Welcome My Fellow Lazy Guitarists

Musical genius doesn't always have to be about theory and technique. After all, music is art. It's about the story it tells, the effect it has on the listener, the things it doesn't tell, the way it makes you feel, and that's usually never covered in a music class. I'm gonna give you tips, tricks, advice, and articles about guitar playing and the modern music world without all the technical bullshit.

So bypass the $25 a week guitar lessons, forget the online instructional videos that take forever to say nothing, and let's just focus on the shit that really matters. This site will cover everything from starting and keeping a band, perfecting that awesome tune you just wrote, choosing cover songs for gigs, and how to write songs beyond power chords without getting lost in a giant chord book.

This site is specifically written for guitarists, so theres no need to interpret lessons that were written for beginners in music theory and not the beginning guitarist. All written just for you...

James The Great

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Starting, and Possibly Keeping, a Band...

So you've been playing guitar for a good year or so, and you think you're ready to take it to the next step. Right? Time to make something of yourself and show the world what you're made of right?

Well whatever, I can't think of some stupid catchy hook to get you interested, so I'm just gonna get to it.

  1. Band Members. When hooking up with other musicians, there are a few ways to go. Now first, you can start your own project with your own material, and in that case, obviously, either look for other solo artists, or put your ad out there and let them come to you. Alternatively, you can join a band which will in most cases already have their own work established. Under those circumstances, you are usually just learning the material, and isn't always a creative project. When that happens, its best to make sure that you're not only committed, but a damn fast learner.

  2. Posting an Ad. Thanks to today's technology, finding other musicians is not only faster, but it also multiplies your possibilities by that much more. So your best bet is to post an ad online. Usually, you can say as much as you want for free, which beats posting flyers and posting ads in newspapers which can cost a lot. But when posting your ad, make sure you're EXTREMELY clear on what you want. Post your age range, your talents, your influences, your goals (like gigging or just jamming), whether or not you can provide transportation and rehearsal space, and the likes. Otherwise, people will flood you with e-mails asking for these details, in which case you'll waste a lot of time answering them just to have them say "oh, sorry, not interested." Ask them to return the same information back to you, and always remember to reply and be polite, even if you're not interested. I think it's called common courtesy or something like that. Post your ads on free sites like forums, craigslist, and myspace.

  3. Breaking the Ice. Hopefully you will have found someone with similar music taste. In that case, the best thing to do before meeting is to agree to learn a song, and upon the first practice, see how you guys mesh. After that, be sure that at least one of you has some original material that you can work on. If not, just play a few more covers. And be open. If you think a riff sucks, you'll be surprised by how different it sounds with some bass, or a second guitar in there. Or even a drum beat.

  4. Have Some Manners. If you're serious about starting a band, make sure that you steer from coming off as a control freak, or worse, a flake. If you say you're gonna be at practice, for god's sake, show the hell up. If not, at least notify the poor guys a day in advance. And unless your band members are complete beginners, don't bark orders to how it should sound like. Instead of saying stuff like "DUDE, NO. WTF ARE YOU DOING!! THATS NOT HOW ITS SUPPOSE TO SOUND" make like suggestions. Maybe say "hey, that was cool, but like what if we tried this....?" I mean I dunno, it just sounds better. Furthermore, don't offer your place up for practice if you don't have adequate space. Be mindful of your neighbors especially when practicing at night, and hey, sometimes it helps the thought process to have some cold beer or pizza around. Just saying...

  5. Firing Members. This issue might come up quite a bit, so its best to asses the issue in a mature and reasonable way. And sometimes your reason to get rid of someone isn't always good enough. For example, a good reason would be that this guy never shows up, has crap equipment, can't keep up with the band, or is just a major ass to everyone else. Bad reason would be something along the lines of "ew he likes that one band" or "omg did you see those pants he was wearing. what a dweeb."... Always, and I mean, ALWAYS discuss it with other members before making a final decision. If you absolutely need a bass player this Friday, it's usually a wise decision not to kick him out till after (total jackass move, I know, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do). If you guys are still in the jamming and creating phase, then there is usually no harm. And remember to always do it as polite as possible. Don't criticize them by saying things like they suck at guitar, but just say that their style just doesn't fit with the direction you guys are going in. Or something like that.

