Dead Notes on Guitar

My problems with comments seem ongoing. As you may recall I had to turn comments off for various reasons, the most pressing being that somehow spam got through but many real comments did not. This was frustrating for all of us. However, one got through for my last post which is important enough for a post to reply. Also, for reasons unknown to me, I cannot get the comment to show in the previous post. I did approve it, so maybe it will show up in time.

In case it does not show up, it is from Eddo who says:

  • I understand dead notes to be not sounding at all while palm muted notes are muffled, but have a clearly audible pitch. It would be interesting to know if the developers made a mistake, or you – Dave – while revising, or if there are different naming conventions depending on e.g. the country. Since the software is known to rely on semantics, this is not quite trivial. I wouldn’t want to notate dead notes, only to realize they are played back as palm muted notes.

Unfortunately, notation is and imperfect rendering of the composer’s (or transcriber’s) intent. Eddo is quite right that there is a difference between muted notes and “clicks” or “dead notes” or other designations (“muffled” is probably the most confusing and I avoid it). Muted notes have an audible pitch while truly dead notes do not. Dead notes are meant to just give a percussive sound; sometimes they are even mistakes that the transcriber has to account for. There is no standard notation for tablature for differentiating between palm muted notes and dead notes. My personal preference is from working with Laurence Juber, who writes the words “palm mute” or “P.M.” with a dotted line to show how far they extend. He calls dead notes “muted strings” and uses x’s as both noteheads and tab “numbers”. Here it is the tab that really counts as his notation on the staff does not show the actual pitches (there aren’t any) but the tablature shows the strings to pick (fingerstyle of course).

So there are variations in notation styles. As for Dorico’s choice (I would think the word “mistake” is harsh and inaccurate as well), Anthony Hughes,  in his video on tablature equates “muted, muffled, and deadened notes” (at 4:22) and uses the “dead note” switch in the properties panel for all of them. As for the sound, unfortunately “dead notes” sound like normal ones at this time, since their playback is yet to be completed (as with many other ornaments). For those of you interested in what they will sound like when playback is implemented, I suggest discussing this in the Dorico forum to give the developers your input.

The most complete set of notational variants (notation and tab) I have seen recently is in Jimi Hendrix: Complete Scores from Hal Leonard. They  use LJ’s “P.M.” for palm mute; x’s for muffled strings in both notation and tab; “P.S.” followed by a wavy line for pick scrape (the line showing direction); and x’s for the lead-in strings and a number for the sounding note for a rake, along with the word “rake”.  I think this combination of consistent use of symbols, initials, and words along with a notation legend or glossary is the best idea, especially if the music is a whole book. Of course, if you are working with a publisher they should have a house style.

When in doubt, more is better. Clarity is important.

Guitar in Dorico 3

Finally! The great minds who have created such depth and detail in so many areas of music notation have turned their skills to the guitar and what an amazing result we have. Dorico 3 IS the program I have been waiting for since I started to write out guitar music.


For all of you who have been writing to me since Dorico was first released, I can finally say “YES! It supports TAB.” In fact it’s actually better than that. Dorico stores music in an “abstract” form so that TAB or notation (or piano roll or whatever) are just display options that represent the music. So now you can use one or the other, or both. Better yet, change one and the other changes to match it. Enter notation and Dorico translates it to TAB based on the information it has about your stringed instrument (guitar, bass, banjo, etc.). No more mis-matched notation and TAB because I forgot to update one of them. Dorico usually places the music in open position but you can change the position you like, or just enter the music in tab. Like the rest of the program, you have choices to work the way that you like to.

There are a huge number of options for inputting TAB so I will cover just some of the most basic ones. Anthony Hughes, UI Designer at Steinberg for Dorico, has an excellent video on tablature here. I highly recommend spending the 9 minutes to watch it at least once.

If you choose instruments via Layout options (Cmd-Shift-L, Ctrl-Shift-L on Windows) the Players section has presets for guitar, lute, and banjo for Notation, Tab, Notation and Tab, and Tab (no rhythms). Obviously Tab assumes with rhythms. Oddly, there is no selection here for Bass Guitar and Tab, but it is a simple task (and good practice) to create one and save it as a template. From the instrument name in Setup mode you can open Edit Strings and Tuning which allows you to set the open pitch of the string, set its starting fret (as in the highest-sounding string on 5-string banjo), the number of frets, and even irregular fret spacing.

