Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Wild, The Innocent &
The Proud Mary Shuffle:
Beginner Right Hand Muting


Learning to play the following rhythm is a fundamental step in the development of your strumming.

Forget, for a moment, the chord. You can practice the rhythm on open strings. Right hand only.


Here is the sequence of events:

1) Strum Down
2) Strum Up
3) Mute the Strings*
4) Strum Up

Repeat until groovy.





*Right Hand Muting Details:


Because what goes up must come down, the muting of the strings takes place while your hand is swinging back down in your smooth and even strumming motion.

As your arm descends in the strumming motion, instead of strumming, softly lay a part of your palm on the strings to silence them. If you are strumming with your fingers, you can use any part of your palm you like.

If you are holding a pick, let your hand rotate towards the pinky, and place the pinky side of your palm across the strings. Be careful to make sure that as you mute the strings, the pick is poised below the first string ready for the next up strum.

The trick is to make this a fluid stop, so that your hand doesn't lose the swinging momentum back and forth.  The pendulum motion of your arm makes the rhythm precise: Nice and smooth.

Now that you've got it, go ahead back to that chord. Notice that I've been intentionally inconsistent in the notation.

The Tab indicates that the smallest four strings are strummed. The Notation indicates only two strings. I don't really care how many strings you play. But I want you to care how many strings you strike.

An E chord can be strummed many different ways.

All Six Strings.
Top Two Strings
Top Four Strings
Low 3 Only.
Hi 3 Only.
Middle 3 Only.
Which Middle 3?

Experiment with this.
Can you get very precise with the number of strings that you strum?

Can you change the number of strings you strike on different beats?
So that some strums get more emphasis than others?

Make up a simple pattern, and attempt to repeat it consistently.

Here's one possibility:

1) Strum Down (All Six)
2) Strum Up (Smallest three: G, B, E strings.)
3) Mute the Strings* (Duh.  None.)
4) Strum Up (Biggest three: E, A, D strings.)

The possibilities, and varieties in musical texture, are endless.
Go find some of your own.

Have fun!


Here's the namesake tune and it's signature rhythm:



***

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Frak Art!
Let's Dance!
Serious Moonlight:
My David Bowie


This video from a 'Serious Moonlight' Tour Date in Vancouver, BC, was perfect in my 14 year old eyes and ears, except for one thing: Stevie Ray Vaughan was not playing guitar.

That's right, SRV played on Bowie's 1983 Mega-Smash "Let's Dance". That album introduced his sound to the world via the guitar solo in "China Girl".

SRV was in fact, scheduled to do the tour. He apparently rehearsed with the band, and it's possible that he actually did a few dates, but I don't think so.

I have speculated as to the reasons SRV passed on the gigs, but I prefer to imagine what the shows would have actually sounded like with SRV's signature licks and tone.

Earl Slick does the job, but he's a bore when asked for more. It's the most musically dated aspect of this video: His tone is a prime example of 80's tone suckage. It's bad digital flanging and messy comb filtering. Yuk. The sound of stereo gone awry.

I like to turn the sound down during Slick's solo spot on White Light White Heat and put on "Live with Me" from Let it Bleed by the Rolling Stones. If you squint your eyes, Slick looks a little like a youthful Keith Richards.

Perhaps if Bowie hadn't been fixed on collaborating with the wrong Rolling Stone, and if Keith hadn't been busy producing this film with his idol Chuck Berry back then, maybe Keith could've gotten the gig.

I can imagine what THOSE shows would've sounded like with Keith sitting back smoking and 'taking the piss' out of Bowie's 'Art Music': GREAT!

Alas, I've spent a lot more time listening to Rolling Stones and SRV records over the years than I have listening to Bowie. But this concert has a lot to recommend itself musically. It's a fantastic beginner's primer on Bowie's music, without all the baggage of his transexual space junkie persona. It's too bad this concert is not available on CD.

