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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Instructional Ideas for Guitar Students and Teachers
Beginning level

            I’ve taught guitar lessons since I was in high school and have studied the guitar since the age of ten. I ran across a really cool technique while teaching a few days ago. I thought I’d post it in a blog.

Technique #1

My student was struggling to make smooth chord transitions. She played great, once she got her chords formed. Strumming wasn’t an issue, but switching between chords was quite a challenge. We were working with G and C in open position.  It was taking her until the second beat of each measure to fully form her chords. That’s a super common occurrence, not a big deal to solve. It just takes some patience and knowledge of how to break down necessary practice techniques into smaller pieces. I’ve found that students are more likely to practice if they feel like they have the proper knowledge and tools to practice.
It would be quite wrong of me to demonstrate how I’m able to change chords, turn to the student and say, “now you do it.” They’re likely to get frustrated and quit, or wonder what’s wrong with them. That’s where a good teacher comes in. Time to break down the practice regimen into smaller steps so the student feels like their making progress along the way until they finally reach their ultimate goal.

Keep your right hand movement very simple. Play one down strum on each beat, that way you can really focus on the left hand.

Use just two chords when practicing your switches. Don’t try to play a series of chords, much less an entire song. Take two chords at a time until you get through the entire song. Keep it simple!
Play the root of each chord on beat one. Let it ring through the remaining beats. Make sure to use the designated finger for that root. Play very slowly for 2 measures in 4/4 time. Use a metronome. It might be easier to set the metronome to the 1/8th note if you have trouble following super slow quarter notes.

When you get comfortable playing the root of the chord, and you’re locked in with the metronome, then work on adding the remaining fingers necessary to complete the chord. You’ll have the bass note on beat one. The remaining chord tones will follow on beats two, three, and four.

Skills Improved
Jamming with a metronome – it will be much easier to feel the groove and to know where you are when you only play one bass note in each measure. If you can jam with a metronome, you can jam in a band – as long as they have good time like you.
A little Music Theory  - you should be more comfortable with where the bass note is for each chord – you have a beginning foundation for how chords are constructed.
Ultimate goal of switching chords – You’ll have these chords rocking and rolling in no time if you take your time to focus on these basic, but very important details. Remember – “Excellence is in the Basics.”
            Future Solutions  - learning and understanding how to solve this problem will translate to lots of other challenges that you’ll face on your journey to become a kickass guitarist!! What are you waiting for? Grab your guitar and get going!!

Until next time – Surf it Mellow my brothers and sisters – the MD

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Purpose of Music

            I’ve spent waaaaay too much time thinking and contemplating the need for the human soul to have music in their lives in just about every aspect and on a 24/7 basis. Music has an incredibly strong pull that calls human souls to attention at every turn. I must admit that my thoughts and theories on this subject seem to be quite circular at times taking me to the outer edges of complex thoughts only to return, in the final analysis, back where I started. I’ve most definitely suffered from paralysis by analysis. But, I’ll try my darndest to stay focused, concise and succinct.
            So what is the purpose of music? We could talk about this subject for the rest our lives. Let’s consider this to be the first of many blogs on this subject. I’ll attempt to tackle the word “soul food” for today. Music is soul food. Our bodies need physical, tangible food, but our souls need a different type of food that can often times only be generated by other people’s souls. Soul food is free to make. It’s free to consume. Soul food is an act of kindness; it’s a daughter feeding her mother whose got Alzheimer’s. Soul food is feeding the homeless, visiting the sick, adopting a dog, or a cat. It’s giving someone a much-needed hug with both arms, a ride to the doctor, a ride home from school. Soul food is easily generated. But, when handled improperly, it can be as damaging and destructive as it can be rejuvenating and uplifting. We all produce soul food every single day, we’re soul farmers. We all have a choice of what crops to grow, and we choose when and how to harvest them and how to deliver them. What kind of soul farmer are you? What type of music do you listen to? What type of music do you perform, or compose? Are you a good steward of yourself and the world around you? Music touches and effects people’s lives in much the same way as an act of kindness does.   

