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Archive for August, 2009

What is the best way to start to learn the guitar?

Friday, August 28th, 2009

This question comes from the Ultimate Guitar Forum.


 Ok so I started to play guitar on my acoustic and I know some chords and a scale or two. I can change between some chords and stuff

I have an electric guitar and would like to learn that but just really worried and kind of confused about some things. Like are chords and the like important in playing like metal and stuff and do is there anything I really need to know. Like for example my dad’s been playing guitar for 30 tears plus and he can show me how to play acoustic and teach me fundamentals and stuff. I’m just wondering like if I jump straight into playing riffs and stuff on electric is that bad like what should I know or teach myself

And if I was to learn electric guitar where would I start, what would be a good learning source. I just don’t want to be able to play riffs and then be oblivious to so much other stuff I just wanna do it properly

My response:

Learning riffs, and songs that you like is one of the best ways to start.  It won’t hurt you in the least.  The best advice I can give is to find a GOOD teacher.  A good teacher will be able to take the riffs and chords from songs that you like and structure a program for you that will make it fun for you to learn.  You will progress much faster doing things that you like than you will simply working on finger exercises, scales or learning theory.  It’s all music. So all the theory,  scales and chords are in your favorite tunes…regardless of the style.   You will want to start with the easiest riffs then progress to the more complicated ones as you go.  Working with a good teacher will give you the opportunity to gain some working knowledge of the scales and chords within the framework of your favorite style without having to bore yourself with memorizing scales and chords.  The best way to learn is within the context of music that you love.  I studied from books for years and got nothing out of it.  I hated guitar lessons.  When I found someone who showed me how to play rock and roll the wick was lit.  He was able get me interested enough that I wanted to know what I was playing…not just how to play it.  I learned “theory” very quickly because I saw the value in it as it related to the music I was learning.   Enjoy!


Finger picking tips

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

 This was a recent question posted on the Harmony Central forum about learning to fingerpick.

The Question:

Alright here is the deal-e-o. Between bass, guitar of electric and acoustic variety, along with brass and other strings, I have been playing for over 12 years now. I know, before anyone says anything I should know how to do this… 

I want to get more into fingerpicking. I know, I know, I know, I probably should have picked this up about 5 years ago atleast but… I didn’t, and avoided it like the plague, because I was young, stupid, knew everything, and it wasn’t what I was into playing.So now I’m all jacked up and need help. Looking for someone with some words of wisdom to help along the way.

 My Answer:

First of all don’t be so hard on yourself.  The great thing about playing guitar and music in general is that there is always something new to learn.  That’s what makes it fun!  :-)

I prefer to play with my fingers these days and I’ve gotten pretty good at it but I played many years mostly with the pick.  Here’s a little bit of my journey to finger picking. This may give you a few ideas.

When I had been playing about a year I decided that I wanted to learn the song “Dust in the Wind”.  It was actually written as a finger picking exercise. Then later it became a song.  I got the basics from a teacher.  Remember, there is nothing wrong with asking some one to show you at least the basics to get you rolling.  This was only the surface for me.  A few years later I studied classical guitar at a university but found it extremely boring.  I did get a few more pointers that I added to my trick bag but oddly classical seemed to do more for my left hand than my right.  I was always “tripped up” by a picking technique called the “rest stroke”.  This is where the picking finger or thumb comes to rest on the consecutive string …the string next to the one just plucked.  While my teacher and several students swore by this, it did NOTHING but fuck me up.  Try it for yourself.  You may love it. It just didn’t work for me.

I also spent time watching other players who played a lot of finger style. I picked up a lot from watching people like Joe Pass and Chet Atkins, while those guys are light years ahead of me I was at least able to see how the hand was held and how to pluck effectively. I also watched Mark Knopfler.  His technique “clicked” with me the most.  (maybe because he was a rock player, and I love the music of Dire Straights.)  I’m sure that played a big part.  The ability to relate to the music is important.  That was part of the issue with me and the classical guitar.  While I respect that music and the chops it takes to play it well, it rarely “moves” me emotionally.  A few years after my classical guitar experience I decided to go all finger style.  Even playing heavy rock riffs with my fingers.  While everything else laid the foundation this was the real turning point in my finger picking journey.  I would force myself to put down the pick and play with the fingers no matter what the song.  I also spent many hours in front of the TV guitar in hand just sort of noodling without the pick. This helped develop my comfort with using my fingers.  The one thing that I discovered is the major difference in tone esp. when playing over driven electric guitar.  The sound is generally a lot fatter and I have a lot more control over the sound, which leads to being able to be much more expressive.  

