“People forget that great rhythm guitar will help make your solo sound better”: YouTube guitar guru Marty Schwartz on the biggest mistakes aspiring guitarists make – and how to fix them

Epiphone Marty Schwartz ES-335
(Image credit: Epiphone)

Even if you don’t quite recognise the name Marty Schwartz, you’ll probably have ended up stumbling across his hugely popular Marty Music YouTube videos – viewed in their millions and helping players learn classics riffs, solos and techniques. 

The fedora-loving educator’s influence is so vast, Epiphone just announced they would be awarding him with his own ES-335 signature guitar. We figured he’d be a great person to tap up for his advice for aspiring guitar players…

Before you started on YouTube, you were a guitar teacher. What’s the biggest mistake all guitarists make?

“There are two things that come to mind. The first one is rhythm in general. Guitar out in the wild – not in your bedroom but performing and playing with other people – is 90 per cent rhythm. I’d say a lot of people skip that stuff out. When you watch someone on Instagram or on stage, the most exciting bit is usually the dazzling solo sections. 

“But people forget great rhythm guitar will help make your solo sound better. We tend to overlook the importance of it. A great rhythm technique is way more valuable and important in any kind of band, unless you’re doing that guitar hero stuff like the Paul Gilberts and Polyphias of the world!

“The other thing is taking in too much information. I remember before the internet, you’d get a chord book with 20,000 chords to learn, and that’s just overwhelming.

That can result in information overload… 

“Exactly. I’ve seen students where they’ve set themselves the challenge of learning every mode and every pentatonic position but when it comes to improvising a solo, they can barely get through. And that’s because they’ve chosen the wrong order of things to focus on. It would be much better to play two notes really well, then add a third note and then a fourth. 

“Limiting information helps you focus on those little skills that help you get better. I’ve learned this from teaching people privately rather than making videos on YouTube. I wouldn’t want a student to learn any of the modes if they can’t play a basic blues solo. It’s not going to help them. There’s a certain order that will help you progress faster and not everyone knows that. 

“There’s a downside to having all this content online. It makes people want to skip all the fundamentals and go straight to the Sweet Child O’ Mine solo when really they should be covering the basics and building up their skills from the right foundation.”

What songs have you found are the most helpful for guitar players hoping to advance quickly?

Little Wing and Hey Joe are both great songs to learn a lot of techniques from, because there would be a chord structure but Hendrix wouldn’t just play the chords. He would do this accompanying melody within the chords to make it a pretty piece, but you could still hear the changes.

All these doors started to open because I was actively trying to understand some of the theory behind it all

“Another song that comes to mind is Blue Sky by The Allman Brothers Band because that’s a classic major pentatonic solo. They had that specific sound down. There was no YouTube when I was trying to learn that stuff. I would be playing the minor pentatonic wondering how they made it sound so sweet and country-ish. 

“Once my teacher showed me the major pentatonic I realised I didn’t have to learn a new scale, I could just superimpose the minor pentatonic I already knew three frets down and also find new licks. It was a light-bulb moment. 

“Later on I learned you could play a G major triad when you’re jamming in E minor. All these doors started to open because I was actively trying to understand some of the theory behind it all.”

And, as for gear, what are the most valuable practice tools out there?

“I use a looper in a lot of my videos. I think they’re really important because you have to be a good rhythm player to create a good loop that you want to solo over. It uses both parts of the skill base. I could easily improvise over a loop for an hour just because I’m kinda meditating and getting lost in it – but it has to be a groove that’s inspiring enough for me to want to solo over. 

“My favourite is the Boss RC-1, which is the cheapest one and also the easiest to use. But you can also connect an extra footswitcher to get it to work like the fancier ones, because things like double taps aren’t great when you’re adding loops in.”

What’s the most challenging song you’ve learned for the channel?

“I’m more of a feel and groove classic rock guy. I don’t really do the virtuoso shred stuff. It’s not what I desired to be and I have to want to get good at something in order to work on it. The hardest one was [Ozzy Osbourne’s ’80s classic] Bark At The Moon

“The chords aren’t too hard, but the picking speed on that open A is insane. I’ve seen videos of Jake E. Lee teaching it at a clinic and he couldn’t even play the solo… and it’s his solo! That made me feel a little better because my hands aren’t really fast.”

I’m more of a feel and groove classic rock guy. I don’t really do the virtuoso shred stuff

So how exactly did you get that one under your fingers?

“I used an app to slow it down and keep it in pitch. There are loads of apps and websites out there to help people do that, and also loop sections they’re working on. I tend to start at 70 per cent, where I can feel like I nail it every time, stick with it for a couple of weeks, and then speed up by five per cent every couple of weeks, getting it nice and tight. 

“I got that one to 90 per cent and it was starting to feel like falling off the cliff. That’s as far as I got. I didn’t bother recording my video at full speed because if it was hard for me, it would be hard for pretty much anyone watching. And the video didn’t even do that well – which left me wondering why I bothered!”

It’s funny, playing a Hendrix or Page solo can often be more challenging than something like that – because there’s a looseness and freedom in their approach…

“They’re perfect examples of what you just said. Obviously Page is still alive, but they’d never have suggested anyone learn their solos note-for-note. Because they’d never play a solo exactly the same every time. Sometimes people might comment on a video of mine saying it’s not exact, but those legends didn’t play it exact either. 

“It’s just one take that got chosen for the album, but if you listen to Hendrix’s live recordings, he would go with the flow. There are even mistakes on the records and people actually learn those mistakes – they become part of the song. 

Jimmy Page is hard to imitate because he’s completely free and improvising. He had his own bag of tricks

“Jimmy Page is hard to imitate because he’s completely free and improvising. He had his own bag of tricks, but listen to the solo from [Led Zeppelin’s] Heartbreaker – it’s really weird and hard to play correctly.

“Both of those players were experiencing something more than just a bunch of notes, playing a certain run. There was this magical and emotional connection to their guitar. If Hendrix didn’t play it exactly like Electric Ladyland, why should we?”

  • For more information on the Marty Schwartz ES-335, head to Epiphone.

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Amit Sharma

Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences as a guitar player. He's worked for magazines like Kerrang!Metal HammerClassic RockProgRecord CollectorPlanet RockRhythm and Bass Player, as well as newspapers like Metro and The Independent, interviewing everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handled lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).