I recently re-purchased Serious Moonlight on DVD for myself and for a friend that I wanted to introduce to 'My David Bowie'. This reviewer from Amazon get's the facts straight, if the presentation is a little slanted. Emphasis mine:

When David Bowie released Let's Dance in 1983, there were fans who felt Ziggy Stardust had sold out, but it was--of course--just another in a long line of stage personae for the Thin White Duke. Unfortunately, it wasn't his most interesting. This video, from the Vancouver stop on the Serious Moonlight tour, seems a little dull. Aside from a prop or two, some nifty costumes for his band (inspired by a Singapore street scene), and singing one song inside a tube of plastic, there's little of the visual imagination seen from Bowie in the past. On the other hand, the band is tight (although Earl Slick's I'm-a-guitar-god moves grow tiresome), the lighting is cool, and Bowie pulls out material from throughout his career (there are only three songs from his then-latest album Let's Dance). Best of all, he seems to be having fun, and without all the makeup and outrageousness, David Bowie the person comes through more. Maybe it's just another stage persona, but he seems like a pretty nice bloke. --Geof Miller


This is a concert that focuses on Bowie's music, not high concept. I think Mr. Miller partially missed the memo, here. The original name of Bowie's 1983 Album was "Frak Art. Let's Dance" Except, it wasn't Frak. It was an expression more common among Earthlings, and one that Bowie's label couldn't abide. In this way, this concert's a smash.

***

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

You've Got Rhythm
Freddie Green
Style


Here are the first 8 bars of what Jazz musicians refer to as 'rhythm changes', because they are based, loosely, upon the chord changes of George Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm".

Jazz musicians by the score penned their own unique melodies over these same chord changes in order to keep the publishing for themselves. The melody is often referred to as 'the head' and is used as a basis for improvisations for those melodically inclined. Jazz musicians spend quite a bit of time mastering these changes, often in 'horn keys' like Bb and Eb.

I've written a 'Rhythm Changes' head about Pie, in the key of C. Check out the grips. Theory notes to come. Click the pic to enlarge:



Lesson 1 in This Series
< Previous Lesson < >

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3x Correct Rule

Apologies for this re-post. But this is a lesson that bears repeating.

With any new technique or new passage of music, start with playing the new material very slowly. Three times. Do this until you can play the passage or technique effortlessly and musically 3 consecutive times.

Repeat this practice three times daily.

As you master the passage or technique, and can complete it 3 consecutive times consistently, you can increase by one layer of difficulty. Add another passage OR technique OR increase that metronome marking OR work on trickier syncopations OR dynamics. Don't try all these at once, though. Add one layer at a time so that you can fully concentrate on that element. Three times.

Then, when you've got it, place the technique or passage on the back burner. Three consecutive times, but only once daily. Twice daily if you haven't practiced it in 48 hours. But that's a lot of numbers to remember. So just remember this:

If you can't do it three times consecutively and consistently, double the prescription. Or slow down by half.

Soon, you can revisit the passage while playing through whatever transcription or score you are working on. Just in the context of music.

And you can proceed to introducing another new technique or passage and developing that.

That's it.

Look for this lesson again soon. At least one more time.

***

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Beginner Lesson Gumbo:
Easy Carter Picking
Pickup Notes &
Palindrome Form


Here's a little two chord chord progression for beginning guitarists. If you are making your D chord fairly well, and you can transition from D to A or A7, this song is for you. Even if you are still mastering that transition, this common harmonic convention is a great way to practice it.

The right hand work here is an example of what some would call Carter Picking. Strong beats are bass notes. Weak beats are strums. In common time, the odd beats are bass notes and the even beats are chord strums. Played well and with some subtlety and taste, this technique can sound like a fairly solid country rhythm section. And all with just a pick.

Click on the pic to ENLARGE:



Where the Magic Happens: Every Downbeat is an Open String. One thing that helps us in this piece is that the first note of every 'new' chord is an open string. You have a full 1/8 note at the beginning of every measure with which your left hand can be utterly irresponsible and rest. In that time, if that pesky fretting mitt of yours isn't slacking, it has ample time to transition to the next chord.

