Using Your Ears To Get Great Guitar Tone

One of the most frustrating things about guitar tone for me is getting it just right on your guitar. Sure you can have all these great options to get great tone, but without the ability to really listen, you can't ensure that you'll ever have a good tone.

The problem with adjusting tone is that most guitarists are looking for that magic configuration that can work for any amplifier or distortion pedal and slay the crowd with majestic tone. Wrongo.
Tone is one of the most subjective things to guitarists.

For instance, I like to play hardcore and metal on the guitar and there are plenty of guitarists who recommend a high-distortion amplifier like Marshall, but I actually use a Fender. Why?

Because when I put a Fender amp at around 6-8 notches, that distortion is warm and without a lot of white noise since it's actually made as more of a country-playing machine.

Really, it's up to you, but the fun thing is... You can figure out your style every time on a new piece of equipment, and here's the formula. (I'm really building this up more than necessary)
  1. Turn the knobs all the way down. (Treble, Bass, and Mid)
  2. Turn each knob up one at a time while listening intently to the change.
Are you mad at me now? Sure, you might be thinking "I could have figured that out!" But did you? If you did, then that's awesome. You know what it takes to learn your own sound.

Honestly, the most effective way to build your own tone is knowing what it sounds like starting from nothing.

Once you embrace the nothingness... what you want becomes much clearer.

Go ahead and try this out on your own amplifier and see if you finally get the configuration that you've been striving for for years only because you started from scratch.
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Guitar Strumming Chords - 4 Mistakes That Might Be Screwing You Up

You have to remember that it's not your guitar that's in charge of strumming chords and making them ring, but it's you. There's a lot that can be lost in each chord and progressions by not putting your full attention on the task at hand.

And hey, you might just be beginning and you don't know the difference between a good strum and a bad one and that's OK. Here are just a few things that maybe you should work on when you start to strum a set of chords.

1. Don't start too fast.

If you're not very good at strumming rhythms, let alone simple repetitive chords, put your foot on the brake and ease into it. Only after your arms, fingers, and wrist feel the repetitive nature of the process will you begin to act almost involuntarily.

Then it's OK to step on the gas a little and start hitting those chords a little faster.

2. Fight off the gaps between chords.

When you start strumming, you may feel pressure to stop between a chord to make for a perfect change from one chord formation to the next. (Taking the time to switch your fingers on the fret board)

That actually isn't necessary at all. Really, it sounds pretty awkward having those half-second pauses where you should be strumming through the gaps. Just let that "gray-area" chord come through. It makes everything much smoother.

3. Hit only the strings that you need.

If you only need to have three strings ringing for a chord or riff, why would you strum all six? It just doesn't make sense.

Confirm what strings are necessary to make a chord sound its fullest and then confine to only those strings. If you strike any more or less, you could be altering the chord.

4. Put a little muscle on the pick grip.

When I first started, sometimes I would hear all these dead notes and nothing would sound right and I found it was because I held the guitar pick like a weakling. haha Don't let your pick just flop around on those strings. Grip it like you mean it and strum through the strings with a little power.

Strumming is one of the fundamental skills of playing the guitar, so you should make sure you get it right. Just think about what you're doing and how you can solve the problem when your tones don't sound quite natural.

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Knowing The Genre When Writing Guitar Songs

When you can finally get to the point of knowing the guitar well enough that you can actually begin writing guitar songs, that's an exciting time! Not only are you able to translate beautiful music from your fingers, but the songs can now be your own creations.

Now, if you're very new to writing your own music, the first question you might come across is..

"What genre do I write in?"

Sometimes, this isn't even really a question and it's an out-of-body decision. I know that the first time I really began writing songs on my own, they were a mix of hardcore and rock.

And it made sense because that's what I listened to.

So, pick your genre and have it be something you really enjoy. If you want to go country, hike up your cowboy boots. If you want to rock n' roll, break out the sex and drugs. And then...

Listen to the genre... a lot.

Usually, this isn't even an issue because the genre you picked was something you've been moved by and hearing for a long time. (...That's why you picked it...)

However, if you don't listen to it often, you need to start because you need to be familiar with what's out there.

Find well-written and poorly-composed songs.

Yea, the good and the bad. You need to hear what's good so you know what the majority of people like and you need to know what's bad so you'll realize the things that are not as well-received.

It's sad to say, but not everyone that's writing guitar songs that gets exposed to the public is good at it. (Some people just have awesome managers.)

Identify the stylistic trends.

If you just simply listen to music for enjoyment, chances are that you've never really thought about what makes a genre the way it is.

Really, just sit down and think while you groove to a couple of your favorite tunes and try to make sense of what they're doing.

And the answers aren't that complex once you catch on to the thought process.

For example, would you treat a metal guitar part the same as a country part? Probably not.

