The “Do-Over” Beginner Guitar Crash Course

The “Do-Over” Beginner Guitar Crash Course
The “Do-Over”
Beginner Guitar
Crash Course
This course covers the 5 major guitar hurdles an
experienced beginner will face when coming back to the
instrument. With Jim Deeming as your guide, you'll make
up for lost time and be back to playing your favorite
songs faster than you thought!
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Chapter 1: Choosing a Guitar
Acoustic Vs. Electric
Around the early 60's it became a popular notion that every beginning guitar student
should first learn on an acoustic. Parents with little or no musical experience spread
this idea. Although the logic behind this argument is understandable, the argument
bears little truth. This false argument gained popularity for several reasons. Starting a
child on an acoustic guitar cuts out the expense of equipment such as an amplifier and
a patch cable. However, since the electric guitar is far more popular than its acoustic
counterpart, the price of a typical entry level electric is more affordable than the
typical entry-level acoustic.
In addition, many companies such as Fender sell a combination package that includes
the guitar, amplifier, patch cable, and electronic tuner at a very affordable price. Many
parents prefer to buy their child an acoustic because it is a quieter instrument. Parents
in the 60's associated the sound of the electric guitar with the eardrum busting tones
of Pete Townsend and Jimi Hendrix. These parents failed to realize that an electric
guitar's volume level is controllable.
Also, most practice amps are outfitted with a 1/4" headphone jack for silent practice.
Finally, many parents believe that it is much easier to learn the basics on an acoustic
guitar. This could not be farther from the truth. Due to lower tension and action of the
strings, it is far easier to learn solid fundamental technique on an electric guitar.
There is only one good reason to choose an acoustic guitar for your child's first
instrument. A child should start on an acoustic guitar ONLY if the music that he/she
desires to play is primarily performed on an acoustic. If you are planning to buy your
child his/her first guitar, work together with your child to conduct thorough research.
As a result, you will both sleep soundly knowing the best possible selection was made.
Buying a guitar is a lot like buying a car. Regardless of whether it’s the first or fifth car
you’ve bought, you still have to do your homework.
Before you hit the streets to find a new guitar, there are some necessary preliminary
steps that must be taken.
1. First, you must determine a price range.
Roughly all guitars (with the exception of classical guitars) fall into three price range
categories. However, price is not always an accurate indicator of quality.
• $0-450: Beginner Quality
• $450-950 Intermediate Quality
• $950+ Professional Quality
2. Narrow the field.
You must form a general idea of the ideal instrument. Jim gives you some great tips to
get this process started.
• Observe Your Heroes
This is the single best piece of advice for anyone looking for a new axe. Whose
guitar sound do you admire most? What guitar does he/she play? Do many of
your favorite guitarist play the same guitar or a similar type of guitar? When
choosing your first guitar, you most likely won’t want to shell out the cash to get
the same guitar your heroes play. However, it’s a great idea to take some notes
regarding the features that these guitars have. This way, you can look for a less
expensive model that resembles the ideal sound you are looking for.
• Set Some Preliminary Goals
Do you want to perform publicly or just play for your own personal enjoyment?
This has a large bearing on which guitar you should eventually choose.
• Don’t Stress Out!
Choosing a guitar should be an enjoyable process. Regardless of your price
range, there is a great guitar out there for you. For example, Matt Brown owns
several professional quality guitars. He owns a PRS Custom, a Gibson Les Paul
Standard, and a G&L ASAT Special. However, his no. 1 guitar is a beat up Mexican
Strat he purchased for only $200. Keep in mind that the price tag is not always
an accurate indicator of quality.
• Philosophical Points on Music Education
Many parents believe that music education is a mandatory part of every child’s
educational development. As Jim mentions, if a child does not have the guitar in
his/her heart, music lessons will become a constant battle from start to finish.
Many teachers (Matt Brown is one example) outright refuse to teach students
who are forced into lessons by their parents. These students typically put in the
minimum amount of practice necessary for the first few weeks of lessons. Then,
once a parent grows tired of enforcing adequate practice time, the child
withdraws and ceases to learn anything. Many of these parents choose a very
inexpensive instrument for a child knowing that he/she will not play it for very
long. If a child is playing an instrument that is of slightly higher quality, he or she
may stand a better chance of sticking with music longer.
On the other hand, if a student is really driven to master the guitar, no obstacle
can stand in his or her way. Jim Deeming is a perfect example. His first guitar
was of extremely low quality. Regardless of the quality of the guitar, Jim played
could not put it down during his first few years of practice.
3. Where to Shop
Over the past few decades the retail industry has undergone some drastic changes.
The retail music industry is no exception. Gigantic chain retail stores have replaced
multiple small businesses across the globe.
Although giant stores such as Guitar Center or Sam Ash sell equipment at lower prices,
the customer receives less quality per dollar spent. Instruments at these stores are not
cared for at all. Once an order is received into inventory guitars are simply taken out of
their cases and thrown on the walls.
From this point they are handled daily by numerous customers who typically have no
interest in buying the instrument they are test-driving. As a result, guitars diminish in
quality the longer they hang on Guitar Center’s walls. Also, the sales representatives in
these stores are rarely knowledgeable. Lastly, customer service and satisfaction is not a
high priority, because the sheer volume of customers is simply unmanageable.
I recommend that you shop for your first instrument at a store that is not part of a
large retail chain. Ask a respected professional in your area where he or she shops.
For example, the Drinking Gourd Music Store in Dayton, Ohio is a long standing
favorite among professionals living in the Midwest. When a guitar arrives at a store of
this quality, professionals carefully inspect the guitar for any possible defects.
A full professional set-up is then performed. Key issues such as the quality of fret
installation are also addressed before the guitar is hung on the wall. From the moment
a customer walks in the store, he or she receives excellent customer service
throughout the entire sales process.
This excellent service continues after the guitar has been purchased. The salespeople
at these stores are often professional players themselves. Their superior knowledge of
the instrument enables them to help each customer find the perfect guitar.
Chapter 2: Meet Your New Guitar
Anatomy of the Guitar
A. Headstock
The anatomy of the guitar is based on a woman's figure. It features a body, neck and a
The top of the guitar is called the head or headstock. The tuners are connected to the
headstock. There are either six tuners on one side or three on each side. The tuning
mechanisms stabilize the tuning of the guitar. When the guitar goes out of tune, these
tuners must be adjusted to return the guitar back to standard tuning.
