Monday, October 16, 2017

Tips for Playing Guitar AND Singing

Singing while playing guitar can be a daunting challenge for any guitarist.  You need both a good sense of timing, and the ability to sort of "split" your brain in order to pull it off.  But like everything else you've learned to do on the guitar, it CAN be mastered with practice.

It's important to remember that playing and singing aren't two separate things--in both cases, you are tied to the same key, tempo, and (in many cases) rhythm.  The trick, then, is just combining two bodily actions! Just like walking and chewing gum at the same time!   Here are a few tips regarding this type of "multi-tasking":

1) SOS--Start Off Simple!  Start off learning easy songs that you like and know well. Songs that only have a few chords, a simple strum pattern and lyrics you can easily remember, like "Happy Birthday." Or you can Google "Great songs with 3 chords or less" and find an easy song to start with.  Your guitar teacher can also help you find songs.

2)  Know your basic chords like the back of your hand.   Trying to remember how to finger a B7 chord while playing is going to make singing at the same time virtually impossible. Your guitar playing must be at a level where chord changes are effortless. You need to be so comfortable with your strumming that you don't even have to think about it. This will free you up to concentrate singing.

3) Practice strumming with a metronome. For better timing and rhythm, practice with a metronome. Although it will feel a bit restrictive at first, a metronome will make you a more consistent player. Spend 10 minutes a day practicing a simple strumming pattern with a metronome, and you'll notice significant improvements in your timing within a few weeks.

4) Start by playing through the music by itself first--later on, you can hum the lyrics, or start slowly adding them in as you get more and more comfortable with the chord changes.

5) Take it easy (start out at a slow tempo):   It's far better to sing and play correctly and slowly, than to be fudging rhythms at full speed. Go through the song measure by measure, line by line, until you can play and sing it all the way through without errors. Speed will come once you iron out all the kinks.

***A note on finger-picking. If you're playing a song that uses finger-picking, you might find it helpful to take a few steps back to start. First, sing using a simple strum pattern to play the chords. Once you got the song down perfectly this way, move on to a more complex strum pattern, and then ultimately to the finger-picking. pattern.

Of course, perfecting any guitar technique, and adding singing takes time and PRACTICE.  But if you work a little each day, you will find that playing and singing becomes easier each day.  
Good Luck--and Happy Pickin' !!


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Tips for Making Smoother Chord Changes

One of the complaints I hear most often from students who are working on chord songs is that they have difficulty making quick chord changes--especially in songs where the chord is changing every beat, or every two beats.  And I get that--I can clearly remember the frustration of trying to keep up with the songs I was learning as a younger student!

There is good news, however, and a couple of really simple techniques can help you to make those chord changes quickly and cleanly.

The bounce technique is great for students who are just starting to work on chord progressions, and it involves simply making the chord shape of a particular chord with your fretting hand (start with a G Major chord, for example), and just bouncing that formation lightly on the strings--over and over and over.  This will help with your muscle memory, and will also help to "burn" that image of a G Major chord into your head.

Then move on to another chord formation, i.e. C Major or E minor.  Just like before, bounce that chord formation off of the strings over and over and over.

As an aside, it does not matter if you are working with first-position chords, barre chords, or even power chords.  The same bouncing technique works for any fingered chord!

Once you have worked on bouncing single chord formations for a while, the next step is to bounce a chord formation once, then immediately bounce to another chord position that you have been working on.  Start with just "lifting and shifting" between two chords, then as you get more comfortable with the transitions, add a third chord, then a fourth chord, etc.

Students often tell me that they are having problems moving from one particular chord to another, but often, this is because they are lifting their hands completely off of the fret board between chords.  In the "Lift and Shift" method, you keep your fingers hovering slightly above the fret board, and snap quickly to your next memorized formation.

Truth be told, if you have worked on bouncing the chords and burning them into your brain and muscles, it shouldn't matter which chord you're coming from and which one you're going to--your muscle memory will get you quickly to and from!

For a visual demonstration, click on the video link below.  Have fun--and Happy Pickin'!


