Ramones A-Z intro: how to play like Johnny Ramone

This is a series that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I was waiting until I could get myself a Mosrite Ventures II copy (I’m obviously not going to get a real one, as there are maybe only 50 in existence). Ideally, I’d like a Fillmore; Johnny actually played those near the end of his life but they just don’t come up for sale often. Eastwood has one that is reportedly quite nice, but I want to play it first! If something ever pops up nearby, I’ll probably jump on it, but for now, my new G&L ASAT Bluesboy gets the job done. It’s got a fairly hot bridge pickup that lends itself well to the Ramones sound.

Anyways, in this series, I’ll be showing you how to play EVERY (yes, every) song the Ramones ever recorded, even the covers. We’ll be going through them alphabetically, but first, we need to go over a few things about how Johnny played. While Johnny was a really limited guitar player, he did what he did exceptionally well, and it’s more difficult than a lot of folks assume. For starters: Johnny didn’t play power chords. He played full major barre chords pretty much all the time. He’d occasionally throw in a minor chord, but it was rare. The shapes he used were your basic E and A shape barre chords, as seen below:

“E shape” barre chord
“A shape” barre chord

Note that when using the “A shape”, you still play the 6th string. This additional fifth on the bottom of the chord really fattens up the sound. While I included the 1st string fingering in the diagrams, you don’t need to worry about getting that top note. Johnny didn’t. You’ll want to check out the video for some additional tips on efficiently switching between these two shapes.

Aside from the chord shapes, the next most important thing about sounding like Johnny is your picking. Unlike the barre chord thing though, everybody knows Johnny only did down strokes. Lots of folks are lazy about this part though, and you shouldn’t be. It makes a big difference in the sound. If you’re getting tired, try lowering your guitar a bit so that your arm is fully extended. Pick from your wrist, not your elbow, and keep at it. It’s tough, but worth it.

I’ll be uploading the lesson for the first song, 53rd & 3rd, soon.

How to play “Fire In The Rain”

Someone commented on my Bloodstains tutorial video recently asking if I could do a video on “Fire In The Rain”. It’s one of my favorite Agent Orange tunes, and while it’s not that difficult to play, it is a bit unusual. In the video I show two ways to play the song: the way Mike Palm does it, and an easier way that uses a capo. I think the non-capo way sounds much better though, so I recommend learning that version.

Better Guitarin’ – ep 4 – Solfege for Guitarists

Solfege is a pretty invaluable tool for any musician, but most of the videos on Youtube discussing it do so via the piano, or just vocally. Having something explained and shown to you on your own instrument is a big help in getting the idea across and allowing you to start practicing and implementing that idea. So I’m gonna show you how solfege works via the guitar!

In the video, I mention that I’m using “moveable Do chromatic solfege with a Do based minor”. What that means is that, in this system, Do is always your tonic pitch. So if you’re in A, then Do is an A note. If you’re in Bb, Do is a Bb note. If you’re in D, Do is a D note. You get the point. Fixed Do solfege is the other main method of solfege, and it’s just an alternative to using letter names for the notes. So a C note is Do, a D note is Re, an E note is Mi, and so forth. I find this method to be a HUGE waste, as moveable Do solfege is the absolute best system I’ve ever encountered for relative pitch classification. If you’re using fixed Do, then you can’t use moveable Do, and you’re missing out because of it. Letter names are fine. The alternative systems for relative pitch classification all fall short of moveable Do solfege for various reasons. So that’s what I use.

I also use a “Do based minor”. This just means that in a minor key, your tonic is still Do. The alternative is a La based minor, where your tonic in a minor key is La… I honestly can’t make any sense of that. You’re just undermining the benefits that moveable Do solfege offers in the first place. I’m yet to hear any argument for La based minor that holds water. It’s just a dumb idea. For example, what happens if you’ve got a song that switches from the A minor to A major? Does La become Do? Does Do move up a half step and become Mi? It’s just stupid, but that’s a lot of exposition. Let’s just talk solfege.

If we take a major scale, such as G major (G A B C D E F#), we can use different syllables to sing the different notes of the scale. The root of the scale (G), is Do. The 2nd scale degree (A) is Re. The 3rd (B) is Mi, then Fa, Sol, La, and Ti. Consistently using these syllables to sing these notes is a great way to memorize the relative sound of those notes in the context of a key! Check out the video for some examples.

But what about the other notes? We’ve got unique syllables for all of them too! Here they are in relation to a tonic C note, major scale notes are in bold text:

C – Do, C# – Di, Db – Ra, D – Re, D# – Ri, Eb – Me, E – Mi, F – Fa, F# – Fi, Gb – Se, G – Sol, G# – Si, Ab – Le, A – La, A# – Li, Bb – Te, B – Ti

The following website has some good exercises for arranging these syllables and practicing them. I encourage you to give it a read: http://openmusictheory.com/chromaticSolfege.html

I will make a video showing how to play different intervals on the guitar and link to it here in the near future, until then, just try to figure out some of the melodies I played in the video.

