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Can’t play the F barre chord? Use this chord as a replacement

You can’t imagine how many students have asked me this question – do I really have to use barre chords? Is there anything simpler that I could use instead? I can’t play the F barre chord, is there a replacement?

Let’s set this straight – you need barre chords, if you want to be able to play some cool songs from the internet you will need to master them (by the way this is covered extensively in my Academy Membership lessons – CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO). But today we will try to make our life a little simpler. Let’s have a look at something called the Fmaj7.

The name can scare you away, but trust me the chord is actually very simple. It is similar to the C chord with some tweaks to it, check the diagram below:

Fmaj7

Start with the C chord, now all you need to do is to move your third and second finger one string down. As a result, we end up with a sweet sounding chord called F major 7. It is an F chord with the 7th degree of the major scale added, in this case, the note E which is your open first string.

How do you like the sound? It is not really a direct replacement for the F chord, but in certain situations, it may work really nicely. As usual, it all depends on the context we put our chord in.

A few progressions that you may try:
C – Fmaj7 – G – C
C – Am – Fmaj7 – G
Fmaj7 – G – C – Am

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Do we still need guitar teachers?

These days, the Internet dominates our lives. We search for new information, news, exciting places to visit, interesting blogs and also for guitar related articles and videos. The Internet and You Tube look like the natural place to start learning how to play the guitar. 

I think it is an awesome resource – in a few clicks, we can get access to enormous amounts of information on how to learn the guitar. Countless hours of video guitar lessons are just in front of us. This abundance of information can also be very time consuming and confusing. It takes a lot of time to get through this huge library of instructional materials. You land on an awesome page and then you realise that the explanations are not very good or the video does not cover the subject advertised in the title.

Even once you find a resource that looks legitimate, you may not know how to use and implement it. What I mean by this is that: you do not know what you do not know. Simple, you may not know how to link the information and how to systemise the knowledge in a way that will be easy to use and will take you to the next level.

The internet is open to everybody, you, me and our neighbours can publish instructional materials on the web. And this is the danger; it is difficult to verify the content.

There are tons of great articles and tons of very bad ones. This is why I think traditional one to one guitar lessons are still important in today’s world because:

  • A good music instructor will identify and correct all your mistakes
  • Interaction with somebody who is better than you on the instrument will stimulate your passion
  • Customised lesson plans will make your practicing time more efficient
  • You can ask questions

A good guitar teacher is much more than just a tutor. He or she can mentor you, suggest solutions and enhance your creativity.

There are also plenty of great websites with structured guitar lessons and knowledgeable tutors. This a great way of learning to play the guitar, when you do not have time for private guitar lessons.

So what is the answer to the question in the title? I think a combination of both will be the best solution. Taking private guitar lessons and trying to learn from the internet. You can always verify the information with your teacher.

Happy searching!

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5 Tips – How to start playing the guitar?

When it comes to learning how to play the guitar, many people’s stories are the same; I have always dreamed about playing, I have tried to teach myself, I love the sound of the guitar, It’s so cool… 

Great, you have taken the first step – you have the desire to play the instrument. Now, let’s discuss the steps required to start learning how to play the guitar.

1. Buy a guitar.

Quite an obvious one! You need to practice, so having a decent quality instrument is essential. Check my other article on how to buy your first guitar. But in a nutshell:
Depending on the style you want to play, you may want to buy an acoustic or an electric guitar. I would suggest to start from an acoustic guitar. The size of the body, general feel of the instrument, no need for any amplification and cables, make the acoustic a pretty good choice. The electric guitar is also good to start from, but I have noticed that it is a lot easier for students to develop a good foundation and strumming habits on the acoustic. Remember to check my article on how to buy your first guitar.

2. Learn a few simply chords.

A minor, C major and E major are perfect chords to start from. As a beginner, these names may not mean much to you, however theses mysterious symbols are labels for the shapes we are going to play on the guitar. In the chords section on this website you will find theses shapes.