If all you need is guitar notation with tablature you might find the easiest start is (in Write mode) File > New from Template > Solo > Guitar with tablature; or from the Hub choose Solo > Guitar with tablature.

Lute tablature, with all of those strings, looks most impressive and yet it is the one that is arguably incomplete. You can get an idea of why just by selecting “lute” and seeing how many Dorico lists for notation. There are several different tunings and styles of notation to go along with the varying number of strings, some of which use letters as well as or instead of numbers; some even use letters off the tablature, while others reverse the order of the strings. This makes complete support for all lutes in tablature an enormous project on its own, but even as it is Dorico’s lute tablature is a big advance.

When editing TAB you can change the position of a note by changing the string it is on by selecting it and typing m to go one string lower (in pitch) and n to go one higher. It may sound confusing at first but most of the time only one direction is possible and if you type the wrong one, nothing happens. So type the other; it soon becomes second nature.

Bends are a thing of beauty in Dorico. Simply choose two notes (they can even be in chords), click on the bend icon in the ornaments panel (under Glissandi)  and Dorico creates terrific-looking arrows in TAB,  calculating the bend distance for you based on the notes involved. Even easier, you can call up the Ornaments popover (Shift-O) and type “bend”. Pre-bends are easy too, with their accompanying release notes. In fact, Dorico has two motions that are often grouped simply as pre-bends: a “release” where the first pitch is a regular duration but has been bent and the second is the release note, and regular pre-bends where a grace note shows the starting point for the pre-bend (which Dorico lets you choose in the lower panel) and the sounding pitch, which Dorico then changes to the correct notation and TAB. If this sounds confusing, check out Anthony Hughes’ video at 6:40, just after he shows how to notate a held bend. All usual bend types are supported although they don’t playback (yet). This is no big deal for me because I am not a fan of the sound of most guitar bends played back on other notation programs.


OK, there is no big difference between TAB and notation so it’s hard to break this into sections. Slides are next, and these I really like. You can  show slides from note to note, and even my own favourite “slide to nowhere” or “slide from nowhere”, where the end note is indeterminate (think of Joe Walsh) or the beginning note is not clear (you just slide into the note). What may be confusing is that although you can enter slides in Write mode you edit the type of slide or the line itself in Engrave Mode. You get used to it.

One fun bit of terminology is that what are usually called “muted” or “palmed” notes are here referred to as “dead notes.”

One unique feature that breaks “tradition” is that by default Dorico 3 deletes the staff line behind fingerings, making them much easier to read. If this bothers you, just go to the Fingering > Design > Advanced Options section and turn it off and check the box to Allow Left Hand Fingerings Inside The Staff For Fretted Instruments. You can even change the scale of fingerings here if you like. This and much more is covered by Anthony Hughes’ video on Guitar Fingering and String Indicators.

String indicators are one example of Dorico 3’s “detailed knowledge” of the instrument. First select a note or some notes and in the properties panel check the Show under the String Indicators (on the far right). Dorico will automatically calculate the best string for the note, although you are free to change it in the Notes and Rests group to the left of the same panel. You can select a single string for a range of notes by selecting them then use the Shift-P Playing Techniques popover and type string 1 (or whichever string you want) and the string number will show outside the staff with a dashed line indicating the range of notes on that string. Of course you can lengthen or shorten the line if you need to.

One of the best uses of the detailed knowledge of the string instrument is with harmonics. You can choose between natural and artificial harmonics, and Dorico 3 takes care of the notation. Since it is the most common, harmonics are by default an octave above (the 2nd harmonic or partial). However, you can change this to whichever harmonic you need (or can play) and Dorico 3 will calculate the correct notation! No more rushing for that reference book which you can never seem to find. You can also notate pinch harmonics. What more do you need?

There is much more to Dorico 3’s support for guitar notation, TAB, and techniques. I urge you to watch the two Hughes videos I mention above as well as his series of 14 tutorials on the new features in Dorico 3. (Due to external forces I am a bit rushed to get this out to you, so when I get the inevitable corrections or amplifications I will correct this post. I will continue with a series of posts on some of Dorico 3’s other features too.)

The new features make Dorico 3 THE notation program for guitar and other modern fretted instruments.