I eventually settled on the general approach of alternating between the thumb and index and middle fingers as needed. This is similar to what Mark Knopfler does.  When I want more attack I’ll use the nail of the index finger in and alternate picking motion.  This comes in handy when you want to mix up the strong attack sound with the fatter finger sound in the same song.  This is a technique (not the only) used by Jeff Beck.

For chords, or other types if “comping” will use the thumb for notes on the lower three strings (E A D) and the index, on the G, the middle on the B and the ring on the E, respectively.  This is my starting position but will vary it as needed.  I also like to “slap” and “pop” like a bassist would do but I reserve that for only certain pieces.

I’m still working on my finger style and playing in general.  I’m working on being able to accompany myself while singing and still be able to play solos while keeping the bass line and chords going.  This is just the next step.  So you see, I never ends!

10 tips for learning to improvise

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

Someone had posted a question on asking how to improvise.  This aspiring improviser got about 23 replies.  It seems that there is a plethora of ideas about this floating around  the universe.  Keep in mind that when you improvise you are writing/composing on the spot, but  working within a frame work the way an actor may improvise lines within a scene.  The actor uses the scene, set, other actors, and over all theme, structure, and style of the movie or play to help him/her create the improvisation.  The better the actor understands the framework the more effective the improvised lines will be.

 1.  Know the song inside and out. That means knowing the key, the chords,  the melody, the bass line, and even the lyrics.  You will play off of all of these.  The better you understand the song, the better your improvisation will be.

2. Have a working knowledge of scales.  You don’t need to be able to burn every mode with lightning speed, but you should know what notes are diatonic to each key or scale.

3. Have a working knowledge of chords and how they relate to each scale.  Every note creates a corresponding chord, by “stacking the thirds”.  Understanding this will help you know what notes will easily work.

4.  There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions.  A good improviser can play any note or set of notes, in any song, in any key, in any style an make it work.  The key is the resolution.  If you listen to players like John Coltrane, Alan Holdsworth, Joe Sample, Miles Davis, and John Scofield you will hear them play what some refer to as “outside” notes, meaning that these notes may not be obviously part of the key or scale of the song.  They are able to make these notes work by resolving them to pitches that are diatonic to the key of the song.  This requires some mastery and is considered an advanced approach to improvising. 

5. Learn to play the blues.  This is a time honored starting point for most of the great improvisers in history.

6. Listen!  Trust your ear, and play what it tells you to play.  The next time you are in the mind to improvise take a moment to listen to what you hear in your head.  Learn to play that. 

7. Sing.  Hum along while you play. This with strengthen the connection between what you’re hearing in your head and what you play with your hands.   If you’re at a gig please step away from the mic!

8. Learn lots of melodies from various genres.  Listen to music with your instrument in hand and take a few moments to pick out the melodies of the songs.  Do this with as many songs as you can, including some that are outside of your preferred genres.  Take your favorites and learn them in all twelve keys. 

9. Rhythm is king.  Remember that while there are only twelve notes there are infinite rhythms.  Improvising isn’t simply running lines, licks or scales.  It’s about the “where and the when”.   Melodies contain many rhythmic figures or motifs.  Get familiar with where you are starting, stopping, and pausing.  Tap your foot, count and practice with a metronome, drum loop or backing tracks.  When you’re learning melodies as mentioned in number 8, pay close attention to the phrasing (starting, stopping, pausing points).  Once you have it down take the same melody and start it on a different beat.  This can me mind racking but it’s excellent practice for getting you in the right place rhythmically.  Also, play solos using only one note. This is another great exercise for developing your phrasing.

