If you have been playing guitar for a little while, you’ve probably heard of harmonics – those high-pitched or bell-like notes. You definitely have heard them in songs by bands like U2, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and many others. If you are already familiar with the topic – read along and go through the basics again. If not – buckle up and dive into this new technique. 

Harmonics are actually played every time you pluck a note. Most of the time, however, you do not hear them. What you hear is the fundamental (sometimes called the first harmonic). The fundamental is the loudest sound produced, but it is accompanied by several harmonics. When a string is plucked, it creates vibrations from the guitar’s bridge to the nut and thus many other overtones – or harmonics – are created as a result of shorter frequencies along the fretboard. There are various ways to produce guitar harmonics. You can play natural harmonics which are harmonic instances that occur naturally on the fretboard as well as artificial harmonics. The latter uses techniques that allow you to play harmonics no matter where on the fretboard you are.

Natural Harmonics Vs. Artificial Harmonics

It’s important to know that there is a difference between the types of harmonics you can play on your guitar.   The natural harmonics, also known as “open-string harmonics are played on an open string, while the artificial harmonics are when you play a harmonic on a fretted string. Although all harmonics are actually artificial, the latter technique is the one commonly referred to as “playing an artificial harmonic”. 

Natural Harmonics

The easiest way to produce a harmonic sound is through the use of natural harmonics which occur at various locations across the fretboard. However, the most common and distinct natural harmonics are located on the 12th, 7th, and 5th frets.

Natural harmonics are created by making the string vibrate in fractions. For example, half of the length fraction results in a 12th fret harmonic, a third of the length fraction results in a 7th fret harmonic, a fourth of the length fraction results in a 5th fret harmonic, etc.

Here is also a fun fact: When you play a harmonic note, you’re playing the same note as the fretted or open note. So a harmonic on the 12th fret of the A string is the same note as fretting the 12th fret on the A string. A harmonic on the 5th fret results in a 2 octave higher note than the open string you’re playing it on. And lastly – a harmonic on the 7th fret results in an octave higher note than the fretted 7th fret.

When it comes time to actually playing natural guitar harmonics there are a couple of things to be aware of: to isolate the harmonic, you’ll want to very lightly press on the string at either the 5th, 7th, or 12th position (or any other position you want to experiment with). Be sure to place your finger above the metal part of the fret – this will produce the clearest sounding harmonic rather than if your finger is in between two metal frets. For beginners, you may find it easier to actually pluck a string first and then lightly touch the string with the tip of your finger at the 5th, 7th, or 12th fret. Alternatively, if you rather place your finger on the string first, you may find that the harmonic rings more clearly if immediately after you pluck the string, you quickly remove your finger.

Apart from natural harmonics, which are somewhat restrictive, you can also use artificial harmonics which allow you to produce that signature high-pitched harmonic sound, anywhere on the guitar. Here are 3 different types of artificial harmonics you can play:

Touch Harmonics

Simply fret a note on one of the strings. Place your right-hand index finger (for right-handed guitarists) on the note twelve frets above the fretted note, as if you’re going to chime that note. So your finger should be over the fretwire. With both the note fretted and the right index finger in place,  use either your thumb or a pick and pluck the string – then you will be able to hear the harmonic quality of the note. You will produce a note which is an octave higher than the one you’re fretting.

Tap harmonics

Tap harmonics are the same as touch harmonics up until the “pluck the string” part.  You fret a note, but then tap the fret twelve frets higher than the note you’re fretting.  Try to do so in a way where your finger quickly touches the string exactly above the corresponding metal fret and then is removed.

Pinch Harmonics

This technique is definitely the most difficult type of harmonics to play. They are done best while holding the guitar pick in a way that less of the pick is exposed so that there is less distance between the end of the pick and your thumb. What you should aim for is plucking a string with your guitar pick while almost simultaneous lightly dampening the string with your thumb. Once your thumb dampens the string, it will create that “scream” sound known as a pinch harmonic.

Guitar harmonics are just another technique you can add to your guitar skills toolbox. Getting them right can definitely take time and practice, however doing so allows you to create more unique sounds. It is best if you try all guitar harmonic techniques to see which ones you like the most.

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!

“How do you introduce someone who is a talented musician and artist, who has many skills and is probably knowledgeable on most topics of interest (well to me at least!)? I guess I’ll just say the thing that wouldn’t really be obvious from interview questions – Alex is a lovely person and a great friend. Reliable, with great eye for detail and full of ideas. It is a joy to do projects with him and soon you will probably see another one! Check out the last time we collaborated HERE.” – Neli

How did your musical journey start?

