The Idiot's Guide To Peak Performance, Part 1

author: Backup Guitar date: 06/28/2004 category: the guide to

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Hello, and welcome to the first article in what should turn out to be a successful series. The aim of these articles is to get your guitar playing skill up to where it should be, not where you've resigned to let it be. I hope you enjoy the articles, and that they do help out your playing. Always remember to push yourself and have fun at the same time. Guitar playing shouldn't be a chore, so if you start getting stressed out at these riffs, go back and play something simple. Try things like tapping your feet or chewing gum while playing to help relax you when you're playing if you get stuck on anything. Your first goal should always be having fun playing instead of being good at playing. Guitar playing skill, much like many other things, can be rated on a bell curve. From point A to point C, with point B in between, there are times when you actually learn stuff, peak in the amount of skill you have, and then begin to lose things you used to know. The problem with this curve is that it's impossible to know from the start where and when you will peak, and even then, once you've peaked, you never know what you have left to climb. So here's why I'm writing the article. Are you as good a guitarrist as you should be? Do you feel you can do better, but you just aren't? Playing guitar is an art form, and a painter doesn't decide he has enough colours to splatter on a piece of paper. A singer doesn't decide she has a decent enough range spit out a melody that a skinned cat could pull off with more grace, and an actor doesn't decide that because they can cry on command, that they can make it big. You're the artist, and you're in control. Many misconceptions about learning to play well and fast exist. The most horrible one to imagine is that you need a "shred" guitar to be able to shred. Saying that you need an Ibanez RG to play well is like saying that you need to have a BMW to be able to drive well. It will help you along later, but when you're on your way to becoming the next Zakk Wylde, you won't be helped out that much. Learning how to be disciplined on a beginner's guitar teaches you to be disciplined on an expensive guitar. Learning to respect your 200 dollar plank of plywood will teach you to appreciate your 2000 dollar finely carved piece of mahogany show-off. Keep in mind here that this article isn't meant to teach you how to play guitar, and it is not meant to show you all you will ever need to know. This is geared towards people who have learned to play simple songs based around powerchords well, and think that they have learned all they need to know. It takes many, many years to learn how to play fast enough for standard rock solos, and even more for playing metal. Even now, I laugh at the fact it took me over four months to play a simple, three note legato flur that I know incorporate to all of my improvisation. I hope that you learn something from this article and the others to follow, but I also hope that you do not stop or begin at where my articles stand. All my articles encompass are technical playing abilities, which I am only showing you the notes to play. The style is yours to take up, and style is something that takes years to develop. Creating your own sound is something that can take years, and you are foolish if you think you have found your sound after only a year and a half of experience. The point of these articles is to help you learn about the technical aspects of guitar while you still have the ability to learn them, and it is not to teach you everything. Learning is up to you, and I encourage you to learn as much as possible. So, leaving that aside, let's start with some guitar playing.

