6 Mini Guitar Playing Changes
Posted: February 17th, 2014 by Ashley Saunders
As I teach more and more, I realise that it’s actually small things which make the biggest difference. It’s getting that bend smack bang in tune. It’s have a nice subtle vibrato at the end of the phrase. Nailing each chord, so it sound like you’re playing a piano.
Here are 6 mini guitar playing changes you can work on today. All of which are the difference between playing well and sounding amazing.
The best way to get the most out of the 6 is to not try to get through all of them in one practice session but to pick 1 or 2. Why? If you try to get through all of the them it’s likely that you won’t actively engage and therefore won’t progress as fast as you should.
For example, if you have an hour, you might want to pick 2 or 3 mini changes to work on and spend 20-30 minutes on each. However, if you only have 30 minutes, pick 1. Really focus on nailing the exercises and adding that into your playing.
The other secret is to work on these examples every night for a month. Remember, having a laser focus on one element will yield the biggest change in your guitar playing.
Mini Guitar Playing Change #1: Timing
While it’s stupid of me to suggest that you can change your sense of time in 5-10 minutes. However, if you can be smart with you time and focus, you can make some big changes.
Firstly grab yourself a metronome.
Set it to it’s slowest setting, usually around 40 BPM or an even incredibly slow 30BPM!
Next pick a simple chord like the standard E chord or even a G bar chord on the 3rd fret.
First, try quarter notes (which are just a new strum per click). Try to get each note in time with the click, then work harder to get your attack close to perfect, so that the click disappears.
Trust me it’s hard, but not impossible to do this! This is likely to drive you crazy, but it will be worth it in the end if you keep going!
When you feel that you can do this and the click is starting to vanish, try doubling the amount of notes – try playing 8th notes instead.
Don’t get tempted to move the tempo up at all – slow is the way to go!
Mini Guitar Playing Change #2: Consistency
This just means getting it right 95% of the time. It’s a skill and a tough one to learn but the more you practice getting licks, tricks and songs right the more consistent you will become.
Try bending a note 10 times; aim to get it pitch perfect 9 times out of the 10. Work on this for a few minutes every time you pick up the guitar, over time it will get easier to find the pitch the first time.
Another quick example is open chords. Write a simple song which travels through all the open chords (both major and minor). It doesn’t have to be more than 8 bars long. Work on being able to play a simple and consistent rhythm over the song, also try to nail each change and get every chord sounding full – leave the duds notes at home for once!
Mini Guitar Playing Change #3: Bending
Two of my pet hates are people who use crazy vibrato when they shouldn’t and people who can’t bend in tune.
While I’d love to help you with your bending, sadly I’m not in the same room! However, here’s some ideas you can use to work on your bending.
Let’s take the G note on the B string at the 8th fret. We’ll bend this up a whole tone. Start by playing the note you’re trying to bend up to, in this case play the 10th fret on the B string (which is an A note). Play it and then try to hum the note. Whilst humming the note, with your third finger on your left hand (using the other two for support and grip your thumb over the top), try to bend from the 8th fret until it reaches the pitch your humming.
This will take some time to get it right. If it sound slightly out then you’re either flat (meaning lower than the correct pitch) or sharp (higher) and need to correct it and remember how that feels – in order to use your muscle memory to full effect.
After a while you’ll start to hear what slightly flat or sharp sounds like and be able to adjust. The better you become at hearing whether it’s in tune or not means that you’ll more likely to feel where the perfect pitch is and therefore be able to reach the pitch without thinking.
Bending in tune is must; you can’t just bend and hope for the best! It’s gotta be perfect – every time.
There’s one more bending point, with scale length comes different bending tension. If you’re playing a Stratocaster for example and you changed to a Les Paul (which has a longer in scale length), you would naturally bend flat. As you master bending on your guitar and you gain confidence, try other guitars. You’ll need to learn how to adjust your bending technique for that guitar on the fly – that of course, is a whole other challenge!
Mini Guitar Playing Change #4: Vibrato
There wide metal vibrato, there’s small bluesy vibrato and of course there is the middle of the road somewhere in between!
You need to stay within your chosen style – there’s nothing worse than hearing a blues guy using really wide vibrato! It’s just kills the whole feel and not in a good way.
Spend some time playing a simple lick and try ending it with different depths of vibrato. Learn how each type feels and sounds, and where you might used each type in the music you play.
If you’re trying to stay current, however, you try to stay more bluesy and shallow.
Mini Guitar Playing Change#5: Groove
Groove is – just not wanting the song to end. It’s that feeling you get when you’ve played the song a million times and it sound amazing and you want to play it again!
Groove is something we all need to work on and is in part effected by confidence. If you know the song well, it’s more likely to groove and sound like the original song!
Take a song which you know well and just play it over and over again for 30 minutes. I bet after you’ve done this, it will sound better, you will feel more confident playing the song and you will know the song on a deeper level.
Mini Guitar Playing Change#6: Mistakes
Make mistakes a thing of the past! This does tie in with being consistent.
The best way to rid yourself of mistakes, is like so. Take a chorus of your favourite song or your favourite lick – start small and build from there. Write out the chord changes on a fresh piece of paper. Try it slowly – I know trying to slow down rhythms can be a pain but try. Get it perfect at a slow tempo (I’m thinking 40BPM), this might take some time. When it’s perfect speed it up.
Bonus Mini Guitar Playing Change#7: Listening
As a small bonus, listening. You should be listening to great music as often as you can. What I don’t mean is just putting on a track and getting on with your list of tasks, but actively engaging in listening.
Listen to the form of the song, how the producer has arranged the instruments within the song. Try to pick out the underlying groove of the song – are they keeping it straight? Are they always pushing into the next bar?
How does the guitar part sound? Is it distorted? Is a just on the edge of break up? Have they doubled the guitar with the keys part? Is there just an acoustic guitar playing lazy 8th notes behind the band which really gives the track its feel?
Really listen! You can actually do this on the way to the office in the morning. It’s doesn’t matter if it’s the latest pop tune or a favourite album. What matters is just listening enough that you can start to borrow ideas and use them within your own playing.
Of course with all of these 6 mini guitar playing changes tips, you could spend hours on it each day and see major improvements. Take one or two of these and playing the concept every night for the next week, I’m positive you’ll see some improvement in your playing.