Interview: How Shane uses tuneUPGRADE

"I discovered tuneUPGRADE in February 2020, about a year after I started to take my path as a guitarist more seriously. It honestly changed everything."

by Tarun

Creator, tuneUPGRADE

To start, tell me a little about yourself and what you play?

My name is Shane Solo (Shane on tuneUPGRADE) and I’m a guitarist based out of Washington, DC, USA. I play both electric and acoustic guitar, but I spend considerably more of my time playing on an Epiphone Les Paul. My musical tastes are the byproduct of heavy doses of 90’s alternative with some classic rock thrown in, but I don’t tend to cage myself into specific genres. My favorite artists and music acts are all over the place! 

What are your musical goals - are you a hobbyist and just playing music for fun, are you looking to be a professional?

I tend to break my music goals into short-term and long-term goals. I’ve found this helpful in not completely overwhelming me over the course of my music journey (which, by the way, never ends). My goals have also shifted a lot since starting to take guitar more seriously the last few years. 

When I was in High School and had all the time in the world, I didn’t have the discipline to focus on learning my instrument and tried to take too many shortcuts as if it was going to get me quickly to where I wanted to be. I just wanted to be in a rock and roll band – but I didn’t have the drive to put in the work. By the time I got to college, I mostly gave up on the idea altogether and rarely played guitar beyond the same covers I’d learned in my first few years of playing. 

A couple of years ago, I decided to start over in a sense and really focus on the idea of learning the instrument for the sake of being a guitarist without the pressure of a lofty end goal. I still work on writing original songs, of course, but also push myself to learn how to make them more complex or specifically play music using whatever skills I am learning at the moment. 

My Short-Term Goals in progress include things like:

  1. Knowing the entire guitar fretboard to the point where I name any note on any fret or string on the fretboard and can also immediately play any given note at multiple locations on the guitar.

  2. Becoming proficient in soloing in all patterns of the pentatonic major and minor scales and their full-scale counterparts.

  3. Learning how to build more chords outside of the standard open chords, triads, and barre chords.

My Long-Term Goals are more things like:

  1. Being able to jam with others, as rhythm or lead, just by knowing what key we are in.

  2. Being able to improvise a solo based on what key we are in.

  3. Being able to record multiple guitar parts to create and mix my own music.

  4. Being able to play an open mic situation with just my guitar and a loop pedal.

What are some of your favorite tunes to play?

When I’m choosing songs to learn, I often go into a deep dive into certain genres, bands, or finding songs that work on the skills I’m trying to focus on musically. For example, I really love power chords and all those things that ignited alternative rock in the 90’s, but I am working on my ability to push through more complex chords, sliding into a riff and back again. One of the songs I’ve been working on lately is Interstate Love Song by Stone Temple Pilots. Their guitarist Deon DeLeo makes use of some really beautiful (and stretchy) chords within what seems like a simple progression. The main riff, of course, is iconic and tons of fun to play.

On the flip side, I’m a huge fan of Oasis and have been learning some stripped-down versions of their stuff. I’ve also become very engrossed in Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds. I’m constantly amazed how many great songs Noel has written with Oasis and on his own that seem very simplistic in their guitar parts, but are still really solid songs. Like, how many songs can you create out of what are essentially variations on the Wonderwall chords? A lot, to the honest. The Dying of The Light, Dead In The Water, The Man Who Built The Moon, and If I Had A Gun… are some of the tunes that are in my repertoire or in my learning cycle.

Before you used tuneUPGRADE, were you tracking your practice? What was your practice like?

I tried to be very organized in my practice, but my practice sessions were often dependent on my mood at the time. I had a collection of guitar exercises that I would pick from to work on certain skills, and then I would switch to working on some songs I was trying to learn. More often than not, I would end up switching to songs I already knew or playing songs I had written that were fairly basic with a lot of open chords and power chords.  

I would try to motivate myself to practice an hour a day, but looking back, I don’t think I was hitting that goal consistently nor was I tracking it accurately. If you think about the time you spend switching to different guitar tabs or practice notes or YouTube videos during your session, how much of that is actually spent PLAYING? Less than you think! I discovered tuneUPGRADE in February 2020, about a year after I started to take my path as a guitarist more seriously. It honestly changed everything.