  6. Rehearsal Space. If you're lucky, you or one of your members might have a garage or basement to play in. If not, get the band to pitch in and go for rehearsal space. Often times they will offer some equipment for your use, so most times you will luck out and not even need to lug your stack in there. But if you can't pay the bill, try going half and half with another band. Shop around, sometimes you'll get a really great deal. Sometimes, you'll get screwed, so watch out.

  7. Conflicting Ideas. Sometimes you'll find that your drummer wants to crash symbols and have some crazy double bass in your slowest acoustic songs. Or sometimes you just don't want to play your loser bassists lame ass love song. In these instances, the best advice to take is compromise. Instead of completely shutting down their idea's, just tell them that you think that would sound really awesome with another song you guys are working on, and give them an idea of what you were thinking of. Usually this will work, if not, then go both ways. Try a little of theirs, and yours, and get a third opinion to what sounds better. Get some friends together, and don't tell them whose is whose, play both, and let them decide. But whatever you do, don't force your ideas down their throat. They'll get mad, mess up your songs on purpose, and usually, quit...

  8. Band Names. Obviously, you should use a little democracy in this one. Again, let friends decide. And try to have wide range of choices. Often times, the idea will just come to you. But sometimes its not that easy. In that instance, think about what the band is about. What do you guy's stand for? If it's a cover band, just use a lyric or song title from the band you're covering (e.g. If you're covering The Beatles, try The Yellow Submarines). For a political band, depending on your stance, use a political term and tweak it a bit (e.g. When making fun of politics, try Politically Incorrect, or Social Justice, The Watergate Briagde). Sometimes you can get by with using a really awesome lyric you came up with, or a song title. Band names can seriously be anything, funny, ironic, symbolic, moronic, whatever. But it's not always the most important thing, sometimes it's best to just let it come to you. And when you finally decide, make sure someone else doesn't have it first. The best technique is usually to just search on myspace under music, and if no one has the name yet, you're usually good to go. Remember, people are petty enough to sue over a name, so beware.

  9. Demo. If you don't have your own means of recording, the best thing to do is search craigslist for a local home studio. This is usually your best bet as it will be not only cheaper, but you would be promoting small time talent in a sense. Chances are, if you find a nice enough guy, he might let you slide when it comes to time, whereas you're facing a big business, $150 an hour means you're out the second 59 minutes is up.

  10. Advertising and Gigging. Then, create copies of this demo, add a little album art if you like for pizazz, and hand them out to local cafe's, clubs, and venues. Leave them your info and demo, and move on. Be persistent. And then make yourself a little site if you like. As for logo's and all, I definitely suggest hooking up with a local small time artist for the art. In a sense, helping one another.
The end.

Friday, October 17, 2008

How the hell do you sing?

All to often in the guitar world, you find some hopeless guitarist that really truly doesn't know a damn thing about singing... Which is alright, obviously, I mean we're not all born sounding like Freddy Mercury. So with that said, I have compiled a little FAQ for the guitarist wanting to sing.

How do you play and sing at the same time?
This one is honestly a little more trial and error, and there isn't just some magic way to give yourself mad abilities to play a Hendrix song and belt out at the same time. But there are ways to get better.
  • Practice. Very obvious and self-explanatory. Practice singing along with the track, and then practice the guitar till it becomes second nature. And while you're playing, just make sure to make yourself aware of the vocals, and vice versa. Try to get the feel of when the chord changes with what lyric or whatever. Easy stuff.
  • Hum it out. Start with humming while you're playing, throw in a few words here and there, and eventually you'll get the hang of it. Baby steps so to speak.
  • Slow it down. Start at a slower tempo until you get the feel of the dynamics.
  • Play simple songs. Start off with some simple songs with simple chords and chord changes. The more you do, the better you get.
  • Don't stop. If you screw up, keep going. Practice makes as close to perfect as we as humans will ever be, so just keep at it.

