“I want to introduce to you Joakim – with whom we graduated with Bachelor degrees in contemporary music from ICMP. He’s a very friendly player whose smooth sound never failed to please my ears. Including at his final exam for his Jazz Masters Degree which I was lucky to attend at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. I was very happy to hear his own arrangements there and (if I’m not mistaken) some of his originals!

Similar to me – after working and studying in London as a musician he also returned to his home country. So nowadays you can see him working as a guitarist participating in various projects as well as teaching guitar in Norway.” – Neli

How did you get into guitar? 

I grew up in a very musical environment. My mum plays the piano and you could always find several instruments lying around the house. We listened to everything from jazz to Disney music on a daily basis and I was therefore exposed to a lot of music from a very young age. Growing up I sang in the local children’s choir (for a short amount of time), played in a brass band for 5 years as well as started my own punk band at the age of 12 with my best mates from school. I am not a 100% sure why I picked up the guitar, but through family and friends I met several people who could play and I also thought it looked super cool. I picked up a small nylon string guitar lying around the house and my mum taught me 3 chords; E minor, A7 and D major. And that’s how it all started.

Since you have a Master’s degree in jazz music, you are the perfect person to ask – how would you describe jazz music to an aspiring musician experiencing it for the first time?  

This is the biggest cliché around, but Jazz is a language. It is both complex and simple. You can listen to jazz for fun, or you can be the type who analyses the music in the most detailed way. And nothing is wrong with either. I absolutely love some of the easy-listening stuff, as well as the more advanced jazz material I tend to listen to from time to time. When it comes to playing it, jazz is all about improvising, and it is important to realise that jazz improvisation should be fun – not scary. However, in order to improvise you need a few tools up your sleeve, like a good ear or knowing a few scales and how they work over certain chords. This can all be very difficult at the start – at least I thought so when trying to play over jazz standards with my teacher at the age of 14. So my best advice is to be patient, and focus on playing stuff that you really enjoy.

What equipment do you use that has been crucial to your becoming a successful musician?

I have spent countless hours on Youtube and various forums looking for the perfect overdrive pedal, guitar or amplifier. And although I really enjoy gear shopping, I try to spend more time actually playing guitar. I always end up with my trusty Telecaster on most gigs and I can get by with a few of my favourite pedals and a decent valve amp. It is all about making your own gear sounding good. However, like most other musicians I try to stay updated on what is going when it comes to new gear popping up. Find yourself an instrument that you really like playing and you should be good to go. You can always use practice tools like YouTube, Logic, a loop pedal and so on, but this should always be regarded as tools, not a necessity for you in order to have a good practice session or to produce your sound.

Working on the musical “Kristina Från Duvemåla” with Bømlo Theatre, August 2021

In your career, you have been part of several functions and originals bands and also have performed as a session musician, and at musicals. How do you combine all these roles?

I try to be a musical chameleon. I just really enjoy different types of music, and therefore I have chosen not to properly specialise in just one particular style or genre. Some might say that sounds like a limitation, but the more styles and genres I delve into the more I realise how much they have in common. As a result, I am always keen on learning new things, and it keeps me interested at all times. Many of the qualities I have focused on developing over the last few years have also worked as door openers for new projects. I released a songbook about two years ago, which really made me improve my reading skills as well as chart writing. 

How does a performance for a musical come together?

Hard work and lots of it. If it is a big production it will require you to be patient as things don’t always go as planned. There are usually loads of people involved and although people come from different backgrounds and art fields we are all aiming for the best result possible. If everyone is up for going a little bit out of their comfort zone things normally end up really well. 

In 2016 you released the EP of original instrumentals “Spring”. How did it come together?

This was my final project at ICMP. I gathered some of my favourite musicians and we went to a great studio in Dalston called the Blue Studios and recorded 5 songs. A good friend of mine and sound engineer, Nathan Smardina, produced the EP. It was basically a two-day session and I didn’t have a lot of studio experience at the time. I remember learning a lot about session work through this project. Considering how little time you have in studio it is really important to be able to make quick decisions and actually have the skill to play what is required at that particular time. I always think of studio work as a result of that exact moment. Listening back to this EP I am sure there are plenty of things I could, or should, change – but it is what it is; an exact excerpt of those two days in the studio.  

Which qualities do you think make a great musician? 

Personally, I really value two things: Be able to listen and be a nice person. First and foremost I want to work with people who are nice to hang around with. After that they need to be able to play in time, and make their instrument sound good. If a musician ticks all these boxes I’m sure they will have good chances of making a career in the music industry.

What is a thing you’d like to experiment with in music? 

It really interests me how people get emotionally involved in music, either as a listener or performer. Perhaps it’s a melody that you really like, or a groove that gets you going. People find it hard to describe these emotions, and perhaps it would be interesting to study this more in the future. 

Currently Joakim is working on a new album with his solo project – a quartet with him on vocals as well as guitar, and hopefully there will be a single released later this year. Keep an eye out on his Instagram profile @joakimvikanes for more info.

After we covered all about the types of material most guitar strings are made of in Part I, it is time to move on to the other crucially important characteristics you need to keep in mind to equip your guitar with the best fit of string. These are the gauge of the string, as well as the shape of its core and the way it is coated and wound. Stay ‘till the end to also get a recommendation for some of the best guitar string brands.

