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Words Of Wisdom With Guthrie Govan

Though I play mainly acoustic guitar in this season of my life, the electric guitar is still my first love. That’s where I started. I spent a decade honing my skills through my electric. There is no doubt I have  learned a lot by playing acoustic fingerstyle but my technique got its roots from playing electric. I love playing electric guitar. That’s the reason I’m sharing this link with you. Guthrie is one of my favorite electric guitarists. In this series of videos, he shares some valuable insights about musicianship and his playing. These are worth hundreds of dollars of guitar lessons.

 

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Fingerstyle Hymns Interactive TABs

I am so stoked about this new tool from Soundslice! It syncs my videos with my TABs. This is amazing when learning my fingerstyle hymn arrangements. This is something I wish I had when I was just starting out. It just makes learning much more fun and engaging. Just watch the video.

 

Currently, this is available only to my patreons.

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Practice Without A Guitar

Try this simple trick. You can actually practice without a guitar. I used to do this every night so I know that it works. All you need to do is visualize. So let’s say you just learned a new scale. Before you go to sleep, visualize running up and down that scale on the fretboard for about 10 mins. It’s the perfect way to fall asleep. You’ll be surprised when you try that scale the next day how much you can remember it. You don’t have to do this before you sleep, (that’s just what I did) you can do it anytime you don’t have a guitar with you.

I’m sure there’s a scientific backing of this somewhere that I’m just lazy to research. It’s really the same concept that athletes use. Basketball players visualize the perfect shooting technique, they visualize the ball going in the basket. It’s the same idea for musicians. The basic idea is for your brain to map out the steps that you need to do. The more you do it, the more familiar you get.

So try it out next time you’re waiting in line or having trouble going to sleep. Have you ever tried something like this?

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Going Into The Boat

I had been reflecting on the story of Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 8:23-27 and Mark 4:35-41. It’s the story of the disciples going into the boat to go across the lake.

The lake is very dangerous because winds can suddenly come out of nowhere and cause fishermen’s boats to sink. When Jesus told his disciples to go across the lake, I’m sure they knew exactly how dangerous it was. These guys were experienced fishermen. I don’t think they would’ve crossed the lake if Jesus wasn’t with them. What is amazing is that even though they knew the danger, they decided to follow Jesus anyways.

When Jesus calls us to do something, it’s important that we know what we’re signing up for. It could cost us something. The disciples knew that following him could cost them their lives but they followed Jesus anyways. To me, that’s a sign that they at least had a little faith. In the end, the journey to the other side of the lake was filled with amazing things. It had increased their faith in Jesus, they saw a very dramatic miracle, they realized how powerful Jesus was.

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Growing In Creativity

At the end of my last post about practice, I told you I was going to write about how to grow in your creativity. So here are some of the things that I currently do to grow in my own creativity.

1. I schedule time just for creativity

“I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life.” – Miles Davis

It seems uncreative to have to schedule time for creativity because we may think of creativity as spontaneous. And it is spontaneous. I love and desire for those times when ideas just start coming to me out of nowhere. But I also believe that scheduling the time to just sit down with my instrument with no distractions encourages creativity. And scheduling doesn’t have to be so strict. Of course it can be. The point is to have time everyday to allow creativity to happen.
Typically, what I do nowadays when I’m working on an arrangement is to come up with the basic structure first. Then figure out the melody and the chords and the rhythm. When I’m done with that I don’t stop there. I play it for a couple days or even weeks. I immerse myself in that song for awhile. Sometimes I come up with new ideas right away, sometimes it takes awhile but that period of immersion is really important.

2. I do something that I love everyday

“Mainly play the things on the piano which please you even if the teacher does not assign those. Doing what you love, the way you like to do it is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.” – Albert Einstein

I remember the first time I learned about guitar improvisation. I was hooked! I would record a backing track on tape (back in those days) and then play over that tape for hours. Time just passes by so fast because I was enjoying it so much. Today, I still take the time to do what I love doing on guitar. It’s important to do some of the boring stuff but it’s also important to be inspired.