10. Play with a variety of other musicians.  While backing tracks are great nothing will get you there like playing with other musicians.  Informal jams with friends or jam nights at a local bar are both great.  Watch and learn from others and they will do the same with you.  Try “trading fours”.  This is where you improvise for  four measures then turn the improvisation over to another musician for the next four.  You go back and forth.  This is fun, and educational.  However you want to avoid “head cutting”.  Improvising is about communication not competition. 

Songwriting or Soloing?

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Was reading a post on the forum.  A guitarist was asking if he/she should concentrate on songwriting or soloing.

 My Response:

Why can’t you work on both? You should do what you feel most drawn to. If it’s songwriting then make that number 1, and if you still want work on “soloing” make that number 2. However, if you really love one over the other that one will always win out. 

 It is almost impossible to make a “practical” decision, when your talking about passion.  Most people make decisions based on emotion rather than logic anyway.  From a practical stand point song writing may provide you with more opportunities, but if you feel that it is laborious and uninteresting then work on your soloing.  Keep in mind that soloing. (improvisation) is really just another form of writing or composing.  Soloing may be a “back door” to songwriting for you. Even if it is instrumental (non vocal) music.  Most important of all is to follow your passion no matter what!

The RIGHT bassist and drummer make all the difference!

Monday, August 17th, 2009

This is a questioned posted on the Harmony Central forum: 


” I don’t want to sound like a prick….but it seems like, no matter who I play with, everything chugs along really well when I’m playing rhythm: bass and drums lock in, we’re swinging along well, even the mostly sober people are dancing or clapping to the beat, the groove is clear-cut and obvious, 2nd guitar or keys are doing fine alongside.Until I take a solo: suddenly the bass and drums get lost, or a little fuzzy, within 8 or 16 bars. I used to think it was the people I’ve played with, but now I’m not so sure…..I’ve played/jammed/sat in with a lot of people, and this phenomena seems to occur around me way too much with semi-pro, steadily gigging players.”

 My response:



It is important to have a great drummer and great bass player.  If these two are really doing their job then you’ll sound like Van Halen!  A great rhythm section should make it easy to solo, switch from chords to riffs, sing and play, or completely drop out.  The song should still rock (groove) whether you are playing or not.  A great drummer and bass player may not be the flashiest chops players.  They just need to be very proficient at making the song sound good and supporting the rest of the instruments and vocalist.  They need to know the song arrangement inside and out.  Find the right rhythm section and your problems will evaporate.

Autumn Ayer’s CD release party (recap)

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I was unaware of Autumn Ayers until a few days ago when I was “put wise” by my vocal coach Beth Clausen.  I quickly found her on and took a listen. Intrigued by what I heard I decided to attend her CD release.

The show was held at The Shadow Lounge.  This was my first visit but I was very impressed with this venue.  It is well set up for live music.  Stage at one end; the bar at the other; simple yet ideal. 

There were two “opening acts” before Autumn took the stage.  Both were very good. Bill Eberle performed a solo acoustic set, followed by Martha Jane and Her Fellows who added a slightly electrified sound to mostly acoustic evening. 

Autumn Ayers and her band took the stage around .  The first thing that struck me was the unique instrumentation which included cello and double (acoustic) bass, in addition to the traditional guitars and drums. This proved to be the perfect combination for Ms. Ayers’ talents.  I was not privy to a set list which makes it almost impossible to mention each song that she played by name.  The over all sound was what I would call ethereal, moody at times and at times playful.  Autumn has an AMAZING voice, and knows exactly how to push those emotional buttons.  I found myself moved and singing along with songs I had never heard before.   Each song was met with enthusiastic applause from the almost capacity crowd.  Throughout the evening she was occasionally joined by guest performers including Martha Jane on vocals and Brad Yoder on soprano sax.  This added to the rich textures already coming from the stage.   

Personal highlights for me included “The Liar” and a bluesy/swinging number (I wish I knew the name of it!) which she stood and sang with only the bass and drums,  momentarily taking her away from the Joni Mitchell, Beth Orton influence. This showed some versatility and broke things up nicely. 

I must say that really enjoyed the show.  I will have to keep my eye on Autumn Ayers!

playing the “F” major Chord in the first position.

