ZOOM Lessons available

Zoom, ready to go

Well, there has been SO MUCH written about 2020, the lockdown, the economy, our rights, their rights and what’s right this little blog can’t hope to add much to all that. So I have added a new service that I had been planning to unveil when https://tenhourguitarist.com was launched. The lockdown had pushed my online teaching offerings ahead of schedule and so far, it’s not too bad.

Most of my students aren’t really “techy” and they are using it off the browser. I suggest getting the free app. Unless you go over 40 min or have more than 2 people you don’t have to pay.

The other part that is hard is you cannot really “Jam” with two players – the volumes of the two instruments fight each other. I have gone into advanced settings and disabled “Suppress constant background noise” and “Suppress intermittent background noise” as your guitar can be deemed as such by the software.

All that said I have given (and taken) guitar lessons over Zoom and it works. If written assignments need to be provided, I write it, scan it, and attach as a pdf to the student’s email.

It’s a Brave New World, everybody. Hang in there .


Music Gear Part 2

Hey all – Hope your Thanksgiving was good and now we’re moving to the time of presents.

Last entry was about guitars and all the different options. In this entry we will discuss amplifiers.

I’m going to reduce the list to 5 types of amps. Keep in mind that used gear from Craig’s List or Ebay can be a real cost savings here.

  1. Tube amps. This is an old technology going back to the early 20th century. The idea of using vacuum tubes (also called “valves”) was the standard way of amplifying guitars. These amps are preferred by “purists” who want to chase the tones of say Hendrix, Clapton, Slash or Page. They have a thicker, “warmer” tone. Characteristics about tube amps are: a) They are more expensive than most other types of amps, b) they are heavier and c) you need less wattage. While 400 watt tube amps exist, you won’t need that much. And there is a belief that the harder you push a tube amp, the better it sounds. Stick with 25 or 50 watts. I have such an amp (50 watts) and it’s plenty loud.
  2. Solid State amps – they came on the scene more aggressively in the 80’s as a cheaper, lighter alternative to tube amps. I’ve used this type quite a bit as well. You may need to play with the signal processing to get a warm tone (think EQ). You also need more watts in a solid state amp to compete with tube amps in volume. Whereas 25 or 50 watts would be fine for tube, solid state amps will probably be around the 100 mark (unless mic’ed to the PA)
  3. Hybrid amps – these are a combination of tube and solid state amps. The tubes are typically in the “pre-amp” section.
  4. Modeling amps – this has really come on strong in the last 15 years or so. Line 6 is a leading supplier of tube amps but now everybody from Fender to Marshall has gotten into the game. Modeling amps use the circuit design of their amp to “program”, as closely as possible, known amplifier sounds, like a Marshall Plexi or a Fender Twin Reverb. Sometimes they work great, other times not – you’ll need to play with it some to determine if that’s the sound for you. The pro is you can use a lot of different sounds out of a modeling amp if you’re a top 40 or classic rock kind of guitarist or a musician who wants to play a lot of different styles. The con would be if say you were in a Van Halen tribute band and you need Eddie’s sound in particular, a modeling amp may not cut it.
  5. Profiler amps – so far only Kemper out of Germany is the only game in town for Profiling. This idea has caught on because where with modeling, sound engineers need to program the models (and thus we wait for patches with new models), profilers make digital copies of amps using the Kemper head. For example, if you have a Marshal JVC and a Fender Deluxe, you can profile each of your amps and put them in an 11 pound Kemper head, and run direct out to the PA. In fact the idea has caught on so well, many people are selling profiles of their amps. Michael Brit is a well known profiler and most profiles come at $20 a profile, which means you can build up a collection over time.

So those are the types of amps – other considerations are combo amp or use of amp and head.

Combo amps are a combination of amplifier and speaker in one cabinet. They typically do not come with wheels, but a single handle on top (think heavy suitcase kind of lifting) and one to two speakers (typically 10″ or 12″ speakers for guitars). Combo amps can be tube, solid state, modeling or hybrid.