Gauge

This refers to the size of the string in diameter, or we can simply say “gauge” is just a fancy term for thickness. It’s hard to believe, but even a thousandth of an inch can make a huge difference in your guitar’s sound and feel. This characteristic is measured in 1/1000th of an inch. When you look at a pack of guitar strings, the heaviest and lightest gauges will be displayed on the packaging. For example, ‘10-46’ – which means the pack’s lightest string is a 10-gauge string that is 0.010 inches or 0.254mm in diameter,  and the thickest string is 46-gauge that is 0.046 inches or 1.17 mm in diameter.

String core

The string core essentially means the shape of the guitar string. There are two key types – the round core and the hex core. The round core strings offer mellower tones that sound fantastic when playing blues or classic rock. Meanwhile, the hex core strings are typically louder and brighter, delivering a very modern sound best suited to more recent rock and metal.

Winding

When we talk about winding, we’re referring to the way the wire wrap is wound around the core. The easiest way to tell the difference is to look at the surface of your string. Roundwounds have a textured surface. They have a bright tone and flexible feel, making them a solid choice for rock, metal and fingerstyle. Roundwounds are also the cheapest and most widespread option. 

When it comes to flatwounds, as the name suggests, they have a flattened surface. They produce more tension on the fretboard, which means less fret buzz and smoother note transitions. But they’re harder to fret and have a dark, bass-heavy tone, which is why they;re widely used in jazz. Half rounds have a slightly flattened surface. They’re brighter than flatwounds, but stiffer and darker sounding than roundwounds. They’re also the most expensive of the three types and may be hard to find at your local store.

Coating

In the late 90s, the brand Elixir revolutionized the industry by launching coated guitar strings. With a plastic polymer around the wire wrap, they keep away sweat, dirt and other grimy build-up and oxidation.

There are two major types of coating, developed by Elixir and copied by other brands:

  • Polyweb: with a heavy coating, they have a smoother feel and longer lifespan.
  • Nanoweb: with a light coating, they feel and sound more like uncoated types.
  • Optiweb: their latest coating – the thinnest of all and meant to last the longest.

Coated strings last at least twice as long as uncoated ones, but they’re also about twice as expensive. Another thing is they aren’t as bright and have less sustain. Let us know if you’d like to learn more about Coating.

String Brand Recommendations

There are a variety of different string brands on the market, and that can make it difficult to know where to start looking. Here are a few recommended brands for each of the three main types of guitar strings.

  • Electric Guitar Strings – Elixir – any of theirs really, Ernie Ball Cobalt Slinkies, D’Addario NYXL, Rotosound
  • Acoustic Guitar Strings – Elixir Phosphor Bronze w/Nanoweb Coating, Ernie Ball Earthwood Strings, D’Addario, Martin M170 80/20 Bronze (although they tend to wear out in a few days)
  • Nylon and Classical Guitar Strings – D’Addario Pro-Arté, Godin Nylon Strings, Martin

If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out also these articles here and here. For more guides, tips and tricks we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of guitar (or ukulele) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

READ ALSO:
How to tune my guitar?
10 Gift Ideas That Every Guitar Player Would Love
What are the different types of acoustic guitars?
Types of Electric Guitar According to Body Shapes (Part I)
Types of Electric Guitar According to Body Shapes (Part II)

Photo by Alexis Baydoun on Unsplash

Choosing the right type of strings for your guitar is incredibly important. When you know what strings to use it’s a huge asset to your playing and likewise when you get it wrong it can be incredibly detrimental. There are many types of guitar strings, each of which contributes a different sound to the music you play. In this two-part series, we will cover all the basics you need to know in order to equip your guitar with the best fit of strings.

The sound of a guitar string depends on the material and gauge of the string, as well as the shape of its core and the way it is coated or wound. In this first part, we will dive into the types of material. 

The most common strings are metal ones that use steel and nickel, metal ones made from brass or bronze, and strings made from nylon. Occasionally, you can find ones made from other metals, like:

  • Titanium: long-lasting, with a bright tone.
  • Cobalt: has a bright tone and wide range.
  • Chrome: has a warm tone, but breaks easily.

Steel and nickel are mainly used to make strings for electric guitars. Usually, an electric guitar string will consist of a steel wire that is plated in nickel, although you can also buy pure steel or pure nickel ones. Steel strings have a long sustain and are best for metal, rock and country. Important to know is that they should never go on a classical guitar. Ever! Classical guitars are lightly braced, with a delicate body. You might accidentally snap its neck by using high-tension steel since you’re likely to double the tension it is designed to be able to handle. On nickel strings, your notes will be warmer, richer and fuller. Because of this, nickel is more popular with rhythm guitarists and is typical in vintage-sounding blues or jazz. Opting for nickel-plated steel strings allows you to find a happy medium between these two sounds.

Brass and bronze strings are a variation of steel strings for steel-string acoustic guitars. Brass is favored by a lot of musicians who want to bring out the “natural” tones of their instrument. It combines a strong bass on the lower strings with a super bright tone on the higher strings. But here is also a warning – brass ages faster than other types. Bronze plated strings deliver a smoother and warmer sound than brass, which is why they are often used for softer music pieces.

Nylon strings are typically used on nylon string guitars or classical guitars. They can have low tension, so you might experience some fret buzz when you play. With the right guitar body, you can master a diversity of styles – from classical, through flamenco and gypsy jazz, to country, with nylons. Do keep in mind though that because they tend to stretch more than steel ones, they require more frequent tuning, especially when newly installed. They are also more sensitive to atmospheric changes caused by humidity and temperature.

