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How to Play Slide Guitar: The Essential Secrets!

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Whether you are a total beginner with the guitar slide, or a pro, it’s always good to refresh your approach, refine your technique, and sharpen the nuances of your playing to ensure you’re at the top of your game.  From my experience performing, recording, and teaching slide guitar, I have developed some simple methods that will help you improve tone, touch, and control, and will save you months of practice if you develop these good habits from the beginning.

The key is gaining control.  If you are properly holding the slide and lightly anchoring your sliding hand to the back of the neck, you will be able to easily gauge the slide’s pressure on the strings.  It will also be much easier to keep the notes in tune and develop reliable visual references on the fretboard.

The following video lesson is an excerpt from my new instructional video series, “Slide Technique for the 6-String in Standard Tuning,” which covers these slide guitar essentials in detail.  If you enjoy the excerpt, the full instructional series is available on DVD or Digital Download at: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html.

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive, and don’t forget to click the “FOLLOW” button on the right of this page to stay up-to-date with new articles from Roots Music School!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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Building Community… One Guitar at a Time: Interview with MRWS Instruments

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      While following my own passion for Roots Music and homemade Roots instruments around the world, I often run into other builders, players, and enthusiasts who are committed to offering their time and talents to expanding the limits of the Roots Music Revival and the Folk Art traditions that encircle it.  During my last Australian tour, I met Mark Wilmot, a talented luthier and pioneer in the global Roots Instrument scene.  Wilmot epitomizes the concept that the right combination of humility, talent, honesty, and community-minded work will resonate with a market of artists, crafters, and music lovers.  What began as a hobby of building instruments at home for friends grew quickly into a full-time job, and gave rise to three separate companies..  MRWS Instruments, which offers an extensive array of guitar parts and accessories in support of the burgeoning global community of Roots Instrument builders, as well as sister companies Raven Box Guitars and Mortal Coil Pickups.  Here’s what Mark has to say about how he got started and how he turned his love of music and woodworking into a business that serves as an oasis for those seeking quality parts, beautiful guitars, and some of the coolest looking electric guitar pickups available.
Check out www.MRWSinstruments.com

1518022_10151963887711594_4209129384511656810_nQ: What first inspired you to start building guitars?
A: You know what? I’m going to have to be honest about this: I haven’t a clue. At the very least, I don’t remember the catalyst. I do remember my first build, though: a paint can diddley-bow. And the only reason I built that was because I hadn’t built one. In general, I’ve always enjoyed building whatever I can build. From the first time that I picked up a guitar at thirteen years old, I knew I’d eventually build one. So I guess what inspired me to keep making them was the immediate interest from others to make them one as well.

Q: What defines your style of instrument building?
A: I love wood. Yeah, that’s right, you heard me. There are some amazingly beautiful timbers in Australia and I love to showcase them in my builds. All of my necks are between three and seven laminations and of at least two timber species. I also put a lot of emphasis on the shape of my heels.
Timber plays an integral role in guitar building, not only in sound but also in general aesthetics. I’m very specific about how things sound. I spend a lot of time on setting up my instruments to make sure I get the action and intonation as close to perfect as possible.

11953031_907150065987900_2458301380363072326_nQ: Your instruments seem to be designed from a player’s point of view. Do you have a background in musical performance?
A: I was in a few bands when I was younger. I was never a professional, but I understood how the instrument I was playing worked and I knew from the first time I built a fretted 3 string guitar that the intonation was going to be an issue. The action was never a problem, but in my first few creations, I just couldn’t get the intonation right. So it was the bridge that was letting me down. To combat this problem I developed a multi-piece timber bridge that allowed me to move each section to get the right compensation for each string. This only worked for me up to a point as I tend to be heavy handed when I hit the strings, which gave the bridge a tendency to move. Then I had some electric guitar bridges manufactured for 3 and 4 string instruments. I do believe there are others who now stock this as well.

Three_String_bridge_chrome_5__70699.1418194937.1280.1280Q: What inspired you to make the leap from building guitars, to distributing parts and kits?
A: Australia is a long way away from anything. Depending on what and how you purchase parts from overseas, shipping can be exorbitant. I knew there were other builders in my part of the world, and if I was having this shipping dilemma, they were as well. This is the reason I chose to start MRWS. This way I could keep the prices on parts and shipping affordable.  The first few items I stocked were kits, machine heads, and various guitar electronics. The kits were a natural progression from selling parts. There’s nothing better than having all the parts you’re after available in one place without going on a treasure hunt.

