101 Alternate Tuning Tips
“I began playing guitar at a young age. I first learned standard chords in standard tuning. It was years later when a friend first showed me Open G, my first altered tuning. I was hooked. I still played standard tuning but my ear was always drawn to open tunings. I then experimented with dropped D and double dropped D. This was about all I knew in altered tunings until the mid 1980”s when I heard Will Ackerman’s music for the first time. I knew at that moment I had to start writing music in altered tunings. I tried to tune to one of Will’s tunings but halfway there I discovered a tuning that I loved, CFCGCD. I started writing my first songs in that tuning. I then saw David Wilcox perform and saw him using partial capos. I then started cutting up capos and experimenting with my CFCGCD tuning. New songs started falling out of my guitar. I then tried partial capos in other tunings and a whole new world of opportunities came about.
My recording career is based mainly on these tuning techniques. I wanted to share a few of the tips that I use when writing music. I hope that some of you will find a few of these useful. Enjoy! Feel free to contact me if you have questions.”
Tip 1 Your Guitar
If possible, buy a quality guitar even if it is your first. A fine instrument is easier to play on and if it sounds good then it will inspire you to practice more. When playing in altered tunings, especially those tuned lower with less stress on the strings, a quality instrument will be able to be played without fret buzzing where a cheaper instrument might buzz and be difficult to play. A quality instrument will hold most of its value as well so if you ever sell it you will find the better guitar is a better investment.
Tip 2 How many Guitars?
Ideally it’s nice to have several guitars, one for each major tuning that you are planning on using. This is less stressful on your instruments certainly, but not always cost effective, and problematic in transporting a lot of equipment. It is great though to get different textures from different instruments. You can use a Jumbo for one set, a Nylon String for another and a Parlor size for another.
Tip 3 Sometimes one is enough.
Many players prefer one guitar. This way you can connect to your instrument and coax as much out of it as possible. Instead of many different guitars, invest in one really good guitar and it works for you.There is no right or wrong here, it’s just a matter of preference.
Tip 4 Slight Variations.
Try slight variations in your tunings, such as DADGAD, DADF#AD, DADFAD. These are minor variations that will save wear and tear on your guitar and still give you some nice differences to work with.
Tip 5 Share your tunings
Show a friend your new tuning. Two or four hands are better than one. They might expand on your new tuning and come up with totally new cords. It might be the perfect cord to finish off the new song you are working on.
Tip 6 Overcoming a block
When you reach the point that you just can’t go any further with your composition, try getting away from the guitar both physically and mentally. Take a walk, a bike ride, soak in the hot tub, or just about anything that requires you to relax and give your mind a break. When 20 to 30 minutes passes come back and many times new ideas will come more easily.
Tip 7 Recording Ideas and Songs
Record the new idea on a tape player, computer or whatever means you have to record with. Don’t try to play it perfectly, just record it. You can work on making it perfect later. I have worked on and developed songs for sometimes years, saving the germ of an idea on a recording can keep you from loosing the idea altogether. Some people are not able to write their song down in conventional forms such as Staff of TAB and over time songs can be lost. I have referred back to recordings I have done to remember how to play a certain piece.
Tip 8 Listen to the song
This way you can sit back and listen to it without having to be playing it at the same time. This gives you a new perspective of the song and you have the chance to mentally add the next phrase or see where you need to make changes. I have worked on and developed songs for sometimes years, saving the germ of an idea on a recording can keep you from loosing the idea altogether.
Tip 9 Raise the pitch
Capo up several frets. Many times a song that is just ok when you play it will come alive if you capo up 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 frets . I used to play a progression for a warm up and always thought it was just a warm up piece. For some reason I put the capo on the fifth frett and played the same progression. Wow what a difference. Now the song sounds great and I hear all types of possibilities for accompaniment.
Tip 10 Practice the New Song
Again, if you are unable to make standard notes practicing a piece over and over again will imprint it in your mind. Some peoples minds memorize patterns more easily then other forms of memorization. Also, with much practice your fingers will remember what your mind has forgotten.
Tip 11 Organizing your tunings.
If you are planning on using one guitar for an evening of music that will involve several tuning changes we recommend that you start with your lowest tuning first and working up the tension on your neck. Taking slack out of your guitar neck will cause problems if you start in a higher tuning and work down. Let’s say you start in CGCGCD. It’s a good idea to tune down to that tuning before you leave your home, that way the guitar has time to adjust on your way to the gig. Once you get there and tweak the tuning you should be ready for your first set.
