Flesh Out Your Style With Playalongs

The following is a guest-post by Ignacio of ig blog––if you like his stuff, consider subscribing!

IgnacioI can’t believe it’s already May. The month before June, the mid-year mark. “Where did half the year go,” you ask. It seems like just yesterday you were relaxing on Christmas day, cup of eggnog in hand, your new guitar gear unwrapped and laid out on the floor by the Christmas tree, your mind set on some serious guitar playing to be happening the following year — this year. So, you’re behind and in need of action.

Why don’t you try using playalongs? Also known as “jam tracks” or “backing tracks,” playalongs provide you with rhythm tracks of your favorite style of music for you to improvise over. Even if you’re not interested in becoming the next Steve Vai, chances are you definitely want to become a better player, develop your own style, and expand your creativity. Here’s how playalongs can help just about any guitar player:

YOUR OWN CANVAS: I know, you probably already play along to your favorite band, note by note. While this is a great learning tool, why limit yourself to their chord voicings and their solos? And why not give yourself more time to explore and improvise than a typical song’s length? A playalong is a great way for you to go beyond your routine, stretch out some, and start working on YOUR playing.

CONVENIENCE: Let’s face it, the best way to learn music is to play music, and you can’t do it all by your lonesome self. Even if you’re in a band, chances are your band mates are not willing to play back-up for you on demand. With playalongs, you have the luxury of practicing with a rhythm section day after day, anytime you wish, for any length of time.

PRACTICE VARIETIES: Playalongs can help you work on many skills in a practical way. Beginners can focus on exploring a few notes and learning to get a good, full sound. As skill level increases, you can work on melody and melodic development, chords, scales, arpeggios, time and feel, patterns, repetition, and licks. Advanced players can work on solo visualization and dynamics such as ups and downs, fast and slow sections, loud and soft passages, and tension and release sections.

THINK DIFFERENT: Do you ever get stuck doing the same thing in your playing? Maybe at times you want to go beyond the normal pentatonic and blues scales. Or, maybe you end up using the same notes to begin or end phrases, and you want to explore new ideas. Used with discipline and thought, playalongs let you apply new ideas, take liberty with them and test them out, and practice them until you have them down good.

FEED YOUR INNER EAR: I can’t say it enough: Creativity in your playing and improvisation comes only from your inner ear, that place in your head that you unconsciously hear and connects you to your guitar. Audiences, whether thousands packed in a stadium or just a couple of your friends, are not interested in how fast your fingers move or how much you play like so and so. Whatever you play, whether it’s a cover or your own songs, they want to hear the music in your mind.

Wanna take the inner ear concept up a notch? Try putting your guitar down at times and instead sing with the playalongs. It can be normal singing in the car or singing in your head. You can sing exercises, patterns and improvise. This is a great thing to do when you don’t have time to practice and you still want to work on building your inner ear.

OK, WHERE CAN I GET PLAYALONGS? Books for one. Visit online book retailers like Amazon.com and search their book section using keywords like “jam tracks” or “playalongs”. You’ll see lots of book/CD combos. You can also check out Hal Leonard, which is probably the biggest publisher of playalong material and features some of the best rhythm sections in the biz. There are also online sites that offer CDs or MP3 downloads. Lately I’ve seen a lot of buzz coming from Truefire.com. You can also check out my blog, Ig Blog, where I post a free downloadable MP3 playalong each week along with improvisation tips.

TOOLS: There are many ways to work with playalongs. The easiest is to place your CD player or loudspeaker MP3 player (or computer speakers) close to your amp and jam away. You can also look into dedicated playalong devices like Tascam’s  CD trainer or portable MP3 trainer. A headphone approach allows you to practice late at night when your peeps are sleeping. There are many other tools to use with playalongs, and you can find more tips and ideas at Ig Blog’s playalong page.

Whatever type of music you play or experience level, I encourage you to use playalongs to help you grow as a guitar player and musician. Everyone has the ability to play great guitar, from the youngest kid to the senior citizen. All that is needed is desire, discipline, and practice. If you incorporate a healthy routine of daily practice that includes playalongs, I guarantee that you’ll see results. Give it a try and, above all, have fun!

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Ig Blog, www.igblog.wordpress.com, provides all guitarists with inspiration, education, insights and ideas through the eyes of everyday guitar player, teacher and writer Ignacio Gonzalez.