B. Tuning Machines
The tuning machines ensure that the tuning remains stable for as long as possible.
Most Stratocaster style guitars feature six tuning machines on one side of the
headstock. Turning the tuning machines alters the pitch or tuning of each string.
Turning the tuning peg in a counterclockwise motion raises or sharpens the pitch of
the string. Turning the peg clockwise lowers or flattens the pitch.
Gibson style guitars feature three tuning machines on each side of the headstock. In
this case, the three tuning machines on the bottom portion of the headstock work in
the opposite direction.
C. Nut
On their way to the tuning pegs, the strings pass through an object made of bone or
plastic called the nut. The nut is mounted where the neck meets the headstock.
However, on classical guitars, the nut is not fastened to the guitar. Rather, it is held in
place by the tension supplied by the strings. The nut keeps a precise, even spacing
between all six strings. It also keeps the strings at a fixed height above the fretboard.
D. The Neck
The long slender part of the guitar is called the neck. On Strat style guitars, the neck is
bolted to the body. Gibson style necks are typically glued to the body.
The fretboard is glued on top of the neck. Fretboards are either made out of rosewood,
maple, or ebony. Maple produces a brighter tone. Rosewood and ebony sound slightly
Slits are carved into the fretboard for installation of metal strips of wire. These strips of
wire are called frets. Most acoustic guitars have 20 frets. Classical guitars typically have
19. Electric guitars typically have 21 or 22 frets. Many guitars designed for hard rock
and metal feature 24 frets. Ibanez has recently started to manufacture a guitar that
features 27 frets.
Most guitars feature position markers on the fretboard to help keep you oriented.
Most Strat style guitars feature pearloid dot inlays. The double dots indicate the 12th
fret. As you continue to explore up the neck, these positions markers will become very
handy. Position markers are also listed on top of the fretboard. These dots are typically
very small. Classical guitars as well as guitars manufactured by the Parker company do
not feature fretboard markers.
E. The Body
Acoustic guitars have shoulders, hips, and a waist. The large chamber connected to the
neck is called the body. The top part of the body is called the soundboard. The bridge
is connected to the saddle, which in turn is connected to the soundboard. The strings
connect to the bridge at this end of the guitar. Striking the strings produces vibrations,
which exit through the soundhole.
F. The Bridge
The bridge performs the same jobs as the nut at the opposite end of the guitar. The
strings are anchored to the body at the bridge. It also maintains even spacing between
each of strings. The height of the strings above the guitar is also maintained by the
Bridge pins securely hold the strings in place. These pins must be removed when you
change your strings.
Classical and electric guitars do not have bridge pins. On a classical guitar, the strings
are looped and tied around the bridge. Electric guitar strings have small steel balls on
the ends that hold each string tightly against the bridge.
G. The Saddle
The bridge and bridge pins are mounted on a piece of wood called the saddle. In turn,
the saddle is mounted on the body.
H. The Pickguard
The pickguard protects the body from damage. The pick will gradually damage the
body over time as a result of constant contact. The pickguard prevents this costly
problem from occurring.
F. Strap Pegs
Most guitars feature two strap pegs. One is typically located on the side of the body
directly in line with the bridge. The other is placed close to the upper side of the neck.
Strap locks will ensure that your strap remains attached to the strap pegs. Straps have
a tendency to work their way loose over time. If you are standing up while playing, you
could accidentally drop your guitar to the floor and damage it. At the very least, this
mishap will negatively affect your performance.
Additional Anatomy for the Electric Guitar
A. Pickups
The pickups sense the vibration of the strings. This vibration is transformed into an
electric signal that passes through the guitar cable and comes out of the amplifier.
Most Strats feature three single coil pickups. The other type of guitar pickup is called a
"humbucker." Les Pauls feature two humbucking pickups. Humbuckers are essentially
two single coil pickups that are wired together.
B. Pickup Selector Switch
A toggle switch is used to select a specific pickup(s). The positions of the toggle switch
are setup just like the pickups. There are five possible pickup selections available on
most Strats. Three of the positions are for each of the single coil pickups. The in
between positions blend the sound of the bridge and middle pickup or the neck and
the middle pickup. The bridge pickup features a bright, treble sound. The neck pickup
produces a warmer, bassier sound. The middle pickup produces a middle ground
sound between these two extremes. Experiment with your guitar and explore the
different tones that each pickup produces. Compare the sound of a single note played
with each of the pickup options.
C. Volume and Tone Control(s)
Most Strats feature a single volume knob that controls the volume of all three pickups.
Les Pauls feature two volume controls - one control for each pickup.
Most guitars feature two tone controls - one for the bridge and one for the neck
pickup. When the tone control is turned down, the high end or treble is decreased.
D. Output Jack
The electric guitar connects to the amplifier through a patch cable. The patch cable
connects to the output jack of the guitar. Typically, the jack is located somewhere
around the side of the body or the front of the body near the volume and tone
E. Bridge Systems for Electric Guitars
• Floating Tremolo - Most Strat style guitars have floating tremolos. The tremolo
is the "whammy bar" that is used to lower or raise the pitch of a note. Pressing
the bar downwards lowers the pitch of a note. Pulling the bar upwards raises the
pitch. You cannot alter the pitch as much with this system as with a double
locking system. Springs that are covered by a plate on the back of the body help
maintain equilibrium and keep the strings in tune.
• Fixed Bridge – These systems do not feature a whammy bar. They are installed
on most Gibson style guitars.
• Locking Tremolo – Refer to the "Lesson Information" section of lesson 1 from
Kris Norris' Phase 2 lesson series to learn about locking tremolos.
Chapter 3: Tuning Extravaganza
How to tune your guitar
Playing the guitar well starts with playing a guitar that is in tune. There are several
ways to tune the guitar. In this lesson, Jim Deeming discusses the advantages and
disadvantages of several tuning methods.
You must learn the note names of each string before you learn the tuning process.
Here is a review of the notes produced by the open strings.
6th String: E
5th String: A
4th String: D
3rd String: G
2nd String: B
1st String: E
Notice how the two E strings produce the same pitch. These two E notes are two
octaves apart from one another.
Tuning Fork Method
Follow the instructions listed below when using a tuning fork.
1. Lightly smack the tuning fork on your leg.
2. Then, rest the bottom of the tuning fork on the bridge of your guitar. As the fork
vibrates against the wood of the guitar, it produces the pitch A.