Hallelujah! It's Easy, and it Sounds Good: Carter Picking is a technique for creating polyphony in your rhythm guitar playing. Even though it may sound a bit dated to some ears, beginners can learn a lot about timing and taking advantage of open strings from this technique. Highly recommended.

Peep The Form: It's Eye Palindrome Eye

Measures 1 -4: 2 Bars of D, two bars of A7:



Measures 5 -8: 2 Bars of A7, two bars of D:



Again, 2 bars of one chord, followed by 2 bars of the other. However, bars 5-8 are not a repeat of 1-4. They are its mirror image. The end result is musical symmetry in the 'feel' or 'flow' of the harmony. It feels somehow natural. The tide is low, you let go and go to A7, the tide is high again and you flow back to D.

Palindromes are beautiful, but the symmetry is somehow inherently confusing. If the back is the front backwards, where is the front? Where does a circle start? To mark the cycle of the form, we can use an age old musical trick: Pickup notes.

The Here We Go Signal: Pickup Notes

Pick up notes are lots of things. They are a musical signal in more than one way. They are a way of 'calling your shot', musically, if you are leading a band: telling the other players what chord comes next not by yelling it at them over the din of the drummer, but by using a musical signal.

Imagine that the notes colored blue in bars 8-9 of the form here are the words 'And Here We Go!':



Count: 2-3-4-1!
Say: And Here We Go!

Go occurs on beat one of the next iteration of the form. Pass go, collect $200, sing the form again. In this context, the pick up notes are a signal that we are going back to the beginning of the musical form. They are the countdown to relaunch the next stanza. Until the "Last Verse! Same as the First, a Whole Lot Louder and a Whole Lot Worse!"

Pickup notes became so prevalent in the sound of country music that Waylon Jennings famously drew a gun to dissuade his his sidemen from using them. Though I'm sure young Waylon played pickup notes aplenty when he was plunking upright for The Crickets.

Practice Rx:
Practice transitions. Slow and smooth and soon you are on your way.
Practice getting your 'Carter Groove' on. Be able to bounce from bass to strum with panache.
Practice the pick up notes.
Put it all together.



Have fun with this little riff I call Gumbo in tribute to one of the greatest songwriters ever, Hank Williams, and his simple 2 chord riff, Jambalaya:



***

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Friday, April 24, 2009

LESSON OF THE MONTH INDEX:
Freddie Green Comping


Freddie Green I Intro to Freddie's Grips
Freddie Green II Harmonized Bass Line, more Grips
Freddie Green III C Blues Bars 1-4, Grips
Freddie Green IIIb Theory: What's an Augmented 6th?
Freddie Green IV C Blues Bars 5-8, Grips
Freddie Green V C Blues Bars 8-12, Grips, Harmony, Creativity
Freddie Green VI Rhythm Changes 'A Section', Augmented 6th Chords



Recordings in This Style:

5 for Freddie: Bucky Pizzarelli's Tribute to Freddie Green

***
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Classic Rock Rant:
Is Dire Straits Too 'Grown Up' to Be Rock and Roll?


Making Movies is a seminal work from 1980 for any aspiring guitar picker or musical storyteller.

The songwriting is classic, the guitar playing is epic, and the arrangements are exquisitely orchestral. There is some finely finessed, muscular and expressive drumming on this record for all you nutters, too.

The album ticks in with a bit nicked from "The Carousel Waltz" by Rodgers & Hammerstein to conjure the carny vibe, then launches into 'Tunnel of Love' with Knopfler's signature fingerpicked Strat. The guitar picking is like fuel injection to the power and steel of Knopfler's astute storytelling. 'Tunnel of Love', 'Romeo and Juliet', 'Expresso Love' are all first class rock guitar playing. This is top shelf stuff.

