How Do You Pick Your Guitar Picking Technique?

HOW DO YOU PICK YOUR GUITAR PICKING TECHNIQUEI’ve been practicing picking and researching about different picking concepts. Here are some thoughts I’ve had about it so far (an incomplete list):

The kind of pick technique you choose is for:
1) Tone
2) Speed
3) Volume
4) Efficiency (or not)
5) Relaxation (or not)

It depends on:
1) Guitar Style
2) Acoustic vs. Electric Guitar
3) Clean vs. Overdriven vs. Distorted vs. heavily effected guitar tone
4) Touch (do you pick hard or pick gently)

Some elements that can change the tone and technique:
1) Edge Picking (and the exact angle)
2) Pick Slanting
3) String Hopping (whether it occurs or not)
4) Your choice of pick
a) Pick Material
b) Pick Size
c) Pick Gauge
d) Pick Shape
e) Pick Colour
5) Alternate Picking
6) Sweep Picking/Economy Picking/Consecutive Picking
7) Picking position
8) Floating vs. anchored vs. different points of contact
9) Caring about string noise and sympathetic string resonance and muting (or not)

The way I see it is that you should examine the kind of sound you’re going for and then see how others have done it successfully.

Then, by analyzing what your guitar heroes have done, you may find what can work for your own technique. There’s not a single correct way to do it, instead there are many different possibilities. What you can do is to experiment and see what works for you. Decide what sound or tone that you’re going for and really zoom into the details that make that sound possible. A lot of it will be actual physical technique (how you play) and another part will be getting the right gear to enable you to get the sound.

Be careful not to get obsessed about the gear part as you can just keep buying stuff and not actually practicing.

Also, be careful not to forget the gear that will help you get closer to the sound you’re after. If you want to shred, get the right kind of solidbody electric guitar. If you want to play jazz, get some kind of hollowbody or semi hollow guitar if needed. For me, my favourite guitar for jazz is my nylon string Takamine EN60c – I just love how it sounds.

It’s all about finding a balance. In the end, always remember that practice and studying how you create the sound is what will make you sound better. Keep working at it. Good luck!

Now, I’d love to hear from you!

  • How did you learn to pick on guitar?
  • What are your biggest discoveries that helped you to pick better?
  • What’s your biggest problems when practicing picking?

Leave your answer in the comments below. Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another guitarist someone from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here. Be back again soon!

Best wishes,
Az

—-

A version of this post was originally published on Facebook here on March 22 2016, 11:14am.


 

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11 Things I Learned About Life Before Turning 35

HOW DO YOU SOLO OVER CHORD CHANGES- (4)

I’m a December child. That means that most of my classmates in school became older than me before I celebrated my birthday. When I was in primary school, that meant people rarely remembered when my birthday was. Why? Because it would already be school holidays by that time – so no birthday party or gifts in the class as some of my friends had. 

What that also means for me, now in a later stage of my life – is that the birthday gives me a chance to reflect on how my year went. This is kind of like how people reflect on their year before New Year’s Eve.

I originally wanted to write 35 things I learned before turning 35. I didn’t manage to though I’m sure I have learned AT LEAST 35 things over the years. Still, here are 11 things I learned. These have been pretty life-changing for me and I hope that some of these may help you in some way.

1. Awareness of yourself is important

Being aware of your natural tendencies to reacting to something is important. If you’re aware of how you normally react whether it’s being indifferent, upset, angry or happy – is important to allow you to decide whether you want to embrace that reaction or not. Most of the time, we react without realizing there are other ways to experience the same situation. The external world is still the same, it’s just our internal experience of it that has changed.

For me, this means not getting upset about something but to see how it is like and acknowledge my natural reaction. Then, it’s about entertaining the possibility that there is another alternative reaction that may prove to be a more positive reaction.

Sometimes getting upset about something is not worth it and sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding instead of something actually designed to upset you.

2. You have a choice of how to experience the world

I’ve had days when it just plain sucked. Maybe something didn’t go my way or maybe the weather prevented me from going out or doing something I wanted. What I didn’t realize at those moments is that I can still choose to experience the day from a more positive outlook. We filter our experiences based on how we feel inside. By changing how we feel or allowing another filter (or removing the filters), the day can change.

3. Learning is a life-long process

There’s no reason learning has to stop. In fact, I feel that the people that inspire my work and life seem to always challenge themselves to keep learning and growing. I get disturbed when people believe that education ends after high school or college or even after receiving a doctorate. I think the idea of visible limits to education stops us from experiencing new things or experience repetitive events in a deeper or newer way. Just because you have breakfast at the same place every morning doesn’t mean that it’s not meaningful. There are always subtle differences that can enrich your day if you allow these differences to manifest themself to you.

4. When people point out your mistakes or flaws, it’s an opportunity to grow

Sometimes people will say you’re living an unhealthy lifestyle or you do something in a less efficient way. You can choose to react in a aggresive way and deny what they say or you can acknowledge their perspective, entertain the posibility that they might be aware of something that you’re not (or in denial of) and then either proactively do something to change or let it be.

For some things, you may not care about it as much as the other person who said it to you. For example, someone may say that you should stop smoking because it’s bad for your health and the people around you. You may enjoy the addiction more than you care for people around you. That’s a choice that you make and it’s okay as long as you’re aware of it.

However, you may come to realize that poisoning your body for the chemical high may be something that you not want to do anymore. If so, you may choose an alternative addiction that has a supportive community around it such as vaping or cigars and justify your choice of drugs based on the surrounding research around it and the community. That’s okay as well. Just realize that when some people point out the negative aspects of such choices, it may be because of love for you or a sense of righteousness. No need to be upset or angry but instead realize that they have pointed an opportunity for you to grow.

5. Systems can create new positive habits

I learned this from blog posts by people like Ramit Sethi and his mentor BJ Fogg. What I realize is that taking the first time is the most difficult thing so by doing something seemingly small like a 10-minute walk can trigger positive growth such as being comfortable for longer walks. I also now dig the idea of creating 5, 7 or 21 day challenges to kickstart a new positive habit, to write music or learn something new. Systems can succeed where sheer willpower can fail.

