Every Guitar Player’s Biggest Challenge

This is, By Far, the Biggest Barrier Guitar Players Face

In my 25 years of teaching guitar, I’ve had a lot of students that weren’t progressing the way they wanted. Can you guess what the biggest obstacle almost always is? Yep, you guessed it: not enough practice time. When someone starts playing an instrument, they normally play a lot at the beginning because it is new, exciting, and fun. Often though, practicing becomes more like a chore when they hit that first big hurdle. Sometimes its when they are trying to switch chords quickly enough to keep the beat in a favorite song or trying to learn their first barre chord that they realize how hard those challenges are. It turns out that guitar is quite a bit harder to learn than most people think. At that point, it can become very difficult to get the motivation to practice daily (or even every other day, which I consider to be the absolute least you should be practicing to make any meaningful progress.)

The problem of finding time to practice is basically the same as the problem of finding time to do any of the things that we would like to achieve in our lives. People who are well organized and form daily habits tend to be able to achieve far more in more areas of life than people who aren’t organized and let bad habits rob them of their time. Having a life that is unorganized and haphazard leads to unfulfilling lack of progress in music performance as well as making other areas of life difficult.

Our modern lives are complicated enough that we really need systems and tools at our disposal to help us. Its too hard to remember all the important things we need to remember day to day and hour to hour. Fortunately there are some incredibly valuable resources available from people who are experts in personal productivity, habits, and motivation.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

The most important resource I can tell you about is the book "Getting Things Done." Its a total life organizing, planning, productivity, and creativity system. “GTD” for short, the book helps you follow five steps to achieve more in your limited time.

1) Collect everything that needs your attention with a system that you fully trust because it does not rely on your memory.

2) Process everything that you have collected so you are clear what has to be done next on each task.

3) Organize everything into the right place so you can easily find your tasks and materials in an instant.

4) Review the entire system on a regular basis so nothing slips through the cracks.

5) Consistently act on your tasks at the right time, in the right context for maximum productivity.

If these steps seem like too much work, please read the book (or listen to the audio book, as I do while doing chores and exercising for increased productivity) and David will convince you that taking the time to do these simple steps will yield far better results than “winging it” by just acting on whatever you are thinking about at the moment, and better than using some lesser system where you are left with that nagging feeling that you are forgetting something important. Naturally, getting important things done quickly leaves more time available for that other very important thing: practicing!

Evernote (evernote.com)

This online note taking app works extremely well along with the GTD system. Once you learn the GTD system (or whichever organizing system you use) you can set up various notebooks and tags so that you can file and find everything you need in an instant. You can make a notebook for each of the “contexts” that the GTD system describes so you can decide which task is the most appropriate to work on at any given time. Evernote is a great tool for emptying your mind into one location so your brain is free to create. Refer to Evernote whenever you need to decide which task to do and you will find the answer quickly and without stressing about it.

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Get rid of your old, bad habits and create new, beneficial ones. This book explains a lot of the science behind why we have habits and reveals some very powerful steps to break the bad ones and establish good ones that enrich our lives. Have you ever thought, “I really should practice, but I’m actually going to watch a movie and eat cheesecake instead?” Of course you have . . . me too! Why do we slip into habits that don’t match up with what we say we want? This book will shed a lot of light on that question and will show you how to live more in alignment with your stated goals and values. Understanding how habits are built of “cues,” “routines,” and “rewards” makes it easier to design a set of habits you will follow for good. Wouldn’t it be great if you almost automatically picked up your guitar at the same time each day, without struggling to find the motivation? Forming a strong habit means not having to fight so hard day after day to do the things you know you should be doing.

James Clear’s Email Newsletters (JamesClear.com)

James Clear is a writer, entrepreneur, and photographer who has a great weekly newsletter covering the topic of personal productivity, motivation, habits, and other topics that can help a musician succeed. The articles are absolutely packed with ideas, habits, brain hacks, and new ways of thinking that help you achieve what you want. The writing is engaging and concise and is a wonderful little burst of motivation each week. James uses stories from great people’s lives, entrepreneurs, athletes, and other successful people to teach useful techniques to get things accomplished.

If you practice daily, using good practice techniques, you almost can’t help but improve quickly on the guitar. Its clearly the single most important thing for your progress as a guitarist. If you are struggling to find the time or the motivation to practice, please take a look at these four resources and consider implementing the ideas into your life. I would love to hear about other books, podcasts, websites, or other resources you have used to help you with personal productivity. Please share what has worked for you in the comments below!

