5 Best Guitar Practice Habits

As it is important for students who want to get the most out of their guitar lessons to have long term goals about what they want to achieve as guitar players, it is equally important to develop great practice habits to ensure success. A practice routine is one of the most important parts of learning an instrument. Even after you’ve achieved a certain level of success, it’s important to still practice new concepts to maintain your chops! Here are five practice habits that I feel will greatly improve your chances of success at guitar!

  1. Practice a piece of music, a riff,  a lick, etc,  slowly and correctly, the first time. 

It’s important to make sure that you’re practicing your music with the right notes, rhythm, and fingering at the outset in order to keep you from having to relearn it later. You want to be sure that you’re not practicing mistakes and putting them into muscle memory, which makes it tough to break out the mistake. This will save a lot of time. Practice your music slowly, double-check the rhythm, and listen to a recorded version of the piece several times. If what you are playing doesn’t sound like the recording, then you need to find out the issue before you practice it over and over.

2. Practice a minimum of 15 minutes a day

This one I tell my students all of the time and the ones that abide by this guideline do better than the ones who don’t. Practicing a minimum of 15 minutes everyday forces you to pick up the guitar like the pros do, and streamline your practice session. Daily practice helps you remember the concepts and techniques far more than a marathon practice on a single day.  Most people have 15 min free at some point in their day. When you only have 15 minutes to practice, you better make sure that you stay focused on the task at hand. Be sure to set a timer and when 15 minutes is up, stop!

3. Plan out what you are going to practice.

For this it is good to have a log-book of some kind to keep track of what you’ve been practicing. Often times we’ll cover a variety of concepts in the guitar lessons and you want to make sure that you get to them all during the week or so between your lessons. It’s a great idea to plan out a week of 15 min practice sessions so that you are sure to cover all the new concepts and whichever old ones that are necessary.

4. Practice in 15 minute increments.

This goes right along with the previous two habits. If you decide to practice longer than 15 minutes on certain days, it is still a good idea to break down your practicing into 15 min blocks of time so that you’ll be sure to take a break and move around between blocks as well as stay focused on what needs to be done to move your playing along.

5. Practice the difficult passages of a piece of music more often than the easy parts.

I have found this habit to be a great time-saver. Look over your piece of music and identify what passages are causing you the most trouble, circle them on the page, or if you’re learning by ear, write down the time that the trouble spots occur in the music. Practice only those passages during your practice session, then try the whole piece.

I hope this helps jumpstart your guitar practice and I hope to have more practice tips on this blog in the future!

~Dave

25 songs for beginner guitarists

So you’ve just decided to start playing guitar, or you’ve tried to learn before and you didn’t get past the first few pages of Mel Bay’s Guitar Method book 1. I don’t blame you. While I have absolutely nothing against Mel Bay (one of the biggest publishers of guitar books), starting with a method book, while informative, may not be the best approach to keep your interest at the early stages.

While there are many great beginner choices, I’ve decided to go with songs that are relatively easy to play and are popular. So you can get a lot of mileage out of these. I’ve omitted “Smoke on the Water” for reasons you can imagine!  I’ve also chosen tunes that are in a variety of genres so as a budding guitarist you can be versatile in your playing. I hope to expand on each genre in subsequent posts.

Here they are, in order of easy to more challenging:

  1. Jambalaya on the Bayou – Hank Williams – (Country)
  2. Horse With No Name – America – (Classic Rock)
  3. Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles – (Rock)
  4. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes – (Rock)
  5. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
  6. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan – (Rock)
  7. Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly – (Rock’n’Roll)
  8. Old Joe Clark -Traditional – (Bluegrass/Old Time)
  9. Yellow Submarine – Yellow Submarine – (Rock)
  10. Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley – (Folk-Rock)
  11. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash – (Country)
  12. Sweet Home Chicago (basic version) – Robert Johnson – (Blues)
  13. Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show -(Bluegrass)
  14. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Bob Dylan – (Folk-Rock)
  15. Redemption Song – Bob Marley – (Reggae)
  16. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day – (Rock)
  17. One – U2 – (Rock)
  18. About a Girl – Nirvana – (Grunge Rock)
  19. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana – (Grunge Rock)
  20. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd – (Rock)
  21. Sittin’ on Top of the World – Various Artists – (Blues)
  22. Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran – (Pop/Rock)
  23. Malagueña (Flamenco)
  24. Blue Monk – Thelonius Monk -(Jazz)
  25. Blackbird – The Beatles – (Rock)

There are many many other songs I could list here, but hopefully these will spark some ideas. The tunes above will be easy in their original key. With a lot of songs, you can make them easier by changing the original key to G or C, simplifying the strum pattern, and/or simplifying the chord voicings.

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To Read or Not to Read Music

Should I focus on learning to read music in standard notation for guitar?