3. Match the pitch of the open fifth string to the note that the fork produces.
4. Continue with one of the procedures that Jim demonstrates in the scenes that
Tuning with a Piano:
Note: In order for this procedure to work, the piano used as a reference point must be
in tune.
Find the pair of black keys located roughly in the middle of the piano keyboard. The
note located to the left of the first black key in the pair is referred to as "middle C." The
note to the right of the second black key is E. This key will provide you with a good
reference when tuning your high E string. Identify where the remaining open string
notes are located on the keyboard. Use Jim's marker board to ensure that you are
using the correct piano note. Then, tune each remaining open string by using the
appropriate piano key as a reference point.
The Fifth Fret Method:
Once the low sixth string is in tune, use the following process.
Step 1: Fret the note A at the 5th fret of the 6th string. Match the pitch of the open 5th
string to this note.
Step 2: Fret the note D at the 5th fret of the 5th string. Match the pitch of the open 4th
string to this note.
Step 3: Fret the note G at the 5th fret of the 4th string. Match the pitch of the open 3rd
string to this note.
Step 4: Fret the note B at the 4th fret of the 3rd string. Match the pitch of the open 2nd
string to this note. This string features the only exception to the fifth fret method.
Step 5: Fret the note E at the 5th fret of the 2nd string. Match the pitch of the open first
string to this note.
Tuning by ear is a skill that must be developed over time. Until you master this process,
use some sort of electronic tuning device to help you.
Electronic tuners:
There countless electronic tuners available in today's musical market. The most
expensive and most effective tuners come in rack mountable units. Pedal tuners such
as the Boss TU-2 provide a slightly less expensive yet equally effective option. Rack and
pedal tuners allow you to mute your guitar sound in live situations. This way, people
aren't forced to listed to the obnoxious tuning process.
For home practice use, any type of hand held, portable tuner will get the job done. Clip
on tuners operate by sensing the vibration of the wood when a string is plucked. Other
tuners attach directly to the body such as the Sabine AX 2000. This tuner is removable.
However, it is difficult to remove. Do not buy this tuner if you wish to tune multiple
guitars with a single tuner. Others have built in microphones that detect the pitch
played. You must connect this type of tuner to your guitar with a patch cable when
tuning an electric guitar.
Clip-On Tuners:
Intellitouch makes the most popular clip-on tuners. These tuners can be adjusted to fit
on any size of headstock. One version is back lit for dark live situations, and the other is
not. These two options vary in price by about $15.
As you play an open string note, arrows appear on the tuning screen. The number of
arrows on each side of the note name indicates whether you are sharp or flat. More
arrows on the left indicates a note that is flat. If more arrows appear on the right side,
the note is sharp. A note is perfectly in tune when the same number of arrows appear
on both sides.
All tuners are slightly flighty. You have probably experienced this with your own tuner.
Do not worry! Your tuner is not defective! Electronic tuners are highly sensitive devices.
A number of issues can cause them to produce an inconclusive result. Extraneous
noise in the room can confuse your tuner. As a result, you must minimize the amount
of noise in the close proximity of the tuner. Sympathetic vibrations coming from other
strings will also produce an inconclusive result. Mute all of the strings with the
exception of the string you are tuning to eliminate this problem. In addition, always
tune up to the desired pitch instead of down. This tends to produce a more accurate
More Tuning Tips:
Tone Knob
Roll the tone knob all of the way down on your electric guitar when tuning.
The location of where you pick also effects the tuning process. Try picking the string
directly in the middle of the fretboard (the 12th fret). Do not pick the string too hard.
This will cause the string to go sharp at first. Give the note time to settle in with the
tuner. Let the note sustain for a second or two before taking the reading from the
tuner. This becomes less of a problem when tuning strings of higher tension. It's easy
to over attack a guitar strung with 8's or 9's or a nylon string guitar.
Improper String Installation
Improperly installed strings also cause tuning issues. Refer back to lesson 4 to learn
how to install your strings properly. Make sure your strings are fresh and in working
condition. Fresh strings are always easier to keep in tune.
String Slippage
Creaking noises while tuning can be caused by a wrap of the string slipping out of
place. Also, this problem can be caused by the string being pinched too tightly as it
slides through the nut. This tension might equalize in the middle of a performance and
knock your guitar out of tune. You can lubricate the nut with graphite from a pencil if
you are experiencing this problem.
Or, you can buy special lubrication from the guitar shop.
Capo Problems
Playing with a capo can cause tuning problems. The capo must be placed in the proper
location and checked with a tuner. If it is clamped too tightly or too close to the fret, it
will force the string to sound sharp. To eliminate this problem, give the strings a small
tug after clamping on a capo. As a result, the strings will go slightly flat and balance
out the problem.
Guitar Defects
A guitar with a warped neck and / or defective tuners will never stay in tune. Take your
guitar to a professional repairman to address this issue.
Chapter 4: Changing the Strings
How Do I Know When to Change My Strings?
There are several common symptoms that indicate that your stings need to be
changed. Here are the most common indications:
• The strings feel uncomfortable as a result of excessive build-up of dirt on the
strings. Over time, the natural oil and dirt generated by your fingers builds up on
the strings.
• If the guitar is not staying in tune, it is definitely time to change the strings. A
guitar with fresh strings should stay in tune for roughly an hour regardless of
how often you bend your strings. If you notice that a string instantly goes out of
tune after bending a string, the string either needs to be changed, or it was
installed improperly.
• The bottoms of the strings flatten and blacken from repetitious contact with the
frets. Once the strings decrease in mass, their tone diminishes significantly as
• Tone becomes significantly less bright when strings are corroded and in need of
a change. Tone is the best indicator of when the strings need changing. Your
ears should be familiar with what your guitar should sound like. Old strings
loose their brightness and volume. In general, guitar strings begin to sound like
rubber bands when they are at the end of their life.
Playing a guitar with dead strings can kill your inspiration. On the other hand, playing
with fresh strings can have the opposite effect. You may find yourself taking the guitar
out of the case more.
Wound strings begin to unravel slightly from contact with frets. This causes a severe
drop in tone quality as well as limited play-ability.
How Often Should I Change My Strings?
