Archive for the ‘Musicianship’ Category

Quote, Unquote.

Posted by Brian on 22nd July 2012 in General Music, Musicianship, Practice, Quote Unquote, Technique

Quote, UnquoteThis quote was referred to in a discussion of great rhythm guitarists at GuitarsCanada.com:

“A lot of cats don’t work on their rhythm enough, and if you don’t have rhythm, you might as well take up needleoint, or something.”

– Prince in an interview with Guitar Player Magazine


Practicing Without Your Guitar – Part III: Rhythm & Tempo

Posted by Brian on 28th June 2012 in General Music, How to:..., Musicianship, Practice

Early in May, I led a workshop on “Practicing Without Your Guitar” at the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s monthly Open Mic. I am now working on getting some of the insights from that workshop written down and posted. In this, the third of four installments, I am going to talk about working on Rhythm and Tempo without your guitar.

Rhythm

A while ago I wrote about attending a guitar workshop led by David Ross MacDonald at the Eaglewood Folk Festival. In that workshop he talked about how he used a sort of two step to embed various rhythms (i.e eighths, triplets, sixteenths, etc.) into his brain. You can also tap out rhythms in time with your metronome, or even use your left hand to tap out a steady beat while tapping out more complex rhythms with the right (or vice versa, if that’s how you’re wired).

Tempo

One of the biggest challenges for many musicians is starting at the right tempo. As it turns out, our brains have a remarkable capacity for reproducing the tempo of well known songs. For example, according to Daniel Levitin, in his book, “This Is Your Brain On Music”, we can use the following songs to find the following tempos:

“Hotel California”, by The Eagles – 75 beats per minute
“Back in Black”, by AC/DC – 96 bpm
“Walk This Way” by Aerosmith – 112 bpm
“Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson – 116 bpm

This is a technique that I have found to be very helpful.

Hopefully, you can use some of these ideas to improve your musicianship without building callouses.

Stay tuned for Part IV: Listening and Ear Training

Part I: Why?

Part II: Visualizing

Practicing Without Your Guitar – Part II: Visualizing

Posted by Brian on 29th May 2012 in General Music, How to:..., Musicianship, Performing, Practice

Earlier this month, I led a workshop on “Practicing Without Your Guitar” at the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s monthly Open Mic. I am now working on getting some of the insights from that workshop written down and posted. Two weeks ago, I talked about why we might want to practice without our guitar. This week I am going to talk about visualization techniques.

We often hear athletes talk about using visualizing techniques to help them on their road to success. One thing that came up during the workshop was the legendary story of the golfer who kept himself sane as  a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam by imagining playing a round of golf at his home course each day. When he finally did get home, the story goes, he had only lost a couple of strokes off his game. While the veracity of this story may be in doubt, the benefits of visualization techniques are not.

One way that we can use visualization is to play “air guitar”. We can imagine playing new chord shapes or playing a familiar chord progression – maybe playing that chord progression on another part of the neck. We can imagine playing scales – working through the major, and various minor and modal scales, hearing them in our mind as we “play” them.

We can also pick up some sheet music (standard notation or tablature) and visualize playing it. If you are using standard notation, figure out the best place to play each note, and, where applicable, figure out which chord voicings will work most effectively.

Another way we can use visualization techniques is to use our computer or mobile devices. There are websites and “apps” that help you to learn your fretboard. Here is one from MusicTheory.net: http://www.musictheory.net/exercises/fretboard/yy998y

A final area where we can use visualization is in performance. Years ago I heard Olympic Gold Medalist, Mark Tewksbury tell a story about sneaking into the, then unfinished, pool in Barcelona and imagining the crowds and walking across the deck to the starting blocks and hearing the starters pistol and how it helped him to perform on the actual day of competition. As musicians, we can do the same by imagining an audience, imagining taking our place on the stage and nailing those first few notes. We can also use this type of visualization with our instrument in hand too – when we are working on performance pieces, we should be imagining our audience and even practicing our verbal bits between songs.

Stay tuned for Part III: Rhythm and Tempo

 

 

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

Emulation

Posted by Brian on 21st February 2012 in General Music, Musicianship, Practice, Technique

This past week, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to an adjudicator critiquing the performances of young piano players, including my own children. There has been lots of great advice that could apply equally to musicians of all ages and abilities. But one suggestion got me thinking.

