Thursday, September 11, 2014

Barre Chords - What am I doing wrong??



I wanted to do a quick post to help beginning players address probably their most asked question of their teachers: "How do I do a barre chord! These are impossible!!".

No they are not... they are surprisingly quite easy with some work.

Finger Placement
First up, let's talk briefly about the proper fretting hand placement. The way the guitar works is that when you press down on a string at any fret, the string makes contact with the steel fret wire at the front edge of the fret (closer to the body of the guitar not the neck). This essentially makes the string shorter and the contact point is exactly on the crest of the steel fret wire. Why this matters: no matter where in the fret you press down with your finger, the contact point remains the fret wire itself.

Take a look at this photo below, most importantly where I am fretting the note. This is bad finger placement - too far from the front fret itself. More strength is required to push the string down in this position. I have made a small red dot where the finger should be for optimal technique.



This (below) is correct placement. Notice where in the fret, the finger makes contact - right behind the fret wire itself. This placement allows you to use the least possible strength. The less strength you need to press down the faster your playing and the clearer the notes.



This (below) is what a good barre chord should look like. I have circled the finger placement so you can see how on top of the fret wires I am.



Let's talk about the thumb
The most overlooked aspect of a good barre chord is the placement of the thumb. The thumb provides the strength and counter balance for the fingers.

In this photo you can see bad thumb placement. I am using the side of my thumb and it is too far towards the headstock of the guitar to provide strength to the pinky side of my hand. The index finger is the only finger getting any assistance here.



Here is another bad example. With your palm touching the neck, the thumb is too high to properly spread your fingers. When you grab the guitar with what can be referred to as a "Baseball bat grip", the structure of your hand is such that when the thumb is in a grabbing type position, your fingers will not be free to spread apart.



Here is proper placement - Thumb behind the second finger, in the middle of the height of the neck. This position allows even strength and the ability for the fingers to spread. Which can be critical in chording.


Let's put it all together
Here is a picture of a correctly executed barre chord. With a hand position like this it gives you the best positioning to create a chord with no buzzing or fretted out notes.



Best player in the world X doesn't do it that way!
It should be said that once you get good at an instrument, often times your technique can get sloppy. I can use almost any hand placement now and still get a clean barre chord after all these years. But I sure couldn't at first! It was hell - but that was many years ago. The great players can use odd fingers and all kinds of other technically "wrong" hand positions. They can get away with it. Because all the hours of doing it right has given their hands the strength and flexibility to achieve this.

Will I ever get this?
Topics like this are odd because once you master this - you will never need to think of it again. It becomes second nature. One day these chords will be so easy you will wonder why I wasted the time writing an article about them. So stay with it, focus on your thumb and finger placement and you will have these mastered before you know it.

Best of luck!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Organizing your practice time




As musicians we all have musical goals, even if you don't think you do - you do! Maybe you just have not formalized it yet. The purpose of this post is to help get you on your way.

It's Time
With fall approaching it marks the beginning of a new calendar for me. The summer with all its splendour and busyness represents an almost full stop to my practice routine. I still play of course, but the hopes of actually getting anything done are pretty much dead. So here I am, ready to work.... now what?

Setting a goal - the roadmap
If you were travelling somewhere, and you had no idea where you were going, how would you get there? I mean, you would end up somewhere... But is it the place you wanted to be? Formalizing your goals is an absolute critical part of the journey to get you where you want to be. It allows you to keep track of your practice times, making sure the compass is always guiding you. So really spend some time thinking about this one.

I don't know what to practice?
We've all felt this at one time or another. Practice room dead ends can lead to the boredom, which is followed by putting down the instrument. So the goal here is to keep you moving forward, with always lots of options to keep yourself fresh.

At the top of this post I have shared with you my current "Goals Document". The items on this are completely personal to you, but I wanted you to see what I do to maybe generate some ideas and inspiration as to how this actually looks. Yours can be entirely different.

It is pretty self explanatory - basically, I list a longer term goal in the column on the left. Then a practice idea beside it in the right column. The idea here is not for me to do all of these things. This is a list of potential things I can work on in a practice session. I haven't listed gig requirements etc. Those ram themselves into your schedule just fine on their own! This is designed to beat the practice room doldrums and keep your fingers on the strings. Next time you are floundering in the practice room, take a peek at your sheet. Pick something and get busy on your road.

Spend some time developing your own strategy. Knowing where you want to be gives you a distinct advantage and increases one's odds of ever actually getting 'there'.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Do you really know how to use your gear?




Because I kind of don't... or didn't. Many musicians spend a good deal of money on the quest for that elusive tone. Of course there are varying degrees of this illness, but guitar players are specifically bad for it!

