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What to look for when buying a guitar.

buying a guitar

Choosing a guitar and guitar teacher if you’re just starting out and have no idea what you’re doing can be confusing for sure. . The big thing I suggest with finding a teacher and buying your first guitar is, kinda like when you’re looking for a business partner or finding a romantic partner, you really need to go on ‘gut feeling’. Maybe I’m drawing a long bow by comparing finding a partner to picking up a musical instrument, but guitars are serious business to me…I ain’t messing round.

I’ll go more into finding a teacher in my next blog.

Let’s start with the guitars. If you’ve never played at all before and you’re not at all sure that guitar is even for you, then you need to start cheaply.

A $100 Valencia nylon string acoustic will do fine, you can find them online at a link such as this..

Only problem with buying online though is you don’t get to try before you buy, which means my little ‘gut feeling’ approach is thrown out the window, the next best approach is to go into a guitar shop. One thing I’ll warn you about is guitar shop salesmen; they can be a breed all their own. Some of them, certainly not all of them, can feel like used car salesmen. They’re in the business of making money of course, but once upon a time when they only had the guitar shop down the road to compete with, now they have the internet to compete with and the only thing that outwits them over the internet shops is that they can put the guitar in your hands and convince you as a beginner that you need to spend $500 on a guitar when really you only may need to spend $100.

What you want to consider is how it feels in your hands. I’m going to assume here that you have had at least one lesson and know how to play a chord, or at least the five notes of Peter Gunn. If you can do that much you will probably be able to pick up a guitar and see how comfortable it feels. If playing a basic chord feels painful or too difficult, or the guitar just feels too big or uncomfortable then move on right along! It should be like when you’re looking at a house or apartment to live in, it should just feel right.

Don’t be afraid to look at second hand guitars as well. Most guitars aren’t like televisions or iPhones which usually won’t last longer than 3-10 years. Just like antique furniture or instruments such as violin or piano, guitars are generally made to stand the test of time. A $500, 20 year old acoustic guitar can sound just as good as a brand new one that’s the same price or more, but again you want to go for that comfortable ‘right’ feeling.

Finally, guitars just like cars have many brands that have developed reputations over the years. If you’d rather not spend more than $150-200, look for Yamaha, Cort, Valencia and Ashton. More expensive guitars $400-500+ include Fender, Ibanez and Gibson. These brands I’ve just mentioned are well known around the world and can be trusted by any beginner looking to get started.

Ok, well, I hope that helps. Let me know what you think.

Practice, Practice, Practice.




How to do a song arrangement for solo guitar. Part 2

One thing that is really going to help with developing arrangements is your picking style, that is being able to keep a rhythm or bass part going at the same time as you play the melody. If you feel that is just way over your head it may be time to learn some basic ‘chicken pickin’ techniques. Take a look at the old classic ‘Freight Train’ which has been nicely arranged by Tommy Emmanuel. The work of Chet Atkins and Merle Travis is also worth looking into, Chet Atkins has a fantastic arrangement of Mr Sandman that can be learnt in a fairly short space of time.

Without learning those songs another popular technique is to find say the first four chords of the song and then try and weave the melody in and outside of that. Take ‘Waltzing Matilda’, which has its first four chords as C G Am F. Considering the fact that the first melody note of the song is an E and the open E string is part of the C chord then that can mean the melody can be picked as soon as you start, then when the melody moves it goes to a D note, which is part of the G chord, which means the melody can be played within that G chord. I’ll add a guitar TAB here to explain

So in short the best way to start here is to strum your C chord then strike the open string and play those first four notes (yo know, once a jolly) over the top of the C chord that is still ringing out. Then hit the next two D’s (swag-man) on the G strum.

Knowing what the general bass part is doing can really help as well. I’ve attached a link to my arrangement of Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles here in which I’ve made the bass line as obvious as possible, in a way that’s reminiscent of the original Beatles recording. I’m using hybrid picking here to play this arrangement in which the bass is underneath the melody part, it’s obviously a difficult technique, which takes a lot of practise but once you have the hybrid picking thing down then it can make arranging tunes a lot easier from then on.

Oh and practice, practice, practice.

How to do a song arrangement for solo guitar? Part 1


One of the best things I’ve done with my guitar playing is develop a solo acoustic finger style guitar repertoire. I say one of the best things because it has multiple advantages or should I say other benefits that being a regular lead/rhythm player doesn’t have. For one thing you won’t need a backing track to play for people, you can be a one man band and, it also may provide a little more work that isn’t always presented to other guitarists who don’t have a repertoire themselves.


