Hints and Tips
Through this page you can send in any useful hints and tips that you think other people may find useful with regard to any aspect of folk music, be it learning an instrument, collecting songs, performance of songs, etc.
To get the ball rolling, here are a few things you may find useful:
Keep your instrument and your hands clean when you play. This may be a bit obvious, but in a pub when you've been eating crisps and handling sticky beer glasses, your hands transfer an awful lot of grease and mess onto your guitar and strings that affects the tone of the instrument. Keep a cloth in your case to wipe down the neck and strings before and after use.
One product that I've found useful is 'Liquid Gold' from Betterware. This is a spray that removes wax from furniture but it also removes grease from strings. Spray some onto a cloth (a handkerchief or some kitchen paper is better than a fluffy duster) and wipe the strings with it after your performance. You will notice the difference immediately. A tin of 'Liquid Gold' lasts for ages and doesn't dry out like some of the more proprietary string cleaning products that are available on the market. (I don't get anything for promoting this stuff by the way!)
If you're just starting out learning the guitar, try and play a chord of 'G' like this:
Middle Finger: 5th String - Second Fret
Whilst it may at first seem impossible to get your little finger round enough to put on the string with any force, after a while it will be natural to you and what it does is free your first finger to play notes on the first fret with chords like 'C', 'E', 'Am' 'F' & 'D7' and you will find that you don't need to move your fingers as much when you change chords from 'G'
I can't emphasize that word enough!
Methods of practise vary but I find that if I pick up my guitar or concertina and play around with it whilst I'm watching the television, I can have done fifteen minutes practise without realizing it.
Practising a new song or tune is slightly different as you have to concentrate on what you're doing, but sitting in a chair unconsciously changing chords and doing little runs and scales whilst your mind is on something else gives your fingers exercise and after a while you may come across a run of notes that fits a song - I've done that on several occasions - and at that point, switch the box off and turn your attention to that song.
Play anything - it doesn't have to be a folk song - it could be a Frank Sinatra number, the number one in the hit parade - or better still some music (you can tell how old I am!), or a tune that's going round your head. Pick the notes of the tune out first and then try and put some chords round it. If a chord doesn't sound right, try it again with another chord. If you can't find a chord, put a message on here and see if anyone can help you - that's what this site is all about.
Play along with a CD or a record. Find the right key first and then start the track. If you've got repeat facilities, use that and play it several times over. Play the song yourself then without the CD on in the background and improvise to suit your style of playing.
Find a CD or LP that you haven't played for ages and put it on whilst you're doing some household chores - washing up, ironing or cleaning up. Rediscover some songs that you once liked but have forgotten about.
Learn what you can about the songs that you sing. Most CDs have generous sleeve notes that you can read and maybe follow up on the internet or in the library at a later date. You may find some songs that have subjects that are quite personal to you and you can perhaps tell a story that links to the song before you sing it.
When you perform at a club singers night, make sure you're comfortable before you start singing. If it's a club where you perform from the front and you need a chair and there isn't one available, ask for one or bring one up with you. Some people are more comfortable sitting down - other people prefer standing up; it's a matter of personal preference.
Get your instrument in tune before you start. Ask if it sounds all right. People in front of you can hear your instrument better than you can and can probably tell if a string needs raising or lowering in pitch to get it right with the others. Electronic tuners aren't the be-all-and-end-all - they may tell you the strings are in tune but sometimes the strings aren't quite in tune with each other and you may need to make small adjustments. The B (2nd) string is usually the worst for some mathematical reason that is beyond me but once you've tuned the strings and then put a capo on the neck, the B needs tweaking to get it right.
When you put new strings on an instrument, try not to overlap the string when you wind it round the tuning peg or you might find that it slips out of tune more often. Three times round the peg is a good thing to aim for.
If you have a computer (well, you're probably reading this on one!!), a great way to practise is to play along to midi files of tunes. This could be guitar backing, guitar melody etc. There are plenty of midi files available for down load on the internet (folk, rock etc). Also, Radio 2 web site has a great folk 'session' feature where you play along to tunes. Some of the midi files can sound a bit naff. If so, try changing the voice of a particular track with your midi player software. Or delete it and find a better one on the net! Midi files are also very easy to swap by email - so perhaps a swap shop could be set up. The midi format is also very useful for practise because the tempo can be changed, you can mute or delete tracks (instruments) that you don't want and you can continuously loop between any two points in the tune.
Thanks to Rob for that one. If you want further information about midi files then please email him on:
Don't be afraid to ask other people about how they play something that you've just seen them do or what particular tuning they may have used for a certain song. There might be a little trick that they're doing with their fingers that isn't noticeable when you're watching from a distance but if you're shown what they're doing, you can go away and practice and incorporate it into one of your songs.
Tune the bottom E string of your guitar down to D and play things using the key of G - i.e. Chords of G, Emin, C, D7. You will have to play a G chord using the 5th fret on the bottom string but miss out the fingering of the 2nd fret on the 5th string - don't play this string at all in the G chord for the time being until you're used to the fingering. When you play a D7 chord, include the bottom open D string. This gives a wonderful bass to songs which is lost if the string is tuned to E as the next D note is an octave higher.
If you stand up when you play and you have trouble playing the guitar because your strap is loose, you may find you have more control over your instrument if you adjust the strap so your guitar is tight against your body. Your arm will be in a better position to play chords and move from one chord to another more quickly. You will find that you can see what your hand is doing better and where the next chord/note position is on the fretboard.
You will also find that you are not using the neck as a steadying handle to stop your instrument wobbling about too much if your strap is slacker.
We all have an age old problem of sore finger tips when playing guitar especially if you have to use a lot of pressure for chords with added notes. Is there anything you can use to make your fingertips harder, I once heard that surgical spirit helped. Any ideas?
Peter, thanks for your query!
Does anybody have a "patent" relief for this problem that we have all suffered for the cause? I personally think that it's a matter of time building up thick skin on the end of your fingers. If you find that your fingers hurt then you've done too much!
Give your fingers a rest before they start to hurt.
I would not advocate any chemicals being applied to the skin other than soap and water but if you have tried anything in the past that has worked - or maybe not worked - then let us know.