The Best of Blues Edition #5: G.A.S, Guitar Pro & Guthrie Govan
One of the most rewarding and challenging elements of playing an instrument is the constant process of development. No matter how advanced you are, there is always more you can learn. As the great B.B. King once so eloquently put it: ‘Even now, at 82 years old, if I don’t learn something every day, you know what I think? It’s a day lost’.
Yet despite the wealth of information out there and the sheer potential for learning, I think it is so easy to fall into a musical ‘rut’. There have been periods in my playing career where I haven’t developed at all and have just wasted my time noodling around and playing the same old licks. And I think a lot of guitarists fall into this trap. If you really want to develop as a musician then you have to guard yourself against this and make a concerted effort to push yourself and improve. And that’s what this article is all about.
Here are some of the resources that I have been using over the past few weeks. They have really helped me on my learning journey and I hope they do the same for you:
Guthrie Govan’s String Bending Masterclass
If you haven’t yet heard of Guthrie Govan, I would strongly urge you to find him on YouTube. He is one of the most technically gifted guitarists ever, and is an eloquent and entertaining teacher. He is well versed in innumerable different styles, including jazz, metal and rock. From what I have seen, less of his material focuses on the blues. But I recently found a 5 part series he did on string bending that I thought was brilliant.
String bending is a key part of blues guitar playing. It adds emotion to your playing and makes it sound more expressive. When you bend the strings on your guitar, you get closer to the sound of the human voice, which gives your playing a beautiful vocal quality.
In addition, string bending is a highly nuanced technique and one that can totally alter the feel of your playing. Just compare the bending styles of Freddie and Albert King. The former was a master of subtle blues curls; just bending notes ever so slightly to create a bluesy tension within his playing. Conversely, Albert King popularised huge 2 tone bends. This gave his playing an immense power and came to define him as a guitarist. Both Freddie and Albert King were proficient string benders, but both musicians utilised string bending in totally different ways.
This is the central idea that Govan explores in his series. He explores the most popular varieties of string bending, and how you can utilise them within your playing. There are 5 different episodes, each one covering a different bending technique:
The first 3 videos in the series are more relevant to blues guitar playing, but each one is only 15-20 minutes long and I would recommend you watch them all. I picked up a whole load of little tricks and licks from each video and some of the exercises have really helped to improve the intonation of my bending.
If you want to develop as a blues guitarist, I think it is imperative to learn the songs of your heroes. Not only is it immensely enjoyable; I think it is key to your development. All of your favourite guitarists have their go-to licks, phrases and techniques that you can learn from. You can’t get these from scales or theory and learning them will increase your repertoire and improve your musical vocabulary. You can then build upon these ideas and blend them together to create your own musical voice.
I’ve been incorporating this style of learning into my practice for the last few months and I have found it to be both very rewarding and enjoyable.
One tool that I have really relied on for this is Guitar Pro. I first used it when I was a teenager and I bought it again about 6 months ago, after I grew tired of trying to learn from normal tabs. I became frustrated because I found that there were a lot of inaccuracies in most online guitar tabs. And even when the tabs were accurate, the learning process seemed unnecessarily cumbersome. I had to switch constantly between playing the song and pausing it and then going back to the tab. This really slowed the whole learning process down, especially when I was trying to work through difficult phrases.
If you’re in a similar position, I would strongly recommend you try Guitar Pro. It is actually a pretty advanced piece of software that allows you to create and edit sheet music. I don’t use many of the more complex features, but I do find it super helpful for learning new songs. This is largely because Guitar Pro generates audio for the song as you play the tab. This means that you can understand how the tab should sound, without going back and forth between the tab and the song.
You can select specific passages, set them on loop and even slow the whole track down for particularly difficult phrases. There is also a metronome built into the system, which is very useful for practicing scales and working on your timing. At around $75/£65, Guitar Pro is amazing value for money and will totally change your pace of learning. You can also download a free trial to try it out before you commit. If you’re currently learning songs through sites like Ultimate Guitar or by ear, then I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Beating G.A.S (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome)
For the past 6 months or so, I have been in search of a new guitar amp. I haven’t had an amp for some time now (I live in a flat in London, with lots of noise sensitive neighbours!) so I’ve been playing my beautiful Fender Strat unplugged. It’s far from ideal, but I have to say that I have found it to be a very liberating experience. We are all guilty of placing too much emphasis on new gear. Guitar Acquisition Syndrome (commonly shortened to G.A.S.) is both real, and endemic amongst the guitar community. Most of the conversations I have with fellow guitarists are about gear. And a lot of the questions I get from aspiring guitarists are about gear too.
I love gear as much as everyone else. But I have been actively fighting against G.A.S. for a while now, and I would urge you to do the same. New gear is not the secret to a happy guitar playing life. It is having the freedom to truly express yourself on the guitar that will bring you happiness in the long run. And ultimately, it is hard practice that will help you achieve that.
Of course, playing a beautiful guitar and amp help, but they are only a small part of the equation.
So if you find yourself spending more time looking at new guitars online than you do playing the one on your wall, try to redress the balance a bit this week. The new guitars and amps will still be there waiting for you, and when you get to them, your playing will be that little bit sharper.
Well that’s it for this week. I really hope you find the resources in this article helpful and that you have a fulfilling week of practice. Let me know how you get on, and if you have any questions or comments, pop them in the comments below or send me an email on [email protected]. Good luck guys! 🙂