Take for example something I just went through. Over the years, I have acquired quite a few pedals. These are added and removed from my pedalboard with regularity. When not in use, they end up here



This is my version of a pedal 'time-out' shelf (sadly I have a good deal more than this!). This is where my pedals go to .. not die... but certainly wait - until the day they are needed once again.

One of these pedals, was a beautiful Fuzz pedal that I purchased a while back - the Fulltone SoulBender.  Fulltone makes amazing gear. This Soulbender pedal is used by many great recorded players, so it was selected to full all my Fuzz needs... Problem is... it just didn't sound good. I mean it was OK... but certainly not soulbending! So I have been on the lookout ever since for a different fuzz pedal.

Fast forward to today. In my readings, I came across a discussion of different transistor usage in fuzz pedals. The author was saying something along the lines of germanium ones being very specific about where they get placed in the signal path, how much current needed, temperature issues, all that... Then it occurred to me... Pretty sure the Soulbender is a germanium fuzz??

So off to Google I went and what followed lead me to the point of this article! Take the time to Google and research your gear before you make a decision about it! As it turned out, the Soulbender (and a couple other pedals on my board) were in the wrong place. So just simply shuffling the order they were in had a MAJOR impact on the quality of their tone. All of a sudden it sounded beautiful!!

The lesson here is: Sometimes different pieces of equipment are designed to operate in very specific conditions. A lot of this makes no sense to someone without a degree in electronics or programming! So Google is your friend. Before you pull out your wallet, take the time to read about each piece of gear you own. What you discover may give some of it a new lease on life.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Jammit - Pretty darn cool!




There are a lot of new "slow downer" type teaching apps emerging these days to assist young musicians learn their favourite songs. One of those is Jammit. Now, I am not usually one to get too caught up in these types of things (I believe working it out for yourself bears far more fruit) but I found myself intrigued enough to download this and give it a look see.

Before getting too far into this let me explain what it does: Jammit allows you to play back a song file (that you purchase from their site) that allows you to isolate the individual tracks and includes. It includes a scrolling Tab or notation of the piece being played. There are more features too, so hit the link above and check out one of the demo videos.

One real cool feature right off the bat  - this is not just a guitar app. There are vocal, bass, drums, keys versions of the same songs available. Good for a young band to get all the parts. Another thing - these tracks sound great! I am not sure if they come right off the master tapes of these recordings or not... But truly impressive tone.

To check the quality of the transcriptions I started with a tricky one: "The Attitude Song" from Steve Vai's Flexible album. Overall, a pretty accurate transcription. Some spots the fingerings in the Tab seem a bit odd, but overall a pretty solid representation. You can loop and slow down playback while the notation scrolls on screen allowing you to work out the piece line by line.

My final feeling is that this is a very solid package, one that I would recommend to any learning musician as a part of their practice routine. Head on over and check it out. Easily worth the $5 outlay that most of the songs cost.

Monday, April 21, 2014

New Pedalboard




Well, I just got my hands on a new Pedaltrain Jr. pedalboard. It is a perfect solution for any gigging player who's pedal count is around 8 - 10 pedals.

The board features: steel frame construction, a handy travel bag, and all the required velcro. The Pedaltrain Jr even comes with a handy mounting kit for a Voodoo Labs Pedal Power. This allows you to mount the power supply underneath - preserving valuable real estate up top. So if you play mostly local gigs, where a road case is not required, then this little baby is a great option.

I was able to get 8 pedals on board (including the oversized TC Nova delay) and still had room for a Wah pedal. (BTW - I powered the 9th pedal off the handy power supply out on the TC Electronics Polytune - boy those cats at TC really are thinking aren't they!).

Now I can swap out pedals at will to suit the type of music any gig would require. No muss, no fuss!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Going Deeper in a Tonality



I once heard a story of a great jazz piano player (I think it may have been Bill Evans but I am not certain). As the story goes: a visitor dropped by to visit this musician's house one morning. He found him improvising over a simple set of changes (chord progression). The visitor left for the day and returned 9 hours later and discovered him STILL playing over the exact same changes. When asked about it the response came (paraphrasing) "I like to spend the time and focus on bringing out all the tonal options". Heavy - and very very smart!

Your turn!
Now I am certainly not suggesting you do this for 9 hours! Although, if you got the desire and focus, it would be a valuable experience! The point of this entry is to challenge you to try this. Get a loop going, choose for now, a static chord and set up a simple one chord vamp. Then dig in and improvise freely within it. I do this often sometimes for 2-3 hours at a time on the same vamp (it drives my family crazy!). It is a great rhythmic exercise and really challenges your creativity and control.

