Over the years I’ve tried every kind of pick; super thin to ultra thick, slippery to rough, thumb picks, picks with holes, frisbees, bread ties, and cut-out credit cards. Why do I care? Well, at home, it really doesn’t matter what kind of pick I use, but when I play in front of people, my picking is often very demonstrative (just another way of saying “I play really hard”). I tend to throw picks; they literally ‘fly’ out of my hand at times. So, I utilize a pick holder on my mic stand, so I can grab another pick quickly. If a pick is not available, I’ll strum with my finger nail. That works basically until it hurts. I’m also comfortable playing without a pick, but don’t generally do that ‘live’. [Read more…]
Instinctively, a seasoned player has figured out how to mute strings. For me, it was mostly a survival technique. As I became more skilled at strumming, something in my mind told me that any errant string tone would be unacceptable. So, I started working on ways to restrict certain strings from sounding. I’ll try and give you some general ideas about how to mute strings. There are other ways to do this, but these are two techniques that I use most of the time.
The Palm Mute
The palm mute happens with the strumming hand and can be used for either picking or strumming. For strumming, the base of the palm (close to the wrist) hits the strings along with the pick on the strumming down stroke. And it creates a sort of percussive sound. For picking, the palm rests right on the strings being played, just beyond the saddle toward the neck, and basically stays there while the melody is picked. The strings are not entirely muted as there is a sweet spot where the string sounds like the note, but with a slightly muted affect.
The Fret Mute
The fret mute happens with the fretting hand, by resting a part of a finger or thumb on a string that shouldn’t sound when a chord is being played. To execute it on a particular string, the string is touched, but not pressed all the way down to the fret. Many times a string can be muted, by laying a finger across it on the way to actually pressing on another string. In this technique, the muted string should sound more like a ‘thump’ than a note.
One other thought… to shut off the ringing sound of a chord while strumming, try these ideas:
- For simpler chords if there are fingers ‘free’ (usually fingers three and four), bring those up to the fret in front of the chord shape and stop the chord that way.
- Or simply relax the hand grip on the chord shape while strumming and the chord will be muted. It also adds creativity to strum the chord while it is muted.
Until next time…
The best way to improve your speed (play faster) is to practice with a metronome at a slow tempo until you can play the passage precisely most of the time (9 out of ten times). Then increase the metronome speed a few beats per minute and practice until you can do it over and over correctly, and so on.
You can also pick one note, using an up and down stroke in a sixteenth note pattern. Do this also with a metronome, beginning with a slow tempo, and then work you way up to as fast as you can go, accurately. These are not one-time sessions or skills that you can master in a week or two; these are practice habits that you develop consistently every day over an extended period of time; a lifestyle of practicing, really. By the way, the metronome is really the only way to measure your improvement. Repeat after me… “I love my metronome!” I’ll put it on a separate line by itself for you…
There are a couple more techniques you can use to speed up your play.
1. Keep your fingers on your fret hand directly above (and very close to) where you’re playing on the finger board. It takes some practice before you can hold them there without touching, but your speed will benefit from positioning your fingers more closely to the frets.
2. Loosen your grip on the pick, almost to the point of not being able to hold on to it. Try and use picks that have a roughed-up finish so you can hold on to them better. I like the small Dunlop Max Grip Jazz III picks for building speed on an electric guitar.
3. Also, I really like Michael Angelo Batio’s instruction videos on shredding guitar. If you want a fantastic demonstration of sheer speed and precision, check out his videos. It’ll be money well spent.
Some of the best advice I’ve received to help me play faster: “Slow equals fast.” – Michael Angelo Batio
Until next time…
This happens a lot with folks just starting out; trying to make that chord shape, maybe a C or an D or a B barre chord. The fingers on the chord hand seem to be locked in this single approach for every chord; attacking the strings straight on, stretching them beyond their capacity and contorting the hand so much that the whole grip feels forced and uncomfortable.
Sometimes teachers forget that they need to talk about hand position when making chords. In fact, the hand position can be very different from one chord to the next. The seasoned player gets this intuitively, but it’s not usually discussed early on.