Friday, August 14th, 2009


Right now I’m using an acoustic. It seems that I’m unable to play that chord w/o major handcramps. Mainly, my pointer finger is unable to hold the high E string. My hands are kinda small. Got any ideas?


Ya just gotta keep playing it. I’ve been playing for over 20 years and “bar” chords still fatigue my left hand when I have to play a lot of them in a song. “F” is particularly tough because it’s in the first position where the frets are the farthest apart. It’s right next to the nut where more hand strength is needed to press the strings down anyway. This all ads up to a big “Ouch!”

It helps me to think of the strength or “energy” as coming from my bicep as opposed to the wrist or hand. Be careful with the hand cramps. Take frequent breaks to rub your wrist, gently shake it and then resume practicing. NEVER play through a cramp. Tendinitis is not something you want to have to deal with.

As a professional player for many years now I use very few full bar chords. I’m always looking for smaller voicings that “sit” in the mix and compliment the other players and the song.

10 things musician’s do to fuck up their careers.

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

1.  Micro manage.  It’s good to get your hands dirty but you have to know when to let go and let others do what they do best.  You may think you are helping, but this builds resentment among the others that you work with.


2. Mixing business with pleasure (part 1).  This can backfire.  You want to be social and cordial when meeting with managers, club owners, agents, etc… but be careful not to go into “party mode”… they may have second thoughts about working with such a party animal the next day.


3. Mixing business with pleasure (part 2).  Dating, marrying, or have casual sex with band members or others in your organization. This can be disastrous.  Neil Geraldo and Pat Benetar are the exception, not the rule!


4. Mixing business with pleasure (part 3.)  Your stage persona may be “the stud”, but watch out!  Too many “girlfriends” at the show and you could end up with a drink thrown in your face on stage…or worse.  We want to be nice to the ladies but keep that monster on a leash!


5. Don’t be a whore.  I like the green stuff too, but sometimes playing any gig, any where, for any amount of money can cost more than you’ll ever make.  You could get a rep as a “bargain band”.  I have seen this happen.  And all the band members scratch their heads asking, “Why can’t get more money…or why are we still playing these “redneck” joints instead of the more happening places in the city.”  Not every opportunity is really an opportunity.


6. Teaching band members.  It’s hard enough to get a band up and running.  The last thing you need is to have teach someone how to play or sing to be in your band.  This will drain your energy and your time.  It will also frustrate the other members. 

7. Apology Energy.  Okay, you got a good record and you hand it to someone to listen to and you say something like, “Here’s my CD…It’s not too bad, for something I did myself.  The production is a little weak and I couldn’t get the drummer to play in time but…blah blah blah”.  You think you’re being humble but you’re not.  You are basically insulting someone by asking them to be nice to you even though your record really sucks.  If it’s really that weak why are you even giving to someone to check out anyway?  Let’s assume it is actually good.   Hand it over with confidence and pride.  Say something like, “Check out my new CD… I am so proud of everyone’s hard work on this.  I think you’re really gonna love it!”  Remember, “Apology Energy” invites (attracts) Criticism.  Always hand your work to someone with an attitude of confidence.


8. Putting out something that is not ready.  Everyone is busy and sometimes deadlines don’t get met.  While it’s very important to be a person of your word, it’s just as important that everything you put out be totally pro.  If you’re hot to put a new tune on your website but the vocals need a little work…then it ain’t ready!  Work on it until it’s right.


9. Not knowing when to move on.  Let’s face it some things don’t last forever.  If a band, gig, teaching position , etc… is no longer moving you toward your long term goals then it’s probably time to leave it behind.  Make sure that you aren’t staying in something for the wrong reasons.  I’ve done this many times, and it never gets easier the longer that you wait.  It’s always better to come clean and let people know in an honest and kind way that it’s time for you to do something else.


10. Burning bridges.   This is sort of part 2 to number   When you need to make a change in your organization, always, always, always, be kind, and respectful.  Whether you need to quit the band or ask some one else to leave,  DO YOUR BEST to NOT burn bridges.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable.  No matter how kind and respectful you are some one may be pissed off at you.  That is THEIR problem.  Do your best to keep good relations with former band mates, ex managers, agents, etc…  You never know when you may need each other in the future.