It started in 1995, when I took up the piano at the age of 4. Then I picked up the classical guitar and the flute at age 12 and started playing at local community orchestras. A few years later I started playing also the electric guitar and got seriously interested in different contemporary genres, which motivated me to explore the same stuff on the piano.

So you play the piano, guitar, and flute. How does knowing multiple instruments change your perspective on music?

Being a multi-instrumentalist allows me to appreciate music more and in a different way and be open-minded to various possibilities of taking up new challenges. It also gives me opportunities to play in different musical contexts, e.g. the versatility of piano and guitar allows me to be in pop and rock bands, duo gigs, etc. whilst the flute has given me chances to play in classical orchestras and jazz big bands which I would never get to do had I only played piano or guitar. Due to the piano I learnt much more about theory and can be in control of harmonies. When it comes to the guitar, due to its popularity, it is fun to play and gives me lots of teaching opportunities outside of my gigging life. 

What is the reason you picked up those instruments in particular?

I started with classical piano at a young age as advised by my parents. I only got seriously interested in it after taking up the guitar and discovering more contemporary genres. It was just very natural to me to play lots of things on the piano by ear at first, it just sounded good whenever I played a popular melody on top of some chords I could naturally harmonise on the spot. I picked up the flute as it’s my favourite sound in the orchestra/woodwind family. Then I got even more interested in the flute when I discovered how well it works in modern jazz (especially post-bob, latin and modal). 

What is a thing about being a multi-instrumentalist you wish you knew when you were first starting?

I wish I had seen other instruments as more “equal”. When I took up the guitar, I used to see it as a “superior” instrument to others and would associate a strong sense of identity with it. Having learnt, played, and gigged on three different instruments now, studied them all at degree levels, and by knowing the efforts required and mindsets needed for different instruments, I’m now a lot more open-minded and appreciate all instruments across all genres.

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

In regards to my guitar skills, I set goals by simply thinking about what new sound from new releases I could copy and learn. I no longer want to stay “loyal” to just a few favourite bands/artists and associate my playing style with them like I used to do. I constantly look for new sounds I hear from new music and think about how I could imitate them on the guitar. This applies to the other two instruments I play as well. 

How does your process of writing and arranging music for different projects go?

I don’t normally have a flow-chart type of process when it comes to writing and arranging. I usually have a wide picture of what I’d like my new arrangements or compositions to sound like, choose a starting point, and then strategically and creatively execute my plan to make things work. 

Which is your favorite part of being a musician?

My favourite part of being a musician is the cliché of getting to do what you love all year round. I love the fact that I also get to learn new things from what I do and others I work with constantly. 

What is your dream musical project?

A dream musical project would be a large-scale musical collaboration with as many of my best musician friends recording/filming something that could showcase all our unique musical strengths (regardless of personal favourite styles, abilities, etc.) 

Currently Alex is working on a cinematic orchestral soundtrack that involves orchestrating wind and string instruments, with some cooperation of modern jazz harmony. 

Follow him on social media: facebook.com/alexdannmusic
Also check out his website: alexdan.co.uk

Doesn’t it sound awesome to be one of those guitarists who can just show up and jam? No sheet music, no chord charts, no tutorials… It seems like magic how they can play every song – even such they hear for the very first time. But worry not – you don’t need any superpowers to be able to do that as well. What actually is going on is that their capable fingers are paired with well-trained ears. Keep on reading to discover why your ears are the key to that seemingly-magical ability and how to start training them.

What Is Learning By Ear?

Learning by ear is basically the process of learning a piece of music without any written music. It comes from the tradition of folk music, where melodies were rarely written down, and people would ‘pass them down via aural tradition’ – learn them by hearing, and then replicating the music.

Do you need perfect pitch to play by ear?

Perfect pitch is the ability to hear a pitch and immediately know which note it is. It seems to be something you’re born with. You either have perfect pitch or you don’t (though some people claim you can learn it). Whatever the case, having perfect pitch is pretty rare and you don’t need it to play by ear or make great music. 

Now that we have cleared that up, here are these four main ear training areas that will lead to you becoming the guitarist you always dreamed of being.

1. Pitch

Pitch ear training is all about hearing the notes and how they relate to one another. First, hone your core sense of the “highness” or “lowness” of sound. This is referred to simply as pitch ear training. Once you’ve mastered single note pitches, the basics of all ear training is learning to hear relative pitch. One common approach is interval ear training which teaches you how near or far notes are from each other.

