that you've been possessed by the spirit of the
guitar you may be asking yourself; "Where
do I go from here?" You probably started
the same way that I did, by learning your favorite
songs. And probably like me, you got to the point
where you realized that if you wanted to go any
further with the guitar, you where going to have
to do some studying. Coming to the conclusion
that you are going to have to study is one thing,
knowing what and how to study is another. I'm
going to walk you through the process of becoming
an ever growing guitarist. I'm going to teach
you all the things I did right and also teach
you how to avoid all the same mistakes I made
along the way. I'll show you how to construct
a well balanced practice schedule and how to set
realistic goals, how to find yourself a good teacher
and how to work with him. I'll also include a
few "life lessons," some important things
I learned the hard way so that you won't have
Playing Versus Practicing - Recently Jennifer
Batten (solo artist, Jeff Beck, Michael Jackson
band member) did a seminar at Tokyo School of
Music, the school I run in Tokyo. She said this
about practice; "Practice as much as you
possibly can stand without it turning into something
you hate to do." Practice should be fun
but challenging. Practice should be done with
specific goals in mind. I know tons of guitarists
who think they are practicing but what they
are really doing is just playing. Playing is
important too but practice is something different.
What you practice should come out in your playing.
If it doesn't, you're not practicing efficiently.
Before you sit down to practice, make sure you
know what goals you are trying to reach by practicing,
short term and long. It may even help to keep
a log of your practice sessions. When and how
long you practiced and what specifically you
practiced. If you have a guitar teacher, go
over the log with him at your lessons.
- Just like going to the gym, the important
thing is to practice just about every day. Four
hours today and nothing else for a week will
amount to close to nothing. If you can only
stand practicing an hour or so, that's fine,
just as long as it is almost every day.
Goals - Remember the dreaded F chord?
You almost gave up didn't you? Me, too. After
you got it under your fingers, it was smooth
sailing for a while until the next hurdle came
up. More so than any other instrument, the guitar
will challenge you this way. That is why it
is important to set realistic goals for yourself.
Always remember, nothing can be learned in an
hour or so. The goals you set should be for
weeks or months. Some of the things that I am
currently practicing will take me a year to
get together. Don't get discouraged, anything
worth learning will take time.
- The way you practice should change with time.
I've been playing for twenty somewhat years,
so what I practice these days, is completely
different than what I worked on my first few
years. I know all my scales and have enough
chops that I don't need to work on those very
much. I usually work on improvising over really
hard chord changes. Stuff like John Coletrain's
"Giant Steps" or a Wayne Shorter song.
I may sequence my own chord changes and try
playing over them. I also find that working
on the tunes for the gigs I do often turn into
a good learning experience. For that reason
I never turn down gigs that I know are going
to be a real pain in the butt to get the tunes
the Beginning - If you are just starting
out, you should dedicate a lot more time to
technique than I do nowadays. But don't let
that be the only thing you work on. If I could
change anything about the way I practiced when
I first started out, I would cut down the time
I worked on technique and would have dedicated
more time to rhythm playing and reading. When
I think back, it kind of cracks me up because
I was working on scales and arpeggios for about
five or six hours every day. I was sure that
I was destined to be the fastest guitarist in
Lesson 1 (Chris gets forced to look in the
mirror) - When I went to MI in the eighties,
I was shocked because every student around me
was really, really fast. You have to recall,
this was about the same time Yngwie Malmsteen
and Joe Satriani were at their zenith and Paul
Gilbert was just getting his start in Mr. Big.
Everyone was lightning fast and it dawned on
me that I had been focusing on something that
was soon to be in little demand. I completely
failed to shine amongst my fellow students.
I have to admit, all the scales and arpeggios
I worked on in my younger days left me with
chops that I still have today but there was
a time that I struggled because I didn't have
my rhythm and reading chops together. I realized
that I was way more likely to get a gig because
I could play great rhythm or could read anything
upside down than because I have fast fingers.
It is now a whole different era of music and
chops don't count as much any more. That's because
the eighties was one big guitar sporting event.
actually notice a whole different trend going
on with young guitarists these days. It seems
a lot of students have no interest in getting
their chops together at all, which is a whole
different problem. The point I'm trying to make
here is that balance is the key to good practice.
Work on your chops, your reading and comping
skills, your ears and your theory knowledge.