3. Take Risks

“If you play a chord and it does not sound good to you, there is an extremely good chance it can be used effectively somewhere.” – Ted Greene

There’s a correlation between creativity and risk. Come to think of it, creativity is really just the creation of something from nothing. Or at least in music, it’s the creation of something from sound waves. My struggle as a student in the past has been to break away from what I know to be correct. We come to learning music with this notion that there is a correct way to play things, and there probably is truth to that to some degree.

The hard part is getting over the idea of playing something wrong because it’s not the correct way. That’s the thing about creativity, it can sometimes sound so wrong but at other times, it could be brilliant. This idea can be applied to not just chords but to every detail of guitar playing. I’ve developed my own right hand technique because I let go of the fact that there is one correct way of playing.

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What About Compassion?

In 2012, I was in a crossroad. I finished paying off all my students loans and I just quit the job that I really didn’t like. Also, I had been teaching bible study for over 2 years. I just didn’t know what to do next with my life. Moreover, I had so many intellectual questions (or so I thought they were) I was asking God about. I questioned and complained about many things that I didn’t understand. They messed up my brain enough that I thought I would have more faith if only God answered them. And so my quest for answers began. So I quit my job and went to the Philippines for 4 months. I volunteered at different groups, churches, organizations for 2 weeks each.

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Singing “White As Snow” by Jon Foreman in Dagupan City Jail

 

In the Philippines, I was invited to help facilitate a small group in a Christian youth camp. My role was to lead devotions and to explain further what the speakers talked about. I also mentored and counseled the boys in my group. It was a responsibility that I was already used to since I’ve been teaching bible study in Maryland. I was so comfortable encouraging them and teaching them.

As I got to our room one night, I noticed one of the boys in my group sleeping in a fetal position. He looked like he was cold and he did not have a blanket on. I then fixed my bed and got my blanket out. It was a bit cold so I wrapped myself in my blanket and tried to go to sleep. The boy coughed and it sounded really bad.

I looked at him. For a few seconds I was contemplating whether I should give him my blanket and just put my sweater on. I reasoned that I needed the blanket since I was sick. I was at the tail end of recovering from the flu at that time. So I told myself that if he coughed again, maybe I might give my blanket.

While I was contemplating all of this in my head, another one of the boys in my group got down from his bunk bed and gave his own blanket to the cold boy. Then I heard a voice in my head, “what about compassion?” I realized right away that I was very slow when it came to compassion and loving other people. Here I was trying to teach these boys about how the gospel changes us to be like Jesus and I was hanging on to my dear blanket.

At that moment it was as if God told me I was asking all the wrong questions. I don’t even remember the intellectual questions I used to ask Him. God answered my question with a question. He must have chuckled at my questions.

I’ve learned a few things that night. Maybe it’s by loving other people that I will find the answer to my questions. Maybe it’s when I love people in spite of who they are that I will gain the experience to understand life. Or just maybe, we need to accept that some questions will never be answered until we see him again and so it’s a waste of time to dwell on them.  Maybe what we ought to be asking right now is “what about compassion?”

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How You Should Practice To Get Really Good

This is an epic read. It’s more than 3000 words. I assure you though that it’s full of useful information. 

When I was 16, I remember a 6 month period where I practiced for 6-9 hours everyday followed by 2 years of at least 2 hours of practice everyday. I was reading a guitar magazine and they had an article about Steve Vai’s 30-Hour Path To Virtuoso Enlightenment.(*1) This program was divided into 9 categories — exercises, scales, chords, ear training… I would spend some time working on each section while writing down my progress along the way. I had a tiny notebook where I wrote notes of what I needed to improve on and of my progress for that day. 

I’ve learned a lot about practicing from those early years — both good and bad. And I’m still learning new things about practicing. That’s what I’m about to share with you. My hope is that you will find something useful here that can help you get to the next level faster, or at least with less mistakes and without having to spend 6-9 hours a day. That’s just too much (or maybe not). I don’t even know how my social life survived back then. Maybe I didn’t have one. 