2.  Rhythm

While many guitarists stop at pitch ear training, being able to identify rhythms and rhythmic patterns may be even more important. If you’re going to cover a song, or play within a certain style, matching the strum pattern, timing, and tempo matters a lot to your audience. With rhythm mastery you can even feel free to depart from it intentionally and the creativity will make your performance even more powerful. Furthermore, when jamming with a band, you’ll be able to better play around with the drummer and maybe ‘trade 4s’ – where you and the drummer take turns to solo over 4 bars.

3. FX and Tone

What? You can train your ears to do that? Yes, of course, and you should. Audio FX ear training will guide you through the world of sound effects available to today’s guitarist.

You will be able to tell what is going on in a piece of music much more precisely and then use it in your own playing and writing.

4. Song-Writing

Hear me out before you say that song writing isn’t an ear training exercise. A song is the structure that brings all of the previous points together. Learn that structure, and you’ll know what to do next—whether you’re writing your own song or learning someone else’s. 

Most songs are made up of certain parts (intro, verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) and built from some fundamental elements (notes, rhythms, harmonies, instrumentation, etc.). By learning the musical characteristics of song structures and what tends to follow what, you’ll instinctively know what to do next even if you’re jamming on a song you never heard before!

Conclusion

They may not strum, pick, run around the fretboard or stomp a pedal, but your ears are as important as your fingers if you’re aiming to become the best guitarist you can be. Start training them intentionally today, if you haven’t already!

If you want some further reading materials on the topic, check out also these articles here, 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!

If you want to expand your guitar playing beyond strumming an accompaniment chord part then fingerstyle guitar is a great way to add variety to your playing. It is a great technique to learn for both the acoustic guitar and the electric guitar. With its piano-like sound (since you play the bass parts and the melody parts at the same time), one can say it is the perfect technique for playing without other musicians around.

Definition 

Under ‘Fingerstyle Guitar’ we understand the technique of playing the guitar by plucking the strings directly with the fingertips, fingernails, or finger picks (picks attached to fingers), as opposed to ‘Flatpicking’ (picking individual notes with a single plectrum) or strumming all the strings of the instrument in chords. The term is often used synonymously with ‘Fingerpicking’.

Difference Between Strumming and Fingerstyle

The main difference between strumming and fingerstyle is that strumming is a very simple guitar technique in which we strum (brush) the strings with the finger or guitar pick up or down. This technique is perfect for beginners who want to play simple chords and songs.

With fingerstyle guitar you will pluck the strings with the ‘picking hand’ fingertips so the beginning could be more challenging than strumming as we have to now use finger independence with our dominant hand as well as the fretting hand.

Further characteristics

The main aim when playing fingerstyle is to orchestrate the piece of music, meaning that you merge bass lines, melody lines and chords into one part. All classical guitar is fingerstyle and is played on nylon string guitars, but over the last few decades, many great players have adapted fingerstyle to steel string and even electric guitar and popularized the technique.

It is still most commonly utilized in folk and classical guitar, but it can be utilized in just about any style. 

In essence fingerstyle guitar involves quick playing, moving around the fretboard and using all of the strings. If you can get good at this style then others, such as bluegrass, will come more easily to you, but be prepared for plenty of frustrated hours improving your finger independence.

If you are used to strumming, this technique can be quite overwhelming at first, so before you go here is something to keep in mind – even the most challenging fingerpicking arrangement, in any style of music, consists of three basic movements. The thumb can pluck a string, the other fingers can pluck a string or the thumb and another finger can pluck some strings at the same time (called a ‘pinch’). That is it! Once you learn these basic movements, with practice and time, it’s easily possible to learn some great sounding pieces and your guitar playing will come alive.

Here is one such piece that isn’t the easiest, but it isn’t too hard for a 1st fingerpicking piece either: Falling slowly by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. And if you’d like to get started on a more classical route – check out ‘Giuliani Studies’ – these are technical fingerstyle studies that have existed for so long that are now available for free! And they contain chords and techniques still used to this day.

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!

The journey of any guitarist begins by deciding what type of guitar you want to start with and that can be a tough decision. Of course, you can start with any type of guitar, and once you know the basics you can switch and decide which is the best fit. But it is always good to know what you are dealing with in advance. We already covered most types of acoustic and electric guitar, so now it is time for the classical guitar.