Learn How To Put Fingerboard Tapes On Your Violin

Why Do People Use Fingerboard Tapes?

Photo credits Anna Ames

In this video, I'll show you how to put fingerboard tapes on your violin.  For a beginner, its important to know where to place your fingers for each of the notes because the fingerboard doesn't have any indication of where the notes are and it will be very frustrating to try to find them without a guide of some kind.  Most people use tapes for the first year or two of playing.  After that time, you should have developed ear skills and muscle memory that will let you know where the notes are without tapes.

Know Your Violin Size

To put tapes in the right spots, you need to know what size your violin is.  There are many sizes for young students, called "fractional sizes" up to full size for taller kids and adults.  There is usually a label inside the instrument that includes the size.  It will be listed as a fraction, like 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, or 4/4, which is just a strange way of saying "full size."

What You Need

All you need is a pencil, a ruler, and the tapes.  We suggest using StringClub fingerboard tapes that you can order on Amazon.  They are the best for a couple reasons.  I've seen students with various kinds of stickers on the fingerboard, like dots or other small stickers that only go in the middle of the fingerboard.  The problem with that is that the sticker doesn't go all the way across the width of the fingerboard, meaning that on the outer strings the student has to guess a bit about where the note is.

Considering Tapes for your violin? Buying our StringClub Violin Fingerboard Tapes sold on Amazon helps to support the website and allows us to continue to provide excited and unique content on the web.

Buy on Amazon Now

Our fingerboard tapes go all the way across the fingerboard, making it 100% clear where the note is.  Also, it is good to use these because you can feel where the edges of the tapes are, so you can find the spot just by feel instead of having to look.  That is good because a lot of the time your eyes will be busy reading music or looking at a conductor in an orchestra.  To feel where the note is, just slide the finger back and forth a bit and you'll sense exactly where to place the finger without needing to look.

Measure It Out

If you have StringClub fingerboard tapes, you can use the measuring card included to mark the correct spots on the fingerboard. 

Measuring card positioned correctly on fingerboard

     

Otherwise, look below for the measurements for your size of instrument, then measure it out from the nut.  That's the raised up ebony part where the string crosses over into the peg box.  Make sure you measure from the inside of the nut, on the side of the fingerboard, not the side that goes into the pegbox.

 

You will have to hold the ruler over the nut unless the ruler starts measuring from its edge.  

          

 

In this video, I'm putting tapes on a full size violin, so I'll make my first mark at 1 3/8 inches or 35 millimeters.  Put the ruler at the edge of the nut and measure out 1 3/8 inches or 35 millimeters.  Make a small mark with the pencil.  Continue to measure forward to 2 5/8 inches or 66 millimeters and make the 2nd spot.  The 3rd spot is at 3 1/8 inches or 80 millimeters.  The final mark should be made at 4 1/8 inches or 106 millimeters.

 

Place the Stickers on the Fingerboard

Peel the back off the tape and slide it under all four strings.  If its hard to get it under all of them, you can feed it under the strings by the bridge.  Make sure the tape is perfectly level, not slanting to one side or the other.         

Check With Tuner

Check the tuning to see how you did.  I use a tuner to see if the marks are at the right spot.  After tuning the A string precisely, when I play on the A string with my first finger on the first tape, it should show that I am playing B.  The tuner should show that the note B is in tune.  The second finger should be a C#.  The third finger should be a D.  The 4th finger should be an E.  If the tuner shows that one or more of the tapes does not make the correct pitch, feel free to move it slightly so the tuner shows it in tune.  There are many small factors that can make a pitch higher or lower including the set up of your violin, your playing technique, and the sensitivity of your tuner.

Measurement for the common sizes:

Full Size Violin (4/4)

Tape 1 = 35mm or 1 3/8 inches

Tape 2 = 66mm or 2 5/8 inches

Tape 3 = 80mm or 3 1/8 inches

Tape 4 = 106mm or 4 1/8 inches

 

3/4 Violin

Tape 1 = 32mm or 1 1/4 inches

Tape 2 = 61mm or 2 3/8 inches

Tape 3 = 75 mm or 2 7/8 inches

Tape 4 = 100 mm or 3 7/8 inches

 

1/2 Violin

Tape 1 = 28mm or 1 1/8 inches

Tape 2 = 54mm or 2 1/8 inches

Tape 3 = 68mm or 2 5/8 inches

Tape 4 = 91mm or 3 5/8 inches

 

1/4 Violin

Tape 1 = 25mm or 1 inch

Tape 2 = 48mm or 1 7/8 inches

Tape 3 = 60mm or 2 3/8 inches

Tape 4 = 79mm or 3 1/8 inches

Learn How To Put Fingerboard Tapes On Your Cello

To put fingerboard tapes on your cello, you need to know how to tune your instrument accurately.  Please watch our video called Tuning for Beginners so you can be sure your strings are in tune before starting.

