Tools

Og and his Neanderthal buddies used them and so should you!

This page is dedicated to tools that can help you progress towards whatever level of expertise you’d like to achieve.  While everyone learns in different ways, I’ve found that many of the following items will give you a distinct advantage while learning music.

This page has the following sections:

KEYS PLEASE

One of the things I would highly recommend to anyone wanting to learn basic music theory is to get a cheap keyboard (I bought a 61 key Yamaha PSR170 with MIDI capability for a song – pun intended) and try to learn it in parallel with the guitar.  I think you’ll find that because you’re actually looking down at the keys, as opposed to a guitar where you have to move it to a bad practice position in order to see the fretboard, that it’s MUCH easier to build and understand the various INTERVAL patterns that make up all scales, modes and chords.

You’ll still have to transfer that knowledge to the guitar fretboard, but you’ll be able to see (and hear) what happens when you build a chord from a ROOT note or create an INVERSION or different VOICING.  Not too mention, if you’re a singer/songwriter this will give you another tool in your artistic arsenal.  You don’t have to become the reincarnation of Liberace in order to use a keyboard effectively as a background instrument.

Look in the For Sale section of your local Craigslist under “music instr” and you might just be surprised at what you might find – and for cheap!  But whatever you do, make sure the keyboard you buy has MIDI capabilities or you’ll be locked out of using it as a trigger for the gazillion virtual instruments available via VST plugins.

AUDIO/MIDI INTERFACES

Getting it from here to there.

When using a digital audio workstation (DAW), you’re going to have to find a way to get whatever instrument you’re using (including your voice) into your computer for further processing.  This is where an audio interface comes into play.

I have used the PreSonus Audiobox 22vsl ($139-$199) and the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 ($149)  and both are excellent interfaces.  As a matter of fact, the various audio samples on this site were actually done through the Focusrite.

For those requiring MIDI I/O, the PreSonus AudioBox might be the better bet since the Focusrite 2i2 does not include MIDI I/O capabilities.  But, for under $10 you can pick up a MIDI-USB cable that allows you to easily get around that problem.

TUNERS

Because if you’re not in tune, nothing else matters..

There are several decent clip-on tuners available from Snark, Planet Waves, Fishman etc.. I have a Snark and a Fishman FT-1 (acoustic) and like them both.  The only knock against the Snark is the back light is dim and hard to read but replacing the stock battery with a better brand seems to help.

The Fishman FT-1 is discontinued but still available via eBay.  I really like it because it has a “flat” mode that’s invaluable when learning the notes of the various flat key signatures.  Sure, you can do it in your head after while, but until that day, this makes it simple.

If you’ve heeded my advice in the KEYS PLEASE section above, you can always use your keyboard to tune your guitar.  As a matter of fact, this is a good habit to get into if you’re creating tracks with both the keyboard AND the guitar because they’re always be in tune with each other.

LOOPERS

The wheels on the bus go round and round..

Besides a solid tuner, there’s probably no better investment for people learning to play melodies and harmonies than a good looper of some sort.  It will allow you to lay down a backing track and then experiment over top of it.

There are a gazillion backing tracks floating around out there and most of them are of excellent quality.  The problem is: you’re not really gaining any experience creating rhythms that fit with your scales or modes. Whenever possible, create your own backing tracks!

Most DAWs have the ability to build loops but can be kind of cumbersome to use for that purpose.  Digitech, TC-Helicon and others make quality loopers that can be used to help you build your chops.  I actually had the TC-Helicon Ditto Mic Looper, and it was an awesome tool for jamming and song writing, but I found it just a little too noisy for what I was doing, but your mileage may vary.

INTERNET REFERENCE

BlankSheetMusic.net is handy for when you’re fleshing out a song and need to write down chord progressions and notes.  Lots of different configurations available and they’re all free!

Chordbook is a really great site for checking out new scales and chords and includes a tuner and metronome.  But instead of trying to memorize all the chord combinations, learn how to create them and then use Chordbook to check your work.

Web Metronome – Self explanatory.

Guitar For Beginners – The best explanation of the C-A-G-E-D system I’ve seen to date.