So why the frack aren't Dire Straits in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Perhaps it's the adult viewpoint that Knopfler brings to his songwriting. There's a distance in the narrative voice that belies some wisdom gained rather than the adolescent immediacy of your typical rock and roll number. From 'Tunnel of Love':

Girl it looks so pretty to me
Like it always did
Oh Like the Spanish City to me
When we where kids

Reminiscing is not very rock and roll, I suppose.

The second side bloat of Making Movies isn't really rock and roll either, and it certainly isn't adolescent at all. This record is practically the definition of an Adult Alternative Contemporary masterpiece. Click this link and tell me that the stories and guitar playing on Making Movies aren't superior to anything on that Billboard list. Harrumph!

Speaking of AAC, it's surprising that Starbucks never picked up on the song "Expresso Love".

Maybe, just maybe, Knopfler's writing is too grown up for rock and roll. However, surely a band with a song called 'Twistin' By The Pool' qualifies as Rock and Roll.

***

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Beginners Go for Closure II

How's the fingerpicking from Beginners go for Closure going? Getting that right hand smooth?

Here's a quick little fingering strategy for changing between these chords. This is the simplest fingering strategy for these notes as it employs only the first and second fingers. We'll return later to educate your littler fingers.

In this bar use your first finger on the first fret of the B string:


Then use your second finger to fret the second fret. Let go with your first finger as you press the second finger down at the second fret in this measure:


Finally, slide that second finger forward one fret for the last measure, and use your first finger to press down the second fret of the E, or littlest string:



It may help the sound somewhat if you play a downward rest stroke with your thumb on the D string in this measure. Check out how to do that here.


***

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Advancing Guitar Lessons: Washington, D.C.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Who Diddley Got Yer Ya Ya's Out?


The Stones & The Who
Mashup Rock Rhythm Style:
Who Diddley Got Yer Ya Ya's Out?


If you are like me, you've spent a good amount of your 'allotted daydreaming time' imagining what kind of chaos Keith Richards and Pete Townshend could stir up if they were put in a room together with guitars.

Each one of these guitarists is capable of making more music than two decent guitarists put together. So putting these two masters of the telecaster together would be a delicate balancing act in what Keith Richards refers to as 'weaving rhythms'.

I wrote a few bars of a Bo Diddley beat to flesh out what I thought this meeting of two of rock's greatest stylists might sound like.

I attempted to notate their ability to play full, almost contrapuntal parts by showing two parts for each guitarist. Each plays a lower pattern or part in green, and a higher pattern in blue.

Don't ask me why the first few notes of Keith's 'higher part' are orange. He's just funky that way.

Click the image below for a larger size:



I'd recommend learning each player's blue/green parts separately, as well as learning their composite parts. Then, see if you can find a friend, or a loop pedal, that will play Keith's part while you play Pete's. Or Vice Versa.

I personally like how Pete and Keith don't agree on the chord on the last beat. Keith plays things very fast and loose, so he'd probably play it different on the next repeat.

How would you play it?

***

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beginners Go For Closure

Here's a beginner fingerstyle lesson for those familiar with how to read tab.

The first measure is all open strings, so for starters just practice playing the G, B, and E strings once each.



Your Picking Hand: Use your thumb on the G string, your index on the B string, and your middle finger on the E string. See how gently, beautifully, and fluidly you can play the three three fingers in succession.

Your Left Hand: When that's going well, try putting your first finger on the first fret of the B string. Be sure to be able to hear all strings clearly, nothing muted or buzzing. When you have that, play with adding and removing the first finger from the fretboard so that the sound remains fluid.

The key will be in the timing between the two hands. It may be obvious that you need to time the pressing down of the string with the plucking to get a smooth transition from the open note to the fretted note.

You will also need to time the removal of your finger with the plucking in order to have a smooth transition back. Go slowly.

Try out the other sounds, and notice that in the last bar your thumb switches and plays the D string. That's probably enough, or more than enough, for one day.

