3 Quick And Easy Tips For Bringing Your Tone To Life!

SSL Mixing Desk

Recording guitars is a minefield. There's many options out there, each capable of feeding our creative spirits as musicians. Once you've found your perfect guitar, pickup, and amp combination, there's one final step in nailing the tone you are looking for.

Creative uses for studio tools allow you to change your sound post recording.

Here are a few processing ideas to try out on your next song using plugins!

Use a limiter for consistent & aggressive tones

The standard use for a limiter is on an entire mix to achieve a boost in average volume. This effect - loudness - is attractive to producers as it makes songs sound 'radio ready'. Another use for limiters is an easy way to keep the volume consistent across different parts of a take.

Palm muted parts of songs are usually louder than the rest of track - but it is common to want a uniform volume in a take. Limiters also smooth out picking attack, making you sound professional, consistent and tighter.

For more extreme sounds, a limiter can also help your guitars stay up-front in a mix - achieved by pushing the limiter harder.

 Here's the Izotope Neutron - Set up for Single Band Limiting to really push your sound.

Here's the Izotope Neutron - Set up for Single Band Limiting to really push your sound.

Warm up your sounds with Analog Emulations!

If your signal chain is digital - DI in to a plugin amp like Guitar Rig, BIAS or Amplitube, sometimes your tone can sound quite sterile and digital. To remedy that, you want to make your sound a little softer. There's many ways to do that - but one of my favourites is using analog modelling, which can softer your sound and fill in the lower harmonic spectrum.

Tape emulations like the Waves J37 and the SoundToys Decapitator are both great picks for making your sound a more filled with character.

The key with these is making sure you don't apply too much, which will change the EQ of your sound. Whilst this can be a nice effect, too much saturation will be a negative to your sound, not a positive.

Tape saturation and valve saturation work well with cleaner tones - Any low-gain tone you want to emphasise will enjoy the harmonic distortion added.

 The Waves J37 is a fantastic tool to add that oomph that can be missed from digital modelling.

The Waves J37 is a fantastic tool to add that oomph that can be missed from digital modelling.

Use multiband compression to tame unruly transients

Palm muted notes tend to be loud compared to non-muted notes. Whilst you could solve this with limiting - in a recorded enviroment by using volume automation you can avoid the tonal coloration. Another transparent option when you are playing live is to use multiband compression. This way - you only compress the lower end energy, taming the transients and removing a lot of mud from your sound.

My go to settings will be something like this:

 A good starting point for tightening your low end.

A good starting point for tightening your low end.

Once you've got the frequency bands set up - you'll hear that by removing the overwhelming low frequencies, it tightens your tone quite nicely!

If you are looking for more help with mixing guitars and tracks - please get in touch with me here- I'll be able to find that help you find your perfect tone!

Reading Chord Charts and Diagrams

 Ancient hieroglyhs? 

Ancient hieroglyhs? 

Intro

Chord charts/diagrams are a super useful way to figure out how to play songs/specific chords in a quick manner. People create and download chord charts to their favourite tunes every single day and they are a popular format for some of the jazz books that teach you Jazz standards.

Chord Charts

The humble chord chart allows a guitarist to play a simple version of a song quickly and easily, so understanding them is paramount if you want to play with other musicians without prior preparation. Today, we'll learn how to read them.

Chord Diagrams like these are relatively straightfoward, once you understand the concept behind them. Turning them on their side might make it a little easier to view them, as that is what the guitar neck will look like when you are holding it.

Diagram Examples

The strings go from the low E to the high E string from left to right, using black dots to represent single fingers, and bars to represent stopping more than one string with one finger (barrés)

If the chord is to be played in a non open position, there will be a number to the left of the diagram showing where to play the chord. A number 7 at the side of the neck for example starts the chord diagram on the 7th fret.

 The thick black bar shows that this chord needs one finger across multiple strings to play.

The thick black bar shows that this chord needs one finger across multiple strings to play.

 This chord would require two fingers to bar multiple frets.

This chord would require two fingers to bar multiple frets.

Now You Can Read!