6. Healthy food can taste awesome

I learned about this in California and later on more with my girlfriend Yin. There’s a correlation between healthy food and being healthy emotionally and physically. I now finally notice there’s a difference when I eat raw versus processed foods. The processed foods tend to not make me feel better. The raw or homemade food tends to have more noticable nourishing effects.

7. Some things just take time

I’ve been playing guitar for 19 years now and it finally feels like I’m starting to improve in the way that I’ve been aiming for. But, there’s still so much to work on and that is all right.

8. If you want to improve on something, pick one thing and keep working on it

This is the key to growth. I find that you can be a master of several things, just not by working on every single thing at the same time!

9. To succeed at something, make it easy for the habit to repeat

This is something I learned from Ramit Sethi, BJ Fogg, Yin and the classical guitar virtuoso Philip Hii. By creating the right environment, for example making sure your guitar is ready for practice, music scores are out on the music stand, tuner is ready etc. – it’s easier to start practicing guitar daily than having to take everything out every single time.

10. To complete something, set a deadline and a schedule. Then, follow it!

This is something I’ve realised but am still working on. This year, I decided to release 3 new albums. So far, I’ve released two of the three albums. I have 7 days left to release the third one. I should have already had it out. Yes, things got busier than expected (they always do) but it’s completely my fault for not setting a deadline and a schedule. I hope in 2016, I will learn from this experience.

11. Forgive yourself for your imperfections and learn to improve yourself

This is kind of related to number 4. In a way, sometimes we can be very hard on ourselves. Sometimes this can cause a lot of pain inside us because we view our imperfections as a permanent condition. It usually isn’t. Our imperfections often are just like a photograph in time of how we are at that point. If we’re aware of it, we have a chance to improve. This relates a lot to the whole concept of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.

What did you learn this year? Please do share your thoughts. =)


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23 Epic Guitar Lessons To Help You Become a Better Guitarist Today!

HOW DO YOU SOLO OVER CHORD CHANGES- (2)

Hello there!

2015 has been a wonderful year for the website. The lesson library is growing gradually and there’s more in the works. I want to thank you for being a supporter of this website.

There’s more slated for 2016 that I can’t reveal yet but you’ll see gradually. To round up 2015, here’s a recap of all the 23 lessons on the site so far organized for you!

[WORKSHOPS: LEARNING FROM THE MASTERS]
10 Things I Learned From The Jack Thammarat Kuala Lumpur Workshop
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=150
10 Things I Learned From The Guthrie Govan Kuala Lumpur Workshop
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=97

[GENERAL MUSIC TIPS]
How do you get the most out of a jazz festival?
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=119

[GEAR]
How to find the right guitar for you
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=136

[JAZZ GUITAR]
My Jazz Guitar Practice Routine
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=138
How do you play jazz chords on guitar?
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=114
How to use chromatic notes in your guitar solos
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=128
How to solo on Autumn Leaves: Part 1
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=78
In chord melody arrangements, how do you do guitar fills?
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=59
What are Drop-2, Drop-3 and Drop-2&4 Voicings for guitar?
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=38
Beyond Scales & Licks: How to create cool solos!
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=37

[PRACTICE SECRETS]
How to become a better guitarist in just 10 minutes a day!
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=120
3 things I didn’t realize when I started playing guitar
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=125
How do you jam with other guitarists?
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=123
How do you overcome stage fright?
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=94

[SCALES]
How to Develop Creative Guitar Licks from Scales
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=82
How To Learn Scales On Guitar
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=75

[TECHNIQUE LESSONS]
How to play fast on guitar?
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=130
Beginner Guitar: 7 Tips To Ease Your Barre Chords
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=92
Folk Fingerstyle Strumming Lesson
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=72
Intro to Odd Meter Fingerstyle Guitar Patterns
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=69

[MUSIC THEORY]
Pitch Axis meets Modulation: A Joe Satriani Inspired Lesson
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=58

[UKULELE LESSONS]
50 Blues Ukulele Licks
http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=31

Wanna learn something in particular in 2016? Please let me know in the comments section below! =)

Thanks again. =)

Best wishes,
Az


 

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10 Things I Learned From The Jack Thammarat Kuala Lumpur Workshop

10 Things I learned JACK

Recently, I attended guitar virtuoso Jack Thammarat’s workshop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I first discovered Jack Thammarat’s music via his YouTube videos and later on through his work on Jam Track Central. On YouTube, I particularly like his songs Tokyo Trip and Never Again. Jack’s playing is a mix of his influences from Eric Johnson to Andy Timmons. I’ve also been fascinated with his interest in jazz as such as his take on Charlie Parker’s Donna Lee and a recent II-V-I practice video he posted on Facebook.

The workshop I attended was very special to me because when I had the chance to ask Jack questions and jam with him. In addition to answering my questions, he also mentioned that he knows me and has watched many of my videos on YouTube before. I was taken by surprise and very flattered! Later on, during the jam session portion of the workshop an audience member requested for me and Jack to jam. I obliged and felt both nervous and excited! We discussed what song to jam and decided on a C minor blues backing track.  It was an awesome experience!


Nothing beats actually being at the workshop. But, I wanted to share some of the most insightful things I learned from the session. Please bear in mind that I’m paraphrasing these tips from my own notes and memory of the workshop. I apologise if there are any mistakes! I hope this captures the essence of what I learned. If you ever get a chance to attend a Jack Thammarat workshop, clinic or meet and greet – go for it. It’s worth it.

Here are 10 of the important things I learned from the workshop:

1. Follow your ear

I asked Jack a question about how he develops long flowing lines in his improvisation. He answered that he still practices improvisation every day and he feels he is not a good improviser yet.

For him, there is a difference between: jamming or improvising and practicing. When he practices, he tries to know everything – the scales and the patterns. When he improvises he tries to forget everything and follow his ears.