Q: I find that the guitar parts you sell through MRWS Instruments are affordable, but not “cheap” in quality. What process of quality control do you go through before offering your parts for sale?
A: I sample all of the parts that I stock before they’re available on my site, and I rigorously test them. If they don’t make the cut, I don’t order them. Simple.

Q: By distributing parts around the world to luthiers, you must see trends come and go. Where do you see the guitar building market going?
A: When I started MRWS, I was met with a fair amount of resistance from some already in the industry. Was this because the industry was too small, maybe only a trend itself? Luckily, no. It has grown quite a lot since I began. Certainly the needs of builders change, whether they are building cigar box guitars or 3, 4 or 6 string solid bodies, resonators, kalimbas or amplifiers. I do my best to add products as I see the industry evolve, as well as my own needs as a builder. I always try to keep the core parts for beginners as well as the more seasoned CBG builders. Regardless of where the market wanders, I hope to always be a part of it.


11873715_10155931587250052_6834264614185151690_nQ: You offer some amazing hand-wound custom pickups through your brand, “Mortal Coil.” Tell me a little bit about how this brand came to be, and what you offer through your line of pickups.
A: Like I stated before, I love making stuff. I made a conscious effort to build an entire guitar from scratch. This included the electronics. Unfortunately I don’t have the foundry to turn ore into metal, but I can make some of the components from already manufactured parts. I also have a lot of timber off-cuts and I tend to horde the nicer species. There’s only so much room in a person’s workshop, so I used the smaller of these off-cuts to make the bobbins for the pickups. After winding a few for myself and finding that they were successful in making the sound I was after, I thought I’d make a few more and offer them to the public to see what happened. I’m glad I did. I’m only offering single coil pups at the moment, but I am developing both humbuckers and low-profile pickups.

And the brand name? Mortal Coil just sounds cool.

Q: What advice would you give to luthiers who are just starting out building their own stringed instruments?
A: Make it your own. Take time to evolve your techniques. Don’t rush. Focus on the sound, not the look. It should be an instrument first and art second. There’s nothing worse than spending time and money on the finished look of a guitar, only to end up with an unplayable wall hanging.  Keep your first build. It will be a reminder. Both good and bad.

Thanks for reading, and for being part of keeping the Roots alive!  If you like this blog, please SHARE.. and click FOLLOW at the top right of this page.
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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Twelve-Bar Blues for the 3-String Guitar: Explanations, Chords Charts, Video, and More…

If you have ever heard of the term, “Twelve-bar Blues,” there is a good reason… it is not only the most popular chord progression in Blues music, but it is the most popular chord progression in popular music in general.  The term “twelve-bar” refers to the length of chord progression; it is 12 bars (or measures) long.

Simple Twelve-Bar Blues
While there are many variations to this simple concept, all of the variations stem from a simple, three-chord progression that is 12 measures long.  The three chords in this example in the key of G are: G, C, and D.  On the 3-String guitar in Open G tuning, the G is played simply by strumming all three strings in the open position, the C is played by barring all three strings at the 5th fret, and the D is played by barring all three strings at the 7th fret.

In this example, there are 4 beats per measure, and I’ve broken the 12 bars into 3 sets of four measures.  To hear a musical example of this progression, and play along, you can watch and refer to the accompanying video with this article.

Simple 12 bar Blues in G for 3 string cigar box Guitar

“Stormy Monday” Progression
While the simple, three chord progression above is the backbone of countless classic songs like “Crossroads,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Dust My Broom,” there eventually comes a time when you want to add a little more harmonic complexity to the twelve-bar progression.  To me, the best example of a more complex, and “Jazzy” arrangement of a twelve-bar Blues progression is the T-Bone Walker original, “Stormy Monday.”  You can look closely at the chord changes in this song, and see close similarities to the simple twelve-bar progression… in fact, other than the addition of the “7th” voicing for the chords, the first 6 measures are exactly the same.  The characteristic difference starts in measure 7, adding a very distinct and tasteful variation on the original chord progression.

Again, to hear musical examples of this progression on the 3-string guitar, just watch the accompanying video with this lesson.  Below the chord progression for “Stormy Monday,” is a collection of chord voicings that will work well together in the context of this arrangement.