This depends entirely upon the individual. There is no standard life expectancy for a
set of guitar strings. Touring professionals have guitar techs that change their strings
prior to every single performance. Strings are changed on every guitar including
instruments used as backups. Strings are changed on back up guitars regardless of
whether they were played at the previous gig! For most of you however, strings will
not need to be changed this frequently.
To make a long story short, the amount of time you spend practicing and performing
is directly proportional to how often you will need to change your strings. If you notice
one of the symptoms listed previously, it is most likely time to put on a fresh set. One
other factor also determines how often your strings will need to be replaced. Some
people’s hands sweat more than others do. If you have sweaty hands, your strings will
need to be replaced more frequently.
Note: Although there is no set time interval for changing strings, they should ALWAYS
be changed prior to a performance or recording session. This is especially true if you
do not perform or record very often. Since people do not have many opportunities to
hear/ see you perform, you want to make sure that you are doing everything in your
power to create the best performance possible. This includes changing your strings
prior to every gig.
Types of Strings
• Bronze or Brass-Bronze is much softer than steel. Most acoustic guitars are
strung with bronze.
• Steel-Produces a loud, bright tone. Electric guitars are strung with steel.
• Nylon-Nylon produces a softer and rounder sound than both steel and bronze.
Classical guitars are strung with nylon.
String Size or "Gauge"
Gauge refers to the size of the string in millimeters. String gauge effects your overall
playing in three different ways.
a. String gauge affects your tone in a big way. A higher string gauge may increase
overall sustain and volume. Remember, more mass=more volume.
b. Gauge affects the action and setup of your guitar. When switching to a different
string gauge, a professional must perform a new setup. Due to the change in tension
placed on the neck, the truss rod will probably need to be adjusted as well.
c. Gauge also affects play-ability. Larger strings put more pressure on the tips of the
fingers. This will require a development of harder calluses. More importantly though,
gauge effects one’s ability to perform certain techniques such as vibrato and bending.
Quite simply, larger strings are harder too bend.
Here are some typical gauges used by professionals. They are organized by genre.
Blues: heavy strings-usually 11 gauge+
Rock: light strings-usually 9's or 10's. (Players that tune down a full step or more usually
choose 11's.)
Country: heavy strings-11's+
Brand of String
Contrary to what endorsement advertisements may lead you to believe, the brand of
string you choose is of very little importance. Many popular brands are owned by the
same company. For example, Fender owns several of the major string companies. In
terms of electric guitar strings, there is only one brand to be avoided: Snarling Dogs.
D'Addario offers the best string for a reasonable price. DR strings are typically the most
expensive, but they offer the greatest tone and durability.
Tools Needed for Changing Strings
Needle nose pliers are needed to cut the strings. Nail clippers are the best cutting
implement for nylon strings.
Removing the Strings
Many students are intimidated by the string changing process the first time that they
do it. It gets easier and less frustrating each time that you do it. Most people are afraid
of breaking strings. This could happen. Consequently, buy a few packs of strings the
first time that you must change your strings. That way, you'll have extras in case you do
break a string. If you don't break any strings, you'll have these strings ready for the next
time you must change a set of strings.
1. Loosen each string at the tuning peg. Detach the string from the tuning peg.
Note: Jim removes all of the strings at once. Removing all of the strings at once
enables you to clean every part of the guitar in one easy step. However, the guitar will
require slightly more work to keep the strings in tune. Strings provide a specific level of
tension on the neck, which the guitar becomes accustomed to. If you remove all of the
strings at once, all of this tension is removed.
2.Once a string is loosened, clean the area of fretboard underneath it with a soft cloth.
3M makes a soft scrubbing surface that is ideal for this application. DO NOT USE STEEL
WOOL! Steel wool can potentially damage the surface of the fingerboard. Also, it
breaks apart and leaves annoying pieces across the fingerboard.
3. Polish the body and headstock to preserve the finish. We recommend Martin or
Gibson guitar polish. In addition to enhancing the appearance of your guitar, polish
adds needed moisture to the finish. This is quite important, especially if you live in a
cool, dry climate like Steve does.
Pry up the bridge pin. Remove the string from the bridge.
Putting Strings On
When installing new strings, it doesn't matter which string you start with. Jim prefers
to start with the first string.
First, insert the bead head of the string into the hole where the bridge pin was. Then,
put the bridge pin back in place. The bridge pin has a grooved slide. The bead head
should rest up against the back of this grooved slide. The groove should point directly
towards the nut. The string comes out of the hole from this groove. Before you push
the bridge pin all the way down in, pull up on the string so that it is taught against the
inner top of the bridge pin.
Next, pull the other end of the string towards the tuning pegs. Then, pinch the string
down through the nut. The string always goes through the hole in the tuning peg from
the inside of the guitar. Consequently, the top three strings are wound in different
directions from the bottom three. If you have a guitar that features six tuners on one
side of the headstock, all of the strings will be wrapped in the same direction.
Turn the peg so that the hole is pointing a specific direction. The hole should be
pointing inwards at roughly a 45o angle (about 7 o'clock). Refer to Jim's marker board
drawing for a clear example.
After the string is threaded through the tuning pin, the string must be wrapped under
itself to ensure that it will not slip out of place. As soon as the string comes through
the hole, pull the string outwards away from the guitar. Then tuck the string
underneath itself. Once the string is tucked underneath itself, bend the slack of the
string so that it is pointing directly upwards towards the ceiling. Then, tune the string
to pitch.
Cut off the excess string coming from the tuning peg. Be careful! The ends of strings
are very sharp.
Remember to pull the string as tight as possible before locking the bridge pin in place.
Once the string is properly secured with the bridge pin, take the string up through the
middle of the headstock. The tuning pin must point from 11 o'clock to 5 o'clock. After
pulling the string through the pin, bend the string to the outside and wrap it
underneath itself. Bend the remaining portion of string up towards the ceiling.
Removing Extra Slack
If you don't stretch your strings out, you'll fight to keep your guitar in tune over the
next several days. The strings are still settling in when you first install them. Soon after
installation, the strings wiggle loose at the bridge and tuning pegs. Also, the string
stretches to some degree across its entire length. To combat these problems, lightly
pull on each string. This process will remove any excess slack across the length of the
string. Stretch the strings until they no longer go flat after being stretched. Be careful
not to stretch the treble strings too much! You will snap them if you are not careful!
Clipping off the Extra String
Leaving extra string hanging out of the tuning peg may look cool, but it can cause
some unwanted buzz from the strings. Only leave half an inch of string hanging out.