An amp head and cabinet off more flexibility of tone. They come in two flavors: half stack (amp head + 4 speaker cabinet) and full stack (amp head + lower cab with 4 speakers and upper cab with 4 speakers). The full stack is overkill unless you are playing outdoors or some extremely loud style of metal or rock. It’s just not needed.

Something else to consider here for performance : mic’ing the amp to the PA. Consider this for combo amps at least. The guitar is a higher frequency instrument and is thus fairly uni-directional. In other words, people can hear me when they are in direct line with my amp, but if they cross the room they cannot. Putting a mic on the amp, even for a half stack, is a good idea for better spread.

If you’re looking to cut corners or just looking for a practice amp, there is a lot of competition in that area – they will mostly be solid state combos.

The best thing to do is find a music store that doesn’t mind if you play an amp or several amps over some time. Some even offer rooms where you can crank it. The hard part is playing in a store, or your bedroom, or your garage is not going to sound like when you play a club or a High School. The acoustics will be very different and be prepared to make adjustments.

One last consideration – hauling it! If you’re going to get a Marshall full stack, you need to have a truck, SUV or van to haul it, plus your guitars, plus the rest of the gear.

Merry Christmas! Now go get some gear!

Music Gear part 1

Hey all – welcome back to Fast Fingers Guitar Lessons. The holidays are approaching like an invading army and you might be tempted to ask for new music gear or get new music gear for that shredder in your family.

Before rushing into your local Guitar Center (or not-so-local amazon online) let’s cover some basics in order not to break the bank. This post will be centered on guitars. Next post will be on amplifiers.

As we look at the whole “signal chain” – guitar -> effects -> amp nothing is more intimate to a guitar player than the guitar itself. That would be the building block I would start with if I was going to try for a new sound.

Acoustic guitars – these actually get pretty pricey pretty quick. The wood here is very important, as well as the craftsmanship. From my observation, $250 doesn’t take you as far in the acoustic world as it does in the electric world.

Well known names like Martin are like the Les Paul in electrics. Unless you want to pay starting around $500, I would look for the Japanese brands – such as Yamaha and Ibanez. You’ll also need to decide if you’re going to go with the Classical style (nylon strings) or Standard (Steel strings). I would recommend Classical only if you plan to play classical music. The nylon strings are not as loud and it’s difficult to bend them if you plan to play rock or pop.

I will say you typically should not order a guitar like this online unless you picked it out in a local store and there’s a better price break on line. Even then, give your friendly salesman a heads up and they might just cut a deal with you there. I’ve seen it. And this way you don’t have to wait for UPS.

Electric guitars – there are several econo-entries in the guitar world. Fender Squires and Ibanez value packs that come with a gig bag and practice amp are really quite affordable (typically around $250) for the beginning shredder. If you’re beginning, this should give you a guitar to grow into.

Some things to avoid on an entry – level guitar: stay away from fancy electronics. Stay away from vibrato bars (aka Whammy bars or tremolo bars). Why? This hardware needs to be of decent quality to stay in tune. I would look in a more expensive model of guitar for something like that.

If you’re getting out of the entry level position, I would greatly encourage you to try out guitars. There is no one perfect guitar except for what YOU say it is. If you need an amp at the same time, start with a guitar that is “playable” that feels good to your hands. For the heck of it, try some guitars out of your price range too – nothing wrong with that. It will help give you perspective.

And remember, the fancier the paint job on the guitar, the higher the price is. If you don’t care about color, go for something solid.

Things to look for:

Neck – rosewood or maplewood? Most guitars are rosewood. There is a bit of a difference in feel. If you’re a Fender man (think Stratocaster or Telecaster) most likely it’s going to have a Maple fretboard and be brighter sounding. Rosewood is a darker sound. Neither is right or wrong. Close your eyes and see if you can hear the difference. If you’re a Stevie Ray Vaughn fan you’ll probably love the sound. If you’re a Slash fan, you’ll want something thicker sounding.

Frets – If you love strats, you get 21 frets. Most other guitars have 22. If you want to shred with the best of them, you might want 24 (2 octaves from the open string). You may want “Jumbo” frets but don’t get caught up in the hype. I play plenty of guitars with standard height frets.

