Posts Tagged ‘Guitar’

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.

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.

 

 

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

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.

 

Playing vs. Practicing

Posted by Brian on 5th August 2011 in General Music, Practice

A lot of musicians I know tend to confuse playing music with practicing music. Yes, playing tunes can be an important part of practicing, but just playing tunes is definitely not practicing. Here’s a list of ways to differentiate playing from practicing:

1. It is remotely conceivable that your family might enjoy listening to you playing.

Video of the Month: Peppino D’Augustino

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

This month’s video features Peppino D’Augustino playing the title track from his latest CD, “Nine White Kites”. This tune was transcribed in the July 2011 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine. Should you wish to try it, the tuning is relatively unique: C#G#EF#BD# – though if I ever decide to tackle it, I think I’ll risk damage to my fourth string in favour of the more accessible tuning of DAFGCE (one semi-tone higher).

Peppino’s Website: www.peppinodagostino.com
Wikipedia Bio: Peppino_D’Agostino

Video of the Month: Ben Kammin

The second video of the month this month is a nice tune called “Sleepytime” played here by Ben Kammin and written by Alex DeGrassi. If you are a decent fingerstyle player and have ever wanted to try DADGAD tuning then this tune is a great place to start. This was the first DADGAD tune that I ever learned and it was from watching another video of Ben playing an excerpt from “Sleepytime” that I was inspired to learn it.

The tune is pretty straightforward, except for the bridge section where you need to get a “four-over-three” feel. Otherwise this tune is all about creating a mood – there are no flashy pyrotechnics – you just need to play cleanly and let the notes ring for as long as possible. Transcriptions are available from Alex DeGrassi’s website.

Ben Kammin is a graduate of the Fingerstyle Guitar program at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.  He lives in Flagstaff, Arizona where he teaches guitar and does research for UWM.

Ben’s Website: www.benkammin.com

Ben’s YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/benjaminkammin

Alex DeGrassi’s website: www.degrassi.com

The Next Step…

Posted by Brian on 3rd July 2011 in Fingerstyle Guitar, Guitar, Journal, Performing

For the half dozen (or so) of you that read this blog regularly, you know that a little over a year ago, I committed myself to getting out and performing more. Shortly after that, I reported on performing at my first open mic as a solo instrumentalist. Now, I am pleased to report that yesterday, I played my first full set as a solo instrumentalist.

It was at the Stouffville Strawberry Festival. I played a full 50 minute set as part of the York Region Fingerstyle Guitar Association’s “Showcase”. It was… not horrible. It was… fun… fun in the way that I imagine bungy-jumping is fun. I lived, therefore it was fun.

I realized shortly after I was invited to perform that I was going to have to play pretty much every song I knew. I had to go back and dust off a couple of tunes that were all but forgotten to fill out the full fifty minutes. I even learned a new tune. In a new tuning! It meant more practice. It meant more focused practice. All good things.

Now I’m looking forward to next time. Next time I will try to remember that I don’t have to tune by ear when I have a tuner on the ground in front of me. (Sorry for the delay folks – though it did help fill out the set.) Next time I will have more repertoire. And next time, (hopefully) it will be more fun… maybe even fun like a birthday party is fun.