How do you scream?
Jesus this one comes up a lot. I myself am not a fan of the genre, but I don't see why I can't just help out a little. Understand that the best way to learn is through lessons. Otherwise you'll mess up your chords forever and then that'll be the end of you. And don't just go for it because there are specific ways to doing it without ruining your voice, so here are some tips.
  • The best scream isn't a scream at all. Often times those that you hear screaming on stage aren't really screaming at all, but just giving the performance of one. With high range and intensity, you can give it off without actually doing the deed. But know that this takes a lot of skill, time, and patience. Singing, just like playing the guitar, takes a lot of practice, so keep that in mind.
  • Warm up. Probably the advice you'll hear the most is that you should always warm up before attempting such crazy things. Most will recommend a good 45 minutes of warming up, but do whatever is best for you. Now you can google, or youtube it, but if you're like me and much too lazy, just try a little bit of this: In your natural most comfortable tone and pitch and whatever, sing a little line. Doesn't have to be the usual "doh, ray, me, far, so, la, te, doh" but really whatever you want. Just make some noises. Then do it again, just make your pitch a little higher, and again, higher, and do this for awhile, and do the same thing, just go lower. You might also want to do some breathing exercises. Just practice breathing in deeply into your diaphragm, not with your chest, and hold and release. Another vocal exercise can be singing a note and holding it, working with your breath, and maintaining that note.
  • Don't start strong. Don't tire yourself at first. Start with smaller, easier screams or whatever, and maybe practice only a few powerful ones within a given session.
  • Open that damn throat. It's just like singing. Open the back of that throat and breathe straight through the diaphragm. Just breathe as deep as you can into your stomach and keep it solid as you belt it out.
  • Take precautions. Drink a lot of water and rest your voice before and after practicing. Don't overwork your voice, and make sure you relax your throat, don't tense it up or put any extra strain on it.
  • Take lessons. Probably my best advice.

Why does everyone keep telling me I'm out of tune? How do I fix it?
Your voice is like your guitar. If you're guitar is out of tune, the song will be crap. It's the same thing with your voice. If you're supposed to be singing a "C" but you're hitting a "C#", people are going to cringe. So don't let your voice ruin a perfectly good song, especially if it's not your song.

The best thing to do is get lessons, as I've mentioned before. But if not, here are a few things you can try.
  • Ear Training. Just google ear training and you'll find millions of sites that will help you use your ear to identify when something is or isn't in key, what pitch it is, what key its in, and so on and so forth. Getting a little practice in your system will help you open your ears to potential mistakes while you're singing.
  • Play it, sing it. Take your guitar or keyboard, play a note, and mimic it with your voice. Train your voice to fall into place with whats going on.
  • Record Yourself. If you can, record yourself singing so you can hear the mistakes for yourself. And just practice over and over again until you hear the difference. You need to practice control and discretion, so learn it now or suffer later when the hottest girl in school makes a funny face when you start singing.
  • Practice. Very obvious.

How can I sing deeper and louder?
A lot of times we might find ourselves a little unsatisfied with our voices. Maybe we want a larger range. Maybe we want to sing deeper, or maybe higher. Regardless, there is a simple solution. But keep in mind that the chances of you going from a Michael Jackson to a Leonard Cohen might be a tad unrealistic.
  • Exercise your voice EVERYDAY. Just do some simple vocal exercises. Take a phrase, sing it or say it comfortable in your natural voice, and then say it again a little deeper, and then again a little deeper, and so on and so forth. Same goes for trying to get a higher voice, or higher range. Go both ways if you like, and practice for a good 15 minutes a day. Within a few weeks, your voice will be naturally deeper. And if you're doing this solely for the purpose of singing in a deeper pitch, make sure you throw some singing exercises in there.
  • Sing along. Practice everyday singing along, in key, as deep as possible, with some of your favorite deep-voiced singers.
So there you have it. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to ask or send them my way.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Stage Tricks: Why you shouldn’t do them and a list for those who ignore the warning

