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Play great guitar: Brilliant ideas for getting more out of your six-string

Play great guitar: Brilliant ideas for getting more out of your six-string

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Play great guitar: Brilliant ideas for getting more out of your six-string

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3 ore
Apr 18, 2008


Knowing how to play the guitar is just one of those things we’d all love to be able to do. Think back to your formative years - at parties it was always the kid with the guitar who got all the attention, and it's probably that same kid who is now raking it in with their uber-cool band while you slave away at your desk. Now your dreams of guitar-playing stardom* can come a little closer to reality with the help of our fantastic new book Play great guitar. Packed with expert advice for getting more out of your hobby, plus over 25 original compositions to try yourself, Play great guitar is guaranteed to give you plenty of inspiring ideas and more practical skills so you can improve your playing and enjoy your guitar even more. You don’t even need to be able to read sheet music, as all compositions also include full chord notation for ease of playing. Ideal for those just starting out, as well as more experienced players, Play great guitar has something for everyone, whatever your musical tastes. Simply brilliant.
Apr 18, 2008

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Play great guitar - Rikky Rooksby



You know, you’re never alone with a guitar

Hold a guitar and you hold the world’s most popular musical instrument. The piano may beat it for range and complexity, but you can’t take a piano on the bus or hitch-hiking. The guitar is seriously portable. And if your guitar is the type that doesn’t need electricity, you can carry it anywhere and play almost anywhere. Right now, there are thousands of people across the planet, squatting on a beach somewhere or sitting in a city park, strumming a few chord shapes and singing.

You’re never alone with a guitar, whether it’s acoustic or electric. We’re accustomed to them now, but back in the 1950s, it was as if electric guitars were from Mars. An electric guitar is the sound of the later urban twentieth century. Plugged in, it makes a simple chord last for many seconds. Plugged into a powerful enough amplifier and turned up L-O-U-D, the six strings of a guitar make enough noise to fill a hall the size of an aircraft hangar. Don’t you think that’s quite something?

You’re never alone with a guitar because of its history. Run your hand over those six strings, those frets, and think of the thousands of great popular songs that originated in it. The guitar is also an instrument that allows even a beginner who knows only three chord shapes to make pleasing harmony. And certainly enough sound to sing over. Think of all the buskers in the subways and the parks. Many songs that only had three chords have made the world swoon.

You never finish learning a musical instrument; it’s an adventure that never ends. This book is another part of that adventure. Exploring music is exchanging one event horizon for the next, in any direction, 360 degrees of opportunity. Which way you go just depends on what kind of music you want to play.

If guitar is a hugely popular instrument, it is also one which people learn in odd and haphazard ways. When I began my journey with the guitar there were almost no tutor books, no guitar magazines with TAB transcriptions, no tutorial videos and DVDs and no websites. Sheet music for songs was arranged for piano/vocal. If you were fortunate it might include chord boxes … but not necessarily the right ones nor in the right key! So you figured things out as best you could by ear, by looking at photographs of players’ hands, or by knowing someone who could show you something new.

On the guitar journey there’s always something new to find out. Often doors will open with a touch of lateral thinking. Play Great Guitar gives a range of new ideas for the instrument, whatever style of music you like. Everyone has times with the guitar where it seems as though there’s nothing new to discover. You feel stuck with what you know, and what you know seems overfamiliar. Flick through these pages and try out these ideas, and this will help you get unstuck.

These examples provide ideas and techniques which apply to a variety of musical genres. It doesn’t matter whether you play on acoustic or electric, with a pick or with your fingers. Some give chord boxes for you to experiment with in your own way. Others provide standard music notation with guitar TAB underneath. These are available as mp3 files (see opposite) on the Infinite Ideas website, so don’t worry about whether or not you can read music. The combination of audio and TAB will ensure you pick things up. The audio gives you the rhythm and an overall impression, the TAB tells you where to put your fingers.

Play Great Guitar can be dipped into as you please. Discover new sounds, and connect techniques and patterns you already know. You’ll maximise the knowledge you already have, and glimpse new musical horizons. Things you never understood before will become clear. You’ll find new slants on chord shapes, chord types, fingerpicking and strumming, scales and single note melodies, and altered tunings. There are even a few short pieces for you to learn, and, if you harbour some creative ambitions, a few hints about writing a song. Among these pages you may find the sound that will personally appeal so much that it prompts a whole new musical adventure.