One bonus that is not mentioned in any of the documentation on Dorico 3 is the disk space you may well save. I speak from personal experience as I can now delete Sibelius, which I have been using solely for guitar and bass. First, though, I have to make music .XML files from all of my Sibelius files, and maybe MIDI ones as well. I did an important one yesterday and was reminded that Sibelius has some peculiar “quirks” in its export options in both 7.1 and 7.5, so it may take you some time to be sure that they have exported and then imported correctly. The first file I did this with yesterday surprised me by interpreting a “leggerio” marking as “change tempo to quarter-note – 132”! That took a little bit of time to figure out since the tempo seemed to change randomly and who would have thought of that particular “glitch”? I will be greatly relieved to be done with that project, but it may be some time before I realize all of the disk saving I hope for (even after burning my .sib files to DVD “just in case”).

This was written a little light-heartedly but more seriously, Dorico has now reached the stage where it is by far the finest notation program available. I stopped using Finale a few years back and have restricted my use of Sibelius to guitar and bass scores that required TAB. Now that Dorico goes far beyond Sibelius in supporting TAB my days of using Sibelius are over. Considering that Dorico charges only for major upgrades with several free updates per version, Dorico is a better deal financially. Being able to save money by using the finest program available is a rarity in any field, and we are indeed lucky to have just that choice in music notation!

Need I say it? Dorico 3 has my VERY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

The Evolution of Fingerstyle Guitar by Laurence Juber

Book cover - LJ holding guitar
The Evolution of Fingerstyle Guitar

In the world of music, Laurence Juber has done just about everything. After achieving his dream of becoming a session musician in London he was chosen by Paul McCartney to play lead guitar in Wings, a position he held until the band folded, and in which he earned his first Grammy. For many people that would constitute a career but for LJ, as his fans know him, it was just chapter one. He then moved to the USA, met the love of his life in New York, and moved to Los Angeles, where he became a first call guitarist for television and movies (yes, he even played the James Bond theme in one). He also recorded for two of the other Beatles, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as well as many top bands and soloists. At the same time he reinvented himself as a world-class fingerstyle guitarist, one in the rarefied altitudes that only the likes of Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor currently inhabit. He has contributed a large amount of  music to the fingerstyle repertoire including his amazing transcriptions of Beatles songs, as well as his own compositions that rival those of the classical guitar masters. His magnificent arrangement of The Pink Panther on the guitar tribute album to Henry Mancini, “Pink Guitar”, garnered LJ his second Grammy. Having written for the stage (3 musicals co-written with his wife Hope), television, and movies, there seemed to be little that LJ has not accomplished. And now he has produced a new book that outlines The Evolution of Fingerstyle Guitar.

The book contains a code with which you can download the album of 20 songs played by LJ. Their dates of composition range from 1507 to 1920 and most if not all of the composers will be familiar to classical guitarists. Just making the selection is quite an accomplishment since guitar-like instruments (its “ancestors”) are known to have been in use since at least 4,000 years ago. So where to begin? Here we start with music for the lute, which came to Europe from the Middle East in the form of the oud (derived from Arabic al’ud) which in its Westernized version became “a lute.” Lutes came in various sizes with different numbers of strings and tunings. LJ has gathered a trove of great pictures of lutes being played by humans and angels, as well as a woodcut of the first composer, Josquin des Pres, whose music is around the earliest time that “ancient music” begins to appeal to modern ears. On the same page (p.8) is the “score” for this piece, notable because it is in tablature. In fact tablature was the normal method of writing lute music (notational purists take note!), and rather than “notated”, lute music was “entabulated”. LJ has transcribed all of the lute tablatures to notation (and vice versa) himself, and I can attest to the concentration and patience on top of the education required for this process. The scores of all 20 selected compositions are presented in both notation and tablature.

Even at this early point in the book you will notice that LJ has placed great care in finding pictures of the composers, reproductions of the original music, artwork that features instruments from each period, as well as variants of the instruments mentioned in the text. Far from a simple anthology of music this book provides a fascinating journey through the process that ended up with the guitar as we know it. Beyond that, it illustrates how the diversity of modern instruments and interest in different tunings is older than even the guitar itself. Of course LJ is a proponent of different tunings, seen in his books of arrangements and compositions as well as his excellent DVD on DADGAD in particular. (I will be reviewing his latest book of DADGAD compositions and arrangements soon.)