Practice is the most misunderstood element of music. Some don’t see a need for it, some think that practicing takes the fun out of guitar, some insist on a certain method of practice, some just don’t seem to care. If I’ve learned anything from teaching students over the years, it is that most of us do not have a proper understanding of practice and how to effectively have one. 

Here are some guidelines that I’ve picked up through the years. I call them my rules on practicing. If you follow these, I guarantee that you’ll see progress sooner.


Rule #1: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

This is the first advice I’ve ever received about practice. I was 15 years old learning shred guitar. My teacher Benjie gave me some exercises to do. I was too eager to play them fast I didn’t realize how awful they sounded with all the extra noises from mistakes. Benjie corrected me right away. He told me that perfect practice makes perfect. He said that whatever I practice becomes muscle memory. Muscle memory basically helps us to get really good at something through repetition. 

This means that whatever I repeat hundreds of times is what I will end up playing. If I play for hours on end with lots of mistakes, then my playing will always be full of mistakes. If I practice without mistakes, then there’s is a higher probability that I won’t makes mistakes. The beauty of muscle memory is that over time through repetition, our muscles can carry out with blazing speed and perfect execution what our brain instructs it to do. So to take advantage of muscle memory, we need to store up the correct stuff. The next time we execute with blazing speed, our muscles will execute perfectly what we stored up in our brain.


Rule #2: Practice Requires Focus

This leads to the next point. It’s was easy for me to start noodling and playing mindlessly once I got to play some cool stuff. It’s in our nature to stay where we’re comfortable. Of course there is value and fun to noodling. I actually recommend it for creative practice and I will tell you about that later. But understand that if all you do is noodling, it can often times lead to feeling like you’re stuck in a rut. If you feel like that, you probably are.

What we need is focus. We won’t be able to take advantage of muscle memory if we do not focus. Focus is the key element here. Without it, we are setting up for failure. We have to intentionally think about what we are practicing, what we are trying to achieve, and what we’re trying to correct. You don’t want to put in all the hours and figure out later that you have to unlearn all the bad habits you’ve acquired. Have patience. Take it slow. Focus.


Rule #3: Practice Less

This leads again to my next rule — practice less. Yes, you read that right. If I knew this when I was younger, maybe I would have had more time for my social life. 🙂

Consider this study done about the amount of time spent practicing in relation to its result. 

“A study by Sloboda, Davidson, Howe, and Moore (1996) examined 257 young instrumentalists aged 8 to 18, playing at a variety of different levels. They found that some of the students attained high grade levels with relatively little practice, while others needed four times the average practice time to attain a given grade. A study by McPherson (2005) followed 157 children between the ages of 7 and 9 for three years. The number of hours of each child’s accumulated practice accounted for from between 9% and 32% of the variance in scores on performed rehearsed music. But hours of practice had no effect on other musical tasks, such as sight-reading, playing from memory, and playing by ear. In a recent study of 163 students, Susan Hallam (2011) found that the length of time spent learning to play an instrument and on weekly practice did not predict marks attained in graded instrumental music exams.” – Musical Skill And Deliberate Practice(*2)  (Psychology Today)


If longer hours does not equal better results, then what should we focus on?

It is better to focus on making your practice time more productive than trying to carve out more time to practice.

In other words, it’s better to practice for 30 minutes with full attention and mental focus than to practice mindlessly and without intentionality for 3 hours. This means that as you practice, you make a conscious effort as you execute what you are playing. Additionally, It’s important to observe yourself, find out where you are deficient, then create strategies to overcome those weaknesses.

“Error detection and correction is a special hallmark of expert practicers, as compared to novices.”

How Practicing Less Can Foster Musical Growth(*3) (Psychology Today)

You may have heard this in other phrases such as “quality over quantity” or “smarter not longer.” They basically mean the same thing.

One of the best ways for error detection is to record yourself. It’s different when you’re just hearing yourself play. You will hear things that you haven’t heard before. And it can sometimes be humbling to realize that you don’t sound that good. But that’s okay because the point of practice is to get better.