The idea is to work over every idea you can muster. Be adventurous - try different scales, chromatic approach notes, bending, whammy bar, slides, sweeps, plus TONS of different rhythmic phrases -  whatever! Fail all over the place. Just go for anything you hear. This is a fantastic exercise for developing your own voice on the instrument.

Here is a sample of one I did last night to give you the idea.

Stay well people! Keep those fingers movin!

Cheers


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Guitar Lessons - Getting and Giving them more effectively



I have had a couple conversations lately that inspired me to write a post about guitar lessons. My background experience with teaching private lessons is quite considerable. I have also been the recipient of lessons over the years so I thought I would reflect on some of what I have learned.

This is a post written by one of the members of a guitar forum I frequent, about what she would like to see from a teacher:

"For lessons, I would hope for some sort of quick progress test with discussion of results, review of goals, intro material to work on for next time, time to work on any particular problem spots I identified, and set performance goal for next lesson with accompanying suggestions for practice. All of course based on my long and short term goals for the instrument."

Frankly, this description of what a teacher 'should do' is very good. Were I a young (or old) teacher reading this, I would write this down and use it as the baseline process for approaching your students. It is also a good statement for what to request of a potential teacher (because a lot don't do much of this).

 Pretty Utopian sadly.

Understanding the beast
Guitar teachers can be some of the most disorganized teachers in the world. One of the main reasons for this is that self-teaching of the instrument is the most common (and in many cases respected) in its community.  Yes, sadly there is that element among guitarists who feel that actually 'learning' is for the non-gifted. Guitar Gods don't take lessons (Ahem Steve Vai)! Guitar is simply most often learned through a series of trial and error.

Players of other instruments didn't learn like this. They learned mostly through centuries old training regimens and well established progressive lessons through the conservatory. Because they learned like this – they one day teach like this.

 The cycle continues in both worlds.

How did these "self-taught" learn?
Well, I learned by lifting the needle on Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" album and picking out songs like "Iron Man" one note at a time. This is a pain staking, yet pretty common story among us self-taught types. The process of getting to where I am today as a player is a disaster really! Filled with my particular personality quirks and bizarre-o experiences. So whenever a player who learned like I did, has a student look to them and ask "how did you learn to play?" It's kind of hard to answer! Luckily, I am a pretty organized guy with my thoughts and can put my process to words fairly well. But not all are like this.

 Some think "well it worked for me" and try to force it on their students. Maybe the right call… Maybe not.

"My teacher sucked…"
I dislike this comment - and I hear it a lot. Personally, I think every proficient player has SOMETHING they can teach you. As a student my goal, would be to extract those elements and move on if there is nothing more to be learned from that teacher. I hear people complain all the time about "bad teacher this" and "bad teacher that"! Personally, I think it is all excuses and BS. The student plays a significant role in the process, so if you are unwilling to dig for gold, you will likely never find any. Unless you stumble across it or someone points you to where it is.

As a student your role is equal if not much more than the guy being paid. Sounds unfair I know, but if you truly want to learn you MUST accept your role in this. Because it is massive! Know what you want and ask for it. Make sure week to week the teacher follows the path. Because remember this person has been seeing one student after another all day. Remembering all your personal goals is not always on the top of their mind - even though it should be. The best teachers I have had, keep a journal with notes about each student - what was covered, goals etc and move week to week.

So, how do I get the most from my lesson?



As a student, the fist thing I'd do (if I was unfamiliar with the teacher) is to ask them to simply play something for me. From that performance I would listen for something in it that moved me. What did he/she do well? Perhaps they have great vibrato, or some cool soloing lines etc. Whatever that element is, I would then ask to focus on extracting precisely that. You may still end up moving on after one or two lessons, but that is no reason to not get something from the time and money. You can usually tell within the first 10 minutes if the teachers approach is clicking with you. Chemistry works like that - it's obvious.

All this of course, once I determined if this teacher is or is not able to get me to my pre-defined goals (which frankly EVERY would be student should have).

 Because those should be Plan A. There are many reasons why a teacher may not be able to move you forward: Poor theoretical knowledge, bad chemistry between you, plain old weak teaching skills. But Plan B isn't always a bad thing! In fact it may show you a direction that may entice you even more! Keep that mind open.. art right? Plan B can be just as viable as Plan A.