The very next piece, by Luis de Milán, we see the lute’s guitar-like relative the vihuela, which has more of the guitar’s shape and less of the gourd-like body of the oud. A third instrument, the viola da gamba, looks somewhat like the modern cello but is really a bowed vihuela and like its unbowed version its music is entabulated as well. (In fact, Bach’s Sixth “Cello Suite” was actually written for the Baroque version of the viola da gamba.) All of the music here reflects the variety and fecundity of imagination of the Renaissance, and this section ends with John Dowland’s Queen Elizabeth’s Galliard (a personal favourite as one of the first pieces I learned on classical guitar).

So what is the difference between fingerstyle and classical guitar history? Until the 20th century, not much. It took the virtuosity of Andrés Segovia (1893 – 1987) to bring the guitar into the classical concert halls. In his early years, Segovia relied on transcriptions of Bach (especially lute and cello music) to a large degree. He also revived the work of many of the composers in LJ’s collection, especially Sor and Tarrega. Realizing this, LJ has brought us some of the lesser-known works of these composers which maintain the same level of excellence. Even with a well-known piece such as the Bourée by Bach we are given food for thought.

The Bach Bourée in E minor is another standard in the classical repertoire, taken from the Lute Suite BWV 996. For all the nit-pickers in the crowd, there is a difference between LJ’s score and the Urtext version edited by Rosalyn Tureck, one of the finest Bach experts of all time. Specifically, for the 4th beat of bar 8 on page 48 Tureck has low B in the bass rather than a repeated D# (which does in fact fill out the triad). What is more interesting though is that LJ’s fingering of this page differs from that of Sharon Isbin (guitar professor at Juillard) in that same Urtext edition. LJ’s fingering reminds me of Paul McCartney’s fingering in Blackbird, which Sir Paul confirmed (in a Bass Player interview from October 2005) was the inspiration for that song. LJ tells me that he learned that Lute Suite long before Blackbird was composed. He also made an excellent distinction between classical and fingerstyle guitar: whereas classical guitar focuses on the distinct separation of individual lines, fingerstyle players and composers are more concerned with sustain and comfort (this last an important component for concert artists who play for hours at a time). With the predominance of steel strings in fingerstyle, as opposed to nylon strings in classical guitar, the ringing sustain gives fingerstyle a unique and brilliant sound.

This book is a “triple treat”: a fine history of the fingerstyle/classical guitar with beautiful pictures and graphics; a great set of 20 scores with tab to learn; and a code to download all of the pieces in the book or to play them on the Hal Leonard site using their Playback+ player. This player allows you to set the speed, pitch, stereo balance, and looping points to really learn each piece. (The audio CD of these pieces is available as Touchstones – The Evolution of Fingerstyle Guitar, in case you have a friend who does not play the guitar.) This set excels in each of these areas, and for players it should find a home on your music stands for the months ahead. Even guitarists who use a pick solely will be fascinated (and perhaps converted) by the history of their instrument, while those who do not play will find this an extraordinarily attractive and interesting book and set of songs to download.

I highly recommend this book package for anyone interested in the history of the guitar as well as the changing sound of its music over centuries.


In Praise of Older Instruments

Shopping frenzy revolves around several times of the year, and to some extent that is true of musical instruments, but those are mostly new instruments. Vintage instruments are a year-round pursuit for serious collectors. We’re seeing that now in Geddy Lee’s tour for his book Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book of Bass.

Vintage instruments tend to go for stratospheric prices, and Geddy’s book is as close as most of us will get to the majority of basses shown in it, but what about the older guitars that were praised to the skies when they came out and then seemed to just disappear as fashions changed? I think that there are several good reasons to look into these instruments seriously:

  1. It’s good for the environment. Although even mass-produced instruments aren’t terribly polluting, and excellent luthiers are making impressive instruments, many of the best tone woods are endangered.
  2. It’s good for the wallet. There are some great bargains in used instruments. Back when materials were cheaper some great instruments were moderately-priced and are even cheaper now
  3. Some instruments get better as they age, especially acoustic ones, so playing some older but not yet “vintage” instruments can be very pleasant surprises.
  4. You can probably think of more reasons for yourself and your situation.