Rule #4: Practice More

Wait? Didn’t you just say practice less? Yes. But now that you understand what quality practice looks like, then you can practice more of it. The more quality practice you put it in, the faster you will see improvements.

At this point, it’s all about consistency. First, decide on how long you are going to practice, and then start getting into the habit. Put it in your schedule because you’re more likely to practice if you’ve put it in your schedule. 30 mins of quality practice everyday is better than 1 hour of mindless noodling everyday. 30 mins of quality practice everyday is also better than 8 hours of practice one day a week.


Rule #5: Practice Sessions Should Be Mapped Out

Mapping out practice sessions doesn’t have to be complicated. There are times where I needed to have a more detailed practice regimen. There are also times where it’s just as simple as going through my arrangements. Mapping out practice sessions just means that you have a goal — whether that be mastering harmonics or learning the CAGED theory or achieving a certain speed.

You have to start with a goal. Without a goal, you can get overwhelmed or pulled in all directions. This is easier said than done and this may be the most difficult step for beginners. I have students who don’t know where to start with this. They don’t know what they should be aiming for. This is where guitar teachers come in. They can help you set your goals and make sure your learning is mapped out.

 But for those who do access to or cannot afford a teacher, it’s best to just write down a goal anyways no matter how simplistic it may sound. Let’s say you are really inspired by Tommy Emmanuel. Your goal could be “learn the intro of Somewhere Over The Rainbow” or “learn the chords To Angelina” or “learn the guitar lick on the end of the chorus”. In the end, you’d still be improving your skills and knowledge.

Additionally, writing it down has the advantage of being able to see your progress. The emotional reward for accomplishment is really helpful for beginners, especially those who start out at a later age. You’ve been told that it’s too late for you to learn guitar. That is just not true. When you see progress because you wrote it down, it’s emotionally gratifying and gives you inspiration to continue to practice.

 

Here are a 2 ideas to mapping out your practice sessions:

a. Practice In Blocks

You have to divide and conquer. It’s a concept that I always tell my students and is something that I use when I’m refining my arrangements. After I get a basic skeleton of my arrangement, I start practicing in blocks. This means that I don’t always start the song from the beginning. I may start on the pre-chorus and work on that then jump to the lick I do on the last chorus and work on that for a while. I only play the whole song again once I feel confident I can play those spots without mistakes.

I learned this concept in college as a Jazz Guitar student. I found that I would always mess up on the same part of the song. And when I did, I would start all over again and still make mistakes on the same part. It took me a long time to perfect the song. Along the way, I figured out that I should probably just correct that mistake and play it to perfection first before doing the whole song. This saved me a lot of time.
This idea could be applied to your practice routine. You can look at what you need to practice and divide them into blocks. So for example, it could looks something like this:

Say you are practicing a new song arrangement:
5 mins   — warm up
10 mins — intro (work on the hammer-ons)
10 mins — verse (work on the chords)
10 mins — chorus (work on adding dynamics)
5 mins   — Play whole song

or

You can break down sections into even smaller sections if you really want to be detailed.

Say you have 1 hour to practice, the breakdown could look like this:
I. Warm Up – 5 mins
II. Memorize 7th Chords
    a. Dominant 7th shapes – 5 mins
    b. Major 7th shapes – 5 mins

    c. minor 7th shapes – 5 mins

Break – 10 mins (or practice again at a different time of the day)

III. Right Hand Technique
    a. rest strokes – 5 mins
    b. free strokes – 5 mins
    c. pima pattern 1 – 5 mins
    d. pima pattern 2 – 5 mins

Break – 10 mins (or practice again at a different time of the day)

IV. Left Hand Technique
    a. Hammer-on – 5 mins
    b. Pull-off – 5 mins
    c. slides – 5 mins
   d. vibrato – 5 minsBreak – 10 mins (or practice again at a different time of the day)

V. Songs And Application – 20 mins

You noticed that I put breaks in there. That’s an important part of the practice too so that our mind is always fresh when we practice. We won’t slip into mindless practicing.