Once you've got your head around the bar and positioning of the chords - you'll be able to read chord charts and that can open up a world of choices for things to learn.

If you need any further help with theory or playing - I'm always looking for students both in person and online. Contact me and we can get started!

Basic Music Theory - Time Signatures in Popular Music

Time Signatures

Part of understanding how a ryhthm will sound involves understanding the stresses of the rythm - based on the meter or Time Signature of the piece.

All music uses a Time Signature. The time signature of a piece gives you a little information about the piece you are about to play. Whilst there are many time signatures, you'll most often see these:

 3/4 Time Signature

3/4 Time Signature

 4/4 Time Signature

4/4 Time Signature

In addition to these simple time signatures - you'll see some more esoteric ones like these:

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sig78.png

We show time signatures as two numbers stacked. The top number tells you the amount of beats in one bar - the bottom tells you the duration of those notes. Together, that tells you how long a bar of music will be.

So - 2/4 means two notes of a quarter note duration, 6/8 means six notes of an eighth note duration to fill one measure.

4/4 Time Signature

This is the most common Time Signature by far. In fact, it is so common that you'll often see it depicted by a large C instead of the numbers. The C stands for common and looks like this:

Common-Time.jpg

To show how the time signature determines the length of a bar, here's some examples:

Simple 4/4 Beat Pattern

 Simple pattern showing 4/4 measures.

Simple pattern showing 4/4 measures.

Medium 4/4 Pattern

 Slightly more difficult pattern, showing rests and different note lengths - still adding up to 4 notes per measure.

Slightly more difficult pattern, showing rests and different note lengths - still adding up to 4 notes per measure.

Complex 4/4 Pattern

 Complex timing - using tuplet notes!

Complex timing - using tuplet notes!

3/4 Time Signature

3/4 is a lot less common and tends to get used in older pieces of music and waltzes. The way that the stressed beat falls makes it perfect for the rhythm of a waltz or a ballad.

Songs like Happy Birthday, The Times They Are A-Changin and Greensleeves are in 3/4.

If you listen to the beat in those songs - you can really hear how the rhythm stress changes the entire feel of the song.

Other Time Signatures

Time signatures changes the feeling of the track - the strong beats push the track forward. In a 3/4 measure, we have 1 as the strong beat, whereas 2 and 3 are not strong. In 6/8 measure, we have 1 as strong beat and 4 as less strong beat; the other beats aren't emphasized.

Take a listen to this song by Pink Floyd called 'Money'

The official promo video for 'Money' by Pink Floyd, taken from the album 'The Dark Side Of The Moon' Originally released in 1973, 'The Dark Side of The Moon' became Pink Floyd's first number 1 album in the US, remaining on the chart for 741 weeks between 1973 and 1988.

This song has a completely different feel to most other songs - mainly due to the time signature and stresses of the beat.

Irregular Examples

Complex time signatures do exist - they sound quite strange to the unaccustomed ear!

Here's a couple of very famous examples.


Conclusion

A time signature is a handy device that lets you know where to emphasize a beat in a rhythmic pattern to shift the feeling of a piece of music. If you'd like any further help with theory - let me know! I'm always looking for local and online students. Please get in contact with me to arrange a lesson.

Basic Open Chords

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Open Chord Shapes

Open chords form the basis of thousands of songs. Open strings vibrate freely, making open chords sound fuller and are easy to play, so are very widely used. Other chord shapes (Barré Chords and Power Chords) do not use open strings so will not be covered in this article.

You should be able to make a decent effort at most of them straight of the bat. If not, it’ll only take a few minutes to figure out better positioning for your hands. We’ll start with the most basic of all guitar chords, the E Minor (Em) chord.

Reading Chord Diagrams

To use chord diagrams, you place your fingers where the spots are on the fretboard diagram. Some chords diagrams will have numbers inside the spots to show you which finger you are to fret the note with.

To play E Minor, take your middle finger and place it on the second fret of the A string and add your ring finger on to the second fret of the D string. This will create the right shape for the chord and you can strum away. With the E minor chord, play all strings on the guitar to make it sound fuller.