As a teacher, the first thing I'd do is to have a discussion and see why the student came to you. Find out what excites them. What are their plans and goals? Write them down. If any of those goals lie beyond your skill set, don't lie about it or be embarrassed. Tell them your limitations so that when you cover these dodgy areas you can work through it together. If they need more, never be afraid or too prod to send them to another teacher you know that is more suited to their needs. Sometimes the best lessons I ever gave were minutes long and involved sending someone to a different teacher. The student/parents and the new teacher appreciated it too!

So what is a good teacher?
A good teacher is one who inspires, challenges, supports, informs and inspires some more. Every student is different, so the teaching approach must be altered to bring out the best in the student and keep them moving towards their goals. Sometimes that approach is rigid: step A, then B, then C, type path. Other times a "Hey! Check out this lick I learned" type lesson, can be exactly what the student needs. Each can be equally effective OR destructive.

 There are no established paths so a stubborn reliance using on what worked for you or even many others, may be a dis-service to all. Remember, this is art with a boatload of psychology mixed in.

What is a good student?
A good student is one who comes with enthusiasm. One who asks for and provides a direction. One who is vocal about what they like and dislike about a lesson. One who comes prepared and is willing to sometimes follow the teachers lead when he/she gets excited about a new idea they learned (think of it as a field trip). Mostly, one who does what is asked each week as many times teachers need you to do something before they can show you something else. Everyone wants "progressive" until it means that they have to do the work that allows such a progression to happen. MOST of the time lessons plans get  derailed in lessons I have given were simply because the student didn't do the homework. You need to prioritize this… or why do it at all.

Just as there is an exception to every rule, there are also people who will disagree with all or parts of this. That's cool too. Remember, these are simply my experiences and feeling on this topic. In giving and receiving lessons there are no set paths. Be prepared for the possibility that you may not in fact respond best to the type of lessons you are asking for. So be prepared for honesty, this is one of the beautiful things about the arts. You give passion and you shall receive in kind. You give a lump of dung and well…. you get the picture! Good luck!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Randy Rhoads - a riff composition analysis



Today I would like to take a look at a classic Randy Rhoads lick pulled from the song "Revelation (Mother Earth)". This song on Ozzy's first solo album "Blizzard of Ozz".

I have always been a large fan of Randy and his work, especially his compositions on this album and the equally stunning "Diary of a Madman". The thing about Randy's writing style that seems to grab most of his fans; is that his ideas are all so very melodic. Much of his work is solidly grounded in the principles of his classical theory upbringing and training. So by examining where he draws his note choices, this can shed considerable light on how you can compose your own ideas following Randy's lead.

Let's get into it
The lick we are looking at today happens at around the 3 minute mark of the track. (Here is a link to the tune). Below is the tabbed out riff.


This song is predominately in the key of E minor and this riff sets the tone immediately with the sliding E power chord. It gets interesting fast though as he hits a Bb chord, followed by an F# (by way of the passing tone F). At first these may seem like odd choices (and they are certainly clever) but they are based in some fairly common theory. If I stack those main notes here's what we see:


The result forms a simple F#7 chord. The common strongest resolution in all classical western music is the famous V - I (five chord of the key, resolving to the tonic or home key). In E minor this chord would be B7. The above F#7 is actually the V chord to that B7 chord. This is referred to as the V of V (five of five). In other words, the strongest resolution, to the strongest resolution to the home. Sounds complex, but give it a try. Play around with this concept. Composers have been employing it for years.

Which brings us to the run at the end. Again, if we take these notes and stack them up, here is the resulting chord:


Is this a surprise to anyone now? Seems so logical doesn't it? The riff draws the ear back to the principal tonality of the piece. He strengthens that resolution by ending on the minor 3rd. This minor 3rd - tonic move is one of the most common in rock and most forms of music.

So this lick could be summed up simply by thinking of it as an F#7 to Emin move. Thinking of it this way will help you remember it for future too. It certainly helps me.

Stripping music back to its theoretical explanation can be incredibly enlightening for any musician. I highly recommend you make this concept part of your regular playbook.

Cheers!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

Lazy - guitar solo w/tab




Here is a very cool, very Richie Blackmore solo from the Deep Purple classic "Lazy". The song from the entirely legendary 1972 album 'Machine Head'. Always one of my favourite players with a very signature sound and feel. (Interestingly enough, the man they hired to fill Richie's shoes is very likely the one man on the planet with enough creed in the guitar community to pull it off. The legendary Mr. Steve Morse. A gentleman and a monster player himself! But also a HUGE influence of mine). But I digress.

Notated here, is the first solo after the keyboard intro (seriously how good was John Lord! May he rest in peace).

Analysis
The note choices in this solo come predominately from the F minor Pentatonic scale. With occasional use of the "Blues scale" version (which adds the b5 note to the standard pentatonic box). Richie frequently slides in and out of this note to up the blues quotient - a pretty common Blackmore-ism. 