b. Practice in Random Blocks

Our brains are incredible at adapting and so we need to continually change it up so that our brains are always involved during practice. We don’t want the mindless noodling. Basically, practicing in random blocks means that we will randomize our routine. Taking the example above, it would look like this:

Day 1
5 mins   — warm up
10 mins — intro (work on the hammer-ons)
10 mins — verse (work on the chords)
10 mins — chorus (work on adding dynamics)

5 mins   — Play whole song

Day 2
5 mins   — warm up
5 mins   — Play whole song
10 mins — verse (work on the chords)
10 mins — chorus (work on adding dynamics)
10 mins — intro (work on the hammer-ons)

Day 3
5 mins   — warm up
10 mins — chorus (work on adding dynamics)
10 mins — intro (work on the hammer-ons)
5 mins   — Play whole song
10 mins — verse (work on the chords)


Rule #6: Practice What You Don’t Know, Not What You Do know

Our tendency when we get a little better at guitar is to stop learning what we don’t know or at least minimize it. Our practice session becomes another 30 minutes of playing our favorite licks, riffs, and songs. At the end of 30 minutes, our improvement is at a bare minimum.

The problem here is more on psychology. There is a sort of fear or dread of learning because it is hard or it’s just too much stuff to learn. Our brains are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information we ‘think’ we need to learn. Simply, we are afraid so we procrastinate.

The solution here is to get ourselves to just start small. You can apply the Pomodoro method(*4). This is a time management method where you work for 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break then you work again for 25 mins. It’s easier to think to yourself, “okay, I’m just going to practice this for 25 minutes, just 25 minutes.” You can even do just 15 minutes. 15 minutes is nothing. We have to get to the point where we think or feel like we can handle it. Thinking about practicing for 15 minutes is easier than thinking about practicing for 2 hours. In the same way, thinking about memorizing JUST the basic open chords is easier than thinking about learning every possible chord.

So your job at this point is to just convince yourself to start, to convince yourself that it will only be 15 minutes.

At this point, there is another effect that we can use to our advantage. It’s called the ‘Zeigarnik Effect’.(*5) In the 1920s, psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik observed how waiters seemed to remember complex orders but then completely vanish it from their memories after the order is done. But the uncompleted orders stuck in the waiter’s mind until it was completed.

To take advantage of the Zeigarnik Effect, we simply have to start. There is a high likelihood that we will continue to practice longer if we have not ‘completed’ what we’re trying to learn. I do this when I have to read thick books in seminary too. I tell myself, I’m just going to read for 10 minutes. Guess what? After 30 mins, I’m still reading because I haven’t read the full chapter, I haven’t completed the reading.


Rule #7: Practice Without Your Instrument

There came a point when I lost interest in guitar because I was always playing the same thing (an effect of too much noodling). I felt like I was stuck. I would put in so many hours and yet I couldn’t play like my favorite guitarists. I couldn’t solo like them. Eventually, I started not to practice and this went on for a couple years. 

It wasn’t until later on that I realized why I didn’t see any improvements. During the time that I didn’t practice often, all I did was listen to a lot of music. I internalized the rhythm, I analyzed it in my head and broke it down. At nights, when I was listening to guitar music, I would imagine how they were playing it. When I finally had a burst of inspiration to play again, I thought that I would be so rusty but it was exactly the opposite. I may have lost some speed and that’s okay because that’s not what I was after. But what I did gain was better note choices and better rhythmic proficiency. It was amazing.

I realized that playing the guitar is an activity of the mind! 

Similar to how athletes envision a perfect execution, we can also practice without our instrument by just envisioning it with our brain. This ‘mental practice’ stimulates the brain without the need to touch our instruments.

 

Rule #8: Practicing Is About Progress Not Perfection

One of the best advice I got was from my friend Daniel. We were taking classes together and also played in the same worship band. He was a bit older than me. I would always make these remarks comparing myself to other students. He told me to stop comparing myself to others, that playing the comparisons game will only bring frustrations.