Think of your guitar. Maybe you can see it propped up, out of the corner of your eye as you read this. The silence of your unplayed instrument, waiting, is not an empty silence. It is a silence teeming with potential sounds – like an ocean crowded with fish – with as yet undiscovered music. Over the years I’ve been out fishing many times, and I’ve pulled some of the ideas and approaches in these pages out of that silence. Now they’re waiting for you, your fingers, your guitar. Go and discover them!

. These ideas feature short original compositions by the author that will help you put into practice the techniques detailed in the text. To help you follow the pieces, Rikky has supplied MP3 files of himself playing the compositions. To hear Rikky playing his compositions go to and follow the instructions to download the MP3 files you require.


It’s a classical gas, gas, gas

You play guitar, so what is more important than choice of instrument? First brilliant idea: get a new guitar. Go on, admit it … you hoped I’d say this, didn’t you?

The guitar is a versatile music-making tool. What could be more natural than to have two? Imagine a mechanic who turned up to fix your car with only one spanner.


If you go on a journey, it is sensible to choose a good travelling companion. A new instrument can really reignite your passion for the guitar. So let’s review the possibilities.

Before parting with your money, you want to know what a particular type of guitar can do for you. So take a fresh look at your own guitar. How old is it? How long have you had it? How did you come by it in the first place? Did you choose it, or did someone get it for you? Is it the right guitar for what you want to do? Is it holding you back in some way? Is there a style of guitar music you would like to play which won’t work on your current model?

People usually learn guitar on a cheap, knocked-about instrument. That’s a good discipline, tough as it seems, because when you get a better one it makes many things seem easier. But it is not good to persist with a poor instrument if it discourages you – either because it is hard to play or because it doesn’t have a good sound for the music you play on it. Cheap guitars have two main vices. First, they are hard to tune and are not in tune consistently across the fretboard. The higher up the fretboard you venture, the more obvious this becomes. Second, they have a high ‘action’. The action is the height of the strings from the fretboard. A high action makes it hard to hold down notes, especially more than one at a time, as in a barré chord.

When you go to buy a new guitar, check the action of the guitars. Try a barré chord at the first fret and anywhere from the fifth fret upward. How easy is it to hold down? The action should, at the extreme, never be higher than a ¼ inch anywhere on the neck. Play a chord and listen for how long it sustains. Run your finger carefully along the edge of the fretboard to make sure there are no sharp edges on the fret ends. See that you feel comfortable with the weight and the shape of the instrument. Compare as many as you can. Guitars can vary in quality by a surprising amount even in the same price bracket.


Assuming you have a steel-strung acoustic, the first new guitar option to review is the classical or ‘Spanish’ guitar. Associated in world music with flamenco, and in the concert hall with greats such as Andrés Segovia, Julian Bream and John Williams, a classical guitar has a very individual character. They are found more often in second-hand shops than other types, so you could save some money that way, although these will often be poor quality. Mason Williams’ single ‘Classical Gas’, José Feliciano’s cover of The Doors ‘Light My Fire’ and the Beatles ‘And I Love Her’ are good examples of popular songs that used it.

In terms of playability the neck of a classical guitar is wider, so barré chords are more of a vertical stretch. The fretboard is shorter and access above the twelfth fret is limited, unless you get a modern model with a nontraditional cutaway. The action is often higher than other types of guitar, but this is compensated for by the tension of the strings being less. The all-important bit is the fact that it is strung with nylon strings. These are softer on the fretting fingers and have a different tone colour to the steel strings of a folk acoustic – not so bright and ringing, more rounded and warm. For children there are smaller sizes available.

Here’s an idea for you…

It isn’t fair to say the classical guitar has only one sound, dictated by the nylon strings. Experiment with where you strike the string and the tone changes. Play close to the bridge to get a treble, brittle tone; play on the edge of the soundhole for a neutral sound; play right over the edge of the fretboard to achieve the mellowest tone. These tone variations apply to all guitars, including electrics, but are especially noticeable on acoustic guitars, and a central means of expression on the classical guitar.

Defining idea…

‘The guitar is a small orchestra. It is polyphonic. Every string is a different colour, a different voice.’ Andrés Segovia

How did it go?