Tuners – In my opinion, I haven’t had a problem with tuners. Grover is the gold Cadillac of tuners and I’ve never owned a set. Maybe I don’t now what I’m missing? If you go with a lock nut system, it doesn’t matter too much.

Nut / Bridge – now you’ll need to decide if you want a whammy bar or not. Standard guitars come with a standard nut and fixed bridge of various types. Strats come with a Tremolo bridge but with no locking nut (unless you pay to have one put on). I have a strat and I do not use the trem bar.

For Trem Bridges, Floyd Rose is gold standard, although I’ve had my issues with them in the past. Ibanez makes their own kind of trem which I believe is superior (less wobble in the neutral position). Kahler makes trem bridges but on the one guitar I have with a Kahler it doesn’t stay in tune. I’d stick with Floyd or Ibanez. But if you just have to try it, try it.

Pickups – This, like everything else, is a very personal topic. There are single coil (think Strat), humbucker (think Les Paul), active (EMG – requires a battery) or passive (any pickup that doesn’t require a battery).

Single coil are great for that thin, snappy sound. They can be noisy – thus the “hum” that is “bucked” by the humbucker. That can be addressed to some degree with a compressor, but that’s in effects.

Humbucker, or double coil pickups, are a bit hotter than single coil. This is a huge market. Most guitar manufacturers make their own, celebrities market their own, and some just have a great reputation. This is very individual again. I got to play my Ibanez Steve Vai 7 string model live once and it has DImarzios – and they sang. They were beautiful. It’s difficult to know what a pickup is going to sound like until you give it some volume.

EMG’s (and there are others) are considered active pickups and have a 9volt battery in them – they boost the output. These are common in guitars suited for metal playing.

If you are the do-it-yourself type, you might like to experiment – buy a couple of pickups, drop them into your guitar, and play them loud – band practice or at a gig. Check the return policy first though.

Honorable mention: Modeling guitars. As things get more and more digital, we have modeling guitars that can simulate (or try to simulate) strats, les pauls, Jazz guitars, acoustic 12 strings, and a knob for changing the tuning (need Drop D tuning? Hold that dial!). I have one – a Line 6 Variax and have gigged with it for years because it is a playable guitar.

I left out one more type, but these are among the most expensive. So for the guitarist that has everything, there are Signature guitars. Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Randy Rhodes, Dime Bag Darrell, Synister, Rusty Cooley, Steve Vai, Joe Satrianni, etc., etc., etc. all have sig guitars. You don’t even have to be alive to have one.

I own 2 signature guitars, both are 7 string. One is the Steve Vai JEM 7v7 and the other is the Rusty Cooley Dean RC7. The reason why I bought them is after trying all the 7 strings I could lay my hands on, I didn’t like any of them. I figure if someone is going to hang their rep on a guitar it should be decent. But I paid for it. The Vai guitar was over $2k. The Dean – more like $900 and it is less than perfect.

So once you have your sweaty little hands all over your new precious axe, it’s time to go amp shopping.

Wishing you all a Happy Thanksgiving on 11!!!


An approach to soloing in country

The scale of choice for the country guitarist is usually the Pentatonic scale. It’s a 5 note scale derived from its parent scale, the Major Scale:

This is the key of C Major

1 2 3 4 5 6 7


The Pentatonic scale is 5 notes from this – less notes, easier to solo with, right?

1 2 3 5 6


So if a Country Song had the chords C to F to G (all major chords) they would want to play C Pentatonic against the C, F Pentatonic against the F, and G Pentatonic against the G.

This can be tricky switching between scales while staying in the same key!

The trick to learning this is to start off by taking your favorite lick or idea in C Pentatonic and moving to the same lick to F Pentatonic, then to G Pentatonic. If any chord has more time in it – say 2 bars while the other chords have 1 bar each, then play a bit more in that scale with some interesting fills.

Once comfortable in moving around like this, try staying in one space. The Pentatonic scale can be played in a sliding fashion or straight vertical patterns. Try going up one Pattern in C, coming down a pattern in F, then up a pattern in G.