It’s an advice that I’m still grateful for until today. I mean, if you go to any guitar related video on youtube, there’s always a comparison on who’s better. That should not be the point. The point Daniel was trying to tell me was that it’s about improvement, it’s about progress. It can be the same way about music. It’s better to aim at progress than perfection.
Perfection can bring lots of frustration when we can’t deliver. Music, after all is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. If our psychology is progress, we will have a much healthier outlook on practice. If it’s perfection, sure we may make some incredible improvements, but we will soon hit a wall. Both thinking will probably lead to improvements, but one brings frustration and the other satisfaction.

The life lesson I learned from this writing this?

Writing this reminded me of a life lesson. I remembered that it’s in our nature to regress. If we do not practice, we will regress. If we do not work on our relationships, it will regress. If we do not work out on our health, it will regress. If we do not develop good habits continually, we will regress to bad habits. It’s the same in our walk with God. If we do nothing, we will regress. If we do not remember to think highly of Him, we will regress to smaller things. So this is not only applicable to music, it’s applicable to other areas of life as well.


What’s next?

Take action. If you’ve read this far, congratulations. Put these into practice and you’ll see improvements in no time. Again, this reading is a waste of time if you don’t take action.

Let me know of any practice ideas that you apply in your own practice time by leaving a comment below.

Footnotes:
(1) Steve Vai’s 30-Hour Path To Virtuoso Enlightenment.
(2) Musical Skill And Deliberate Practice
(3) How Practicing Less Can Foster Musical Growth
(4) Pomodoro Method
(5) Zeigarnik Effect

 

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Judah’s Change Of Heart

I’m Reading Genesis 44.

I’ve always focused on Joseph when reading this story but this time Judah got my attention, specifically Judah’s change of heart. Chapters prior, Judah hatched the evil plan against his brother Joseph, raised such wicked sons that God had to put them to death, and treated his daughter in law as a prostitute.

In this chapter though, I see a man who’s finally owned up to his mistakes and even offered himself as a substitute for the sins of Benjamin. (though B was innocent) The consequence of this act was reconciliation with their relationship to Joseph. His telling of the truth led to Joseph’s telling of the truth. His openness led to Joseph to uncontrollably open up.

In addition, he has finally done something that brought so much joy to his father and his family, though he thought it was going to make him a slave forever in Egypt.

Jesus would also offer to take the burden for others by offering himself. In both stories we see so much compassion for others, without which, these acts would not have happened.

#dailydevotions

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How To Make Yourself Play More Guitar

 

Ever felt so inspired to play everyday but find yourself having no desire to play after a few days? Yep, that happens a lot, even to me. Here are some ideas on how to make yourself play more guitar.

Use A Stand – You’re more likely to play your guitar if you see it. You shouldn’t have to pull it out of its case before you can play it.

Place It Near Where You Hang Out The Most – It may be where you watch TV, study, or drink coffee. If your guitar is just within reach, you’ll most likely pick it up to play it. It shouldn’t be in the room in the basement that you rarely go to.

Change Your Strings Often – When you know your strings sound nice and shimmery, you’d be more likely to pick it up just to hear that beautiful sound. I usually change my strings every 3 months.

Fix The Action – This is the biggest deterrent for me. A high action on an acoustic guitar just hurts. There are reasons to have a high action but for most people especially beginners, you want a lower action. When the guitar feels so easy to play, I end up playing it for more hours.

Choose a comfortable String Gauge (preferably lower for beginners) – I usually suggest ‘light’ gauge for beginners. Again, the idea is to get you playing more and if it hurts because you’re using super thick strings, then you won’t be playing that much.

Tune All The Time – Guitar playing is not just about technique. It’s about your ears. It’s music after all. Being a good musician means you start learning what sounds flat or sharp then continue on to learn the different colors of different chords. It’s good to always start with great tuning.

Play With Other People – not just guitarist. Play with drummers, vocalists, violinist, any musician. This will speed up your learning. Fast.

These are just some ideas I’ve thought of for now. Let me know what has worked for you.