Learning to read music will open many doors in learning guitar, but it is not required to play the instrument and become an effective player. Learning to read standard notation will make you better able to communicate the language of music, and help your ability to learn pieces faster, but like anything in music, it takes time and consistent practice to get efficient at it. It can be difficult in the beginning if you’ve never read standard notation before, which is why I don’t push my students to learn to read music in the beginning stages. There are plenty of guitar techniques to master that don’t necessarily require reading music, but I do instruct students to learn to read rhythms, tablature, and the note names on the fretboard.

It is true that many great guitar players are not great readers of standard musical notation, or do not read music at all.  This is in part due to the fact that modern guitar player has a few other tools other than standard notation at his or her disposal to communicate how to play a piece of music: By ear (audio), by sight (video), and tablature.

Here are the pros and cons of each:

  1. By ear (audio)
    • Pro: develop your listening and ear training abilities
    • Con: It can be tough for beginners and intermediate players without any ear training or music theory background
  2. By sight (video and audio)
    • Pro: a little easier than learning from only the audio, you are able to see exactly where to play the notes and chords.
    • Con: Still tough for beginners and can be frustrating.
  3. Tablature:
    • Pro: Know exactly where on the fretboard to play the notes
    • Con: Often tablature does not convey the rhythm, so you often have to figure that out by ear.

As I mentioned above, tablature is more specific in that it tells you exactly which frets to play the notes or chords. When something is written in standard notation for guitar, unless it conveys which position to play, you have a few options of where to play the notes on the neck. Tablature takes out the guess-work and in general it is easier for most people to read.

I highly encourage my students to explore all the ways to learn music on the guitar: sight, sound, tablature, and standard notation. Doing so will make you a well-rounded and effective guitar player and musician!

 

 

Group Guitar Lessons

Learn guitar with friends and neighbors of a similar playing ability level at Huber Guitar Studio!

Huber Guitar Studio offers small group guitar lessons for beginner and intermediate players. Groups are usually 2 to 3 people.

  • Learn guitar in a fun, friendly environment and meet fellow guitar players in the Baltimore area.
  • Learn songs together and learn how to play along with other musicians.
  • Observe and learn from fellow students on how to tackle problems with learning guitar.
  • Get more time with the instructor at a lower cost!

Group Rates are $20/person for a half hour and $30/person for an hour lesson. 

The 5 Best Ways to Improve at Playing Guitar

When teaching guitar, I like to break down songs and techniques into smaller more manageable parts. So I thought it would be a good idea to break down my teaching philosophy into 5 areas that will help beginner students maximize their practice time. Here are the 5 best ways for beginners to improve at guitar.

1. Practice 15 minutes every day. Set a timer and practice no longer than 15 minutes, but practice for 15 minutes everyday.  It’s not too hard to fit in 15 minutes of practice into the day somewhere. 15 minutes over 4 days is better than an hour once every 4 days.

 2. Learn to read rhythms and practice strumming. Setting a strong    foundation in rhythm is vital for success in guitar playing down the road. So many issues arise as a result of a lack of understanding rhythm.

3. Learn the notes on the fretboard. There are a few methods for learning the fretboard notes and it’s a good idea to employ all of them. Being able to “see” the notes on the fretboard will take you very far.

4. Learn to play simple melodies by ear. This will greatly improve your ear for music and help your ability to learn songs faster. It can be tricky at first, but very rewarding.

5. Practice chord changes. Mastering chord changes is a very fundamental step, but an extremely important one. So special attention should be made in this area. I’ve found that a lot of issues arise from simply not being able to play the chord changes effectively.

DH-4002

 

Guitar Conditions: What to Look Out for

What to look out for when buying a guitar:

When you purchase a starter guitar you want to make sure that it is in a functional and playable condition. This particularly applies to used guitars, but new guitars can potentially have issues as well. Most of the time, the guitar that you walked out of the door with is not the one that you tried out in the store. So you want to be sure that the one you are getting is in good condition.

Without getting too technical, here are some basic things to check:

  • Action/Fret Buzzing: The action is the distance of the strings from the fretboard. It shouldn’t be too high from the fretboard or too low. If it is too high, the strings will be hard to press down. If it is too low, certain notes may make a buzzing sound. Both problems can lead to bad intonation
  • Intonation: Intonation is how accurate the pitches (notes) are at each fret. When the guitar strings are tuned to standard tuning, all of the notes played at each fret should also be at the correct pitch. The best way to check this is by using a guitar tuner on the chromatic or “all notes” setting and play each fret on every string.
  • Body Condition: Make sure the body of the guitar is in decent shape.  Make sure the finish on the body is not cracked in anyway or the bridge is not sinking into the wood (symptoms of the wood drying out). Also be sure that there are no dips or swells in the body (signs of over humidifying).
  • Neck Condition: Make sure that the neck is not warped or twisted in any way. Guitar necks can have a slight bow in them, but make sure it is not bowed too much. Also, be sure that there are no cracks in the neck or headstock.

