this question.” What is the tonal center of what you are hearing in your environment? “

    Which one is the 1 note or the root note? Try to hum it. What I would do to make this exercise easier is to say if there’s a soundtrack to where you are and what you are hearing. What key is it? Hum that tonal center of that key. Yes, it may sound like a chant, maybe it is one that brings you back to the center of yourself as your music.

    You can check out and savour that note as the home sound.

  3. Learn To Feel The 7 Notes In the Major Scale.

    There are 12 sounds in the organisation of all western music but 7 are the most important ones. I learned to identify the 7 Notes in the Major Scale from David Reed’s excellent “Improvise for Real”. He describes it as the 7 Harmonic World. I like that because the sound is really like worlds apart if you learn to recognise it. One good way to learn it is to describe how that sound makes you feel. There are 7. You can call it “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti” or you can call it just 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. I used a known person’s name and map that to the 7 notes based on the personality they have and how closely they match with the sound of the 7 notes. You can do anything to recognise who is who in the Major Scale. Just like today if I blind fold you in the room full of the close people in your life, you will be able to identify them based on the sound they make, you can do the same for the 7 Notes in the Major Scale. It’s only 7 you need to recognise. Yes altogether there are 5 more but learning the 7 should come first and once you learn “HOW TO RECOGNISE TONE”, you’ll have little issue with the 5 more.

  4. Listen Intently How Music Is Arranged All Around You

    If you sit down and be still and close your eyes. You may find sounds around you that you normally take for granted. It maybe a background music playing, or the sound of the road or chatter from conversations in the room. It may be the sound of the fan or airconditioning. If you listen intently, you may hear an organisation. Just like instruments played in a band or an orchestra in a concert, you may hear that arrangement in daily life. After you have noticed the music arrangement around you, incorporate one last instrument. That is the sound within yourself, it maybe the sound of your footstep or the flow of blood in your heart, it may just be your heart beat. Incorporate that into your “daily orchestra”.  Learning to listen like that trains your ear to listen. It makes you more musical because you are identifying ‘music’ in your environment and within yourself.

  5. Hum That Tune That Is In You

    You will find out there’s music and a song in you. Everytime, there’s one trying to come out. It may be from inspiration from above, it may be hidden within you or even a tune you heard a while back but it’s stuck in you. Whatever you have inside, hum that tune. Try to bring it out by humming. It’s not a stressful exercise to force out something that is not there. Sometimes that tune may just be a one sound thing. Master bringing out that sound even if its just that one root note as described above.

  6. Invest In A Musical Instrument

    Now that you have cultivated the music that is IN YOU. It’s time to bring it out. Yes humming and even singing is the way to bring out the music in the more musical you. But often we need the help of an instrument. Getting an instrument like the guitar or the piano and venture into learning where each of the note in the major scale is located on your instrument is the journey. That’s the greatest association you need to make when learning. Where each notes fall on your instrument. This is a journey so take your time and invest in that learning.


    3 Ways To Teach Yourself To Play Guitar


  7. Appreciate Other People’s Music

    One of the most enjoyable thing you can do to be more musical is to listen to other people’s music. I don’t mean listen to it in the elevator or the mall at the background. I mean really listen to it. The art of listening to music has been lost in the advent of the internet and easy streaming of music. That is the reason why I invested in a Turntable to play Vinyl LP. This setup has made me slow down in my listening of music. It takes time to select the LP, take it out of the sleeve, ensure the surface of the LP is clean, carefully put in into the platter and then move the needle to the start of the record and press play. Not forgetting having to clean it every time it collects dust after a period of inactivity. This seemingly long process helps myself to prepare to listen. The sense of anticipation does magic to your ear, helping it appreciate the music that is coming up.

    I began collecting back the titles to the music I hear as a child. And it itself is an enjoyable process, I believe will make you more musical if you choose to do the same.

     

That’s the 7 ways to be more musical!

When you could let what you hear touch you or connect with you. You are able to keep it inside of you and will be able to reproduce it freely. Being musical is about knowing what you are hearing in your head and then knowing how to reproduce it and bring it out (with or without your guitar).

