Blues Amp Settings with a Boss DS-1

So what does it take to get a really good blues sound out of your rig? I mean like a solid, soulful blues groove that draws out every note and makes you want to scrunch up your face like Jonny Lang always seems to be doing.

Image Courtesy of Guitar Chalk Media


5 Guitar Focused Skills of a Marketable and Professional Musician

5 Guitar Focused Skills of a Marketable and Professional Musician

It's better for business if you're good at what you do.

Because if you really are a talented guitarist and if you've developed the right skill set, then people will come to you and ask you to play for them.

That's a lot better than having to canvas other musicians and bands for a chance to play.

Session work, live gigging and teaching opportunities will present themselves readily and you won't have to prove yourself worthwhile.

You come pre-approved because your reputation precedes you.

What's the right skill set?

So the right skill set I mentioned; what is that?
A group of skills on the guitar that are marketable and make you a more desirable musician.
And since it depends on the niche, genre and situation that you're trying to break into, it's not about a universal standard of raw talent.

Though talent certainly matters.

But talent is a baseline requirement; a no-brainer. Of course you need to be talented.

5 Guitar Focused Skills of a Marketable and Professional Musician

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More so you need to be talented in the right areas; those that make you a flexible musician, a focused music student and a comfortable performer.

We'll identify those skills for you and talk about honing in on them and developing each one.

First, lest talk about practice and time management. 

Managing Practice Time

When we devote time to our instrument, though not all practice is equally valuable.

If we don't know what to focus, and spend too much time on topics and concepts that don't improve our market value as a musician, we likely won't make it out of our living rooms and basements.

So the decision we must make every time we pick up the guitar is this: What is our ultimate goal?

What are we working towards and how are we getting there? What's our wheelhouse?

It can be as simple as just picking up and playing, but taking it a step further and really examining our practicing habits helps us focus on the skills that are going to make us the most marketable as a player.

That's where we really want to be.

1. Quick, Clean and Subtle Chord Transitions

Chord transitions are one of the toughest issues that beginning guitar players face.

Eventually you can get your fingers in place to play most chords, but switching between chords, much less doing it quickly, can be an incredibly difficult skill to develop. Many players don't ever really master this aspect of the guitar, usually because they move onto other topics.

Spending too much time on something that seems so elementary tends to be frustrating, especially to a beginner. So much so that they skip onto more difficult topics that they believe should take a long time.

But leaving chord changes behind is a huge mistake which leaves a glaring hole in your skill set that's going to get noticed.

Developing or revisiting this concept takes time, but there are a few practical steps you can take to address it in your practice sessions.

  1. Arpeggiate chords and play one note at a time, making sure each one rings clean.

  2. When you change chords find a "lead finger," which is the first finger to land on a note for the next chord.

  3. Always keep in mind that the less you have to move your fingers and hand the better your changes will be.

  4. Practice keeping your hand close to the fretboard or even sliding to reach new chords in a progression.

  5. Memorize the most typical chord progressions.

Getting really comfortable with chord transitions takes a lot of time and a lot of intentional practice. You've got to develop a system and identify which chords you most often use and which ones you're most familiar with.

For most guitarists that's a mix of open, barre and power chords that all need to be used interchangeably.

Identify those chords and apply the aforementioned practice techniques until your chord changes become second-nature.

2. A Keen Sense of Timing

The mathematical aspects of timing can be taught, but to really grasp and understand it, you have to be able to hear and feel musical beats and time signatures.

It's also critically important that you do this early on, because if you don't have timing right, all the tone, technique and theory in the world isn't going to make you sound good. Timing is a foundational skill that should be developed by guitar players as early as possible.

This doesn't mean you have to play drums or even understand the theory behind musical time.

Instead, you should practice training your ear and listening to the beat of musicy with the intention of mixing it into your guitar playing.

So once again, a practical approach is sufficient.

  1. Listen to the drums and key in on the beat when you listen to music.

  2. Play along with the snare and kick drum when you're playing a song.

  3. Use a metronome.

  4. Plug an iPod into your amp or stereo and play along with some of your music.

  5. Practice counting along with beats when listening to music.

The more you hear timing, the easier it will be for you to replicate and follow it on your guitar. A lot of it can actually happen without a guitar in your hands.

3. A Melodic Approach to Fills and Solos

Fills and solos have an underlying purpose that have nothing to do with the speed or technicality with which they are played.

That purpose is simply to provide melody.

Now it's not to say that a melodic solo can't or shouldn't be fast, but too often the focus is on impressing with speed instead of inspiring with a melodic line. Guitar players make it harder than it really is by forcing on themselves an expectation of needing to play really technical for any lead guitar segment..

The correct approach is to first develop the melodic outline of a given solo or fill.

You need to ask; what's the story that you're trying to tell in that moment?

