Riffin’ – #8 The Open Position (UPDATED)

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Riffin’ is a free weekly video guitar lesson series by Nashville guitar guru Dave Isaacs focusing on the construction and development of killer guitar riffs. There’s a lot to learn in this series, so be sure to subscribe!

Video Guitar Lesson

Many of us think of open position chords as strictly fundamentals: the “cowboy chords”, if you will – and it’s true that learning to move up the neck is an important step in anyone’s development as a player. But the open position offers a wide variety of possibilities for developing creative riffs.

For starters, I want to extend our definition of “riff”: let’s define the term in this context as a signature guitar part – an instrumental hook. When we think in these terms, I’m sure you can begin to think of any number of songs that have very simple guitar hooks, often played in that open position. From Roy Orbison to Green Day and plenty of others in between, there’s no shortage of examples, and part of what makes those riffs so memorable is their simplicity.

There are two big ideas at work here. One is that guitars sound really good in the open position, because we get so many overtones and sympathetic vibrations. And every open chord contains within it triads, scales, and multiple voicing options that take full advantage of that resonance. Remember that one of the key ideas in writing great riffs is looking for melody….and since the major and minor scales of all the open-position-friendly keys are almost equally easy to play, our possibilities are maximized with minimal effort. This is a very good thing!

Also keep in mind that a triad can be melodicized by playing it one note at a time, and possibly adding connecting scale tones. In the example I played in the video, the melody consists of a descending C triad played 5-3-1 starting with the first string high G, followed by a stepwise move from the root C up to D. The D becomes the 5 of a G chord, and the melody continues with a 4-3-1-2 move on the G (the 2nd string C leading to the open B, open G, and 2nd fret A). The A now implies the 3rd of the F chord. So here’s the melody, phrased “da da da da (beat) da da da da (beat):

G – E – C – D ________ C – B – G – A

and so on. Again, note the opening C triad, the stepwise C-D-C-B that follows, and the B-G partial arpeggio followed by another stepwise move up to A to signal the change to the F harmony.

Now, I improvised that part and wasn’t thinking in those terms when I played it. But you can see how some of the different elements we’ve explored in previous blogs are being combined to create the overall effect, and I could have applied the process consciously as well. This is useful when you’re looking for that killer idea and pure inspiration isn’t doing the trick. You need tools and techniques, which is exactly what this series is all about.

The other big concept is a new one and has tremendous power and possibility. Listening to that improvised part again, you’ll notice that before the melody begins I play a C arpeggio starting from the low C on the 5th string 3rd fret, just following the shape across strings 5-4-3. This creates an accompaniment, a background that supports the melody. The same idea is applied to the G and F chords. So within the simple and familiar C, G, and F chords, we can find both melody and accompaniment without playing anything particularly challenging. And this idea of learning to separate melody and accompaniment on guitar is HUGE. It allows us to think the way pianists do, and play (or at least imply) two or even three parts at once. It’s easy to think of open chords as just box forms that are always played the same way, but when we orchestrate – dividing the guitar into lows, mids, and highs – the possibilities practically explode.

So to sum up, what we’ve done here is taken something very simple – our basic building blocks of chord and scale – and applied a few simple musical concepts to create something much more sophisticated that is still simple to play and hooky enough for the listener to remember. That is, of course, often our ultimate goal – to write not just a killer guitar part but a killer hook!

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Country Bends

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Country Bends is a free lesson as part of a preview series for Jason Loughlin’s upcoming course, The Country Guitar Survival Guide, which is set to launch in December. Check out Jason’s other TrueFire courses, and be sure to subscribe for more free lessons!

Video Guitar Lesson

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50 Slow Blues Licks: #1 B.B. King

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50 Slow Blues Licks is a preview series of a course coming soon to TrueFire by Anthony Stauffer, of StevieSnacks.com. Check out the lesson below and be sure to subscribe for more free lessons leading up to the full course launch.

Video Guitar Lesson

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5 Days to Perfect Practice – Day 1: An Overview of TrueFire

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TrueFire logoWelcome to TrueFire! To kick off the learning experience, we are greeting new Students with a complimentary course on “Perfect Practice.” For the next five days, you’ll be receiving the program, one part per day.