Tip 12 Make sure your tunings have enough material.
Always try and have enough material in each tuning for at least one set, or approximately 40-45 minutes in music.
Tip 13 Retuning at Gigs
Retune your guitar to the next tuning (lets say DADGAD) BEFORE you take your break, that way the guitar can settle a little before you return for your next set. Play your next set, retune to EGDGBD, take your break, etc.
Tip 14 Try lower tunings with less stress on the strings.
Open E Tuning. Instead of tuning UP to EBEG#BE, which puts tension on your neck and guitar body, consider tuning DOWN to DADF#AD. It is the same tuning only one step lower. You can Capo up to the second fret and get the same tuning in E if playing with other musicians.
Tip 15 Make good notes.
Always make notes of your new ideas. Weather you use tablature, write notation or just make general notes, always record your ideas on paper. It’s good to record it on tape or disc but if you have notes of any kind the idea won’t be lost forever. I don’t know how many times I started a new song and made notes of what tuning I was in and what the finger patterns were and lost interest and moved on. Sometimes months later I would come across the notes, pick up the guitar and re learn the progression and find a whole new song there. Everything has it’s right time so don’t loose any ideas that might come in handy later.
Tip 16 Let your ear be the guide.
Always let your ear be the guide. At times you might try out a tuning that you read about but it just doesn’t sound like one you would like to play in. Try changing the string that doesn’t resonate with your taste. Sometimes you need to change two strings. Listen closely and you might find a whole new tuning that you love.
Tip 17 Make simple changes.
Some tunings can be created fro standard tuning by only changing one or two strings. On other tunings you might be re-tuning all six strings. Start with one string at a time. Dropped D is created from standard tuning by lowering the sixth E string down to a D. As you might think songs in the key of D will work great in this tuning but also try other keys such as A or C. Another simple change to drop both E strings down to D
Tip 18 Making simple cords.
By using alternate tunings you will find many easy new cords to play that only use 1, 2 and 3 finger cords. Use the other open strings to create lots of new textures and beautiful sounds. You will find that a lot of these new cords are easier to play than cords in standard tuning.
Tip 19 Harder cords
If you are used to playing harder cords in standard tuning then don’t be afraid to try these or similar cords in alternate tunings. It might take 4 finger cords or a cord that stretches out your fingers to get that perfect cord.
Tip 20 Try alternate places for your cord patterns.
When using all the old finger patterns and cords form standard tuning make sure to try these cords in different places. You might find the cord played on other frets or other strings will make totally new sounds that are pleasing.
Tip 21 Totally new cords.
Don’t be afraid to venture out and try totally new cords. One way is a partial fingering of a familiar cord. Another way might be to reverse the fingering to create a new cord pattern. Put a space or open string in between your fingering. The key here is to always experiment. Once you find a couple of cords in a specific tuning you will find the same cords can be used in intervals up the neck for more texture.
Tip 22 Double handed cords
One trick used by some artist is to use two hands for making a cord. This is not for the beginner but you never know what cord you might come up with. Guitar great Michael Hedges used this technique to always stun his audience.
Tip 23 Hammer Ons and Pull Offs
Remember to try all the old tricks you used in standard tuning. Hammer Ons and Pull Offs work great with altered tunings just like they do in standard tuning. Slides, trills, Vibrato and tapping the strings create wonderful effects.
Tip 24 Like Cords patterns.
If you find that two tunings that work using the same cord progressions, then try other cords that you might used in other songs in that same tuning. If they don’t totally click listen to the string that is off key and change the note on that string or leave that string open. There are many alternate tunings that lend themselves to similar cords.
Tip 25 Barre Cords
Don’t forget to try the barre cords that you used to play in standard tuning. Some of these or similar cords will work fine in alternate tunings. If the original cord doesn’t work than pick it apart and see if a partial barre cord will work or turn the barre pattern into a fingered cord using one or two open strings.
Tip 26 Limit the strings
If you are used to finger picking the try playing part of the strings. Sometimes you won’t have to play all six strings. Some entire sons can be played on 3 or 4 strings to create a different effect. When using a capo up high in combination with finger picking the first 4 strings you create a sound similar to a mandolin or other instruments.
Tip 27 Adding Vocals.
If you are going to sing along with your altered tuning then try using a capo as you would in standard tuning to raise the pitch to match the range of your voice. If the pitch is still too high then start with a lower tuning for the same song.
