Archive for the ‘Guitar’ Category

I Want One!

Posted by Brian on 1st April 2013 in Guitar, Video of the Month

Video-of-the-MonthIn a bold departure from my usual video-of-the-month, this month’s video features a new product that is hitting the market today. If even a fraction of the hype is true, this should take the guitar playing market by storm.

As always, I have absolutely no affiliation with the product in question.

Songs You Should Know: Classical Gas

Posted by Brian on 10th April 2012 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitar, Journal, Songs You Should Know, Uncategorized

Classical Gas“Classical Gas” by Mason Williams is easily the most popular and successful instrumental guitar tune ever written. Written during a weekend break from his day job as a writer for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, the tune was released in February 1968 and climbed to the top of the charts, winning three Grammy Awards that year. It has since been performed by countless people and ensembles playing a wide variety of different instruments.

Years ago, my guitar teacher tried to teach me how to play “Classical Gas”, but I was more interested in 3-chord rock at the time. Years later, after hearing Lisa Simpson playing it on an episode of The Simpsons, I decided that it was time to revisit the tune. Its not wildly difficult, but the timing is tricky as it changes time signatures several times throughout the piece.

Here is the original recording:

And here is Tommy Emmanuel’s take on the tune (note the nods to the Ventures and Elton John mid-way through):

And here is the official “Classical Gas” website:  ClassicalGas.com/home.html

A Brush With Fame

Posted by Brian on 21st March 2012 in Guitar, Journal

Six String Nation GuitarSo what do I have in common with Canadian music icons Gordon Lightfoot and Stompin’ Tom Connors? Not much. But last night I got to play a guitar that both of them (and thousands of other Canadians) have played.

I’ve written about the Six String Nation Guitar a couple of times in the past. It was born as a response to the separatist movement in Quebec and was built out of materials that represent the Canadian identity.

Well last night, it was back in Uxbridge at the Silverbirch Charity Concerts “Guitar Special” which featured Wendell Ferguson and a host of local guitar heroes.

And I got to play it!

Here is a picture of me playing a few bars of “Watermelon Sorbet”

Six String Nation Guitar

Incidentally, you can catch the remaining two Silverbirch concerts this Friday and Saturday.

Six String Nation website: www.SixStringNation.com

Silverbirch Charity Concerts website: www.SilverbirchCharityConcert.ca

Video of the Month: Tom Feldman

Posted by Brian on 1st March 2012 in Guitarists, Technique, The Instrument, Uncategorized, Video of the Month

Video-of-the-MonthGrab a coffee (a large one) and put your feet up. This month’s video is a long one.

In this video, which, admittedly, is a long ad for Tom Feldman’s instructional video series, we get an excellent overview of traditional blues styles. In general, I’m not a huge fan of the genre, but several of my “desert-island” recordings are, in fact, blues albums. And whether you are a fan of the genre or not, much of modern music, and particularly modern guitar playing, owes a debt of gratitude to the blues.

Quote, Unquote.

Posted by Brian on 25th January 2012 in Composing/Songwriting, Guitar, Music Theory, Musicianship, Technique

While thumbing through the January 2012 edition of Acoustic Guitar magazine I came across two quotes on the importance of learning theory and technique and one on the importance of NOT learning theory and technique – interestingly from someone who has an excellent grasp of musical theory, but has chosen not to apply it to his guitar playing:

“There may be a time when you want to express something that’s more complex, and it would be nice to have that available to you if that were the case. And there are times when just the simplest of chords is going to be the most satisfying, and you would want to know that that moment had arrived. I think the more technique you have, the more choices you have.”

–Paul Simon

“There are so many musicians that come up, so many girls with great voices and great lyrics, and they play their instruments and they haven’t learned them enough. All they can do is work with four or five chords. That’s why I am really lucky and eternally grateful that the order of events happened in the way they did: I learned the neck up and down, and then when it came time to sing over stuff, I had a world of stuff I could throw at my voice to sing over”

– John Mayer

“If somebody walked up to me and pointed to a note on the guitar fretboard and asked me what it was, I wouldn’t have the first idea. I’ve deliberately left certain things vague about the guitar, because I like the primitive aspect of the way I play and think about the guitar. I never think about what key I’m in. I just start to play and hope for the best.”

– Elvis Costello

What NOT to give for Christmas…

Posted by Brian on 6th December 2011 in Beginners, Guitar, Rant

Please, please, PLEASE, if you don’t know what to get your child for Christmas, do NOT get them a guitar.

Does it seem strange that a guitar teacher would try to dissuade you from giving a guitar for Christmas?

Here’s why:

While there are three exceptions, 95 percent of the time, giving a guitar at Christmas is a bad idea.

Unless you want an unplayed guitar sitting in your closet for the next couple of decades.

Many times when a parent gives a guitar for Christmas, its because the child already has an X-box, an iPod, an iPad, a DS, a TV, a computer, and maybe even a bicycle… so they see a guitar on the shelf at the local Stuff-Mart and think’ “Oh! Junior doesn’t have one of those! I bet (s)he would like one.”

And, yes, on Christmas morning, Junior might very well be ecstatic – with visions of musical stardom dancing in his or her head.

However…

The thing that Junior does not yet realize is that guitar is hard. Really hard. It takes a lot of work. And if learning guitar isn’t something that he or she is passionate about, it’s probably not going to happen on its own.

Here are the three exceptions:

One: Junior has been pestering for a guitar for months. Playing air guitar for hours on end and stringing rubber bands over empty tissue boxes to work on his or her chops. In this case, promise me that you will not buy the guitar from a big box store and that you will not spend less than $200 and go ahead.