Now you know what to expect from the different types of strings based on the material they are made of. In order to match your guitar with the best strings though you need to also be on the lookout for their gauge, string core, coating and winding. We will be covering that in the second part so stay tuned!

If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out also these articles here and here. For more guides, tips and tricks we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of guitar (or ukulele) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

READ ALSO:
How to tune my guitar?
10 Gift Ideas That Every Guitar Player Would Love
What are the different types of acoustic guitars?
Types of Electric Guitar According to Body Shapes (Part I)
Types of Electric Guitar According to Body Shapes (Part II)

Photo by Daniel G on Unsplash

“Georgi is the 1st guitar tutor I met in Bulgaria since moving back in 2019. We met at a blues jam session and I really liked the way he managed to weave beautiful melodies into his improvising and get lovely tones from his instrument. I was also impressed that he put the effort in bringing all sorts of effects to a jam session, some of which I have been eyeing up for quite a while (like the Big Sky from Strymon). We continued chatting on social media and I found out that he has a very similar approach to teaching as me. So, I immediately decided that he’d have some very valuable advice to share with you! Read more about him below.” – Neli

How did you get into guitar?

I was 14 years old when something made me say to my mother: “I want you to sign me up for guitar lessons!”. It was very sudden, I don’t even know where it came from. The answer was that they would do it, but I had to fix my grades at school – and I agreed. However, I really got into it when my music teacher at school gathered us in the school hall and played Asturias by Isaac Albeniz for us on his classical guitar. I had never heard such an incredible sound and was speechless. Then he told us that we could take guitar lessons with him, and I was the first one to sign up.

I attended classes with him for a year, but we only studied classical guitar. This is a common practice in Bulgaria, which I do not consider good, given that everyone wants to play something different. However, I never waited for the lessons to come – all the time I was trying things by myself, digging on the Internet for information and spending 6 hours a day practicing. This way I progressed a lot.

With years of experience as a guitarist and guitar teacher, how do you take care of constantly developing your guitar skills?

I like for things to happen gradually and naturally – for example, I learn a new chord and think about how to apply it. In general, at this stage I am at the point where I am refining my phrasing more and upgrading my improvisation skills so that I can naturally push an improvisation forward to tell a story – this is the main thing I am working on. Things happen quite naturally because of my inner desire to learn new things.

Also while working with students, sometimes new ideas come to my mind on how to teach better – such as how to explain things like chords and strumming more clearly. I’ve been asked a lot of cool questions that made me realize I can do something better. This is a great way to grow because you also get feedback.

 What do you wish you knew about the guitar before you started learning it?

It would have been great if I knew that playing by notation is not necessary at all. Classical guitar and playing songs have nothing in common, the instrument is different. The classical guitar has a very wide fretboard and it is not convenient to play songs or solos on it. The acoustic guitar, which is closest to the classical one, has a more narrow fingerboard and metal strings. Everything sounds great and natural on an acoustic. With the electric ones, you can get so many variations of the sound, which is also great. I wish I had come across a teacher who had pushed me in that direction initially.

Another thing is, it would have been nice to know a little more theory in the beginning. I studied the theory all by myself – for all these years since I’ve been involved in music, I haven’t found anyone to explain it to me in a good way. I figured out things by myself through a lot of trials and errors. If the theory is brought into a framework and shown through clear examples of what, how and why – it is not that difficult. How to think, how to change voicings, how to serve the song – today I teach these things because it seems like not enough is said about them.


What are some realistic goals that a beginner guitarist should set for themselves?

I think you have to start with the attitude – to be patient. It’s strictly individual for everyone, but playing the guitar takes time – you can’t play any song perfectly in a month. Even if you learn the chords correctly, then you have to fix the right hand, the dynamics, the tempo and many other factors.

A good goal is to learn most of the main chords in the 1st [classical] position in a month or two – like C major, G major, A minor, etc. This again depends – some people will find it easier to start with a scale like the pentatonic, since it is easy to remember because of the serious logic behind it.

Another important thing for beginners is the placement of both hands, to control the right hand and the pick well and not to hit too hard. These are some things that are important to master properly in the beginning.

In addition to teaching guitar, you also work as a session musician. How does a typical session of yours go?

It all starts with a long conversation in which we specify how exactly the record should sound and I offer different options. I’m also a pianist, so if the record is to include a piano, we clarify that as well. I try to nail down the nuance that is being pursued. I try out different ideas, from which in the end remains the best one, which I send. If they don’t like it – I try another one. The main thing is that I try to serve the song. The technical part is not a problem, because I know how to make the recording in the right way with a timbre that suits the song and complements it.

What can we find on your YouTube channel, or maybe expect soon?

I started developing my YouTube channel last December. I decided that this was a natural step for me, because in addition to working with audio, I also work on video production. A friend of mine made me try it and it dawned on me that it was something I could do. I am extremely pleased with the quality and the information I manage to convey.

My channel is focused on everything music. It contains many guitar lessons on topics that no one seems to talk about on the Internet. I also alanyse songs, which is something new for me, and I really enjoy it. I think this is a very cool format. I am also trying to create a catalog with chords of Bulgarian songs. For example, many people want to play D2 songs (a Bulgarian band), but there are no videos on how to play a song of theirs, which I want to change.

