That “thing” you ALWAYS play…

Welcome to the Tone Taxi. This is a place for stimulating musical discussion, a place where we talk guitars, music. You know, all things important. We do it while we’re driving through Bozeman. Today we happen to be headed the other way on Story Mill Road, which basically to me feels like a new road. Joel and I just were lost for a little bit, and we’ve regained our composure and where we’re at currently. It feels good. It feels good to be heading back into town.

The ULTIMATE Guitar Practice Routine

Just show up every day, and I'll tell you what to play!

I wanted to talk today about that lick that you always play when you grab a guitar. For some people it’s just a G chord. Some people do a little, maybe a G run. I do this thing. I don’t know what it is. Literally the first minute I have a guitar in my hand, I probably play it two or three times. It’s the same exact thing. It’s like a habit. I can’t stop doing it, but I do it every single time.

I want to know what you guys do every single time you sit down with a guitar. What’s the first thing you play? What’s that thing that you always, always play? It just makes you feel comfortable. It’s like putting on your favorite slippers or something. It’s that thing you always play. If you wouldn’t mind leaving a comment below, or better yet, film yourself doing it and share the video with us, I would love to see it, and I know your fellow players would love to see it as well. Thanks a lot for riding in the Tone Taxi. Joel and I, we’re going to find our way back to town. I’m really pumped we know where we’re at now.


  1. Profile photo of Gary L
    Gary L

    It’s weird you should mention this. I thought I was the only one who had a ritual like this. For some reason that I don’t understand, I always strum the chords for House of the Rising Sun before I play anything else. Some how I can tell if my guitar is in tune when I do this.

  2. Travis B

    Great comments, everyone! Really enjoying them.

    When I pick up an acoustic, it’s usually a G chord…upstroke on the bass strings, quickly followed by with a full downstroke and letting it ring out. That will usually tell me how much I’m going to like the guitar. Even if it’s one of my own guitars, it’ll tell me how much I’m gonna like it that day.

    Then I’ll mess around with other cowboy chords for a while and maybe make a little lead run up the neck. But the G is almost always where I start.

    On an electric, I usually go right into the last solo from GNR’s “Rocket Queen”….well, sort of. It’s somewhat evolved over the last 25 or so years into my own thing…and not really that great a thing. It’s just what I do. 🙂

  3. Profile photo of Tony P
    Tony P

    This is truly an awesome list!!! Thank you everyone for contributing to this!!! To read through and see everyone’s go to riffs and licks got me pumped to go learn some of them 🙂 Keep ’em coming if you have any more 🙂


  4. Peter

    The opening G riff from “City of New Orleans” and the tiddly finger picking bit in “Roller Derby Queen”. Just to make sure the finger picks are on right…

  5. Dru

    I always begin and even end with a short classical study called Country Dance, and sometimes run that right into Mississippi John Hurt’s Can’t Be Satisfied. Nice how they blend seamlessly together…. Going to play that now!

  6. Profile photo of Chris G
    Chris G

    First song I ever played at an open mic, Paradise written by John Prine. Do it in the style of Jimmy Buffet from his Encores album.

  7. John D

    I really don’t know how to play but I had an Yamaha in the late 60’s that I used to fool around with. I recently purchased a real guitar and am trying my darnedest to work through Tony’s lessons and am starting to make progress, but until I actually learn a real song, I always revert back to this. I do a thing from a Shawn Phillips song, ‘The Ballad of Casy Deiss”. It is a simple finger style Am, C,Gm, and is very repetitive through most of the song so it was relatively easy for me to figure out what it was in the late 60’s (before all of the electronic aids available today). But late in the song he jumped up the fret board and did something a bit fancier that I was never able to figure out, so I continued to do the opening bit, but I was able to add a lot more to it with different rhythms, hammer on transitions, etc. don’t really know how to describe what I actually do with it, but some fools people into thinking I know what I am doing.