Time - Don't practice something you aren't
going to use. We guitarists often make the mistake
of practicing exercises that have nothing to
do with music at all. It makes no sense because
there are so many things that we could be working
on to increase our chops that we can actually
use in a song or something. Instead we tend
to work on these real mathematical chromatic
exercises or something that will never find
its way into a guitar solo. I often get students
who ask me why, even though they practice all
the time, they don't have any chops. They haven't
realized it but they actually do have chops
but the only thing they can play with real precision
is these strange mathematical chromatic lines.
Work on what you can use.
Stop What you're Doing - Sometimes you
will feel frustrated about your playing. Don't
worry, it's completely natural. It seems like
you practice and practice and nothing seems
to change. You sometimes seem to lose all your
creativity. I often have this problem myself.
This is what I do: I stop whatever I'm doing
and get out a CD of some musician I really admire.
I listen to the CD and find some phrase that
I want to know and figure it our by ear. I may
have to slow it down to do so. I then analyze
it to find out how I can use it (this is why
music theory is so important). Then I practice
it over some chord changes and let it be come
a part of my vocabulary. It never fails to amaze
me how something like this can start to get
my creative mind working again.
Lesson 2 (Joe's Advise) - When I was studying
guitar at music school in the eighties, I fell
into a horrible rut halfway through the year.
I asked Jazz legend Joe Diorio what he thought
I should do. He asked me; "Have you been
out on a date lately?" I answered; "No."
He asked; "How about to the movies?"
I answered: "No." He then asked me;
"Read any good books lately?" I answered;
"Well, I've kinda been looking at a book
on orchestration these days." Then he said;
"No wonder you can't do anything creative
on the guitar, your life is a complete bore."
He then instructed me to not touch a guitar
on Sundays and have some fun. Go on a date or
read a book, see a movie, give your brain some
food. To be a creative musician your life has
to be somewhat creative. One time I sent all
my guitar students of to make pottery one weekend.
Going on Your Daily Practicing
Some Practice Advise - Use rhythm whenever
you can. The one thing that hasn't changed about
the way I practice is exactly that. When I started
going to lessons my teacher would often give
me scales and the chord changes that would work
with them. I would tape myself playing the changes
on one of them super gigantic tape players that
we had back in the dark ages and jam along with
it. These days I use a Yamaha QY20 that I program
the changes into. It makes practice time way
more interesting and helps to develop my ears.
A metronome is fine for practicing but it will
only help your rhythmic ear. It won't help your
Five Areas of Practice - As I said before,
what you practice will change as you advance
as a player. No matter how long you play, the
basic five things you work on will most likely
stay the same. The amount of time spent on each
of them will probably vary to accommodate your
changing strengths and weaknesses. I can't tell
you exactly what and how much you should be
working on any one of these five different sections
because I have never heard you play so I don't
know your strengths and weaknesses. Nor have
I ever discussed your goals as a guitarist with
you. You or you and your guitar teacher will
have to decide how much time to dedicate to
each one of them. Use the following section
as a guide.
Scales, Arpeggios and Chops
Single Note Studies - Scales and arpeggios
are important to work on for two reasons. One
reason is because the only way to develop chops
is by practicing them and the other is because
any solo you play, regardless of genre, is going
to be based on a scale or an arpeggio. If you
don't have much experience working on scales
and arpeggios, at first the whole thing will
be just plain mathematics and that's okay for
the time being. Don't worry if at first the
whole thing seems a little mechanical at first.
with your major scales. There are five patterns,
roots in black:
with just one and practice it up and down. Make
sure to use a metronome or better yet sequence,
record or get a friend to play a rhythm track
for you to play over. What chords do you use
to play over? Try starting in C major. Use any
of these chords to make a rhythm track: Cmaj,
Dmin, Emin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Amin and Bdim. If you
want to, try using 7th. chords: Cmaj7, Dmin7,
Emin7, Fmaj7, G7, Amin7 and Bmin7b5. Try playing
over the individual chords one by one and combine
them to make different chord progressions. When
you are ready move around to different keys.
Make sure to use alternate picking while playing
you feel comfortable playing up and down the
scale try to work in sequences of thirds and
fourths. Slowly work in all the other five scale
patterns until you can play all over the neck.
the same with the arpeggios. Try to learn all
the arpeggios that are inside each of the five
scale patterns. That's right, you'll find a
Cmaj, Dmin, Emin, Fmaj, Gmaj, Amin and Bdim
arpeggio in each of the five scale patterns.