Why Do People Use Fingerboard Tapes?

Photo credits Anna Ames

In this video, I'll show you how to put fingerboard tapes on your cello.  For a beginner, its important to know where to place your fingers for each of the notes because the fingerboard doesn't have any indication of where the notes are and it will be very frustrating to try to find them without a guide of some kind.  Most people use tapes for the first year or two of playing.  After that time, you should have developed ear skills and muscle memory that will let you know where the notes are without tapes.

 

What You Need

All you need is a pencil, a tuner, the tapes, and scissors if you need to cut the tapes yourself.  We suggest using StringClub fingerboard tapes that you can order on Amazon.  They are the best for a couple reasons.  I've seen students with various kinds of stickers on the fingerboard, like dots or other small stickers that only go in the middle of the fingerboard.  The problem with that is that the sticker doesn't go all the way across the width of the fingerboard, meaning that on the outer strings the student has to guess a bit about where the note is.

Considering Tapes for your cello? Buying our StringClub Cello Fingerboard Tapes sold on Amazon helps to support the website and allows us to continue to provide excited and unique content on the web.

Buy on Amazon Now

Our fingerboard tapes go all the way across the fingerboard, making it 100% clear where the note is. Also, it is good to use these because you can feel where the edges of the tapes are, so you can find the spot just by feel instead of having to look. That is good because a lot of the time your eyes will be busy reading music or looking at a conductor in an orchestra. To feel where the note is, just slide the finger back and forth a bit and you'll sense exactly where to place the finger without needing to look.

Marking the Locations for the Tapes

To make the marks, you'll need your tuner and a pencil.  Play the A string to confirm that it is precisely in tune.  Then put your first finger down on the A string where you think the first finger should go.  Play the note looking at the tuner and see if it reads "B."  Be careful that it is not saying "Bb."  Adjust your finger placement and play again and again until the tuner tells you the B is correct.  Most tuners will show the note in green or have a green background with B to show that it is in tune.  Leaving your finger right on that spot, take the pencil and mark the location of the mid point of your finger on the fingerboard between the G and D strings.

Place your second finger down and make sure the tuner reads "C#" also with the green indication of being in tune.  Make a mark on the fingerboard as before.  The third finger will be quite close to the 2nd finger mark as it reads in tune for the note "D."  Make another mark there.  Now you should have three small marks in the middle of the fingerboard.  When you place the tapes on the fingerboard, you should center the very middle of the tape onto the very center of the pencil mark.  When you play the note, you should center your finger right on the center of the tape and this procedure will line up the tape for accurate pitches.

Place the Stickers on the Fingerboard

Peel the back off the tape and slide it under all four strings. If its hard to get it under all of them, you can feed it under the strings by the bridge.  As stated above, line up the middle of the tape on the pencil mark rather than lining the edge of the tape on the mark.  Make sure the tape is perfectly level, not slanting to one side or the other.  When it looks level and in the right spot, press the tape down and press the excess length of tape down the sides of the neck.

          

Learn How To Put Fingerboard Tapes On Your Double Bass

To put fingerboard tapes on your double bass, you need to know how to tune your instrument accurately.  Please watch our video called Tuning for Beginners so you can be sure your strings are in tune before starting.

Why Do People Use Fingerboard Tapes?

Photo credits Anna Ames

In this video, I'll show you how to put fingerboard tapes on your bass.  For a beginner, its important to know where to place your fingers for each of the notes because the fingerboard doesn't have any indication of where the notes are and it will be very frustrating to try to find them without a guide of some kind.  Most people use tapes for the first year or two of playing.  After that time, you should have developed ear skills and muscle memory that will let you know where the notes are without tapes.