Tip 28 Partial Capos.
Using partial capos can open whole new worlds of guitar playing for you. By taking a standard Kyser capo you can not only shorten the capo to cover certain strings but you can cut the padding and remove sections so it only holds down specific strings. To remove sections carefully mark where you want to remove some of the rubber padding. Take a sharp knife or straight edge razor (box cutters work good for this) and slice through the rubber. Then carefully peal off the string you want to be skipped. You may also want to try the “Third Hand Capo”. It has six individual rollers that each has a shaved side. You roll down each one that you want to come in contact with the string. The possibilities are endless. It is one of the old fashioned capos using an elastic so I have found it hard to always get a good solid connection but it is great for experimentation. It also comes with a brochure showing lots of chords and suggestions. Parial capos are also available from Kyser and Shubb.
Tip 29 Skipping the closest string.
When skipping the closest string to the clamp part of the capo, remove the rubber first. Then take a small round file about an 1/8 inch across and file a divot where you removed the rubber. This will give further clearance so the string will not touch the capo causing it to buzz. This technique can be used in any place where you need more string clearance.
Tip 30 Colored Capos.
To help remember which capo to use for a specific song, buy all the different colors of capos that Kyser makes. So far they make them in black, white red, blue pink, silver and gold. Each color can be cut to hold down different strings. This will come in handy when you are writing many songs using altered capos. You will be able to make notes saying such and such song is in such and such tuning using say your red capo on the 3rd frett. This way it is easier to remember many more songs in your head without a list too if you want to.
Tip 31 Paint your own.
To touch up the ends of the capos you have cut off buy some model car paint. The enamel paint works perfect to cover the bare aluminum where you don’t have paint covering it. You can also use this paint to come up with new colors for new capos. You might even make one striped or half one color and half another. This all depends on how many combinations of capos you can come up with.
Tip 32 File off sharp edges.
Take a small flat file and file off any sharp edges where you have cut off and shortened any capo. You don’t want anything that will scratch the neck of your guitar. Use the enamel paint that matches the capo to dress up the end that was cut and filed.
Tip 33 Placement of capos.
Be sure to try each capo in many different ways before you cut up another capo. Sometimes you can slide the capo up so it skips the first string. Another trick is to place the altered capo upside-down to create a new tuning. Instead of skipping only one string cut out a big enough section to skip two strings.
Tip 34 Multiple capos.
Try using two capos to create a tuning nobody else has come up with. Examples are to use a full capo on the first frett and then put a 4 string capo on the 3rd fret. You could even place the full capo on so it covers only 5 strings and then place a 4 string capo on several frets above. Next try placing the 4 string capo on 3 strings for another tuning.
Tip 35 Protection Tape
As you use the capos a lot, the tape that protects the neck of the guitar will start to wear away. You can replace it with electrical tape. Place 2 or 3 layers to pad it good. Don’t over do it though because it will change the placement of the capo on the strings.
Tip 36 Lower Tuning
Many people tune their guitar a full step below standard tuning and then use a capo to raise it back to standard. This will help prevent breaking so many strings. The less stress you place on a string the longer it will last. The idea here is to play in altered tunings so starting out a step lower won’t make that much difference. It will mean you have a couple of less frets to play on but there will be many songs you can still play in the 12 or 14 frets that are easily reachable.
Tip 37 Hand Position.
Keep your hands and posture as relaxed as you can. Playing altered tunings should be fun and not make it a hard chore. Use only enough pressure on the strings to play them clearly without buzzing. If you apply too much pressure you will have much sorer finger tips. In time you will develop calluses that will protect your finger tips somewhat.
Tip 38 Sore fingertips.
There is not a lot you can do if your fingertips get sore. Lighter strings are one remedy but remember the lighter the string you loose quality of sound. Many articles through time have offered some dangerous methods of taking care of this problem. The best method so far is to soak your fingertips for about 10 minutes a night, after playing, in a small amount of rubbing alcohol. This seems to over time harden the calluses some. It will dry out your fingers though. If you rub lotion on the fingers be sure not to put ANY on your calluses. Never put lotion of any sort on your calluses. This will soften them and cause more pain.
Tip 39 Tuners
Pick up a chromatic tuner an it will save a lot of time and save a lot of strings from breaking. There are several ones that are around or under $20.00. Always check the tuning when you move the capos. These often put stress on the strings and raise the tuning a little bit sharp. A perfect tuned guitar always sounds best and is much more inspiring. Other musicians that are listing to your music will notice a instrument out of tune so it is very important to keep it tuned right. Even when practicing it is good to make sure it is tuned.