For example, Joe Satriani wrote "Flying in a Blue Dream" based off of dreams he had as a kid where he'd jump off of a ledge and just float.

Thus his solos in that song (which are incredibly fast and technical) are first and foremost, telling a story and providing a melody.

The speed comes later.

Though melody may seem like an ambiguous idea, you can think of it as a vocal line or the predominant note sequence of any piece of music. Take the whistling at the beginning of the Andy Griffith show for example. That whistling is the melody.

Or the solo that Kurt Cobain plays for "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

That solo is just the melody of the lyric line in the song's verses.

A good way to come up with melody lines for a guitar solo is to think about a lyric line or a melody in your head. It doesn't have to be long, it just needs to have an emotional track. Once you've thought of something, tab it out on your guitar and build your solo or fill from there.

4. An Understanding of Song Structure (Instrument Roles)

To get work (paying or otherwise) as a guitar player, it's not enough to just be really good at your own instrument. That's not to say you have to play other instruments, but rather you need to have an understanding of how they all fit together and compliment each other.

The head knowledge is fairly simple. Drums and bass are foundational instruments, where drums set the time and bass builds a chord progression.

Guitar, piano and vocals are melodic or harmonic accents, otherwise thought of as "decorative."

If you start to apply this to how you view music, you'll begin to develop a more complete understanding of how a song is actually created and how all the instruments fit together. That helps you stay within the role of the guitar and not become an intrusive presence when playing music with other people.

It's not that you need to be less aware of what you're doing on the guitar, but you need to become more musically minded and more concerned with the final product (the entire song) as opposed to your own playing.

Your playing should contribute to that as much (or as little) as necessary.

5. Understanding the Role of a Contributor

Since the guitar is not a foundational instrument, a guitarist is almost always limited to the role of a contributor.

All this means is that your sound is an additive and not critical to the song's structure.

That means you've got a responsibility to understand what a song needs from your guitar and how to contribute.

It might involve a lot of loud playing or it might not involve much playing at all.

Understanding how to contribute means you're alright in either scenario and that you're comfortable with both ends of the publicity spectrum; either being heard a lot, or not being heard much at all. They both have their place at one time or another.

So how do you practice being a contributor?

  1. Learn to distinguish between the rhythm and lead guitar parts when listening to other music.

  2. Start to take note of how often each guitar plays in particular songs. Do they ever drop out? Are you constantly hearing a particular sound or riff? What parts of the song do you typically hear a given guitar part?

  3. Listen to music that's similar to the niche that you play in and pattern your playing after what those guitar players do.

A practical way to learn how to contribute is to keep in mind that less is more. You're better off to start from a minimalist perspective and to add guitar portions as you progress through a song rather than over-saturating it with noise from the beginning.

So it's a safe bet, if you're just strumming or picking aimlessly, without any real intent, you're probably not contributing anything of value.

Think about why you're playing what you're playing.
Every audible not should have a purpose.
If most of your playing doesn't have a purpose or direction, then you're misunderstanding your role in a musical setting.

That purpose should be one (or more) of the following.

  • Adding melody.

  • Accenting the vocal line.

  • Layering melody.

  • Adding harmony.

  • Accenting the bass line (chord progression).

  • Layering the bass line (chord progression).

Learn to recognize when these things are necessary; how to fit them into a song and place them properly. It's different, depending on the genre of music and each individual song, but you'll develop a feel for the niche you're in and it'll become second nature.

Cultivating These Skills

It's difficult to practice some of these traits, because in a lot of respects they're understood outside the context of just your guitar.

So things like melody, timing and chord transitions are concrete topics that can be practiced literally.

However, song structure and contribution are difficult to nail down because they're more theoretical and heavily situational. My advice would be to focus on the three concrete skill areas and develop the two theoretical areas over time as you fall into your musical niche.

The process is a long one and it takes years to develop this kind of playing. But knowing where to put your energy and what to work on when you do sit down to practice can help.

Depending on your natural abilities and giftedness with the guitar, you may progress faster than others.

Follow up Resources

We've got plenty of material here to help you with both the concrete and theoretical topics covered in this article.

Use them to develop your own practice schedule and to target the areas that need the most work.

Here are just a few resources that you might find useful.
When you do sit down to practice, block of some time to deal specifically with these five skills and to learn how to apply them to the type of music you play. Avoid the temptation to cover them and move on, because in order to really master something, you need to keep revisiting it.

So don't be afraid to review and don't just check a practice topic off your list.

You can always get better and you can always improve.

Thoughts and Feedback

Would you have added (or removed) something from this list? Are you a successful musician with something to share?

Let us know over at Twitter and Google Plus.

Further Reading

Harmony and Theory: A Comprehensive Source for All Musicians by Carl Schroeder

Soloing Strategies for Guitar by Tom Kolb

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Iraun

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About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.