  8. Profile photo of Wendy M
    Wendy M

    I pull a ryan adams intro lick from “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and then get lost making it sound bluesy. Sometimes a stripped down version of wildwood flower (first song I ever learned). Finally a part of the intro in John Mayor’s “Gravity”. Slide up to the 9th on the G string then play around on 8th and 10th B string, slide again and play around more…

  9. Tyler Branham

    I have 3: a G run; something pentatonic up and down the neck or something Hendrixy.

    1. John Patric

      Al, i was old once but then i rediscovered an old Taylor that a friend gave me back at the beginning of this century.

      1. al facendo

        Hi John, well sometimes that’s all it takes to make you feel young again. I always feel the same when I hold a guitar but when it comes to other things like technology I feel out of touch. Although, I don’t fret over it! Too much high tech can make life stressful, unlike music!! Peace

  10. Al Facendo

    I always start my practice / playing time with this tune. It gets my fingers working and I just love it. The tempo is a bit fast but unless I’m singing it my hands get ahead of me, but you don’t want hear me sing so let’s leave it at that. Peace, Al/Users/albertfacendo/Desktop/ZOOM0036.m4v

    1. Al Facendo

      sorry about the absent video. How do upload the video?

      1. Profile photo of Tony P
        Tony P


        If you can upload the video to youtube and then share a link with us here!!! Look forward to seeing it!!!


          1. Al Facendo

            Never did this before, so I don’t know if this is correct. That’s what it shows above the video. Al

  11. chris

    Hi Tony,

    after I had started I playing guitar, years ago , I ‘ve been concerned that this could be a symptom of a neurological desease . . .
    For me it’s a G-chord – followed by the riff of Neil Young’s “Tell Me Why” – five minutes to get my fingers warm!
    That’s what also gives me an answer to a lot of questions about my (or any other) guitar: its character, the condition of the strings, is it in tune, the mood of today ( mine a n d the guitar’s ) . . .

    1. Joey

      G/Lake intro and rhythm “In The Begging”. Almost OCD

  12. Joe Merkler (aka - Nor White)

    G C D, & then D A Cadd9 G then Emaj D A then a little GLORIA, and turn it around with This May be the Last Time. right into Louie, Louie. That’s rock’n

  13. Rodrigo

    That Albert King’s ascending pentatonic signature lick!

  14. Profile photo of Gin

    As a beginner guitar player…I don’t have a thing i ALWAYS PLAY… But am looking for one. Tony …will you share the tab for that one you play? it’s very cool and it’s a great exercise for beginners to be able to work towards. tHANKS. Gin Oman

  15. Tony O

    I tend to play the first part of the whatever new song I’m learning.

  16. JIm

    I don’t have one “thing” that I play. I play about 3 or 4 different short things to warm up.

    But this conversation reminded me of a really funny Honeymooners episode about this same topic:

    Ralph is going on a game show where he has to name the tune and the composer of songs that they play for him. He practices day and night and becomes a walking encyclopedia of songs and who wrote them. All the while he does his practicing with Norton who plays piano and every time he sits down to play he starts with “Swanee River” which after a while is driving Ralph nuts. When Ralph finally gets on the show the very first song they throw at him of course is “Swanee River” and he has no idea who wrote it (He answers “Norton”).

  17. Joe Pierce

    On acoustic, it’s reverend Gary Davis ” Death Don’t Have No Mercy”. On electric its a really poor intro to Roy’s Bluz. by Roy Buchanan

  18. John Patric

    So…you know how some folks are tone-deaf? I’m not, i can hum with the best of them. Until you put a guitar in my hand, that is. I’m mildly autistic which, for me, means i can’t walk (play) and chew gum (hum) at the same time. But the real issue for me – i mean who ever said i had to do both at the same time, right? – the real issue is i’m what i have come to call ‘beat blind’. It is my real challenge. And drum machines don’t cut it…too loud, too relentless – apparently i can’t play and hit a start/stop pedal at the same time either. But that’s another ball of fish all together.