"...we’re soul farmers."

If the five senses are touch, sight, taste, smell and hearing, then music is certainly an integral part of all of those senses in terms of recollection and the emotional memories that are awakened by music. I’ve cried listening to music, laughed, contemplated, meditated, and danced to music. I’ve turned music off because it stirred up painful memories. To the contrary, I’ve purposefully turned on party music to make myself feel better – it works every time!!! I’ve seen some incredible things while listening to music. I love sports, television and movies, which are all heavily steeped in music. Music has been an integral part of many meals for me. I’ve been running for the past 20 years. I listen to music while I’m running. It has been the sound track for me seeing cities and countries all over the United States and abroad. Music has been there for my hikes when I smell the beautiful flowers and vegetation. Music is a deep part of my soul. It’s a deep part of a whole lot of people’s souls so it’s not to be taken lightly.
            So the purpose of music is vast and broad and can be as complicated, or as easy as you want it to be. I’ve come full circle in my life. I appreciate music for it’s ability to conjure up emotions. I use music to feed my soul for good and for positive thoughts to emerge. One of the most important purposes of music to me is to bring joy and love to the world. Music is medicine for the soul. I’m not going to bash smooth jazz artists because they don’t play like John Coltrane. I love the way John Coltrane plays. I love the music of Pat Metheny, Jeff Lorber, Brent Mason, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritneour, and the classical guitarist David Russell. I  don’t play like them but I love listening to them. I also love to throw back a cold beer with Jimmy Buffett cranked up - sweet. I love cranking up “Happy” by Pharrell. I’ve, at one time or another, had just about every major genre of music programmed on my car stereo from country, to jazz, to smooth jazz, to easy listening, and classical.
So go ahead, check out as many different types of music as you can. Hit the track skip button until you hear something that you really dig and keep it right there! I used to think that just because I had a Masters Degree in Jazz that I should play jazz all the time, or because I got a Doctorate Degree in Classical guitar that I should play classical guitar all the time. I’m, for the first time in my life, playing what I want to play and that makes me happy. The music that I’m currently composing is just about as far away from jazz and classical as you can get. I’m writing kicked back beach music for now, but that’s now. It might be bop jazz, or burning country next week, so who knows, who even cares, I don’t!!
The world is big enough and vast enough for everyone to be able to express themselves without being ridiculed, or judged. I understand that different types of music require different amounts of technique but in the end it’s all about the music. That makes me think of Bob Marley. He didn’t play the guitar like Hendrix. He didn’t sing like a virtuoso vocalist, but man is his music powerful and awesome – it’s all in the emotions, in the love, and in the soul farming. Be good to your music. Be good to each other. Be good to your fellow man, and don’t speak unkindly about your fellow musicians, their technique, or the lack thereof!! It’s all-important to someone. It’s all good in some way, shape, or form.

Lots more to come on this subject!

Until next time – Surf It Mellow my Brothers and Sisters – the MD

Friday, November 21, 2014

“A Guitar A Day”
Installment #7 – the American Guitar Continued
Takamine & Godin Guitars