As the adjudicator was dissecting performances of some baroque-era pieces, she talked about how piano pieces from that era were, in fact, written for the harpsichord – a keyboard instrument that resembles a small piano, but which sounds much brighter and doesn’t have the volume or sustain of a piano. She then went on to say that when playing such pieces, students should be trying, as much as possible, to emulate, or mimic, the sound and feel of the harpsichord in their piano playing. She then went on to talk about the importance of trying to emulate other instruments too.

This got me thinking about something that I had heard years ago – and I wish my memory was better, but I do remember hearing about a famous guitarist, whose name completely escapes me, who developed his style by trying to emulate the saxophone music of… Charlie Parker… maybe???

Anyways, the point that I am getting to is that, if we really want to hone our expressive chops, we guitarists should not only be trying to emulate other guitarists that we like, we should also be trying to emulate great players of other instruments too.

Adjudication

Posted by Brian on 13th February 2012 in Beginners, Musicianship, Performing

A regular theme of mine since starting this blog has been the importance of getting out and performing for people. Around the time I started this blog I committed to practicing what I preach and I’ve been a regular attendee at one local open mic and have put in a couple of appearances at a couple of others. Long time readers will know that I also entered the Sunderland Music Festival a year ago:

“The Sunderland Lions Music Festival is intended to promote higher standards of musical awareness and achievement in our community by providing young musicians with opportunities for public performance and professional assessment.” — Mission Statement

While “young musician” doesn’t quite describe me in terms of chronological age, it does describe me in terms of the potential for growth in my musicianship. And the experience of entering the festival last year was a great one. The festival is “adjudicated“. This means that a professional musician actively listens to your playing and critiques it. This is a very different experience from participating in an open mic, or singing around the campfire, or pretty much any other performance experience available to amateur performers. Most people after hearing you play will describe it in terms that are some variation on “good” or “bad”. An adjudicator will comment on your tempo, phrasing, dynamics, and other aspects of your playing. These are the things that make your playing “good” or “bad”, but most people are not musically literate enough (or energetic enough) to break down the elements of your playing and categorize the things that you do well – or not-so-well.

Last year the adjudicator praised my phrasing, but pointed out a lack of dynamics in my playing. So now, I pay more attention to my dynamics. I’ve discovered, both by playing and listening, that dynamics can really grab the attention of your audience and can really help to convey the emotion of a tune. I also found it very interesting listening to the critiques of other musicians, particularly those who played other instruments.

This year, I’ve signed up again and I’ve persuaded a number of my students to sign up as well. I’m really looking forward to hearing what the adjudicator will say about my playing this year. I’m also curious as to what he will say about my students’ playing. As a teacher I imagine that the experience of having someone analyzing my students’ playing will be very educational as well.

If you are interested in checking out an adjudicated performance, the Open Guitar Class of the Sunderland Music Festival will take place at 7 pm on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 at the Sunderland United Church, 10 Church St., Sunderland.

 

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

Tune Up!

Posted by Brian on 16th January 2012 in Beginners, Ear Training, Musicianship, Performing, Playing well with others, Rant

“I thought that the professional touch that made your set was the fact that your guitar was in a proper state of tune.”

I recently played a short set at a local open mic, where a musician friend was in attendance and I received the preceding note the following day. I sometimes forget how sensitive some people are to tuning – my ear seems to be less discriminating than most. I can hear when something is out of tune, but it doesn’t grate on me the way that it does some people. Having said that, I do recognize the importance of tuning.

It actually took me years to figure out tuning. Then one day, the clouds parted and I saw the light. Not sure what the trigger was, but suddenly I “got it”. For others, tuning is as natural as breathing. But the important thing is that you must always strive to play in tune, especially when playing for (or with) others.

Every time you pick up your instrument, you should check the tuning. These days, it is much easier than when I was a budding young rockstar. You can now buy electronic tuners for as little as $15 (though I would recommend spending a little more). And while I think that you should always try to tune by ear first, you can easily check your work with the tuner.

If you get used to playing in tune all of the time, it becomes way easier to tell if you are out of tune, and you may even get to the point where you will be able to critique other performers’ tuning… Best of all, you are way less likely to annoy your audience, even if it is just your cat.

Quote, Unquote

Posted by Brian on 7th November 2011 in Musicianship, Picking Hand, Practice, Technique, Uncategorized

“To be a virtuoso, one of the most important things you must have is as close to a perfect sense of rhythm as you can.”

Pepe Romero

 

“It is very important to work on the tone you have with your right hand [picking hand], to give emotion to a tune… Many guitar players don’t really take care of the right hand, but for me the right hand is producing the music”

Jacques Stotzem

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!