Use a pair of wire cutters or needle nose pliers to trim off the excess. When trimming
nylon strings, nail clippers work the best.
Final Thoughts on Steel String Acoustic Strings
Changing strings is a tedious, yet very worthwhile process. Remember that how often
you change your strings depends on individual circumstances. How often do you play?
How long are your practice sessions. Do you have oily or dry hands? All of these factors
determine how often strings need to be changed.
String Changing on Nylon / Classical Guitars
The process of stringing a classical guitar is quite similar to stringing a steel string
acoustic. However, there are a few notable differences. One key difference is the way
the tuners face. Nylon string guitars have tuners that point directly back towards you
when you are holding the guitar in the playing position. Steel string guitars feature
tuners that point down towards the floor and up towards the ceiling.
Replacing the Strings
1. Loosen and remove the old string.
2. Take out the new string. If there is a leader on it, cut it off. The leader is the short,
frayed portion on the end of the string.
Pull the new string through the bridge. Leave approximately 3-4 inches of string
sticking out of the end of the bridge. This length of string will be used to loop the
string. Take this portion and wrap it under the section of string on the other side of the
bridge. Create two loops for bass strings and three for the treble strings.
After tying the knot, there needs to be enough string left over to tuck it underneath
the knot of the adjacent string.
4. Go over the top of the pin and pull the string back through the hole.
5. Similar to installing a steel string, a nylon string must be looped underneath itself.
This will ensure that the string is locked securely in place. Tuck the string under itself.
Then, pull out to the outside, away from the headstock.
6. Tune and stretch the strings.
Note: It is quite helpful to tune every string up a full step and leave them there for
about an hour. Then, tune them down to standard pitch. This stretches the strings in a
more efficient manner. With this method, you will have a much easier time keeping
your strings in tune.
7.Remove any excess string extending from the saddle or the tuning peg.
8. The high E string must be tied backwards to the bridge so that it can be looped
underneath the second string. Consequently, the second string holds onto the tail of
both the first and third strings. Make sure that these two strings are stacked on top of
one another and not side to side. Otherwise, they will slip and both strings will go out
of tune.
9. Once the strings are installed, perform the stretching process. The stretching process
is even more important with nylon strings. Nylon takes much longer than steel to
settle into place. Consequently, more time must be spent during the stretching
Note: The D string is prone to breakage on some classical guitars. Therefore, tune this
string about a half step flat before you put the guitar back in the case.
Final Thoughts
Remember that all guitars are individuals. Different strings work better with different
guitars. Experiment with a variety of string brands and types to find the string that you
like the best.
Chapter 5: Basic Left And Right Hand Technique
Fingering Rules for First Position
Position refers to the area of the fretboard in which the left hand plays. Specifically,
position indicates the fret at which the first finger plays. First position includes all of
the notes played as open strings and all of the notes located within the first four frets.
Within first position, certain fingering rules must be followed. The left hand finger used
corresponds with the fret number. For example, the first finger is used to play all of the
notes at the first fret. The second finger frets all notes at the second fret and so on.
Left Hand Guidelines
1. Position the finger as close to the fretwire as possible without being directly over
top of it. Otherwise, you will most likely produce a note that rattles or buzzes.
2. Press the string down just hard enough to produce a clear tone. Pressing too hard
will result in unnecessary left hand fatigue.
Reading Music
A. Tablature
Guitarists read music from two types of notation. The tablature system provides a
visual map of the guitar fretboard. Within, this system notes are identified by their
string and fret location.
The string with the highest pitch (closest to the floor) is referred to as the first string.
Moving on, the string that sits directly above is referred to as the second string and so
on. The string with the lowest pitch (closest to your face) is referred to as the sixth
B. Standard Notation
The other system of notation that guitarists use is standard notation. This system is
used by every instrument in the traditional Western music system. Notes are identified
by their location on the musical staff, which consists of five horizontal lines. Notes are
either written directly on a line or in the space between two lines.
The musical alphabet consists of seven letter names. These letter names correspond to
the first seven letters of the English alphabet (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G). After G, the musical
alphabet simply repeats again from the beginning. Each of the open strings produce a
specific pitch from the musical alphabet. Study the notes produced by each of the
open strings listed below. Memorize them as soon as possible.
1st String: E
2nd String: B
3rd String: G
4th String: D
5th String: A
6th String: E
When the strings are tuned to the pitches listed above, the guitar is said to be in
"standard tuning."
Basic Right Hand Technique and Using Hands Together Right Hand Technique
When first studying technique, each of the hands should be isolated. This will allow
you to focus all of your attention on the mechanics of a single hand.
As a beginning guitarist, it is extremely important not to develop any bad habits early
on. Pay very careful attention to the technical advice that Jim presents in this lesson.
Developing proper technique will allow you to play your favorite music with a high
level of comfort and confidence.
I. Choosing a Pick
When it comes to choosing a pick, there really is no right and wrong. Picks come in a
wide variety of shapes, sizes, thicknesses, and textures.
• Pick Size / Shape: Almost all picks are made in relatively the same shape. There
is a broad end and a pointed end. However, there is a wide variety of choices
within this stipulation. The majority of picks are taller than they are wide and
measure roughly one inch in height. A common example of this pick type is the
Dunlop Tortex. However, there are other options available. For example, Fender
makes a pick that is just as wide as it is round. Fender also makes picks in the
shape of isosceles and equilateral triangles. Most guitarists can't stand these
picks. However, System of a Down / Scars Over Broadway guitarist Daron
Malakian has been known to use these picks almost exclusively. Finally, most
jazz players prefer a very small pick. This allows the picking hand to be as close
to the strings as possible. This is not desirable for players who frequently palm
• Pick Texture: Ideally, you want to choose a pick that is easy to hold onto. For
example, many players find the Dunlop Tortex and Dunlop Nylon picks very easy
to hang onto. The Dunlop Nylon picks have a convex logo printed on them that
makes them easier to grip. However, players with very dry skin often find these
picks difficult to hold onto. These players usually prefer picks with smoother
surfaces such as picks made by Fender.
• Thickness: Almost all JamPlay instructors recommend that you play with a
medium or heavy pick. Thin picks produce an annoying clicking sound when
they strike the string. They also tend produce a very weak tone. However, make
sure that you do not choose a pick that is too thick. Picks that are too thick are
clumsy and awkward to use. Using such a pick also puts you at a higher risk of
string breakage.