I first started developing my finger style repertoire when I was offered a gig on a cruise ship and I would be required perform solo in the ships atrium each day the ship was at sea. This would often require 3×45 minute sets, which meant I needed to come up with somewhere in the ballpark of 30 or so songs utilising finger style technique where the melody and accompanying harmony were ever present. Sitting there strumming chords with no vocals isn’t particularly interesting and it was also the days before looping pedals. Playing to a backing track also didn’t interest me, I preferred a live band any day of the week.


If you’ve done no finger style playing at all I recommend starting by learning Blackbird by The Beatles. This is a fantastic tune that was a solo piece for Paul McCartney that sounds a little more complicated than it is to actually play. It’s also a great little lesson in using more than just your thumb and first finger on the right hand.


If you’re at the point where you’re wanting to do an arrangement of a tune you like but there’s nothing out there already, then I suggest you start by getting a hold of the sheet music. This will give you a basic starting point for what the chords are and it will be a case of trying to weave the melody in and out of those chords. A good tune to try when first starting out, if you cannot think of anything yourself is Amazing Grace, this has a very simple I IV V chord structure and a very well known melody as well.


In my second instalment of this blog I’ll talk a little about how to put a solo fingerstyle arrangement together…In the meantime, I’ve added my arrangement of Pure Imagination.


Recommended listening

  • Daytripper/Lady Madonna – Tommy Emmanuel
  • Any arrangement of a jazz standard by Martin Taylor


And as always practise, practise, practise.

Interest in practising guitar is waning? How to get motivated again.


………..It’s horrible for someone to listen to someone learning any instrument – when I was first learning the banjo, I used to have to go out and sit in the car, and even in the summertime I’d have to roll up the windows. Because you just couldn’t practice a banjo or a fiddle with other people around. Unless they’re being paid. – Steve Martin

Learning guitar, or any instrument is hard, kinda like learning a new language. Countless times I have seen students young and old throw in the towel after only short periods of time because it’s just too hard, they’re not as far ahead as they thought they’d be after only a few months or they’re just not as committed and inspired about the idea than they were only a couple of months ago.

To quote Zig Ziglar, ‘motivation doesn’t last, well neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend doing it daily’. To stay focused and motivated in those initial stages of learning is what makes the process challenging. Taking 15 minutes just to play a damn G chord can grow tired after a while, I get it. This is why I suggest you make practice as enjoyable as possible, take it at your own speed and always be doing a song/scale/exercise etc that’s within your reach.

When I see students throwing in the towel so early on with their guitar lessons, and it is mostly adults as children are not nearly as harsh on themselves with the speed of progress, the most common thing I see is that they expect to be playing like Jimi Hendrix within a month of starting lessons and then getting disappointed when it hasn’t happened. What is heartening for me to see though is adults who don’t expect miracles and stick with the instrument over a course of a couple of years and by that time have developed a repertoire of chord progressions that they can play along to the original recordings of the songs. These students do have a more realistic expectation of what they can achieve and understand that learning is more of a tortoise and hare, slow and steady progression than a sprint toward a finish line that doesn’t actually exist.

The Mastery Curve
George Leonard was a martial arts expert who in his book ‘Mastery: The Keys To Success and Long Term Fulfilment’ came up with the concept of the Mastery Curve. After years of watching his martial arts students on their journey of improvement he came to a conclusion that the learning process looks something like this

This diagram illustrates well the pattern that most of us follow when trying to master something. That is we start with a plateau, then before too long we have a sharp rise in improvement, then another long plateau and so it repeats. The key to mastery is being able to stay the journey and learn to love the plateau. One of my students once commented that you really have to enjoy sitting on your arse and playing the same 4 notes over and over for hours on end. Honestly it doesn’t have to be that hard or boring, but like so many things in life that are worthwhile it will take patience and perseverance over a number of years, but the rewards are definitely there.

One strategy I do suggest to keep people inspired is set out some goals for your guitar playing. Even if its as simple as playing the three chords for ‘Gloria’ by Van Morrison up to speed with the song playing in the background after 6 months. And after one year maybe aiming to play a whole song start to finish in front of a friend or family member. Then say a three year goal maybe to take the guitar along on vacation with friends and playing a series of songs while they sing along. ……

Simple ideas sure, but they can really help give you a focus and something to work towards when you’re struggling to stay focused. Give it a shot!

SO as always practise, practise, practise. (and enjoy the plateau)

I want to be able to work out songs as soon as I hear them . Part 2

Taking up from last weeks blog about working songs out by ear, there’s more I wanted to talk about.