If you're having a hard time switching between the different notes on the fretboard, be patient. You will very likely figure it out yourself, but I'll return soon with more detail.

***

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Led Zeppelin Tabs: Buy Quality, Cry Once

Just recently found out that Alfred's Led Zeppelin Classic Album Edition Box Set (I, II, III, IV, Houses Of The Holy) was in print again.

Like every transcription, this set contains errors. But the format and overall quality make the Led Zeppelin Set a worthwhile investment.

If an hour of your time is worth more than the $62 price of this box set, then this set is a no brainer for you. Click the image below to purchase this set from Amazon:



If you have more time than money right now, then make yourself comfortable and scour the net for tabs and lessons of the Zep songs you love.

***
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Monday, April 20, 2009

Intermediate Jazz Lesson:
Freddie Green Chords V
Moving the Middle Voice


So far in this chorus of 12 bar blues, we've been harmonizing a walking bass line with simple, mostly parallel harmonies. In this lesson, I wanted to shake things up a bit.

The last beat of bar 8, and all of bar 9 of the blues form are highlighted in the picture below, because I wanted to draw your attention to two things.



First, please note that I've changed bar 8 a bit from the version in Freddie Green IV. The last chord has a Bb instead of the B Natural in the last example.

Second, the middle voice in measure 9 sings a different type of song than we've so far explored. It's moving in a way that we haven't moved it yet. It moves independently of the outside voices.



In Measure nine, the middle voice hops back and forth between the 4th and 3rd strings.

This is an often overlooked and undervalued maneuver in Freddie Green style playing. Creative players take note: you could expand on that technique in many ways.

This concludes the 12th measure of a 12 bar blues, and leaves you on beat 1 of the next twelve bars, but with a different 'grip' than we started with in lesson III.

The form begins again, but with some different grips, and a new bassline, perhaps.

The next task is for you to make up your own bass line, and harmonize it in creative ways using the grips and ideas we've so far explored.

Have fun!

Lesson 1 in This Series
< Previous Lesson < >

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Harmonic Experience Rave & Rant

Here's another shameless plug for Harmonic Experience.

I've studied a lot of music with many great teachers. There are lots of good ideas out there.

In his 'rosetta stone of music', Harmonic Experience, however, Mr. Mathieu boils music down to its essence.

This book is way more fun than George Russell's dull, dogmatic, and dimwitted 'Lydian Chromatic Concept' and is a lot more useful than Schenkerian Analysis will ever be for this guitar picker. When does W.A. Mathieu get his MacArthur Genius Grant?


***

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Advancing Guitar Lessons: Washington, D.C.
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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beginner Lesson: Amazing Grace
In Open Position &
On One String


Here's a famous public domain song arranged for beginner guitarists. It's presented in musical notation and tablature.

There are two repeats of the same melody.
The melody is first 'tabbed' in open position.


In the first version, all of the notes are 'tabbed' within the first four frets of the nut, or within the open position. This is a convenient way to learn to play the song, with lots of open strings. You can use any fingers you like for now, just go slow and try to play the passage musically.

Can you play it Legato? In order to do this, the coordination between your fretting and plucking hands must be very precise. Go slowly.

The second repeat is tabbed all along one string.

It would be very difficult, if not impossible, to play this fingering legato. Playing this one string fingering is less about learning the guitar, and more about learning music. You can "see the music" and measure how much musical space there is between notes. I recommend starting with only one finger, so your whole arm can feel those musical distances.

This is a great way for a child to relate to music on this instrument. And there are, in fact, one string guitars, called 'diddley bows' that are played exactly this way. B.B. King's first musical experimentation as a child took place on one of these one string guitars.

Improvisors take note: playing on one string is a powerful way to break out of your usual fingering patterns.

Try out both methods.

Click on the image below to enlarge the open position version:



Click on this image to enlarge the 'one string' version:



You could learn a lot about the guitar and making music on the guitar by studying these and other methods for playing.