How do you choose the themes on which you create YouTube videos?

There are questions that I asked myself as a beginner and I did not find the answers – by this logic I make a lot of the videos. I pick the topics based on things which were missing from my own knowledge back when I was a beginner. But also it depends on what I am interested in on the week I’m recording. There are some weeks when I play the piano more and others, when I am mostly on the guitar.

It is important for me that my content is in Bulgarian – my goal is to make videos for the Bulgarian audience, which give a good feeling and teach something without unnecessary information.

What is your dream music project?

I have been working on it for over a year – my debut solo album, which will include 10 original songs. We are already halfway through – 5 of the songs are ready for recording, and for the other 5 we are working on the lyrics. It will be muso oriented with real instruments, analog sound and songs that I hope will not have an expiration date. I think it will turn out great. I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time and I’m getting closer to the goal of releasing the album. I am very glad that I have found great musicians with whom to bring it to life. I am the main producer, arranger, guitarist and pianist for the project. I try to make it by the American standards – like John Mayer, Bruno Mars, Charlie Puth, Michael Jackson. I hope to be able to do it on the same level and create music for the soul that resonates with people. I hope to have concerts to which fans of my music come. This is the greatest recognition for a performer – someone to set aside money and time to come and watch you.

Check out Georgi’s website HERE, follow him on social media HERE and subscribe to his YouTube channel HERE.

To pinpoint the best acoustic guitar brands is a highly subjective endeavour, however it is important to know some basics, particularly for people who are relatively new to the instrument and would like to narrow down their search when looking to buy one. So here is a breakdown of Neli’s prefered brands and their distinctive features.

Fender

While many guitar companies began making acoustic guitars and later moved into electric guitars, with Fender it happened the other way around. Although Fender moved much later into acoustics, the legendary brand offers a diverse collection. These models include both classic styles and more diverse shapes, so players in all genres can find a great fit. Although they are not widely regarded as a high-end maker of acoustic guitars, they are very well respected for the entry-level acoustics.

Each Fender acoustic guitar is made to play fast and smooth. Tonewoods like mahogany, sapele, and spruce keep each Fender acoustic guitar smooth and crisp, with a tightly focused sound that cuts through live mixes.

Martin

The founder of Martin is known as the person to invent the first-ever acoustic guitar in the United States, so one can expect good quality – and the brand delivers. It is one of the oldest yet most reliable ones that offer top-quality instruments for the past nearly 200 years, and they’re still going strong. Generations of players in all genres — from Johnny Cash to Paul McCartney and Ed Sheeran — have cherished their Martin guitars because of their higher-end craftsmanship and timeless sound. 

Martin pioneered body shapes like the dreadnought and orchestra model (OM) and, even today, its model lines provide rich, supple response with a delicate mid-range and powerful bass. It’s hard to beat the quality that Martin offers in their lower price-range as well. They might be a bit more pricey, but you won’t need another guitar. Added bonus – they are very environmentally friendly.

Taylor

Taylor’s signature body shape, the grand auditorium, blends the strumming power of a dreadnought with the fingerstyle articulation of an orchestra or concert model. If you’re looking for a brand that combines premium tonewoods with dynamic voicing and pristine build quality, it’s hard to beat Taylor guitars. 

The best thing about this brand is that it manufactures guitars for everyone. Whether you have a tight budget or you are ready to spend well on a high-end guitar, you will get a perfect acoustic guitar to suit your needs. Artists such as Taylor Swift, Zac Brown, and Jason Mraz play the guitars by this brand. 

Cort

Cort Guitars is a South Korean manufacturer that makes a massive amount of guitars. Chances are, you have played one of the Cort Guitar models, and you didn’t even know it, because they produce guitars for larger companies. A little known fact is they also have their own brand. They do not advertise the same way that other brands do so you might be hearing this for the first time. 

But if you do stumble across Cort, you will find a great line of instruments that cover all the genres. These models come in all kinds of finishes and price points, and they have a pretty wide variety of shapes and features for any playing style.

Yamaha

Yamaha guitars are built to last, with the construction sturdy enough to withstand years of use. They are designed to appeal to guitarists of all levels, and the sound is so good that you can grow with the instrument and not feel that it holds you back, which is sometimes an issue with low-price, beginner guitars.

Their higher-priced guitars are also particularly special. With features enabling you to play live with a band, Yamaha’s innovative “Transatlantic” technology allows you to have reverb and chorusing effects to sing straight out of the guitar itself… without needing to plug in! 

Ibanez

Ibanez is one of the most reliable guitar brands in the industry. It is a top contender when it comes to guitar brands for entry-level and amateur guitarists and it is a great option if you are looking for a budget nylon string. On the acoustic market, Ibanez prioritizes traditional body shapes like the dreadnought and concert bodies. For anyone who is willing to purchase a high-quality guitar but does not have the budget to go for a Martin or Taylor, an Ibanez is a smart choice.

Kremona

Did you know that one of the premier European guitar manufacturers – Kremona, known for their industry-leading nylon string classical acoustic guitars, is Bulgarian? That’s right! Established in Bulgaria in 1924 by the master luthier named Dimitar Georgiev, Kremona has built itself as a household name when it comes to both affordable and high-end classical guitars. The flagship models of the Kremona line of nylon string acoustics feature solid tops, backs and sides built with superior tonewoods delivering a balanced sound with rich lows and clear mids perfect for classical, jazz, pop and more. Their steel-string guitars are also a fantastic option coming in many traditional body styles.