2. Play melodies 

Jack explains that when he improvises, he focuses on creating melodies. He started with an a D minor pentatonic scale which is the main scale he uses for the song Cry For You. According to Jack, he avoids using sequences or patterns. Instead, he focuses on playing melodies based on the scales.

3. Go back to basics

Jack mentions the importance of bends and vibrato. To him, these are the basics of creating expressive melodies. He proceeded to play a line that used bends to colour the melody!

4. It’s okay to copy

Jack loves the Eric Johnson clean guitar tone so he copied the chorus and tape echo sound that Eric Johnson uses as the basis of his own clean sound. For his overdriven sound, he copied the drive tone from Andy Timmons. To me, this is an interesting perspective as some players are against copying a player’s signature sound. However, hearing Jack play – the specific combination of what he copies actually creates a composite sound that makes a “Jack Thammarat” sound.

Jack believes that everyone has a unique character and no matter how much you copy you will not sound exactly like your influences.

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The audience!

5. Compose your own songs

Jack finds that composing your own song it the most difficult part of being a musician. He feels that to build a song around technique is difficult.

For one of his songs, he started by playing the acoustic guitar strumming part first and then jammed until he heard a melody in his head. He started with a very simple idea and then recorded the guitars, programmed the drums and played the bass.

By composing your own songs, you can develop your own personal style.

6. Finish what you started

The hardest part about composing is finishing your songs. When you’re stuck writing a song halfway, Jack recommends forgetting everything and focus on following your ears. Finish the songs you write!

IMG_20151219_152919_AO_HDR
My jazz guitar student Aaron jamming with Jack Thammarat!

7. Develop your ears 

To develop his ears, he went to guitar school and he learned about scales and chords. When he studied with his teacher, he practiced a lot of scales and arpeggios. To demonstrate, he played C Major 7 arpeggios all across the fretboard in different positions. Then, he played it again but sang each note as he played it. He said to practice singing each note until it’s perfect. After doing this exercise for C Major 7 he did the same exercise for every diatonic chord 7th chord in the key of C Major.

C Maj7 Dmin7 Emin7 FMaj7 G7 Amin7 Bmin7(b5)

If he doesn’t hear something, he doesn’t want to play it. Even when playing fast lines, he would sing the lines he plays when he practices.

8. Feel every note that you play

Jack emphasized that you have to feel every note that you play. I could really feel this when I had the opportunity to jam with Jack on stage. I could sense that he was listening very intently and playing every note with purpose.

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9. Use tension and release when learning to play “outside”

Jack is still practicing the altered scale. To him, it’s the same as him practicing an A minor pentatonic scale. For a C7(b9) to FMaj7 progression, he used a C#dim7 arpeggio resolving to FMaj7. For some people, they might play Bb minor pentatonic over Amin7 chord. For Jack this sounds okay but it’s not good. For him, to play outside you have to know what is the function for each note relative to the chord.

10. Record your playing

Jack says you have to play everyday and record yourself everyday. Listen to yourself and find what you like about your playing and what you hate about your playing. If you keep playing something you don’t like and if you continue playing it, you are programming yourself to play the things you don’t like.

At the moment, he is practicing a lot of jazz such as II-V-I progressions because he wants to add some jazz chords in his music. He hopes to finish his upcoming first CD soon.

The organiser John Lau then suggested Jack to collaborate with me. It was at this point when Jack said he has watched many of my videos on YouTube before. I was very happy to hear this and hope we do get to collaborate in the future! =)

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GUITAR TECHNIQUE PRACTICE TIPS FROM JACK:

[On Soloing] 
When soloing over chords that are in different keys, he practices on each chord by playing the respective scales or modes. You have to know the fingering for each scale and then you create lines from the scales.

[Legato playing]
When practicing legato technique, you should make sure each note has the same volume. He also demonstrated all the various combinations for left hand legato fingering.

  • 1 and 2
  • 1 and 3
  • 1 and 4
  • 2 and 3
  • 2 and 4
  • 3 and 4

He practices legato trills for 5-minutes at a time. For him, this is the best way to train your muscle. He recalls an entire year when he had to rest his right hand after he hurt it. However, he used that opportunity to develop his left hand legato technique for a year.

[Picking]
After recovering from his injury, he practiced picking one note as fast as he can. The important thing was to do this without any tension and to be completely relaxed. He also recommends practicing string skipping as he feels this is the most difficult aspect of alternate picking. For him, you have to feel the same when you pick a single string or on multiple strings. Everyone is different so you have to find your best technique and improve on that.

In order to train your picking, he recommends practicing picking a single note without any tension for 5 minutes.

[Bonus anecdotes from John Lau]

As I was writing this blog post, I learned more about Jack from John Lau who organised the event. According to John, after taking Jack out for dinner (on Friday after he arrived), he wanted to go back to his hotel. John and his team thought that Jack was tired but he wasn’t. Jack actually wanted to fulfil his minimum 6 hours of daily guitar practice! On Sunday as they were headed to airport, Jack took out his guitar in the backseat and started practicing.

Photo by John Lau Guitars
Photo via John Lau Guitars Instagram Page

According to John, Jack also wanted to jam with others, regardless of skill level. John asked whether he’d like for John to filter them but Jack said there was no need to filter, anyone could jam with him!

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—-

Hope you found this blog post helpful. Please share this post if you think others might enjoy it!

Thanks to John Lau Guitars for inviting me and my students to this awesome workshop.

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Now, I’d love to hear from you.

Have you attended a Jack Thammarat workshop before?
Did you learn something from Jack’s songs?
Leave your answer in the comments below. Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another guitarist someone from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here. Be back again soon!

Best wishes,
Az

Wanna read more? Check out 10 Things I Learned From The Guthrie Govan Kuala Lumpur Workshop


 

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How do you get the most out of a jazz festival?