Stormy Monday 12 bar Blues in G for 3 string cigar box Guitar

Once you learn the progressions on these charts, make sure you watch the accompanying video with this lesson.  It will dive deeper into how you can add more complex rhythms, fingerpicking techniques, and balking bass lines to make the “Stormy Monday,” progression come to life.  …and don’t stop there, look around RootsMusicSchool.org, and check out some of the other lessons, many of them are walkthroughs of other twelve-bar Blues songs like “Dust My Broom,” and a variation of the twelve-bar progression with “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

Please click “FOLLOW” on this blog if you want new lessons sent straight to your email inbox.
Keep Pickin’!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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Classic Melodies on the Godfather of American Roots Instruments – The One-String Diddley Bow

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The One-String Diddley Bow is an American Roots instrument with only one string, and is usually played with some form of a guitar slide.  It is the simplest form of a guitar, with some examples consisting of little more than a string and a stick.  However, the significance of these instruments on Roots and Rock & Roll music cannot be understated.  Because the diddley bow is so easy to make, it was often the first musical instrument performed on, by the legends of Blues and Rock music such as B.B. King, Lightning Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, and Bo Diddley (who took his stage name from the diddley bow).  Because the diddley bow is so rudimentary, it is the perfect guitar teacher… forcing you to make a lot of music with one single string.  This eventually teaches you how to make more with less, and create more distinct and captivating music.

I was recently asked if I could create some tablature for the one-string diddley bow for two classic melodies, “Amazing Grace,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  These two melodies are perfect introductions for both learning to play the diddley bow, and learning to read tablature.  The melodies are so recognizable, that most people could easily sing them note-for-note from memory, and the range of each song fits nicely on a diddley bow (which has about a two octave range).  Most importantly, though, is the power that these melodies have to move people, cause them to reflect, and bring them together… and that is the true power of a deeply moving melody!

In case you are not familiar with the concept of tablature (tabs), let me give you a quick explanation…  Tablature is a type of written musical notation that indicates the position of each note on the instrument, rather than giving a specific pitch for each note in the melody.  It is perfect for an instrument like the one-string diddley bow, because it can be hard to tune the open string of a rudimentary diddley bow to a specific, determined pitch, therefore, making it hard to hit a defined set of notes.  Instead, the tablature gives you the number of the fret, or fret marker, to indicate the pitches.  This enables you to learn the melody once, and it will automatically be transposed into whatever key your diddley bow is tuned to.

In the tablature below, the melody is indicated by the chromatic fret position of each.  Above each note are the corresponding lyrics.  These tabs are arranged this way in case you are not familiar with reading rhythmic notation.  The notes correspond to the specific lyrics associated with them, giving the notes a rhythmic context.

Okay, now that the academic stuff is over with, it’s time to learn some music!  Below, I have a simple arrangement of each song, written out in tab form.  Then, I have a video of me performing the song based on that original arrangement.

I would like to thank Peter Murphy of Blind Kiwi Blues (www.BlindKiwiBlues.com) who built the one-string diddley bow that I use in these videos, and Rocky Mountain Slide Company (www.RockyMountainSlides.com) who designed and crafted the ceramic tonebar that I use in the “Amazing Grace” video.

Thanks for reading, and click the “FOLLOW” button on this blog to get the newest articles sent straight to’ya!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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AMAZING GRACE TABS



SSB TABS


If you are interested in diving deeper into the playing techniques, songs, and Roots music techniques that are associated with the one-string diddley bow, check out my Instructional Video Series on the diddley bow, available on DVD or via Digital Download HERE!

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“Dust My Broom” 3-String & 4-String Lesson ~ Slide and Fretted Arrangements

In this lesson, I teach a beginner arrangement of Elmore James’s, “Dust My Broom,” for the 3-string and 4-string guitar.  While this song was originally recorded by Robert Johnson on solo acoustic guitar, it was the Elmore James version on the electric guitar that really emblazoned it onto every Blues band’s set list till the end of time!  The slide guitar riff that opens the song, and is repeated throughout James’ version, has become one of the most significant and influential slide guitar riffs in history, forever assuring his status as a true legend of the Blues.

 

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~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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“Hoochie Coochie Man” 3-String & 4-String Lesson ~ Slide and Fretted Arrangements

The rhythm guitar riffs in “Hoochie Coochie Man” introduce some of the most important and fundamental Blues Guitar techniques, such as call-and-response, muting, rhythmic syncopation, 12-bar-Blues, and more.  Hope you enjoy it!

 

Thanks for your support, and please click “FOLLOW” on this blog,
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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3-String Guitar Lesson – Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”

Pink Floyd’s song “Wish You Were Here” is a true Rock & Roll masterpiece!  It’s one of those songs that has been so firmly planted into the world’s musical consciousness that it’s hard to think of a world before it.  The intro guitar riff is one of the first riffs I ever learned on guitar, and David Gilmore’s acoustic guitar solo at the beginning of this song might as well have written the rule-book for classic rock acoustic guitar solos.