II. Holding the Pick
In order to properly swing a golf club, you must first learn how to hold it. Similarly, in
order to use your picking hand properly, you first have to learn how to hold the pick.
• Method 1: When holding the pick, keep the wrist straight. Do not curl the wrist
inwards or outwards. Curl the index finger inwards until the side of the finger
rests directly under the fleshy pad of the thumb. The pick should be gripped
between the side of the first finger and the pad of the thumb. Do not grip the
pick between the pads of both fingers. This will contort your wrist into an
awkward position. Do not grip the pick too tightly! Relaxation and comfort are
the most important components of proper playing technique. Hold the pick
with just enough pressure so that it does not fall out of your hand. Gripping the
pick tightly will result in unwanted tension in the finger, palm, and forearm
muscles. This tightness will cause unnecessary fatigue. Fatigue will lead to
slower playing speeds and decreased accuracy.
Note: There are two other acceptable ways to hold the guitar pick. However, they are
not as widely accepted by qualified guitar instructors as the method described above.
• Method 2: Some players, such as Metallica's James Hetfield and Krist Novoselic
of Nirvana, Sweet 75, and Flipper prefer to hold the pick between the pads of
the thumb and both the index and middle fingers. These players feel that this
method provides them with the firmest, most stable grip on the pick. It also
allows them to play with punishing heaviness.
• Method 3: Eddie Van Halen has been known to grip the pick between the pad of
his thumb and the pad of his middle finger. This method frees up his first finger
for rapid tapping licks. This method is not recommended unless you play tapped
licks very frequently.
Regardless of which method you eventually choose, slightly less than a fourth of an
inch of the pick should extend outward from the fingers holding it. This is the only
portion of the pick that should make contact with the strings. Almost all guitarists
strike the strings with the pointed side of the pick. However, some jazz players such as
Scott Henderson advocate holding the pick upside down. Scott holds his pick this way
in order to achieve a slightly softer, darker tone.
III. Pick Angle
The angle at which the pick strikes the strings has a huge impact on tone production.
Holding the pick totally parallel to the string yields the brightest tone. JamPlay
instructor Dennis Hodges prefers to hold his pick this way. However, the tone
produced by this method may not be ideal for you. Other instructors such as Matt
Brown prefer to slightly angle the pick into the strings. This produces a slightly darker
tone similar to the effect of rolling down the tone control by 1 or two settings.
The pick angle also has a profound effect on rapid picking. Some players prefer to
angle the pick slightly when tremolo picking so that the pick slices through the string.
Other players find this technique undesirable and choose to keep the pick parallel to
the string while tremolo picking.
Note: If you do not have a "hitchhiker" thumb, you will most likely not be able to hold
the pick perfectly parallel to the string. If this is the case, do not try to force the thumb
into a position that is uncomfortable. The thumb should remain as relaxed as possible
at all times.
IV. Picking Motion
Almost all guitarists generate the picking motion completely from the wrist muscles.
The forearm only gets involved when three or more strings are strummed
simultaneously. However, some players prefer to generate the picking motion
between the thumb and index finger. The thumb pushes the index finger towards the
middle finger to produce a downstroke.
Allowing these fingers to return to their normal, relaxed position produces an
upstroke. Dave Navarro is a strong advocate of this technique.
V. Fingers Not Holding the Pick
Keep these fingers as relaxed as possible. Many players prefer to curl them inwards
towards the palm. Or, you can let them extend out naturally.
VI. Right Hand Position
The right hand should positioned so that the pick makes contact with the strings at
around the back edge of the soundhole. This technique will produce the loudest, most
satisfying tone.
VII. Picking Guidelines
Always follow the guidelines listed below when playing with a flat pick.
1. Only the very tip of the pick should make contact with the strings. Digging the pick
deep into the strings will limit your speed and accuracy.
2. Economy of motion is of paramount importance to right hand technique. Move the
pick just enough to produce a solid tone. Using wide picking motions will once again
limit your speed and accuracy.
VII. Playing Fingerstyle
Thumb picks are used by fingerstyle players in the country, folk, and bluegrass genres.
Playing with a thumbpick enables a guitarist to play a muted alternating bassline,
which is a signature staple of this guitar style.
Classical players typically pluck the strings with their fingernails instead of a pick. The
fingernail should extend about 1-2 millimeters beyond the fleshy pad of the fingers.
The finger strikes the string at the point where the nail meets the flesh. Regardless of
which style you play, the pinkie finger is seldom used.
Chapter 6: Reading Chord Charts
Always follow these guidelines when fretting any chord.
1. Keep the left hand in a natural, relaxed position at all times. Do not squeeze the
2. Keep the thumb perpendicular to the neck. Do not curl the thumb or bring it up
over the top of the neck. Also, Do not turn the thumb so that it runs parallel to the
back of the neck. This greatly limits the range of motion of each finger.
Note: There are some exceptions to this rule that will be discussed later in the series.
3. Keep all left hand joints slightly bent. Do not flatten any of the knuckles.
4. Keep the left hand fingernails as short as possible.
5. Fret the strings with the very tips of the fingers. Arching the wrist outwards will help
accomplish this goal. Utilizing this technique will prevent you from bumping any of
the adjacent strings. Making contact with adjacent strings will prevent them from
ringing clearly.
6. Keep the wrist slightly bent.
7. Keep the palm parallel to the bottom of the neck. Do not tilt the wrist from side to
side. This will limit the range of motion for each of the fingers.
Reading Chord Diagrams
A chord diagram provides a visual representation of the guitar fretboard. Chord
diagrams are laid out as if the guitar is hanging on a wall or sitting up on a guitar
-The vertical lines represent each of the six strings. The horizontal lines represent the
-At the top of the chord chart, numbers or "X's" may be written. An "X" indicates that a
certain string is not strummed as part of the chord. A "0" indicates that a string is
played open. Often, the left hand fingering of a certain note is listed above the chord
diagram. The numbers 1-4 correspond to each of the left hand fingers. Many of the
JamPlay chord charts indicate the proper fingering for a note directly within the
fretboard diagram.
-The circles or dots written within the diagram represent fretted notes.
Playing Easy C Major
By definition, a chord is three or more notes played simultaneously. This chord consists
of the notes C, E, and G. When this chord is written in notation, it is typically written as
a capital letter "C."