What You Need

All you need is a pencil, a tuner, the tapes, and scissors if you need to cut the tapes yourself.  We suggest using StringClub fingerboard tapes that you can order at Amazon.  They are the best for a couple reasons.  I've seen students with various kinds of stickers on the fingerboard, like dots or other small stickers that only go in the middle of the fingerboard.  The problem with that is that the sticker doesn't go all the way across the width of the fingerboard, meaning that on the outer strings the student has to guess a bit about where the note is.

Considering Tapes for your double bass? Buying our StringClub Double Bass Fingerboard Tapes sold on Amazon helps to support the website and allows us to continue to provide excited and unique content on the web.

Buy on Amazon Now

Our fingerboard tapes go all the way across the fingerboard, making it 100% clear where the note is.  Also, it is good to use these because you can feel where the edges of the tapes are, so you can find the spot just by feel instead of having to look.  That is good because a lot of the time your eyes will be busy reading music or looking at a conductor in an orchestra.  To feel where the note is, just slide the finger back and forth a bit and you'll sense exactly where to place the finger without needing to look.

Marking the Locations for the Tapes

To make the marks, you'll need your tuner and a pencil.  Play the G string to confirm that it is precisely in tune.  Then put your first finger down on the G string where you think the first finger should go.  Play the note looking at the tuner and see if it reads "A."  Be careful that it is not saying "Ab."  Adjust your finger placement and play again and again until the tuner tells you the A is correct.  Most tuners will show the note in green or have a green background with "A" to show that it is in tune.  Leaving your finger right on that spot, take the pencil and mark the location of the mid point of your finger on the fingerboard between the A and D strings.

Place your fourth finger down and make sure the tuner reads "B" also with the green indication of being in tune.  Make a mark on the fingerboard as before.   Next we need to move into third position.  This means to slide your hand down so that your first finger is lower than the B mark you just made.  Play a little past the B mark and play.  Watch the tuner and move so that you are on the note "C."  Place a mark at the mid point of the finger.  Then put the fourth finger down and play.  You should move until the tuner says you are playing "D."  Make the mark there.

Now you should have four small marks in the middle of the fingerboard.  When you place the tapes on the fingerboard, you should center the very middle of the tape onto the very center of the pencil mark.  When you play the note, you should center your finger right on the center of the tape and this procedure will line up the tape for accurate pitches.

Place the Stickers on the Fingerboard

Peel the back off the tape and slide it under all four strings.  If its hard to get it under all of them, you can feed it under the strings by the bridge.  As stated above, line up the middle of the tape on the pencil mark rather than lining the edge of the tape on the mark.  Make sure the tape is perfectly level, not slanting to one side or the other.  When it looks level and in the right spot, press the tape down and press the excess length of tape down the sides of the neck.

          

Learn How To Put Fingerboard Tapes On Your Viola

To put fingerboard tapes on your viola, you need to know how to tune your instrument accurately.  Please watch our video called Tuning for Beginners so you can be sure your strings are in tune before starting.

Why Do People Use Fingerboard Tapes?

Photo credits Anna Ames

In this video, I'll show you how to put fingerboard tapes on your viola.  For a beginner, its important to know where to place your fingers for each of the notes because the fingerboard doesn't have any indication of where the notes are and it will be very frustrating to try to find them without a guide of some kind.  Most people use tapes for the first year or two of playing.  After that time, you should have developed ear skills and muscle memory that will let you know where the notes are without tapes.

What You Need

All you need is a pencil, a tuner, the tapes, and scissors if you need to cut the tapes yourself.  We suggest using StringClub fingerboard tapes that you can order at Amazon.  They are the best for a couple reasons.  I've seen students with various kinds of stickers on the fingerboard, like dots or other small stickers that only go in the middle of the fingerboard.  The problem with that is that the sticker doesn't go all the way across the width of the fingerboard, meaning that on the outer strings the student has to guess a bit about where the note is.

Considering Tapes for your viola? Buying our StringClub Viola Fingerboard Tapes sold on Amazon helps to support the website and allows us to continue to provide excited and unique content on the web.

Buy on Amazon Now

Our fingerboard tapes go all the way across the fingerboard, making it 100% clear where the note is.  Also, it is good to use these because you can feel where the edges of the tapes are, so you can find the spot just by feel instead of having to look.  That is good because a lot of the time your eyes will be busy reading music or looking at a conductor in an orchestra.  To feel where the note is, just slide the finger back and forth a bit and you'll sense exactly where to place the finger without needing to look.