Metal would be fast, full of distortion, and rigid with lots of double-picking. Country leans towards full acoustic-style chords, on a clean channel, and with common 5ths and 4ths in the chord progressions.

Pick how you use the information.

I'm not telling you to write songs that everyone loves, and I'm not telling you to write things that will make senior citizens clutch their ears in terror either. At this point, I'm telling you to make a decision that's true to you.

After all this collection of data, you should realize what's more of your style. You might enjoy making very experimental music that only a handful of people can really appreciate in order to create a cult following.

Or maybe you want to go for full conformity and try to be recognized as the next artist to bust out a typical radio-hit. It's in your hands and only you can decide your music.

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Green Day's "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" Chords

Green Day is known for their ballads and "four chord bangers" and "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" isn't any different from their chord style. You don't need to know any really complex chords or riffs to pull this one off since most of the song is just power chords.

The only thing to watch out for is the coda (outro) that contains a set of chords that don't necessarily run in a 4/4 time signature. (For beginning guitarists, the only time signature you may have played in was 4/4)

I'm pretty sure that the whole song is tuned a half step down.


This riff is the same as all the verses of the song. The only difference is the use of tremolo on the guitar.

This guitar tune opens with one strum for each chord of Em, G, D, and then A. You might hear more than one note sound, but that's the tremolo doing its job.



This one is easy enough. It's the same as the intro!

The only difference is its played on a clean guitar channel and there are about two strong strums per chord instead of one.

Oh, and the last time before the chorus, hold the A a little longer.

Last time:



Here's where the guitarist sings "My shadow's the only one...". It's simple just like every other part in the song, but with a change in the final chord the fourth time through. The chords are C, G, D, and then E.

On the last time through, switch to B.


Last time:


Chorus plus lead riff.

Ok, so after the second chorus, the same chords are repeated over and over and the guitarist goes into this nifty solo consisting of octave chords. Plus, there's some tiny variation in the rhythm section.

I didn't really want to go through all the trouble of typing out every single note for the solo, but the chords are correct for "Boulevard of Broken Dreams." (yea, I'm lazy. Wanna fight about it?)

Lead riff:



Altered chorus:



This is the final section of chords for "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and it's kind of neat how they wrote it. Again, simple... but it doesn't involve 4 perfect measures this time.

Play the first riff 3 times and then the last one just once.


Last time:


Not bad huh? Here's the order of the riffs to follow.


Intro x2
Verse x7
Chorus x4
Intro x2
Verse x7
Chorus x4
Verse x2
Bridge (Chorus riff) x4 (2 with pauses and last one played a tad longer)
Verse x3
Chorus x4
Coda x4

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Doing Some Hammer-ons And Pull-offs

Hammer-ons and pull-offs are constantly used in rhythm and lead guitar riffs and it's a great way to add some class and intellectual style to any guitar section.

Since both of the skills are pretty fundamental and basic, it's not too difficult to put them together to create some awesome licks.

If you're not familiar with hammer-ons or pull-offs, please visit the corresponding posts before attempting these exercise:

Let's take a look at hammer-ons and pull-offs marked on a guitar tab.

These two are easily marked on guitar tablature with the letters 'h' for hammer-on and 'p' for pull-off. (Not much of a chance of mixing them up.)

Here's a simple hammer-on and then a pull-off:






You'll notice that both skills require at least two notes to fully exist.

With a hammer-on, a note rings and then you place your finger on the ringing string to create a new tone. It's similar with a pull-off but you pull away in order to create the new tone.

Exercise 1:

Take at look at this simple pentatonic scale.

e------------------------------------------5---8--- b----------------------------------5---8----------- g--------------------------5---7------------------- D------------------5---7---------------------------

This can be played ordinarily by picking every single note going up and back down the scale. For this exercise we'll use it for hammer-ons and pull-offs.

First use hammer-ons up the scale by striking the first note on each string with your pick and then "hammering" onto the next note on the string with either your pinky or ring finger.

e------------------------------------------5h8--- b----------------------------------5h8----------- g--------------------------5h7------------------- D------------------5h7---------------------------


Exercise 2.

Now, for the pull-offs, we'll start at the top of the scale and work our way going down by having both fingers planted on a string to begin, striking the first note on the string with the pick, then pulling off the string with either our pinky or ring finger to produce the second pitch.

g------------------7p5--------------------------- D--------------------------7p5-------------------

Try not to pull so hard that you hear a twang in the string. You simply want to pull enough to create a noticeable second pitch.

Exercise 3.

This time, we'll take the pentatonic scale and use it for both hammer-ons and pull-offs by integrating them into a single string, coming down the scale. Try your best to give equal emphasis to your hammer-ons as well as your pull-offs.

5h8p5----------------------------------- g------------------5h7p5--------------------------- D--------------------------5h7p5-------------------

It's best to learn hammer-ons and pull-offs early so that you're prepared for them later when they show up. And boy... they show up everywhere.

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