A how-to on the mental and physical side of practicing.
- Develop an internal sense of rhythm and learn to sync your hands.
- Understand how to subdivide.
- Focus on your mental state while practicing.
Guitar is an unusual instrument, yet somehow we human beings invented it and refined it, both technologically and artistically. There are some days when everything flows, while other days it feels like we’re complete beginners again. This is totally normal. If we really considered how much information our bodies are processing just to be alive in our version of the world, perhaps we’d be a bit kinder to ourselves about our off days and humbler about our good days! I want to share a few perspectives on the core technical aspects of playing that can be helpful to work on and remind ourselves of regularly. Let’s dive in!
The guitar can be a sensitive instrument. The slightest movements can cause sounds that are both wanted and unwanted to come out. Some of these sounds are natural and part of the character of guitar. However, even though we can’t be perfect we can aim to be as clean as possible in our playing with a few simple maneuvers.
Ensuring the picking hand is covering the strings without bearing down on them too hard keeps the lower strings in check. Depending on your picking-hand style, you can also use the 3rd and 4th fingers to lightly mute the upper three strings.
The fretting hand’s index finger takes control over a lot as well. The fingertip can fret a note on the 5th string and tuck under the 6th string at the same time. The flat side of the index finger from the knuckle area towards the hand can also mute higher strings.
It’s important to consider the type of sound we’re using as well. The more gain or compression we use, the more unwanted noise can come flying out of the guitar. Even with the muting techniques above, if we’re too “hard” with them they can start to create noise themselves. So, keep this in mind.
Less gain gives a more dynamic tone, which is harder to play with, but much easier to control dynamically and keep clean. This isn’t to say it’s better or worse, it’s a stylistic choice. But it’s worth considering how much gain we really do need. Noise gates can help, but they can’t fix or hide poor muting and out of sync hands. (More on keeping sync later in this column.
Keep these muting considerations in mind as we go over the areas of technique to address.
Confidence and Subdivisions
Our fretting hand does a lot of work. Picking synchronization is very important. We’ll look at this next. However, I’ve got some working considerations for the fretting hand.
There are many exercises we can do, but ensuring that you’re not pressing down too hard on the fretboard is the first step. We don’t have to press hard unless we have unreasonably high action. If your action is high and it’s slowing you down, I’d suggest going up a string gauge and lowering the action if you want to keep the “resistance” feel. When we lighten up our touch with the fretting hand, we find that our fingers generally stay closer to the fretboard, which helps with economy of movement.The next thing to consider is timing. Timing is everything no matter what technique you’re using. If the pistons in the engine aren’t firing at the right time, they’ll go out of sync, all fire at once, and boom, there’s an explosion. I don’t know anything about cars, but it’s an analogy that might make sense. Being aware of the subdivisions you’re playing and where the downbeat is ensures that both hands are confidently making those maneuvers.
Here's an experiment you can try: Take a simple two-octave scale pattern of your choosing. In Ex. 1 I picked a simple D minor scale. The idea is to change subdivisions in each measure. Here, I started with a measure of eighth-notes then went to triplets, back to eighth-notes, 16th-notes, eighth-notes again, and then I wrapped with quarter-notes. No matter where the “1” of the next measure starts within the scale position, we keep the hands synced up. We can make this more complicated by using a sequence of thirds or triads and doing a similar thing. The goal here isn’t to master every position, sequence, and sub-division. It’s to keep testing different areas out, iron out the errors, and keep it fresh. It’s a great warm up when done slow and bound to get you in sync.
We also need to do similar things for the picking hand. The same idea we discussed above about subdivisions applies to picking as well. The extra thing to consider of course is pick direction and string skipping.
It’s worth practicing alternate picking here, keeping the confidence and control in place even if purely for technical reasons, to ensure the technique is as even as possible. Take a melody pattern like Ex. 2, where I repeat the same two-measure melody, but I change fingerings in the second half. This changes the amount of picked notes on each string, which changes different aspects of how this melody can feel both technically and from an articulation point of view. A simple way of getting more out of this exercise is to start with an upstroke. With practice, it can be quite an effective picking workout.
String Crossing and Skipping
A lot of guitar playing uses one-note-per-string ideas which can sometimes trip us up. In Ex. 3, I wrote an easy chord progression and created a picking patter that I could alternate pick without losing momentum. It’s a practice that can never get old. Just get creative.