3. Learn a few simply songs.

At the end of the day, you want to play songs. Chords and strummings are just the ingredients required in order to play a song. A very easy song to start from is “Zombie” by The Cranberries. It has just four very simple chords and has extremely easy strumming (unfortunately the chords A minor C and E are not in this song, but the chords are so easy you will be able to play this song in no time – the chords from my point in #2 are really important because they are commonly used in many songs).

In the How To Play section of this website, you will find this song with chord diagrams and a full explanation. If rock music is not your thing, I would still suggest to try to learn this song. Think about it as a learning tool rather than me trying to turn you into a Cranberries fan. As soon as you can play this song, go the the next one – which is Oasis “I’m outta time”. Once you learn theses songs you will have a basic understanding of the guitar and you will know what it is all about.

4. Learn some more difficult songs

At this stage you may notice that if you are struggling you may have to go to step number 5, which is ….

5. Find a guitar teacher or invest in some kind of educational materials

Let me clarify something, I have never studied with a guitar teacher. Everything I have learned is a result of my own searches, studying and playing with others. So you will be absolutely fine on your own. But you may save a lot of time and frustration by having clear guidance.

Good guitar teacher can accelerate your learning process. What is important is he / she may help you get through difficult times. A lot of beginners quit because they reach a wall and don’t know how to break through it.

If you cannot afford a guitar teacher, try to find some beginner guitar books with accompanying ads or mp3s. Books can be a little dry, but if you commit to studying it, you will definite learn something from it! It is a little bit old school but skill a cool way of studying.

A more modern method is to study online. If you type “how to play the guitar” into your browser you will find thousands of results. The web can also be a little overwhelming, knowing where to start and also overloading you with information.

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Too afraid to buy your first guitar?

Choosing the right first guitar when you are a beginner guitar player is almost impossible. There are so many different guitars. Just go to a music shop and you will see walls full of instruments. Which one would be good for you? The fact that you cannot really play on the guitar does not help.

Imagine this scenario: you walk into a music shop, there is a suspicious looking carbon copy of Eddie Van Halen behind the counter, and this guy looks so cool. In the far left corner, there is a 10 year old kid shredding like Slash, and the sales assistant comes up to you with a cool look on his face – “what’s up bro? ….. “ And your response – “errrr…. I am looking to buy a guitar, an acoustic one ….”

When you go to a good music shop, ( a good example is Anderton’s in Guildford UK), the sales assistant will take you to a private room, or at least somewhere where it is quiet, will bring you a bunch of guitars and explain the differences between them. Usually it is not that easy. Some of the folks in guitar shops refuse to even look at you! Not to mention give you any help.

So let’s build some basic knowledge that will help you choose the right first guitar for you. Guitars come in different sizes, colours, etc. The first thing you need to decide on is whether you want to buy an acoustic guitar (this one has metal strings) or a classical guitar (sometimes called Spanish, with nylon strings).  The acoustic guitar is the way to go, at least in the long run. Let me explain the differences. Of course, this is my personal opinion.

The classical guitar has for a long time been suggested as a beginner guitar; it seems to be a little bit easier to play on it. The Spanish guitar has nylon strings which are quite soft and do not hurt fingers as much as metal ones (on the acoustic). But, the neck is very wide, (the neck is where you play the chords- the long timber stick attached to the guitar with those metal frets on it), and it does not sound particularly good. Like most of my students, you will probably sell this guitar within one year (if you last for that long!)

Now the acoustic guitar is a little bit different. It has metal strings and they hurt! But only for a few weeks, after that initial pain time frame, your chords and everything you play on it will start to sound better and better. The neck also is a little bit narrower – now here is interesting point to consider.

A wider neck may feel like a good choice for the beginner (this is why music shops usually recommend them). The spaces between the strings are bigger and you will be less likely to mute adjustment strings while you play the chords. But here is the down side – you have to stretch your hand much more for certain chords. On the other hand, a narrower neck on the acoustic guitar will make playing the chords a little bit easier, but you are more likely to mute adjacent strings.