Most guitarists start on an acoustic or classical guitar, because an acoustic is a little less harsh on the fingers and a very simple pick-up-and-play option. You don’t need an amplifier to hear the sound properly and they are often cheaper than electric guitars.

For some beginner guitarists (and advanced as well) it is hard to tell the difference between an acoustic and a classical guitar. So let’s clear that up. 

Classical guitar

Acoustic guitar

Here are the key differences between the two:

1. Fretboard

The fretboard of a classical guitar is a lot wider than that of an acoustic. Quite often classical guitars will not have the fret markers (dots or inlays) along the fingerboard either.

2. Body Shape

Acoustic guitars often come in a dreadnought shape which is considerably larger than that of a classical guitar and cutaways where you have access to the higher frets on classical guitars are rather rare.

3. Bridge

A classic wrap-around bridge is used on a standard classical guitar. On this type of guitar, the strings are tied in a knot around the bridge to secure them in place. But classical bridges also accept ball-end classical strings. In contrast, the bridge on an acoustic guitar has pegs that securely hold the strings in place via their ball-ends.

4. Strings

Both these guitars are in fact acoustic guitars, except one uses nylon strings (classical) and the other uses steel strings (acoustic), hence the modern acoustic ones are often referred to as a “steel string acoustic”. The nylon strings of a classical guitar are a lot thicker and mellower or softer sounding than those of a steel string. Some nylon string guitars are also not considered to be ‘classical’, however, to differentiate between them would be a whole other topic. Let us know if you’d like us to cover that one as well.

5. Tuning Pegs

The mechanics of the tuning peg on a classical guitar are quite different to those on an acoustic guitar.  Usually, on a classical guitar, the tuning peg is made of plastic and metal, whereas on an acoustic guitar the whole tuning peg is made out of metal.

6. Price

Often classical guitars are a little cheaper than their acoustic cousins, which is why many beginners start with a classical guitar first.

The best thing you can do is try as many guitars as you can and see which style is best for you and the music you like to play. Go to the local musical store and spend a good amount of time there or ask guitarist friends of yours to have a strum at their guitar. And don’t get overwhelmed – there are indeed thousands of guitars out there, but you will be able to feel which ones are right for you.

If you would like to read further a very detailed explanation about the nature of classical guitars, check this article.

Did we miss anything important? If you have some questions left or want to add something, feel free to leave a comment below or join our Guitar Family and start a conversation there.

“Meet the man who many thought was my brother through our Higher Diploma course as I met him – The Count! Later I learned that he also had a normal human name – Joseph 😀 He’s an awesome guitarist with lots of pizzazz who has created awesome rock and metal shred instrumentals and also released an acoustic track recently. A multiinstrumentalist, teacher, composer… read more about his music journey below.” – Neli 

How did your music journey begin?

I started playing when I was 15. I was inspired by the guitarist John 5, of Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie, but it was his solo work that really inspired me. He has a great command of the instrument and seems to be able to play a huge range of styles. I certainly never intended it to become my career choice, but I instantly got hooked! I was lucky to have a lot of excellent teachers who inspired me to work hard. 

What is the story behind your stage name The Count?

I wish there was a better story for this! Two huge influences were Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson so I thought if I was going to be a musician I needed a stage name as well! I was watching ‘Dracula’ and just thought ’The Count, that’ll do!’ I’d love to tell you that I’m a real Count living in a castle in Transylvania but sadly not!

Does the inspiration for your unique fashion style come from music?

To some extent, yes. The highly theatrical performers I mentioned above certainly inspired that. Jimi Hendrix is also a big fashion influence, I have a replica of his iconic military jacket. I think being a musician gives you permission to be a little more flamboyant! 

You have obtained multiple qualifications in Guitar. What advice would you give to an aspiring guitarist, who is wondering whether to pursue music as a formal education?

It’s a difficult one. I am glad I did all the qualifications as it made me learn things I wouldn’t have looked at otherwise and some of the teachers I had were extremely inspiring. However not all music courses are created equal, some of them do more essay writing and music business which is fine if that’s what you’re after, but they won’t help you get better at your instrument. It’s worth looking through a course’s curriculum before committing yourself to anything. 

In addition to guitar, you have also mastered the sitar, piano and mandolin. Is learning a second instrument easier than the first or is it confusing?

Certainly a lot easier! Particularly with the stringed instruments, the mandolin requires the same technique as guitar, just on a smaller scale. I think with piano, though it has very little in common with the guitar, I still had a head start when it came to finger dexterity and the fact I could already read music. It’s worth saying I don’t dedicate equal time to all of them. Guitar and piano certainly get more focus than the others. 