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E Minor

As a minor chord, the quality of the chord is written in the name.

The next chord to try is the E Major chord. This one is similar to E Minor chord with only one note difference between it. Adding one more finger to the chord, you want to use your index finger to play the first fret of the G string. This changes the entire sound of the chord, due to changing the third from minor to major. This is a little complicated for right now, but if you want to learn more about theory, this site is a great start

E Major Open Chord

E Major 

Note how Major is not written in the chord name.

Chords are assumed to be major unless specified otherwise.

After the E Major, we’ll progress to A minor. This is the same shape as the E Major chord, just moved up a string. Rather than playing all the strings, don't play the lowest pitched string and only play the 5 highest pitched strings.

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A Minor

The X symbol means not to play that string.

 

The A major is a trickier chord as it requires you to use three fingers on the same fret. Whilst there’s an easier way to play a variant of this chord, practicing this shape is important. To make the correct shape for A major, use your index finger on the D string, middle finger on the G string and ring finger on the B string. Leave the highest E string unfretted and play the highest pitched 5 strings.

Voila! A Major!

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A Major

This one is a little more difficult as you need three fingers in a line. Try sloping your fingers diagonally!

The remaining basic open chords use different shapes to the E and A Major/Minor. The D Major chord is the easiest to practice after E and A. This chord looks like a triangle. To play it, place your index and middle finger on the G and high E string on the second fret. Then, place your ring finger on the third fret of the B string.

D Major Open Chord

D Major

Two X's here, only play four strings, otherwise it is incorrect.

Playing the D Minor chord is similar playing a D Major. Swap your index and middle fingers round so that you are fretting the first fret of the high E string with your index finger. Your middle finger goes to the second fret of the G string. The next one can be tricky for some. C Major requires more of a stretch than the chords you have played so far.

D Minor Open Chord

D Minor

Try playing E - Am - Dm and you've got a recognisable chord progression!

To play C Major, fret the third fret of the A string with your ring finger. Then, the second fret of the D string with your middle finger and the first fret of the B string with your index finger. Play all the strings, apart from the low E and you’ve played your first C Major. Once you’ve got a handle on these shapes, you can move on to the most difficult open chord in this article. This is the G major chord and luckily it becomes much easier when you have played it a few hundred times.

C Major Open Chords

C Major

This is usually an easy one to grasp, but make sure you aren't muting the upper string!

G Major requires a stretch with your left hand and it can be frustrating to practice it. Start off by fretting the third fret of the low E with your middle finger. After this, use your index finger to play the second fret of the A string. To finish the chord off, add your ring finger on the third fret of the B string. play all the strings and you have yourself a G major Chord.

G Major Open Chords

G Major

G is tricky because it uses your pinky finger too!

Exercises

[Click here for a handy printable refresher on all the chords in this article.]

Knowing chord shapes is great, but putting them together and switching between them is how you make music. Learn which fingers stay still whilst listening to which chords lead to others takes practice but is well worth the time. Try some of these chord progressions to get used to swapping between the chords you’ve just learnt.

Em - G - D - Am

G - C - D

Dm - Am - C - G

Buying Your First Guitar

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Getting Started

Buying your first guitar can be difficult because of the wide range of offerings available. If looking to start guitar lessons, you might not know what you are looking for. Any guitar can be made playable but buying a quality instrument makes learning easier and enjoyable.

Getting In The Ballpark

Most people have a vague idea of what style of guitar that they want to play before they go shopping. The three common ‘classes’ of guitar; Classical, Acoustic and Electric. Each type has certain tonal characteristics, benefits and drawbacks. Guitars are precision instruments, requiring a modicum of care to keep them playable.

Classical Guitars

Classical Guitars are designed for playing scales and have wide necks and large frets. Classical guitars are difficult to play as they tend to go out of tune and the neck width makes it difficult for new players to form chord shapes as the distance between notes and strings is greater and requires more of a stretch to play. Classical guitars use nylon strings which are easy to press down which helps playability but it does not offset the wide neck shape. In addition to being difficult to play, Classical Guitars have little aesthetic appeal for new players looking for an iconic guitar shape.