I have been lucky enough to score big on some used instruments. I used to travel a lot and although I had a great traveling classical guitar, I needed a steel-string. Once I started looking at sizes of guitars vs. airplane overhead storage I realized that a Steinberger regular guitar would fit just as well as a new “travel guitar” and have a full size neck as well as that amazing tuning system. Many people think of these as “an 80’s thing” but when I tried to buy one online I found out that a LOT of guitarists wanted these. I started looking for either a Steinberger Spirit guitar or even the Hohner licensed version. It took me a few months on eBay to finally snag a Steinberger Spirit but I got more than I bargained for. It had been treated with loving care, which I found out when I discovered that the seller lived about 20 minutes from me! Not only was the guitar a dream to play, but he had replaced the original pickups with Seymour Duncan ones: a jazz one at the neck and a hot rock one at the bridge. This became my go to guitar immediately. (He was only selling it to buy a custom-made guitar, and was so sad to see it go I felt guilty … until I got home and played it again.)

Another great find was in a pawn shop. These are places I had overlooked, so imagine my surprise when on my second visit to one I found a Fender Jazz Bass on the wall. It was an MIM (Made in Mexico) which I learned can vary greatly in quality, depending on the luthier. I brought in my bass Vox amPlug and played the bass for an hour, and sure enough this was a killer guitar. I was even able to haggle the price down to about $300 (US) with the best gig bag I’ve ever seen.

So if you are looking for a guitar or bass, or most other instruments too, take a close look at used instruments. Listen closely to them, and check for problems since there may well be some. For example, the Jazz Bass had a buzz, but it was easily fixed with a truss rod adjustment. If you buy from a store make sure that there is some warranty. If they have a reasonable return policy take the instrument to a repair shop and have them look it over. Sometimes problems are easily fixed  while other seemingly minor ones can be deadly in the long run, such as the head stock that has been glued back on and hastily painted over (I’ve seen this). If you can, just like buying a car, arrange to take it to a repair place before buying and see what work it needs. If it is reasonable, you should be able to negotiate the price to take care of it.

Remember that luthiers are making great guitars all the time, and what is “in” is largely fashion. To paraphrase Drake’s great Grammy speech, this is an “opinion-based industry”, and the look of guitars is constantly changing or “new features” added that you don’t need. What is not changing is the need for a design that gives a good tone and sustain, good pickups, and that indefinable magic that happens when you find the right guitar, bass, or kazoo. Just because you don’t have a lot of money, it doesn’t mean you can’t find a great guitar in your price range. And the money you save can go toward a better amp. (More on amps in another post. They are a more complicated purchase.)

Finally, never be afraid to bargain. No one is losing money selling instruments in a store, and the prices of used instruments are really subjective. If you notice that a guitar has been hanging on the wall for a long time, there’s a good chance they will lower the price just to get rid of it. This is true even of new instruments. If you live in Canada (or a country with a currency stronger than the Canadian dollar) we are in the middle of Long & McQuade‘s annual “Inventory Blowout” sale. I don’t mind giving them a little free publicity because I got my beloved 5-string Ibanez bass for $289 (Canadian) from this sale a few years back.

How often can we say that we are helping the environment as we stock up on guitars? We can do some good and find a killer guitar at the same time. So when you need a new instrument think “used” (or “pre-loved”).

Slash Notation in Dorico Pro 2

I am glad to see that so many of my friends from Just Jazz Guitar have taken the time to email me about this blog. I welcome all of your email, even (sometimes especially) the critical ones.

Many of you are waiting for tablature to be implemented in Dorico, and so far it is not in Dorico Pro 2. The “Clefs” menu includes “TAB6” and “TAB4” but at this time they just create the standard “TAB” as the clef but do not adjust the lines to become “strings”; if you create a guitar player you get the five line staff and notes, not numbers.

However, one new feature that you have asked for has shown up: Slash Notation. This allows the composer or arranger to specify the chord and rhythm to be used, but the voicing is left up to the player. John Barron discusses Slash Notation in the May 2018 edition of Discover Dorico on YouTube, so I thought I would show you how I used it to re-create a very interesting timing issue in a classic song, Jimi Hendrix‘s version of All Along the Watchtower. If you have tried to play this with a band, or even paid close attention to the timing, something sounds wrong when you use most standard sheet music.

The secret is that Jimi used anticipation chords on the eighth-note before the downbeat of each bar, and then accented the first three chords of the following bar. This gives the proper accent to the downbeat, which does NOT coincide with the chord change. A good place to see this (as well as the solos in the song) is in Hal Leonard’s “Signature Licks” series Jimi Hendrix: Volume 2 by Chad Johnson. Chad does outstanding transcriptions, so I thought it would be worthwhile to try to reproduce the first 4 bars of the song:

Here I created a “slash voice” from the Write menu in Write Mode. There are a couple of interesting things here. First, the slash notation displays on the middle line. Although it is displaying slashes, I am actually typing notes but getting just the slash noteheads, which I want. However, some stems go down and others go up. This might have been OK, but I have chosen to notate the guitar that plays the rhythm pattern at first, then plays the lead (the three notes at the end are the start of it). This is a great feature: you can combine slash notation and regular notation in a single voice, or so it seems when entering it. But you can see in that final bar that rests fill in the bar for the notes, while under them rests fill out the slash notation.