Tip 40 Altered tuning in Standard?
It is possible to play songs in standard tuning using some of the strings open as drone strings to give the same affect as a altered tuning. Experiment in Em and see if you can’t come up with some simple two finger cords that make the tuning sound altered.
Tip 41 Diminished and Minor Chords.
Once again let your ears be your guide when trying to come up with new cords or arranging the cords into a new song. Some people prefer dominant major cords where others prefer diminished or minor cords. If most of your songs are one type, get out of the box once in awhile and try to find cords in the other format. Always let your ears lead you and you won’t go wrong.
Tip 42 Other books.
Check out the other books out there for altered tunings. Some of these are a great help to get started in a particular tuning. Once you get started then try to develop your own cords that suit your ear. Often you can alter the cords you read about to create your own.
Tip 43 Known cords
Try tuning your guitar to a cord that you normally play in standard tuning. One example is Em. Once you are in that tuning try to find all the cords you can with the Em tuning without capos. After exhausting your creativity then start placing capos on to see if you can come up with more tunings. Be sure to spend enough time to make sure there aren’t any jewels you haven’t discovered.
Tip 44 Partial cords
Next try tuning to a partial cord. Tune just 2 strings from a 3 string cord. These can be fun and sometimes create very unusual cord voicing. Possibilities are endless when you are creative with partial cords. Think about it. There are hundreds of combinations.
Tip 45 Stick with 2 or 3 Tunings
If you find 2 or 3 tunings that you really like and find it easy to come up with cord patterns you might not have to go too much further for awhile. It is good to find a tuning that you can write several songs in and with the addition of altered capos it can expand to 3 or 4 times that many. Once you reach a block in your writing, then it is time to explore some new tunings.
Tip 46 Different strings.
Many players substitute different strings for those that are under the most stress in their altered tuning. For lower tunings you might want to try a heavier gauge string to actually increase the tension. This way there is less chance of a buzz developing.
Tip 47 Retuning or changing strings
Be careful when retuning your guitar or when changing strings. Guitar strings are under a lot of tension and a broken string can be dangerous to yourself, your friends in front of you and not to forget your guitar. Always face the guitar away from yourself and friends when retuning. When tuning keep your right hand and arm away from the strings as much as you can (right handed guitar players). Tune with your left hand and keep the other one clear except to pluck it for tuning.
Tip 48 Slides
Sometime try using a slide in the new tuning. Some tunings more than others lend themselves to using a slide. If you can play cords by using your finger as a Barr across all strings then you will be able to also play the tuning with a slide. Find a slide that suits your taste. Some people use a metal slide while others use glass or ceramic. It is a matter of what is comfortable and what sounds best to you. In the old days bottle necks were widely used.
Tip 49 Odd Tunings
When first using a tuning that doesn’t sound pleasing to your ear, stop for a second and try to find some cord patterns that work. Once in awhile you will come across one of these weird tunings you can’t play open but with the right cords it’s a tuning you won’t be able to put down. Sometimes a few minutes spent experimenting can be worth its weight in gold. Or, try using a partial capo at different spots on the neck.
Tip 50 Drone Strings
Don’t be afraid to let the open drone strings ring out. Many players use this technique to create a harp like sound. One of the reasons we all play in altered tunings is to make it easier and what is easier that using the open strings that you don’t have to press down to your advantage.
Tip 51 Standard Capos
If you don’t want to sacrifice any new capos by cutting them up there are several options. Kyser makes a 4 string capo now that altered tunings are so popular. If you have one or two standard Kyser Capos or even one Kyser and one of another make, try using them as partial capos. Place the Kyser on 5 or 4 strings. If this is done carefully it usually gives a firm fit. Now try placing a standard capo a fret or two below the Kyser. This way you can get a taste of altered capos without ruining one if you don’t want to.
Tip 52 Playing below a Partial Capo
If you are using a partial capo don’t forget that you can carefully play strings behind the capo. It is tricky but can be done if you are careful and are able to lift your hand over the capo. Sometimes it only takes a stretch to reach a string below or even with the capo. At times it plays the right note that you can’t get to in any other comfortable way.