Acoustic Guitars

Acoustic Guitars are similar to Classical guitars in construction but use steel wound strings and have a slimmer neck which is easy to play. Acoustic guitars come in many sizes, from small parlour and folk sized guitars to gargantuan dreadnaught sized guitars. Acoustic guitars are loud and are built for maximum resonance and projection. This means that you’ll be able to hear someone playing an Acoustic guitar wherever you are in a building, even if they are trying to play it quietly. Bare this in mind if you are buying a guitar for someone, especially if they live in an area high noise levels are prohibited.

Electric Guitars

Electric guitars are the easiest type of guitar to play, with their necks being designed to be ‘fast’ or easy to play. Electric guitars have strings closer to the fretboard than a Classical or Acoustic guitar, will hold tuning better and will have a thinner neck. Electric guitars made from solid wood, so dropping them or bumping them into things is unlikely to ruin the entire guitar, instead, chipping the paint. Electric guitars are quiet when you play non-amplified and can be played using headphones to keep the noise down whilst practicing.

I recommend that you start learning on an Electric guitar. In addition to the benefits noted, electric guitars allow for correct hand positioning whilst the wider neck of an Acoustic or Classical guitar can strain your hands if you are not used to it. If you are buying a guitar for a child or are worried about the weight of the instrument, there are half-sized and three-quarter sized guitars available.

Other Considerations

Budget and Aesthetics will play a part in first-time instrument purchases and they are important to think about before you go and buy something. Many people are unsure whether they are going to enjoy playing guitar so they will buy a cheap guitar. This is a false economy as cheap guitars are made from low quality hardware and are difficult to play. In addition to this, cheap guitars have little to no resale value. The cheapest guitars that you might find in supermarkets will sound dull, be difficult to keep in tune and play and you will not want to practice playing with them. Anything that costs less than ~£100 new is unlikely to be worth buying.

How much should you spend on your first guitar is a difficult question to answer. Whilst having a low quality guitar is better than having no guitar, it is difficult to recommend the cheapest models. Cheap manufacturers such as Encore, LAG or Stagg use poor quality tonewood and cut corners to achieve their low prices.

Aim to spend a little more than the minimum and you can get a perfectly serviceable guitar around the £200 mark. If you go down the second hand route, your money will stretch further. Manufacturers that create inexpensive but good instruments are Fender/Squier, Ibanez, Crafter, Tanglewood, Epiphone and Jackson when you are looking in a shop, whilst you can look at even better guitars when you look at the second hand market, with Paul Reed Smith (PRS) SE series guitars going for as low as £180.

Try Before You Buy

Visiting your local music shop(s) to see what models they have in stock when you are buying your first guitar. This will allow you to try out different guitar and feel the differences in body shapes, neck widths and pricing and often the shop assistants can tell you more about the different variants that each manufacturer offers. By playing a range of guitars, you will develop a feeling for what 'feels right’. Don’t feel pressured to buy something and try as many guitars as the staff will allow you to. Try the expensive guitars as well as this will inspire you to save up and purchase a professional grade instrument some time in the future. Ask the shop assistants what kinds of guitar that your favourite musician or band plays and they will be able to point you in the right direction. If you are buying for a child and they have their eyes on an instrument that is out of your price range, you can implement some type of system so that when they practice guitar and make progress, you save a little money up for them to purchase their dream guitar in the future. This is a great way to encourage practicing without forcing your child to practice and will make it feel like they have earned the guitar.

What Accessories Should I Buy?

There are a huge number of accessories out there for people to buy to aid them learning the guitar. Whilst not all of them are worth buying for guitar lessons, it is worth purchasing at least one of the following:

  • Guitar Stand
  • Plectrum(s)
  • A Tuner
  • Spare Strings
  • String Winder
  • Soft Case

In time, you’ll also want to buy a metronome and some music books and a music stand to aid you in your learning.

Buying your first guitar should be an exciting and interesting venture and with luck you’ll have a great instrument that allows you to learn to play easily. If you would like a little more help with picking a guitar to play, you can contact me for more personalised advice.