We've all seen this before, some punk ass guitarist pulls off this sweet solo behind his head and between his legs with his tongue while the bassist swings the entire thing around his body and back between every single note, jumping ten feet in the air...

Well maybe not to that extent, but still, you catch my drift is. The fact remains that there are still some pretty sweet moves out there that wow us at one point or another. In all honesty, stage tricks can make or break a performance (save a few truly amazing bands that have such brilliant songs they could sit down and still make it the best show you've ever seen)... Most bands don't need flashy gimmicks or tricks, stage presence is simply enough, and I assure you that nothing will replace amazing stage presence. But for those that simply don't care, here are some other options.

  1. The Hardcore "Swing Around the Body and Back". I think it looks neat sometimes. Other times it makes the perpetrator look like a jerk. Basically, you take the guitar, swing it clear around your body, and back again. Pretty self-explanatory. But if you're gonna try this, make sure you're damn careful because this can completely waste your guitar and your body if not done correctly. First of all, try starting with a light guitar, and either shovel out the money for some strap locks or buy some duct tape. You need to make sure the guitar is nice and secure. Secondly, practice this in a nice big open space. Don't improvise this on stage because this simply cannot be a spur of the moment thing if you've never done it before. And PRACTICE. And please, don't over do it.

  2. Solo Behind the Head. This one is alright I guess. Pretty simple, you put the guitar behind your head and solo away. Relatively easy given the right amount of practice, check this kid out. If you're freakishly tall, make sure you check the ceiling space in your gigs before attempting live. Try to go with a light guitar and remember NOT TO BALANCE ON YOUR HEAD. If you really want to end the night with a bang, then yeah, go ahead and have an ambulance come to the show to wheel you away, that'll keep them talking. Otherwise, remember to balance on your shoulders. Lastly, playing chords will be relatively difficult, so try and stick with solos and smaller licks and riffs.

  3. Talented Teeth and Tongue Trick. The trick to this one is that there really is no trick. Its all illusion. Unless you want to lose your teeth or make out with some dirty strings, it's all illusion. Granted, yes, many players actually do this with their teeth and tongue, but I don't advise this. Instead, just turn up the guitar towards your face, and let your fretting hand do all the work. The strings will taste like crap, so just give the illusion and remember to stick your tongue out like a maniac afterwards, and your audience will never be the wiser. Good Ol' Mr. Hendrix is one of the most well known users of the tongue and teeth, with the exception being that he actually used his teeth.

  4. The Windmill. Simple, fun, and most times effective. Best for use towards the end of a song or in a progression where there are small pauses between chords and notes. You can stand up straight, or spread your legs out for power, and just swing your arm around, reminiscent of a windmill (hence the name). Signature move of Pete Townshend. One of the easier stage tricks out there.

  5. The Power Slide. Another popular one with Mr. Townshend. Easy as hell, just find some room, grab some momentum, and slide down the stage. Don't have to explain this one much at all.

  6. The Levitating Guitar. I've seen this one done a few times by local bands, and the band sucked beyond belief so I won't give them the pleasure of free advertisement, but the first few times he nailed it perfectly, and the final time, he dropped his axe, making a douche of himself (he's just so smug). Anyways, basically, this trick is where you remove the strap and hold your guitar by nothing but its whammy bar. Now you'll probably need a light guitar and a very snug whammy bar, and make sure not to do it for too long or you'll probably break the guitar. I can't find an example of this one so you'll have to use your imagination, but its a decent trick.

