Build it up!

Principles of good guitar learning – Principle 1: Build it up!

Every day I learn something new about playing the guitar, I play sometimes more than 2 hours, go to classes regularly, and one topic is catching my attention and interest in the last months more than others: how to be effective learning it, I mean, how to learn it without losing time or using too much effort.

I have been reading a lot about this topic, I bought books, I read other blogs, and I must say there is a lot in the web to read and review.

I learn differently today than 20 years ago, for sure, at least when we are talking about learning a new skill.

I am going to share with you in this blog the knowledge, tools, and thoughts I have been collecting until now, stuff that I have been testing and keeping developing. I also want to mention that next to my profession as a singer and musician, I am a psychologist and a coach with more than 12 years of experience in the field of improving performance, applicable to my guitar learning sometimes.

You can spend hours and hours trying to learn every scale and every chord by heart, but the first step is to build on what you know already. Don’t start too high-level, you will have troubles understanding or playing it, don’t start too low, you’re not experiencing any challenge. In both cases you can experience profound frustration.

When I started to learn guitar years ago, I had a lesson with a teacher recommended by a friend. I was starting my playing with the knowledge of the typical open chords, knew how to read notes, and some other basics about guitar learning which were not really a big deal.

I was so motivated and wanted to start with at least 2 hours a day when I had my first class with this teacher. I went out of the class with frustration and a lot of negative thoughts and doubts. He started to teach me 9th and 7th chords on different positions on the neck, explaining inversions and I cannot remember anymore. I had no idea what he was talking about!

I recognize that it was not the best start for me. He should have spent the first class reviewing some basics and trying to understand my level of knowledge. I guess he was used to more advanced students. Anyway: I cannot remember a word of what he explained to me, this is the result.

I thought at that time I had thrown away the money of a class. I know it was a good way of understanding that I need constantly to build up on what I already know if I really want to understand more about the stuff.

It sounds easy and obvious, but many times we try to make more because we are not patient enough, and we end up with frustration and judging our performance negatively.

According to the principle BUILD IT UP, following you can read the best 10 pieces of advice I have been collecting and I have been using in my daily routine:

  1. Write down the tempo you are doing certain exercises and build it up slowly
  2. Write down the parts you don’t understand, or which are difficult for you to play now, you’re going to get back to them later realizing you are improving
  3. Ask for explanation to a teacher or a peer when there are details you don’t understand: it is useful to analyze what you have been playing and to take that knowledge with you for the future
  4. Dedicate some time to repeat easier old stuff every now and then, realizing how many new steps you have done
  5. Try to learn something new every day, even if it is only a new chord or a new rhythmical pattern
  6. Don’t exaggerate with new stuff, take it slow and elaborate it gradually
  7. Write down the time you are spending on new stuff and rate it easy/advanced/very advanced (but learnable for you) and have a mix of the 3 levels every week
  8. Explain what you learnt new to yourself loud or to someone else, it is a good way to retain new content
  9. Keep track of your exercises recording you every now and then listen to it and take note of your progress
  10. Dedicate some time to theory and listening to good music, analyze it, listen to it critically.

I hope it can help, I am sure you know already many of this points, and maybe I could give you new ideas of improving!

I will be very happy to read your comments and observation, let’s support each other!


I’d rather go blind

There are a lot of songs and singers in my list of favorites. I love to listen to strong voices which can transmit power and emotions. In the last 2-3 years the artist I heard for my inspirational singing is Etta James. With her imperfections she was just perfect.

I sing a bunch of her song now in my band and among them the legendary “I’d rather go blind” is the song that fascinated me the most from the first time I heart it.

This song was written by Billy Foster (visit his side for more information about this talented piano player, educator, and composer and its credits were shared between Etta James and Ellington Jordan.

Etta James recorded it for the first time in 1967 in her album “Tell Mama” (side B of the record, another great song though) in the studio FAME in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. At that time Nashville was the city exclusively for Country Music, Muscle Shoals at the other side was open for more genres, trying to get the title as “Music City USA” (which was given later to Nashville which finally won the battle of the title). Etta also decided to include this song in her album “Deep in the night” recorded in 1978. A great one!

“I’d rather go blind” is a fantastic song which belongs today to the classics of blues ballads. Its structure is simple, but surely not easy to play, I mean, it looks easy, but this song needs a lot of feeling if you want to make it sound “emotional”. You can’t sing it on time: the more you feel free singing it, the best it sounds. Every singer feels and sings the “own” time, and this is so fascinating. You need to “fall” on the right part of the song, this is what counts. That’s why it is so difficult to play it and sing it at the same time.

Written in the rhythm of 6/8, he original version is based on only 2 chords, A and Bm, later on some artists (for example Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart) added an E in the last part of the bar of the Bm, giving a bluesier sound to the song, and gives more color to the song.

If you want to learn to play the song I suggest this lesson by Justin

Have fun and listen intensively to its lyrics if you want to play it “right”. The song needs to suffer a little bit, if you know what I mean… this is blues!

Here you can listen to a version with the whole band Ely & The Good Boys and a acoustic version by Carlos Saura and me, the half of the band.


Guitars and the biggest lesson of my life

The world of guitars changed my life!

It is interesting how my life changed since the day I decided seriously to play the guitar.

I started to play it long ago, but something happened on my way to becoming a good guitar player. I remember I went with my guitar teacher Michael to a shop for musical instruments in the city of Cologne, where I lived, and I bought a nice Ibanez in wood, a great guitar for the price.

After 4 years of “I just want to play some songs”-attitude a keyboarder I met told me I was not talented enough to play the guitar. He also added that as a singer with a full accompanying band it was not necessary to be able to play the guitar.

I will always regret the day  I stopped playing my nice acoustic Ibañez because I believed in what he told me. I was young and with low self-confidence, so I stopped playing the guitar from one day to another. After that I decided to play the violin and a little bit of piano, trying to downsize the fact that I could really be not talented enough to play any instrument. I stopped after almost 5 years for other reasons.

After almost 15 years I decided to retake that guitar-challenge.

Now I know what the real problem was: singing and playing at the same time was the issue, I still now struggle sometimes with the timing when I start singing on difficult rhythmical patterns and I know the metronome is my best friend (or sometimes even my worst enemy).

Now: why did my life change? Because I play and exercise every day, I start the day with some finger exercises on my guitar, learn to read notes with it, I go to guitar class every week, and do my homework like a good pupil at school, I am eager to learn something new every day! My guitar playing is part of my daily agenda, as well as my singing practicing.

I start to look at guitars in another way now, not so sad as I did before. They look sexy to me, I read books and magazines about them, and I started to study music theory for guitar players and have fun with it. I clean my guitars every other Sunday and change the strings regularly, take care of them and I even give them a name!

Now I want to have fun playing and singing, and with my vision to play it right, I avoid judging me playing or practicing.

I don’t need to show anyone I am good at playing an instrument, as I am doing it for me, for my music, for my life.

I have missed years of playing, sure, but I learnt the biggest lesson of my life, and I apply it now to other situations in my life. I always go for something when I believe in it, I don’t care what other people say, I learnt to listen to myself genuinely, and I love it. Now I want to believe in it, in my ability to learn something really challenging.

I parked my first guitar at my mom’s house, so when I go and see her, I have my old nice guitar there to play.

Now I don’t only have an Ibanez, now I go also for Fender, Lag, Taylor, Dean…

This is the beginning of my story, stay tuned for more posts!

Life has changed and I like it.