    So, picture this, my first lick is a run on a simple D chord that sometimes resembles Neil Young’s ‘Needle and the Damage Done’ but can be a bit of a dirge depending on my state of stimming. And, to be honest, it’s the only thing i have found to calm the flapping flying fingers of autism.

    The end.

    (( i adore your website, your emails, your playing. in a perfect world i would be able to support it by paying to take a monthly challenge or even take extended online classes. Hopefully 2016 will be better financially – i just got a mini-contract with a local band of old farts with guitars and some of the gigs are ‘paying’ gigs. Wish me luck…errr my luck may be yours so… ))

  19. Reid

    Especially when trying out a guitar for the first time, I finger pick (in 4/4 time, 1 measure/chord) C/G, G, Am, & F. This progression lends itself to hammer-on/embellishments, and engages all 6 strings, which gives me a good feel for the guitar. But mostly, I just love how that chord progression sounds.

  20. Taylor Gibson

    As Tears Go By – keith richards 6 string acoustic – one version i like alot that starts with an upward sweep picking. Like all the stones songs, he
    plays it different every time.

  21. David D

    Wildwood Flower. Every. Single. Time. My grandma recently told me that was my grandpa’s “thing” too the second he picked up his ’68 hummingbird, so maybe it’s hereditary.

    1. Reid

      true americana classic…one of the all-time greats

  22. Ed

    I’m at the point where I strum whatever chords I know, strum them to my ear’s satisfaction, always changing how I strum — fast, slow, change tempos — and discover a riff that pleases — then open a sheet of downloaded chords for a song I really want to learn. Warmed up. Latest song is MOTHER by the Floyd.

  23. hairpuller

    “Goin to Georgia” by the Mountain Goats. D-A-G baby!

  24. Steve

    For some reason, I play a little classical guitar study by Carulli in A minor. It was one of the first pieces I learned to play about a million years ago. It’s a useful little fingerstyle exercise. Have fun and keep up the pickin’)))

  25. Scott R. Bango

    On an acoustic — the intro to Rolling Stones’ “Torn and Frayed” or I put on capo 2 and it’s “If You Could Read My Mind” by the great Gordon Lightfoot.

  26. Brad C

    Allman Bros. Midnight Rider, w fingerstyle translation of the vocals, and some fancy bits added in. It’s a thing I used to do on open mic nights when I was first ‘getting’ the guitar.

  27. Timothy Daniels

    A little jazzy thing courtesy of Robben Ford: A13 to A7b13 to D9 and then I stop because I don’t know anything else! It fools everyone, including me, for about 20 seconds.
    Tony, if your mother is watching your video, she’s worried about you catching a cold out there in Bozeman.

  28. Neil

    I do a G Em C D run all over the board, with chord embellishments fingerstyle. Hundreds of tunes use that I know but I made up one more. Also the nice riff from More Than A Feeling.

  29. Dave from Tenneessee

    I do a G run and scratch my gonads..

  30. John B

    I typically do a finger warm-up to start with but then inevitably get into Eric Clapton’s unplugged version of Layla (fingers, no pick) – totally love this version and the chords just flow so beautifully – sets the mood for the session.

  31. JIm Schiller

    I do finger warm ups. Strting on the high E string finger 1, fret 1, finger 2, fret 2 etc for all six strings.
    Then finger 1 fret 1, High E, finger 2, fet 2, B string, finger 3, fret 3, G string, finger 4, fret 4 D string, finger 3, fret 3, A string, finger 2, fret 2, low E string.Then I do it backwards.
    Go to the fourth fret high E and tart the process again.
    At first, do this very slowly and as you get comfortable, increase speed

  32. Profile photo of Bob H
    Bob H

    I always play a bit of John Henry’s Hammer finger style. It’s pretty much one chord which makes it really, really easy…and yet I still muff it up. However it’s pretty easy to grab just about any guitar and get something sounding like it.

