Free guitar lessons and articles
Free guitar lessons at

Take Command Over Your Instrument
By Chris Standring for PJ's Guitar Chords and Lyrics Newsletter

"What do you really want to say musically? Play a phrase and damn well mean it! Every note from beginning to end!"

Back in the early 80s I went to the London College Of Music to study classical guitar for three years. I studied exclusively with a wonderful guitarist named Robert Brightmore who is now teaching at the Guildhall School Of Music in London. Bob was not only a great teacher but a mentor to me and I looked forward to my weekly lessons with him. However, he understood my dedication to the instrument and no matter how much I practiced during the week, he would never ever have me resting on my laurels. He always wanted to push me harder. I remember him saying to me many times, "Play strong Chris, play strong!". Those words are still embedded in my skull today and they may well have been some of the most powerful words he could have uttered.

But it took a while for me to really know what he was talking about. Indeed I don't think I really got it until my final term at the music school when I had to do a recital for my Fellowship diploma. Right before I went on to perform he said "Play strong Chris!". And so I did.

Classical guitar is a tough instrument. It's just you and the guitar. Nothing in between. It's an acoustic instrument, and if you are playing in a hall you have to project that sound to the back of the room. You have to play strong. There's no amp to help you. But strong doesn't mean loud. It has to do with articulation, commitment to the music and command of your instrument, even in quiet passages. It really has to do with a solid technique, in a perfect world, so you can focus on the music, not muscle mechanisms. Playing strong most of all I think means communicating the music as if you are a great master. Playing strong means that the audience is comfortable listening to you. Comfortable in that they can relax and be taken on a musical journey. Not uncomfortable, worrying if you are going to 'make' the next phrase.

Of course now I am ensconced in the jazz world, my classical guitar playing has taken a long hiatus. But everything I learned about playing strong has been adopted to my jazz guitar playing, and I still think about it often. Not only do I want to play strong, but when I listen to other musicians I want to hear that command, strength, confidence and surety in their playing. I want to be comfortable listening to others play so I can enjoy their musical journey.

It starts with technique. But as I mentioned it's not about dazzling chops. Technique is a means to an end. If you can't say what you want to say musically, then examine whether your technique needs improvement. But I like to focus on the word 'articulation', because to me that describes what we are trying to achieve a little better.

So how do we learn to play strong? In the classical world, slow but sure practice is key. Learning to project sound, focusing on right hand attack, using different areas of the sound hole etc. In the jazz world, we first of all need to have a vocabulary in order to have something to say. That and a good picking technique is a great start. And we need to learn to play with good 'time'.

But once you have got those essentials I believe that one has to really focus on every phrase being equally as important as every other phrase. In other words, stop noodling and get to the point! What are you trying to say? What do you really want to say? Play a phrase and damn well mean it! Every note from beginning to end. Think of that improvised phrase as being preconceived. It has a beginning, middle and ending, and in a perfect world we've chosen some good notes too. So play a phrase and dig in, like it means something to you and you need it to mean something to the listener. Now do that with every single phrase you play during your solo. When you play the melody (or head of the tune), do the same. Play it lyrically, put some heart and soul into it. Dig in. Mean it. Play strong!

Because I realize now that those two words only really meant anything to me quite some time after they were originally uttered, I understand that they need to sink in, in their own time. First things first. We need to get the basics before we can be masters of our instruments. But understanding where you are headed musically is important too, and if you are ready to take this next master stroke, then pick up your guitar and play music right off the bat. No messing about. Get to the point. Don't be timid.

Play strong!

Chris Standring

Chris Standring

About the author

Chris Standring is a contemporary jazz recording artist who performs throughout the USA and Europe regularly. He has enjoyed much radio airplay with several albums, opening up a busy touring schedule. His music appears on many compilation CDs also. For more info on Chris' popular home study jazz guitar course go to Visit him on the web at

Recommended guitar courses from Play Jazz

Level 1 & 2: "Guitar Made Simple" By Chris Standring

From absolute beginner to solid intermediate, this course walks you through absolutely everything necessary to give you a strong grounding in a wide variety of guitar styles. You will learn open chords, strumming patterns, single line melodies, 25 well known songs, notes on the fretboard, sight-reading, Blues, rock, classical, single string improv and venture into a little jazz, and much much more. All with audio, video, TAB and traditional music notation. More info and order Guitar Made Simple here

"Move over Mel Bay! 'Guitar Made Simple' is an extremely well thought out beginners program, with a very thorough and personal approach to help you easily learn how to play the guitar... correctly! So much more than trying to learn alone with just a book, this brilliant system connects with you as if an instructor is right with you in your own home. Well done Chris!" - Corky James LA studio guitarist with Avril Lavigne, Hilary Duff, Kelly Clarkson, Leann Rimes, Backstreet Boys, Liz Phair, Nick Lachey and Mandy Moore



Guitar Lessons all rights reserved