My first decision was to force all stems up. I did this from the Edit menus in Write Mode.

Next I selected all slashes and moved them up to the top of the staff. I had to choose each slash individually. There may be an easier way to select them but Select All is not it. Choosing the rests kept it from working for some reason I do not understand, but it looks OK so far.

Finally, I added the chord names. Usually you would do this earlier but since the whole idea was using slashes, I figured I’d make sure they worked OK first. I also added the accents on the first three notes of each bar. The documentation says that the accents are attached to the noteheads but you can see that in the last bar they are on top of the stems, probably because the note voice is considered the lower one (at least now that I have moved the slashes up;  it was the higher voice earlier). If you do compare this to the Hal Leonard book, you will see that the slashes in Dorico are not at such a steep angle, so that while both of them place the chord name over the notehead of the slash, they tend to cover the whole thing in the book, while Dorico puts them directly over the notehead (e.g. the B chords above).

Of course there is more tidying up you can do, like hiding some of the rests in the last bar. And I must admit that this is a bit of a “cheat” since in the HL book the slashes float above the staff and are clearly separate. In Dorico I had to move them to the G above the staff; any higher and I started getting ledger lines, which I did not want. Still, this is a constructed example, since most slash parts are just slashes, and Dorico does those very  easily. The notes are a different story. There are no guitar notations to show the slide into the first note, nor the bend to the third note.

Of course the guitar is not the only instrument that plays from slash notation, but it is a very handy feature for guitarists. Given the level of interest in guitar-related features, I thought this was a good place to start looking at Dorico Pro 2.


Ultimate Guitar Acquires MuseScore – Win/Win/Win

It must be great to have a product that dominates its field, but how to you keep progressing when your flagship product is FREE? MuseScore2 is most likely the most popular notation software in the world, and for good reason: it is of higher quality than almost every competitor, even the commercial ones (except, of course, the highest level professional publishing ones). If you have taken even a quick glance at this blog you know that I have Dorico and Sibelius 7.5, but I still use MuseScore2 for particular projects for which it is better suited.

The huge user community can’t wait for MuseScore3 to appear, but even the brilliance of the original MuseScore team is stretched to the limit as they work on this labour of love while keeping the wolf from the door with their web site for music producers as well as MuseScore Pro. But with the amazing response from all over the world, some change was needed to keep the company flourishing. Thomas Bonte, one of the founders, explained why their joining with Ultimate Guitar was the best choice here. (Actually the note is signed by all three founders: Werner, Nicolas, and Thomas.) If you have ever searched for a guitar or bass tab, you have met Ultimate Guitar. Not only are they a similar powerhouse in the field of sharing tablature (with over 100 million guitarists reported to use the site), more importantly they have a strong business model that will help MuseScore3 arrive quicker and with the company in even better shape. Already they have negotiated several worldwide licensing arrangements for MuseScore thanks to their own relationships with music publishers. This means that MuseScore can host scores of some of the most popular music today in superb quality. And more is coming.

MuseScore fans are reassured that things will only get better from here on. Here is a post by Eugeny Naidenov, founder and owner of Ultimate Guitar on the plans for MuseScore going forward.


So MuseScore is on a firm company footing, Ultimate Guitar has another gem with which to share music for ALL musicians, and users can look forward to more music in more formats, while resting assured that MuseScore will remain free. That sounds like Win/Win/Win to me.

Make Money While Practising

Every few months the guitar magazines rediscover that regular practice improves playing. This is often touted as the “secret” of the current great guitar player. I’m going to assume that you all know that by now. (If not, try doing 15 minutes of focused practice every day for a few weeks and see what happens.)

I have a few suggestions for your practice sessions that can actually save you money, which is like having more money to spend on that dream instrument while being able to play it better when you get it. It’s like getting paid to practice.