Singing scales.
Here’s another technique that George Benson famously pioneered, singing notes as you play them. Starting out with this can be as simple as singing a scale as you practise it. Singing the letter names of say a C major scale is fine, or singing the vowels of the scale solfege style, Do Re Me Fa So La Ti Do (Google it if you’re not sure what I’m talking about) If nothing else it really is a great habit to get into, singing what you’re playing. Try it!

Tommy Emmanuel has said that as a teenager he would sit next to his record player and place coins on top of the record whilst it was playing the song he was trying to learn, this would slow the record down to a speed that would make it easier enough for him to learn the guitar solo or whatever part he was trying to figure out. Fortunately we have easier techniques to do that these days, which brings me to the software Audacity.
Audacity is one of the best learning tools to come along for musicians in the last 15 years. If you’ve not heard of it before then get onto it ASAP, Audacity is a free software from the internet that allows you to import an Mp3 as a wave form, so basically any song that you have in your itunes library, then manipulate the tempo to your liking without altering the pitch of the music. Cool eh? This is excellent when you’re trying to learn guitar solos and fast passages that need to be slowed down, the fact that it does that without slowing down the pitch is another added benefit.

Interval training
This is a popular technique and approach that has been employed by teachers for years. Basic interval training involves playing any two notes in succession and matching the two notes to a popular song. One example of this is playing a middle C then the F# above it, which co-incidentally is the first two notes of The Simpsons theme. C to G , the interval of a perfect fifth is the opening of the Star Wars theme song. The point here is to become familiar in identifying the intervals, it’s an essential skill that is one of the best routes to having an great ear for music. Here’s a little list I’ve compiled of the intervals and suggestions of their corresponding songs. The intervals will generally appear in the first few notes of the song.

Minor 2nd – Jaws theme.
Major 2nd – Happy Birthday
Minor 3rd – I want to be happy / Greensleaves
Major 3rd – When The Saints Go Marching In
Perfect 4th – Amazing Grace
Tri-Tone – The Simpsons
Perfect 5th – Star Wars
Minor 6th – The Entertainer
Major 6th – My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocen
Dominant 7th – Somewhere ( West Side Story)
Major 7th Take on Me – (Chorus)
Octave – Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

So there you go, aural training in two parts.

Let me know what you think.

As always, practice, practice, practice!

I want to be able to work out songs on guitar as soon as I hear them?

How to work out songs

Are you blown away by anyone who can hear a song and immediately play it back to you?

This question crops up a lot and I know a lot of students are in awe of a musician who can just simply hear a song and then nut it out in five minutes flat. In my first few years of starting out I was insanely jealous of anyone who could do this, like ‘how the freakin hell do they pull that off?


The truth is some people really are just born with what we call a great ear for music. That is they can just hear a song and instinctively know what the chord changes are, the melody and effortlessly put it together with others sit enviously in awe. It seems some are just born with this skill and some aren’t. If you’re here reading this then there’s a good chance you fall into the latter category, not to worry, there is hope. I introduce to you the concept of aural training, which is basically ‘training’ up your ear to pick up a song in the way your gifted friends were born being able to do.


The Happy Birthday technique.

I dunno why I’ve called it this, but it is a great place to start when trying to improve your ear. We all know what the melody to Happy Birthday is, but if you don’t then get yourself along to a birthday sometime soon and pay attention during the birthday cake part. Anyway, if you feel you really have no concept of good aural skills at all then start by trying to pinpoint the notes of ‘Happy Birthday’ on one string of the guitar, I’ve recorded a video, linked below, to explain this further. If you’re struggling to do this, then boy/girl, you got some work to do. As simple as the exercise is, it is a great way to start relating notes you can hear in your head to the guitar fret board.


Sing the harmony parts to songs on the radio.

This may at first not seem as easy as you’d think, we all sing to the melody along with songs on the radio but what about the extra parts that can be sung above or below the main melody line? Some people have had experience singing in choirs or at church, but not all of us. There are plenty, possibly millions of songs to do this with. One that I’ll suggest is The Beatles ‘This Boy’, a song with three part harmony in which one can choose a part to sing along to. It really can be as simple as singing in unison with one of the harmony parts, the one above the main melody is quite obvious, literally start with one single lyric line eg, ‘this bo-ooooy, took my love aw-aaaaay’ and sing along with the harmony part (possibly Paul McCartney, I can’t quite tell) until you can hit every note above the melody, or if you like pick one of the others lower harmonies. It’s hard when you start but stick with it, eventually your ear will start to pick up and follow the one single line, using headphones to listen to the song can help distinguish the different harmonies.