We’ve tapped several of our top educators and closest friends in high places to learn what makes for effective, efficient guitar practice. Naturally, we don’t expect you to absorb it all in five days, but we want to make it all available to you right out of the gate.

Review each phase of the program as it arrives, absorb what you can, and hold on to it for later reference. This way you’ll always have access to the knowledge offered here, plus you’ll gain a greater understanding of all that’s available under TrueFire’s roof to help you experiment and grow as a player. When all five phases are in your mind — and under your fingers — you will truly be on the road to Perfect Practice!

An Overview of TrueFire.com

Interactive Video Courses

With our video guitar lessons, we aim to recreate the face-to-face experience of sitting across from a live teacher — only this teacher is available on your schedule, in your home studio, and moves at your pace. TrueFire courses can be downloaded to your computer or ordered on disk, and they are contained in our proprietary course player, which offers several learning components:

Click here to get full details on how the course player works >>

TrueFire TV

With TrueFire TV you can access all of our interactive video courses via an online streaming format – all the course assets like tab and jam tracks are downloadable. Free Students have all-access for 30 days, while Pro, Master, and Sherpa Students have all-access as long as they are subscribed. Sit yourself down for extended lessons on the subject of your choosing, or view a quick clip to learn just one lick or trick.

Click here to access TrueFireTV now >>

Online Classrooms

For Sherpa Students only, our online classrooms give you the opportunity to get personalized, 1-on-1 instruction from a Sherpa Instructor of your choosing on pretty much any topic. Working on your own is great for some players, but others need that extra guidance to get out of the rut. Our online classrooms are truly a social learning experience, with threaded discussions, unlimited video messaging with your instructor, and much more. Best of all, it all happens on shifted time so you never have to worry about appointments or scheduling snafus.

Click here to learn more about the Sherpa Student Plan >>

Interactive Audio

We have an enormous library (1,200+!) of audio guitar lessons — but we don’t just leave you hanging with just an audio clip — you get a fully interactive lesson. For example, years and years of lessons from Guitar Player magazine are downloadable, and you’ll get audio from the original lesson, a PDF of the original page, plus a PowerTab version of the music notation.

Click here to access our vast audio guitar lesson library >>

Learning Tools

Beyond our vast library of video guitar lessons and audio lessons, we also have a number of killer learning tools at your disposal. For example, our Jam Track Library has over 200 practice rhythm tracks across all styles, keys and tempos. Each jam track comes with a lead sheet too. We also have a great online tuner, metronome, a handy-dandy guitar chord chart, and a guitar terms glossary. All of these tools are 100% FREE. Check them each out and use wisely!

jam track
Click here to access our jam track library >>

Mobile Apps

If you’re keen on learning on the go, we’ve got you covered with out mobile apps designed for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Our Guitar Lab app is free and contains a nice selection of lessons from a variety of courses. If you’re looking to drill down on a particular topic, however, we have a number of individual courses in mobile app format, such as our 50 Blues Guitar Licks. Each app comes with the videos and all the supplementary learning materials like tab, notation, text descriptions, and jam tracks.

guitar lesson app
Click here to check out our mobile apps >>

Setting Up Your Work Space

Keep your instrument someplace easily accessable. A guitar on a hanger on the wall in your bedroom is great. A guitar in a case underneath the couch in the half-finished basement is not so great. – Douglas Baldwin

TrueFire workspaceIf you don’t already have a physical space established where you will sit down and practice, now is the time to set it up. Doesn’t matter if it’s a spare room, a desk that does double-duty for daytime work, or a far corner of the basement. Establishing physical space is the first step in establishing “head space.”

Ideally, your practice spot is somewhere you can leave a guitar out on a stand or hung on a hook. Time is an evaporating commodity — you want to get right to work whether you have two hours or ten minutes. You can squeeze some practicing in here and there without stopping the rest of your life (more on Time Management in Phase 3).

You’ll need a seat set at a good height for playing, and a music stand. If you like to raise one leg, like many classical players do, you’ll need a foot stand or something comparable nearby — some players just use the headstock-end of a guitar case. And since you’ll be using our interactive multimedia content, you’ll need a tabletop nearby for your laptop or monitor.

Beyond that, we’ve really aimed to take care of everything else within TrueFire’s materials. Now that your physical environment is taking shape, let’s start getting comfortable with the online environment.