Getting Started

The formula to becoming a better guitarrist is to never stop learning. Once you've learned to move your hands up and down the neck, don't stop there. Just because you can play some popular songs that people will like doesn't make you good by any stretch of the imagination. I can remember me being like that. After about 3 or 4 months of playing, I had exhausted the use of any learning material in my reach, and began playing simple tabs extensively. But I became mad for learning how to play better, and after reading up on some learning books in Guitar World, I felt I needed to have a new book about really learning how to play. I picked up a copy of a book called "Real Rock Guitar" by Kenn ChipkinThere are many books like these that offer a whole library of licks and riffs from the days of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and who has now become one of my largest influences in soloing, Eric Clapton. I can singlehandedly attribute my current playing skills to this book, and the fact that it took me from a level of guitar playing consisting of mainly power chords to a world of pentatonic scales and classic blues-rock riffs. Now, when searching for a book on your own, there are two things you have to make sure of. The first of these is that there are things inside that you will be able to play, and the second one is that it will last you long enough so that you will really be able to play. After all, you can't learn to play guitar by attempting to be Jimi Hendrix right off the bat - you have to ease yourself into everything. Make sure there is a good selection of songs or riffs inside that are simple enough to play if you become frustrated, and that there are complicated solos for when you feel adventurous. Play-along CD's are almost a must, as tabs are damn near impossible to sight read. The first type of riffs you'll be wanting to play are complicated rhythym riffs. Now, this doesn't mean hard - it requires the full use of your hands. Let me introduce you to a word called coordination. This means both your fretting hand and your plucking hand must be working in unison. Make sure that you will be able to pluck a string with one hand and be able to fret that proper string with your other hand. This is one of the most essential skills of guitar playing, being able to sense where you are. Here's a classic Led Zeppelin riff that's a good starting point if you're among the generation of power chord fanatics. Notice the use of power chords in the riff, and notice that more than one power chord can be played every two seconds. To listen to a soundclip, please click here. (play bar twice) E|---------------------------|---------------------------------------- B|---------------------------|---------------------------------------- G|------------------2--0--2--|--7----7-6-5----5-4-3------------------- D|--2-2-2-4-4-4--5--2--0--2--|--7----7-6-5----5-4-3------------------- A|--0-0-0-0-0-0--0--0-----0--|--5----5-4-3----3-2-1------------------- E|---------------------3-----|---------------------------------------- E|---------------------------| B|---------------------------| G|------------------2--0--2--| D|--2-2-2-4-4-4--5--2--0--2--| A|--0-0-0-0-0-0--0--0-----0--| E|---------------------3-----| The riff requires use of all four fingers - use the index finger for fretting root-fifth parts, and use the ring finger for the root-sixth parts (i.e., the first bar). Make sure you're using your first, third and fourth fingers on the power chords, and in the short chord stabs at the end of the first bar, use your third finger to fret the third fret at the sixth string. It's a very easy, cool sounding riff to master, and getting quick coordination on chord riffs like that gets you on the right road to learning how to solo. Here is another riff, in the style of Leslie West of Mountain - its quite similar to the previous riff, but is slightly more demanding on the hands. Check out a sound clip here. E|-------------------------------------------------------------------- B|-------------------------------------------------------------------- G|--7-9--9--9-9\-----------------------7-9--9--9--9\------------------ D|--7-9--9--9-9\-----------------------7-9--9--9--9\-------------2~--- A|--5-7--7--7-7\-------7-----5--7------5-7--7--7--7\------------------ E|------------------0-----7--------0--------------------0--3--0------- Make sure you use a vibrato technique on the last note of the riff - its just like doing a string bend, but you quickly bend the string up and down, without a lot of depth to the bend. If you have larger frets on your guitar, you can also push down on the string while fretting, and lightly release it to bend the pitch up and down slightly. If you have a whammy bar that doesn't detune easily, this may be a time to learn how to use it, if you wish. Riffs like these should be standards in your guitar vocabulary. They're essential, well-known riffs you can play in stores while trying out guitars, to get an idea of how the action is.

Finger Speed

So now that you've gotten better at moving your hand around in chord formations, try to move on to something a bit harder - individual finger positioning. It can be as hard as you want it to be, so make sure you're doing everything right - arch your fingers properly so strings don't buzz unnecessarily, and try to utilize all fingers so they develop equal strength. Here's a very addictive riff coming to us from the Fab Four, and your parents may recognize it as Day Tripper. Again, the soundclip can be heard here. E|-------------------------------------------------------------------- B|----------------8--7----------------------------6-5----------------- G|------7--7-5----------7--5--7-------5--5--3----------5-3-5---------- D|-------------7--------5--5--5----------------5-------3-3-3---------- A|--5------------------------------3---------------------------------- E|-------------------------------------------------------------------- (play twice) E|------------------------------------------| B|---------------------13---12--10--12--10--| G|------12--12--10--------------10--10--12--| D|-----------------12-----------------------| A|--10--------------------------------------| E|------------------------------------------| Pay close attention to make sure you're fretting all the notes properly, and that you're using all your fingers to get those notes. The pinkie finger does play an important part in the smooth playing of that riff, so you have to make sure that you're not using improper technique. If you're finding that riff a bit too much of an overload, try this simpler Beatles' riff as a warmup to that excersize. Soundclip can be heard here. E|------------------------------------------------------------------ B|------------------------------------------------------------------ G|--------------5----------------5---------------5--------------5--- D|--------5--7-------------5--7------------5--7-----------5--7------ A|--5--5-------------5--5------------5--5-----------5--5------------ E|------------------------------------------------------------------ While the riff sure looks childishly simple, try to use it to your advantage - it's set on a pentatonic scale. You can run up and down it quickly, as an introduction to soloing and quick finger movement. Only the first and third finger should be used in that movement, so resist the temptation to use your second finger. It's riffs like these that are stepping stones to becoming a better guitarrist, so make sure that you have these down tight before you go off to do bigger and better things. You learned to walk before you ran, and you obviously aren't going to get far in guitarring if you aren't learning new things constantly. I think of myself as ahead of my time in guitar playing, as I see a lot of people that have been playing for considerably longer than me quite unable to play anything beyond the above riffs. Keep on reading for further installations of this article, where I'll be digging further into furthering your guitar skills. Getting rhythym guitar down pat in the next article, and hopfully moving on to soloing and soloing techniques. Until then, keep on practising, and don't be afraid to attempt playing songs that you thought you weren't good enough to play.
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