Learning the guitar is awesome. After learning the instrument for over 15 years, I continually learn new things and new ways to apply things I have previously learned. One of the greatest things about being human is continuously growing and improving, and the guitar is a great pathway to that experience.
You can separate guitar players into roughly three categories:
- People learning guitar (including learning songs)
- People teaching guitar
- People writing their own music
Most guitar players fall into more than one category. Some guitar players move between categories as they develop.
I’ve been in all three, and I found that having the right tools has helped me make better progress, faster.
Three of my favourite tools for learning, recording and teaching guitar are:
- Guitar Pro
- Logic Pro
- Neck Diagrams
and here is why:
Guitar Pro allows you to write tabs on your computer and also play them back. It has a comprehensive set of features that make it great for all sorts of different situations.
What you can use Guitar Pro for
My favourite use of Guitar Pro for learning guitar is playing back songs. This helps me associate a sound with the tab on the screen. The playback tool is especially useful for getting the rhythm correct. If you want to get a rhythm correct from just reading tab, you have to be able to reliably and consistently read rhythm notation. Now, this is something you can do, and it would be a good thing for your musical skills to learn it, but it does take time. Being able to hit ‘spacebar’ and have guitar pro play it back for you is crazy useful.
Think of it like this. Find a friend / partner near by and have them clap a complicated rhythm to you. You can probably clap the rhythm back quite easily with a few attempts. If you have to read that rhythm from rhythm notation… how long would it take you to get it right?
Writing out tab is also great for learning classical crossover pieces. When I am learning a crossover piece, like Bach’s Cello Suites, or The Four Seasons, I write out the guitar part in Guitar Pro. This gives me a guitar specific way to think about the music.
One of the challenges with reading notation on guitar, is that each note can be played in several different places. This means, when reading music, you have to keep the total context of the surrounding bars in mind. Which is challenging! It is much easier to write out the guitar part in Guitar Pro, and
That is one of the reasons Guitar Pro is such an important piece of software for guitarists.
Writing Your Ideas Down
Guitar Pro is great for songwriting. When I wrote my first album, I would record my riffs into Logic Pro, and play around with them as I developed them. I would sometimes revisit a riff or idea a few months after I had initially recorded it… and find that I had forgotten how to play the idea! Having a tab to hand would have made it a lot easier to figure out my my ideas again. Now I tab my ideas out as I come up with them.
Guitar Pro can also help you get your ideas tight.
What does it mean to be tight? You have to know which part of the beat every single note falls on. The best way to do this, is to write out the parts in Guitar Pro. You can then figure out the count for each part of a riff and practice to a metronome to get those parts super tight.
And finally… if you send your bandmates a tab of the parts they have to play, they have 0 excuse for not showing up to rehearsals 100% prepared.
If songwriting is a new idea for you, then you need to read a beginners guide to songwriting.
If you are doing classical crossover, then Guitar Pro is great for writing out the piece you are learning. When I made transcriptions of Bach’s 1st and 2nd cello suites for guitar, I used Guitar Pro tow write out the music.
Collaborating / Sending Songs to Other Musicians
Guitar Pro is amazing for collaborating with other musicians. Guitar Pro allows you to send tabs to the other musicians in your band, so that they can learn their parts properly. This crosses over a bit from ‘Writing Your Ideas Down’ – when you have a song written out in Guitar Pro, and someone joins your band… you can send them the Guitar Pro file to learn from. There is no excuse for future bands members / auditions where people do not know their parts properly, when you have Guitar Pro.
Teaching / Education
If you are a guitar teacher, then Guitar Pro will allow you to create professional looking tabs and chord charts, that you can use with your students. Before using Guitar Pro, I would write tabs out on MS Word, which looks awful.
Also… I would rather press “print” than write a tab out… over and over again!
If you are a student or studying guitar, then being able to write exercises and ideas out in tab is very useful.
Guitar Pro features
Here are some of my favourite features from Guitar Pro:
Notation of Articulation Techniques
In Guitar Pro, you can notate any sort of articulation technique that you can think of. Legato, slides, bends, tapping, whammy bar, harmonics – it has it all, and more.
With bends you can accurately program the exact pitch you are bending to, or pre-bending from. You can also program the pitch for whammy bars accurately.
Writing Rhythm and Slash Notation
Guitar Pro also allows you to write a huge amount of different rhythms. As well as all the standard stuff like custom time signatures, different sub-divisions, dotted notes and triplets, you can do more advanced stuff such as program a 7:8 group of notes and ghost notes.
When working with a strumming progression, you can set Guitar Pro to “rhythm only”. Then rather than having a chord written out in tab, you have the chord written out with the slash notation for the rhythm underneath.
I love this feature. You can play back anything written in Guitar Pro. Obviously… it doesn’t have the greatest sound quality. But, it allows you to hear the rhythm exactly. Which is very, very useful!
This is especially useful for learning a song. You can quickly play back a specific part of the song that you are listening to, so you can hear the rhythm that is written on the tab.
You can solo specific tracks, solo some tracks and not others, or play back everything. This is great for isolating a specific part that you are working on, to help you focus.
You can loop a section, play it back at half speed, three quarter speed etc; or, you can ever put it on a speed trainer, which is where the loop starts at a slower speed and gradually speeds up each repetition.