In the second half he adds notes from the F natural minor scale (also known as F Aeolian). The shape of the scale, with its open strings nicely allow for fast pull-off riffage. The hardest part of this solo lives in bar 33. It was tricky (for me) to cleanly execute the pull-off from the 2nd to 1st fret. So start slow with this and keep looping these trouble spots in isolation. Slowly building up the speed until you have it down at tempo.

Getting the sound
This is really pretty basic signal chain. Strat > distortion pedal (I used a Wampler Pinnacle) > Some plate reverb > amp. Richie Blackmore used a pretty bass heavy EQ setting but aside from that the tone lives in how he plays. You pick closer to the neck joint than the bridge to achieve a darker note.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

My Blog has fallen and it can't get up


Well, well, well, what a busy summer/fall it has been. It has also been a long time since I have paid any attention to these pages ... Maybe it is time for me to get back to work. 

While we are on this topic, It is interesting through this blog however, to watch the ebb  and flow of my productivity. 

It doesn't seem to matter how many years go by, the truth of this process is that sometimes you feel creative and sometimes you don't. And sometimes, while you may even feel musically creative, you still may not manage to get a lot of work done.

During these intermittent stretches when I don't feel like playing or doing anything guitar related at all. I may read a few novels. Or even heaven forbid get drawn into a TV series or two with the wife. 

I am posting this to let you know that no matter your level or experience, if you feel this way it is perfectly natural. Forcing yourself through these stretches and making yourself practice can often be the worst thing you can do for your playing. I used to get stressed out about these periods. Or even feel some levels of guilt about them. But now after all these years I see them as a vital part of the learning process. When they are over, I always come back with a vengeance taking it to even higher levels than before.

I have already begun work on a new video for the YouTube channel so watch for that. I am also keeping my ears open for a good lesson topic for these pages. If you have any suggestions of a lesson that you would like me to cover, please don't hesitate to hit the reply box down below and submit something for me to consider.

All the best

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pretty cool practice site



Just stumbled across this in my travels and it looks pretty darn cool. Staying focused on what you are doing while practising is an important part of learning. So any tool to assist with this is AOK in my books!

http://musicdiscipline.com

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Joe Bonamassa - Story of a Quarryman solo w/tab




The first time I heard the song "Story of a Quarryman" it jumped right off the record with its crunchy groovy riff. The track comes from his 2009 release "The Ballad of John Henry" which in my opinion, is one of Joe's best. Rather than your typical power chord style riff, Joe thickens it right up by employing the 3rd and the 6th to thicken the root. Super cool. 

It has been fun watching Joe Bonamassa rise to the status of a 'known player'. When I first started listening to him, over a decade ago on his first release "A New Day Yesterday", he was a relative unknown. Fast forward 13 years, and I now hear his name regularly among non-guitar geeks. Which is very cool and well-deserved. Happy for him and a testament to all his years of VERY hard work.

Analysis
The solo begins over an Amin to A#Maj (one bar each) vamp. Over the Amin part his note choices come mostly from A Dorian. Over the A# his note choices come from A# Lydian (Same notes as F Major). The cool part is how he ends the phrases over the A#. The first time he ends the phrase on the Major 3rd. The second time on the 6th. 

As the progression moves along it changes to a G tonality (walking down). Over this section he again goes for the Dorian sound - this time G Dorian. Pretty much all of the notes are within the G Dorian (again, same notes as F Major) scale. There is some very tricky bending in this. So it is a real ear stretcher in spots.

Getting the sound
When I recorded this I was sleeping at the wheel and used my Strat... But to nail Joe's tone use a Les Paul or another solid body guitar with humbuckers. Set it to the neck position and add some Marshall style woof to the cabinet. Joe's tone is VERY full-bodied. Lots of lower end frequencies (that engineers hate!). But Joe's tone lives mostly in his hands and vibrato. If you can nail that, then what type of setup you use is less important. My Strat sounds very close in this recording. When in reality, a Strat couldn't be much more sonically different than a Les Paul. Tone is in your hands folks - always remember that.

The files
Here is the TAB sheet for your downloading pleasure.



Wednesday, August 7, 2013

100,000 readers!



100,000 readers... Very cool! Thank you all for your continuing readership & support. I hope in some small way I have helped you along your path to guitar greatness... or even just OK-ness : )

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cool looking new radio show




Just happened across a new radio show for guitar geeks just like me! Looks like it could be very cool - as is anything with Joe Bonamassa! Check it out, here is the link:

www.thepickupradio.com