***

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Advancing Jazz Lesson: Do Not Name This Freddie Green Chord IV

If there's a sound, and it doesn't have a name, is it still a sound? If you have a 'grip' for it, is that a name for it? The naming of sounds is what some call music theory. But I prefer the phrase: learning harmony. It has so many extramusical implications.

Here are the next four bars of the Freddie Green style blues we were working on:



I've purposely left off the names of some of the chords at the end. Some of them have obvious names. Some less obvious. In particular, that 'grip' that looks like a B7 on beat 4 of Bar 2 in this example? Check the musical notation. That's an Eb. And if this were a bluesy sounding number, with the 'vibe' of the F7 still sounding, I believe you'd hear an Eb there, and not a D#.

Assuming that is an Eb and not a D#: What is it called? Does it matter?
Have fun naming the other chords, harmony students.

Or if this doesn't interest you: have fun slipping those grips, guitar slingers.

Lesson 1 in This Series
< Previous Lesson < > Next Lesson >

***

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Beginner Rock Lesson:
Foo Fighters /Blink 182 / .38 Special
Power Chord Voice Leading Style


Writing the Freddie Green Lessons got me thinking about all kinds of chord voice leading. I heard a .38 Special song and a Blink 182 song that both contained some nice voice leading. Different rhythms and different keys, but the same 'grips' I think are used by both bands.

Never mind whether these two cheesy pop bands are of interest to you, though. These clever power chord voice leading tricks are common in today's power pop / punk. Any major Foo will tell you, if you blink in front of a .38 Special, you might end up 187. This is a serious situation.

So check out the four evolving versions of the "Blink 187" riff I wrote in tribute to the creative rhythmic guitar playing in these groups. You can Foo Fight with it if you want. Could you find a way to Kung Fu Fight with it? Better to get a head start and get away. Woo Skynyrd!

Try playing this once slowly with just your first finger and your pinky:



Get it three times. Don't cling too tightly, though. Stay in control. Nice and relaxed.

A little faster:



Syncopate it a little bit:



Add a little flourish on the last upbeat, and repeat:



***

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Math Rocks: Count To Four? You're Hired!

There's an old musician's joke: "Can you count to four? You're hired!" The manager is usually the only person in the band that can count to ten. And that's where the trouble starts.

But the truth is, all musicians are mathematical geniuses. Music is a mathematical system. For those of you who shudder at the memory of long division, let alone calculus and the seeming miles of blackboards and teachers with chalk all over their posteriors, relax.

Music is math in the body. We're going to count on our fingers and hands. On our lips and hips. On our heels and toes.

In fact, we don't even need all of the fingers on one hand to get all of the numbers we need in music.

We only need 3 fingers to do a LOT of math.

However, it certainly is convenient to have all five fingers, and I must admit I'm particularly fond of the thumb and my pinky is the only one that's good for picking my n... oops, nevermind. Mom says it's not polite to talk about that with people you don't know.

Where was I?

3

It's a magic number.

Choose 3 distinct musical gestures.
Let's name three strumming gestures:

1: Rest stroke on a single bass string.
2: Down Strum.
3: Up Strum.

How many songs or riffs can you make from those three musical gestures? How many different ways can you alternate or combine those gestures?

1, 1 (Two rest strokes)
1, 2 (Rest stroke, down strum.)
1, 3 (Rest stroke, up strum.)

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2

Don't count it. Do it.

Try some different combinations, some different body rock with those gestures.

How about these other gestures?

1: Down Strum
2: Up Strum
3: DON'T STRUM (Miss the strings, but keep the strum going!)

What kinds of funky combinations can you come up with there?

Third time's the charm, right. Hold a chord. Any chord. Or just listen to the open strings.

And try these three fingerstyle gestures:

1: Thumb pluck bass note.
2: Index finger pluck middle note.
3: Middle finger pluck hi note.

Music can sometimes certainly be as easy as 1, 2, 3.