HOW DO YOU SOLO OVER CHORD CHANGES- (3)

I’ve been very fortunate to perform and attend South Korea’s biggest jazz festival, the Jarasum International Jazz Festival this year! It was such a beautiful experience both as a performer and audience member. From catching guitarists like Lionel Loueke and Badi Assad to groups like The Dieter Ilg Trio and RONIN, it was a unique experience. For my own performance, it was an honour to share my Malaysian fingerstyle guitar pieces and reinterpretations of Malaysian pop classics Getaran Jiwa and Malam Bulan Dipagar Bintang. As a tribute to the wonderful folks in South Korea who invited me, I also arranged a version of their folk song, Arirang.

Jazz festivals can bring people together from all around the world and it’s just a really colourful experience that I recommend for jazz fans.

Right now, I am in Penang, Malaysia attending the 12th Penang Island Jazz Festival! Gathering from my experiences over the year,  here are 10 tips to get the most out of a jazz festival:

1. Plan what shows to watch

Do you like swing or are you a Latin jazz fan? Do you dig piano trios or are into weird instrumentation? Figure out what you like and plan your schedule around the music you would enjoy the most. Besides that, also allow yourself to discover new acts in different styles.

2. Prepare for the weather

Are the performances going to be indoors or outdoors? Does it look like it will rain? Will it be cold at night? Be prepared for the weather. Some things that I recommend preparing:

  • raincoats
  • mats
  • hats
  • windbreaker
  • water-proof clothing
  • comfortable durable shoes in case it gets wet
  • extra clothes
  • mosquito or insect repellent

3. Budget for CDs and Merch

Do you like listening to CDs? Do you enjoy cool music t-shirts? Allocate a budget for this. For some, this may not be essential but for others this may be a major part of the festival experience.

4. Pace yourself

You don’t have to attend every event. In fact, you may not be physically able to because of the timing of some events if they are at the same time. Remember to eat and nourish yourself during the festival. Consider planning when you will eat and scout the festival food to figure out what you would eat. I really recommend having healthy meals whenever possible.

5. Listen to the artists before the festival

Be curious and check out samples of the music for as many artists as you can before the festival.

6. Speak to the artists after the show

Like someone’s music? Go talk to them after the show. Tell them what you liked about it. Meeting the artists can be a great way to connect to a deeper level for the music.

Have a question about the music? Be brave and ask the artists directly if you get a chance. Most musicians are very happy to share if they have time. There’s no harm in asking! Go for it!

7. Attend workshops and prepare questions beforehand

If you’re a superfan, message the artist before and after the shows to connect. They may or may not reply but it’s worth a try! =)

8. Experience the city/town – the local life

In addition to the music, remember to explore the local surroundings of the festival to get a well-rounded experience. It’s not just about the music! Get a feel for the city or town while you’re there.

9. Keep yourself healthy

It’s easy to just eat snacks or fast food during a holiday. However, it’s not the best for your body. Remember to eat fresh food, fruits, drink juices, stay hydrated and rest well in between the events you’re attending. Sometimes a little nap or eating some fresh fruit can be what you need to survive the hectic festival schedule!

10. Keep an open mind

A festival is a wonderful opportunity to discover great music, new artists, make friends and party! If you’re a musician, workshop and jam sessions are fuel for musical improvement. For avid music fans, nothing beats the live music experience. Keep an open mind so that you can fully experience the festival. Expect a good time and awesome memories to attract positive experiences.


Hope you found this blog post helpful.

Please share this post if you think others might benefit from it!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

Have you been to a jazz festival?
What’s your favorite tip and why?

Leave your answer in the comments below! Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another musician from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here! If you’d like to improve your guitar playing and get more lessons like this, subscribe now via the box on the right side of this page.

Best wishes,
Az

 

My Jazz Guitar Practice Routine

my jazz guitar practice routine title

I remember the first time I learned jazz arpeggios from the Jerry Coker Patterns For Jazz book when I was studying in International College of Music, Kuala Lumpur in 1998. I played the notes so stiffly and I had no idea how everything was supposed to work. There I was in the hallways of the college, sitting on the floor staring at the book. Then, my friend Rithan asked me what was I doing. I said I was learning jazz. He wasn’t sure it was jazz. I for one, knew it didn’t sound like real music yet. It sounded like exercises. They were exercises. I didn’t know how to connect them to music.

I wasn’t a natural at music. I’m not what people might call ‘gifted’ or ‘talented’. Music was a very challenging thing to me & I still feel the challenge daily.  The best part of this is that I had to figure out how to learn. The best part was that I had to understand how everything worked.

Over the years of learning jazz, I’ve formulated a way of practicing and organizing the mass amount of information out there. It can be overwhelming and intense to digest so here’s a little diagram to help you out.

My Jazz Guitar Practice Routine

Download a PDF of this handout:
[PDF] My Jazz Guitar Practice Routine

It outlines 5 main things that I practice:

1) Chord Voicings
Practice new chords – find interesting voicings, expand my guitar fretboard awareness and most importantly: develop my ears.

2) Arpeggios
It’s not enough to just know the chords in a vertical manner (stacked notes), it’s also essential to be able outline the harmony in a linear melodic fashion. Arpeggios are great for clearly stating the harmony and as a skeletal structure for all the melodies that happen in between.

3) Scales
Beyond the arpeggios, scales provide the extended colors of the chord. I view this as an extension of the chord and not the primary element, at least in improvisation. For arranging, scales can be the source of creating different elements in the music.

4) Lines & Etudes
Write melodies – I write melodies, transcribe solos and licks and write etudes to challenge my ears and my fingers. This is part of the process to develop my musicality.

5) Jamming
Real life is right here. Anyone can practice all of the above but still not be able to apply it in context. Jamming is a way to experiment and have fun with the material I worked on. It’s precedes the actual performance situation and in a way simulates the environment. Everything in the end should fit in a context. Jamming provides the context for all the material practiced.In addition to all this, the core glue is the song, the repertoire. All this is to support the music, whatever song I want to play.