Tip 53 Capo Maintenance
Sometimes the black rubber pad on the capo starts to come loose. If this happens than use a little super glue to make sure it doesn’t come off. Be careful not to get any glue on that prized guitar. The clear plastic sleeve on the other side of the capo can come loose too. If this happens place a small dot of glue on the hump that the sleeve bumps up against. This usually does the trick and keeps it from coming off. A capo without this could damage your guitar neck.
Tip 54 Chiming
When placing a partial capo on the guitar try chiming the strings. You will notice it doesn’t sound right at the 5th, 7th and 12th frets where you normally chime it. You can still chime the open strings that aren’t affected by the capo. The other strings must be chimed up as many frets and you have to upper capo on. This gives you many more point to chime so it’s a little harder but worth the effort.
Tip 55 Spare Capos
If you play professionally and start to use your partial capos on most of your songs, it is a good idea to make a spare set and keep them in the car or someplace where you will have quick access to them. Don’t keep all of them in the same place or you might find all of them missing. This can be expensive but come on, if it is how you make your living it is good insurance.
Tip 56 Being Prepared
Other things to have spare sets of are strings. If you are planning on doing a lot experimentation you may want to pick up a couple of extra strings, especially the G. You can purchase these cheaply from most guitar stores. You never know when a string might break. Even a new one will occasionally fool you and break. Always carry at least one extra set and if you use different strings on different guitars be sure to have a set for each. Steel strings won’t work too well on your nylon string guitar. The other thing to have in your emergency packs are spare batteries for the guitar electronics. This also applies to effect pedals you might use. One more thing is spare picks. This applies to all picks, flat or finger picks.
Tip 57 Strings
This is largely preference but there are a few thoughts to consider. Many players prefer Medium Gauge Phospher Bronze Strings. D’Addadrio or Elixer Strings and they work really well. Reasons-when you tune down to low tunings such as drop B , Bb or C there is a lot of slack in the string. You might find yourself having the strings roll over the edge of the neck because you are used to more tension, very annoying. Some find that the very pricey Extended Life Strings are very brittle. When you change tunings all the time such the G String breaks in no time at all. Replacement strings for these sets is not readily available so you end up with a mixed set of strings. 80/20 strings burn out quickly with a lot of tuning changes. Many guitarist change strings frequently so that their sound is always consistent. Most Strings can be purchased in bulk from online sources. You can even go into a bulk purchase with a friend and split the cost and the savings.
Tip 58 Capo storage
If you use several capos, don’t try to put all of them on the headstock of your guitar. This will add weight and eventually mark up your guitar. Take a good guitar stand with you and clamp the capos on the neck of the guitar stand. This way they will be within reach and never hurt your guitar. If you have a small table beside you, place a small bowl on it for storing capos and picks.
Tip 59 An Extra Guitar
If you are just beginning to experiment with alternate tunings you may want to tune a second guitar you have to a tuning you are interested in trying. That way whenever you have a few extra minutes, pick it up and noodle around trying to find new things.
Tip 60 Stretching
Take time to stretch before you start playing. It’s a good idea to exercise your fingers and bend them back and forth to loosen them up. Do the same with your wrist and arms. It is also good to stretch your back and legs if you will be seated for awhile. Bt stretching you might avoid cramps in your hands and arms.
Tip 61 Other Artist
Spend time listening to other guitarist that play in altered tunings. Some of these include Alex Degrassi., William Ackerman, Michael Hedges, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Adrian Legg, Pierre Ben Susan and many more. Listen to guitarist with other backgrounds such as Hawaiian Slack Key guitarist and Celtic guitarist. Each will give you a new perspective on altered tuning playing.
Tip 62 Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you are first starting out or even a seasoned player. There are lots of guitarists that know at least one tuning that they can share with you. It’s nice to have someone show you the ropes one on one. It is a good idea to make friends with as many musicians as you can in your area.
Tip 63 Duo’s
Team up with another friend that plays an instrument. Once you have a couple of tunes worked out it is inspiring to have another instrument play along with your creations. This doesn’t necessarily have to be another guitarist. It could be a flutist, pianist, percussionist, bass player, violinist or one of many instruments out there. It is always uplifting to hear your song with other parts added in. This might spark a new phrase to add to the song to make it even better.