Do you plan on learning other instruments?

I bought a banjo over lockdown as something to do which is a lot of fun! I don’t currently have any plans to learn another one, there’s only so many hours in the day! It’s always interesting to try out different instruments, I learn a lot I can then apply to the guitar, it’s a great way of breaking away from familiar patterns.

So far you have produced one album “More is More” and one EP “Aqua Hands”. How does your writing process go?

Very slowly! It’s often several months from the initial idea of a song to the completion. A lot of the material for Aqua Hands was actually written away from the guitar. A lot of the guitar solos were inspired by classical piano music by composers like Liszt and Chopin. I have a huge library of sheet music and often I’d take a pattern from something they’d written and reworked it to suit the song. After I got a sound I liked I’d then try and work out how to play it on guitar. Most of the time this was extremely difficult as the patterns don’t suit the guitar’s tuning at all. Sometimes a few seconds of music could take me weeks to practice. Though it’s a difficult, and often very frustrating process, it creates idea’s I’d never come up with if I only wrote while sitting with the guitar. It’s very easy to get stuck in familiar patterns.

What changed in your style and creative process between the two projects?

The two projects were done 5 years apart, so quite a lot! ‘More is More’ is my first attempt at writing music, so I was still trying out a lot of things. Everything was recorded with my friend and former guitar teacher Sam McCune at his home studio ’Skull Sound Studios.’ He mixed and mastered the whole thing. I learned a lot while doing it, some of the tracks are not the sort of thing I’d write now, but I think that’s all part of the process. He certainly helped me to understand what works and it was a great experience.

When it came to Aqua Hands I had my own recording set up so everything was done from home. My friend A-Siege then beefed up the production, we added lots of orchestration and had a lot of fun seeing how over the top we could make the tracks! Some of them turned out quite differently to how they were originally written. The song ‘Riptide’ was intended to be a straight ahead rock song but it ended up as a synth filled, Van Halen style track! It probably ended up being my favourite track on the EP. It’s sometimes good to suggest some different ideas, it can produce some great results! 

The track “Stringkiller” from your first album features a guest appearance from television legend Bill Oddie. How did that come around?
Bill is a good friend of my dad’s, and I’ve met him a few times. I know he’s a big fan of classic rock music and thought it’d be fun to bring a bit of a comedy edge to it! He was very pleased to be involved which was great as it made the track into something unique, and added some much needed humour. His part was actually recorded by my Dad at a charity event in a hallway! 

Is there something you’d like to experiment with in music, but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

I think I’d like to learn orchestration to a better extent and perhaps try writing music for instruments other than the guitar. I’ve started branching out with the track ‘Lotus’ from Aqua Hands, which was written for the sitar. They’ll also be two solo piano pieces on my next EP.

Due to the pandemic The Count has had a lot of time to work on several projects of his own. The song ‘Roswell’s Night Out’ with Dannyjoe Carter from Las Vegas – that includes plenty of high-speed shredding and showing off – is now out.

On the other end of the spectrum, he has also written another EP with two finger-style guitar pieces and two piano pieces which show a new side of his work. And he also released a brand new EP with the band The Jupiter Gallery. Follow him on social media and check it all out!

Follow him on social media at:
Spotify, iTunes – linktr.ee/thecountguitarist 
Youtube – youtube.com/channel/UCmTGui7BwhA1dEIz4hhha3A 
Instagram – instagram.com/the_countguitar
Website – countjosephbarnes.com

Since you are here, chances are the thought of becoming a guitarist has popped up in your mind not once or twice. We are not here to convince you to embark on the journey on the spot – just state some facts, that inevitably will do so. Check them out and see for yourself if you would be interested in benefiting from all of them (and actually plenty more) while learning the guitar!

1. Exercises your brain

Concentration and memory are two things you use in all areas of life so their constant development is much needed. Playing the guitar is an extremely enjoyable way of improving them – yeah some people also enjoy doing math exercises, but do they really? As you spend more time focusing on different guitar exercises or songs, you’ll find that your ability to focus on other tasks outside of playing music will increase as well.

2. Improves fine motor skills

If you’ve ever tried to learn how to use chopsticks, you’ll know how difficult it is to coordinate your fingers. Learning how to play the guitar is kind of like that, but about a thousand times more difficult. Just like picking up a new sport, learning to play the guitar greatly improves your hand-eye coordination as it requires very specific movements. The best part about improving your motor skills from playing music is that it translates to other activities like knitting, martial arts, and sports.