And when you get to four? You're hired! Ask me about the 'bass lesson teacher' joke sometime. Hilarious.

Extra Credit:

With any of the above sets of gestures, can you keep a two beat going at the same time? By nodding your head? Tapping your toe? It's like tapping your head and rubbing your stomach at first. But if you try it, very slowly, 3x, you'll get the hang of it.

***

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Monday, April 13, 2009

How To Practice: The Rx is that 3x Rules!

With any new technique or new passage of music, start with playing the new material very slowly. Three times. Do this until you can play the passage or technique effortlessly and musically 3 consecutive times.

Repeat this practice three times daily.

As you master the passage or technique, and can complete it 3 consecutive times consistently, you can increase by one layer of difficulty. Add another passage or technique OR increase that metronome marking OR work on trickier syncopations or dynamics. Don't try all three at once, though. Add one layer at a time so that you can fully concentrate on that element. Three times.

Then, when you've got it, place the technique or passage on the back burner. Three consecutive times, but only once daily. Twice daily if you haven't practiced it in 48 hours. But that's a lot of numbers to remember. So just remember this:

If you can't do it three times consecutively and consistently, double the prescription. Or slow down by half.

Soon, you can revisit the passage while playing through whatever transcription or score you are working on. Just in the context of music.

And you can proceed to introducing another new technique or passage and developing that.

That's it.

Go Play Music!
3x


***

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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Beginner Lesson: Rest Strokes
One of the keys to activities athletic, whether it be swinging a golf club or shredding the jazz changes, seems to be relaxation. Any professional will tell you this. You want it to look easy? It has to BE easy.

However the paradox between relaxing and doing something is easily apparent. When I relax, if I am thinking of muscles, I let go. This is the very opposite of doing something. It's nothing.

How am I supposed to play guitar AND do nothing at the same time? How do I do something while doing nothing? The answer is this: do as little as you can. Only what is necessary. And the rest of the time, do nothing. Or as little as possible.

Often times in the practice of guitar, I find that the barrier between playing fast and playing REALLY fast is not that I am unable to play fast enough, but that I'm busy doing things when I should be doing nothing. Muscle tension, that nosy neigbor, has creeped in and is inhibiting my freedom of movement. What should feel easy feels like a struggle. For example, if I'm paying attention when I'm playing a new musical passage or technique, and slowly increase the tempo, I will find a tempo at which I start to feel tense. However, if I can stay with the music and relax, the music suddenly continues at the same fast pace, but feels slower. Easier somehow. And the nosy neighbor is nowhere to be found.

In practice, if that fails, I slow the metronome just below that place of tension. Where is it? And then, instead of trying to push through the entrance, I relax there, and wait for the open door. It's a process of letting go and getting to know the music. I play it slowly, and it comes. And then, speed is not the issue. I can speak freely and as rapidly as I please.

The easiest way to begin the practicing of relaxation is with your right hand. Practice rest strokes with your thumb or pick. The very name suggest relaxation. Rest strokes. In Spanish it's called apoyando.

Use gravity to sound the string.

Play a note on the biggest string. This will be a down strum, so imagine your thumb or pick on top of the biggest string. Then drop it to the next string. Do not push it. Drop it. Let the weight of your arm drag your pick, thumb or thumbnail across (or is it through?) the string.

Feel the weight of your arm as it sits on the string. You are doing something. You are holding, somehow, your pick, thumb and arm on the string. Holding on. Doing something.

Now let go and let gravity take your hand. Drop your hand. The string sounds. Boing. You did nothing. And something happened. Then, when the pick or thumb or thumbnail falls and comes to rest on the next string, your hand then begins to do something. When it comes to rest there, ironically, the pick hand/arm tenses. It doesn't rest. Ever so slightly it holds on to the next string and stops the drop.

When you sound the note, you are doing nothing.
The rest of the time the right hand is hanging on in some way.
Waiting to do nothing again.