One you are able to do that, you have succeeded to be more musical. You can continue to work out bring more music out of what is already in you. Music exists in and around us, we just need to bring it out. That’s the nature of creating music and being more musical.

Simple First Songs You Can Play On Guitar

It’s a myth to think that playing the guitar is difficult merely because a lot of songs you hear over the airwaves were arranged with a band setup.

And because of that it sounds more complicated that it really is as a song. Normally these songs consist of only 3 to 4 chords and If we only learn the chords to play on the guitar and then play them in the right rhythm, we will be well on our way to play guitar that sounds amazing to your friends.

Below are some of the simple first songs you can try to play on guitar. When you get it right, it will sound more difficult to others than it really is. But of course, you will know that its a simple 3 to 4 chord songs and an easy to catch melody.

  1. Wonderful World – Sam Cooke

Check out the Chords

2.  Wind of Change – Scorpions

Check out the Chords

3. I’m Yours – Jason Mraz

Check out the Chords

A Night of Inspiration & Learning A New Song

One of the most favourite thing I do is to be mesmerised and captivated by a performance. Last night I was watching Natalie Merchant with Erik Della Penna supporting her on guitar with of course the rest of the band on Tiny Desk Concerts.

One thing I’m impressed by is Erik’s control and playing that is so fine that it doesn’t overpower Natalie. Erik’s an artiste to know his playing role is to support an amazing vocal talent as Natalie Anne Merchant.

Last night I learned to play the last song on this video “The Weeping Pilgrim”. Love it so much that I have a chance to learn the whole song (yes its simple) in one night of being inspired by wonderful musicians.

What are you inspired by lately? What songs have you been learning?

Remembering Chuck Berry & His Style of Good Guitar

Chuck Berry passed away a few weeks back and the world remembers his contribution to the world of rock and roll.

This video shows the level of showmanship and guitar playing he had to offer to us guitar players. To have Keith Richard playing rhythm to this man attest to his legendary status as the Godfather of rock and roll.

His riffs are his hallmark playing and is recognised and copied everywhere, all over the world.

Eric Clapton says that it has become standard to play rock and roll using his way of double-stops (two notes at once) and to play otherwise sounds thin and not right.

The exercise today for us is to learn double-stops using fourths and fifths and learn to let our solos ring with these 2 notes (rather than 1)… Just like Chuck!

How can you be play better with double stops? What do you think was his style of playing and what attracts you to it and why was it so appealing?

Know the 3 King of Scales – The Major, Minor & Dominant

Music and playing the guitar is like taking a walk in a place called Music Land, a mountainous place where a traveller strolls along to visit.

If the path of The Major Scale gives you the feel of the most natural walk, then the other 2 scales give you one that is sad or melancholic and adventurous or edgy. Together, the Major, Minor and Dominant, they are the 3 King of Scales.

Joe Pass, the legendary jazz virtuoso says that when he plays, he thinks jazz with only 3 types of chords. The Major, Minor and Dominant. The rest are just derivatives of that. So it’s good to get acquainted with them.


Check out the best way to understand the major scale if you have not.


And here’s the plot on how you can understand these three kings.

  • The Major is the Stable Kind King
  • The Minor is a Melancholic Drama King.
  • The Dominant is an Adventure Seeking King.

The Major King
always walk up the mountain from his home like this. This is his groove.
From Home (his palace?),
he will    SKIP  ^   SKIP  ^   STEP  SKIP  ^   SKIP  ^   SKIP  ^   STEP
The way he travels will make him sound authoritative and strong.



The Minor King
 has this groove
From his palace,
he may    SKIP  ^  STEP SKIP  ^   SKIP  ^  STEP SKIP  ^  SKIP ^
The way he moves, it will always sound sadder than the Major King. (It has the stepped back 3rd which gives it a minor sound)

[Image of Scale coming soon]

The Dominant King  has a very different groove
From his palace,
there are several ways but he may SKIP  ^  SKIP  ^  STEP SKIP ^  SKIP ^ STEP SKIP
He will always sound a bit curious but still with the confidence to still go and explore places. (It has the stepped back 7th)

[Image of Scale coming soon]

The key is to learn this, is to recognise how these 3 scales sound like to you. Maybe you have a different way of describing the Kings of Scales.