3. Еnhances your creativity

Whether it’s writing original material or reworking a song for a cover, the guitar is going to unleash your creativity. Since you are thinking of learning exactly the guitar you must find it inspiring and exactly that inspiration will boost your imagination. Who knows, you might even surprise yourself. 

4. Provides emotional release

Probably the most enjoyable aspect of playing the guitar is the happiness that comes from expressing yourself through music. The free expression found in creating music is linked to many health benefits – playing the guitar can also lower blood pressure, decrease your heart rate, reduce stress, and lessen anxiety and depression.

5. Boosts your confidence

Learning to play the guitar can have an enormously positive effect on your self-esteem and confidence. As you learn to play, chances are you’ll end up playing in front of a family member, a mate, some potential bandmates or even an audience. Playing guitar in front of others, however scary at first, will build your confidence in expressing yourself publicly and sharing your creativity. 

6. Creates connections

It’s definitely possible to spend your entire musical journey jamming alone in your bedroom, but the best musical moments come from playing with others. Finding people to jam with can lead to meeting a ton of cool like-minded people. The shared experience of playing music together can also strip away a lot of psychological barriers and often leads to close and long-lasting relationships.

7. Increased appreciation of music

Once you know how music works and have tried to create it yourself nothing will ever be the same… Seeing, listening and thinking about how the notes fit together in your favorite songs played by beloved musicians of yours – you’ll be surprised at how much more you’ll enjoy music. 

‘Learning how to play an instrument, any instrument, will increase your ability to appreciate music on a deeper level of understanding and (I believe) emotional connection. This is because you can relate more to the music and the artist performing it.’ – Philip Quintas

8. The Cool Factor

Let’s be honest for a moment. Playing the guitar is just cool. A guitar player who is comfortable with the music they are playing simply radiates confidence. Naturally, that is going to look cool no matter the setting. Sure, learning guitar just to look cool is a bad way to go about this, but the fact remains that it’s an incredible feeling to play your creations in front of an audience in awe.

If you need more reasons, check out also these articles here, here and here. When you are ready to embark on your guitar journey – join Neli’s Guitar Family and subscribe to her YouTube channel! You can also sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

A lot of beginner guitarists, and even some intermediate players, have the bad habit of playing the strings using only downstrokes. If it has been a while now since you started playing the guitar, surely you already know what alternate picking is – the combination of downstrokes and upstrokes. Alternate picking is essential for all guitarists, regardless of genre – so the sooner you master it, the better.

The theory behind alternate picking is very simple: when you play single note lines, you should always pick your notes with a down-stroke, then an upstroke, then a down-stroke, upstroke, down-stroke, and so forth, alternatively (keeping in mind the shortest rhythm time). 

This kind of picking allows you to optimize the right-hand motion and reach speeds impossible to obtain with a one-way-only picking. And it is logical right? After all you’re utilizing both the down-motion and up-motion, giving you twice as fast a rhythm. Not all guitarists are as obsessed with fast playing as others, but speed is something the vast majority of guitarists will employ at least some of the time.

The Basics of Alternate Picking

There’s nothing really complicated about it. To alternate pick, all you have to do is: pick downstrokes and upstrokes consistently. That’s it! However, you must start off with holding the guitar pick correctly – that  is essential if you want to reap the full benefits of alternate picking. Watch Neli’s video below to check if you already have that covered. 

Once you’re holding your pick correctly, try having it at a slight angle to the string rather than holding it parallel to the string. With the pick at an angle, it will meet with less resistance from the string. This is because the curved edge of the pick will slide across the string.

Once you have found an angle that works, it is time to concentrate on the movement of the picking hand. With alternate picking, you should use small movements. An important thing to pay attention to is also where the picking movement is coming from – and that would be the fingers, not from the wrist for high speeds.The wrist is slow, as it requires a bigger movement to move the entire hand than it does to simply move the joints of the fingers. You can use your wrist movement for regular speeds. The important part is to NOT use movement from the elbow. Not only for technical reasons, but playing from the elbow can lead to injury.

What to note when exercising

Remember, you are alternate picking. The first stroke on each note should be a down and the second stroke should be an up. So when you exercise, you should begin with a downstroke and continue with an upstroke. Ideally, you want to get to a stage where you can play all exercises evenly and consistently. There shouldn’t be any big gaps between notes.