A rest stroke.

The Downward Thumb Rest Stroke:
Do Nothin' While Hittin' the Note!


Do it again.

Then do nothing.

Do nothing, and yet something is happening here. You are learning. How to do something while doing nothing. And how to get a nice relaxed springy rest stroke. You are learning to make it easy. And your tone, the very quality of sound you produce, is probably vastly improved.



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Friday, April 10, 2009

Intermediate Rock Guitar Lesson: Jam Class & Shallots

The other night at Jam Class we played a classic groove by the rhythm section from Memphis. No, not the Memphis Rhythm Band. And not this Other Famous Memphis Rhythm Section. I'm talking about the rhythm section that played and wrote songs with Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, Sam and Dave, and Wilson Picket. The only band giving the Funk Brothers of Motown a run for their money in their heyday was Booker T. and the MGs.

The Stax Records Rhythm Section played on Mustang Sally, Sittin' on The Dock of the Bay, and Soul Man. Three monster hits by three different singers. They were also later featured in the Blues Brothers band.

This little ensemble also gave birth to an instrumental rock classic, Green Onions.

Green Onions features a sick organ part by Booker T. I was inspired by the Freddie Green Lessons to write something a little more rock based, but with some nice voice leading.

I've arranged a loose interpretation of for guitar below in a little derivative number called 'Shallots'. Lots of power chords that sound good through overdrive and distortion.

You'll notice that I've broken the riff down into parts indicated by color on the staff. Try playing each of the parts separately, and then together. If you've got some clever right hand and left hand muting technique, you can introduce each part separately, in any combination you desire.




***

dcguitar.com
Professional, fun guitar lessons for the Washington, D.C. community.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Music Theory Geekiness:
Freddie Green Chords IIIb


Please note that beat four of the second and fourth bar of this example contain what some in jazz like to call 'bumping'. Bumping is the use of a passing chord a half step above or below the target chord. It's like a giant walloping harmonic appoggiatura.

The Db7 at the end of bar two decends by half step to the C7 at the beginning of bar 3. The motion is the same from the Gb7 of bar 4 to the F7 on the downbeat of bar 5:

If you look, you'll also notice this same 'bumping' technique on the last beat of the third bar, and the second beat of the fourth bar. 'Bumping' all over the place!


Extreme theory geekiness:

The common term for this type of harmony in jazz theory is a tritone substitution. It's the standard jazz slang term for this musical event, but it doesn't really describe accurately what's going on. Harmonically, the Gb7 and Db7 are not really dominant seventh chords at all. They are actually augmented sixth chords. But don't tell a jazz musician this. They might get angry.

However, getting to know augmented sixth chords is really good for your sense of harmony. You will understand this, and hear this harmony more fully if you've ever been experienced.

Lesson 1 in This Series
< Previous Lesson < > Next Lesson >

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dcguitar.com
Professional, fun guitar lessons for the Washington, D.C. community.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Intermediate Jazz Lesson:
Freddie Green Chords III


Here are the first four bars of a 12 bar blues progression in C. I have not included chord symbols for all chords, only for the chord shapes not presented in the previous two lessons. If you are familiar with the 'grips' from the earlier lessons, you should be fine.

Please email if you have questions.





Lesson 1 in This Series
< Previous Lesson < > Next Lesson >

***

dcguitar.com
Professional, fun guitar lessons for the Washington, D.C. community.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Intermediate Jazz Lesson: Freddie Green Chords II

Here are two different ways to harmonize a walking bass line that ascends C, D, Eb, E.

Here's a version using parallel voicings:



Here's the slightly spiced up version:



The second example uses a couple of voicings not visited in the first lesson. If you played these chords one beat each, instead of two, they'd make a great first bar in a 12 bar blues progression in the key of C. More on that here.

Lesson 1 in This Series
< Previous Lesson < > Next Lesson >

***

dcguitar.com
Professional, fun guitar lessons for the Washington, D.C. community.

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