See if you can match them up to the proper chords
in the chord progression you are improvising
goal here is to be able to improvise freely
all over the neck so make sure to make some
time to just play randomly. Try to make up your
own phrases. A good guitar solo should have
a motif so try to create melodies.
goal is to eventually learn and use to improvise
Major Scale, minor and major pentatonic scales,
the blues scale, the dorian, phrygian, lydian,
mixolydian, aolian and locrian modes. After
that, the harmonic minor scale and the melodic
minor scale and its seven modes. The symmetrical
scales: the whole tone and diminished half/whole
scale, triad and 7th arpeggios. Starting from
scratch, it should take you a good ten years
or so to learn how to use them freely. I'm still
working on them myself.
may choose to start on the blues rather than
the major scale patterns. That's what I did.
There are also five patterns of the pentatonic
and blues scales. Just record or sequence a
blues and go to town.
- Make sure to be aware of what you are playing
rhythmically. Try playing whole, half, quarter,
sixteenth notes and triplets. Sometimes we tend
to just play without thinking of how we rhythmically
play the notes.
Lesson 3 (Scott Henderson lets me have it)
- One time I was in a guitar lesson with Scott
Henderson. We where playing some Jazz standard
or something and I was doing my solo. He stopped
me in the middle of it and said; "Chris,
you know what scales to play and you have a
good sense of melody but your rhythm sucks!"
He continued; "If you are going to play
a triplet, play a triplet. If you want to play
sixteenth notes, play sixteenth notes. Everything
you play is in the middle somewhere". I
had never actually though about it before, as
strange as it may seem. I went home that night
and got out the metronome and made a conscious
effort to divide up what I play in definite
and Rhythm Playing
Harmony - Harmony is one of the most
overlooked aspects of practice. It's strange
because we generally start off playing the chords
to our favorite songs. As soon as we learn to
solo a bit, we never think about them again.
When I started out, I made the mistake of buying
one of those chord dictionary books that just
ended up frustrating me because there was so
many chords and no explanation about how to
use them. It is important to see how the chords
fit together with one another. I use the "Real
Book" to practice with a lot of the time.
The "Real Book" is a fake book of
hundreds of Jazz standards. I look at the chords
and try to find voicings that work well with
one another. I may even record them and improvise
over the changes after sight reading the head.
I can knock off my sight reading, scales and
chords all in one shot this way. It's best to
kill a bunch of birds with one stone when it
comes to practicing. Each individual style of
music has its own rhythmic styles and unique
chord voicings so work a little on everything.
Some styles lend them self well to the fingers
rather than the pick in the right hand and some,
like Funk, leave you little choice but the pick.
Going Now - This is where I made my big
mistake as an aspiring guitarist. I didn't dedicate
enough time to reading. I still regret it to
this day. I've learned to read okay I guess,
but I wish I was a better sight reader. It would
have saved me a lot of stress. As I said before,
I tend to use the "Real Book" to practice
my reading. Get going early on if you can.
Brain Power - Music theory is important
because without understanding theory you will
never really be able to analyze music. Without
being able to analyze music you will never be
really be able to understand why you like certain
songs or guitar solos that your hear. Without
being able to analyze music you will also never
be able to conceptualize certain melodic or
harmonic techniques and make them your own.
Especially if you want to get into Jazz, you
will need to understand theory because of the
complicated nature of chord scale relationships
in the genre.
you are working on your major scales, start
working on writing them too. Get yourself a
good theory book and check it out. Scales, intervals,
chords and arpeggios are all important to study.
The good thing about theory is that you don't
necessarily need a guitar to work on it. You
can do it on your morning commute or while you
are waiting in some line somewhere. Theory will
help you glue together all the other things
and Your Ears
Use Your Ears - Figuring songs and solos
are important for developing you ears. I was
fortunate to not have all the resources that
we have today. I was forced to get out the records
and work everything out using my ears. I think
it is great that we have everything transcribed
these days but try to the transcriptions as
a tool to help you figure stuff out. Try it
first using your ears.