Tip 64 High Strung Guitars
This is a method that takes two guitar players. Go buy a set of strings for a 12 string guitar. Put the larger strings on one 6 string guitar as normal and pick a tuning. On the other guitar put the smaller set of strings that would have been the second string matching the first 6 strings on the first guitar. These strings being smaller are tuned an octave higher that the other set. This is true for the 4 heaviest strings with the last two, the b and small e, will be the same octave as the other guitar. Now tune the second guitar to the same tuning. If you both could play every note exactly the same it would sound like a 12 string. The point here though is to not play the same way so it makes a wonderful combination of sounds. Either play the same cords but in slightly different styles or play different cords in the same tuning that go together. This is a beautiful way to combine two guitars. If you have never heard this before check out the group Wind Machine. They make use of High Strung Tuning a lot. You will be able to hear when they are using it.
Tip 65 Keep it simple
You might want to win the finger picking or flat picking contest but you don’t have to play 500 notes a minute to make beautiful music. Keep it simple but clean. Make sure what you do play is clear without any buzzing. You want every note to be heard clearly. When playing along with another musician or arranging a song knowing there will be other instruments at a later time, and then leave room for their part. Music does not have to be complicated to win a Grammy, just beautiful.
Tip 66 Spaces
A good lesson to learn is to know the importance of spaces in your music. The quiet spaces are every bit as important as the notes themselves. Spaces and rest are one way for you to express your feelings and emotion in the song and for those listening to it to react in the same way. It is the spaces that really make a phrase stand out. it’s the quiet before the storm so to speak. A quiet space before a note makes the listener anticipate what is about to happen. It keeps them on the edge of their seat.
Tip 67 Tempo
Tempos in music can be used mush like spaces but also can be used to differentiate the parts of your melody. Make sure to pay close attention to your tempo. This is one of the drawbacks of a drum machine. You don’t have nearly as much emotion and expression in a song if every beat is the same. Like spaces the build up of tempo can put emphasis on a particular part of the song. Think of your song as a roller-coaster. There should be small hills and valleys, a few turns and a couple of giant tempo peaks to crescendo your emphasis points. It is possible to write a beautiful song believe it or not with one or two chords by using the spaces and tempo changes intelligently. Again at the right time simple can be better.
Tip 68 Change Styles of Music
If you get in a rut of all your melodies starting to sound alike then venture out and try writing a song in a style of music that you don’t normally write in. Try a Hawaiian or Celtic melody. How about using a Russian flare or a Middle Eastern touch for your song. This will give a boost to your creativity.
Tip 69 Play other instruments
If you have the opportunity, try playing other instruments to influence your guitar playing. Alternate tunings work well with Banjo, Mandolin, Ukulele, Dulcimer and most stringed instruments. Keep you eyes open at garage sells and pick up any stringed instrument you can find at a cheap price. Try your open tuning techniques on any of these instruments and see if you don’t have some new ideas to apply to guitar.
Tip 70 Change the place you practice
A good way to get out of a rut and inspire your creativity is to practice in a new location every now and then. Find a quiet spot at the local park, at the beach or lake shore, anywhere you find inspiring. Some artist love to play in the middle of the woods near a babbling stream or waterfall. A great place to play that many people walk by are stairwells. Look for places that lend themselves to natural echo or reverb. A stairwell does this in many places. One guitarist once practiced in a large drainage pipe about 10 feet across. It gave the perfect ambience. Most guitarist have tried playing in a tile bathroom or shower just for the natural reverb.
Tip 71 Types of guitars
If you write all your music on one guitar, try playing and writing on a different type of guitar sometime. Try out a 12 string acoustic, a nylon string acoustic, a 4 string tenor guitar or maybe an electric guitar. It is always good to experiment and see what might inspire your creativity. Nylon string guitars were used with alternate tunings almost extensively in Hawaii. Twelve string guitars sound beautiful in altered tunings but the extra strings can be hard on the fingers and hard to tune.
Tip 72 Sore fingertips
Many say there is no cure for sore fingertips except for forming calluses for protection. Calluses help but for the players that play for or more hours a day will find that even calluses don’t stop all the pain. One method is to soak your fingertips on your playing hand in rubbing alcohol for 10 minutes every night after you are done playing for the day. This will dry out the calluses and make them harder. Be sure not to put any type of lotion on your fingertips. This will soften them and cause more pain. If the alcohol dries out you finger ends the put lotion around the fingers but NEVER on the fingertips.
Tip 73 Learn to read Tablature
One sure fire method for those of you that can’t read music is to learn tablature. This at least teaches you note for note the songs you choose to learn. Remember though that it doesn’t show you the melody or timing used in the song. You need to have a sense of how the song sounds before you can start applying the notes.