Now, how would you practice all this? Here are actions steps to get these into your playing:

[Action Steps]

  1. Choose a chord you’d like to study
  2. [Chord Voicings] Learn a voicing for the chord
  3. [Arpeggios] Learn an arpeggio fingering for the chord
  4. [Scales] Learn a suitable scale for the chord
  5. [Lines & Etudes] Write 5 jazz licks/melodies that you can play over the chord. I recommend between 2 to 4 bars each
  6. Record these 5 jazz licks/melodies over a backing track. I recommend making your own backing track using the voicing you chose earlier.
  7. Listen back to the recordings
  8. [Jamming] Jam over the backing track and now freely jam using the ideas you wrote earlier and any ideas you may already play.
  9. Repeat steps 1-8 with the next chord or another voicing for the same chord.


Hope you found this blog post helpful.

Please share this post if you think others might benefit from it!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

How do you practice jazz guitar?
Do you have any favorite exercises that you’ve learned?
Leave your answer in the comments below! Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another guitarist from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here! If you’d like to improve your guitar playing and get more lessons like this, subscribe now via the box on the right side of this page.

Can’t wait to learn more?
Level up your guitar skills today here:
http://www.azsamad.com/lessonpacks

Best wishes,
Az

*This post is expanded from the original post on FB on May 17, 2015, 2:59pm*

 

How to find the right guitar for you

How to find the right guitar for you

You read a review of this guitar. Then, you saw your favorite guitarist playing that exact model. So you think to yourself, I want that exact same guitar. You’ve heard your guitar hero play it and it sounded amazing. So, you believe this must be the secret to the sound you’ve been chasing for.

Wrong dude. That’s just only one part of the puzzle. The truth is you need to look at yourself first.

It’s easy to be mesmerized by amazing promo photos and reviews but you really need to consider you first. The truth is everyone is slightly different. You may be tall or short. You may have big hands or small hands. You may be muscular or skinny. Just based on physique, people are different. When you consider musical taste or more precisely consider why you’d wanna get a particular guitar shape, brand or size – it get more complex.

I won’t be able to cover everything here but I hope this will give you general guidelines for your next (or first) guitar purchase.

How do you find the right guitar for you? Here are 6 things to consider:

1. Tone

What kind of tone do you desire? Do you want a twangy guitar sound? Do you want a warm jazz tone? Do you want a versatile guitar that can handle rock to jazz tones?

Does it djent? 

Depending on what kind of tone you are aiming for, different guitars can get you into the tone ballpark must easier than others. Want that big lead sound for blues? Try a Les Paul or similar guitar. Want a classic Hendrix rhythm guitar vibe? Try out different Fender Stratocasters.

Although there are classic guitars for certain styles, remember that there are also other companies making their own take on these classic electric guitar designs like Stratocasters, Telecasters or Les Pauls.

For electric guitar, another consideration is what kind of pickups are the best to achieve your ideal tone?

For acoustic guitars, considerations into the size and shape of the guitar directly affect the tone. Different tone woods also are a part of this for acoustic guitars.

Figure out what kind of guitar you want and begin your search there. Let the tone guide your instrument hunt!

2. Playability

Now that you know what kind of guitar you’d like, you might want to consider playability. This is a general area where things like setup, string action, frets and neck shape all come into play and interact with your hands. Basically, is it easy to play this guitar? If it is, then it would rate high on playability. If not, you may need to get the guitar setup before you play it.

3. Size and comfort for your body and hands

This is when it gets really personal. Consider the size of the instrument and how comfortable it is for you to hold and play it. Sometimes, players might get an instrument because they saw someone play it comfortably but didn’t consider whether it fit their bodies.

Trust your instincts on this. Sometimes people get the wrong guitar for their physique and it can stop them from achieving their technical goals since it’s not the best fit for you.

4. Looks and Aesthetics

Does the guitar look good? Do you like the instrument? Do you like the color scheme? Is the guitar ornate enough or is it just nice? Different players have different sensibilities when it comes to looks and aesthetics. Maybe you like the look of a relic’ed’ Stratocaster or a played in Gibson acoustic guitar.

If you care about how the guitar looks, this is an area that you should explore.

5. Brand or builder

Do you have an allegiance for a particular brand or guitar builder? Some people only use Martin acoustic guitars and some people only use Fender Stratocasters. Certain companies build guitar that are known for the very specific sound they produce. For players who want a bespoke instrument, it may make more sense to buy from a builder they trust.

Depending on your experience trying out different instruments, this is something that may rate highly amongst guitarists.

6. Budget

How much do you have allocated for the purchase? Do you have a big budget or do you have a very strict guitar budget? This is what will open up or limit your instument choices.

Some people may choose to figure out all the other 5 choices before the decide on the budget or at times save up for the guitar.

The final decision

How much of these things be a factor in your guitar purchase? It really depends to your own personal situation. The most important thing in the end is to find an instrument that can inspire you to practice everyday and bring you joy. =)

Hope you found this blog post helpful. Please share this post if you think others might benefit from it!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What’s your dream guitar?
Why is it your dream guitar?
What guitar are you using now?

Leave your answer in the comments below! Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another guitarist from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here! If you’d like to improve your guitar playing and get more lessons like this, subscribe now via the box on the right side of this page.

Can’t wait to learn more?

Level up your guitar skills today here:
http://www.azsamad.com/lessonpacks

Best wishes,
Az

How to play fast on guitar?

how to play fast on guitarG3: Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Steve Vai

It was the year 2000. The festival was called Rentak Asia. There I was, backstage at the Kuala Lumpur G3 concert soundcheck with my friend Rithan and a few others. We saw Eric Johnson just a few seconds before and asked for an autograph. Sometime during that day, we were standing right next to Joe Satriani’s guitar tech setting up his guitars. At another point, we saw Steve Vai doing his soundcheck. He was not in his full stage clothes. His hair was tied and he looked different. And then there was that moment when my friend Rithan actually played one of Vai’s song in front of Vai. We were young and energized. In other words, tak malu and grabbed the moment. Years later, Rithan would open for Steve Vai’s concert in Singapore.