In my personal opinion, practising on an narrower neck (acoustic guitar) will make you progress faster because it will make you more aware of where you place your fingers and it will help the transition from acoustic to electric guitar. The rest of this article will focus on the acoustic guitar.

The body of the guitar is responsible for creating / amplifying the sound. The bigger it is, the louder and more bassy it will sound. Smaller bodied guitars are quieter, but the sound can be more balanced. The size of the body will determine how comfortable it will feel. You need to remember that you will wrap your strumming hand around the guitar, so if it is too big, it will feel awkward.

I like medium sized guitars because they are a little bit smaller, feel better and more importantly, are easier to carry around. You do not want to feel like you are walking with a double bass (a double bass is the huge upright instrument with four strings that you may see in jazz bands).

We are back in our music shop, now look around you, can you recognise the differences between the guitars?

Choose a few guitars that you like and start to test them.  Does it feel right when you play the guitar?  Do you feel comfortable holding it? One very important point is to pay attention to how far the strings are from the fretboard. If the strings are too
far away, it will make playing the chords very difficult.  It can be adjusted in some guitars, but honestly a guitar straight off the shelf should play well.  Do not be ashamed to swap between the guitars, you are the boss; you are bringing your money to the shop, so you have the right to test different options.  The sales assistant is here for you and not to look cool and wait for the end of his or her shift.  Trust your instinct.  Does the guitar feel right, do you like the colour, does it sound good?  You will spend a lot of time together with your instrument, you do not want to hang out with something ugly – you’ve got the point.

Some guitars have a built -in preamp and tuner system. We called these guitars “acoustic-electric”. The easy way to think about it is that it is more acoustic than electric, this is why it is not called an “electric-acoustic”.

It is a very handy feature, if you can get one with a build in system, then go for it. Later, you will be able to amplify the guitar and force the world to listen to your music – do you remember the beginning of the old Michael Jackson clip? – The young boy destroying the wall with an electric guitar.

Hopefully you will understand a little bit more now.

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How to practice when you do not have time to practice?

One of the most asked questions that bothers beginner guitarists, is how to practice. You have heard stories about musicians practicing for hours every single day, hour after hour, until their fingers bleed.

A no-pain no-gain approach, almost like some kind of army training. The problem is that, with that frame of mind, you will not survive for too long.  Eventually you will burn out, lose motivation and stop playing the guitar. But it does not have to be that way. Let me show you my approach, where you can practice, have fun, have results and a social life outside of the guitar.

A week has 7 days. If you divide it by two, you will have 3.5 days. My philosophy is simple; practice for 4 days every week. To be clear, this article is for beginners only.

I would not recommend practicing for 4 days in a row and then taking three days off. Try to spread it across the week. There is no difference between going to the gym to workout and practicing the guitar. In order to progress, you need a good workout and reasonable recovery time. During your recovery time, you will give your mind time to digest the information and structure it in a way that will be easy to retrieve needed skills. The skin on your fingers
(calluses) and tendons also require some time to recover from the practice session. You need to learn to walk before you learn to run. You would not try running a marathon before trying to walk, right? So why would you do this on the guitar? Having too high expectations may kill your passion.

Now lets get into the details. I would try to do 10 minutes of practice each time. Some people may say that this is not enough! Let me explain.

Imagine this scenario. You have decided that you are going to practice every day for 1 hour. You have had a very busy day at work, you need to cook dinner, walk your dog, do some paperwork and practice for 1 hour. PRACTICE FOR 1 HOUR! Your mind will say “no way mate, tomorrow, not today, you will be fine …“

Now imagine the same scenario but you need to practice for 10 minutes. This becomes easily manageable, right? You may force yourself to do it, but it is a realistic goal. And maybe you will be so happy after the 10 minutes that actually you will play for 1 hour!