If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out also these articles here and here. For more guides, tips and tricks we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of guitar (or ukulele) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

READ ALSO:
How to tune my guitar?
10 Gift Ideas That Every Guitar Player Would Love
What are the different types of acoustic guitars?
Types of Electric Guitar According to Body Shapes (Part I)
Types of Electric Guitar According to Body Shapes (Part II)

Stumbling upon inspiring people online is great right? Well, Paul is exactly one of those inspiring guitarists that I met on Instagram. He regularly posts guitar content on social media and his attitude and playing is contagious! It makes you want to pick up the instrument some more as well. Read more about him below as he shares some behind-the-scenes stories and some guitar tips.” – Neli

What brought you on the path of a career in music?

Although I was not born into a musical family, I was fascinated by music and musicians as a kid. My parents sent me to piano and violin lessons at an early age, but secretly I was more drawn to the guitar. I remember being in awe of guitarists like Slash and Prince and amazed by their music videos. Even though I was too young to understand what was happening in those videos, I thought the guitar was so cool. Thankfully, I was able to convince my parents to let me play guitar in middle school. I felt the freedom to create through the guitar, which is something my violin and piano teacher didn’t let me do. They told me that to create music, you first had to achieve a level of virtuosity in your instrument. One of my music teachers in high school even discouraged me from auditioning for music schools, which was too bad. It turns out they were wrong. Years later, I attended a conservatory and earned a Masters in Music Composition.

While I was composing, I, unfortunately, didn’t have much time to play guitar. For a few years, I felt like I was neglecting the instrument. Although I’ve used my guitars to record and produce, they mostly sat in my studio collecting dust. That made me feel a little regretful, and I thought I should go back to playing one day. The lyrics “your sword’s grown old and rusty” from “Giving Up the Gun” by Vampire Weekend rang in my head for some time.

About three years ago, I broke 5 bones in my right hand and wrist. It was a tough recovery process, and I lost a lot of muscle mass on my right arm and shoulder. I was really worried that I lost the ability to play guitar. So as soon as I got the clearance from my doctor to resume normal activities, I picked up my guitar to relearn it and see how far I can advance. After regaining mobility in my right hand, I began actively auditioning for bands and ended up in Between Skies.

What is the story behind your stage name?

Hmm, I think the story might not be too interesting. I’m actually a private person, and I wanted to create a slight barrier between my stage and social media persona and my private life. Although anyone with Google can easily look up people’s real names, I thought I should add just one layer. For a while, I loved the cartoon Adventure Time and loved the character Marceline’s songs. Cartoonist Rebecca Sugar wrote them, and they are super catchy. I think I was playing guitar one day, and someone said “sweet tone,” and it clicked!

Also, I didn’t want those familiar with my work as a composer to influence their expectations of my guitar playing or any of the bands I’d perform with.

You are on the verge of releasing your debut EP “Horizons” Between Skies. How did the creation process for it go?

Oh, it had a lot of starts and stops! I think, like every musician in the world, the pandemic really put a halt in the process. Guitarist Tommy Scales is the main writer for Between Skies. I mostly contribute guitar solos and a few supporting riffs. Tommy began writing the songs in “Horizons” before Between Skies was formed. After he formed the band, we were hoping to record and release it by 2020. But thankfully, we were able to persevere and find a way to finish recording remotely during the quarantine. We are so excited to share it! It’s a short EP, but it took a while to make, and great friendships were born out of the process.

How did the band come together in the first place?

Around 2018, guitarist Tommy Scales was a bartender, and bassist Ranpal Chana was his regular customer. They discovered they both loved metal and decided to jam together and start a band. They posted some ads, and eventually, I auditioned, followed by vocalist Oscar Derderian. Before the pandemic, we began performing with our former drummer Pedro Herrera, who left for personal reasons. Our last gig was in a venue called the Midway Café on March 10, 2020, the day many states in the US declared a state of emergency. Now that our new drummer Edson Lacerda joined, we will resume live performances after the release of Horizons on August 3, 2021.

Is there a certain message or emotion you want to convey with the “Horizons” EP to the audience?

The songs in “Horizons” explore themes of delusions of grandeur that can spiral into paranoia. We’re pretty nerdy guys, so you may hear some nerdy references in the lyrics. But overall, we wanted to create an unfiltered metal record. Although each member listens to different styles of music, we all have a love for metal and especially classic metal. So we wanted to create something that sounds new while paying homage to our influences.

What effects do you use on your electric guitar? How do you choose them?

My favorite guitar effect is a good spring reverb. Although I have pedals, they are mostly drive, reverb, or delay pedals. I have a couple of funky effects that I might use to create some Instagram content. But, I really shy away from other effects and instead try to create effects with my hands. For example, I may use my whammy bar or left hand to emulate the wobbly effect of a chorus pedal.

Personally, when I choose pedals, I go for ones that have the least amount of knobs. Although I appreciate the level of control that some pedals have, I get overwhelmed with the options and worry I might kick a weird setting on a dark stage. But, I believe it’s all a personal choice. Some people love playing with all the knobs and adjusting every parameter. That is totally cool too! I just prefer simplicity.

For many years, I used to play totally pedal-less. I just plugged straight into an amp with a good drive channel and a spring reverb tank, and I was happy with that! 