We were completely blown away. This is the kind of thing that can change your life and it did for me. Now when I think back about this, I almost can’t believe how lucky I was to be there. Did I mention I saw Derek Trucks play live at this same concert too?

Watching all these amazing people after just playing guitar for about 4 years was a really surreal experience for me. Such virtuosity and thus began my quest to understand more of the music I heard. It would take years and in fact is still a continuing quest.

Think Fast

  • Yngwie Malmsteen
  • Paco De Lucia
  • Pat Martino
  • Al DiMeola
  • John McLaughlin
  • Frank Gambale
  • Paul Gilbert
  • John Petrucci

These are some of the famous guitarists that have used speed as a part of their distinctive guitar styles. We admire these players because not only they play fast but they play with musical taste. They all achieve their speed using different techniques. Some pick, some play fingerstyle, some use alternate picking, some use economy and sweep picking. The techniques themselves may differ but there are certain principles that these players use.

This blog post is not meant to be a complete guide. It’s more like stepping stones that may open up ideas you may have not explored or at least considered in awhile.

Here are 11 key concepts to help you play fast on guitar:

1. Economy 

Are you moving too much? Do you use big strums when all you need is a small strumming movement? Economy helps you achieve speed so record yourself so you can see how your movement is like. What you need to remember about economy in movement is that the economy must come from relaxation and not tension. You might hurt yourself by  forcing yourself to tense up to do small movements for the sake of economy.

One of my heroes for this topic is Philip Hii, an amazing classical guitarist who wrote a book about the art of virtuosity. If you’re curious, check it out. I strongly recommend all his books.

2. Relaxed hands

This is really one of the most important things in playing fast. Try to make your fingers into a fist as if you are about to punch something. Now try to move your hands around. After that, try to keep your fingers loose and free and move them around. What do you notice? Which hand position seems more rigid or stiff?

For most people keeping your hands open and free make it easier for you to move. If your hands are tense, you’ll have a harder time to move fast and fluidly.

Remember. Be relaxed. Breathe.

3. Coordination

Sometimes guitarists think that their picking hand or fretting hand is too slow. At times, it might actually be a lack of coordination. Speed is not only moving fast but synchronizing both hands precisely.

4. Choose your technique

This is something that I learned from one of my Berklee teachers, slide guitar guru David Tronzo. Sometimes people use every possible technique but are unable to do any effectively. David Tronzo suggested that everyone should choose their main technique. By choosing what is your main technique (fingerstyle, pickstyle, thumb) you can develop it further and refine it. This focus and refinement can make a difference when you want to play fast. For example, my main technique is fingerstyle guitar based on classical guitar technique. Although I do play with a pick and am familiar with that technique, it’s still my secondary technique. For most of my work, I play fingerstyle.

That’s the technique I choose. You have to choose what’s right for you.

5. Define your melodies

A lot of lessons on speed focus on the common chromatic finger exercise of each finger playing a note, 1 finger per fret and picking 4 notes per string from the 6th string to the 1st string. There’s a lot of very mechanical exercises floating around the internet. To me, you really need to know what kinds of fast melodies you want to play. There is no real one size fits all approach.

Different melodies require different techniques to achieve them. For example, if you want to play blazing fast neo-classical harmonic minor scale phrases like Yngwie Malmsteen you will need certain kinds of chops. If you want to play chromatic rhythmically intense lines like Wayne Krantz, it a different set of skills.

Think deeply and then study it inside out.

6. Posture

Do you want to play guitar sitting down or standing up? What kind of guitar do you play? What technique do you use to play? All these questions can relate to the posture that you should adopt for fast playing. Some people like to just chill on the couch and play. However, that posture may not be the best for you in the long run (pun intended).

To study about posture, taking a class with an Alexander Technique or Feldenkrais Method instructor may be helpful. Some of my peers also have tried yoga, tai chi, qi gong or other approaches to understand their body better. In my experience, playing guitar at a high level does not just involve your hands but your entire body. Posture is key.

7. Chunking 

When I play long fast melodies, it’s often a combination of many smaller 4-note patterns and cells combined to create a larger phrase. Chunking is a process of organizing the notes into logical small phrases. Essentially what most fast players experience is the ability to see phrases in longer sections. In addition to chunking, identifying the points where your phrases is typically broken up (like between bars) is important for creating long lines that connect fluidly.

8. Consistency

If you play a fast phrase one way the first time and another way afterwards, it becomes difficult to keep that tempo going. Especially in the beginning stages, I recommend understanding the micro-movements in each phrase to master it.

9. Record yourself

This is the single biggest advice I can give to any musician: record yourself! By recording your work, you get a way to understand how you play. As I tell my private lesson students, “Record yourself as a way of discovering what was good and bad about your playing. It is a document of your playing ability.”

Some people never get used to recording themselves. They feel nervous and are too critical about their playing that it stops them from recording themselves. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, use recordings as a mirror to see how you play.

10. Listen to fast music

Developing your ears is a huge part of MUSICAL fast playing. Some guitarists may be able to play fast but actually rely on their muscle memory and finger movements exclusively without connecting to it internally. Being able to hear the melodies at the actual performance tempo is important. I have to thank Bryan Baker for giving me this advice back around 2007 when I took lessons with him. Bryan was one of the most admired jazz guitarists at Berklee at that time and getting a chance to study with him was helpful to my playing and composing skills in so many ways. His first album Aphotic is still one of my favorite heavy jazz guitar recordings ever.

11. The right gear

Lastly, make sure you have the right equipment for your style of music. Although you can learn to play almost any style of music on any guitar, having the right guitar can inspire you to practice and get the right sound.

[Action Steps]

These actions steps are almost exactly the same as my post on “How to use chromatic notes in your guitar solos“. The reason is that the process is the same but the topic of study can change. When practicing keep in mind the 11 key concept on playing fast that I wrote above. The more you do it, the better your playing will be. Here are the action steps:

1. Make a playlist

Make a playlist of 10 of your favorite solos/lines/songs that include fast playing. This could be on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or on a mixtape. The goal is to keep a personal “musical notebook” of the fast sounds YOU like. This will be your reference for discovering, understanding and learning these sounds.