What is your routine like within tuneUPGRADE?

I consider myself a tuneUPGRADE power user, so this answer will probably be a long one.  I’ve integrated almost all of my practice resources into tuneUPGRADE and continually tweak those resources as more features are added to the platform. I load it up almost every time I have a guitar in my hand and use it to guide and track my practice sessions. I’ve found it to be essential in making sure I strike a balance between learning technique, running exercises, learning songs, and just jamming out.

I do have several Practice Routines set, but they are highly specific and mostly used when I don’t feel like practicing and convince myself to complete one routine so I don’t just skip the day! For example, I have one called Ear Training which is a collective set of exercises that just focus on that one skill. Having some of these set to get me started will often lead me right into actually practicing outright.

My mainstay for my practice sessions is actually the Tunes & Exercises section. I use a practice methodology, influenced by Justin Sandercoe of Justin Guitar, which he calls Pick N Mix Practice. There are often just too many things for anyone to practice every single day. You would have to spend hours and hours just to get through them all before you’d even played an actual song.

To create a balance, I have customized my Exercises section which lists about 45 (and counting) different exercises covering various techniques. They are all named for whatever they focus on or whatever fun name the guitarist I learned it from called it. Then in the Artist section, I input the skill area it covers. WARM-UP STRETCHES, WARM-UP PLACEMENT, WARM-UP FRETTING HAND are categories for various warm-up exercises. TECHNIQUE, STRUMMING, FRETBOARD, SCALES, and FINGERPICKING are some of the categories for other essential exercises.

Every time I learn a new exercise or practice idea, I almost immediately enter it into tuneUPGRADE so the list keeps growing. When I start a practice session, I simply pick and mix from the various areas. I’ll do a few each from the different WARM-UP categories and then move on to hit a few exercises from each other category so I practice a bit of each technique every session.

I also use the Time This Week log on that main screen to keep track of which exercises I haven’t completed that week. Once I’ve done everything at least once, I then use the same time log to see what hasn’t gotten as much attention as other exercises, and so on.

After that, I will go to the Tunes specific section with the same idea in mind – try and make sure I log time on every song I’ve set to “learning” during the week. I’ll work on a few learning songs each day before moving on to rocking the Repertoire section or doing an Open Jam session.

I also believe it’s healthy (and worth it!) to track all of the time you spend learning your instrument. Therefore, my Learning section in Tunes also has some non-song categories like VIDEO LESSONS, MUSIC THEORY COURSE, TRANSCRIBING SONGS, and SONG WRITING so I can log the time I spend doing these things as well.  

Finally, to really ensure I am balancing my practice time well, I use the Categories Practiced graph on the home page to see how I’m doing across ExercisesLearning, and Repertoire to see where I’m at. If anything is getting way more attention than other sections, I then know where to focus my work for the rest of the week.

My weekly hours goal is set to 8 hours a week. That’s 1 hour a day with a day where I push to double it. However, I personally set that as my minimum and almost always aim to overtake it.

What are your favorite features of tuneUPGRADE?

I’ve made it a point to give a lot of feedback on how I use tuneUPGRADE to help guide the ongoing development from a user standpoint, so I think the fact that Tarun is so open to feedback and makes himself easily accessible to the user base is probably my favorite feature. However, I’m also blown away by the tools he’s integrated into the platform since it first launched that just make so much sense!

One of my favorite features is how robust the main screen of each of your Exercises and Tunes has become. Instead of going to find a separate notepad file on each exercise or the guitar tab I want to work with, all of this information is simply transferable directly into the platform and editable during the session. I often put the guitar tab directly into the notes if it’s not too long, or just input information like my current BMP, my target BMP, or other useful information essential to the song or exercise.

The integration with YouTube and Spotify and even Link To Materials was a game changer. For every song, I will set the studio recording as the Spotify link, a live or acoustic version as the YouTube link, and then link the full guitar tab if needed as my materials. With everything there where you need it, you don’t waste time searching for what you need and can just play! Whether you use tuneUPGRADE in Routines mode or “choose your next adventure” mode the way I do, you literally can spend most of your practice sessions actually playing.