This makes navigating around the tab very easy. Song sections are a label, such as “A Intro”, “B Verse”, “C”; that you can use to label the different sections of your tab.
This makes it very easy to see the big picture structure when you are looking at a tab, to find a particular section quickly, and it also makes communicating with other musicians much easier, “hey guys, let’s to the B section”.
Multi Track View
When you are writing harmony parts, you have to be thinking about two different instruments at once (obviously!). Guitar Pro allows you to view multiple tracks at once, or, just a single track. This is super useful for writing harmony parts.
While the notation editor isn’t as powerful as something like Sibelius or Finale, it is enough to get started writing parts for other instruments. It takes a little getting used to, but it works.
While the software is called Guitar Pro, it can handle other instruments. You can enter notes for other instruments directly into standard notation. This is great for adding orchestral instruments to your songs.
You can export Guitar Pro files to PDF, JPEG, Music XML and other formats. Exporting to JPEG is great for putting tabs up on a website. Guitar Pro PDFs are great for printing tabs off (either for your guitar students, as notes for the studio, or other) and Music XML is pretty useful for Sibelius. If you are writing a piece of music for guitar and orchestral instruments, writing the guitar parts in Guitar Pro and importing them into Sibelius might be useful.
While Sibelius is killer at standard notation, it does suck with guitar tab (or at least, I suck at entering guitar tab on Sibelius!). Vice verse, Guitar Pro is killer for entering guitar tab FAST and with all the guitar specific articulation you could want, but is a lot weaker with orchestral instruments (not that you can’t get by).
While you won’t be able to import all the specific articulation from Guitar Pro to Sibelius, you can get 90% of the guitar parts into Sibelius, so you can work faster on the orchestral instruments.
This is how I wrote the song “Longing” from my record, Impetuous Desire.
Logic Pro / GarageBand
Having a decent way to record yourself is vital for making demos of your music, and can also help you when you are learning. Sometimes when you are playing guitar, you can be so focussed on playing that you don’t critically listen to what you are doing. Recording yourself and playing back can help you discover mistakes that need correcting.
The software for doing this is called a DAW – Digital Audio Workstation.
The simplest recording platform is Audacity, but for a musician, it is not enough. You need software that has an “arrangement” window. Something where you can move sound files around.
Being a mac guy, I like Logic Pro and GarageBand. Garageband is free and usually comes pre-installed on a mac. It has a pretty powerful interface and set of features and is pretty good for throwing down a demo. One huge drawback, is that you cannot program time signatures manually into GarageBand. You can get around this, by writing out a blank instrument in Guitar Pro with the time signature changes you want, exporting that into a MIDI file, and Importing that MIDI into GarageBand.
It’s a bit clunky, but it works.
Another limitation of GarageBand is that it doesn’t do very much with effects.
If you have the money, I would recommend Logic Pro. It is an insanely powerful piece of software and is industry standard for recording and editing music. It has some pretty great features:
- Change tempo / time signature / key signature
- Record more tracks than you could ever want to use
- Automation for panning, track volume and all sorts of other things
I used Logic Pro extensively for the songwriting demos of Impetuous Desire.
Here are some of my favourite features:
Logic Pro Features
Record multiple takes and “comp” together a take
I love this. For example, rather than record each take of a guitar solo to a different track, you record all the tracks of a guitar solo (or vocal part of whatever) to the same section of a single track. Logic then create a ‘dropdown’ arrow on the recorded file where you can see all the takes. You then drag and select the piece of each take that you want.
Doing this, you can take the best bit of dozens of different takes to build the ‘perfect’ take that you want. Pretty cool.
MIDI instruments and editor
Logic Pro has a pretty powerful MIDI editor built in, that lets you edit all sorts of information on a MIDI file. It has a drag and drop editor for editing the notes too.
Drummer in a Box
If you aren’t very good at writing drum parts, then this is a real doozy. Logic Pro has a sort of ‘AI’ that will program drums for you. You can do different styles (rock, metal, pop, etc), set different degrees of intensity, fills etc. It’s not as good as hiring a real drummer or programming your drum parts manually, but, if you want to get an idea rolling and throw some drums on fast, this is a killer piece of software that comes with Logic Pro.
There are a couple of neat things you can do with effects in Logic Pro. As well as coming with a tonne of effects built in, you can add your own. One thing I discovered recently was effects routing. You could set up a reverb on every guitar track you use on your recording, or, you can create what is a called a ‘bus’, and send all your guitar tracks (or some of them, or whatever) to the save reverb.
This can keep the sound of the reverb but create a cleaner mix.
If you don’t have a mac, or just don’t like the interface for Logic Pro, then Cubase is another popular option (there is ‘full’ version and a ‘light’ version). Reaper is an open source DAW that some people like to use, but I’ve personally never got along with it.
Logic Pro is available on the App Store
If you like to type up your notes from your guitar lessons, or from your own study of the instrument, Neck Diagrams is vital. It is by far, the best way to create, you might have guessed it, neck diagrams on the guitar.
The interface is a little clunky and frustrating at times, but the diagrams are great.
Using a neck diagram in general is a very important part of learning the instrument, as it gives you a way to visualise how things work on your fretboard. that tab does not.
So there you have three of my favourite software tools for playing guitar. Do you use any of them? Do you use something different? Leave a comment below.