Why Facebook, Twitter and Free Publicity are ruining your Music and Guitar Playing

Why Facebook, Twitter and Free Publicity are ruining your Music and Guitar Playing

Music is and always will be a business.

It's the business of entertaining people, connecting with them emotionally and touching hearts in a unique and personal way.

So there's an artistic element, but it's still driven by supply and demand.

No matter how much you hate the corporate sentiment, you can't get away from it in music. If you do, you become a lazy, entitled and unsuccessful musician with no real concept of what it actually takes to market your music.

Because business isn't a saboteur of the arts.
Even the members of Rage Against the Machine, perhaps the most vocal and visible dissenters when it comes to corporate America are in essence, successful businessmen and marketers.
They might not say that, but that's what they are.

Why Facebook, Twitter and Free Publicity are ruining your Music and Guitar Playing
Flick Commons Image Courtesy sdowen 

And what exactly are they selling? Talent? Tom Morello's great guitar playing?

To a degree, yes, but not explicitly.

Moreover they're selling an idea, a feeling and an emotional connection. That's why people pay to see them live and to hear their music. The talent is there and it matters, but it's not what drives people to their shows.

So we can learn something from successful musicians.
It's that they aren't simply popular in a vacuum. Just like any other business or supply and demand scenario, there's a lot of hard work and sweat involved.
The same is true for your music. Yet we have a mentality problem amongst many aspiring musicians.

We've been led to believe that because of the internet and free publicity, musicians can grasp success quickly and on a less resistant path.

This is simply not true.

The Problem with Free Publicity

The first issue is that free publicity isn't actually "free" and it isn't always public; at least not substantial so, but let's just let the term stand as-is for argument's sake.

If publicity in the form of Facebook, Twitter and other social media is free in the sense that you don't pay money for it and that it gets your music in front of other people, it still has the problem of having sidestepped the process of supply and demand.

Because what you're ultimately chasing isn't just an audience. You're chasing fans, clients, prospective buyers and a following.

Consider how it works when a salesman comes to your door or a  telemarketer calls you.

At best it's a minor annoyance and there's no way in the world you'd want to buy what they're selling. They know nothing about your situation, needs, interests or where you are in life, yet they expect you to be interested in their product by shear chance.

That's absurd.

It's an outdated marketing method to say the least and one that is certainly being utilized less and less.

Yet that's what young bands do with their music over and over again via social media.

They try to gain followers and likes and hope that by chance someone will genuinely esteem what they're doing. It's a great example of misplaced effort.

Thus free publicity often becomes a problem because it causes us to sidestep real, tangible work.

Playing the Guitar and Making Music is Work 

Making music is difficult. It's boring, sweaty, tedious and time-consuming labor. There's no way around that. Making good music, means you take the fruit of all your hard work and you boil it down to just a select few songs that you know are exceptional.

At that point, you've got to do the work of recording, mixing, rerecording, tweaking, developing live versions and ultimately packaging your music in some form, so that it can be heard by others.

Keep in mind, at this point no one has even heard your music, much less become a dedicated fan.

Once all this has happened you now need to do all the work that the telemarketer who annoyed the mess out of you didn't take the time to do.

You've got to know the person you're trying to market your music to. You need to know what they're about, what interests them, where they are in life and how they spend their time. You've then got to strategically market your music to them and put yourself in the places where your "ideal listener" would most likely be.

If you use Facebook and Twitter to do that, then that's great. But there's a lot of work before you get to that point.

Thus the "publicity" offered by a tweet or status update isn't really public at all unless you put the effort in behind the scenes.

Free publicity doesn't actually create anything.

Twitter and Facebook are tools in your hand.

They're facilitators, but inherently they don't create anything.

Have you ever wondered why all these social media sites are free? "

"Well sure Bobby it's because of banner advertising and donations and a supportive community, blah blah blah..."

Yes, I understand that they're supported that way, but in and of themselves they don't produce anything. Spotify (as great as it is) doesn't make music. It's a medium. Same thing with Soundcloud and other social networks.

That's essentially why there's no cost.

They're nothing more than the new mailing system.

A good one, to be sure; well structured, fast, technologically up-to-date and efficient, but a mailing system nonetheless.

The "free" part and the ease of use has made us feel like there's an element that's automatic; that if you just post and put something up there, people will show up and will like it.

When that doesn't happen, we get frustrated.

The free publicity that initially seemed so inviting, then turns on us, because we simply weren't prepared. Thus we end up wasting a lot of time on Facebook and Twitter. What needs to be understood is that we are the ones who create.

YOU Create

That's your job as a guitarist and as we've already established, it's hard work.

You don't mail something out or post a status update plugging for your product until it's done and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you have something great.

