Archive for the ‘Music Theory’ Category

Practicing Without Your Guitar – Part I: Why?

A week and a half ago, I led a workshop on “Practicing Without Your Guitar” at the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s monthly Open Mic. Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting some of the techniques that were discussed for practicing without having an instrument in hand.

First, however, I thought it might be helpful to discuss why one might want to practice without a guitar.

For me, the most obvious situation where one might want to practice without a guitar is when there isn’t a guitar available. When you’re on the bus, or at your kids’ soccer practice, or waiting at the doctor’s office, you may want to wile away the time by practicing without your guitar.

You may also want to practice without your guitar to build non-guitar-specific skills. You can work on rhythm or ear training very easily without having your instrument in hand.

Another reason you may want to practice without your guitar is to avoid (or recover from) injury. Repetitive stress injuries are common with the guitar and we can reduce our playing hours by finding ways to practice without actually playing.

So now that you know why you might want to practice without your guitar, stay tuned to learn how to practice without your guitar…

May 29, 2012:  Part II: Visualizing

June 28, 2012: Part III: Rhythm and Tempo

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

Down To The Bass-ics

Posted by Brian on 11th October 2011 in Ear Training, Music Theory, Musicianship, Relatives of the Guitar

A while ago I was asked if I would be willing to play bass guitar in an upcoming musical at my kids’ school. At the time I didn’t own a bass, but said that if they could find me a bass to play, that I would be willing to give it a try.

As luck would have it, not long after that, I found a bass that was being sold on consignment at my favourite music shop. It was affordable and playable, so after getting clearance from everyone who might have concerns about such a purchase, I took the plunge.

Playing in the musical was a ton of fun and the kids did a great job. And since then, I’ve been playing bass regularly in the “jam band” that I meet with from time to time. That’s been a lot of fun too.

And while I am a firm believer that dabbling in other instruments will never make you a better guitarist, I am now persuaded that playing other instruments can make you a better musician.

In this case, it has helped my ear greatly, which has always been one of my weaknesses. I have a much better sense of the important intervals (major  third, minor third, fifth, and dominant seventh) because playing bass is mostly about playing arpeggios (chords played one note at a time), and these are the intervals that form those arpeggios. It has also forced me to get to know my fretboard a little better, especially on the D and G strings where I have always had a tendency to just “fake it”.

I’ve also discovered that kids think that bass is way cooler than guitar.

Cool!

Finally!

Video of the Month: Your Brain on Music

Posted by Brian on 1st July 2011 in General Music, Music Theory, Video of the Month

In another departure from my usual video of the month, here is a really cool video that demonstrates differences in brain activity between improvising music and playing music from memory:

I first came across this video on Sean Dricoll’s Blog: So Much Sound. Sean’s comments on this video are worth a read.

Video of the Month:

Posted by Brian on 15th June 2011 in Making a Living, Music Theory, Performing, Practice, Video of the Month

Yes, I know. This is the second video-of-the-month this month. It seems that I’ve got a bit of a backlog of great guitar-related videos to share, so for the next couple of months, I’m going to do two videos each month. This will also help to fill in the void of “real” posts that I assume will form with the onset of summer weather.

This video is a very entertaining look at Steve Vai’s audition to play in Frank Zappa’s band, “The Mother’s of Invention”. But it also drives home the fact that the more you know about music theory and musical styles, the more options you have if you want to make music for a living. Or, as a former employer used to say, “Learn more, earn more.”


And, for the record, I see no shame in being Linda Ronstadt’s guitarist…

This is Cool: Rhythm and the Brain

Posted by Brian on 8th June 2011 in Book Review, General Music, Music Theory

As the result of a recommendation from an internet acquaintance, I’ve been reading and enjoying “Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy – How Music Captures Our Imaginations” by Robert Jourdain. It has been a wonderful read so far. (It’s out of print, but I was able to get it through AbeBooks.com)

I’ve just finished reading the chapter on rhythm and it discusses how our sense of rhythm is predominantly seated in the left half of our brains and provides a neat experiment that you can try: With your left hand, tap out a continuous 1-2-3-4 beat. Now with your right hand tap out a more complex beat. It doesn’t have to be wildly more complex, a relatively simple 1-2&3-4 will do just fine. Most people can do this with very little difficulty. Now, switch hands. Tap out the steady beat with the right hand and the complex rhythm with the left. Much harder, isn’t it? Now, I knew from experience that this would be the case, but I had always assumed that this was because I am right-handed (i.e. left-brain dominant), but apparently, this is the case whether your are left- or right-handed. (Assuming that you have typical brain lateralization – left-brain dominance resulting in right-handedness and vice-versa – which, apparently, not everyone does.) This would explain why so many left-handed people play guitar right handed, the right hand (picking hand) being naturally better at producing complex rhythms.

Try it out and let me know the results – especially you southpaws out there! (And if you’re a left-handed guitarist, let me know if you play right- or left-handed, too!)

Video of the Month: Bobby McFerrin

Posted by Brian on 1st April 2011 in General Music, Music Theory, Video of the Month

Okay, this isn’t my typical video of the month, but it is very cool, nevertheless. In this video Bobby McFerrin (of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” fame) demonstrates to an audience (without speaking a word) how the pentatonic scale is universal and highly intuitive, if not instinctive.

Edit: For those of you who may not know, the pentatonic scale is a five note scale which corresponds to the intervals between the black keys on a piano. It is usually the first (and sometimes only) scale that we guitarists learn.