Aside from being an amazing song to listen to, this song is the perfect etude for learning the fundamentals of guitar technique, whether it be on a conventional 6-string or, in this case, the 3-string guitar.  The intro teaches you chord/melody playing, the solo teaches you the fundamental techniques behind string bending, string sliding, hammer-ons, and pull-offs, and the chord changes include some of the most commonly used open chord voicings.

Enjoy the lesson, and click “FOLLOW” to get new articles sent directly to your inbox!
~Justin Johnson

VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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What is the Best Way to Learn Guitar?

What the best way to learn guitar

One of the questions I get asked the most in my guitar workshops is, “What is the best way to learn how to play guitar?”  It is such a simple question, but it is one that has so many possible answers, each one being just as true as the other.  So.. how do I answer?  I tell them that the best way to learn the 6-string guitar is by learning the 3-string guitar.

There are countless guitar legends that started out on homemade guitars, most of them only had a few strings and were built out of found objects, or pieces of old, broken instruments.  Jimi Hendrix started out on a one-string Ukulele, Bo Diddley started out on a Cigar Box Guitar… so did Lightning Hopkins, B.B. King, Elmore James… the list goes on and on.  Not only do you not have to learn guitar on a 6-string, but it can be liberating, inspiring, and more fun to start on a Roots Instrument like the 3-string guitar.  Plus, it is a much more affordable investment for a beginner.

Learning to play 3-string guitar is just as valuable, whether you are a total beginner or have been playing for years.  Let me tell you why…

Total Beginner?

1) It is easier to begin to learn guitar on 3 strings!  I find that the #1 reason beginners stop playing is because is it hard to have fun on the 6-string guitar the first day you pick it up.  The 3-string guitar, tuned to an open tuning, can make music without the guitarist even fretting a note.  Every time I put a 3-string guitar in a kid’s hands, and they hit that first chord, it puts a smile on their face, because they have already made their first “music!”

2) The 3-string guitar teaches you the muscle memory that you need to play the 6-string.  When a beginner learns to play on a 3-String, they are still learning the proper left and right hand technique they will need to play the 6-string.  They still build callouses on their fretting fingers, they still develop proper strumming and picking techniques, and they still build the musculature in their fretting hand that will help them push the strings down.  The benefit with a 3-string is that these challenges are less frustrating, and allow the player to have more fun and get more instant gratification than they would if they were trying to juggle 6 strings throughout this developmental stage.

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3) You can still play all of the same songs on the 3-string, it’s just simpler.  It is possible to play the same songs on the 3-string, but the arrangements are generally simpler and less intimidating.  Most chord changes can be simplified and broken down into one-finger chords.  These chords may not be as lush as a 6-note chord, but they will give the player the enjoyment of being able to strum their favorite chord changes, while building up their fretting hand muscles.  Learning barre chords (chords where you lay your index finger down across multiple stings) can be the most frustrating stage in a beginner guitarist’s development… But the 3-string makes this process fun and much less painful!

4) You learn music, not patterns.  This is the one I love the most!  If you learn on an instrument like the 3-string guitar, you will be learning how to develop your own sound, style, voice, and patterns much more so than if you learn on a traditional 6-string.  You will have to learn how to use the entire fretboard, not just the first 5 frets.  You will have to learn open tunings, not just standard tuning.  You will have to learn how to make your own arrangements of songs instead of learning songs and riffs note-by-note.  In a sense, you will be learning how to play like yourself instead of learning to play like someone else. Moving on to play 6 strings will be a very easy transition from the 3-string.  All you will have to do is learn some new patterns and chord shapes, but your fingers will be stronger, they will have more stamina, they will be know how to strum and pick, they will know how to run up and down the fretboard… and you will have had more fun along the way!

Already a Proficient Guitarist?

When I got my first guitar, I devoured every lesson book, tab book, DVD, concert video, and dexterity exercise I could find!  I studied the classic riffs and tones that were accepted as traditional, acceptable, and cool.  I learned the right bends for the right Rock song, the right pickup setting for the right Country twang, and the right vibrato for the right Blues moan… but I missed something else completely…  I wasn’t listening to myself enough.  I had learned so many traditional ways of playing that I wasn’t breaking outside of my comfort zone and creating sounds that had never been made before.

The day I picked up my first Cigar Box Guitar, I had no idea how to play it.. I didn’t know how it was tuned, it wasn’t properly intonated so it could only be played with a slide, and I had never heard anything with that kind of tone before.  It ripped me out of my comfort zone and took me straight to the edge of my ability.  It made be rethink the way I approached guitar and the fretboard patterns I was used to.  It took away all of my safety nets, and made me have to become a musician, not just a guitarist… and it was the best lesson I ever got!