Closing Thoughts

Focus for a short period of time, in all the right ways. Then walk away and let it go. – Vicki Genfan

One thing we know after 18 years in the biz is that every player learns differently. Are you more visual or aural? Do you memorize quickly or prefer having a chart to reference? Can you recognize an interval from the sound of it, or do you recognize the shape played by the instructor’s left hand?

Your work space and the components within it need to be organized to accommodate the way you learn. Consider what works best for you as you decide whether to print the PowerTab or just read the chart down on screen; whether you like to go to a screen saver while playing along to a Jam Track; whether you’ll need to pivot in your chair to shift between viewing a video and playing guitar (don’t bang that headstock!).

Last thing here is a quick note about audio routing. If you’re practicing on electric, you might consider routing your guitar signal and the computer’s audio output through the same mixer and speakers (try panning the computer hard left and guitar hard right). Some of you have home studios that make this easy, though the setup never has to be too complex. Just make sure those faders are down when you first hit play, and then bring levels up to a comfortable listening and playing level.

Welcome to TrueFire. Practice smart. Play hard.

7 Tips For Flying With Your Guitar

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Traveling with a guitarNowadays, things aren’t so simple when you’re traveling with a guitar. The dynamics — and the expenses — of airplane travel have changed so much that keeping your guitar safe, nearby, and in one piece has become a lot more difficult than it should be.

Sometimes you’ll get away with stashing your axe in the overhead bin; other times you’ll get a stern communiqué from an overworked flight attendant instructing you to commit your precious guitar to the frigid no-man’s-land of the airplane’s belly. On that occasion, by all means, make a case for stowing your guitar in the cabin or in a coat closet. Just remember that a taser to the throat is the TSA’s signature response to passenger disobedience, and it leaves a mark.

Yes, in some situations all you can do is swallow hard, send your guitar to the bottom, and brace yourself for the impending ulcers. To help you avoid that situation, we offer up these 7 Tips For Flying With Your Guitar, with special mention to international clinician, producer and session player Jeff McErlain for his insights.

1. Loosen the strings on your guitar

Temperature and pressure changes in flight can put enough strain on your guitar to snap that perfectly angled mahogany neck — unless your strings are loose. Whether you can fit your guitar in the overhead bin or have to nervously watch as it slips out of sight on the luggage belt, you should always loosen your strings before you close the case. Taut guitar strings have over 300lbs of tension – you don’t want that to work against you.

2. Stuff it like a turkey.

Guitars are fragile. Most of us know this. But a lot of people don’t. It’s a good idea to give your guitar some extra padding and support by stuffing a few t-shirts, socks or hotel towels into the cavities of your guitar case. Pay special attention to the headstock and neck – these are the most common break points. You want to minimize movement of your instrument within the case and at the same time provide some cushion to soften blows from the drops, falls, and throws of disgruntled airport employees.

3. Know which airlines allow guitars to be stowed as a carry-on.

To make it easier for you, we put together this list of airlines that are guitar friendly. If an airline is not on this list it’s because they don’t make stated carry-on exceptions for instruments or we couldn’t find any info on their site. It’s still a good idea to call ahead after checking airline websites for carry-on policies. They often have provisions for instruments.

American Airlines

United Airlines


Southwest Airlines (Southwest accepts instruments on a “conditional basis”; i.e, proceed at your own risk.)

* Knowing in advance what type of aircraft you’ll be flying in will help you decide how to pack your guitar. If you’re flying in a small commuter plane you should pack your guitar in a sturdy hard case because you will most definitely have to stow it below deck.

4. Get a travel guitar.

Why? Flexibility. Travel guitars aren’t just novelties anymore: you can get gig-worthy travel axes ranging from custom boutique jobbers to penny-pincher models. Here are a few brands to get you started:

Traveler Guitar.com ($299+)

Best Travel Guitars.com voted the Speedster model a 9.7 out of 10 for best travel guitar. Though it’s not recommended for gigs or serious sessions, Jeff McErlain says, “When I go on vacation for more than a few days, I’ll bring my Speedster, a pocket Pod and a pair of headphones. That’s all I need to survive, it’s great. ”

Voyage-Air Travel Guitars ($399 +)

Their motto is “go anywhere with Voyage-Air,” and they’re right. These fully featured electric and acoustic guitars fold in half (fitting into a specially made backpack) and are easily unpacked for your gig. Thom Bresh never leaves home without one.