If you find yourself falling back into bad habits, give yourself time to think and practice slowly. You can play exercises at whatever pace is most comfortable for you, but the rhythm must be consistent.

When you are wondering what to play as an exercise remember that scales are a great way to practice alternate picking. Whenever you learn a scale on the guitar, unless you’ve been specifically told otherwise, you should play it using alternate picking. You can also use Neli’s Ultimate Scale Exercises by joining our Guitar Family. You will receive it straight to your inbox in a few days.

And one final thought – the best way to practice alternate picking is to use it as much as possible. Whether you’re playing lead, scales or even chords, try and use alternate picking in everything that you do.

For more 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 ukulele (or guitar) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!

“Someone thanks to whom I went to some cool small punk gigs, someone who was out to play anything rock and just enjoy themselves in London through our year together in Uni – meet Tom Rawlins! Here’s his story in his own words 🙂 “ – Neli

“I am Tom, a 27 year old Guitar, Bass and Ukulele player and teacher who fell in love with the idea of playing when I saw Marty McFly play Johnny B Goode in Back to the Future. It still took me a few years to actually pick up the Guitar and dedicate time to the instrument but since then I have gone from knowing nothing to running my own local guitar school (Medway Guitar School in Kent) and playing in cover bands as my job and it is a progression I am immensely proud of.”

What were you like when you were first starting on guitar?

I started playing properly at age 15 and though I could already piece together a few chords at that point I honestly had no idea what I was doing. I could not afford a tutor despite wanting one and did my best to piece together what I could from online lessons, books and live videos. I probably had more confidence in my ability than what was warranted but that misplaced confidence did get me a long way so I cannot say I regret it.

You are the founder of Medway Guitar School. How did you decide tо make your own music school?

During my years at Uni I realised I had a love of teaching; whether it was teaching my peers who played other instruments or breaking down theory, I enjoyed the feeling of seeing something click in someone and seeing someone develop as a player. I could feel an immense amount of pride in them and myself from that development and that feeling is very addictive. It made sense to me that when I left University that it would be a key part of my income as a musician..

What makes for a smooth transition from being a guitarist to also teaching others how to be guitarists too?

Just get started, maybe try with a few friends and family first and then develop out for teaching for a small fee, try not to massively undercut the market but enough to reflect that you are a new teacher. Remember the pupil is always number one. You have to keep in mind that we all struggled with areas of our development as players at one point or another and that we have interests in completely different areas. I always meet the pupil where they are at in terms of ability and interests and develop their learning around those aspects. Always be patient and encouraging and help them find their own voice on the instrument. Trying to create mini versions of yourself is the quickest way to dissuade pupils from playing.

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

Honestly the smaller the goal the better. I always start with a few basic tabs often as simple as a single string tab. It is massively encouraging for a pupil to walk away from their first lesson having already made music. From there I continue to use tabs to develop the pupils coordination and dexterity whilst introducing them to basic open chords to play a simple song of their choice. Don’t start with chords right away, they are crucial in the early stages of playing but you need to develop some confidence and familiarity with the instrument first and nothing is better for that than basic riffs and melodies via tab.

As a guitar teacher with years of experience, how do you personally set goals for the continuous development of your guitar skills?

There are huge number of things that go into choosing a goal. As a professional there is also income development to consider. In the last couple of years for example, I have branching out into covers work, my focus has been much more on singing and song learning. But I keep small part of practice to one or two small developmental goals. Keep the goals simple, small and suitable to the amount of practice time available. Avoid overwhelming yourself. You may want to increase your repertoire, develop your technique, chords, aural perception and rhythm all at once but if you only have an hour practice a day you will make little to no progress. One thing at a time, for example I am currently working a single exercise daily for my alternate picking (my playing to this point has been more legato and economy picking based) and a single exercise for developing altered licks whilst improvising either side of my song learning practice.

Music theory scares many beginner musicians. How do you approach the matter with students who are overwhelmed by the theoretical part of music?

I often find music theory is less scary for pupils and more that they assume it could potentially damage their expressiveness as a player. When you are learning the fundamentals it can seem like a bunch of rules rather than what theory actually is, which is an explanation of how music works. I do my best to explain this through a demonstration to show how theory has impacted my own playing and development, explaining how those who do not understand theory often end up falling into the trap of “following the rules” without realising. I then work through the theory very slow step by step, I always test a pupils knowledge continuously making sure they understand the current step in full before moving onto the next goal checking in and gently encouraging them all the way.

What is something you learned from your students?

