Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What to Do When You Forget Your Notebook
I can't tell you the number of times that a student has forgotten his or her notebook at my studio after a lesson. It happens all the time. And, embarrassing as it may be, it's even more embarrassing to show up to your next lesson totally unprepared because you couldn't remember what to practice.

So what should you do if you forget your lessons notebook?

Call your teacher immediately. If it's me, just give me a buzz and leave a message, if you have to. Most likely, I'm in the middle of another lesson, a gig, or a recording session. In any case, call as soon as you find out you left it.

Practice what you can remember immediately following your lesson. If it's impossible for you to pick up your notebook right away, it's really important to practice as soon after your lesson as possible. Doing so helps to solidify all of the new content from your recent lesson.

Arrange a pick-up time ASAP. This one is pretty obvious.

Call if you have questions. Okay, yeah, you forgot your notebook. Yeah, it was a stupid thing to forget. But it would be even stupider to not practice because you couldn't remember what you worked on in your lesson. If I'm you're teacher, you can always call and ask questions.

All teachers do things differently, but I like to try to make myself available to my students via phone or email throughout the week, just in case they have questions about their homework. Give me a call. Let's try to work it out over the phone.

In some cases, I have also been known to hand-deliver forgotten notebooks to students. Again, not standard protocol, but I do it every once in a while, if I have the time and I have your address.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Top 10 Practice Tips: Take a Break (6 of 10)

I've been around classical musicians at college conservatories long enough to know the number one way to derail a quickly progressing music career: practicing too much. That's right. I've said it. But it's not exactly what you think. The real issue is not how much one practices, but for how long one practices without taking a break. The rule of thumb that I follow myself, and that I have been instructed to follow by my own college professors was five minutes off for every 35 minutes of practicing - no matter what.

It's important to remember, too, that I'm not just talking about rehearsing, because we all know that at least a third of the time in rehearsal we guitarists probably aren't playing. In a jazz big band setting, for example, guitarists are lucky to play 50% of the time. What I'm talking about with the 5:35 is 35 minutes of sustained practice: scales, chords, arpeggios, finger-picking technique, etc.

Don't over-do it, and don't think you're invincible. I've seen a ton of string players lose weeks of playing time because they aren't following a strict diet of break-taking during rigorous practice sessions.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Learning Resources and Materials

Beginning guitar lessons for the first time can be an intimidating process. Sometimes the first, few lessons don't go as well as you would have hoped. Don't give up! In order to give you the best possible odds of success, I have done quite a bit of research on a handful of products that are pretty much essential for any beginner guitar student.

For my own students, I require them to purchase two items after their second lesson: a spiral-bound staff paper notebook and a metronome. I have also put together a Lessons Resource Kit, which students can purchase from me for $32. The Kit includes my hands-down, favorite staff paper notebook, metronome, and string winder. This takes the guess work out of having to buy these things on your own, not really knowing what you're looking for.

Here are my top product picks for students, including the items in my Lessons Resource Kit (items with a *):

Best Metronome: Korg MA-30*
Volume adjustment, subdivisions, two tones, tap tempo, and reference pitches that you can tune to. For the functionality, reliability, and price, this guy is hard to beat.

Best Staff Paper: Standard Wirebound Manuscript Paper (Green Cover)* 718&subsiteid=68&
Simple, easy to write on, good spacing between lines and staves, a good number of pages and durable. A good balance between price and quality.

Best String Winder: Dunlop Pegwinder 100* product/dunlop- stringwinder
Again, simple steals the show. Over the years, I have seen all sorts of complicated devices that claim to improve the process of putting new strings on a guitar. The reality? It's a cumbersome task no matter what winding device you use. In my experience, bigger is not better - but far worse, in fact. I go with this trusty, little tool - one of the originals that Dunlop has been selling for at least 20 years.

Best Capo Ever: SHUBB Deluxe Capo
It's pricey, but I have yet to find a capo that works better. The biggest complaint with capos is that they change the tuning of the strings, making them slightly sharper than the open position notes. This capo can be adjusted to fit the exact thickness of any neck, at any position.

Best Value Capo: Kyser Quick-Change Capo
Easy to use. A no-frills design.

Best Acoustic Guitar Strings: Martin SP 80/20 Series
I used to use Elixir's coated strings, but I always hated the way the coating shredded off of the strings where the pick hits them, right around the sound hole. I switched over to these strings about three years ago and never looked back.

Best Electric Guitar Strings: D'Addario XL Nickel Round Wounds
This is the only string I have played on that can handle a two-step string bend (ala Stevie Ray Vaughan). Every other string that I have used has broken under this very high tension. I have been using these puppies ever since I got my first electric.

Best Guitar Cable: Monster Cable's Monster Rock Series
Performers and studio musicians have to be very careful about which cables they choose to use in professional applications. Using a sub-par cable could result in unwanted radio/wireless signal interference. Ever hear a radio station through your amp when your guitar is plugged in? Try upgrading your cables. Best of all, Monster Cable has a *lifetime* warranty. They'll replace any cable, given that it hasn't been abused. A decent alternative would be Monster Cable's S100 series, but beware, I have had interference problems with these lesser-quality cables.