Marking the Locations for the Tapes

To make the marks, you'll need your tuner and a pencil.  Play the A string to confirm that it is precisely in tune.  Then put your first finger down on the A string where you think the first finger should go.  Play the note looking at the tuner and see if it reads "B."  Be careful that it is not saying "Bb."  Adjust your finger placement and play again and again until the tuner tells you the B is correct.  Most tuners will show the note in green or have a green background with B to show that it is in tune.  Leaving your finger right on that spot, take the pencil and mark the location of the mid point of your finger on the fingerboard between the G and D strings.

 

 

Place your second finger down and make sure the tuner reads "C#" also with the green indication of being in tune.  Make a mark on the fingerboard as before.  The third finger will be quite close to the 2nd finger mark as it reads in tune for the note "D."  Make another mark there.  Then stretch out the fourth finger, tune it to the note E, and make the mark.  Now you should have four small marks in the middle of the fingerboard.  When you place the tapes on the fingerboard, you should center the very middle of the tape onto the very center of the pencil mark.  When you play the note, you should center your finger right on the center of the tape and this procedure will line up the tape for accurate pitches.

Place the Stickers on the Fingerboard

Peel the back off the tape and slide it under all four strings.  If its hard to get it under all of them, you can feed it under the strings by the bridge.  As stated above, line up the middle of the tape on the pencil mark rather than lining the edge of the tape on the mark.  Make sure the tape is perfectly level, not slanting to one side or the other.  When it looks level and in the right spot, press the tape down and press the excess length of tape down the sides of the neck.

          

How Much Rosin Should I Use?

How Much Rosin is Enough?

The amount of rosin applied to the bow and how often you apply it can drastically affect the sound produced when you play. The purpose of the rosin is to help the hairs on the bow grab the string as it is drawn across, and to cause the string to vibrate, thereby producing the sound. In the early beginner stage, it is hard to know when you need more rosin, but as your technique develops, it will become very easy to tell when more is necessary. To apply rosin to the hair, tighten the bow as normal for playing, hold the rosin in the left hand and slide the hair on the rosin all the way from the frog to the tip and back, pushing the bow somewhat firmly into the rosin. Scratching the surface of brand new rosin with a key helps the rosin come off easier on the hair, so you can do that to make the process faster.

No Rosin

When a bow is used for the first time and there has never been rosin applied, the hairs will slip across the string without producing sound at all. You will need to put a lot of rosin on a new bow. Do 20 strokes back and forth, then test it on the string. Do another 20 and try again, until it seems like the right amount. When a student gets a new bow, I always encourage them to play a little bit without any rosin, just to feel how the bow slides across the string without resistance. That helps in understanding the feeling of not having enough rosin.

Not Enough Rosin

If your bow seems to be slipping across the string, not grabbing the string as you draw it across, or not producing an even, solid tone, you may need to apply more rosin. Usually the sound is weak, inconsistent, and airy. Some bows have hair that does not hold rosin well, or may need to be re-haired. With this type of bow, you can keep applying more rosin but still the bow makes a weak sound or slips across the string. Occasionally, lower quality bows will have hair that after a few months of use will not hold rosin at all. Normally, these bows need to be replaced completely, as a re-hairing may cost as much as replacing the bow.

Too Much Rosin

If there is too much rosin on the hair, the bow will feel sticky on the string, resist moving across the string smoothly, and will result in an uneven sound. You may also notice a cloud of dust coming off the hair, and sticky powder from the excess rosin collecting on the strings, landing on the surface of the instrument near the bridge and on the fingerboard.

The Right Amount

On average, you should apply a few (about 5) strokes of rosin before each practice session or performance. If you are practicing frequently or for many hours in a day you will find that you need more rosin more often. If you are not practicing much, you will go longer before more rosin is needed. If you are in doubt whether you need more rosin, then you should put some more rosin on the bow. If there is too much, the problem is easily handled by wiping the excess away, but students who routinely play with too little rosin learn bad bowing habits because they are playing with an unnecessary hardship they are not aware of. With too little rosin, the tendency is to squeeze the bow and push it harder than necessary into the string which can cause big problems with bowing in the long run.

Accumulation of rosin dust happens even with proper rosining practices, and it is important to always lightly wipe off excess rosin dust after each practice session. Keep a soft, lint-free cloth handy in your case for cleaning. My younger students often drop and break their rosin, resulting in a few larger pieces and many small ones. I advise them to keep the biggest part and throw the rest away. You can use the big piece for a long, long time, so you usually don't have to buy new rosin.