Keep It Clean

This month I would like to talk about my second piece of advice for guitarists. A concept called keeping it clean. Simply put it refers to proper note execution on the guitar. As a beginner guitar player many of us have a healthy enthusiasm and desire to play the instrument. So we will pick up the guitar, plug into an amp, turn up the gain and rock out. The result being a slightly or very out of tune guitar yielding amplified string noise. Experienced guitarists can pick up on this instantly and easily identify the sound as one from a novice player.

This is where some humility and basic technique can help. Playing with passion is important. However, being in tune, playing in time, and having good technique is equally as important. I was fortunate to study with a great classical guitarist named David Oakes. He said something that I still remember to this day. “Speed is a byproduct of accuracy.” In other words, learn to play a musical passage or phrase perfectly at a slow tempo then work on playing it faster. If one chooses not to do this they usually end up playing really fast, sloppy, mistake laden guitar. So let’s choose to take the time today and everyday to develop and maintain good technique. Here are some examples to get started.

Ex.1 focuses on the picking hand and is strictly an open string exercise. Use a metronome and start with a slow tempo. Play this with different rhythmic variations (quarter, eighth, and sixteenth notes). Try it with downstrokes, upstrokes and alternate picking. Once this feels comfortable you can increase the tempo for more of a challenge.


The following two examples are warm up exercises using chromaticism. They involve both the fret and pick hands and should be played with alternate picking.


The last example (Ex. 4) outlines a C chord. Make sure to hold all fretted notes down and be careful not to mute adjacent strings.


Next time we will talk about position playing and navigating the fretboard.

Sav Izzi is a guitar instructor, songwriter, and musician based in Chicago, IL. He currently performs with the Chicago funk, rock, and soul group BabyBrutha.

Sav Izzi