Lesson 4 (The most depressing day of my
life) - When I was about fifteen, I was practicing
in my bedroom with the windows open (the joys
of suburbia) and the guy that lived down the
street came to my window. He was, oh, I guess,
about twenty-one or two or so and said he was
playing the drums in this band that played around
town and that one of the guitarists had just
quit and that he heard me playing in my room
and maybe I should audition. I told him I was
only fifteen and probably couldn't play in bars
but he said we'll worry about that later. He
said he would pick me up at about 7:30 and bring
me to the warehouse where his band plays. I
was in heaven. While I put on my favorite concert
T-shirt and jeans and got my guitar and amp
together I imagined that I went to the audition,
played some incredible stuff and everyone fell
in love with me and hugged me and welcomed me
into their band and I was on my way to being
the most famous guitarist the world has ever
I get to the warehouse and the other guitarist
was there. His name was George. He was the coolest
thing I had ever seen. He had this real long
hair and played a Flying V through a real big
Music Man half stack. Anyways, he asked me what
I wanted to play. I said I liked Purple Haze
by Jimi Hendrix. So we started it and it fell
apart because I only knew some of it. We went
on to something else and it fell apart too.
Finally he asked me if I knew something easy
like "Johnny B. Goode" and I didn't.
I could tell that the whole thing was a fiasco
and I had no right even being there in the first
was a real decent cat. Even though he knew I
didn't have enough experience to ever play with
them, he told me to get some songs together,
really together, the intros, endings and everything
in-between and come back again. I went home,
and for the second time in my life debated quitting
or not. As you know by now, I chose to not to
I decided to do was to build a repertoire of
songs, from beginning to end paying attention
to all the small details. I also decided that
the songs I would learn would have to be universal
standards, songs that I could pull out of my
hat on a moment's notice, on request, songs
that I could play anywhere, on an audition or
when I sit in on someone's gig. And that's exactly
what I did.
enough I would end up working with George later
down the road and we would laugh at times thinking
about the little fifteen year old who couldn't
even tune his guitar who came to audition five
years before hand. The lesson that George taught
me became one of the most important lessons
I ever had, and thinking back upon it, I never
thanked him for it. So if you read this George,
took me long enough to tell you the story. The
point is: learn as many standards as you can,
and every detail counts. The key word here is
"standards," songs that you can use
and people will request you to play, not just
your favorite songs. Those are okay to learn
too but whether they will get you any work is
a different thing all together. In the school
that I run in Tokyo I have the students play
in their instrumental ensemble classes such
songs as: "Freeway Jam" and "Blue
Wind" by Jeff Beck and "Footprints"
by Wayne Shorter. "Watermelon Man"
by Herbie Hancock and "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"
by Joe Zawinul. By knowing tunes like these
you will always be able to sit in on other musician's
gigs. I also have the students learn some Blues,
Rock and Funk standards also.
- One of the most important things you can do
but a lot of people forget is to listen. You
will be surprised how much you can absorb from
just listening alone. I usually tell my students
that they have to get the blues together before
anything else. Blues is the mother to all modern
music. For that reason I think some time should
definitely be dedicated to at least listening
to it while learning it. Besides the Blues,
there is a ton of stuff to listen to. If I had
to suggest some CD's to learn from I would suggest
Ray Vaughn - "Couldn't Stand The Weather"
- Good overview of the blues.
Waters - "Best Of" - Once you
hear these tunes you'll understand how someone
like Jimi Hendrix and the 60s musical era was
King - "Best Of" - Just good plain
blues. A dictionary of guitar blues licks.
Beck - "Blow By Blow," "Guitar
Shop" - An old one and a newer one. Jeff
gave the guitar a voice in instrumental music.
Hendrix - "Are you Experienced,"
"Axis: Bold as Love," "Electric
Ladyland" - Jimi Hendrix took various styles
of music and combined them to make something
completely new. He would change guitar playing
forever. Without him, we would still be in the
Zeppelin - "1", "2"
- Jimmy Page is a genius song writer and player.
The blues influenced him immensely.
Scofield - "Still Warm," "A
Go Go" - Great fusion guitarist. Before
you start getting into scales other then the
major scale and its modes and pentatonic scales,
adjust your ears by listen to John. Warning:
like anything great, it will take you a few
listens to get used to.
Metheny - "Bright Size Life,"
"Letter from Home" - Again an old
one and a newer one. Pat Metheny is a genius
because he is a true artist who manages to appeal
to a wide audience. A great improviser and writer.
Report - "Heavy Weather" - No
guitar playing going on here but great writing
and incredible synergy.
Davis - "Nefertiti," "Miles
Smiles," "The Sorcerer" - Classic
Miles Davis, No guitar here either but improvisation
at its very best.