Monday, October 24, 2016

Keep Your Eyes on the Prize! (The Music)

One of the things that I always encourage my music students to do as they progress in their learning is to try to play the music without looking at their fretting hand.   This is where you say, "Yikes, but why??"

It is difficult at first, but what we are trying to ultimately do is to keep your eyes and attention focused on the music in front of you, and to really work on developing your musical "ear" to work in conjunction with your fretting hand.  In other words, to remove the sense of "sight" from the equation.

Building muscle memory and having a kinesthetic awareness of the spatial arrangement of both notes and chords will ultimately make you a better player, and let you focus solely on the next measure, the next chord, the next lyric,etc.

It is a discipline for sure, but what I have found over years of teaching is that students actually play better and more smoothly if they can break the habit of continuously watching their hands.  it's kind of like this:  if you've ever tried to actually WATCH yourself run, I can guarantee you that you will ultimately trip, run into something, or simply overthink what your legs are doing!

The same holds true for the guitar; try not to overthink what your fretting hand is up to, rather, in your head, visualize what that next note/chord SHOULD sound like, and without peeking, let your left hand find that note or chord.

When I was young, I actually used to practice chords in the dark, because I know if the light was on, I would peek!  But I find now that practicing chords, scales, and riffs while staring at some other object in the room (a dog, a lamp, an air vent, etc) is a great way of working on my musical ear ALONG WITH the position and touch of my fretting hand.

For more tips, see the video below, and in the meantime, Happy Pickin'!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Tips for Better Sounding Barre Chords

Many of my guitar students are at the point of learning barre chords (yes--that's the proper spelling!), and I can clearly remember how difficult the task is.  It will try your last drop of patience, and tax muscles and tendons that you may have never used before.

But there is a GREAT payoff to a student's persistence--and that reward is a great sounding chord that utilizes all six strings of your guitar to their fullest potential!

Playing a full barre chord involves using the index finger across all six strings--but what makes this difficult is the tension of the strings and the dexterity needed to hold them all down at once to produce a chord that sounds clean and clear. So check out these tips below:

1. Practice + Patience = Perfection. Don't expect your barres to sound great right out of the gate. The ability to play barre chords is an acquired skill. Your fingers not only need to build strength, they also have to get comfortable with the chord shapes. Just like you learned to play notes and simple chords, learning to play barre chords is a process. 

2. Index finger placement. It's tempting to place the index finger at a slight diagonal so that it's further from the fret on the first string. But this will make the chord sound fuzzy! Make sure your index finger is straight and close to the fret. 

3. Proper pressure. While it's important to press your finger firmly down on the strings to make them sound, you don't want to push too hard and risk straining your hand. Keep the pressure as even as possible across all the strings, and experiment to see how much pressure you need to clear the chord without overtaxing your hand. Find the right balance. 

4. Don't be a wimp. Yes, learning to play barre chords might hurt a bit, just as learning to fret notes did before you built calluses. The important thing is to work through it. You will build the strength to play almost any barre chord. If your hand cramps up, by all means take a break! - but do come back later. 

5. Buzzes and muffled strings. Alter the positioning of your index finger slightly up or down to see if you can fix any buzzing or muffled strings. Try rolling your index finger backwards to the more bony side (not the fleshy underside of your finger). Make sure your thumb is right behind the neck to give the finger enough support. Keep a close eye on your fingers and hand position.

6. Commit to making it happen. Dedicate a portion of your practice session to barre chords. Make it a habit to practice every song with them. Start by replacing an open chord for a barre, then gradually add more barres to the song. Learn to switch from one barre chord to the next. 

7. Break down the process into pieces. Approach the barre like you would any task that seems overwhelming: break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Start with your index finger on the first fret, first string. Play the note four times. Next, barre the first two strings in the first fret. Strum those strings four times. Press hard enough so that each note sounds. Next, barre the first three strings in the first fret and strum. And so on. Once you play through the entire exercise, move to the second fret and repeat, then to the third, the fourth, making your way up to the twelfth fret and then back down again. Do this exercise daily to strengthen your fingers. Remember to shoot for quality, not speed. 