So let’s try and get that chording hand more comfy. I’ll walk through a few chord examples to help explain the concept and try to explain how the chord grip feels and which parts of your hand touch the back of the fretboard. See if this doesn’t relax your hand a little bit.
Do all these exercises without the fretboard to start, then try on the fretboard.
To make an open D or E chord – Hold out your left hand, palm up. Then make a fist. That’s the sense of the grip for a D chord.
To make an open C chord – Hold out your left hand, palm up. Bend the whole hand downward from the wrist. then make a fist. Another way to visualize this chord is like holding a tennis racquet. The part of the palm next to the thumb should be touching the back of the fretboard. This chord is also a little easier to make if you bring the elbow in to your side.
To make an open G chord – Hold out your left hand, palm up. Bring your fingers in to make a fist, but not all the way in to the palm. This should feel like gripping a ball with your finger tips. Touch the finger tips with inside knuckle of the thumb.
To make an open A chord – This should feel like holding a broom handle with just your fingers wrapped around it and the inside knuckle of the thumb touching the finger tips.
To make a barre chord – Hold out your left hand, palm up. Bring the tip of your thumb and fingers all together. Then bend your wrist toward you.
Remember that making chord shapes is mostly about creating leverage, using the muscles in your arm, wrist and palm to relieve the pressure from the fingers to do all the work. Guitar strings don’t need as much pressure as we think to make a note sound, especially if they’re helped along by the other parts of the arm.
Until next time…
The biggest enemy of any instrument is extreme temperature.
First of all, always travel with your instrument in it’s case. But more importantly, never, no never leave a guitar in a ‘very hot’ or ‘very cold’ car for more than an hour (well 30 minutes is better). That means, if you stop to eat someplace and your guitar is with you, take it inside. If you go to a museum or a golf course, take the guitar out of the car and put it in a safe location with a moderate temperature.
If it’s pretty cold outside (like below freezing), over a few hours, the instrument will get cold. Electric guitars are a bit more resilient, but both acoustics and electrics have a finish that, when exposed to a sudden dramatic change in temperature, will check (or develop surface cracks). I’ve seen the finish ‘check’ on an acoustic after it was accidentally left in the trunk of a car overnight parked outside during the winter. We brought it in to a warm home, opened the case and the finish cracked like broken glass. It still played okay, but not pretty to look at anymore.
Here’s something you might be able to do for a guitar left in the cold:
- Bring it in to a building and let it be (don’t open the case) for a few hours. It needs to warm up to room temperature.
- After that, open the case, undo the latches but leave the case lid closed for another 30 minutes or so.
- Then if you’re fortunate, the finish might be okay.
On the other hand, warm temperatures are not so kind to a guitar. Any glue used on a guitar will soften and liquify within 1-2 hours in a hot vehicle or trunk. Remember that inside the vehicle with the windows rolled up, it’s warmer than outside.
Sometimes the best lesson is a painful testimony, so I’ll share this experience. Years ago, I had a beloved Ovation acoustic in the car with me when I moved across country over the 4th of July. On my trip I covered the guitar case with a towel to keep the sun from shining directly on it. Along the way I made a stop to play a round of golf with my uncle. Five hours later I got back in the car to find a very hot instrument case. I didn’t open it then, but decided to wait until I stopped for the night. When I tried to play the guitar later, it was unplayable. The string tension had pulled the neck away from the body once the glue softened from the heat. The neck was warped and some of the binding had separated from the body.
To say I was crushed, was less than how I really felt, but I did get the guitar repaired. Yet, it was never the same after that; a lesson learned the hard way. Also, there isn’t a rescue that I know of, from heat damage. What’s done is done, I’m afraid.
I said in the title that “my guitar is just like Grandpa”. If you just think of your guitar the way you think of your grandpa, then you won’t leave Grandpa in the car or trunk on a really hot or cold day. You’ll take him with you… What am I thinking? Don’t ever leave Grandpa in the car or trunk!
Until next time…