Archive for September, 2011

Tone Deaf?

Posted by Brian on 28th September 2011 in General Music, Practice, Rant

Its one of my pet peeves. And it happens all the time. “You teach guitar? I wish that I was musical, but I’m completely tone deaf.”

You’re not.

Not even close.

If you’ve had this conversation, you are not tone deaf. In fact “tone deafness” is a remarkably rare affliction and is usually accompanied by a host of other problems which would make “normal living” an impossibility.

If you can decipher a normal conversation, you are not tone deaf.

And, if you’re not tone deaf, you are overflowing with musical potential.

All that anyone needs to become musical is time and effort… (and a teacher). I am convinced that anyone – yes, ANYONE – can learn to play an instrument well enough to enjoy playing – and have others enjoy listening, if they are willing to invest the time and effort.

Of course, the best time to start learning music is as a small child, but the next best time is right now. So if you’ve been telling yourself that you don’t have what it takes to be musical, I’m telling you to get over it. Like the commercial says – if you want to be musical, then start being musical.

Now Hear This…

Posted by Brian on 19th September 2011 in General Music, Practice

Musicians can hear better than non-musicians as they age.

Its true.

That is, as long as we haven’t done physical damage to our ears.

According to an article in the Toronto Star, that was forwarded to me by a guitar playing friend, playing music keeps the neural pathways for hearing active, which helps us to understand speech in a noisy environment, among other things. Also, the benefit derived from playing music is directly related to how much time we spend practicing – just in case you needed a reason to practice…

“Practice The Piano. Do You Hear Me?” – Toronto Star, Monday September 12, 2011

Video of the Month: Pat Bergeson

Posted by Brian on 15th September 2011 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitarists, Video of the Month

Our second video-of-the-month for September is Pat Bergeson playing his Chet Atkins-style composition “Just You” at, appropriately enough, the annual Chet Atkins Appreciation Society convention in 2000.

Pat Bergeson’s website: www.PatBergeson.com

Pat Bergeson’s YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/user/patbergeson

Advice from David Ross MacDonald

Posted by Brian on 13th September 2011 in General Music, Guitar, Performing, Practice

In my last post I talked about attending a guitar workshop with David Ross MacDonald and shared his thoughts on making mistakes when we are performing. This time I’m going to share some of his thoughts on practicing.

Use Your Feet

One of the things that he talked about was practicing without the guitar. He suggested that to build our internal sense of rhythm, we should use our feet. Apparently, David spends a lot of time doing a sort of two-step which I’ve tried to illustrate on the left.

As he “two-steps”, he counts out various rhythms in time with his feet. For example:

Eighths: ONE-and-TWO-and-THREE-and-FOUR-and…

or

Triplets: ONE-an-a-TWO-an-a-THREE-an-a-FOUR-an-a…

or

16ths: ONE-e-an-a-TWO-e-an-a-THREE-e-an-a-FOUR-e-an-a…

Clear as mud??? Hopefully you get what I’m trying to explain here.

You could also clap out these rhythms while two-stepping to help embed them in your brain.

Now play your guitar while doing this two-step. The idea is that as you practice you will “trust your feet” to keep the rhythm of the tune intact, making us more aware of our hesitations and those times when we speed up through difficult passages.

Egg timer

Another suggestion he had was to find a 3-minute egg timer – one of the old-school hourglass-type ones with the sand that flows through it. (Good luck with this – if you know where to get one, let me know!) Using the timer when working on scales, exercises, etc keeps us from spending too little time on the difficult things and too much time on the easy ones. It also gives us a demonstration of the relative nature of time – passing quickly on the easy bits and creeping along on the hard ones!

Perform!

As part of his discussion of performance mistakes that I covered in my last post, he also talked about the learning opportunity that those mistakes give us. Making mistakes in public performance is different from making them privately. Apparently, when we make a mistake while performing, our brain triggers a shot of adrenaline which helps us to remember to not make that mistake in the future. This is certainly consistent with my experience – the tunes that I have performed most often are the ones that I play best, even though they are not necessarily the ones that I have practiced most.

He also talked of other things – knowing the fundamentals of music theory, singing intervals, and that sort of thing – all good advice, but these were three practical suggestions that I hadn’t heard before. What things have you added to your practice routines that have made a big difference?

 

David Ross MacDonald’s website: www.DavidRossMacDonald.com

Let Them Go

Posted by Brian on 2nd September 2011 in General Music, Performing

Last weekend I was at the Eaglewood Folk Festival where I attended a wonderful guitar workshop hosted by David Ross MacDonald, an Australian singer-songwriter who also has excellent fingerstyle guitar chops. He had a number of excellent suggestions for improving ones playing, which will show up in a later post, but for today I want to share what he had to say about making mistakes.

He talked about going to school and studying jazz and how that experience made him far too analytical about his playing – to the point that he hated his playing and was reduced to playing washboard in a jug band. (Not sure if that was literal or figurative – he had that dry Aussie humour that can be hard to read.) Anyways, he had to learn to make peace with his mistakes.

According to David, it takes us about 150 milliseconds to realize that we’ve made a mistake. (I’m not sure where that number comes from, but I have no reason to doubt it.) He observed that sound travels at 340 metres per second and that by the time you realize that you’ve made a mistake, that mistake is “somewhere out in the car park.” He encouraged us to set our mistakes free. If we wince or shrug or duck or otherwise wallow in our error, we’ve just spent about 10 seconds focused on a mistake that lasted for a fraction of a second. We need to let them go.

Here is David Ross MacDonald playing his instrumental Old Mac’s Tractor:

David Ross MacDonald’s website: www.DavidRossMacDonald.com

Video of the Month: Adam Rafferty

Posted by Brian on 1st September 2011 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitarists, Video of the Month

I have no affiliation with FingerstyleGuitar.ca, except that I am on their mailing list, but I have been introduced to a number of excellent fingerstyle guitarists as a result of being on that list. September’s Video of the Month features Adam Rafferty, who is playing a show at Chalker’s Pub in Toronto on September 15th at 8pm. You can get information and tickets at FingerstyleGuitar.ca.

Here is his bio from their site:

Adam Rafferty was born and raised in Harlem. He was mugged in front of his building when he was 10. He played in a hard rock band at 12, got ripped off by a club owner on his first gig at 15, and by 18 he was a rapper on a gold record overseas.

By 19 he was playing guitar professionally and at 20 he was playing an after hours joint in Harlem on 137 street and Adam Clayton Boulevard where the bandleader would drink himself into to oblivion and regularly threaten customers with a 10 inch kitchen knife.

Adam has played the New York City subways and street corners – and played the most upscale music rooms New York has to offer such as Birdland and The Jazz Standard. He’s led his own band through Europe, produced his own albums, and played with Dr. Lonnie Smith, The Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, L.A. Studio legend Bennie Wallace (who wrote the soundtrack for “White Men Can’t Jump”), bassist Bob Cranshaw (from the original Saturday Night Live band), Alvin Queen (drummer for Oscar Peterson), and Mike Longo (Dizzy’s pianist).

Adam’s playing is as colourful as his experiences. There is no doubt he is a first rate guitarist but, more important, he understands that with great power comes great responsibility – i.e. he understands that the greatest purpose of music is to make people smile.

 

 

(Incidentally, if you are feeling brave and want to “open” for Adam, there will be a open stage for fingerstyle guitarists immediately before the show at 6:30.)

Adam Rafferty’s website: www.AdamRafferty.com

Adam Rafferty’s YouTube Channel: www.YouTube.com/user/crescentridge