At the beginning everything is extremely exciting. It’s easy to think we can do everything that we planned. The problem is, that after some time we lose motivation, the once new and exciting things, are not new anymore, and we lose our passion. This is not always the case, but I know that it definitely happens to the majority of my guitar students. Tricking your mind is the way to go. The bottom line is, it is easy to do 5-10 minutes of a workout than 1 hour.

Which brings us to the second part of the article; the quality of the practice session, in other words, what to practice? This is the key to understanding how yon can be effective in 10 minutes rather than in one hour. Just to remind you, we are talking about beginners right now.

In order to be effective, you will need to focus on four areas:

  • Chords and how to transition between them
  • Strumming hand, rhythm – being able to make sense in a musical way
  • Learning new songs (integrating the two previous points)
  • Basic knowledge of the instrument – reading articles and watching instructional videos

I would always start my practice session with tuning the guitar . It is very important that your guitar is in tune. You will train your ears to recognise and understand what you play if you are in tune. Secondly, I would focus on the chords. Let’s say I know 2 chords. On every session you will need to refresh your memory, take things very slowly and do not rush. I would try to remember the shape of the first chord. Put your fingers in position, strum it. Does it sound ok? Relax your hand, and try again, find the chord, play it, relax your hand. Now we repeat the same steps for the second chord.

Take some breaks, shake your hands, do some stretches and remember to relax your body. Then, I would try to change between the two shapes. In other words, transition from one chord to the other. Slowly, make sure you always land on the correct chord. Repeat it a few times. Now you have warmed up and you remember your chords. You are ready to work on your strumming’s.

Try to do some sequences of down strokes and up strokes (for example: down, down, up). At first, try doing this without any chords. I know it sounds terrible, but, you will give your fretting hand a break and time to recover.

Now you are ready to integrate these two things together, you can try to play simple chord sequences. For example, strum the first chord twice and then the second chord twice. Then repeat. Or if you know three chords, strum the first and second chords once, and the third two times.

This is a nice easy way to gradually warm up your hands. Work through the chords and finish with something really musical.

If you have very limited time, you can try to practice in front of the tv, so at least you can benefit from both. I would do this only with the content that I am confident with and know well (mainly because you don’t have to concentrate too much on remembering the chords). This is a controversial way of practising, but sometimes it may be the only way to get your work out done that day. We are only human, and we need to live and have fun.  The last thing you want to do is feel guilty that you haven’t practiced at all or that you have to practice in a particular way.

Happy practicing!

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How to play Rusty Cage by Johnny Cash

Rusty Cage by Johnny Cash is another cover song that has a life of its own. Originally, this song was recorded by Soundgarden, but Johnny Cash took it to another level.

I really like how he transforms other artist’s songs. Not long ago we discussed another really great cover called Hurt – CLICK HERE. This time his cover is something a little bit different.

The major part of the song is quite repetitive, so you have to refer to the lyrics to really find exactly where you are in the song. It is based around the A5 power chord, with an occasional open 6th string and a small bend on the 3rd fret 6th string. Sometimes, the chord G makes an appearance and that adds a nice break to the song. Again, refer to the lyrics to sync it with your guitar.

What is kind of unusual in this song is the second part, which is not very typical of Johnny Cash. This part is shared between the acoustic and electric guitars and sounds pretty heavy. It’s really an awesome song to work on!

Song structure:
Verse 1: A5 – G
Verse 2 – E5

Verse 1.1 - Rusty Cage - Johnny Cash

Verse 1.2 - Rusty Cage - Johnny CashVerse 1.3 - Rusty Cage - Johnny Cash

Verse 2 - Rusty Cage - Johnny Cash

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Don’t try to be too perfect

I teach a lot of beginners not only online, but also on one to one guitar lessons. Many of my students have one thing in common; they want to be perfect. But this is something that can actually hijack your guitar playing progress. Striving for perfection is a glorious thing, we want to do things in the “right way”, but abusing this approach will only lead to frustration.

Here is a typical scenario: a student comes for a lesson and tries to show me the song that he or she has learned. They play the first few chords, something goes wrong with the strumming or chord transition and they stop and then start all over again. The same thing applies to scales. My students will make one mistake and then start playing the scale from the beginning again. This is definitely not the way to get good results.

