Quick Practice Tips – Daily Blog – Day 5

Welcome to part 5, Friday’s final instalment in our daily blog series offering you a professional practice tip each day.

Tip 5:  Don’t Always Play With Songs

For some guitarists, this advice should be “Start Playing With Songs” but for most of us, it’s don’t always play with songs!

Especially if you’re preparing for a gig/performance/exam etc.  you need to know the song you’re learning inside out, and that means not coming to rely on cues in the vocals or production which you can’t necessarily trust to be present when you perform.

Practising material to a metronome or backing track can help you solidify and deepen your knowledge and understanding of the piece, and have you ready for anything.

So do it!

Good Luck


Guitar Lessons London

Piano Lessons London


Guitar Themed TBT Part Two

Welcome to part 2 in our Guitar-themed TBT (Throwback Thursday) mini series.

You can find part 1 here.

Again, we’re featuring 3 great Guitar videos from days gone by.  Just as part 1 contained performances from 1959, 1969 and 1979, now’s the time for 1989, 1999 and 2009.  So here we go!

1) 1989 – Night Of The Guitar

2) 1999 – Guitar Boogie – Tommy Emmanuel

3) 2009 – Joe Bonamassa Live 


Guitar Lessons London

Piano Lessons London

Lead Guitar Phrasing – Part 3 – Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits

Welcome to Part 3 in our series on Lead Guitar Phrasing.  The subject of today’s study is the Mark Knopfler‘s playing on Brothers In Arms.  First, here’s the track:

So here are 5 key points we can take from this, to apply to our own Phrasing when soloing:

1) Leaving Space.  
We’ve discussed leaving spaces between phrases before, and referenced Miles Davis’ quote “It’s the notes you don’t play”.  However, on this track, and many others, Mark Knopfler takes this concept from a necessary technique to an art form.  During these spaces in the verses is arguably when his Guitar carries most weight and power, as when listening to the song, you can feel yourself urging and pre-empting the Guitar’s re-entry.  This combined with the Guitar being “high in the mix” (ie. noticeably louder than the other instruments), and a collection of concise, sparse and perfectly executed fills, makes for a brilliantly evocative Guitar part.

2) Minimalism 
This is a selection of short and medium length fills, there are no long fills at all.  This is an effective, controlled approach.  Rather like how you might stop listening to someone who’s been going on and on for 10 minutes, but take serious note when a silent type finally speaks up.  On a couple of occasions, there is no fill at all, and once the first verse, there’s a fill of just one note.  Even in the solos, there is absolutely no playing to excess whatsoever.  If you told any guitarist to solo over the Brothers In Arms Backing Track, you can be sure they wouldn’t play so little, or be anywhere near as effective, unless they’d already learned this lesson

3) Volume Swells 
Knopfler’s volume pedal is a big part of his sound.  Essentially a volume pedal is a foot pedal which sweeps from silent to full volume, and you can create similar effects using the volume knob on your guitar.  Using this he creates violin-like swells, notes that creep and fade in and out.  Essentially he’s hereby deepening the use and potential of dynamics in his playing.  Try it out with whatever you have at your disposal!

4) Pushing 
Pushing is coming in just before the beat, usually a quaver (or 8th note) before.  Knopfler does this a lot, coming in early with something emphatic, that sounds momentarily out of place, then soars as the music falls into place around his guitar part.  This adds expression, dynamics and the illusion of pace, and is exemplified by the solo-opening bend at 4:13

5) Fingerstyle 
The central, best-known aspect of Mark Knopfler’s technique is the fact that he nearly always plays with his fingers, rather than a plectrum.  Whilst this arguably has more influence over his rhythm playing, it does affect his lead playing in one major way.  The scope and range of expression provided by the fingers is much wider than with a pick.  This range extends at one end of the spectrum to a hard, plucked twang, and at the other to the lightest, feather-touch flick of the strings.  In general, there’s a soft, rounded quality to his tone that comes from his fingerstyle soloing.  Try it out!

Coming soon, the 4th and final (for now) part in this series.

Happy Knopfler-ing!

– Alex

Piano Lessons London

Guitar Lessons London

How To Learn A Song By Ear

All over the internet there are sites full of tabs, chord charts and video tutorials on how to play just about any song.  So the idea of learning a song “by ear” ie. listening to it and figuring out how to play it, poses 2 questions in this day and age.  Why? And How?

1) Why? 

  • The majority of tabs/chord charts and even a good percentage of video tutorials are incorrect.  Some only by a couple of notes, yes, but in others you’d be hard pushed to find a couple of notes that are correct.  There are tabs out there of songs in the wrong key, or full of wrong chords played in unhelpful shapes and positions.  I’ve even seen some that bear little or no resemblance to the song they’re supposed to be.  There are lots of great, trusted guitarists and educators out there doing brilliant video tutorials, (search for Guthrie Govan, or Justin Sandercoe), but the vast majority should not necessarily be trusted with your development as a guitarist.
  • Aural/Musicianship.  Training your ear is really important, especially for performing live, improvisation, teaching or a career in music.  What you’re doing is developing the ability to hear in your head what something you do on the guitar sounds like.  So when you’re improvising, you can create melodies your ear feels should happen next, rather than something with a sense of randomness, based on scale shapes.  As a teacher, I know how to play a great number of songs but, logistically, given the number of songs in existence, the number i don’t know is almost infinitely bigger.  So if a student comes to me wanting to learn a certain song that I haven’t previously learned, I need to be able to work out how to play that song on the spot.  I can do that, and that’s down to practice.  If you’re in a band, and you hear a certain melody or line come from your singer or bassist that you want to echo or imitate, an aural understanding will enable you to do so.  Never ever underestimate how important developing your musical ear can be!


  • Use The Information You Have  – What this means is, try not to guess blindly, try to use what you already know.  Say the song you’re learning is in the key of C Major.  You hear it go to a minor chord, what might it be?  Remember its relative minor is A minor, so an A minor chord is very possible.  What other minor chords might it be?  etc etc.  Does the next chord sound like an open chord or a barre chord?  Does it sound heavy and full like an open E major? Thinner and higher like an open D minor?  Then you hear a heavy riff come crashing in, if it’s a rock song it’s probably derived from the pentatonic scale, so start there.  And so on.  Starting to learn about music theory, chord formation and keys will help all this no end, as you’ll become aware of “packs” of chords that tend to usually come together, for example it is so much more likely that a C Major chord will be followed by a G major than an A major.  Head to our series on Music Theory to start discovering why.
  • Remember What You Learn From The Process – Is there a certain type of chord change that always catches you out?  Make sure you recognise that the next time it comes up.  What was the “breakthrough moment” in working out that song?  How did that come about?  Apply that in future.  Do you find it easier going over and over the verse section for 5 minutes repeating it and gradually uncovering it?  Or just all the way through the song in one go a few times?  This whole process is about momentum, narrowing down your options and gradually uncovering the harmony of the song.  The more you take from it, the quicker you’ll get the next one. 
  • Keep Style In Mind – You’re working out a blues solo, so look out for the moment it feels most bluesy and add your blues scale notes to your pentatonic.  Sad song?  Focus on minor chords.  Does it sound like every chord in the pattern shares a note, ringing out over the top?  Chances are it’s an open string, the e or b.  Heavy Rock?  Try powerchords, not jazzy inversions!  It’s all common sense really, but these are all applied ways of thinking that can help you quickly narrow down what might at first seem like a vast spectrum of chords and notes.

When you’re done, you’ll be accurate, satisfied, and a little further down the road to guitar hero status!  Good luck!

-Guitar Lessons London