Any general practice tips you can give others that you've found helpful for yourself?

Here's some original and sometimes borrowed tips that I find helpful when thinking about practicing and the music journey altogether:

  1. Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes it permanent. I got this from Justin Guitar and always keep it in mind when going through drills or learning a new scale. The idea is that muscle memory plays a big part in everything you do on guitar and your goal is to get your fingers to do what your mind wants them to do without much thought. This means you need to slow down and do things perfectly so that it becomes automatic as you progress in speed or add variation. If you learn something incorrectly or try to speed the process along before it’s perfected, it takes a long time to unlearn it later.

  2. If it sounds good, it is good. Another one from Justin Guitar. Even if the theory says something should work, if it doesn’t sound good, it’s not good. If the theory says something shouldn’t work, and it sounds good, it’s still good. Great music knows no rules; but sometimes, knowing the rules can help you deliberately break them and get away with it!

  3. If you don't know why you are practicing something, don't. A lot of attention-grabbing YouTube videos will always tell you what you should be doing, but you should always be asking yourself why you are going to do it. I have no love for Jazz music, so why would I force myself to learn concepts or scales specific to Jazz that I won’t use? Take only what is useful to the music you want to make and only that! Question everything you’re taught and let everything you learn and practice have a purpose.

  4. Always have a plan for your practice. The nice thing about TuneUPGRADE is that it’s a tool for that very purpose. Whether you are going to develop specific routines or do a mix of exercises, go into every session with a plan and a reward. “I’m going to practice these warm-up exercises, I’m going to practice the minor pentatonic scale for this amount of time, I’m going to review my chords, then I will reward myself with playing whatever I want” is a simple setup that will get you invested and working towards a goal for session.

  5. New Gear won’t make you a better player, invest the time before investing money. The first trap of being a guitar player is all the toys that can follow: a new type of guitar, a new guitar pedal, a better amplifier, etc. But if Jack White can play the meanest riffs on a piece of crap Woolworth guitar and make it sound good, it’s not the gear that makes the guitarist. Yes, you want to invest in gear that you’ll enjoy playing, but don’t think a new pedal is the answer to greatness. Instead, set yourself some short-term goals and then reward yourself with your next piece of gear for hitting that milestone. It gives you something to look forward to, but also gives you time to save up for it!

Anything else you'd like to share?

I don’t tell people I’m a self-taught guitarist, even though I do not take formal lessons. Instead, I consider myself a self-propelled guitarist. The key to learning an instrument, through online resources or other media, is to make sure you still have a set learning path so you don’t get lost in the bombardment of information available to us these days.

If you are a beginner or even an intermediate guitar player, I will never stop recommending Justin Guitar as your primary and complete free resource for that path. From the very beginning stages of guitar, through the fundamentals and into intermediate techniques, his ability to guide students through video and supplemental materials is unmatched among those offering free online resources for guitar.

From there, you can start branching out into other online resources (including some of the paid content Justin offers) because you will have a better idea of what’s working for you, where you want to go on your journey, and what you might be willing to pay for.

Stay away from the exclusive limited time deals on super master lessons that will get you shredding in 10 days. Look for online instructors who provide a lot of material for free on YouTube with ways you can enhance your experience by joining their Patreon or other means. The teachers who have a community are the ones who are worth the investment. Basically, they are giving you free demos of their teaching style and, if what you get is working for you, you’ll know without empty promises if it’s worth the investment of your money, too.

Also, if you are strictly a “bedroom guitarist” learning on your own – get yourself into a music community as soon as possible so you can still talk (or play!) with other musicians. Maybe your local practice venues have open mic or open jam nights. You don’t have to play right away, but go check them out and be inspired until you get there.

If you don’t have those kinds of places where you live, get connected online through forums like r/GuitarLessons on reddit who also run a Discord server. Guitarists from all over talk about gear, ask questions, share video lessons, and even participate in monthly beginner-friendly jams like “Riff of the Month” to challenge each other to learn and progress.

Also, don’t forget to practice today! Did you put in a session yet? If not, you better get at it! 

Would you like to participate in a user interview yourself? Simply send a note to [email protected] and I'll send you over some questions!

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