Better Guitarin’ – ep 3 – What do all these Roman numerals mean?

For musicians in the know, describing a song as “I V vi IV in F” is WAY more helpful than saying “F C Dm Bb”. Often times, when my bassist and I start talking that way, our band mates just sit there looking confused, curious as to how what we said was sufficient enough for us to teach each other a song in just a few seconds.

If you’ve ever been in that situation, and want to be in the know, then this video is for you!

For quick reference, here are all the chords for major, natural minor (which are just the major chords shifted over), and the harmonic minor in both the traditional and “Berklee” way.

  • Major: I ii iii IV V vi vii° -or- I IIm IIIm IV V VIm VII°
  • Natural minor: i ii° III iv v VI VII -or- Im II° ♭III IVm V ♭VI ♭VII
  • Harmonic minor: i ii° III+ iv V VI vii° -or- Im II° ♭III+ IVm V ♭VI VII°

How minor keys actually work

So I see a lot of questions on reddit and whatnot asking things like “What sort of weird scale am I in?” or “What’s the deal with this song?” and all they’re dealing with is a pretty basic minor chord progression. The major V chord throws them off, and they think it has to be something complicated and “proggy”. While the minor tonality is more complex than major, it’s still… pretty simple. This is especially true if you take a “songs first” approach to learning music. The major V is by no means uncommon, and the only reason people think it’s “weird” is because it doesn’t fit within their limited understanding of what it means to be in a minor key!

Minor keys are, traditionally, taught as three different scales: natural minor, harmonic minor, and melodic minor (which is bizarrely taught as being different ascending and descending).

This is stupid.

Yes… it is. It’s just a stupid way to teach the minor tonality. It doesn’t make sense, people think that songs are written in one of the three scales but not the others (to be fair, they are… nowadays), and all sorts of other nonsense. But traditional minor tonalities are still very common in pop, rock, jazz, and other styles. They shouldn’t be cause for somebody to ask “What the hell is going on here?” because they’re pretty basic!

Just focus on the songs first. Stop worrying about the scales stuff comes from, and chill out. It’s music. It’s creative. You don’t need to force so many restrictions upon it.

Better Guitarin’ – ep 2 – When and Why You Should Use Flats

Guitarists have a REALLY bad habit of stubbornly avoiding flats, and not only can that make your charts and stuff awkward for other musicians to read, but it can also prevent you from gaining a proper understanding of how music is put together!

In this video, I’ll tell you when and why you should be using flats so that you can stop perpetuating the stereotype of the ignorant guitarist.

#82 – 21st Century Schizoid Man

Dagnabbit was this video ever frustrating!

Not the solo… it was fairly easy compared to the SRV one, but the audio and video somehow got out of sync when I recorded it and trying to find a halfway decent video editing suite that would run on my ancient desktop took way longer than it should have.

Once I got one, the actual edit only took a minute or two…

Anyways, this one might be really easy for ya, it might be really challenging. It all depends on whether or not this style of playing is in your wheelhouse or not. For me, it was right in there. The phrasing isn’t your typical blues inspired rock phrasing, nor is it “jazzy” by any stretch of the term. I don’t know what I’d call it, but it’s quite distinct.

Better Guitarin’ – ep 1 – Know How To Tune

This is the first in a new series I’m doing where I try to correct common misunderstandings, bits of misinformation, or shortcomings common amongst guitarists. It’s kind of like “Adam Ruins Everything” but for guitar… and my hair is nowhere near as magnificent as his. This first episode is about tuning.

I’m often baffled at how anyone who has played the guitar for more than a month doesn’t know how to tune their guitars without the aid of tuner. Whenever I get a new guitar student I spend the first 15 minutes of our first lesson going over how to tune relatively and why it is important.

So why is it important? Well, we’re musicians, right? And if you’re going to be a musician, you need to develop your ear. You need to develop your sense of intonation. You should be able to recognize when two pitches match! Tuning your guitar is a simple way to work on those skills every day (yes, every day).

In this video I show you the most basic way to tune by ear, but I also show you a simple way to gamify the tuning process. Have fun!

What scale should I learn next?

This is a pretty common question, and folks often have a variety of answers ready to go. But which scale or pattern would be most prudent to learn next really depends on what type of music you’re looking to play!

This video was recorded live, so there are moments where I’m directly responding to viewer comments. I try to restate the questions before responding to them, but if some parts are a bit confusing, that may be why.