Tip 74 Keep it Clean
Keep your guitar cleaned and polished at all times. The same goes for your capos, tuners, EQ’s and any other equipment you use. This helps to keep it all in good working order. A clean guitar neck will not only look better but will also play mush better. A gummed up neck makes for a sticky and slow fret board. Once it is clean an great oil to use on the fret board and bridge is Lemon Oil. This can be purchased in most hardware stores. It not only preserves the wood but also smells very nice. It will bring out the beautiful grain of the wood.
Tip 75 Strengthen your hands
If you plan on playing quite a bit you might consider some exercises that will help increase the strength in your hands. There are many devises that are made for improving hand and finger strength. One simple method is to use a tennis ball an squeeze it. You can also use the other hand with the ball and massage your sore hand. If you see a Flee Market, look for a pet booth. There are several devises that are a rubber strap and round ball about the size of the tennis ball. The advantage to these balls is they are covered with small rubber spikes. This is great for stimulating the blood flow in your hands. If you are on your feet several hours at a gig then use these balls for massaging your feet. This is great is you ever get sore feet. Roll each foot on a ball for about 10 minutes a night and many foot aches will go away and you get to enjoy the 10 minutes.
Tip 76 Counting tuning turns
If you are using one guitar and changing tunings frequently on it this tip will become a habit and come in handy. Count the number of turns on the string you are tuning up or down. You will get pretty good in no time turning straight to your tuning. It helps to have a good ear or tuner to do the fine tuning.
Tip 77 The Computer
Use the computer search engines for information about a specific tuning. You should not be too surprised if you find a lot of information about your new found tuning. Only every once in awhile you will stump a search engine.
Tip 78 Transposing wheels
Grab a transposing wheel at a local music store and you can quickly transpose string notes for alternate tunings. Take a tuning you already have and use the wheel to play it in another key
Tip 79 Neck Adjustment
If you find your strings play clear when in standard tuning but buzz a little in a lower open tuning, try to correct the buzzing with your playing style. If it is for sure the guitar and a clear note cannot be played then it might be good to adjust the neck on your guitar a little. It is recommended that you take your guitar into a dealer if you are unfamiliar with making thins adjustment yourself. Never over tighten a neck and increase the chance of breaking the truss rod. It is a good idea to loosen the neck a little before tightening it to prevent over tightening. An adjusted neck might be just the thing to give your strings a little more clearance that you need.
Tip 80 Open Mics
Find a local open mic where you can try playing your creations for an audience. It is usually a small group and most others will also be musicians. It’s great to make friends with these open mic musicians. If the first one you try doesn’t feel right try another. Most larger towns have at least one.
Tip 81 Sleep On It
If you come up with a new idea one day and reach a point where it just wont evolve anymore. Put the guitar down by bedtime and sleep on it. In the morning try playing for about 15 minutes and you many times come up with a totally new cord that fits perfectly. It is like we get a block and get stuck in a rut with an idea. Giving the mind a restful nights sleep will recharge your creative process.
Tip 82 Don’t be afraid of change
Don’t be afraid to change notes, cords, timing, style of music, or even the whole melody line. You can only struggle on a hold pattern so long. If this happens then try options. Many great songs came out of the song that was originally meant to sound different. Making a direct change gives you perspective.
Tip 83 Avoid detractions
Find a quiet place to practice without distractions . You want to keep your train of thought and focus on an idea. Phones lawnmowers, people in the house, birds, and many more. Find a time when you can avoid these distractions.
Tip 84 Use of Effects
Try Using effects to enhance your songs. Sometimes a little reverb will make all the difference. Many songs sound flat until you add a little effects to them. Reverb and delay can add some sustain to you notes and make you slow down a little and let the notes ring out. This will help to fill some of the voids in your music. Different instruments require different effects and a lot depends on your personal taste. Try experimenting with whatever effects you have at your disposal. If you are just starting out there are many inexpensive effect pedals to start out with that offer several effects to choose from. When using effects don’t over do it. Start out subtle. Sometimes the effect that you can barely hear is the perfect choice.There are many artists that would never even consider practicing without effects. It can be inspiring to you.
Tip 85 Stereo Field
This can be an important tool and one you won’t want to play without if you get used to it. This is very important if you n are using stereo effects. These are impossible to use without stereo field. Alos using a stereo field you can play with two different effects and pan them to each speaker. Many effects units will have an effect to pan back and forth between your two speakers that create an effect that can’t be made any other way. There are even artists that use 3 speaker fields called tri-amping. Each speaker can have a different effect or tonal quality.