Remember to use a backing track when you start feeling comfortable with it so you can work on your ideas.

Keep Picking –


A New Home for FFGL!!

Hey guitar players – thanks for visiting!

After 10 years I decided to expand my web presence a bit and change hosts. If you tried to reach us the week of March 18, 2019 – you might have gotten some errors, not found, etc. I’m sorry about that but there’s always some dust when you move into a new home but I believe we have it all figured out for the most part.

If you find any errors or glitches, please contact me and we’ll jump on them right away.

In the meantime I’ve been working on content for my other site – the Ten Hour Guitarist. I’m hoping to launch it in the fall. As we do each new video, we get faster at putting it together. I’ve been working with developers all over the planet to get the functionality going correctly and I have a long list of Ideas.

But that doesn’t mean my free content goes away. I’ve recently purchased some new (yes new) Music Theory books aimed at guitarists. One is by the virtuoso guitarist Steve Vai called Vaideology.

I will be giving a review of this book in the next blog entry. I will be putting a Video up on it as well.

Enjoy the weather as Spring approaches and I’ll see you back here soon.


Can you memorize this?

Imagine we have guests from out of town – we have a bit of a party so they spend the night and the next morning I realize we have nothing for breakfast. I ask you – who’s phone is dead and on the charger – to go to the store for me. I need:








I ask you to repeat it back to me. You miss a few. I correct you – I ask again to repeat it – you miss one item. Third time you get it all correct.

Simple, yes? Easy even? That’s how easy it is to memorize your sharp keys!

“What? But that’s music theory! It’s hard! It’s even boring! I can’t do it!”

But you can. Get it out of your head that music theory is only for virtuosos and orchestra conductors. It’s easy. It can be applied in very complicated ways but the basics only require simple memorization.

The key of C is natural – no sharps no flats. It’s all the white keys on a piano.

Next, the key of G has one sharp, F#. F# is a half step below G, the name of the key. That is the pattern for all sharp keys.

Key of D has F# (because we build on the sharps that came before) and C# (a half step below D.

Key of A has F#, C# and G# (half step below A).

Key of E has F#, C#, G#, D#

Key of B has F#, C#, G#, D#, A#

Key of F# has F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E# (note: E# is a half step below F#)

Key of C# has F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B# or more simply, all sharps. Key of C is all natural, so the key of C# where the root gets bumped up a half step means all the notes get bumped up a half step.

So you memorize F, C, G, D, A, E, B – this is the order in which the sharps occur. F# is below G. C# is below D. G# is below A, etc.

In practical application, if you’re playing Jazz or Classical, you will need to know all your keys (I’ll talk about flat keys in the next post). But if you’re in a rock band or folk or country you will most likely need the keys of :






Most songs written by guitar players are in those keys. This is where most guitar players are comfortable. So prepare for the “worst” – memorize F-C-G-D-A-E-B but you’ll most likely use 5 of them. Note that if you build a chord on any of those 5, we have an open string chord for that.

So MEMORIZE IT! It is not hard.

And don’t forget the coffee!

Closing out 2018…But What’s Up for 2019?

2018 was a year of challenges for me, my music, and my career. But as always, with new challenges comes new opportunities. It’s something that takes a little getting used to in your thinking. You lose your job, and while you’re worried about how to make rent. But I was once worked for a VP at McAfee who made this (what I considered at the time) bold statement:

“If I lose this job, I’ll find a better job somewhere else(!)”

That’s nuts, right? We cling to the known, the safe, the secure. And then….the band doesn’t work out. Or you do lose your job. Or your relationship goes south. Or you have difficulties with a family member.

I spent much of 2017 without a gig mainly because I wanted to focus on other music other than get stuck with “Classic Rock” again. In mid 2018 I joined a band that is close by but I felt their material was difficult (vocally/Harmonically) and I thought their material selection wasn’t danceable enough. But they won me over and we were a 6 piece that played one backyard party and then just like that we lost half the band.

And Now, For Your Listening Enjoyment..