            Wow, the end of the series is already here! We checked out guitars that went from seven strings, four pitches and mustaches, to five stringers with wedding cakes, to six stringers with v shaped necks and pyramids. We took a quick look at the contributions of guys like Torres and Tarrega, and Perez, Tezano and Ramirez. I hope you got a chance to check out a few of the videos. Did you see Brent Mason burn his electric nylon string guitar down to the ground? Oops I spilled the beans, but don’t worry that video is coming right up! Speaking of electrifying classical guitars.
            My favorite electric/classical guitar is my Takamine CP-132SC. It’s not high end. I think I paid $500 for it back in the mid 90’s. But, it’s a working mans’ guitar. It sounds awesome plugged in, it’s rugged, it holds up to temperature changes like no other guitar. The expensive guitars are high maintenance. My Takamine is always there for me day in and day out. This guitar has a cedar top. It sounded great the first time I played it and 100’s and 100s of gigs later – it still sounds great! I have played hundreds of gigs on that guitar. I played at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC for three years five nights a week. This guitar has been the consummate workhorse and has passed every performance test along the way.
I don’t see a serial number. I’m not sure what year it was built. I did replace the pre-amp on the guitar a few months ago, but that’s to be expected  - electronics wear out. The new thing on this guitar that we didn’t see on any of our previous instruments is the fact that there is wood missing from the top right portion of the body of the guitar. That’s called a cutaway. It allows the performer to easily stretch their fingers to the end of the fret board. I really like it. Of course classical guitarists can extend their fingers up the neck of traditional classical guitars, but the cutaway is awesome for those of us that do a lot of electric guitar work. Now, I have heard that having a cutaway with a strictly acoustic classical guitar greatly affects the sound of that instrument. That makes perfect sense to me, but having a cut away on a gigging classical guitar for restaurants and theatre gigs also makes sense to me.  
And now the Godin ACS slim SA. This guitar is cool. It has a solid body so no matter how loud you play; you won’t get any feedback like you might get on an acoustic like the Takamine. The Godin also has the capability of being played as a midi guitar. There is a midi out on the guitar that can then be connected to a midi effects rack such as the Roland GR20. I have included a link for a video where you can learn all about the capabilities of this awesomely versatile guitar, truly a part of the next generation of instruments.
It’s perfect for recording and composing. You can play any line on the guitar and since it records with midi information you can assign any instrument to the guitar part that you record such as flute, trumpet, or even an organ. Of course there’s no substitute for having real players but everyone doesn’t have a budget for hiring musicians and even if they do hire live musicians for their recordings, the midi is a fantastic way to sketch out ideas for a variety of instrumental parts. This guitar provides an incredibly creative outlet for guitar players that they didn’t have for many years prior, so thank you Godin!
And so this wraps up my very first blog series! I’ve written inspirational pieces, funny pieces and now a researched informational series of pieces. What’s next? I have no idea. Stay tuned. I need to get back to composing in my studio. I have played very little guitar for the past few months spending a lot of time on the “Waves of Soul” record release and then I rolled into this blog series. I’ll look to find a nice balance between music and blogging. I also enjoy doing a bit of teaching and performing. I’m going to Florida and Mississippi to perform on stage with a Christmas musical. That will be in a few weeks. It should provide me with some really interesting material, maybe a travel and life on the road blog. We might even run into a drummer sault or two along the way (I describe that in on of my older blogs).
Until next time, surf it mellow my brothers and sisters!             

Brent Mason really leans into his acoustic/electric on this video!

How to use a Godin Multiac Nylon SA

Takamine is showed above. Below is the Godin.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

“A Guitar A Day”
Installment #6 – The Modern Classical Guitar

            Today’s instrument represents a modern classical guitar that was built in the year 2000. The label inside the guitar reads “M. Tezanos Perez.” After doing a bit of research it looks like the name of this company represents collaboration between Teodoro Perez and Mariano Tezanos. They both began working in the 1960’s in the famous Ramirez guitar shop in Madrid. They were both teenagers at the time taking full advantage of their opportunity by working their way up from sweeping floors and making deliveries to making guitars for Ramirez. It was when they left Ramirez and joined forces that they started building under their new name “M. Tezanos Perez.” The guitars that they made together put them at the top of their industry. It looks like Perez is still making guitars today. I’m not sure about Tezanos. I provided a link to a video of Perez being interviewed just a few years ago – looks like he’s still going strong!