I am always learning from my students. Believe it or not just going over the fundamentals of playing with them has taught me a lot. You come into teaching believing that you already know these concepts in and out and while you definitely understand them explaining them and answering unexpected questions around the fundamentals can get you to think about them in a way you never imagined before. It can certainly help you to reinvigorate their use in your playing. The fundamentals can seem boring sometimes but even the masters worked on them well into their playing development, just because you know them does not mean there is not more to learn about them.  

Is there something you’d like to experiment with in music, but haven’t had the opportunity yet?

I keep meaning to sit down and practice more keyboards. While I understand what is theoretically going on and I can string together a few chords and scales my muscle memory and technique is not developed enough to perform proficiently and I do really need to get a decent keyboard and work on it. I believe it will help me look at music in a completely different way and potentially open up future performance opportunities.

Before lockdown Tom’s function band Slam Dunktion were about to get started on gigging. The lockdown put a hold on that for now but they are currently working on a video for when the gigs get going again, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

Check out Tom’s music school:
https://www.onlineguitarschool.org
https://www.medwayguitarschool.co.uk  
Contact him at:
tom.rawlins@medwayguitarschool.co.uk
Follow him on social media at:
https://www.facebook.com/MedwayGuitarSchool
https://www.instagram.com/rawlinsmusic/

How much do you actually know about the ukulele except that it looks adorable and immediately gives you those Hawaian vibes? The ukulele was indeed born in Hawaii but has its roots found in Western Europe. Read on ahead to find out more about the four-stringed instrument.

The History

We can say that the ukulele has a Portuguese descend, since its parents – the cavaquinho and the machete, also known as braguinha – were born in the city of Braga, located in the north of the country. It was around 1879 when Portuguese immigrants from Madeira decided to leave their home in search of a better life. Some 25,000 people found such a life working in the Hawaiian archipelago.

With themselves, they also brought the machete, which immediately became popular with the local population. The European immigrants were excellent guitar players – so great that they even gained the appreciation of the royal family.

In less than two decades, the ukulele was born as a natural Hawaiian adaptation of those four and five-string Portuguese instruments that were brought to Hawaii. And so not long after the immigrants started working in local sugar plantations, they were opening woodworking shops where musical instruments and furniture were sold side by side.

The Etymology

The word “ukulele” itself has a curious meaning – “jumping flea.” It was given this name because of its small size, and vibrant, cheerful, and exuberant sound.

The technical specifics

There are four main sizes of ukuleles: the baritone ukulele (18-21 frets), the tenor ukulele (17-19 frets), the ukulele concert (15-18 frets) and the soprano ukulele (12-15 frets).

The price of an ukulele has a wide range – anywhere between $20 and more than $1,000, depending on the type and quality of the construction. High-quality ukuleles are made of acacia koa or mahogany. The cheaper models are built using plywood, plastic, or laminate woods. The ukulele strings can be made of nylon, fluorocarbon, titanium, wound nylon, wound metal, and steel.

The standard and most common ukulele tuning is G4, C4, E4, A4.

The best and most popular ukulele brands and manufacturers are Kala, Lanikai, Mahalo, Hola!, Luna, Oscar Schmidt, ADM, Sawtooth, Diamond Head, Lohanu, Ohana, Pono, Kamaka, and Kanilea, so if you’re interested in buying one, we’d recommend looking into these.

Don’t be fooled by its small size – the ukulele is a versatile instrument, and it is often used and heard in a broad range of musical genres, including jazz, country music, pop, world music, and rock. Just look up ‘metal ukulele’ an you’dd be amazed! It is also the instrument that best represents surfing and surfers.

The misconceptions

Thus far you must have already got it but just to make it very clear – the ukulele is not a small guitar. It is understandable why people think this way, but it’s always good to spread information and educate those who believe in misconceptions.

A ukulele does indeed share a lot of similarities with an acoustic guitar – more specifically the classical variety. We are talking shape, size proportions, principle of operations and generally how the instrument behaves. However, an ukulele is not only smaller, but it uses a completely different type of tuning, which means different chords and different playing techniques.

Whether or not someone who is proficient with a guitar could play ukulele right off the bat is questionable. They might have the general skill in their hands, but would have to start from scratch when it comes to the notes on the fretboard. However, a lot of the chord shapes can be adapted from guitar – just under different names because of the tuning. So knowing guitar chords well, means you’ll be able to play on and sing along to songs with a ukulele pretty quickly.

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 ukulele (or guitar) you can sign up for a lesson HERE – the first one is 50% off!