2. Transcribe

Choose a very small portion of a fast phrase and transcribe it. Some people like to write it down, some may just want to learn it on the instrument directly. Whatever you do, make sure you can play this. It doesn’t have to be at performance tempo yet but that’s part of the eventual goal.

3. Study

Analyze the phrase inside out. Use whatever knowledge you have to break apart this phrase. Study it again and again as much as you need. Take notes.

4. Recreate

Write your own phrase or melodies that use the same concept. Practice and record this.

5. Jam

Now, use the fast phrases you’ve learned in jams and songs that you play with friends. In the beginning, it will sound awkward and uncomfortable. Don’t worry, this is part of the process.

Remember to be patient. Keep exploring, studying, collecting ideas and practicing. The process is the thing!

Hope you found this blog post helpful. Please share this post if you think others might benefit from it!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What made you want to play fast?
What’s your favorite fast guitar solo?
What’s the best advice for playing fast that you know?

Leave your answer in the comments below! Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another guitarist from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here! If you’d like to improve your guitar playing and get more lessons like this, subscribe now via the box on the right side of this page.

Can’t wait to learn more?
Level up your skills today here:
http://www.azsamad.com/lessonpacks

Best wishes,
Az

How to use chromatic notes in your guitar solos

how to use chromatic notes in your solos

From Hip Hop to Bebop

The first time I heard Charlie Parker play on the Verve album, ‘Bird’s Best Bop‘, I thought to myself why do people love this music? It sounded so dissonant to my circa 1998 ears.

My ears weren’t used to it. I grew up listening to Malaysian pop hop hop acts like 4U2C and KRU. Then, I found out about American acts like Kris Kross and TLC. My first music performance (prior to picking up guitar) was a cover of Kris Kross’s Jump at the school assembly. I promptly embarrassed myself by stepping on the mic and rapping on the 2nd verse onwards completely unplugged.

Then, I discovered Warren G, Da Brat and Craig Mack. I proceeded to listen to R&B acts like Jodeci, Boyz II Men and Shai. After that, a girl told me to listen to Nirvana and that started my adventure into guitar. Less than 2 years after picking up guitar (and studying classical guitar), I was in music college and wanted to learn jazz. I started with Joe Pass and ventured to some Wes Montgomery and Pat Metheny. Then, I read somewhere that I had to listen to Charlie Parker.

I was so confused as I was so used to the sound of pop music and hip hop. The dissonance is jazz was challenging to my ears. So, I forced myself to listen to the same album for an entire year to get the sound in my ears. That’s the same thing I did the first time I heard The Black Decameron performed by John Williams. When I didn’t understand a sound, I kept listening to it again and again. Saturating my ears with the sound.

Over the years in college, I grew to love the beauty of dissonance. I wanted to understand it. I wanted to play and compose sounds like what I heard.

Now, I’d like to share with you what I figured out so far about how to use chromatic notes after 19 years of playing guitar.

Chromaticism: All your notes are belong to Az

For guitarists, you either want to use chromatic notes in your solos for 2 reasons:

  • you love the sound and cannot express your music without this
  • you want to show off to other musicians that you can play chromatically

Sometimes, it’s both. It’s okay. I know the feeling.

Now, there are (at least) three ways to organize chromaticism in solos:

  • Direction (passing notes, approach notes)

With direction, you need to know the chord tones and scales for the chords you are soloing over. For example, if the chord is Dmin7, you should know:

D F A C are the chord tones
D E F G A B C D is D dorian, a possible scale choice

To build chromatic lines from the scale, play these notes but add passing notes between the scale notes.
To build chromatic lines from the chord tones, you can approach a chord tone with a chromatic note from below or a chromatic note above. There’s also A LOT of other chromatic approaches but this is one way to start.

  • Shape (chromatic sequences/patterns) 

For this, take any melodic pattern and then sequence it chromatically up or down. You can sequence it by half-steps, whole-steps or any interval of your choice. It could be a pattern or random. Patterns typically work better as they direct the listener’s ears. Randomness create more unexpected melodic ideas. Use your ears and trust your instincts. Balance is key

  • Logic (dominant approach reharmonization, side-stepping, chord progression reharmonization, tone rows)

For this to work, you actually have to play melodies that fit another chord progression over the original chord. For example, while soloing over the chord Dmin7 – you could play melodies that outline Dmin7-A7b9-Dmin7. This is a dominant approach reharmonization. According to saxophonist and chromatic playing guru David Liebman, this is an example of superimposition. Simply said, play a melody that implies another chord progression over the original chords. This is the very basis for what John Coltrane did after he recorded Giant Steps. He would play melodies inspired by those changes over jazz standards like Body and Soul.

Side-stepping is playing in the original key and then up or down the key by a half step. Essentially, you are playing the same scale and melodies but in a different key.

Tone rows are the basis of Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique that he devised in 1921. Jazz musicians sometimes use this as part of their solos though not as strict as a classical composer might use it. One of my favorite pieces that uses some of these ideas in a jazz setting is All in a Row by Steps Ahead with Bryan Baker on guitar.

The questions are:
Can you hear these sounds?
Do you like it?
Are you confident enough to play it?

If you play purely based on fingering and you can’t hear it, it will sound like an exercise.

Here are some actions steps to get into chromatic playing:

[Action Steps]

1. Make a playlist

Make a playlist of 10 of your favorite solos/lines/songs that use chromaticism. This could be on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or on a mixtape. The format doesn’t really matter as much. The main thing is to keep a personal “musical notebook” of the sounds YOU like. This will be your reference for discovering, understanding and learning these sounds.

2. Transcribe

Choose a very small portion of a phrase and transcribe it. Some people like to write it down, some may just want to learn it on the instrument directly. Whatever you do, make sure you can play this. It doesn’t have to be at performance tempo yet but that’s part of the eventual goal.

