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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