    Here’s a bit link to a bit of it (audio only). Pardon my fingers at around 16 seconds.

    I recorded this today mostly as a test of my new Zoom Q4. It was on sale over last weekend and I figured from an audio standpoint it would be an improvement over the microphone on my laptop. It is. The fisheye lens is a little odd, but I don’t hate it. I’m hoping to give the whole thing a try tomorrow with video so maybe there’ll be a bit more from me soon. 🙂

  33. Profile photo of Mark A
    Mark A

    This is very short and not sure what I’m doing but someone showed me this back in the 90’s and I play it everytime I pick up the guitar

  34. Profile photo of Mike K
    Mike K

    Neil Young “After the gold rush”, strummed, finger picked, just noodled around, an unconscious go to every time!

  35. Profile photo of Nigel H
    Nigel H

    Finger exercise up and down the fret board. Then onto Clapton’s Key to the Highway fist solo. Not always correct or with perfect timing but very emotive. Then I’m ready.

  36. Profile photo of Bernard G
    Bernard G

    I never really thought about that. In fact, like Duane W. I used yo strum chords, like D, Em, C G, F, simply.
    But since a few months I notice I very very often play finger picking , the beginning of Mother Nature’s son, or some passages, or the complete song. I really love it, and I would
    like to play this song perfectly. I’m far from that, but instinctively it’s the first thing I play
    when I take the guitar.

  37. Profile photo of Janet H
    Janet H

    Blue on Black (Kenny Wayne Shepherd) and also Southern Cross (CSNY). Not the entire songs but pieces to loosen up.

  38. Profile photo of Mug

    Babe I’m Gonna Leave You until my hands and shoulders are stress free. Just two or three minutes…for some reason I started that thirty years ago and it just stuck as a comfortable way to get my hands-a-goin’.

  39. Profile photo of John Z
    John Z

    It’s probably born out of nerves playing in front of people, or I just can’t think of anything else at the time. But my go-to phrase seems to always be finger strumming various rhythms to the chords G-D-Em-C-Em-D-G.

  40. Profile photo of leslie c
    leslie c

    I tend to begin with the Scratch play you begin your lessons with
    then play some lessons I like that have stuck in my mind
    I do like to play the Intro to Santana’s Europa, I have always liked his muscic
    Lately I try to construct all the lessons we learned in the Key of D
    into a piece of music score, including some metal, shuffle, as much as
    I can remember, I do like playing the alternative method of Bm Em
    and F#m using the 1st 2nd and 3 rd string, you taught us a few weeks ago
    Fret the 3rd string 4th fret, 2nd string 3rd, 1st string 2nd fret.
    Then open strings 3, 2, 1,
    then bar the 1st 2nd and 3rd string all at the 2nd fret, playing each
    chord in this pattern 321 321 31.
    I play this a lot.
    It Puts me in a constructive mood.

  41. Profile photo of Duane W
    Duane W

    All guitars: Check tuning with G or E. Then strum first positions chords G – Em – C – D – G, followed by a standard bluegrass run from low G then maybe a bit of ‘Old Joe Clark’ ( it’s the only bluegrass song I actually know) at a speed you can sing the words to. If it’s an unfamiliar guitar, depending on my mood and if I like what I’m hearing then it’s generally some chords farther up the neck and some “bendy licks”. All pretty nondescript but warms up the finger and ears.

  42. Profile photo of Tony M
    Tony M

    G chord with some big sandy involved. But what I want now Tony is a lesson on how to play what u warm up with. Sounds very cool!

  43. Josh

    Mine is either the Lumineer’s -Flowers in your hair or the Head and the Heart -Down in the Valley intro.

  44. Profile photo of Ryan B
    Ryan B

    Usually just strum G or Em to feel if it’s in tune.