First Act 34” Acoustic Guitar ($39.99)

Yes, this is a children’s model acoustic. Which means it’s small, lightweight, and dirty-faced affordable (in case it breaks or gets lost). Not to mention it has decent tone for the casual player. I’ve been known to take one on camping trips and to potentially dangerous field parties.

568115336_36edde541a5. Pack it up and ship it out.

Shipping is not always ideal for the uber-transient guitarist, but it’s a safe and viable option when you have no other choice. If you’re going to ship your guitar within the continental United States you can expect to spend about $25 (ground) with insurance. You definitely want insurance.

6. Invest in a good guitar case.

A good, sturdy guitar case will last you a long time and it’ll pay for itself the first time your guitar makes it out alive from the wilderness of the airport luggage bay. We’re not just talking dollars and cents here – peace of mind is a valuable commodity. Take a peek at these sheaths to see what’s out there:

Gig Bags
The strength of a gig bag isn’t in its nylon fabric; it’s in the negotiating power it gives you when you’re pleading your case to a stewardess.  Says Jeff, “The slim, smaller size of a gig bag means you can politely ask the flight attendant to put it in the coat check, which almost always works. And it’ll lend you extra sympathy points when you’re working the airport authorities: ‘This is a $3,000 guitar and there’s no doubt it will perish if you send it below! Couldn’t you please ask someone else if they could send their suitcase full of clothing to the bottom? Pretty please?’ Be polite, but don’t give in either.”

Also, carry a gig bag like a suitcase; you want to keep it inconspicuous, especially if it will be out of sight during the flight. BEWARE! Take a gig bag at your own risk. There is no guarantee that you will be able to sweet talk your way out of every situation. If you’re forced to send your guitar below deck in a gig bag, you might as well have stuffed it into a pillow case.

These guys throw their guitar flight cases off roof tops and pummel them with iron hammers to prove their ruggedness. Not to mention, the company boasts a clientele of pro players as well as the U.S. military. While you could probably never take these cases as a carry-on, they do offer protection from the indigestion you’d otherwise suffer worrying about your guitar in the cargo hold. Get one of these and leave the Pepto at home.

SKB has been around for over 30 years and makes some of the best hardshell cases out there for transporting and protecting guitars. As a rule, form-molded, plastic cases will give you the most flexibility when traveling with your guitar — just don’t expect to stow it as a carry-on.  But if you have a good case, it’ll be rugged enough to go toe to toe with the burliest of luggage handlers.

These are road cases, the kind you see roadies hauling out of tour buses and stacking backstage. Solid, rugged, and TSA-approved, they’re perhaps the best protection you can get for your guitar. Like those mentioned above, you’ll never get it past as a carry-on. These babies are stow-away only and are best deployed with a foul-mouthed ex-pat Briton roadie lugging it around for you.

7. Always be polite.

No matter how much you prepare, you can’t be ready for every scenario. Your guitar could get stolen or the flight might be too full to accommodate your carry-on case. But in those rare instances of doom and desperation, the best thing you can do is keep your cool and get smart.

Jeff says: “Sometimes I just lie. I’ll say, ‘They told me at the front desk that it was fine…’ Or I’ll make sure that I get a seat in the back of the plane so I can get on first and hide my guitar behind my neighbor’s bag in the overhead bin. No matter what, traveling with your guitar is a nerve-wracking experience. But when all else fails I explain that I’m willing to put it anywhere on the flight so long as it doesn’t go below. If you’re polite, respectful and make sure you stand your ground, you can get through almost anything.”

And remember, if you’re traveling with a guitar that’s not replaceable then you should get evaluated by a psychologist as to why you are traveling with it in the first place.

Charlie Doom is an award-winning screenwriter, filmmaker and musician. He has worked with artists such as Nokie Edwards, Larry Carlton, Johnny Winter, Joe Bonamassa and Slash among many others and is the director of the online guitar education Mecca, TrueFire TV.

Jeff McErlain is a New York City based guitarist, producer, songwriter, and instructor. He’s traveled the world conducting clinics and performing live, from South America to Asia. Check out Jeff’s latest guitar instructional DVD release, 50 Blues Licks You MUST Know!

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