Having years of experience as a musician, how do you personally set goals for the continuous development of your guitar skills?

Honestly, for many years I felt that I was stuck and stagnant with my guitar skills. But in the back of my mind, I was not satisfied and wished I was advancing more. By advancing, I don’t mean turning into a shredder. I felt like I was doing the same things over and over and wished I could see the guitar differently. For me, breaking my hand was a turning point. When the possibility came that I could never play guitar or advance in guitar due to an injury, my perspective changed. Now I feel like I have a good mentality for practice and trying new things. When you practice, it’s not about just repeating the same thing over and over. You need to learn how to practice smart and make sure you are evolving as you go. I think I advanced more dramatically in the months after my injury than the years before it. I like to set short-term goals like learning a new song or working on a particular technique. Over time, the short-term goals add up. It’s cliché, but it’s true.

I’m sure other musicians will say this, but listening to different kinds of music really helps with goal setting and expanding your sense of what’s possible. You don’t need to become a fan of every style of music but developing the skills to actively listen and try to understand the music that’s new to you really helps. Personally, I feel like I have so much more room to grow on the guitar. I live near the Berklee College of Music, so I feel like I’m surrounded by 10,000 guitarists who are better than me. Maybe they are 10,000 people I can learn something from.

What is your dream musical project?

Oh, this is a hard question! As a guitarist, I would love to jam with someone like Thundercat or perform with an innovative artist like Erykah Badu. As a metal guitarist, I would love to be a Nameless Ghoul in the band Ghost and perform in one of their huge arena performances. 

Now that the Between Skies line up is complete and the band has a new drummer, Paul is looking forward to creating and recording new music. He recently joined the funk/smooth jazz band Midnight Motion. They are planning on recording a debut EP, so look forward to that.

Photo by Nicole Mari Photography

He also has a bunch of unfinished electro-acoustic instrumental tracks that could end up with a more electronic or maybe a more guitar-centric sound. He is planning to finish them as a solo project. You can find some clips on his Instagram now!

Follow Paul and his bands here:
Website: wearebetweenskies.bandcamp.com
Instagram: @paulsugar.music
@wearebetweenskies
@midnightmotionband
TikTok: @paulsugar.music

When a guitarist’s approach to playing includes flatpicking and fingerpicking simultaneously, it’s called hybrid picking. This is accomplished by holding a pick in the conventional way, and then using your remaining fingers to pluck as well. Although it has a strong connection with country and rockabilly styles, hybrid picking can be used in practically all styles of guitar playing.

Who uses hybrid picking?

It was popularised by progressive rock guitarists such as Steve Howe in the ‘80s, but these days the technique has been adopted by many players because of its speed and flexibility. Players like Guthrie Govan and Eric Johnson have pushed technical boundaries and often include hybrid picking in their melodic arsenals.

Why learn hybrid picking?

Basically it is the best of both worlds. It allows you to have the possibilities presented when using a fingerstyle approach while instantly being able to switch back to flat picking when you desire to do so. Hybrid picking also has a unique sound quality compared to just the pick, or just the fingers. 

The natural question that comes after this is – how to do it then?

Start Small

For those who feel more comfortable using a standard pick, try a small one with a pointy tip – it facilitates a true pick pluck in tighter spaces, and the small “pick print” means it will stay relatively out of the way, leaving your other fingers plenty of room to get into the mix for various plucking patterns.

Flow Your Roll

Many fingerstyle players use primarily the first three fingers, but since the index finger is occupied pinching the pick along with the thumb in hybrid picking, fingers 2 and 3 become primary. 

You can try to get a consistent roll going forward – pick, 2, 3, repeat, or backward – 3, 2, pick, repeat.

Here’s an elementary exercise: Form an open D chord and focus on the top three strings so that the arpeggiated chord tones are, from low to high, A, D, F#. Get a click going on a metronome. Try repeating the arpeggio up from strings three to one in time. Then try the same in reverse. When you have this down, slow the tempo and play the notes as triplets, three to a beat.

Involve the Pinkie

To get a flow going, try it in 6/8 time as follows: Pick the open D, pluck the A on the third string with finger 2, pluck the D on the second string with finger 3, and then pluck the F# on the top string with the pinkie.

Don’t hit that a second time; just go right back down in reverse order until you pick the open D string, and then start heading right back up. Keep repeating up and down.

Next, try working that concept using different chords with the goal of switching smoothly, in time, from chord to chord.

Final thoughts

Once you can do that, you’re off and running as a hybrid picker, with a million songs at your fingertips. Learning to work both your fingers and the plectrum opens up all sorts of new avenues for exploration so dive ahead and find your next inspiration. 

If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out also these articles here and here. For more guides, tips and tricks we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of guitar (or ukulele) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

PhotPhoto by freestocks on Unsplash

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“Meet someone very dear to me. Someone who made moving from the small country of Bulgaria to busy massive London a much more pleasurable experience. The 1st musically like-minded person I met in the UK and the person with whom I shared my 1st ever band performance on stage – Alex Farry! A very intelligent and technical guitarist who was my motivation to keep improving through the 1st year at uni. He has done a lot of varied projects in music and if you’re curious about what the band we did together was like, you can check out this gem from the distant 2013:” – Neli

How did your musical journey start?