Q   I have a classical guitar. Can I not strum chords on it?

A   You can, but strumming chords is less effective compared to strumming a steel-strung acoustic. The nylon-strung guitar has less sustain, it doesn’t sound so bright when strummed, and the ‘muted’ quality of the sound is increased if you don’t use a pick but strum with your thumb or the side of your hand. Therefore, the darker, mellower tone sounds better played fingerstyle. String bending is not an option, and the options for altered tunings are limited.

Q   Do I have to read music to play classical guitar pieces?

A   There are books of classical guitar pieces available which also provide TAB notation (and sometimes a CD of the music played), but my advice would be to avoid these and go with learning to read music. This is not that difficult, because you soon recognise the open strings and they act as a signpost to the pitch of everything else.

Q   Are there any techniques special to classical guitar?

A   To get the most tone during a solo playing single notes, use the technique known as the ‘rest’ stroke. Strike the string with a fairly straight finger, almost at right angles to the string, bringing it through the string until it rests on the one immediately lower in pitch. This technique is never used on a steel-string or an electric, but funnily enough it is used on electric bass guitar.


This machine kills boredom

Walk down a city street anywhere in the world and the chances are if you meet a guitar-wielding busker they will be singing to the backing of a strummed steel-strung acoustic.

The ‘folk’ guitar has become the true guitar of the people. This is the type of guitar that allows you to create a loud enough harmony to sing famous songs and write your own.


It’s as portable as a classical guitar but makes more sound, which is ideal for strumming in those busy precincts. Steel-strung acoustic guitars come in more shapes and sizes than you might think. Not all are physically bulky and deep-bodied measured front-to-back, so shop around and try slimmer-bodied acoustics – like the so-called ‘parlour’ models – if the larger ones feel too awkward. If you think you want to stand up and play, check that the guitar has the requisite strap-buttons already attached to it.

The thickness of the neck and width of the fretboard also contribute to how playable the guitar feels. Check the width of the fretboard by playing a first position C chord. We can notate this shape x32010. The first character is the lowest pitched string (the 6th) and the last character is the top (1st) string; the numbers are frets, and ‘x’ is a string not played. See if it is hard to put your first finger in position so that it doesn’t touch the first or third strings and stop them vibrating cleanly. Make sure the nails on your fretting hand are kept very short, otherwise they interfere with holding down notes and making a good contact with the neck. Fingernails can also leave marks on the fingerboard. (Also on the subject of fingernails, if you want to fingerpick with your nails keep them well-shaped so that they’re less likely to snag on something and break.)

Another possible design feature is a single ‘cutaway’ – a bite out of the body that allows easier access to the higher frets. Unless you play lots of high single-note ‘lead’ lines a cutaway is not important (though some like cutaways for aesthetic reasons). Most acoustic guitar music is fingered well below the seventh fret, and relative beginners play mostly in the ‘open’ position around the first couple of frets, where open-string chord shapes are located.

Some steel-strung acoustics also offer the option of a built-in pick-up so the guitar can be played through an amp. You may think this only means you can play it louder, and if not performing it isn’t something you will use. Well, surprise! Actually, that pick-up is potentially an entry to a whole new world of sound. It means you can plug your guitar into an effects processor and subject it to sound modifying, such as chorus, phasing, reverb and echo. You can plug into an amp, add a little reverb and a short echo, and then place the amp several feet away facing you. Balance the volume of the acoustic guitar to what comes out of the amp, and get a fuller, more colourful sound, great for playing on your own.

In terms of playability the neck of a steel-string acoustic is narrower than a classical guitar, so barré chords are less of a vertical stretch but may require more pressure. The fretboard is longer and joins the body around the fifteenth fret. The brighter, metallic tone colour is effective as a background for other instruments or for dominating an arrangement. Fingerpick it or strum it or both, play instrumentals, sing or write songs, bend or retune strings – the steel-string acoustic does all these things.

In popular music the steel-string acoustic is everywhere, appearing in a huge number of styles from folk, country, blues, rock ’n’ roll, pop and on TV and film soundtracks. The sound of the steel-string guitar signifies country and urban living, roots, sincerity. This was exemplified by the MTV Unplugged series of concerts in the 1990s, in which famous bands and guitarists

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