            The body of todays’ guitar is a bit bigger then the parlor guitars that we’ve taken a look at over the past two days and the pyramid bridge is gone.  A couple of good descriptors for this guitar, from my perspective, would be “beefy” and “solid.” It plays like butter, but projects like a megaphone. The bass is prominent, but not boomy. The mids and highs are perfectly balanced. The sound of this guitar represents what is considered to be the traditional Spanish guitar sounds that Ramirez and many others were shooting for when they came up with the designs for these guitars. I love it. If I remember correctly this guitar has Brazilian rosewood sides and back and a German spruce top – really high end materials and it sounds and plays like it.
While this guitar has a spruce top, the Takamine that you’ll see tomorrow has a cedar top. The difference between these two woods is that the spruce tops need time to open up. They sound better and better the more you play them. The cedar top guitars don’t change as much in tone as you play them but you get a really good sense of how their going to sound from day one since they don’t really change, two things to consider when buying your next classical guitar. It’s important to learn something about the inherent sound qualities and tones of different woods especially when it comes to higher end guitars because you’ll have a wider range of choices. There are lots of luthiers to get to know. You’ll find all sorts of woods and design techniques. No matter what your price point is on a guitar, especially acoustic guitars, make a point to find out what they’re made of. You’ll eventually have preferences for playing and listening to particular guitars based on what they’re made out of and how they’re made. Maybe you’ll become fond of guitars built in the tradition of Torres – maybe not, but it’s fun to learn and decide for yourself!

The Guitars of Tezano Perez

Tedero Perez – How He Started As A Guitar Maker

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

“A Guitar A Day”
Installment #5 – the American Guitar Continued
Martin & Co. EST. 1833

Steel strings!

            “The robust steel-string guitar began to make its official appearance from instrument makers’ workshops in the late 1880’s. Apart from its suitability as an accompanying instrument for the voice, the guitar was portable and very cheap. The Sears Roebuck catalogue of 1908 was advertising guitars by mail-order from $1.89 to $28.15. Otherwise the local country store sold a variety of guitars. For $1.95 you could purchase one of the “Spanish models with patent head, maple wood, red shaded, varnished soundboard, good quality in pasteboard box”; for $5 there was a wider choice. But even these were often out of the reach of the poor country boy and many learned on home-made instruments.” The quote above comes from page 287 of Guitars: Music, History, Construction and Players from the Renaissance to Rock by Tom and Mary Anne Evans. I really enjoyed reading this so I thought that it would be a great idea to give you the direct quote.   
Our guitar for today’s blog, having steel strings, was best suited for music styles ranging from bluegrass to gospel, to country western and maybe even some bottleneck blues. But wait. I just remembered that there was one really famous dude that played classical guitar repertoire on steel strings as opposed to gut. His name was Agustin Barrios Mangore. Was he wacky for doing that? You decide! I’ve included a link below in case you’re interested in knowing more about his colorful and remarkable life. He’s considered to be one of the greatest composers to ever live – at least among classical guitarist. In contrast, the nylon Bay State guitar from yesterday was more suited for classical guitar music, which was very popular with guitarists such as William Foden and Justin Holland. Their musical styles included instrumental arrangements of popular songs, arrangements of famous operas and music from European composers like Sor, Giuliani and Carcassi.
Lawrence K Brown modeled today’s guitar after an 1898 Martin style 40. It has a pyramid bridge, Indian Rosewood sides, anglemen spruce top, African mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard and any ebony bridge. It was finished with garnet orange shellac and French polish. The bracing is light making it quite necessary to use extra light silk and steel strings so as not to damage the guitar. After all, a heavy gauge of strings could pull the bridge right off the top of the guitar!
One more thing before we wrap up. Let’ not forget Francisco Tarrega who is recognized in history as having developed a number of performance techniques directly related to the new construction standards that were set by Antonio de Torres. Some of Tarrega’s improvements included specific left and right hand positions as well as the precise use of a footstool. He also indicated where each note should be played on the guitar neck for specific compositions in order to be able to take full advantage of the incredible tonal qualities of these new guitars. Tarrega was an incredible virtuoso classical guitarist and a quintessential romantic.
Here’s a video of an 1890 Martin Guitar by O’Brien Guitars – very similar to mine – steel strings - you can hear how beautiful this guitar sounds.

Check out this Martin Guitar from 1889 with nylon strings – similar to the Bay State but I think the Martin sounds much better then mine.

Agustin Barrios – here’s a fun article in which the use of steel strings by Barrios as opposed to gut strings is discussed. By the way, it sounds like Andre Segovia was not down with Barrios using steel strings. Segovia referred to steel strings as “wire fences” – ouch!