Through the fall we auditioned and auditioned and auditioned. And then we stumbled across Maddy Hudson.

Maddy was a contestant on American Idol about four years ago and made it to the top 50.

Maddy is an incredible talent and we have been working with her and trying to fill out a reasonable amount of songs to get a demo recording and then filming a video.

Maddy at her audition!

She has been a delight to work with and the band is gaining some momentum. Hopefully will have more news on this (yet unnamed) band in 2019!

Currently I’m woodshedding the Earth Wind and Fire version of “Got to get you into my life” which is a very cool song to work on. (Although I have to admit getting all the guitar parts for “Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan was my most difficult piece of music to conquer).

I have one more post to make in 2018 before we close out the year, so stay tuned!

“Do I really need all this Music Theory?!”

Written music on the treble clef staff
Written music on the treble clef staff

Oh no, not theory!  With thirds, and triads, and sharps and keys…….I just want to play!!!

Do I need theory to do what I want to do?

I’ve been teaching a long time.  Since I was 17.  I’m now 97 (ok, not quite but still) so that’s a long time.  And in all that time, theory lessons are easily the most complex and the most confusing to students.  Even though we are applying it through the guitar, it’s still dizzying.

So again,

Do I need theory to do what I want to do?

The short answer is no.   I’ve played with many musicians – guitarists, bassist, singers, drummers (typically not keyboard players) who don’t understand what a key is.

Singers – the singer needs a good ear obviously and needs to know if the song is in his or her range and we usually find out the hard way.  And they may sing “la la la….right here….can we do the song here?” as you move the chords up and down and find the right key.

Drummers – although many drummers sing, and many play multiple instruments, the don’t need musical theory but they will be more keyed into intros, outros, breaks, fills, and tempo.

Bassists – I didn’t think it was possible to not know theory but I have worked with bassists that just learned bass runs, bass patterns and chord outlines without being able to say “This song is in the key of [fill in the blank]”.  They just play the song.

Guitarists – most guitarists learn open string chords, then bar chords, and pick up on the main Rock scale – the minor pentatonic or blues scale, or just pieces of it from learning by ear and figuring out solos on record.  Throw in some flashy effects, some stage presence and bingo – you’re a rock star.

I had one student where his band wanted to learn Led Zepplin’s The Wanton Song from the Physical Graffiti album.  He had a lot of the licks down, but was stuck on the bridge.  Good ol’ Jimmy page threw in a Diminished 7th chord as a “connecting” chord and once we hit that chord, my student said “That’s it; this is too hard!” and promptly gave up on that song.

So let me qualify that short answer of “no”.  If you’re going to be doing very simple rock, folk, or blues (and blues can get hairy too), then no.  You don’t need theory.  Dress in black or white or all yellow, spend $3k on a stacked amps, effects and work on your moves in a mirror (which one should probably do anyway to get a sense of performance) and stick to the easy songs.  When it comes time to do a solo, you can figure out what the recording is doing and noodle with that.

I am not being sarcastic or mean.  Many gigging musicians do just that.  There’s nothing wrong with it.

So why would I want to learn theory?

There are many reason but I’ll list them here:

  • To more quickly figure out songs as you’ll be used to the stock chord progressions
  • To more quickly figure out the key to do your own improvisations
  • To more quickly figure out the recorded solo since you know what you would use
  • To play a wider range of songs – ballads, or Steely Dan or “easy listening” music for playing during dinner time or wine tasting
  • To more easily write your own songs
  • To more easily transpose songs if the singer needs it
  • To figure out 2 and 3 part harmony in the vocals

Not all music is straight forward.  If you are into heavy metal the likes of Dream Theater, or Day of Reckoning you will do better if you know your major/minor scales, keys and modes.

Me?  I’m going to brush up on my pentatonics with my 7 string and go pick out yellow clothes for my next gig.

Have a great time y’all!  Hit me up with any questions you have.  I’m not a lawyer so I don’t charge by the question :).





This is the last of a 4 part series on 4 basic chord progressions that will get you far in playing some of your favorite songs, and you’ll begin to recognize the I IV V, the ii V, the I Vi IV V, and this one, the Vi V IV.