Two: You have already bought Junior a guitar from a big box store and by some miracle, it is still getting played. In this case, it is probably time for an upgrade and, if you promise me that you will not buy another guitar from a big box store and that you will not spend less than $200, you have my blessing.

Three: You are prepared to take on the grueling task of being the taskmaster and forcing daily practice until sufficient skill is developed that Junior actually learns and appreciates the rewards of playing music and discovers a desire to learn independently. (This is not a bad thing, but most modern parents don’t have the time or energy for this.) Just promise me that you will not buy the guitar from a big box store and that you will not spend less than $200.

(If you have, decided that, yes, a guitar would, in fact, make a great gift, then you should probably include a tuner, a music stand, and a metronome as stocking stuffers.)

So when you see that guitar sitting on the shelf at the Stuff-Mart, just think, “Thanks, Brian,” and walk on by.

 

At What Age Can a Child Start to Play Guitar?

Posted by Brian on 19th October 2011 in Beginners, Guitar, Relatives of the Guitar, The Instrument

It is a question that I get a lot and, as with most things, the short answer is, “The younger, the better.” Having said that, there are challenges for the young beginner. The biggest one being finding a good quality instrument that fits.

Unlike the violin, it is hard to find a decent quality guitar in any size smaller than what is known as a “parlour-sized” guitar – about three quarters of the size of a typical guitar – usually suitable for a child who is eight to ten years old, depending on their height. Most guitars smaller than this are nothing more than toys, not really useful for learning anything meaningful. But there are exceptions.

How can you tell the difference between a toy and a proper instrument?

The first clue is where you are shopping. If you’re not in a store that sells musical instruments, and only musical instruments, then you are probably buying a toy. The second clue is price. There are bona fide music stores that sell toy instruments simply because there is a market for them, but if you ask, they will probably recommend something of better quality. Generally, for a new instrument, you need to be spending at least $200 to get something of decent quality.

An excellent option for the very young (or very small) beginner is a baritone ukelele. A baritone ukelele is slightly larger than a regular ukelele and it’s four strings are tuned to the same pitches as the four highest strings on a guitar. (For those who don’t know, the “highest” strings are the ones closest to the floor – the thinnest ones.) You can usually get a decent baritone ukelele starting at about $150. To truly mimic a guitar’s tuning, you would need to replace the “fourth” string – the one furthest from the floor -  with a thicker string that can be tuned an octave below the standard tuning of the baritone uke. (The distinctive tone of ukeleles comes from the fact that the fourth string is tuned to a pitch between that of the first two strings – an octave above what you might otherwise expect.) Replacing the fourth string can easily be done by the salesperson in the store.

Also, a regular ukelele would make a great starter instrument. The tuning is different, but the “intervals” between string pitches are consistent with the guitar and the skill of playing is fully transferable. Good quality ukeleles usually start at about $100 – though some ukelele courses are able to provide decent instruments for $60-75 as part of the course, because they buy in bulk and don’t necessarily have the overhead costs.

I have also seen instruments known as guitar-leles – basically a six-stringed ukelele. However, I have never laid hands on one that I would buy. Any that I have picked up have been terribly intonated (meaning that the notes don’t sound correctly as you move up the neck), despite having reputable brand names and being sold in reputable stores. I would avoid these instruments, unless you are knowledgeable enough to make a good judgement or someone you know can go with you to check the instrument first.

In fact, having a knowledgeable friend accompany you is always a good idea. Don’t be afraid to ask, because most musicians are quite happy to have an excuse to take a trip to the local music shop. And shopping with someone else’s money is always a treat.

 

 

Grace in Small Things: Guitar Edition

Posted by Brian on 5th October 2011 in General Music, Grace in Small Things, Guitar, Journal

You are hereby challenged to find the joy in small things, because life is short and love is large.

GraceInSmallThings.com

Grace In Small Things is a website that encourages us to look past the noise in our lives and look for grace in the “small things” – those day to day moments of joy that we sometimes forget to acknowledge and appreciate. This strikes me as an excellent idea, so I am going to take up the challenge with a musical “Grace in Small Things” drawn from the last week or so.

Here we go:

1. The realization that one day soon I will have a Don Ross tune in my repertoire – not there yet, but barring a God-sized intervention, it will be.

2. Being sufficiently inspired to start learning another Don Ross tune.

3. Attending a guitar teacher’s workshop and learning that there is still much to learn.

4. Working on learning it.

5. Jamming until the wee hours with great friends who also happen to be great musicians.

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

Looping 101

Posted by Brian on 7th August 2011 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitar, Guitarists, How to:..., Practice

“Loopers” have been one of the more popular guitar effects in recent years. Loopers are not an “effect” so much as a device which can record a segment of music as you play it and then play it in a loop until you decide to stop it. You can select your “in” and “out” points as you play with a foot switch and some loopers will allow you to add multiple layers to your loop.

In this case, a video is worth a thousand words, so here is Sergio Altamura of (surprise, surprise) CandyRat Records using a looper in his tune “Before the Sea”:

Loopers can be used in a number of ways. Obviously, as seen in this video, they can be used as a composition and performance tool. They are also a great practice tool. You can record a chord progression or a riff and then play along with it, or you can record a segment of a tune that you are working on and listen objectively to see how it sounds.

If you think a looper is something that you could have some fun with (I know I do – though I don’t actually own one yet), then take your guitar to your local guitar shop and try one (or more) out.