Juergensen - "Prospects" - Just
Brown - "Best Of" - Just for the
Bartok - "Concerto for Orchestra"
- Bold melodies. A dictionary of orchestration.
- "Symphony of Psalms," "The
Firebird Suite" - Scary. Harmonically intense.
course these suggestions are my personal favorites.
Ask around and research yourself. If you decide
to get any of these CDs or any CDs for that
matter, I suggest you buy one at a time. Really
ingest them one by one. Let each one become
your personal friend before buying the next.
Equations - Good practice is only half
the equation. The other half is education. Although
I'm a big fan of formal music education, there
is informal education. I mean private lessons
at your local music store or with someone who
has enough experience to point you in the proper
direction. You can even find ways to educate
yourself. The site you are looking at right
now is one good example. No matter how you decide
to get a musical education, the musical education
is only as important as the practicing. One
without the other neutralizes them both. Remember
this; education will not make you a great guitarist,
it will only provide a map on how to get to
that destination. You, as the driver have to
get yourself there. If you think a million guitar
lessons will make you the greatest player around
your wrong. Only the practice in conjunction
with the lessons will. I often get questions
from students asking why, even though they come
to classes everyday, don't seem to be improving
on the guitar. The answer is simple, they're
coming to classes but they aren't practicing
what was covered in the classes. Even if you
understand the concept covered in the class,
it will never find its way into your playing
without some good old fashioned practice.
Perfect Student - Before you become the
perfect player try to become the perfect student.
I personally believe the keys to me becoming
a somewhat successful guitarist was one; all
the great teachers I had along the way, and
two; all the great students I have had. They
both have been the source of endless inspiration.
When you find yourself a great teacher, keep
him on his feet. Ask questions and challenge
him from time to time. I drove my first teacher,
Wayne Reese, nuts. I asked him some questions
he probably never heard before: "Mr. Reese,
why does a blues scale work over both dominant
chords and minor chords?" "Why are
all the strings on the guitar tuned in fourths
except the second string? Instead of a B string,
shouldn't it be a C string?" "Why
does a melodic minor scale get played ascending
one way and descending an other?" I bet
he was researching stuff all over the place
before the next lesson. When I shipped off to
California, Mr. Reese told me that the lessons
with me were fun and he learned some stuff too.
The student teacher relationship is exactly
that, a relationship. It shouldn't be a one
sided thing at all.
a good teacher - Research is important here.
Ask around. If your local community college
has a music program, they may be able to point
you to a good teacher. Most music stores offer
lessons too. If you are in high school, even
if you aren't active in the school orchestra,
ask the music teacher if he can suggest someone.
Try a search on the Web; "guitar lessons
in your town." If you are in the Los Angeles
or Tokyo area, ask me! Whatever you do, when
you find a prospective teacher, meet him first.
Ask questions. Ask him to give you a basic one
year plan. If he is a good teacher, he will
meet with you and ask you some questions too.
Questions like; how long you've been playing,
who you listen to, and what goals you have for
the future. Like I said before, it has to be
a relationship. And any relationship starts
to look for in a teacher - A teacher should
cover a lot of basses. He should be teaching
you about chords and scales, theory, reading
and even help you learn some of your favorite
tunes and some standards. Too much of any one
thing will be bad in the long run. It is also
about motivation. Your teacher should have a
genuine interest in your advancement. My first
teacher turned me into such a fan of education
that I quit taking lessons from him and enrolled
at a school of higher (music) education. The
goal of a good teacher is to provide the tools
to the student that will eventually lead the
student to outgrow the teacher. You, like me,
may just decide to enroll yourself in a great
school like MI, LAMA, Berklee or (shameless
plug) Tokyo School of Music.
"Real Book" - The "Real Book"
that I use is pretty difficult to find these
days. There are some other great fake books
that you can get:
1. The New Real Book Vol.1
2. The New Real Book Vol.2
3. The New Real Book Vol.3
4. The Latin Real Book
1. The Jazz Theory Book by Mark Levine
luck on your never ending adventure because
it is just that, never ending. I still consider
myself a music student and I will continue to
practice and grow as a musician for the rest
of my days and I hope you will too. If you read
this all the way to the bottom, I would like
to congratulate you. You have taken your first
steps in becoming the musician you are destined
to become. Please e-mail me with any questions
or suggestions you might have.