As well as trying to harmonize vocal lines a similar approach can apply to learning guitar parts. Again, find a simple guitar/bass part and start just by trying to sing the notes you’re hearing. ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes has a great opening riff which consists of five notes all up. Literally start by singing this opening guitar part, then try and match this to the notes on the fretboard, one by one. This is really the whole process of ear training broken down, learning one note, then the next, then the next and stack it all up bit by bit. Don’t fret (pun not intended, but I will definitely use it intentionally next time) if it’s taking you a long long time, it often does.

Ok, like my other blog posts I think I need to write more on this topic, so stay tuned.

And remember practise practise practise!

Why do I need to be a good rhythm guitar player?

guitar blog rhythm guitar

It’s tempting when you’re in your first couple of years of playing guitar to focus solely on playing face melting solos, or getting oneself to the place where they can fluently shred with ease. Woah slow down Daniel-san, this is not Crossroads (it’s a movie, think Karate Kid with guitars) or the guitar olympics, we’re trying to make music here. One thing I encourage before anything else is to establish yourself as a great rhythm guitar player. You know, strumming basic chord patterns, in time to a metronome or to the original song.

You’ve heard the saying ‘ya gotta crawl before you can walk.’ Or ‘you don’t eat the icing before the cake.’.. Well I’ve come up with another one, wait for it, you gotta strum before you can shred. I give you permission to share that one!

In a band or solo or duo setting, 90% of your time is going to be playing/strumming and chugging through chord progressions. Take a listen to brilliant rhythm players classics songs; Melissa Etheridge’s Like The Way I Do, Keith Richards on the Stones Start Me Up, Dave Matthews Jimi Thing or Ed Sheeran’s Sing. All great tunes based on solid rhythm playing.

A great tune I have found in teaching right hand rhythm technique is ‘Long Train Running’ by the Doobie Brothers, a funky rhythmic single chord intro that forces the guitarist to have strong right-hand technique, you can check out the link to a lesson I’ve recorded here.

It’s of paramount importance to practice your chord playing with a metronome as much as possible. Believe me, your fellow musicians will thank you for it and it will make basic and complex rhythm playing a lot easier to learn. In short, if you want to play with others and possibly even perform one day in a group setting, having good timing is key. If you’re rushing or dragging your parts it can be very frustrating for the other players

Another important fact to remember is that now that word is getting around amongst your friends that you’re a badass axeman/woman they’re going to ask you to play a song for them and that’s a little easier to do when you can strum something familiar that they’ve heard on the radio. Single note stuff is not so exciting or recognizable on its own, playing the solo for ‘Sultans Of Swing’ with out a backing track around a campfire loses its shine if it’s completely out of context.

Ok, well I touched on a point here that I want to expand on in my next blog; what to play when you haven’t been learning guitar for long and friends ask you to play something!!….

Until then , practise, practise, practise.

Dealing with nerves on your first performance/gig.

guitar performing keith urban

Jerry Seinfeld said that the only thing people fear more than death is public speaking, which to him meant that most people when at a funeral would rather be in the casket up the front than reading the eulogy! Funny stuff….But he makes a good point, talking or performing to an audience when you start out is beyond terrifying.

 Being your own worst critic.

The best thing to realise when starting out is that no-one in the audience is going to be as critical of yourself as you are. We all put our own playing and performing under a very unfair and unkind microscope that others just won’t be doing. Just think of any performance/band gig you saw in recent times. Were you analysing every single passage and lick that the musicians were doing, standing with a pen and paper breaking down every screw up and standing at the edge of the stage afterward to dutifully inform them of how they just humiliated themselves beyond repair? No I’m guessing. However badly you may have viewed your own performance, I guarantee that the audience will not be so harsh.


Another thing; be prepared. Let’s say you’re performing ‘Little Wing’ by Jimi Hendrix, a fairly fiddly complex piece of music which I have personal fond memories of turning into a dog’s breakfast during a high school performance. If there’s a particular section or lick that you play well say 90% of the time during practise, mark my words, when it comes to performing you will without fail rightfully balls up said passage in a most spectacular way. The best way to avoid this is to know how to play the song inside out, back to front, frontways, sideways, anyways…you get my point.

Don’t rush.

This to me is a big one. It’s so tempting when you get called up to play on a stage if you’re nervous to set a world speed record for getting your gear setup, music on the music stand, plugged in etc…. I mean the audience are waiting right? They’re busy people after all, they have things to do, places to go, people to meet. No! Netflix and chill is the key here! ….The body has a strange way of reacting when anxious and the best way to counter this is to force against that feeling of wanting to rush, so please, take it slow. Walk slowly toward the music stand, slowly plug in, take a few deep breaths, etc etc. You’ll be grateful that you did.