I’d always had an interest in music, which I think I inherited from my dad. He was always entertaining guests playing piano or guitar and singing, generally the same three songs. I had guitar and piano lessons but my teachers were unreliable and I never really made any progress until I was 13 and decided to teach myself. I took out my old acoustic ¾ length and looked up the tabs to Californication by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and never looked back.

You were a part of several original bands. Do you still write music?

I loved the writing process for my original bands, particularly when you find someone you connect with on a musical level, I still go back and listen to some of those songs now! I’ve definitely put writing on the back burner recently to focus on self-improvement, both on the guitar and on the computer. My time has instead been spent learning new music and techniques and exploring the music tech side of things, and once I feel more confident with them I can go back to the more creative side of things.

What is something one should look out for when writing prog music?

Find your voice and write for the song. The diversity of progressive music has led to bands with incredibly distinct styles which ironically makes it easy to be over influenced by them. There are many artists out there effectively trying to write the next Dream Theater song, and I have absolutely been guilty of being one of them. Draw from these influences but think outside the box.

Can you share an interesting story from when you were playing on cruise ships?

The playing was usually the least interesting bit! Getting to see the world definitely outshines playing the Beatles for 10 OAPs at 5:30 in the evening. One funny moment though was when we were playing a set on Halloween one year. Everything was fairly normal until these two guests wearing those big T Rex costumes with the giant floppy heads started running through the venue we were playing. We all ended up laughing so hard we had to stop the song!

What is a thing about being in a functions band you wish you knew when you were first starting?

Particularly for a cruise ship band that plays three times a day with only one day off every fortnight, you can never have too many songs! And make sure you all enjoy the songs at least somewhat. There are many songs we all dread to play now and it can make those boring early afternoon sets feel much longer.

What equipment do you use for your varied projects?

My two main guitars are a Fender Strat and an Ibanez Jem 7V. The Strat for the serious stuff and the Jem for the fun stuff. I also use a Line 6 Helix LT for effects. I don’t think anything beats analogue pedals but for ease of use and transport the Helix is perfect for a cruise ship guitarist.

For a brief period of time you were doing uke covers of pop punk tunes. Are you planning on playing ukulele more?

After a while the ukulele became too powerful for me and I’m going through a deep and lengthy process of recovery and training to face the instrument again.

How do you practice to make sure you keep improving your technique and guitar skills?

I have a super short attention span so playing unmusical drills and patterns is my worst nightmare. I usually just find a part in a song that I want to learn that revolves around certain techniques, whether it’s alternate picking, sweeping, tapping etc, and break it down to learn it. Once I have the notes I’ll take the song into Audacity and slow it right down. Once I can play it clean at a certain tempo I’ll speed it up until I’m back at the proper tempo. Super basic but I enjoy the satisfaction of being able to play along to something I struggled with before.

What is your dream musical project?

Either have my own prog metal band or become Lady Gaga’s touring guitarist.

Follow Alex on Instagram at @alexfarrymusic.

When you get on the path of learning how to play an instrument, sooner or later you arrive at a point when you want to also record your playing. There are plenty of options for sound recording software out there and which one is right for you depends on what your goal is. In order to help you, we have gathered below the best software for free and also the best professional picks. 

Free sound recording software

1. Audacity

Audacity is a free music recording software that is great for beginners as it has a ton of effects, high-quality sound, loaded with plugins and many editing features. It is easy to understand and once you get the hang of it, you can record any audio you want. You can even produce professional studio-quality audio if you have the supporting hardware for recording high-quality audio.

2. Pro Tools First

Pro Tools is the ultimate mixing tool. But it’s not cheap. So a good thing is there’s Pro Tools First – the free limited access version of this top recording program. Since it is the free version you are limited in what you can create, but it’s perfect for singers, songwriters, and musicians just starting out on a limited budget and who want to get a taste of some of the best recording software out there.

3. Garageband

Garageband comes free with any Mac computer and can cover most recording needs. It is more powerful than you’d expect from a free piece of software and is a perfect centerpiece for any budget home studio. You know how Apple is really good at making things look pretty while still maintaining high functionality – GarageBand is just like that.

4. Ocenaudio

Ocenaudio is another free, cross-platform audio recording software that has many amazing features for audio editing. It is a little complicated to understand at first but once you get the hang of it, you will appreciate how highly intuitive it is and its simple interface. It also features a powerful library.

5. Traverso

Traverso has an easy to use interface combined with innovative mouse and keyboard shortcuts that help quickly perform audio recording tasks. It is developed for beginners so they can easily learn and get onto recording music. Traverso’s mastering controls, efficient user interface, and intuitive recording performance make it stand out among the rest.

Professional sound recording software

1. Ableton Live 10

This is one of the most beloved DAW (Digital audio workstation) recording softwares on the market. It gives a long free trial (90 days!) for you to make up your mind, with more features than you’ll need for any simple audio recording project with enough for a full-on music project if you upgrade. Probably the best feature is the variety of options that it gives – you can record on multiple tracks with this industry-standard software, as well as sequence MIDI files. A distinctive feature is also the abundance of samples that it offers, with more than 5,000 sounds to choose from, as well as 57 different effects. Overall it is a reliable, safe choice for home producers of all levels, but it’s especially good for novices looking to experiment.