The Practical Method of Making Music

So make that your ambition as a guitarist and a musician; to create something beautiful, noteworthy and creative that will touch people's hearts and benefit them. That's when you get recognized for what you do, and eventually compensated.

But how does it happen? What are the practical steps we should take?

Let's talk about the steps you should take before you post your material.

Whether you're in a band or you're just a guitarist trying to get session work and small-time gigs, you should start with a riff/song bank.

1. Developing a Riff/Song Bank

Think of this as an "idea book;" a compilation of riffs and/or songs that you've developed over time that you can use for songwriting, inspiration and short riffs or licks.

I've found that the best system is some kind of simple recording software (like Audacity) and a USB interface like the PreSonus Audiobox.

The sound quality doesn't have to be through the roof.

It's just something for you to get your ideas down.

So when you have a great tune in your head, simply record it. If you have a Mac, use GarageBand to add drums and a bass line, then store the files on your computer for further use and development.

2. Network with other musicians in your area.

This is where things like Twitter and Facebook can really start to pay off. Instead of posting incomplete, half-finished bits of music, use your social media pages to get in touch and connect with other musicians, both local and otherwise.

You'd be surprised at how receptive people are to networking with you and even helping you promote your music.

Also take advantage of opportunities to meet with people face to face.

Try to target local studio owners and other musicians who play the same type of music as you.

3. Craft your ideal fan and think about the type of person you want to make music for.

You need to find a way to blend the following things:

  1. What you're musically good at.

  2. What you enjoy listening to and playing.

  3. What an identifiable and large enough group of people want to hear.

So first and foremost you need to be writing and playing music that you enjoy and that you're talented at producing.

That's the first step and a good reason for your riff/song bank to exist.

Then you're tasked with narrowing down what we'll call your "target audience." Who do you want to market your music to? What kind of person would be most likely to enjoy your material?

Develop this idea as much as you can. It might be centered around a certain age group, people engaging in a certain activity (like eating dinner or dancing) or a particular type of personality (quiet, withdrawn, outgoing, etc).

Whatever the case may be you need to know your listeners before they know you.

Develop your ideal fan's persona and get it down on paper. This is the first component of your marketing scheme.

4. Fine tune and perfect your music.

You've networked with musicians and developed a target audience for your music.

The next step is to really clean up some of the best work in your riff bank. Again, this can be with a band or solo, but just take some of your work and develop it into something that you're really confident about.

Make sure that you create something that you believe matches up with the persona and the experiences of the "ideal fan" you developed in step three.

You want to be creative, but you don't want to stray too far from what you know will appeal to your target audience.

5. Take a Comprehensive Approach to Marketing your Music

Getting your music in front of people isn't going to happen just because you post it online. Now that can help and you should do it, but there's more to the story.

Remember, you're trying to market music to the right kind of person; the one who's more likely to enjoy and get something out of it.

So your approach should include as many of the following methods as possible:

  • Face to face interaction and networking.

  • Mixing with familiar (and similar in style) cover songs during live performances.

  • Audio-based social media (Soundcloud, Pure Volume, etc.).

  • Marketing to musician opportunity companies like Music Clout.

  • Email interaction and networking.

  • Basic social media promotion.

As you can see, basic social media is a useful component, but it only works for you if you've actually got something worth sharing and putting in front of people.

Even then, it's just a small piece of the puzzle.

You wouldn't be at a disadvantage to not have a Facebook page

Think of a Facebook status update as a heavily inflated currency.

There are so many pages and so much being posted that the value of a given post is far less than it used to be, which wasn't great value to begin with. How about we focus on what's not popping up on Facebook?

Great songs, unique and creative guitar riffs, emotionally engaging lyrics and musical excellence are fairly infrequent occurrences in our news feeds.

So why not focus on those things instead of putting so much energy into something that people are inundated with every day? Don't you think that if you produced great music that people would put it on Facebook voluntarily?

If you were to trade a million Facebook posts for just a handful of great music, you'd be better off.

Thus you don't need a Facebook page to get noticed. You can use one, but it's not what gives your music value.

Do the Hard Work of Creating Great Music

When you're creating great music that happens, you can start planning a social media strategy. But in the meantime, please don't cheapen yourself or your band by flinging mud onto the social media wall.

It might stick, but no one will be interested in it.

So if you're going to venture into the world of marketing your music, make sure you have something to offer.

If you don't, give it some time and put in more work before putting yourself out there.

Recommended Reading and Resources

Understanding Audio: Getting the Most Out of Your Project or Professional Recording Studio by Daniel M. Thompson

A Matter of Time: The Science of Rhythm and Groove by John Lamb

Guitar Tone: Pursuing the Ultimate Guitar Sound by Mitch Gallagher

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of JavierSpada

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About Robert Kittleberger

Robert is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.