    Lately it’s been Em, G, D, C following the rhythm to Hello by Adele. ☺

  45. Profile photo of Michael S
    Michael S

    E Chord to A chord to Asus2 Chord progression to For What It’s Worth – Stephen Stills. Was the first song my guitar teacher showed me…

  46. Patt T

    I always play Hotel California intro, about 20 times a day

  47. Mark

    Ramble On; after a couple of “straight” passes through the progression, I add the bass part. By the time I get to the riff in the chorus, I’m psyched. Sometimes it’s Old Man by N. Young. For finger style, the go to is usually Blackbird.

  48. Mike

    No matter what, every time I pick up my Martin OM 28 Custom, I play what you called the Full House Segway-Chord lesson #45. It’s clean, it’s rhythmical, sounds great, and you can freelance. Lots of fun.

  49. Profile photo of Jeff K
    Jeff K

    Since I learned them here, it’s been “Big Sciota” and “Blackberry Blossom”—I’m obsessed with those two and will happily sit and play one after the other all day long. Otherwise, my go-to is always “Bird Song” by the Grateful Dead.

    If there’s a twelve-string within reach, I cannot now nor will I ever be able to resist playing Extreme’s “Hole Hearted.”

  50. Profile photo of Jason T
    Jason T

    For me it’s a G-C-D progression where I play the G & C with the D note on the 2 string added to both chords. Sometimes throw Em and Am into the mix….play it fast with a little percussive technique thrown in…

  51. Profile photo of jeff s
    jeff s

    So this is what is missing in my quest to become a guitar wizard. I will spend the next days researching and developing my “Thing”. I hope it will help. I think off the top of my head I will start with the Ping Pong lick, it is my absolute favorite and I hear everywhere. So from this day forward…..Ping Pong lick is my “Thing”.

  52. Profile photo of David C
    David C

    The intro melody line to Interstate Love Song as well as the intro chord progression … I just love C#m ….

    1. Profile photo of Wendy M
      Wendy M

      hahaha…i love waynes world. My sister and I use to head bang in the backseat of the car every time Boh. Rhapsody would come on the radio. My mom thought we were crazy, but she would always turn it up.

  53. Thom

    Recently it has been just the initial cords for Neil Youngs Harvest Moon. I feel peaceful while playing it and, although not too complicated, I do feel a sense of mastery even though I am still a beginner. Facilitates a kind of traction to continue to play every day for a moment or longer.

  54. Profile photo of DeeDee L
    DeeDee L

    Turn The Page intro by Bob Seger. I know the intro is a sax solo but I was taught the intro lick. Love it. Play it every single time I pick up my guitar and not once but thrice. ⛄

  55. Profile photo of Anna K
    Anna K

    When I first pick up my guitar, I play the first 2 songs I learned and a couple of Tony’s licks that I’ve been working on. They just make me feel good.

    -I only know 2 songs (Eagles “Take It Easy” & “Blackbird”) but it’s nice to know everybody has that “thing.”

  56. Profile photo of Adam B
    Adam B

    On acoustic it’s either Blackbird or Fast Car (Tracy Chapman) if I’m in a fingerstyle kind of mood, or Dead of Alive intro (Bon Jovi) or BLUEGRASS RHYTHM if gripping a pick!

    On electric, I can’t do anything until I play Back in Black and Black Dog licks.

  57. Profile photo of John White - Canada
    John White - Canada

    Voices by Alice in Chains is what I warm up and cool down with.

    Hey guys nice touch with a the snow flakes on the web site.
    John White – Great White North

      1. Profile photo of Stefan W
        Stefan W

        this is a very cool lick………sound awesome for me, can I learn this from you

        Greetings from Bavaria


  58. Profile photo of Sean F
    Sean F

    On an acoustic I am totally guilty of playing the G chord and a few hot licks. I think you can tell what a guitar will do pretty quickly via the magic G chord.

    On electric I play the solo to Guitars and Cadillacs.

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