This particular voicing for C major features three fretted notes and two open strings.
The first finger frets the note C at the 1st fret of the second string. After fretting this
string, play the third, second, and first strings individually. Ensure that each string is
ringing clearly. If a string is muted or buzzing, refer back to the left hand guidelines
listed above. Once all of the notes are ringing clearly, strum these three strings
simultaneously to produce an abbreviated version of the C chord.
The Full C Major Chord
Within the full version of the "open" C major chord, the note E is fretted by the second
finger at the 2nd fret of the fourth string. When this note is fretted, you might
accidentally mute the open third string. If this is the case, arch the wrist outwards more
to clear this string. Also, remember to fret the E note with the very tip of the second
finger. Pick each of the strings individually to ensure that they are ringing clearly.
Make sure that all strings ring simultaneously. Do not roll the pick through the strings.
Next, the third finger must fret the note C at the 3rd fret of the fifth string. Adding this
note requires a large left hand stretch that may be difficult for beginners, especially
those with small hands. This difficult stretch can be mastered with patience and
focused practice. After you have formed the chord, pick each of the strings individually
to ensure that they are ringing clearly. Notice how the lowest open string is not
strummed as part of this chord.
Chapter 7: Goal Setting
No matter what you are trying to achieve in life, setting goals is an absolute necessity.
Setting goals gives you focus and direction. You must set some short, midterm, and
long term goals – especially if you are a beginner.
• The Sound of Success
One of the most important components of studying music is listening to it as
frequently as possible. In order to become a successful guitarist, you must first
learn what success sounds like. The best way to accomplish this goal is to listen
to your heroes and begin to emulate them. In addition to listening for
enjoyment, set aside time each week for structured listening time. When you
listen to the music you love, spend some time analyzing it. What is it about this
music that draws you to it?
Note: Jim discusses ear-training skills in lessons to come. He will instruct you
how to train your focus on specific aspects of the music.
Jim suggests that beginning guitar students focus on a primary genre. The
techniques that you learn in the few months of study can be applied to any
genre. Knowledge of basic chords, scales, and finger exercises is necessary to
play in any style. However, you should devote some time to learning the style of
your choice. Focusing on one genre to begin with will help you structure your
practice time. Trying to learn a variety of styles right out of the gate is too
difficult to manage for the average student.
• Short Term Goals
An example of a good short-term goal is what you plan to do this week. Set
some preliminary goals at the beginning of the week. How long do you plan to
practice each day? What do you need to work on this week? Many of your shortterm goals are determined by your midterm goals. It’s hard to focus your
practice if you don’t know what you want to achieve.
• Midterm Goals
Do you want to play a song that is currently above your ability level? Do you
want to learn the basics of lead guitar? These are examples of midterm goals.
Asking these kinds of questions will help you focus your practice. For example, if
you want to improve your improvisation skills, devote extra practice time to
learning licks, scales, and techniques such as bending.
• Long Term Goals
Do you want to play at home for your own personal enjoyment? Do you want to
try out for the high school jazz band? Or, do you want to form your own band
and write your own songs? These are long term goals. They make several
months, years, or even decades to accomplish. Asking these kinds of questions
will give you a direction and purpose when practicing. Talk to someone who has
accomplished the things you wish to accomplish. What did he/she do in order to
achieve this level of success?
Achieving Your Goals
Gaining proficiency on the guitar is a very rewarding experience. With time and
patience, anything is possible. Here are some great tips that will help you achieve your
goals – whatever they may be.
• Create a Practice Schedule
The best way to maximize your practice time is to develop a practice schedule.
First, you must determine how much time you will devote to practicing each
day. To achieve any sort of positive results, you must practice for at least a half
hour every day. Each day, your practice time must be organized. Break up your
practice time into a few specific areas. As a daily warm-up, practice finger
exercises and scales. Then, move on to chords and repertoire that you are
currently working on.
• Playing with a Metronome
The most important aspect of a musical performance is the rhythm. For this
reason, you should practice with a metronome as much as possible. Many young
guitarist believe that they have a solid internal rhythm. When the metronome
comes on however, they struggle hopelessly to play in time. If you can’t play a
piece or song in time with a metronome, you can’t play it. Period. Unless you are
practicing something that is intended to be played in free time, always practice
with a metronome.
In addition, play with other musicians as much as possible. This will greatly
improve your rhythmic feel. Playing with other musicians places a higher
emphasis on rhythm. If the performers aren’t rhythmically tight, the music is
quite painful to listen to. If at all possible, play with musicians that are more
advanced than you. In a discussion with Jamplay instructor Matt Brown,
legendary jazz guitarist Pat Metheny imparted the secret to his musical success.
“The best way to become a great player is to always be the least talented person
in your band. Nothing lights a better fire under your ass.”
• Have Fun
Learning to play any instrument takes years of hard work. However, music has to
be fun. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing it? In addition to your practice
schedule, spend time having some fun with the instrument. Spend a day out of
the week doodling or simply messing around. When you come back to serious
practice, you’ll have a fresh perspective on what you wish to accomplish.
Common Question: How Long Should I Practice?
The answer to this question depends entirely upon the individual. Everyone is
different. Some people have more time available than others. In addition, some people
have longer attention spans than others.
However, almost all music teachers agree that a minimum amount of half an hour
must be spent every day in order to make any noticeable improvement. On the other
extreme, most professional musicians spend about four or five hours a day playing or
Saxophonist Charlie Parker practiced close to twelve hours everyday seven days a
week. Guitarist Steve Vai also maintained the exact same routine for a number of years.
If you're a beginner, start with thirty minutes each day.
After a couple of weeks, reflect on how this practice schedule works for you. From this
point, you can make any necessary adjustments. If you find that you experience
cramps or pain by the end of a thirty minute session, you may need to temporarily
decrease the length of your practice sessions. However, you may just be playing with
poor technique.
Regardless, playing the guitar should never be painful. Once you advance to a fairly
intermediate level, playing the guitar should not even feel uncomfortable. If it is, you
are definitely doing something wrong. Lastly, keep in mind that playing a steel string
acoustic is much more demanding on the finger muscles and calluses than an electric
or classical guitar. This factor may cause you to make some adjustments to the length
of your practice routine.
Chapter 8: Reading Tablature
Tablature is a short hand method of writing out guitar music. This system utilizes
numbers and symbols instead of notes. In this lesson, Jim explains how to interpret the
symbols and terminology used in the tablature system.