Here’s how: Focus on something you need to learn, not something that you can already play in your sleep (chances are you stopped hearing it a while ago). If you don’t know the whole neck of your instrument, learn it several ways. Up and down one string, across every position, skipping notes, in scales and modes, there are all sorts of ways to make sure that you know where Bb is on the D string, for example.

The second thing is to listen as you play. This will train your ear, and it will also let you hear your guitar (or any other instrument you play). This is crucial, because if you don’t know what your guitar sounds like, and what you can do with it, you won’t be able to spot a better-sounding one in the music store.

Third, I suggest having a set routine that runs through the whole neck, every string and at least every three frets. This should be short and one of the first things your play every day. Notice the changes in tone in all of the various ranges of your instrument. That’s why you want to cover the whole neck.

Finally don’t forget to learn a few songs so well that you can play them perfectly even in front of the person who wrote or played it. You want to be able to listen to the tone you are getting without worrying where your fingers are or if you are hitting the right string.

OK, now that you’ve done that (or when you have) let’s save you some money. Most players tend to freeze when they go into a guitar shop and there are a lot of players there. “Man, is everyone else great on the guitar but me?” Naw, they are just playing their “store set” of exercises and songs. But now you have a store set too! So no matter what that guy in the corner who thinks he’s the second coming of Eddie van Halen is doing, you can do your own thing and listen to the guitars you play. And play a lot of them. Bonus tip: there are subtle differences between every guitar, even ones from the same company in the same model with the same configuration that come off an assembly line. The great thing about wood and the other materials that make up guitars is that you never really know how one piece is going to react to sound. A tip that you won’t need if you listen is that the price of a guitar has little to do with the sound of a guitar. I did a test one day of 15 Les Paul’s in one of my favourite music stores, about half Gibson and half Epiphone (actually 8 were Gibsons). The best two were about the same with slightly different tonal ranges, and they were both Epiphones, over $500 cheaper than the cheapest Gibson (in THAT shop on THAT day; your mileage may vary). The point is that it’s always worthwhile to compare. A friend did a similar comparison with Telecasters and found a Godin that was the best sounding one in the store for less than half the price of a Fender Tele. In that case he wasn’t sure which sounded better, but since I knew a song he’d just learned I suggested he play it on all of them and see which one sounded best. There was no doubt in his mind when he bought the Godin.

You probably see my last example coming, but I’ll tell you anyway. Years ago a friend in a band I was in wanted to upgrade his “Strat knock-off” with a real Fender. We both knew the sound of his guitar well, so we expected great things at the store. He played three Strats and asked me to play them too. Our consensus was that they sounded no better than his guitar — no worse, but no better. In this case we were lucky enough to find the same type of amp that he used, because a better amp can bias you, but in this case he made the biggest savings of all and had a new respect for his knock-off guitar.

So a regular focused practice routine can save you money. At the very least you will end up as a better player. You will also be ready to try out instruments at unexpected places and times. Look into how Geddy Lee and Jack Casady found their favourite basses — the ones their signature models are based on — and you will realize that it was their ability to hear the special tone of the instrument that was crucial.

A lot of the guitar biz is based on players not realizing what they actually have already. As with anything in life (cars, significant others, phones, etc.) be sure to know what you have before you try to upgrade. And if you do upgrade, check out what you are really getting.



Spotting Fake Fender and Gibson Guitars & Dorico Review Soon

Several problems here have slowed down my writing but my full review of Dorico 1.0.10 should be ready today or tomorrow at the latest. I truly hope it is worth waiting for.

Meanwhile, since several of you may be hoping for Fender or Gibson guitars this holiday season, you should watch Kennis Russell’s videos on how to spot fakes. Some clues are easy, some are combinations of clues, and others may be difficult for those who aren’t luthiers or qualified guitar repair folks. If you don’t grasp all of these tips you might want to bring along a friend who does, preferably a luthier or guitar tech. In any case, spotting a fake could save you hundreds and even thousands of dollars so these videos are well worth your time. They’re interesting even if you don’t plan to buy one of these guitars too.

Click here for spotting a fake Fender Strat.

Click here for spotting a fake Gibson Les Paul.

There are also some general tips on spotting fake Fenders and Gibsons that apply throughout the product lines.

My  advice is to listen and trust your own ears. For example, I’ve found Epiphone Les Pauls that sounded better than the actual Gibsons I compared them with, side-by-side using the same amp and settings. Brand and model are good starting points but your ears and fingers should make the final decision, along with the gooey stuff between your ears (and I don’t mean the wax).