Lastly, remember that adrenaline when channeled properly can enhance your performance tremendously. The enthusiasm you feel for what you’re doing will spill over to the folks in the crowd and become infectious for them too. For greater elaboration on this please check out my Stuart Fraser interview in which he speaks at great length about the gremlin of nerves when performing. Take a look.

Until next week, practice, practice, practice!!



Music Theory. What’s the point? Part 2: reading music

music theory blog guitar lesson note reading

What do Donald Trump, Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump have in common? That’s right, they can’t read music. …….Ok bad start. Maybe Mark Knopfler, Tommy Emmanuel and Jimi Hendrix? Well apart from knowing their way around a fretboard, they can’t/couldn’t read music either, not a note, not a dot…nuthin.

So sure, they have forged amazing careers and made millions, but who wants that really??…… Mmm, well anyway, one thing that they have never been able to do, and Ino doubt they’re absolutely devastated to know this, they would probably struggle if you were to throw a chord chart, solo classical guitar piece or a real book jazz standard in front of them.

In all seriousness, not being able to read music obviously hasn’t done their careers any harm, but for those aspiring to become a musician, or even someone happy being a campfire guitarist, learning to read music is a valuable skill to have under your belt.

Partake of various ensembles.

This is a big attraction for a lot of people in learning to read. Being able to comfortably sit in with ensembles of different styles of music can be tremendously rewarding. Learning to read music is a transferable skill, so being able to sit in with a big band means that one can also sit in with a traditional Irish band, an ensemble for a theatre show or any group that follows arranged sheet music. As a guitarist there is often an expectation to read notes but more often than not the job of a guitarist is to play a written chord progression!

Learning becomes more accurate.

One of the benefits of reading music in the learning process is the instant access one has to the correctly ‘officially’ notated version of a song. Learning by ear can’t always be relied upon, although that in itself is an important exercise, finding the original sheet music of a song or guitar solo will give you the confidence to know you’re learning something correctly. It’s also worth noting that sites such as ‘Ultimate Guitar’ will only give you the notes or chords to play without giving you any of the rhythm that the song uses.

The great feeling of achievement.
There are plenty of blogs and articles floating round the internet right now about learning an instrument and its relationship to brain development. On a basic level though there is for myself and many others a great sense of achievement in piecing together even the simplest melody read from a sheet of paper. Even in a half hour lesson, many beginner students reading notes for the very first time have been able to complete the A section melody line from the Beethoven classic ‘Ode To Joy’. Having a singular goal such as that has been known to focus students a great deal, just seeing in front of you that there is only 3 bars to go before you’ve completed your first melody can spur many people on to practise in a way that learning mere chord progressions doesn’t.

So go ahead get sight reading, get into your theory books and let me know your progress.

What’s the point of musical theory? Part 1

learning music theory guitar

A lot of students come to me wanting to learn music theory. Why? Well they think that learning the nuts and bolts of music will help them become a better musician, which in some respects it will. Learning theory will tie everything together and unravel the mysteries of this music your trying to make. But, like so many other pursuits in life, it will take possibly years to piece together all the parts and to understand how it all connects to your guitar playing.

It’s often said that if you’re great with maths then you’ll have no problems with music theory, or that musicians are generally pretty whip smart when it comes to solving equations. Well I can tell you from years of playing and learning music and its applied theory, and from being an ‘F’ average student in my ‘veggie-maths’ class in high school, that musicians do not great mathematicians make!! A basic grasp of grade 6 maths will be more than adequate.

A good place to start though is really with learning how to read simple music notation. Something as elementary as Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’ which can be learned within the space of a half hour can, in that short space of time, teach the concepts of bars, time signatures, key signatures, diatonic melodies, scales and chord/melody relationships. I have also found in both teaching and in my own time as a student that making that crossover from being unable to read music to being able to play notes read off a page, can provide a great sense of achievement and hunger to do more. I personally recommend the ‘Progressive Series’ of guitar books to learn from, or alternatively ‘The Berklee’ series. The first one has well known melodies from the past and the second takes a more ‘exercises’ kind of approach.

Lastly, if you’re really hungry to continue the learning process, then maybe doing graded theory and guitar exams might be what you need to inspire your journey* further. Here in Australia the examination bodies of AMEB and ANZCA run quarterly exam series’ in which a student can pursue both practical and/or theory exams. I recommend this approach, particularly if you’re struggling to maintain the discipline to keep learning.

Look out for more of my theories on learning theory next week!
See ya

*use of the word journey in a musical sense has been stolen from TV show ‘The Voice’.