The Vi VI IV – one very versatile chord progression

This chord progression use the Vi (6th) chord which is minor, down a whole step to the V (5th) chord which is major and then down another whole step to the IV chord, also major.  If you’re learning a song that does that, you have a Vi V IV!

This is really a natural minor progression.  Let’s take a look at aVi V IV in C:

IV  V   VI

C   D   E    F    G    A    B  C

A Minor to G Major to F Major.

Examples of songs using this chord progression:

Stairway to Heaven (the end, “as we wind on down the road…”)

Harden My Heart

Livin’ on a Prayer

Edge of 17

…and many more.

Minor Keys Revisited

The simplest Minor key type is the Natural Minor.  There are no differences between it (the Vi – A here) and the relative Major (the I – C in this case).  The notes and chords are the same.  But the chord progression centers on A minor which gives is a more complex “moody” sound.

Keep in mind this can easily hop to the I major (C).   Majors and Minors frequently go back and forth in a song.  It can start in A Minor but the chorus could be in C Major.

What is fun with this chord progression is that there are cool ways to improvise over it.  The Minor Pentatonic scale off the Vi (that is, A minor Pentatonic) is a natural for this and works very well.

Additionally, I use the Major scales, which in this case is C Major scales (or A Natural Minor scales, as they are the same thing).  The reason why this works so well is while the A Minor pentatonic fits well, it lacks the root note of the IV chord, in this case F.

A Minor Penatonic

A    C    D    E    G

This is the chord progression in the final rockin’ part of Stairway to Heaven where Jimmy Pages comes out blasting with a descending run down A Minor Pentatonic but he “sticks” the final note of his phrase on the note F – which happens to be when the F chord is playing.  His solo is largely based off the A minor pentatonic but was well aware that the F note could be used nicely to his advantage.

That’s the end of this series.  There is much more to explore with chord progressions and the various ways to improvise (or write melodies) for them.

Drop me a line with your questions or new topics you’d like to see explore.

Keep Shreddin’ through the holidays!



Greetings, all!

As the Labor Day weekend approaches, you might have more time for practicing.  This is the 3rd installment in the 4 basic chord progressions you should know.  Knowledge of these chord progressions will help you build your library of known songs because so many songs use these progressions so they will accelerate learning.

PT 1 focused on the I, IV, V.  P2 focused on the ii, V.  Today we focus on the I, vi, IV, V.

This chord progression was used a lot by any songwriter in the 1950’s or early 1960’s that wanted to write a ballad.  Angel Baby was just a I vi IV V repeated over and over.

In fact, it’s used so much, wikipedia (an online encyclopedia of sorts that I support) has an entry on it here.

You may notice that the I vi IV V is just like the I IV V but with the vi chord thrown in.  This one chord makes a big difference.  Playing this chord progression will get your ear used to the sound of going from the I (major) to the vi (minor).  The I and the vi have a unique relationship to that of the rest of the key.

Taking a look at the key of C:

1      2      3       4      5      6      7

C      D      E      F      G      A      B

I                           IV   V      vi

CM                   FM  GM  Am

As stated above, this chord progression is used for a lot of ballads.  While not a pure I vi IV V chord progression, the sweet, gentle intro of Free Bird (well before the wild guitar duel) starts with G, D/F#, to Eminor.  That’s a I, V, vi in G.  (The D/F# simply means a D major with the F# in the bass)

Key of G:


1      2      3       4      5      6      7

G      A     B      C      D      E     F#

I                           IV   V      vi

As a side note, whenever I have a chord progression with a minor chord in it (ii V in the last post, I vi IV V in this post) that opens up my solo or song writing melodies to the use of the Major Scale.  I would still stick close to my G major Pentatonic (5 note scale) in this pattern, but I could throw in some other notes to from the 7 note Major scale.

Next lesson will focus on a new progression that is used largely in hard rock songs that really open up solo possibilities.

In home guitar lessons in the Tri-Valley area of California. This includes Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon, and Livermore. Other arrangements negotiable.