2. Avid Pro Tools 12

Avid Pro Tools 12 is another of the best softwares a musician could ask for. The sound processing with this software is easy, fast and good. It’s one of the most powerful software products available on the market today for recording music, mixing, editing and composing. The DAW package contains a variety of virtual instruments, including, drums, pianos, synths, and other sample instruments. But keep in mind you need a powerful computer system to support this program, unless you go for the ‘First’ version. Definitely check out the requirements before purchasing it.

3. Logic Pro X

Apple has two DAWs in its stable: Garageband, a veritable staple discussed before, and Logic Pro. Logic shares its user-friendly design philosophy with Garageband. If you started with Garageband, you’ll find a lot to love in Logic Pro X.  fantastic built-in plugins that give you a suite of all the tools you need to create great recordings right away. Couple that with intuitive MIDI and audio editing and a powerful sample editor, Logic Pro X strikes a perfect balance between functionality and ease of use. 

4. Image-Line FL Studio 20

FL Studio is an outstanding DAW, with full-featured, professional-grade native plugins. The sum of the functionality, pricing and user interface results in a really great DAW for beginners and pros alike, delivering everything that every other DAW brings but with its own unique workflow.

5. Cubase 

Cubase has been around for a long time and remains popular to this day. It’s innovative, trustworthy, and stable.  Although this DAW isn’t the easiest software to use right out of the box, after a little learning, you’ll be able to make the most out of the startling number of features that it offers. You’ll soon have the tools you need, whether you’re in the studio or performing live.

If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out also these articles here and here. For more guides, tips and tricks we invite you to join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! If you are ready to dive into the world of guitar (or ukulele) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Lalo de PIlar is a world-class Flamenco guitarist who began his musical career with his first performance at age six in his hometown of Lugo, Spain. For over four decades Lalo has performed as an accompanist and as a solo artist. He toured throughout the world until the early 2000’s.

Since then, Lalo has been residing in Houston, Texas composing for film and television. He has not only been asked to present awards for best music in film, but he has also performed at The Gulf Coast Film & Video Festival on several occasions.

For approximately 7 years he was with the University of St. Thomas where he taught guitar and music as well as lectured about the ins and outs of flamenco.

Lalo treasures his Spanish heritage and his love for Flamenco. Therefore, he continues to push the boundaries of this beautiful art by creating a unique repertoire that reflects his culture, energy, creativity, and passion.

Being self-taught and reaching such heights in guitar mastery – what was your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge was when I was a child and had to put countless of hours of practices on a daily basis. It was a good and productive challenge. I was always very studious, so I studied diligently. However, at times it was a very lonely time for me although inspiring. I am very glad that I did it.

How would you describe what a flamenco guitar is to someone picking up a guitar for the very first time?

As an instrument that may take him or her away to places that they may never have dreamed of visiting. I would also describe a flamenco guitar as the best form of discipline one could ever acquired on an instrument.

What is a thing about flamenco guitar you wish you knew when you were first starting?

I wish I would have known that it would have been a never ending lifestyle. Peradventure I would have studied more diligently. It has been a wonderful time, a wonderful experience and I learned how to be very disciplined doing something I deeply love. I am very glad that I spent all those years perfecting my craft.

Having years of experience as a musician, how do you personally set goals for the continuous development of your guitar skills?

Although setting goals for oneself is a very good thing, I no longer set goals for myself. I am past that stage of my musical career and practice. However, as a seasoned professional musician I did set goals for myself, such as how to handle rehearsals and the repertoire of a future concert. There were even goals set for the scheduling of a tour.

What I do is practice scales daily for continued strength and stamina. That I shall have to do for the rest of my life. I work diligently on compositions in order to perfect them. I no longer have a set goal for what I am going to do or practice. This is perhaps because everything that I do is internally very inspirational.

After a few years of experience, things fall naturally into place because of what I have learned due to my tremendous discipline.

What are some realistic goals a beginner flamenco guitarist should set for themselves when first starting?

I find that technique is an excellent place to begin. Still, it all depends on the individual. I always start by teaching beginners scales. A simple C scale is always a good place to begin.

I then move on to arpeggios and thumb, alzapua, exercises. Certain arpeggio exercises are excellent for building a strong and flawless tremolo.

While teaching these techniques, I also have the student work on compás, rhythm. It is vital for them to do so. The compás is the foundation of everything in flamenco.

How does your process of writing music for film and television go?

I often begin by asking the producer and/or the director about their project. As they speak and describe their project, I either begin composing in my head and/or I begin quietly playing my guitar. Something usually comes up as I am playing even if it is a small idea.

You also teach at the University of St. Thomas. How did you go about creating your curriculum?

I did teach at UST for seven years. I was on faculty there. Although I have been asked to return to teach at UST, my time there ended when Paul Krystofiak sadly passed away. I had many wonderful times while there and Paul made it comfortable for me while I was there.

My curriculum has been established since I was a boy. What I have first learned has always stayed with me and has continuously been perfected. Therefore, it is very easy for me to refer to my internal curriculum whenever I fancy to do so.

What is your dream musical project?

My dream musical project is to compose for an orchestra, perform with that orchestra and conduct it. That would be the epitome of my musical career. Wish me luck!

Currently Lalo is creating a course of all what he has learned and mastered throughout his musical career. He is putting things together that shall eventually come together naturally in the form of a book, CD or both. Stay tuned also for Lalo’s return to the recording studio where he will record and produce a variety of music that he has composed over the years.

Contact Lalo via LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/lalodepilar/ and subscribe to his YouTube channel here.