You need to learn how to correct your mistakes on the fly. You should of course, acknowledge that you made a mistake, but keep going, don’t stop and start again. The moment you stop and try to start from the beginning again, you disturb the flow of the song. It’s almost like you are only practicing the first few bars of the song, but what about the rest of the song? You don’t even give yourself a chance to get to the middle of the song, not to mention the whole tune.

Try to do a ‘live’ practice session. Pick up the guitar, tune it up and play one song from the beginning till the end. Don’t stop, ignore the mistakes, just keep playing. This is a great way to develop a more natural / performance approach to your guitar playing. That way, you will learn how to get yourself out of the mistakes and it will also give you more confidence to perform in front of others.

I should really mention that this is one of the components of practicing. Of course, you also need to work on learning songs in sections. You should work on the chords, strumming, than you connect it into the verse and chorus. The method described in this article is another approach that you can add to your practice routine.

So basically you can approach your songs from the perspective of detail practicing and then live/performance practicing. It is like having another tool to fine tune your guitar skills.

Let me know if it works for you!

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Why am I forgetting the rhythm and strumming pattern?

Have you ever noticed that it is relatively easy to learn the guitar chords for a song, but it is quite tricky to remember the rhythm and strumming pattern? Don’t worry, that is pretty normal. I face the same issue all the time.

To be honest, this is the biggest issue I always have when I am learning a song or a guitar solo. The guitar chords in the songs usually are the ones that we commonly use in other songs, so it is no surprise that we remember them quite easily. You may need to work on the transitions between the chords though, as sometimes you may play some arrangements between chords that you haven’t tried before. But that is also a relatively easy fix, but the question is, how can you remember the rhythm?

Let’s take the song “A Horse With No Name” that I just taught for my students and online You Tube channel (I published it at the same time as this article). It is a great beginner’s song, awesome, simple chords, but the strumming is a different story. It is not really that complex, as a matter of fact, it is very simple (at least for me) – but I struggled to remember it. I would memorise the strumming, then play the song perfectly on one day, and then on the next day, I would have to learn the rhythm again from scratch. It took me 3 days to really remember the rhythm and strumming.

One of the reasons, was that I was not really familiar with the song, I knew the song and I could sing the melody of the vocal line, but I really never paid attention to the strumming pattern. I would listen to this song as a whole. And I think this is the key. In order to really dig into the strumming and the rhythm you need to listen to the song in a different way. You need to tune to the part that you are working on, in this case, the rhythm and strumming pattern. And you need to repeat it over and over again.

This process just simply takes time and I have noticed, it usually takes me 2-3 days to really get this into my hand (yes hand). What I mean by that is, that I could actually hear the strumming pattern in my head. Keep in mind that it also takes a lot of repetition to really learn the strumming. We try to learn, then we forget and then we have to learn it again, but at some point, you will start remembering more and more. This is just a natural learning curve and I don’t think you can really speed it up or escape from it.

By working on more and more songs you will develop the ability to remember things faster, but I have also noticed it is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, you may slowly lose your ability to pick up the rhythm quickly. So it is essential to keep learning new songs all of the time – maybe one every week or every other week.

I hope that you see now that there is nothing wrong with you and that everybody has the same problem.

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A four note A minor pentatonic guitar lick

Another short A minor pentatonic guitar lick. I like to connect all of these short guitar licks into long phrases. That way, you can build a solid skeleton for your guitar solo. We aren’t always inspired to come up with new and fresh ideas, so guitar licks are like an emergency reservoir for your soloing jam sessions.

This guitar lick is based around the A minor pentatonic scale, we are only going to use strings 3 and 4. Pay attention to the slide and short pause between notes 3 and 4, that way you can spice up your soloing nicely. This kind of ornamentation creates different dynamics in your playing. Test different ideas and you will develop your own unique style!



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How long does it take to learn the guitar?

