Friday, December 7, 2012

Lesson 1b: Picking Technique and Open-String Exercises

One of the toughest things about starting to learn guitar is gaining control and accuracy of your right hand - both single-note picking and strumming chords (if you're learning on a right-handed guitar, that is). In my first lesson, if we have time after covering the parts of the guitar (lesson 1a), we dive right in to playing the guitar.

Not particularly musical or fun, but fundamental. Open-String exercises are helpful to new students in a few ways:

1. The student gets comfortable holding the guitar and practicing good posture.
2. The student begins to develop right-hand precision - getting a feel for the spacing between each string - which will help with playing scales and strumming.
3. The student is practicing ear-training from day one (that means the student is beginning the process of being able to know what each note of the guitar sounds like and what the relationship is from one string to the next.)
4. The student begins to practice playing even, or steady, rhythms - necessary to play any form of music on any instrument.

But before getting into actually playing these exercises, we have to talk about two things:

1. How to hold a guitar pick. Flip your right-hand index finger straight out and completely flat, palm-side up. With your other hand, place the pointy corner of the guitar pick on your index finger, make sure that about 1/4 inch of the pick sticks out over the end of your index finger (like an extension of your nail), then quickly "snap" your right-hand thumb on to the pick comfortably. That's it!

2. Rule*: Use Alternate Picking. Alternate picking means using an alternating "down then up then down etc." motion when playing each note or chord. If your first note is played by picking down (approaching the string from above and striking it down toward the ground), then the next picking stroke should be up (the opposite of the last). Always "down, up, down, up" when we're working with steady rhythms (IE: the rhythmic value of each note is the same).

*Every week or so I add a new key rule or principle for students to memorize. Most of the time, it's the absolute, bear essential piece of information a student has to walk away from a lesson with.

Here is the worksheet I often use with my students. Remember, it's all open strings, so pretty much all students can get started with this right from the first lesson. No chords to learn or worry about. Easy peasy.

Disclaimer: All resources on this blog are intended for personal use only. If you are a music instructor - public or private - and would like to use some of the resource materials I have created, please contact me to get permission before using them with your own students.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Buying Acoustic Guitars over $1,500

This post is a continuation of a series I've been doing on how to buy a guitar. You can read the other posts here:

Acoustic Guitars over $1,500

Now we're getting into the really good stuff. Once you hit this level, you're looking for hand-crafted instruments only, built right here in the US of A or Canada. I don't personally know of any premium quality guitar makers outside of the States or Canada. In this price-range, it's all up to personal preference regarding body style, tone quality, types of wood used, etc.

Personally, I prefer Gibsons uber alles (over all others). Next come Martins, then it's a toss-up between Seagulls and Taylors. I prefer the sound of Seagulls, but the Taylors appear to retain their value better. Remember, though, there are a lot more Taylors on the market right now, so conceivably that could mean they'll be worth less over time - which is not what you want when you're paying this kind of cash.

Guitars in this price-range - and especially over about the $2,500 threshold - are instruments that ought to appreciate in value over time. You aren't just buying a guitar - you're buying an investment. (And that means get it insured! Standard renters or homeowners policies often don't cover these items and require an additional rider.)

This price-range also means that you can seriously consider buying "used" - or as collectors say "vintage". The key here is to do your homework. Find out the make, model, and year of the guitar you're looking to purchase and then find out if the manufacturer fudged on quality or materials during those years, etc.

Go with your gut. If the instrument feels and sounds great, buy it. In some cases, you should do "blind" playing tests to see which ones you like best.

For vintage instruments, I steer clear of Craigslist, Ebay, and other online shops. I also steer clear of big-box retailers like Guitar Center and Sam Ash - especially in Chicago. (I actually don't buy anything from Sam Ash - ever.)

I go with guitar shops that specialize in vintage gear. And unfortunately, there aren't many like that in the Chicago area. Your best bet for vintage is to take a trip South. Make a weekend out of it. Go to Nashville. Even Guitar Center in Nashville has a killer vintage section (this is the only time I'd still consider a big shop for my purchase).

I don't have any specific shops in Nashville to recommend to you at the moment, but if you're serious about making the trip, I have a handful of musician friends who live down there and I'd be happy to get a few recommendations from them.

In addition to snagging a killer vintage instrument, there are other, great reasons for making the trip just to buy a guitar: the experience will be unforgettable, the prices are cheaper than Chicago (because of the high number of vintage pieces available), the variety is greater (you get to try out a ton of guitars before you decide what to buy), you'll meet and network with real musicians in Nashville.

Questions? Comments? Need to contact me? Visit my Guitar Lessons site and email away!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Top 10 Practice Tips: Build on the Basics (7 of 10)

Photo source:
It's important to stay sharp on the basics. My first guitar teacher, Jack Hammond, once told me that, in order to maintain my current skill level, I needed to practice at least 30 minutes a day. Those 30 minutes would be filled with the basics: scales, chords, arpeggios, right-hand technique, and sight-reading. Now, that was a long time ago, and I would certainly say today that I have to practice much more than that - daily - to maintain my skill level - probably closer to somewhere between 60 and 90 minutes plus.

When I say "the basics," here's exactly what I mean:
  • Major and minor pentatonics
  • 7-Tone major and natural minor scales
  • Harmonic, melodic, and jazz melodic minor scales
  • One-Octave mixolydian and dorian box patterns
  • At least one diminished scale with all box patterns
  • Major and minor arpeggios
  • Major and minor inversions, including drop-2 and -3 voicings
  • Maj7, dom7, and min7 chord inversions, including drop-2 and -3 voicings
  • Sight-reading in both rock (or jazz) and classical styles
  • Strumming patterns practice and finger-picking methods
Why are the basics so important? Simple: they're the building blocks for everything else you'll learn on guitar. Without them, a guitar would just be a wooden stick with a few strings, attached to a hollow box. These techniques get you in the door, if you will - get you invited to the party. When somebody is serious when he or she says "I play guitar", this is what the person is talking about. These are the skills the person is talking about.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lesson 1a: The Parts of the Guitar

My first lesson always includes a section on the anatomy of the guitar. Why? Because every guitarist ought to be able to converse intelligently with other guitarists about the instrument they love. And, if you don't know your own instrument, no self-respecting musician is going to take you seriously. Now, you probably already know that electric and acoustic guitars look different. True. And that means they have different parts. Many are the same, but enough are different that I use two different diagrams, depending on which type a student brings to his or her first lesson. Here, I have included my acoustic guitar sheet.

For some of you, this might be a refresher. Or, you might just learn something new. For others, this is totally new. Take a look for yourself...

Disclaimer: All resources on this blog are intended for personal use only. If you are a music instructor - public or private - and would like to use some of the resource materials I have created, please contact me to get permission before using them with your own students.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

From the Beginning...

I've decided to begin posting my entire guitar lessons curriculum to this blog, starting at the very beginning - what I do at lesson #1, and how I proceed. I hope that this blog can become a resource for other teachers, improving their own teaching methods. And I hope that these posts benefit learning and eager guitarists (and aspiring ones) everywhere to improve their game, get stoked about the instrument, and learn music theory, too. First curriculum post coming soon...