Frequently asked questions
Q. How do I make my practicing or playing or singing stronger?
A. In an earlier post, just below this one, I mentioned that you get the most out of your practice with the fewest distractions. There is however, an exception to that rule, depending on your goals. When you are learning something new, the fewer the distractions, the faster you will learn it. But if have already learned the material, and your goal is to strengthen your performance, you can do this by creating controlled distractions. Start by running through the material once with no distractions. Next, turn on the TV and keep it at a very low volume. Now run through the material until you can do it flawlessly. Make the TV slightly louder and repeat. Continue to do this until the TV is louder than your performance, and you can still perform it flawlessly. Next, do the same thing with your stereo or radio playing music other than what you are practicing. Each time you can perform flawlessly, turn the music up until it's louder than your performance. If you have trouble keeping time while listening to the timing of the other music, use your metronome until you can do it with no metronome.
Q. Is there a best way to dress for practice or performance?
A. First, understanding the difference between practice and rehearsal will make it easier to answer this question. Practice is when you are concerned with form. You are either working on exercises that will help you to develop, or working out difficult parts for your performance. For practice, the best way to dress is in as little clothing as your privacy will allow. If you have no privacy during practice, then it is best to wear loose clothing. You want to be as comfortable and free of distractions as possible. If you are practicing singing, you want your entire body to be able to breathe, and the more clothing you wear, or the tighter clothing you wear, the more your body movement for that breathing is restricted. When you are performing, you are not as concerned about form as when you practice, so whatever attire fits your performance is fine. When you are rehearsing, you are running through your performance. When doing this you will want to dress the same way and duplicate everything that you would on stage. For instance, if you wear tight leather jeans on stage, you will want to rehearse in tight leather jeans. If you play guitar, you may want to sit without a strap when practicing, but if you stand and use a strap during a performance, that's the way you want to rehearse.
Q. How long should I practice?
A. That all depends on your goals. Please see my article, "How Long Should I Practice", for a chart of goals and the practice time needed to achieve them.
Q. How long do you practice?
A. I once read an article in Guitar One magazine about someone who used to hang with Greg Allmon. He said, "Everytime I see Greg, he has a guitar in his hands." I am nowhere near the skill level of Greg Allmon, but I want to keep improving by leaps and bounds. I know that the only way to do that is to have a guitar in my hands every free minute that I get. Will I ever be as good as Greg Allmon? Probably not.
Q. I have an acoustic electric with a passive pickup. Why can't I get it to sound plugged in as it does amplified?
A1. If you are playing to small quiet audiences, an easy cure for that would be to add a microphone, preferably a small diaphragm condenser (if you have phantom power on your PA). Place the mic as close to the 12th fret as you can get without it getting in the way, and aim it toward the hole. Gradually boost your direct signal to give you just enough volume for the room without comprimising the acoustic guitar sound.
A2. If you are playing to large or noisy audiences like the bar crowd, you will need a preamp. Fishman makes a great preamp for certain types of acoustic pickups, including the kind that go across the hole. The unit is called the Aura. It sells for around $400, but you can really image the body sound of your choice. It takes a bit of tweaking, but you can get a really great acoustic guitar sound. If you are using an "under the saddle" type of pickup, you may lack string presence. You will get tons of volume, but will need to add just a touch of small condenser mic to the strings as described in A1. This will bring out the string presence along with the body presence produced by the aura, and you will have a great sounding acoustic guitar. It may be more economical and practical to just buy a better acoustic electric with modern electronics. A name brand of acoustic electric guitar in the $450-$1,000 price range will give you everything you need without paying extra for glitter.
Q. What should I look for when buying a guitar?
A. There are a number of things to look for:
- The price of the guitar. A good guitar starts at around $300. That is the bottom of the scale of guitar quality that begins with all of the rest of the criteria listed below. From that threshold, the quality continues to get better to around $1,000. Once you begin to go over $1,000, the quality differences are unnoticeable to most people, but you begin to pay for things like mother of pearl inlay, solid gold connectors and tuners, and other expensive stuff that have little to do with the sound of the guitar.
- Check the action. Press the low E string to the first fret and relax your finger in that position. If you can play the low E string (f note) without any fret buzz on the first fret, do the same with the 12th fret. If you can do the same with the 12th, the action is good.
- Check the intonation. Play a harmonic at the 12th fret of each string, right over the fret wire. If the harmonic has a long sustain, run it through a tuner. Play the same harmonic through the tuner and bring it into perfect tune. Then play the actual note at the 12th fret with the least amount of pressure it takes to get the note to play without any fret buzz. If the tuning is identical to the tuning of the harmonic, the intonation is perfect. If it is off, your guitar will never sound right. Now play a chromatic scale from the open string to the 12 fret of each string and check the tuning of each note. They should all be in perfect tune with minimal pressure on the string. If the tuning fluctuates along the way, try a different set of strings. The density of the strings that it comes with may be inconsistent throughout a single string.
Q. What kind of amplifier should I use for my acoustic electric?
A. You need a speaker system with a tweeter, preferably one inch or smaller. Regular guitar amps don't have this feature because they are designed with electric guitars in mind and need to produce lots of bass and mid range. They make acoustic guitar amps that are perfect for this type of situation. You can also use a keyboard amp or a PA system with 2 way or more speakers.
Q. When I'm carrying my guitar in its case, should the headstock be in front or behind me?
A. When you're walking on level ground, doesn't matter. But when you're walking up stairs it should be behind you. When coming down the stairs it should be in front.