Quora and online guitar forums are full of questions like this. How long does it take to learn the guitar? Can you learn it in 24 hours or one week? Or does it take years of dedicated practice?

As usual with everything, you have to know your outcome. What do you mean by being able to play the guitar? Does it mean that you can play a few songs comfortably, or do you mean that you want to play a touching guitar solo and work as a professional musician? Once you know your outcome, it will be much easier to measure if you reached your goal.

If your goal is to play a few simple songs, you can achieve this in a relatively short amount of time. You can learn the song Zombie by The Cranberries in around 30 minutes as a complete beginner guitarist. It is easy, fun and will give you the instant feeling of being able to play the guitar. You can learn this song HERE.

For the majority of songs, however, you will have to develop a good knowledge of open chords and strumming patterns and it may take you a few months of daily practice for 10 – 15 minutes. The transitions between the chords cause a lot of troubles, so you have to be patient and consistent. I urge you not to give up simply because something seems to be a little difficult. Remember that all guitarists, even the best guitarist’s in the world were in exactly the same place where you are right now, struggling with the same things you are struggling with.

Most probably, it will take you around 6 months to start feeling a little bit more comfortable with strumming and chord changes. I have noticed that it can take even more than one year to get quite good with them though.

During that time you can start working on some advanced chords, arpeggios and simple guitar scales. Any time you add some advanced stuff to your practice routine it is going to make material that you have learnt in the past feel a little bit easier. The key thing to remember is that you should all always be learning new stuff and use the older material to monitor your progress.

It could be a good idea to start learning barre chords after 3 -4 months of playing the guitar. These shapes are quite difficult to master so again, you have to be patient. Mastering the barre chords could take 1 to 2 years, but during this time you will probably elevate your guitar skills to an early intermediate level.

 

To reach a solid intermediate level, you will have to play the guitar regularly for around 2 – 3 years. At this level, you will need to be practicing for at least 1 hour per day. During this time you will learn a lot of different songs and you will probably develop a sense of style. You will start doing things in your own way. You will also notice that your musical preferences may get more specific. You may prefer to play more pop or blues songs, or you will simply start to specialise in a certain style and technique.

I would expect that an intermediate guitarist would be able to comfortably improvise using simple guitar solo pentatonic scales and being able to arrange songs in a few different ways. You should also be able to jam with other musicians comfortably. It might also be a good idea to join a band at this stage as it will really speed up your learning process and you’ll be able to test your ideas with real people. There are plenty of bands looking for guitarists of all levels, from beginner to advanced, so I am sure you will find something suitable.

Around the 5 year mark, you will start noticing that you are getting really good at playing the guitar and you will probably move into a late intermediate level player. By then, you should be able to play a lot of different songs, use comfortable barre chords, power chords and so on. You should be able to play more complex guitar scales (for instance 3 note per string scales) and have a good sense of rhythm. Keeping good timing is essential for being a good musician but you can develop your rhythm by practising to backing tracks and jamming with other musicians. You should also be building your own practice routines that will give you strong, consistent results.

To become an advanced level guitarist, it may take around 10 years or more (sometimes less – I know plenty of guitarists who get there in 6 – 7 years) but again it all depends on your goals and practising habits. By this stage you should be practicing for 2 – 3 hours per day (some spend as much as 5 hours or more!) to keep developing your guitar skills.

If your aim is to become a well-rounded musician, I would expect a good knowledge of music theory and harmony, good compositional skills and flexibility in using guitar techniques. You should be able to transpose music to different keys, feel comfortable improvising using complex scales and arpeggios and be able to deliver a quality performance in a band or playing with others.

So to answer the question how long does it take to learn the guitar – you can learn a simple song in 30 minutes, but it will take you 2 -3 years to get to a decent intermediate level. 5 years to get really good with what you have learned and 10 years to jump to a more pro level.

I am learning and practising every day and I am enjoying every second of it. I think keeping your expectations realistic whilst practicing regularly, will give you awesome results.

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