Do you want to create your own private Guitar Camp? Or better still, you want to set aside some time each day (week, month) to study and improve your guitar playing. That would be a case of “Do as I say – not as I do”, but great. Here’s some tools and ideas that can help you.
You can find plenty of lesson material on the internet and quite a bit of it is free. Gibson currently is providing free lessons. Mel Bay has free ezines that include lessons. Unfortunately, Fender no longer provides lessons in their Players Club as they once did. These lessons are often book/CD excerpts. You don’t get the whole book for free, just a sample lesson. They want you to buy the book if you like the lesson. It’s not a bad system and you can pick up some good free lessons even if you don’t buy the book.
Another good site for lessons is WholeNote.com. The lessons include tablature and midi backing where you can set the tempo on the midi. Many of the lessons are user contributions.
The many guitar tablature websites generally contain lessons and exercises. You can find scales, progressions, theory and more if you look.
Lesson books, song books, fake books, theory books and lesson DVDs can all be helpful if you’re willing to purchase the material. I have found lesson books that include examples on CD to be useful. I always rip the lesson CD so I don’t worry about losing or damaging the CD. You can find almost all the guitar books and DVD’s you might need on Amazon.com. However, there are some specialty sites you might also be interested in.
- Homespun . One of the oldest companies providing specialized guitar lessons. Great place for fingerstyle, blues and folk styles.
- Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop and Vestapol Videos. Another great source for fingerstyle and blues styles (and more). The Vestapol Videos are videos of some of the great musicians of the past, preserved on film and now video. These are often of performers who were rarely recorded yet who were quite influential on the music played today.
One of the best ways to learn an instrument is to listen to the recorded music of current and past greats on the instrument and figure out what they were doing. Learn one riff or section of the tune at a time until you have the whole thing down. Some tools that will help you to this:
- Software to rip CD’s and manage MP3s or your preferred digital format. iTunes is currently the standard but there are plenty of other MP3 management tools out there.
- It is often difficult to figure out what notes are being played at full tempo. You also sometimes want to just loop a phrase until you get it. Then there is the problem that the instruments aren’t quite tuned to standard pitch (or the recording speed has caused the pitch to be off). If only something could be done. Oh, right –there is. I use Amazing Slow Downer by Roni software. It can fix all these problems. It’s not free but it is well worth the price. It can change tempo without changing pitch, change pitch without changing temp, loop a portion of the track and can remove vocals.
- If you are going to transcribe the music from the recording you could use Tablature software to notate your transcription. Although you can use a plain text editor to create traditional guitar tablature, dedicated tab programs have a lot of extra features, are easy to use and produce very nice looking sheet music. The best free tab program is currently Tux Guitar.
Almost all instruction advice includes the strong suggestion that you should practice with a metronome. I have a number of metronomes. Cheap metronomes often chirp or beep in an annoying tone that reminds you this is not a musical tool. You’ll just have to test the metronomes out to see if you find the tone acceptable. The two devices I can recommend are wind-up pendulum style metronomes and the Sabine Metrotune MT9000,It is a tuner and metronome and the tone of the metronome sounds similar to a pendulum metronome.
However my favorite metronome is a Windows software program you can get for free. It’s. It has been around for a while with few updates. But I recently and installed it on Windows 7 and it runs just fine.
Sometimes you want to practice with a band but no one’s available. There are a number of solutions to this problem.
- An easy and obvious solution is to play along with recordings of the music you like. If you are trying to learn a specific part, say the guitar solo, you will sometimes be lucky enough to find the recording put the lead in one channel and you can set the balance to emphasize the opposite channel. The Amazing Slow Downer software can remove the vocal track (sometimes) which might also help.
- Another solution is search the internet for midi files. A good midi recording along with a good midi player will allow you to mute different tracks and change the pitch and tempo.
- You can also find recordings of backing tracks (also called Jam Tracks). These tracks are professionally recorded tunes or styles minus the lead and solos, allowing you to add the lead guitar part.
- One of the most versatile solutions to the accompaniment problem is to use accompaniment software. I am a long time user of Band-in-a-Box (often abbreviated as BIAB). This is cross platform (Mac/Windows) software program that creates a backup band based on information you provide. Fill in the chord changes, pick a style and set the tempo. The program does the rest. It has many more features I won’t go into here (maybe in another post). Band-in-a-Box is commercial software and if you purchase all the extra styles and add-ons it can be expensive. A free alternative I recently installed is Impro-Visor, an open source program that has some similar features to BIAB. It is not as easy to use as BIAB but it is catching up and has some features that appear to be unique.
- I started this section by suggesting alternatives to playing with a band when that isn’t practical. However, playing with a group, whether band mates or just friends is a lot of fun and is also a good way to become a better player.
I have one last suggestion which defies easy characterization. It’s LickByNeck. But what is LickByNeck? It’s a website with a large collection of popular and jazz guitar arrangements that can be downloaded. The arrangements come with text tab. But they also come with software that displays and scrolls the tab while playing the midi for the tune. Each tune is a separate software program. The display looks similar to an abbreviated BIAB window. I wish the tab display was larger, but here’s the good part. It’s free. Take a look.
Some more products for your guitar studies: