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How playing piano can be key to learning or improving at guitar

September is National Piano Month! Knowing how to play the piano or keyboard can be advantageous toward your guitar learning experience, whether you’re just starting out on guitar or a seasoned pro looking to polish your skills. If you have a couple of years of childhood piano lessons under your belt, you might be well on your way to better understanding the guitar!

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Here’s why:

Playing the piano helps with music theory

Every note on the piano is laid out horizontally, and there’s only one key per note, so it’s easy to know exactly where to put your fingers. This can be very helpful with reading music. It can also be helpful for better understanding how chords are structured, rather than memorizing patterns on a guitar.

Piano helps you develop strength and motor skills in both hands

This 2006 study from Cardiff University found that piano players actually showed development in the mapping of their motor cortices to increase speed and dexterity of their fingers. Playing piano with both hands can help make your strumming hand stronger and faster.

Playing piano can be useful for songwriting

Grammy-winning guitarist Eric Johnson said in a 2016 interview that every guitarist should learn piano, saying that learning the instrument can give you a new perspective on music that you can apply to any instrument.

“When you look at a piano, you can see every note,” Johnson told Total Guitar. “All 88 keys—the whole spectrum. It’s like laying out a long piece of paper that has all the architectural plans for a building. It’s a great center-point and home base to look at and study music.” You can apply that perspective to help you figure out chord and key changes, vocal arrangements, and more.

Piano is a “universal instrument”

Both of the Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, learned to play piano at an early age. Eddie eventually became one of the most celebrated guitarists of all time, and he acknowledged how learning piano first helped him on his musical journey. In a 1981 Guitar World interview, Eddie said “the piano is a universal instrument. If you start there, learn your theory and how to read, you can go on to any other instrument”.

Here are some other famous guitarists who also play piano or keyboard:

Sir Paul McCartney

McCartney grew up with an upright piano in the front room of his family’s Liverpool home and learned how to play it by ear. He also composed what would become the melody to “When I’m Sixty-Four” on that piano.

Joni Mitchell

The prolific singer-songwriter took piano lessons for eighteen months starting at age seven before deciding she liked writing her own music more than doing piano exercises. Piano, along with guitar and Applachain dulcimer, is one of her primary instruments.

Pete Townshend

The guitarist/co-founder/songwriter of The Who is also an accomplished piano and keyboard player.

Keith Richards

The legendary Rolling Stones guitarist also knows how to play piano, and you can hear it on his solo recording A Stone Alone: Solo Sessions.

Steve Lukather

The sole continuous founding member of Toto started playing keyboards and drums before he taught himself guitar at age seven.

Check out the Steve Lukather player study to learn how to play like him!

Great guitarists who learned later in life

You’re never too old to pick up a guitar and start learning! Although most guitar greats started playing their instruments as children, there are some musicians who started playing in college or later and still found great success in music. 

Here are some guitarists who learned later in life: 

 

Tom Morello 

"Tom Morello, Rage Against the Machine @ Christiania 1993" by pellesten is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello started playing guitar at age 17 – not an advanced age, but later than many famous guitarists. Morello told Q on CBC that he had only heard of one guitarist who had made albums who started playing that late – Robert Johnson, the blues master rumored to have sold his soul to the devil for musical prowess. 

“Given my Catholic upbringing, that was not an option on the menu,” Morello joked. Instead, he devoted himself to practicing six to eight hours a day as an undergraduate at Harvard University.

Glen Tipton 

Judas Priest guitarist Glen Tipton learned piano from his mother at an early age, but didn’t start playing guitar until he was 19. Tipton’s brother played guitar, and Tipton said he would sneak into his brother’s room to play the guitar when he was gone.  His unique guitar technique includes classically-influenced solos inspired by his piano background. Tipton has never had formal guitar lessons.

Chuck Berry 

"Chuck Berry in 1957" by US Department of State is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

The Father of Rock and Roll had an early interest in music and performed at his high school, but his musical career was interrupted when he was arrested for armed robbery and sent to a reformatory until his 21st birthday. After being released, Berry married and had children, worked various jobs and bought a home in St. Louis. He was in his mid-twenties by the time he picked up a guitar again and started playing nightclubs with bands. His song, “Maybellene”, helped him land his first record deal. It’s considered the first rock ‘n’ roll song by many music historians.

You can learn Chuck Berry’s signature style with the The Guitar of Chuck Berry course! It features 100 lessons covering the most important aspects of the Chuck Berry guitar style. 

Tom Scholz 

"File:TomScholz.JPG" by Weatherman90 at English Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Boston’s remaining original member, Tom Scholz, was a classically trained pianist and an MIT-trained engineer who built out his own recording studio. He was 21 when he started learning guitar, a skill he originally thought would just be a hobby. But while working as an engineer at Polaroid, Scholz worked on original music that eventually resulted in a record deal. 

Wes Montgomery

As a child, jazz guitarist John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery learned on a four-string tenor guitar, but had to start over on a six-string years later. Montgomery was married and working as a welder when he heard a Charles Christian record for the first time – inspiring him to buy a six-string guitar the next day. By age 20, he was playing in clubs with a day job at a milk company. A self-taught guitarist, Montgomery’s string-plucking with the side of his thumb and extensive use of octaves gave him a one-of-a-kind sound.

Want to get started on your guitar journey? The Fret Zealot apps are the best way to learn guitar with thousands of video lessons, 80,000 song tracks, every chord and scale, 60 alternate tunings, and so much more.

The optional Fret Zealot LED system fits just next to your frets and shows you color coded finger positions to play anything you want.

How to find time to practice guitar each day

Picture this – you get home from work, plan to practice guitar for a good amount of time – but then, the laundry needs to be flipped over, the dishes need washing, you have to walk the dog – and by the time you’re finished, it’s time for bed. How often does this happen to you?

Finding time to practice during busy days is tough, but with a few easy strategies, you can work in more time to play – and improve your skills!

Here’s what you can do: 

Set reminders for yourself.     

 Leave a sticky note on the fridge or bathroom mirror to remind you to make some time for guitar! Having a visible reminder will help you think about practicing, even when it’s a little chaotic at home. You can even set an alarm on your phone to alert you when it’s time to step away for a guitar break. 

Practice for a shorter time. 

                                                                You don’t need to devote hours every day to your instrument to get better. Just like physical exercise, any amount of time spent practicing in a day is better than none! If you can find 20 minutes a day to practice, that’s 121 hours per year!

Consistency is key. Try waking up 20 minutes earlier if you’re productive in the mornings, or go to bed 20 minutes later if you’re a night owl. (Don’t forget to use headphones if you live with other people!) 

 

 Inspire yourself

                                                                  Which bands or artists inspire you to play guitar? Listen to a playlist of their songs on your way home or during work to remind yourself why you wanted to pick up a guitar in the first place. And don’t forget – everyone starts somewhere! The best guitarists in the world once had to practice the basics too.

Utilize commercial breaks! 

If you watch TV, you can use the commercial breaks as practice opportunities! Run through some scales or a new riff while you’re waiting for your show to return. It’s easier to stay focused for a few minutes at a time than a longer chunk of time. 

Try a Fret Zealot course! 

Fret Zealot has a huge library of guitar courses, from a Beginner’s Guitar Gym to a Rock and Blues Lead Guitar course. You can study the techniques of greats like Angus Young and Jimi Hendrix or take it easy with a Musical Meditations Course. All of our courses can be taken at your own pace! Check out the full list of available courses here.

 Make it fun! 

Don’t forget – playing guitar should be fun! You can keep practicing from feeling like a chore by learning songs you want to play – new songs on the radio, favorites from years past, or even songs that you’ve never heard before for a new challenge! 

You can find over 3,000 courses and song lessons in the Fret Zealot app, as well as over 80,000 song tracks, every chord and scale, 60 alternative tunings, and so much more!

Want to play guitar like Angus Young of AC/DC?

Want to play guitar like Angus Young of AC/DC?

You’ll be “thunderstruck” at how you pick up the groove of Young’s signature playing style with our Angus Young player study course, including his vibrato style, bending, and rhythms.

Background

Angus Young was born in Scotland in 1955, the youngest of eight siblings. Music ran in the family, with most of the children playing at least one instrument. Angus picked up the guitar at five or six, with one lesson from his brother Alexander, and then taught himself. The family immigrated to Australia in 1963, and Angus practiced playing “guitar” on a banjo restrung with six strings. He was eighteen when he, along with his brother, Malcolm, and Colin Burgess, Larry Van Kriedt and Dave Evans formed AC/DC in 1973. Young tried a variety of stage costumes, including Zorro and Spiderman, before settling on his signature schoolboy outfit, which his sister suggested. His playing and stage antics helped make AC/DC one of the most successful hard rock bands in the world. He is the sole constant original member of the group. 

 

Guitars 

Young bought his first Gibson SG second-hand around 1970, and he’s been playing them in various forms throughout his career. He has used a modified version of the SG called the Jaydee SG, made specifically for him by Jaydee Guitars. At least two of his SGs featured on-board wireless going into the amplifier, with the circuitry in a hole in the back of the guitar body. This practice was stopped due to the possibility of electrical shorts (from sweat). Young designed an Angus Young SG with Gibson, featuring a pickup designed by Young and lightning bolt inlays on the neck. 

Style

"Angus Young, Barcelona Spain, 2009" by Edvill is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Angus Young has said that his musical influences include his brother Malcolm, Chuck Berry, Freddie King, and Muddy Waters. His style is influenced by the blues – major and minor 12-bar blues progressions. AC/DC is often criticized for having songs that are simple, but Young told the Atlanta Gazette in 1979, “It’s just rock and roll. A lot of times we get criticized for it. A lot of music papers come out with: ‘When are they going to stop playing these three chords?’ If you believe you shouldn’t play just three chords it’s pretty silly on their part. To us, the simpler a song is, the better, ’cause it’s more in line with what the person on the street is.”

When you start to channel Young’s signature style with the player study course, there are lots of high-voltage AC/DC song lessons on the Fret Zealot app to learn. 

Back in Black 

With an unmistakable opening riff, “Back in Black” was written in honor of AC/DC’s former singer Bon Scott who died in 1980.

Hells Bells

This song begins with the tolling of a bell – an actual, 2,000 lb. bronze bell made by John Taylor & Co. Bellfounders in England. The bell sound was recorded in a mobile studio inside of the bell foundry after the tracking sessions for “Back in Black” were complete.

Thunderstuck

 

One of AC/DC’s most recognizable songs gets its name from a childhood toy of the Young brothers. In the liner notes of The Razor’s Edge 2003 re-release, Young said that they were searching for a name for the song when they came up with the “thunder” motif, based on their childhood toy Thunderstreak. “It seemed to have a good ring to it. AC/DC = Power. That’s the basic idea,” he wrote.

Highway to Hell

“Highway to Hell” is about the exhausting nature of constant touring, which Angus Young referred to as the “Highway to Hell”. Australia’s Canning Highway also was part of the song’s namesake.

Read more: 

REVIEW: Epiphone Slash “AFD” Les Paul Special-II

Songs of the Summer through the years

Songs that became popular – again – through movies and TV

How to change your guitar strings (string-through body)

If your strings aren’t staying in tune or your tone is sounding dull, it might be time for some new strings. Another indication is if your strings look or feel dirty, discolored, or stiff.

Luckily, it’s fairly easy to change your guitar strings yourself!

If your guitar has a string-through body (strings go in through the back of the guitar), follow these steps and get back to rocking in no time!

What you’ll need:

  • clippers
  • new strings
  • winder (optional)

1.) Loosen and clip the first old string

2.) Remove old string and discard it

3.) Bring new string around the back of the guitar

4.) Pull it through the hole in the back to the front of the guitar. Pull on it lightly to make sure it’s secure.

5.) Lay string in place along the neck of the guitar to the headstock.

6.) Adjust the corresponding tuning peg so that the hole is facing the string.

7.) Pull the string through the tuning peg

8.) Bend the string straight up (90 degree angle)

9.) Tuck the string underneath itself

10.) Repeat steps 8 + 9

11.) Place finger lightly on string to hold it in place an use the winder to tighten the string.

12.) Snip the excess string.

13.) Repeat for the rest of the strings!

Talking guitar with Tigress

After COVID-19 shutdowns caused live music to grind to a halt over the past two years, British rock band Tigress is ready to pounce on their upcoming tour dates. 

 

The five-piece band has shows lined up through the spring and summer in the United Kingdom, and will join Billy Talent for their U.K. tour dates. 

 

Fret Zealot has teamed up with Tigress to bring lessons to their songs “Choke”, “Disconnect”, and “Alive” to the app. Check them out here! 

We recently caught up with guitarists Tom Harrison and Sean Bishop to talk about the return of live shows, their debut album Pura Vida, their musical influences, and more. 

 

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Q: How did Tigress form? 

Harrison: Sean and Katy (lead singer Katy Jackson) formed it. 

Bishop: Music college was where we met. I was studying the guitar. Most people go to university to do business studies or chem, but we went for guitar. When we were there, we met some people and formed this band. We met Tom there. 

Harrison: I was hanging out with the big boys [laughs]. 

Bishop: We did the Red Bull Bedroom Jam [they were finalists for the contest in 2011] which got us to play a bunch of festivals. 

Harrison: In 2015, we rebranded and reformed as Tigress and it’s gone from there. The album [Pura Vida] has cemented our style. It’s taken a few EPs to get there. Our album just came out with “Choke” and “Disconnect” on, that’s really who we are. Very guitar-driven, riffs all over the place, filthy riffs with some catchy vocals and 90s vibes. 

 

 

Q: Your debut album Pura Vida came out in Sept. 2021. Who were the influences on that album?

Harrison: I definitely have got a lot of 90s grunge influences. Billy Talent is my favorite band, and anything with drop-D riffs. I love that tuning. 

Bishop: We’re influenced by a lot of bands who were big in the 90s, early 2000s-era. I’m influenced by Radiohead quite a lot. Katy is influenced by Alanis Morrissette, our drummer Josh is influenced by Incubus and Linkin Park and Travis Barker. 

Harrison: Sean’s got on his Manson guitar, a Fuzz Factory pedal built it. It’s very “Muse”. We implement that in a lot of our music as well. 

Q. How long have you both been playing guitar?

Harrison: I started when I was 12. I really liked bands like The Offspring – they were one of the first bands I heard on the radio that had guitar-driven punk music. I liked Nirvana as well. It’s so long ago now that it’s hard to pinpoint the moment I wanted to pick it up. There was always a guitar lying around the house that I would pick up. My mom showed me the open chords. 

Bishop: I was listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana and those bands and I just wanted to play the riffs I was listening to. I think originally I wanted to play the bass and I told my mom and she got me a guitar by mistake. I wanted to be a bass player but I ended up on the guitar. But ‘m not complaining. I didn’t grow up around music, my family isn’t musical. I thought what I was hearing was the bass. I just wanted to play “Californication”. There’s an acoustic song off “One Hot Minute”, “My Friends” – that was one of the first songs I learned. 

 

Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start playing guitar?

Bishop:  Just play the songs you like listening to. 

Harrison: It gives you incentive then, to pick it up. 

Bishop: I just used to put the track on, turn it up and turn the amp up and try to play along and just rock out in my bedroom. Go on the Internet and look up the tabs. You need to learn how to read tabs. 

Harrison: You’ve got to be patient. Everyone wants instant gratification, but you’ve got to prolong your gratification and you’ll get there. 

Bishop: Practice should be fun. Playing along to things helps with your timing. The worst thing is learning to play without another instrument. Music is about performing with other people and how you interact with other people and stuff. It’s part of the experience.You need to sort of immerse yourself in the music. Always play through an amp – turn it up. 

Harrison:  Crank it, get a good tone out your amp because it’s fun then. 

Q. You guys have playthrough videos on your social media pages – what inspired you to do them? 

Harrison: It was just to kind of have more things with the single being released at the time. We did a load of silly things like “guess the lyrics to the song”. Because we’re really into guitar, we thought it was a good way to push the song, and hopefully have people create videos to share the song and have it push on even further. You guys discovered us through the playthrough videos, so that was a great positive. 

 

Q. How was it as a band going through lockdown?

Bishop: We both still have barely played since it happened. Nothing on the scale of what we were doing before it all closed down. I think we were quite lucky in a sense that we just finished recording the album when the lockdown came. We finished recording and a couple weeks later, it was like “that’s it, you’re not able to leave your home”. We had all this material ready to be worked on. It was weird. 

Harrison: It was really weird. We were able to mix and master the album over lockdown. 

Bishop: We did a few streaming concerts where we recorded our own parts in our bedrooms, and put them together on a split stream. We also did a headline gig at a real venue. This recording crew came in to stream it. It was like playing a gig to an empty room.

Harrison:  There were loads of comments in the chat but because our playing the gig you can’t interact with them live. 

Bishop: We’ve got some cool shows coming up for the summer so hopefully we’ll be able to get back in the swing of things. 

 

Q. What do you think of the Fret Zealot system?

Harrison: I think it adds an interactive element in a really unique way. Everyone goes on YouTube when they’re first learning guitar, but this is like adding Guitar Hero to a real guitar. Guitar Hero was legendary, so much fun. 

Bishop: It’s going to build up your muscle memory much quicker, because you can just see it. 

Harrison: You have to see how quickly your fingers have to move. I don’t think people realize how quickly your fingers need to move from chord to chord but when the lights move, you can see “I’m really lagging behind”. I think it’s going to be a game changer. Both me and Sean are guitar teachers as well, and I literally could have this in my guitar lessons and say “why don’t you check this out” to my students. Load up a song on the database and see how they get on. 

Q. What is your favorite guitar right now?

Bishop: During lockdown, I got myself a 1960s reissue Stratocaster in shell pink with a mint green pickguard. It’s really nice – it’s like my baby. I’ve tried to simplify my kit lately – I’m not using a giant pedalboard at the moment. I don’t think I’d end up taking the strat on tour, I’ll probably take the Manson with the built-in pedal. 

Harrison: I also have a Fender Strat, it’s a HSS Strat so it’s got a Humbucker in the bridge. It’s my favorite guitar I own. 

You can follow Tigress on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for their latest updates.

Check out Tigress’ song lessons on Fret Zealot here! 

The health benefits of playing guitar

Whether you’re picking up a guitar for the first time or just practicing your craft, you’re not just improving your musical prowess – you’re also taking steps toward better health! 

Many scientific studies have found physical health benefits correspond with playing guitar or just being around music in general. 

Similar benefits to physical exercise

Hitting the gym is great for your health – and so is hitting your instrument! 

A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that active music-making has training effects similar to those from physical exercise training. Researchers compared two groups of healthy people between ages 18 and 30, about half of whom were music students. They were tested for resting heart rate and blood pressure and baroreflex sensitivity. The study found that blood pressure was “significantly” lower in the group of music students, and they also tended to have a lower heart rate than the non-musicians. 

“Our study opens a new perspective, in which active music making, additionally to being an artistic activity, renders concrete health benefits for the musician,” the researchers wrote.

Master the pentatonic shapes  with this guitar gym class!

Pain relief

A study from the University of Utah Pain Research Center found that engaging activities – like listening to music – can help reduce pain in people with high levels of anxiety who can become easily absorbed in activities. The researchers hypothesized that music can help divert cognitive focus from pain. 

The researchers conducted the study on 143 people who listened to songs and were asked to identify wrong notes, while also getting shocked by fingertip electrodes. 

“Music helps reduce pain by activating sensory pathways that compete with pain pathways, stimulating emotional responses, and engaging cognitive attention. Music, therefore, provided meaningful intellectual and emotional engagement to help reduce pain,” the study concluded. 

Keeping the mind sharp

Learning a musical instrument as a child can help safeguard against cognitive decline in old age. A study by the Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology found that in a group of adults aged 60 to 80, those who played an instrument for at least ten years during their lives performed better on several cognitive tests than those who had never learned an instrument or how to read music. None of the subjects were professional musicians. 

“The study confirms that musical activity preserves cognition as we age, by comparing variability in cognitive outcomes of older adults active in musical instrumental and other leisure activities,”  said lead researcher Brenda Hanna-Pladdy.

Even if you’re older, there are benefits to learning an instrument. 

Try relaxing with the Musical Meditations Course!

Stress relief

We can all use a little stress relief in our lives! A study published by the International Journal of Music Education found that college students who spent 30 minutes either playing the piano, molding clay or doing calligraphy had “markedly” decreased cortisol levels, indicating a reduction in stress. Students in the group that played piano had significantly greater results than the students who had clay or calligraphy as their creative activity! 

Find some “peace of mind” by trying our song lesson on Boston’s Peace of Mind here! 

You can start learning guitar today with  Fret Zealot. Choose from thousands of video lessons, over 80,000 song tracks, 10,000 chords, and more. 

You can download the Fret Zealot app from the Apple App Store or Google Play, watch lessons online, and start playing today! 

Press Release – COURSES Launches on Fret Zealot Apps

Music Education Tech Start-Up Launches Course Marketplace on Fret Zealot App

Innovative, New Combined Approach to Guitar Instruction and Internet of Things (IoT) Technology

Washington, DC – Edge Tech Labs is launching Fret Zealot Courses, a marketplace that allows instructors to offer video lesson programs for either a fixed price or subscription.

Fret Zealot is an LED strip that is applied directly to the fretboard of a guitar, bass, or ukulele. It is accompanied by an all-access, highly interactive Android and iOS app that includes every scale; ten thousand chords; over seventy thousand songs; a tuner with over fifty-five tunings; a metronome; customizable and programmable practice features; and various tools, including microphone listening for accuracy, application programming interface (API) integrations, and light shows. Fret Zealot partners with various guitar-centric leaders, such as Uberchord, and includes instructor-led video tutorials as well.

Fret Zealot is designed to make learning to play instruments fun and engaging. This way, aspiring musicians of all ages can learn to play intuitively, at their own pace, and on their own time.

The Marketplace’s primary innovation is that the video tutorials now sync directly with the Fret Zealot LEDs on the instrument’s fretboard, demonstrating what the instructor is teaching in real time.

Using a thin LED strip that aligns with the frets and shows players where to put their fingers, Fret Zealot products capitalize on technology to make learning an instrument easier and more intuitive. Users can learn at their own pace and on their own time, and they can start and stop with ease.

“With thousands of customers around the globe, our data is showing that players want ‘bite-size’ lessons of just fourteen to eighteen minutes,” says Shaun Masavage, Fret Zealot CEO. “No physical instructor offers in-person lessons less than thirty minutes, meaning there’s a significant gap between what’s available and what we’re delivering with the Courses feature. Fret Zealot’s technology makes it seem as if the instructor’s hands are right on your own instrument—without ever having to leave your home.”

Courses available through Fret Zealot have several key benefits:

  • They are handpicked. Instructors are chosen, and the marketplace is not open to any course submission. Quality is ensured from the start.
  • Fret Zealot data are created manually to ensure complete accuracy of the finger locations and color displays.
  • By the summer of 2020, over two thousand videos will be available. Compared to traditional instruction, the marketplace offers formidable monetary and time-saving advantages.