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.


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).

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.