Conclusion

These are some very basic tips on guitar conditions. If you’re buying a used guitar, some superficial cracks or nicks in the wood can add character to the instrument and not affect its playability in any way. Just be on the lookout for the potential issues listed above and you should be in good shape.

Photo by Paul Familetti – willie-guitar, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13657133

Buying a Guitar for Beginner Students

Many people who are new to playing guitar ask me about how to go about buying a guitar, what type of guitar to buy, what price range, etc. In this post, I’ll give you some advice on how to do just that. Also, if you don’t want to go full blast into purchasing a guitar you might want to ask around and see if anyone you know may be willing to loan you a guitar that they might not use very often.

Where to buy a guitar?

In the Baltimore area, the biggest guitar retailers are Guitar Center in Towson and Glen Burnie, and Bill’s Music in Catonsville. Two other favorite places are Appalachian Bluegrass in Catonsville and Music-Go-Round in Cockeysville. In Baltimore City there there are two small music shops: Ted’s Musicians Shop , and Brothers Music. It’s also a great idea to check craigslist for a used guitar, but always examine it and try it out before you buy!

Electric vs. Acoustic, what’s the difference?

Whether to buy and electric or acoustic guitar for a beginner depends in large part on the style of music that they want to play. Someone wanting to play rock, jazz, or blues, would most likely want to buy an electric whereas someone wanting to play folk, classical, or bluegrass would be interested in an  acoustic.

Electric and acoustic guitar strings in standard tuning are tuned exactly the same and therefore the notes on the fretboard are identical. So learning the basics on an acoustic are pretty much the same as learning the basics on an electric. But there are some differences in regards to playability, note range, volume, and tonal quality.

Some benefits in starting with an electric guitar:
  • The smaller strings on the electric make it easier to play certain chords and to bend the strings.
  • When it’s not amplified, electrics can be fairly quiet which can allow you to not disturb your roommates or neighbors while practicing.
  • It’s easier to match the tone quality of songs that use electric guitar.
  • The body shape of an electric allows you to reach higher notes on the fretboard.
Some benefits of starting with an acoustic guitar:
  • The strings are thicker and better suited for finger-style playing.
  • It’s loud enough on its own in small settings, so there is no need for an amplifier.
  • It’s simpler than an electric, therefore there are fewer components that could break or cause issues.
  • You can match the acoustic tone found on many recordings.

Whether to buy and electric or acoustic guitar for a beginner depends in large part on the style of music that they want to play. Someone wanting to play rock, jazz, or blues, would most likely want to buy an electric whereas someone wanting to play folk, classical, or bluegrass would be interested in an  acoustic.

Body Size

The size of the body of the guitar can be an issue particularly for children,  but also for adults who may prefer a smaller over a larger body size and vice versa. There are adult size acoustic guitars that are smaller than the standard dreadnought type, the largest and probably the most common body size. The best thing to do is to try out different types and see which one feels the most comfortable.

When trying to size up a guitar for a child, please see my post on Buying a Guitar for a Child (coming soon).

What is the price range?

I recommend spending between $100 to $250 for a starter guitar, although you may find some decent used ones for under $100. I’d say stay away from the super-cheap new guitars.

Which brands to buy:

For brands in the $100 to $250 range for acoustic guitars, in my humble opinion from what I’ve observed through years of teaching beginners, Yamaha is a favorite. Epiphone, Washburn, and Fender are decent. Hohner and Mitchell (Guitar Center’s brand I believe) are ok too. Stay away from Rogue, First Act, and Oscar Schmidt (most of these brands retail below $100), they seem to always have issues. There are lots of other brands as well and most are fine as starter guitars. Basically, you want something that is functional and not going to have issues or fall apart after a few months.

In my next post, I’ll discuss a few tips on examining the condition of a new or used guitar. 

Learn Folk-Blues Fingerpicking Guitar at Huber Guitar Studio

Folk-Blues fingerpicking guitar techniques can be used in a variety of genres of music: modern indie folk, ’60’s folk-rock, singer-songwriter, acoustic blues, bluegrass, Americana/roots music, etc.

-Learn to utilize a variety of techniques: Travis Picking, Alternating bass fingerpicking, mono-bass fingerpicking.

-Learn to play guitar by learning simple songs and developing technique as you go

-Learn basic music theory and create your own arrangements of folk songs

-Learn finger-picking technique while practicing your favorite songs!

-Have fun, express yourself, and create a musical foundation that you can build on for years to come!

-Huber Guitar Studio is located in Hampden right off of I-83, 7 minutes from downtown and convenient to most areas in and around Baltimore

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Guitar lessons for all ages & ability levels