In Other Words…

From one guitar player to another, roots instruments such as the 1-string diddley bow and the 3-string or 4-string guitar are the best personal trainer I have ever found for 6-string guitar.  If you try one, buy one, build one, or have one hanging on a wall, tune it up, and watch these videos.  You’ll be happy you did!

Keep on Pickin’, and don’t forget to click “Follow” on this blog to catch future articles!
~Justin Johnson

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How To Read Scale Diagrams …and Why?

BLOG IMAGE SCALE DIAGRAM EXPLAINAION

HOW TO READ SCALE DIAGRAMS …AND WHY?
by Justin Johnson
www.JustinJohnsonLive.com

Recently, I have been asked by several people, “How do you read a scale diagram?”  The easiest way to learn how to read a scale diagram is to first understand a few simple concepts about what scales are, how they are used, and why fretboard diagrams help.

1) What is a scale? 

A scale is a series of notes that, together, create a distinct harmonic feel and mood.  A scale differs from a chord in that a scale is a series of notes played one-at-a-time, while a chord is a combination of notes played all at once.

2) Why make a diagram, why not just write out the notes? 

Short Answer:  It’s easier!

Long Answer:  The guitar, by nature, is a very visual instrument.  The visual pattern that a scale’s notes make on the fretboard can be memorized, and then shifted up and down the fretboard.  This makes it extremely easy to transpose a song or melody into a different key, simply by moving the visual scale pattern up or down the neck.  For example, if you know a scale pattern for the G Major Scale and you want to play the A Major Scale… all you have to do is take that same pattern and move it up 2 frets.  This way, you are not having to think about the intervals of the scale, the sharps and flats, or the other seemingly endless hurdles involved with transposing to a different key.

3) Why are some dots on the diagram filled in, and others aren’t?

Those dots are filled in to indicate the “root note” of the scale.  The root note is the note that the scale is based off of, for example in the G Major Scale, the note “G” would be the root note.  Similarly, “D” would be the root note of the D Minor Pentatonic Scale.  If you have a scale pattern that has a root note on the lowest string, you could shift that pattern up and down the fretboard, and whatever note the shaded-in dot (root note) lands on, will be the root note of that particular scale.

——-

Now that we have some basic questions answered, let’s look at a couple of different types of fretboard diagrams.  In Figure 1, you will see three scale diagrams.  They are all diagrams for the same scale, the G Major Scale (Notice how both Scale Position Diagrams could be overlain onto the complete scale diagram on the left).  The diagram on the left shows a visual outlay of every note in the G Major Scale from the nut to the 12th fret.  This type of diagram is very helpful when you are wanting to see every available note on the fretboard for a given scale.

But what if you want to play the scale from start to finish in a specific region of the fretboard?  The first diagram isn’t very helpful for that purpose, so we will have to use a “scale position” diagram.  These diagrams have less dots, but they don’t repeat any notes, giving you a useful pattern for playing the notes in the scale sequentially and comfortably on the fretboard from the lowest note to the highest in that position.  Start at the lowest note one the lowest string, and work your way up.  Play each note sequentially on the low string, then move the lowest note on the next string, and so on, until you reach the highest note in the diagram.  Then go back down the scale, playing each note one-at-a-time in descending order.

The second scale digram in Figure 1 is the G Major Scale Pattern in Open Position, meaning that you can play this scale pattern from lowest note to highest note taking advantage of open strings without moving your fretting hand uncomfortably from that open position.

The third scale diagram is the G Major Scale in 5th Fret Position with the root note on the second string.  This diagram gives you a pattern for playing the G Major scale one note at a time, without having to uncomfortably move from that position around the 5th fret.

To sum thing up, scales are very useful in that they give you a harmonic “backbone” with which to flesh out your melodies.  If you know what you want your melody to “feel like” you can pick a scale that has a similar vibe and, BAM!  You have a starting point… a pattern of notes that will help you turn your “feel” into a song!  These are not rules, just helpful patterns.  If you practice scales regularly, you will learn valuable muscle memory and begin to build up a harmonic memory that you can rely on to guide your note selection when improvising or writing melodies and riffs.

Thanks for keeping the roots alive!  …and don’t forget to click the “FOLLOW” link on the right side of this page to get new lessons send straight to your email!
~Justin Johnson
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If you like this lesson, but would like more in-depth explanations and tutorials on Roots Music, Guitar, Slide Guitar, and more…  Check out my Instructional Video Series on Roots Music, available on DVD or via Digital Download at: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com

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