Limitations of Tablature
Unfortunately, tablature omits several of the important features that are present in
standard notation. The rhythmic element is frequently left out when tablature is
written. Rhythm is the most important aspect of music. Without it, music becomes
chaotic noise.
In addition, musicians that play other instruments cannot interpret guitar tablature
and apply it to their specific instrument. On the other hand, standard notation applies
to every instrument. Standard musical notation is a universal language that musicians
of all cultures understand.
Consequently, tablature is only useful if you already know what the piece of music is
supposed to sound like. If you are able to learn the rhythms from a recording
successfully and accurately, then tablature is very helpful.
Importance of Reading Sheet Music
Note: The following information is taken from lesson of Matt Brown's Reading and
Rhythm series.
-First and foremost, learning to read music will make you a better player. Reading skills
will enhance the overall musicality of your playing. Continuing with these lessons will
make you sound better. Period. After all, isn't that the goal we're all after?
-If you can't read music, you cannot interpret written music or tablature properly. This
is due to a lack of understanding of how notes function with one another from a
theoretical standpoint.
-It is impossible to learn music theory without basic reading skills.
-Musicians that play other instruments don't use tablature. You cannot communicate
with these musicians without reading skills.
Reading Tablature:
A. Lines
Unlike the musical staff, which features five lines, the tablature system uses six lines.
Each line represents a string of the guitar. Tablature written for seven string guitars
features 7 lines. The lowest line (closest to the ground) represents the low E string. The
top line represents the high E string. The tablature staff is upside down compared to
the way that the guitar is actually held.
B. Numbers
The numbers written on the tablature staff indicate fret locations. For example, a "1"
written on the lowest line indicates that the low sixth string should be played at the
first fret. When notes are listed parallel to each other, they are played simultaneously
as a chord. Map out this chord on the fretboard by going through one tablature
number at a time. A "0" represents a string that is played open. An x indicates that a
string is muted by the left hand. This is accomplished by lightly resting any finger on
the string to prevent it from vibrating.
C. Tuning
Often, the tuning of each string is indicated to the left of the tablature lines. Tablature
works just as well regardless of what tuning you are playing in.
Note: Tablature is not a very standardized way of writing out music. Publications may
notate certain things such as bends or harmonics differently. Often, a legend is
provided in magazines or at the back of a publication to help you determine what
each symbol means.
Chord Symbols:
Often, chord names are written above the tablature. However, there are infinite
possibilities for chord voicings. You must still look down at the numbers indicated on
the lines to determine which voicing is utilized.
Fingerings for chords are often provided within standard notation. They are seldom
used in tablature. When used in tablature, they are typically written in parenthesis.
Hammer-ons and Pull-offs:
Hammer-ons and pull-offs are written with a curved line connecting two different
pitches. If the first number is lower than the second number, a hammer-on is indicated.
If the second number is higher, play a pull-off. Often, multiple hammer-ons and pulloffs are combined together with a single curved line.
Often, an "h" is written above the curved slur line to indicate a hammer-on. A "p" is
frequently written above the slur line to indicate a pull-off.
Bends, Slides, and Vibrato Bends:
An arrow written above a pitch indicates a string bend. This arrow also indicates how
the bend begins and how it is concluded. The interval for the bend such as a 1/2 step,
whole step, 1 1/2 steps, etc. is often written above the arrow.
Some publications write bends very similar to slurs. Two notes are connected with a
curved line. Instead of writing an "h" or "p" between the notes, a "b" is written to
indicate a bend. The first number represents the note that the bend is applied to. This
note is bent up to the pitch of the second note.
There are number of different ways in which a bend can be performed. Each type of
bend is written differently in tablature.
Pre-bend: The string is bent up to pitch, then the note is plucked.
Bend and Release: The string is plucked and bent simultaneously. Once the specified
pitch is reached, the fretting hand returns the string to its normal position.
Gradual Bend: The string is plucked then gradually bent to pitch over a specified note
Bend on the Beat: The string is plucked and bent simultaneously.
There are several types of slides as well. Typically, a slide is indicated by a slash mark. A
backslash indicates an ascending slide. A forward slash indicates a descending slide.
Position Shift-Pick both notes connected by the slash mark.
Slur Slide-A curved line is written above the slash. The first note is picked. The second
note is not picked.
Slide Out-Pick the note, then slide in the indicated direction.
Glissando-Gradually slide over the rhythmic duration that is indicated in the attached
notation above.
Vibrato is indicated with a squiggly line. A fat squiggly line indicates a wide vibrato. A
normal sized squiggly line indicates a moderate vibrato.
Harmonics are typically written in angle brackets. There are three types of harmonics:
artificial (harp), natural, and tapped (slapped) harmonics. The type of harmonic is
abbreviated above the brackets. Natural harmonics are abbreviated "N.H." Artificial
(harp) harmonics are abbreviated "A.H." A lowercase "t" above angled brackets
indicates a tapped harmonic. Pinch harmonics are abbreviated with "P.H."
Ghost Notes:
When it can not be clearly determined whether a guitarist actually played a specific
note on a recording, a "ghost note" is written in parenthesis. Ghost notes frequently
occur as a result of sympathetic vibration. Sympathetic vibration is common when
playing with a high gain setting.
Optional Notes:
Optional notes are typically written in parenthesis as well. Usually some written
instructions are written in conjunction with them such as "play notes in parenthesis on
second repeat only."
Tied Notes:
Notes that are tied are written in parenthesis too. A tie indicates that the rhythmic
duration of a picked note is extended by the length of the additional note that is tied
on. The tied note is not picked.
Palm Muting:
In the previous lesson, Jim taught you how to palm mute. He provides a quick review
of this technique and how it sounds at 00:44. Now he explains how this technique is
written in tablature. Palm muting is indicated by the abbreviation "P.M." A line
frequently extends from the abbreviation to indicate that additional notes in a phrase
are also palm muted.
Tablature Limitations:
The main disadvantage of tablature is that it omits rhythmic content. Sometimes the
rhythm of a phrase is is written in numerals below the staff. Unfortunately, this system
does not work very well when notating fast rhythms such as sixteenth notes, triplets,
sextuplets, thirty second notes, etc. Also, this system is not very effective when it
comes to syncopated rhythms. Things get especially messy when fast rhythms and
syncopated rhythms are combined.
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