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Barre Chord Substitutes In The Key Of E

Key of E Barre Chord SubstitutesIn one of my Skype Guitar lessons, I have a student who struggles with barre chords so I shared to her some easy ways to play the barre chords in the key of E. These are the F#m, G#m, B, and C#m chords. It’s important to continue to work towards being able to play these chords the regular way. These substitutes are not wrong chords, they’re just a different way to play these chords with a slightly different color.

Make sure to play the F#m and G#m with middle, ring, and pinky. The A2 with ring and pinky. The Bsus4 and C#m with index, ring, and pinky like a power chord. Playing them this way makes it easier to memorize the shapes.

The great thing about this is that it actually sounds pretty cool especially in worship songs. The open B and high E string gives it that open suspended sound that is perfect for praise and worship songs.

If you are in the key of E, try using these chord shapes instead of doing the regular barre chord. It’s perfect for those who doesn’t have enough finger strength to do a full barre chord.

Try using these chords in the song “Here I Am To Worship.”

Leave a comment below if you found this helpful and let me know what you think.

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3 Ideas For Effective Practice

These 3 ideas come from my own experience practicing and teaching guitar through the years. I hope you guys find them useful and that you too will have an effective practice.

 

1. Know What You Want
Noodling for hours is fun and can actually improve your guitar playing but it’s not as effective as focused practice. Focused practice is knowing what you want to improve on and working on it everyday. It could be learning a new chord, playing an impossible lick, or applying a new concept. It is the key to improving fast.

But it is also the one of the hardest to do. It’s not exactly easy to know what you need to be practicing especially as a beginner. This is why it is advisable to have a guitar teacher, not because you’re not capable of learning by yourself, but because teachers can help you get to your destination a lot faster. One mark of a great teacher is giving you exactly what you need to practice.

For those who can’t afford to have a teacher, my advise is to first know your goal. Is it to just play pop songs? Is it to be able to play rock guitar? Is it to play instrumental fingerstyle? After having a goal, then read up and research based on your goal. Figure out what you need to learn first for that goal. There are basics that apply to all styles, but then after that, you have to become more specific on what you need to learn. Is it modes or the major scale first? Should you be learning polytonal chords before CAGED theory?

The point is, just have a tangible goal. And when you reach it, set another goal. You will learn much faster if you have a goal.

2. Divide And Conquer
I always tell my students to focus on the problem spots. Work in small chunks then when you can play it, work on the next chunk until you complete it. Focus on whatever is giving you a hard time. For example, if you were playing a piece of music and you had trouble in bar 45, it doesn’t make sense to to start all the way back to bar 1 when you mess up. Just work on bar 45 until it is perfect first then do the whole thing.

3. Have Fun
Practicing can sound so negative. It doesn’t have to be. I make sure that I have time during my practice where I can just have fun playing. I admit, there are boring things that need to be practiced especially in the beginning where there are some foundational things that just needs to be learned like the chromatic scale in the low E and A string. These can be boring for some but necessary if you want to know which bar chords you are playing.

This is also one reason why it’s good to have a goal. If you know that the boring stuff is only a means to an end, it’s gets easier practicing them. I’ve gotten to a point in my own guitar playing where I enjoy learning new techniques and although it may be boring, I enjoy the process of applying them in my instrumental arrangements (my goal). In my early years of learning guitar, jamming over a backing track was my favorite thing to do. I made sure that I had time in my practice doing just that.

Nowadays. my practicing mainly consists playing songs and making arrangements. If there’s a sound or technique that I like and want to incorporate in my arrangements, I apply the 3 principles I’ve outlined above.

What about you guys? How do you approach your practice sessions?

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Music As A Language

Learning Music With Victor Wooten

I saw this last week and I just kept agreeing to everything Victor Wooten was saying. The two ideas that I really like are:

1. Music as a language.
I’ve always taught with the idea that music is a language. Even in practical teaching situations such as soloing on guitar, I tell my students to tell a story with the notes they play. Every musical phrase is a sentence. Put them together and you got a story. We are learning all of this so that we can tell our story. We can express ourselves.

2. Music should not be an end to itself, it is a powerful tool that can make the world better.

Watch for yourself and be inspired a little.