  7. The Angry Guitarist. Popular in the 90's, now a little pretentious. But nonetheless, if the glove fits, wear it. Just take that little puppy and smash the hell out of it. I suggest using something cheap, like a guitar you don't necessarily need. Just don't over-do it. You might find your credit card bill getting a bit too high.

  8. The Duck Walk. Kind of hard to explain, but we've all seen it at one point or another. The guitarist balances on one leg and jumps backwards a few steps while still playing along with the rest of band, usually with his tongue out at a ridiculous length, and head banging. Popular with Angus Young.

  9. Making Sweet Love. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth has done this numerous times. You basically put the guitar between your legs, knees on floor, neck protruding from your crotch, and bring it up and down like you're making love to it, while still maintaining the song.

  10. Chicken Solo. I've seen maybe a few small-time bands attempt this. Basically the guitarist sits on the shoulders of maybe the singer and the guitarist plays some unbelievable solo as the singer, or whoever is beneath the guitarist, is dancing around, as seen here.
Other than that, the best thing is to play your songs the best you can. If attempting some insane stage trick is keeping you from playing the song, then forget it. And REMEMBER, stage tricks cannot make up for stage presence. If you like, dance around a little, but there is no shame in standing still and playing a damn great song.

Writers Block: Guitar Style

As guitarists and musicians, we face a very unique form of writer's block, much different from an inability to produce the right words. And if you've ever been in a band, or ever tried to write a song, you know exactly what I mean. And as a self-taught guitarist, this is even more difficult. You can have the most amazing songs playing in your head, but if you can't get it from your head to your guitar, its better off not existing at all.

But here are a few simple tips to get the machines of production running again.

  1. Keep Writing. Frustrating advice I'm sure, but there is a shred of some abstract logic behind it. Sometimes all we can write is crap, but continuing to write regardless has two potential solutions. First of all, sometimes you're merely in the state of mind that it's crap, and writing it down and coming back to it later will give you a fresh perspective. Secondly, at some point you'll run out of crap to write... Sometimes it's just a matter of getting that style of writing that's failing you so badly out of your system.

  2. Collaborate. Hooking up with the drummer down the street or the bassist your friend told you about or even a fellow guitarist can really open the creative floodgates. Adding any instrument to your work can add a very powerful dynamic to your music, and letting someone else interpret and construct the work you already have can push it in a direction you yourself would have never thought of. Working with another musician is one of the best cures to writers block.

  3. Learn Something New. Sometimes we're just bored. Everything we know and have written is no longer appealing to us as we've seen it almost a million times, and the thrill is just gone. Using sites like Ultimate Guitar and learning a few of your favorite songs can replenish your love for music once more, and sometimes you might even get lucky and trail off while trying to learn a new song and write something completely original.

  4. Listen to Something New. Use sites like Pandora to listen to some new music. You might find some new inspiration.

  5. Brush Up on your Theory and Technique. Google some articles on theory and techniques that will allow you to write more complex and dynamic pieces. The more you know, the easier it is to get those masterpieces out of your head and into your world.

  6. Get Some New Equipment. Take a trip to Guitar Center and dabble with some of the new gear they've got. Just hearing a new sound can trigger your mind into rethinking a song you're already working on. Just hang out and play some of your riffs and mess around. Its not only fun, but also a great way to go over some of your old songs.

  7. Play a Different Instrument. Like a lot of the other things on the list, playing with a piano, drum set, bass, or anything really, can get your mind running in new directions again. The piano is especially easy because anyone can touch a key and produce a sound. Get out of your comfort zone and go back to the innocence of being amazed by the guitar and everything it entailed. Where the guitar was new and interesting. Sometimes the best remedy.

  8. Take a Break. Lastly, and most obviously, take a break. You might just be over-analyzing it, stressing yourself out. So put the axe down and go see a movie or read a book. You'll come back, kiss and make up, and thing's should be good as new.