In Ex. 4 we take a minor pentatonic shape (here we are using B minor and F# minor) and move through the pattern with string skipping. A super-simple idea, but worth spending time on. Simple skipping patterns like these keep your playing fresh and focused.
You’re training an impersonal organic system, respect it!
When we’re practicing, we can get quite contracted and tense. There can be a pushiness and anxiety about the process, forcing ourselves through the practice session. We have a lot of internal commentary about how it’s all going, often quite unfair.
“This lick should be fast by now!”
“I don’t have the technique or natural ability to do this.”
“Steve Vai practiced for 10 hours a day, so should I.”“I’ll never make it as a guitarist.”
All of these thoughts are abstractions as they are not based in reality. What is happening in the moment is practice. Our attention gets divided between these thought patterns and our feeling of anxiety. Very little attention gets spent on really listening and feeling what we’re practicing with no internal commentary. Because of this we become aversive to practice, we feel that practice doesn’t work or that we don’t have a natural ability or talent.
Therefore, wise practice sessions that are simplified and put into short time frames are most effective. It can be helpful to calm ourselves down before practicing so that our practice is effective.
Why do we practice? We practice because it helps us achieve results. We want to play a riff, we listen carefully, we learn the riff, and then we then practice the riff. Generally, that gets results. However, we are impatient. Humans believe that our thoughts can speed up our bodies and brains. This is a misplaced belief. We can set the conditions to get results, but we can’t control the speed at which our body learns. Practicing trains our bodies, our nervous system, our consciousness.
Our bodies are not separate from the world around us; we are what we eat and breathe. Our thoughts are the thoughts we are exposed to, our feelings are consciously and unconsciously triggered by the world around us. We are no different from nature, we are no different from a tree. We don’t will our fingernails to grow, we don’t will our heart and lungs to keeping going. We have no control over our senses, we can’t choose not to hear sounds around us, we can’t choose not to see when we open our eyes. And in the same way, we can’t force our body to speed up.
We must be grateful for the fact we’re alive before we practice, that there’s a body and mind to practice with. Rather than fighting our fingers and our thoughts, we must approach them with compassion. As you’re practicing, your body is busy programming all this information. Just like growing a plant or vegetable, you can set the right conditions, get the soil right, and water it. But you can’t force it to grow immediately, you must treat it with compassion and trust that you’re doing the right process. You can’t plant the seed then as soon as you see any sprouting, start pulling on the sprouts, that will stop growth all together.
In summary: Appreciate your body, your mind, the fact your conscious to even play guitar. Make sure you set reasonable goals in your practice, make your sessions simple and effective. Then, let the practice happen, trust that you’re programming the right information.
MG-400 houses 2 powerful DSP chips for high-definition White-Box Amp Modeling algorithm (TS/AC-HD) and Core-Image post-effects.
The Nu-X MG-400 is a value-packed modeler akin to his little brother, the MG-300. MG-400 houses 2 powerful DSP chips for high-definition White-Box Amp Modeling algorithm (TS/AC-HD) and Core-Image post-effects. Since releasing the MG-300, people have been blown away by the sound and playability, not to mention the ease-of-use tone tweaking and intuitive interface. And now, the MG-400builds upon the MG-300 feature set moveable signal blocks, extra 12 IR COLLECTION slots, flexible P.L block with MIN & MAX parameter setup, send/return fx loop, abundant SYSTEM MENU, and physical master volume knob, MG-400 is now the best value modeler for the money.
The white-box algorithm offers realistic playability and analog-chaos response. The concept of "Chaos makes the muse" perfectly applies to the analog circuit. When you tweak the knob, it affects itself as well as other parameters. For a linear digital system, the parameter is independent. The white-box algorithm offers real-time feedback, increment-by-increment. Nu-X TS/AC-HD replicates the same playability most guitarists crave in a real tube amplifier.
MG-400 offers 512 samples of IR, you can also load 3rd party IR files through the editor software. The included 25 guitar cab IRs combine 4 classic microphones with 3 mic positions to allow beginners an easy way to jump into the multi-effects experience. Also included are 8 bass cab IRs and 3 acoustic guitar IRs, giving you the ability to play bass on MG-400 or use an electric guitar to simulate acoustic guitar sound.
NUX MG-400 highlights include:
- 2.8” 320*240 color LCD with intuitive UI.