Exercise Recognising These Kings

  1. Play these scales, up and down the guitar. Get used to the scales and how it feels.
  2. Play each of these scales for 10 minutes each.
  3. Try to describe the scale in your own words.
  4. Find out which note or notes make these scales different with respect to the major scale

 

The Foundations of Good Music When Playing The Guitar

One of the key mistakes I made when I started was playing and practising aimlessly. I wasn’t playing music but just noodling with it. Not either writing my own or playing an existing music. I’ve wasted my years fallen into the habit of just mucking around with the guitar.

I find that finding a good piece of music to play inspires us to a tangible thing we are moving towards. It starts off with finding a piece of music that inspires you and that the melody and words connect and relate with you.

Ever felt that you enjoy a certain song but you can never engage with it when you play it? Chances that the words and melody don’t sync with your subconscious. Even though you consciously want to play it, your subconscious or your spirit is rejecting it.

Finding a good first song is important. It is usually your favourite song which melody or lyrics speaks to you deeply. Normally our first song is one that its so attached to you that you no problem remembering the lyrics of that song.


Check this out:  The First Song To Play On Guitar


Having chosen your first song, go and remember all the chords, followed by the chord sequence, sing or play the melody and enjoy your first song as your signature song.

In summary,







Get one right and repeat for all songs


Check out the other 2 Foundations:
Good Guitar & Good Connection 


You Don’t Have To Play Like Prince, You Can Play Like Yourself

I was watching this amazing Youtube Video of Prince. In the past, I used to be amazed and then feel unworthy that I cannot play like Prince. That’s bad for playing the guitar.

Today, I would watch videos like this, be amazed and inspired. And then I will feel that its possible (just like it is for Prince) to play uniquely just like myself. By building the foundation of Good Guitar, Good Connection and Good Music, I don’t have to compare but I can play like myself.

Click above to enjoy this free download

Just a reminder every time you see your hero play, don’t compare but conclude that you too can do the same. Play like yourself.

Having said that, I want to state what Prince ever said about learning the guitar during a rare interview with Guitar Player magazine in the July, 2004 issue.

Prince laid his feelings about the state-of-the-guitar on the line, and his point still resonates today: “Kids don’t learn to play the right way anymore. When the Jackson 5 came up, they had to go through Smokey Robinson and the Funk Brothers, and that’s how they got it down. I want to be able to teach that stuff, because kids need to learn these things, and nobody is teaching them the basics. See, a lot of cats don’t work on their rhythm enough, and if you don’t have rhythm, you might as well take up needlepoint or something. I can’t stress it enough. The next thing is pitch. That’s universal. You’re either in tune or you ain’t. When you get these things down, then you can learn how to solo.” U heard the man. So let’s get to it.

Enjoy the weekend!

Best Guitar Practice Routine

One of the most joyful time in my day is when I grab the guitar and be prepared for the best use of my guitar practice time.

Vince Lombardi’s famous quote says ” Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect “. So finding out what’s the best guitar practice routine is essential in your journey to play good guitar.

While it is true perfection robs our joy in many aspects of life, perfect practice is what creates the most enduring joy that gets better every time you pick up the guitar. Not only can practice time be enjoyable, you’ll enjoy playing more, the better your practice time becomes.

So let’s dive into finding out the best guitar practice routine for yourself.

Get Connected First

Remember just like in a relationship, the better a marriage, a working partnership or a friendship is, the more connected two persons are. So in practicing, you have to practice being connected with what you do. So what’s your true goal of playing? Get connected there. What’s your love for your guitar? Get connected there too. You may want to do The Guitar Meditation If You Have A Looper. But without it, you are still fine as long as you know that being present and connected is the great first place to start.

And finally, do you love your practice and your practice routine? You have to work out the meaning and how to be connected there too. Well, if you made it here, you are in the right place to start your practice time.