3. Study

Analyze the phrase inside out. Use whatever knowledge you have to break apart this phrase. Study it again and again as much as you need. Take notes.

4. Recreate

Write your own phrase or melodies that use the same concept. Practice and record this.

5. Jam

Now, use the phrases you’ve learned in jams and songs that you play with friends. In the beginning, it will sound awkward and uncomfortable. Don’t worry, this is part of the process.

Remember to be patient. Keep exploring, studying, collecting ideas and practicing. The process is the thing!

Hope you found this blog post helpful. Please share this post if you think others might benefit from it!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What made you want to solo using more chromatic notes?
What’s your favorite piece or guitar solo that uses a lot of chromaticism?

Leave your answer in the comments below! Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another guitarist from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here! If you’d like to improve your guitar playing and get more lessons like this, subscribe now via the box on the right side of this page.

Can’t wait to learn more?
Get a lesson pack to level up your skills today here:
http://www.azsamad.com/lessonpacks

Best wishes,
Az

3 things I didn’t realize when I started playing guitar

3 things i didnt realize when i started playing guitar

I started playing guitar because of the band Nirvana.

Well, to be exact it was because of a girl. She told me to check out this band called Nirvana.  And so I did.

I listened to Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York. That made me want to pick up guitar. And so I did.

My grandmother gave me RM80 to purchase my very first Sunburst Blue Kapok Guitar from Spectrum shopping mall in Ampang. After 3 months, my dad noticed I was still intent on playing the guitar so he bought me a proper classical guitar on the condition that I took classical guitar lessons.

And so I did.

19 years later, I still am playing guitar. I learned a lot along the way. Reflecting on this, I thought I would share 3 things I didn’t realize when I started playing guitar. These are things that I wish someone told me when I started. I’m not sure whether young Az would have listened but hey, one can try!

Here they are:

It will take longer that you think

When I started playing guitar, I thought that I’d be amazing after 2 to 5 years of playing. The truth is it will take longer than you think. I learned from reading Seth Godin’s book The Dip about how you improve much faster at the beginning and then settle into a dip as you progress when you learn a new skill. This plateau is what makes most people quit what they do after some time. That’s why you hear about friends who tried learning guitar for awhile but then stopped.

The secret is to realize that this is part of the process. When you realize this is the case for anything you learn, it will help you through those difficult periods when you’re stuck.

The basics are everything

When I was a newbie, I was fascinated with classical guitar pieces like Isaac Albeniz’s Asturias or Van Halen’s Eruption. I imagined the day I could play pieces like that. It was later on that I realized the basics are everything. If you can’t do a clear hammer-on with just two notes, a faster phrase in an elaborate scale run is almost impossible. If you can’t change clearly between two chords, you can’t play those fast chord changes in Classical Gas. Even now, after 19 years of playing, I work the most on basic things like playing a single note with a good tone or right hand fingerstyle technique or coordination between both hands for an A minor pentatonic scale or Cmajor7 arpeggio. The basics are everything! With the basics combined, we get the complex pieces we admire so much.

Musicality is more important than speed

A lot of people are at awe when someone plays something super fast on guitar. It’s just human nature. We are awestruck at the seemingly impossible. It’s like spotting Superman in real life or meeting an X-Men on guitar. But, as I work professionally I discover that musicality is more important than speed. True, in a professional setting, you need that speed and technique. In fact, for the more difficult gigs you will need a lot of technique but musicality has to be at the core.

Musicality covers the realm of being able to listen to other musicians and reacting appropriately. It covers being able to find the right tone or sound for the right band or ensemble. Some musicians are only able to play fast but do not know how to listen. The best ensembles I’ve ever seen or been in thrive on musicality and interacting organically. It doesn’t matter whether it’s my duo gig with vocalist Kirsten Long at a jazz club or when I perform as part of the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra – musicality is very important. The core is being able to listen. Listen and respond. I’m not saying speed is not important. Instead, I’m saying it has to be musical speed. All the technique has to be grounded in making the music sound good.

So what can you do to internalize these lessons? Here are some actions steps:

[Action Steps]

1. Set a specific amount of time to practice daily

Allocate time for practice so that you work on your weaknesses daily. Even practicing guitar 10-minutes a day can make a difference. Even when you feel like you’re not improving, keep doing the work. As my jazz improvisation teacher Hal Crook used to say, “the process is the thing.”

2. Work on the basics

Work on the basic techniques and get those strong. Here’s a list of what you could practice on guitar:

  • open string tone
  • fretting note pressure
  • picking down
  • picking up
  • hammer-ons
  • pull-offs
  • slides
  • vibrato
  • bends
  • pre-bends
  • strumming down
  • strumming up
  • dynamics
  • tone variations on a single note
  • playing exactly on the beat of a metronome, i.e. “making the metronome beat disappear”

These seem very basic but can shape your playing in a big way!

3. Focus on the musicality of what you play

Do you play licks that sometimes sound mechanical? Does your rhythm playing seem stiff and rigid? Focus on making what you play more musical. Record your playing and see what you can do to make it better.

Do you always play solo? Try playing as a duo or group!
Do you always play slow songs? Try learning an up-tempo tune!

Expand your musicality by challenging yourself beyond conventional technique. Work on what I call “invisible technique” – the stuff that you don’t see so easily – the opposite of “flashy chops”.  One of my musical heroes Adam Rafferty talks about it in his blog post here.

Hope you found this blog post helpful. Please share this post if you think others might benefit from it!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What didn’t you realize when you started playing guitar?
What did you wish someone told you when you first picked up guitar?

Leave your answer in the comments below! Remember to share as much detail as possible so that we can all learn from one another. Your insight may help another guitarist from across the world.

Thank you for reading and for hanging out here! If you’d like to improve your guitar playing and get more lessons like this, subscribe now via the box on the right side of this page.

Can’t wait to learn more?
Get a lesson pack to level up your skills today here:
http://www.azsamad.com/lessonpacks

Best wishes,
Az