School of Rock: Homework is Here, If You Want It

“School days! School Days! I’m older, now what will I find....”

It’s that time of the season: Back to School. And it’s also time for me to make a couple of confessions.

First off, I played the saxophone and was classically trained on said instrument for over 10 years of my life. I endured two-hour rehearsals and  fickle conductors who yelled, threw their batons, and cancelled rehearsal then re-instated it within the span of 30 seconds. And that was on a good day. The real confession here is that I loved all of it. I loved the discipline that came along with mastering an instrument. I’m not too sure what it says about me that I kept going back for the abuse. That’s another issue altogether I suppose.

Second, I’m NOT as classically trained on the guitar. At least not in the same way. I learned how to play the guitar by taking many lessons from one of Toronto’s finest session/rock musicians (who himself WAS classically trained on the guitar!). I remember walking into his studio and seeing platinum records on the wall. That’s when I realized not only how lucky I was, but that even someone who has platinum records on the wall is sitting here teaching a 16-year-old how to play the guitar. For some reason I found that to be unjust. This man deserves rock stardom and is better than almost all of the I was listening to, and yet here he was teaching me how to play “Hey Joe”. And while I already had quite a bit of music theory under my belt because of my saxophone training, my guitar teacher taught me a great deal. In fact, what I’ve learned about the music industry is that many of the most talented, accomplished musicians alive, you’ll never get to hear. Sad, but true.  If you’re interested in hearing what he sounds like, you can click the link below. Or go listen to Tom Cochrane's "Life is a Highway." That's his guitar you hear.

This week’s post then, is dedicated to educating ourselves as rock guitarists/musicians and perhaps for those of us out there that want to do more than play a couple of chords and are interested in improving our technique/speed/accuracy/soloing/etc. I’m featuring some really interesting sites/channels that will help you become a better guitarist. Depending on what you’re looking for, you may find one or more of these sites/channels more suited to your taste. Don’t be afraid to try something new. As my mom says “You might learn something. That would be nice wouldn’t it?” Yes, mom, it would be.

This site is NOT free, but it is well worth what they’re asking for various types of membership. If you had to take lessons you’d be paying a lot more than $139 for an entire year. JamPlay features genre lessons, song lessons, as well as chats, a full chord library, and forums. The great thing about it is that some of the teachers they have on staff are rock stars, and those same teachers teach you how to play THEIR songs. That’s a benefit that is worth a lot more than the membership fees they charge. Each video lesson is filmed in HD with multiple camera angles, and you can ask the teachers questions too. It’s basically an online guitar school with new content being added all the time. If you choose a song lesson for example, the teacher breaks it down into all of the different parts: verse, chorus, solo, etc. and each section has its own video – with all of the videos for that one song linked so they play one right after the other, or separately, depending on what you choose. You can try before you buy as well, and they have some free lessons that are available to anyone who happens to browse over to their website. The link below is a lesson on how to play Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young's "Teach Your Children." (Yes, I did that on purpose. :) )

Scale Trainer is a concise collection of lessons, not only on “how to play”, but also on “what does it do/how does it work?”. You can learn about various chord voicings and how they’re used, and on the same site, you can figure out how to use the effects loop on your amplifier. Scale Trainer also has a community that allows users to log in and post questions and interact with other members. Signing up for their free weekly lessons by entering your e-mail also gives you a book of guitar scale cheat sheets. There are items available for purchase from Scale Trainer, but the majority of the site is free. Musicians love free, don’t we? I’ve used a few of their lessons since I signed up two weeks ago and have already learned some great new things, and that’s coming from someone who studied with a real, live rock musician for 4 solid years.

YouTube Channels

YouTube is GREAT for lessons. In fact, many people these days learn from YouTube and don’t even take formal lessons from a human being who is in the same room as they are anymore. I scoured YouTube to find concise lessons that had the note for note transcriptions for specific songs I needed to learn how to play. The channels below are ones that not only have accurate song transcriptions, but other important ingredients too: lessons on technique or based on specific scale patterns/genres. Check these channels out. I promise you won’t regret it.  I’ve included one embedded video for each channel as well, to give you a preview of what to expect.

Need to know how to play a song for tomorrow night’s rehearsal? Check out this channel for that and more. Marty teaches you what you need to know quickly and effectively. He’s also got some lessons on blues soloing and the like.

This is Guitar World Magazine’s official YouTube channel. This is where I found the video that shows Lita Ford giving a lesson on how to play her song “Close My Eyes Forever”. That alone should sell you on this channel, but they offer a lot of great lessons on songs, theory, etc. If you’ve ever hung the posters that used to come in this magazine up on your wall, check out this channel. You won’t be disappointed.

If you want to get serious about practice, technique, and theory, this is the channel for you. In depth lessons and a super competent teacher make for a winning combination on this channel. Every video will blow your mind in terms of teaching you something new, even if just from a different perspective.

Bobby is one of the most patient teachers on YouTube. Not only does he tell you what to play and play it super slowly so you can follow along, the videos also have the guitar tablature embedded right into them so you can refer to them as you play along and learn a new song/solo! This is great for those of us who forget instructions a half a second after they’re given. You can also check out Bobby’s website from all of his videos, and there is great information available there as well.

This is another official magazine channel,  but I love that they break up their song lessons into separate videos. IT allows you to “replay” the entire section over and over if you need to. I learned how to play “You Could Be Mine” by Guns’n’Roses using this channel and I haven’t stopped singing their praises since. Detailed, and most importantly, accurate notation and instructions. They’ve often worked together with the actual guitarist on the track you’re learning from in order to make the video, and they give you a link to the guitar tablature as well.

“Ring ring goes the bell....” That’s enough homework for awhile, I’m sure. But no one ever said being a guitar God/Goddess was going to be easy. Being classically trained taught me that you can’t fake having an innate knowledge of your instrument and what you’re playing. If you want to build more confidence and your chops, it’s going to require some discipline. That may not sound very rock’n’roll, but remember, “it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock’n’roll.” Now go learn something. Your mom will be proud, and even if she’s not, I will be. J