Have Fun With Your Major Scale

The basis of practice the guitar has to be knowing the major scale and knowing where the 1s, 2s, 3s … and the 7s are in that scale.

Playing scales may seem boring to some but for many professionals, striving to play it well and make every note clear, smooth and with feeling is essential practice. It boils down to if you are personally connected even with one note. The major scale is the mother of all scales so playing it and getting connected with it is irreplaceable.

With the major scale, you can play the minor scales and many other scales. Do you know that the natural minor scale (otherwise known as the aeolian scale) is found within the major scale (also known as the Ionian scale)? So is the Dorian, the Phrygian, the Lydian and the Mixolydian and the Locrian scales.

Let me know if you want me to share the trick to find them in the major scale in the other post. For now, just know that major scale helps us play the rest without needing to memorize more.

When You Play, You Hum

I first learn this from Jimmy Bruno while studying in his online institute. He said if you play and connect your fingers with what you hear, next time you hear something, your fingers automatically go there. So hearing your note as your fingers play it is the key, humming it or singing it out as you play enhances the listening. So as you practice, try to hum it along. The good thing about humming it is the when you go out without a guitar, your can hum and play air guitar.

That practice without a guitar alone is going to increase your practice time multiple fold and you’ll get connected with the sound and your finger.

Practice The Songs You Are Most Connected With

I’m not a proponent of playing too many songs and playing it mediocrely. I will go easy on playing too many songs and focus on the song you are most connected with. Once you have that song, you get into the following

Step 1: Chord Structure.

Find out what is the chord sequence. I usually go with the numbering system. Like for example, I’m trying to memorize Wind of Change by the Scorpions so I’m going.

4 2 4 2 6 5 1 (singing with the tune of the intro)
1 2 1 2 6 5 1 (singing with the first verse)

Again this way of singing it helps me be able to practice without the guitar.

Step 2: Play or Sing The Melody

I will practice the melody of the song either by playing the notes to the song or singing the song (even if I have a bad singing voice)

Step 3: Play the chords and sing.

I will attempt to do it together. But not at one go. I will play in parts. Master the verse, then the chorus, then the bridge.

The key thing about playing songs is to enjoy the song. If you don’t, go look for one that you’ll enjoy playing. I know sometimes in band situations, you are forced to play songs that doesn’t resonate with you so much. I know its tough but if you want to be in the band, that’s the joy of sharing things and experiences, but you should have a chance to ask them to consider playing songs you like too. So get your repertoire of songs you like through practicing the songs you are most connected with.

Practice Parts That You Struggle With

Now after practicing your playing and your songs, there will be parts that you find you struggle with. There should be time dedicated to work on those. I find a lot of times, the struggle has to do with the timing of the song. So I used a looper or a metronome for that.

I may even work on the part I most struggle with that is not even related to playing the guitar. A lot of times, I find I can’t play a song because I’m not familiar with the song. So the exercise may just be to myself more familiar with it through listening to the recording or just closing my eyes and imagining myself or the original artist sing it.

End With A Doxology Kind Of Song

Just like they do in a traditional church, they end the service with a Doxology. Get to play a phrase or a song that you know very well so that every practice sessions get ended well.

The reason to do it is because your brain gets stuck with the last feeling you have of each session. So if you end with frustration rather than success, your brain is going to associate practice with trauma and that’s not going to help you progress you later when you practice. You will just freeze up and conclude that practice is drudgery.

So always end well with a song or a phrase you can play very well. Or you can just end with saying “Thank You” to God or to your guitar for serving you.

I, being a Christian with a love for tradition, I just really just play The Doxology.

Hope you have found this post helpful to find your best guitar practice routine. Remember at the end of the day to not take things too seriously but to let go and enjoy the process. It’s not an EGO trip and you are not going to be the next Van Halen or Carlos Santana, you just want to be yourself and play good guitar. So enjoy finding your perfect practice routine because you are playing guitar your own way.

Drop me a note about your guitar practice routine? I’m interested to hear how you do it.