Tip 86 EQ
Experiment with the EQ on your system. Each guitar is different and each musician is different but each has a certain way that sounds better. Jazz artist use a low setting on the treble knobs. If you have a small body guitar or a guitar without much bass response than add a little bass with the EQ
Tip 87 Tubes
Using a tube amp or pre-amp can add another dimension to your sound. This is a matter of preference to the artist. Tubes give a warmer sound when used lightly and can rattle and give natural distortion when turned up. Some pickups like the Sunrise magnetic pickup offer a tube pre-amp that sounds great. This can totally change your guitar sound. If unsure what this will do, go to your local music store and try one out.
Tip 88 Local Music Stores
Mentioning music stores do forget that buying online might be cheaper but at a local store you have the chance to try out equipment. This is true if you are buying a new guitar, and amp, effects, a pre-amp or any of the tools you want to add to your arsenal. The people that work there can be a world of information and help especially if you are just starting out. Today you will fine many of them will match or beat the online prices so don’t be afraid to ask.
Tip 89 Emotion
Try to always write and play with emotion. Concentrate on what you are doing and stay focused. A focused mind can let you channel your emotion into what you are playing or writing. An audience can tell the difference if you just play through a song mechanically or play it with your emotion influencing how you play. Try thinking of something you feel strongly about and channel that emotion into what you are doing with your hands and fingers. Let this influence your body movement. Don’t worry about what others think if you move funny or give funny facial expressions. At first this might be embarrassing but over time and practice this can be the tool you need to put everything into your music.
Tip 90 Stage Freight
The only way to get over stage freight is to get on stage and play as often as you can. There are little tricks such as writing down what you want to say. Try picking one person in the audience and play for them. A few artist close their eyes and seem to be in a different world when playing. The important thing to always know is there is always someone in the audience that appreciates your music. On days you sound perfect there might not be anyone that comes up to you to compliment your songs while on other days when you think its your worst, several people come up to say how your music has affected them. You never know so it’s important to assume that your music is always touching someone.
Tip 91 Never Give Up
Anyone can quit! Don’t be a quitter just because it is hard, your fingers hurt of you just want to go party. Music is something that will stay with you for life. Even if you don’t master it today, the time might come when you pick it up again and excel with it. Treat your time with respect and make an honest effort at learning to play.
Tip 92 Name Your Songs
Take time to put a name to each song idea that you have. Even if it is temporary and might change to later. This helps you to organize your ideas and make it easier to work on them.
Tip 93 Spider Capos Since I first started writing these tips and new product came out that works great for experimenting with altered tunings, the Spider Capo. Pick one up and try combinations that you might not have with altered Kyser Capos. You can even use them in combination with other partial capos.
Tip 94 Editing Software Try using Editing Software. I use Melodyne Editor. You can change pitch of a song once it is recorded. You can change notes without rerecording the song or part. You can even change the key the song is played in. I also use it to copy my guitar parts and add a synth sound copying my guitar notes.
Tip 95 Re-Visit Music Stores Often When re-visiting music stores you might find new material on altered tunings but most importantly you might meet other musicians there that might want to share new ideas. Re-visit search engines and blogs for the same reason.
Tip 96 Practice that One Chord - Technique When teaching guitar students I often have them practice one chord over and over. Repetition is the key here. If you learn to play that one chord better than anyone else, the technique you learned will spill over to other chords. Put more time into technique and not quantity. Again, practice makes perfect.
Tip 97 Smart Phones and Apps Now days you can do a lot of things with your Smart Phone. Download a tuner app. Download a recording app. Use :Notes” to jot down ideas. Video yourself playing. Take advantage of modern technology. It’s a great tool right there in your pocket or purse.
Tip 98 Wear a Long Sleeve Shirt This not only protects the finish on your guitar but it also helps so you can move your arm around more freely without restriction. This helps when applying chords in different positions for different tonality. Try playing close to the neck for a warmer sound and move across the sound-hole towards the bridge for a brighter sound. This is hard if your arm is sticking to your guitar.
Tip 99 Give it Time Don’t expect to master Altered Tunings in one sitting. It takes months and years to master some techniques. Give it time. Be grateful for every new chord you come up with. Attitude is everything. Stay positive.
Tip 100 Practice Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice !
Tip 101 Email
When all else fails email the author, Frank Smith and ask for advise. If I don’t have it I will try to find the right answer for you. I can be reached at Frank@JustloveMusic.com