- NG, CMP, EFX, AMP, IR, EQ, MOD, DLY, RVB, P.L | 10 independent moveable signal blocks.
- White-box Amp Modeling & Pre-efx algorithm.
- 512 samples IR resolution and USER slot with each patch. (additional 12 IR COLLECTION slots).
- Input trim under SYSTEM MENU.
- Scene and Jam functionality.
- 5 output modes with global 3-band EQ for quick tone tweaking.
- USB recording interface, firmware update, QuickTone™ edit software.
NUX MG 400: how it compares vs the MG 300 and the MG 30
Nu-X MG-400 carries a street price of $219.
For more information, please visit nuxefx.com.
Music Nomad introduces a patent pending Grip One, alongside the Humitar One, an all-in-one humidifier and hygrometer.
No feature is overlooked, starting with the precision bearing design they invented in 2016 that makes turning the handle effortless, silent & super fast. The innovative rubber-lined head smoothly & silently slips over your tuning pegs for a scratch-free & clank-free operation compared to traditional plastic peg winders. The contoured head design fits virtually all tuning pegs both big & small, & its narrow profile keeps you from hitting close-fitted pegs on electric guitars. The ergonomic & non-slip rubber grip handle gives you total control & comfort. Cutting strings is a cinch! Whether big or small, use the high-quality carbon steel String Cutter to effortlessly cut through all string types. Ready to pull pins? The Bridge PinPuller's innovative universal design allows you to pull acoustic guitar bridge pins easily. Simply slide under the pin & pull straight up. Grip One is perfect for electric & acoustic guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, ukulele & orchestral strings. Don't lose it or loan it, you'll look forward to the next time you change your strings.
MusicNomad has developed an easy-to-use, no mess, low maintenance guitar humidifier and a humidity and temperature monitor that is simple, accurate, and reliable. The Humitar One safely releases moisture evenly to eliminate potential problems such as warping, shrinking and, worse yet, cracking. The Humid-i-Bar reusable sponge holds a lot more water than the competition. This means less monitoring on your end while, resting assured, your fine guitar is cared for.
To ensure your guitar is in the safe zone, the Humitar One accurate sensor monitors your string instrument's environment every 20 seconds and gives you the humidity and temperature readings on its LCD display. It also gives you the maximum and minimum range over the period you are measuring and can be reset at any time. The Humitar One comes with many cool features such as a reminder of the humidity and temperature safe zone at which you want to keep your string instrument, a long-lasting AG 13 battery, and Fahrenheit or Celsius readings.
Grip One: Available October 24, 2022 - Suggested Retail $16.99 - $19.99 USD
Humitar One: Available October 24, 2022 - Suggested Retail $29.99 - $34.99 USD
For more information, please visit musicnomadcare.com.
Using high-speed signal processing with a dedicated DSP and analog & digital audio circuits we perfected over time, this compact unit attains high sound quality.
A compact, but epoch-making digital delay with multiple filter functions. Using high-speed signal processing with a dedicated DSP and analog & digital audio circuits we perfected over time, this compact unit attains high sound quality. This unit’s tone filter can process the delay sound to have a rich tone or conversely adjust it to be far from the original sound. The proprietary COSMIC filter creates an effect sound reminiscent of outer space, adding a new color to your delay sounds. Utilizing a new method, the newly developed reverse delay succeeds in producing a smoother, more musical reverse sound. In addition, we added a new function to adjust the number of output bits of the delay sound in 1-bit units, from smooth and high-quality 24-bit to rough 8-bit sound that contains distorted noise when the volume is lowered. You can reproduce the nuances of the delay sound used in the 1980s and 90s, and even the delay sound with the bit crusher effect applied.
- *Built-in multiple filter effects including equalizer function. It is possible to apply multiple filters at the same time (Cosmic Filter, Bandpass Filter, 3-Band EQ, Tone).
- Equipped with a newly developed reverse delay and output bit number adjustment function(8–24 bits).
- Combination of high-speed arithmetic processing with 32-bit fixed-point arithmetic and high-precision arithmetic processing with 32-bit floating-point arithmetic achieves both high-quality sound and high processing speed and provides the best performance.
COSMIC WAVE carries a suggested retail price of $318.18, and is available now through their North American dealers. For more information, please visit freethetone.com.