8. The ultimate barre workout. Stand with your hands hanging relaxed. Extend the fingers of both hands all the way out then close the fingers to a fist. Easy enough, yes? Now work your way up to doing it 100 times, as fast as you can, making sure you snap the fingers open and closed all the way each time. If your hands aren't developed, you'll start to feel it in your forearms after about 20-30 repetitions. 

9. Start higher up the neck. If your fingers are really weak, try barring on the fifth fret. It can be much easier than starting on the first fret as the tension isn't as great. Try different places along the fretboard and see where you're most comfortable, moving closer and closer to the first fret. 

10. Have a professional lower your guitar's action. A lot of guitars have high action, which makes it really hard to sound barre chords. If you suspect poor action, go to your local guitar shop and see if they can adjust it to help improve comfort and playability. Also check string gauge. Heavy strings will make barring more difficult. 

Good Luck--and Happy Pickin'!  Below are a few videos to also help:

Barre Chord Tips

Easy, Major Barre Chords

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Why Do I Need Music Lessons?"

As a guitar instructor, I am always pitching my services to prospective students, as well as to the parents of prospective students.  And as a parent, I am also aware that for many people and families, music lessons can represent a major investment of time, money, and commitment.
Many times I hear from budding musicians that "they will just learn to play off of the Internet."  Which is all well and good--except that while there is a lot of good training to be had on the Internet, there is also a lot of bad technique and incorrect music teaching charts out there. 
Other students buy a guitar book, and attempt to teach themselves--which is also good, but can take a LONG time because there is no accountability and time structure in place to motivate a student to set goals and to rehearse (and progress!!).
Taking private lessons with a qualified teacher, however, can help you in so many ways.  For example, a good teacher who meets with you in person can:

**Watch your technique for signs of problems--and correct those issues early on!

**Help you pick songs to play that fit your level of expertise

**Give you exercises for the specific challenges you’re facing

**Help you make appropriate adaptations, such as key changes, to music you want to learn

**Give you an opportunity to play with an experienced musician every week

**Hold you to a high standard and put a little positive pressure on you

**Work with you to achieve YOUR musical goals.

**Guide you in writing and performing your own original material.

So what are you waiting for?  Do you want to be a "good" player?  Or a GREAT player?


Monday, January 4, 2016

Clean Chord Techniques, Part Deux!

Happy New Year, Everyone!  Now that we have survived the Holidays, it's time to get back to the business of being great guitarists!

I have several students who are starting to learn basic chord shapes, and most of them are experiencing the same issues that all guitarists face when trying to play clean chords:  1) buzzing or muted strings, 2) quicker transitions between chords, and 3) fretting-hand fatigue or aching hands.

I really want to hone in again on issues 1 and 3 because they are relevant and related.  And at the same time, I want to assure you that EVERY guitarist has struggled to make clean chords--with time and practice, you will conquer and master these chords.

They say that a picture is often worth a thousand words, and the pic above does just that.  I want you to notice a few things:  first of all, notice that the guitarist's fingers are almost perpendicular to the fretboard.  That is one thing to really shoot for, as you want as little as possible of your fingertip to be pressing on the string.  This is how you AVOID muting other strings in the chord.

Secondly, notice that the guitarist's thumb and palm are positioned in such a way that his fingertips can be as perpendicular as possible. As I often tell my students, everyone's hand is a little different, but YOU have control over your thumb position as well as the pivoting of your wrist to allow for clean chords and for having a "relaxed" grip that will not fatigue your hand.

Finally, notice that the guitarist has positioned his fingers so that he is using that small part of his fingertips just below the nail.  This is where you will eventually develop calluses as you play, but is also a way from keeping the more fleshy parts of your finger from making contact with the other strings.  Notice also that sometimes, you have to "rake" your fingers back a bit toward the headstock of the guitar in order to access that small part of your fingertip that allows for clean chords.

One little p.s.:  Learning chords can be a frustrating process--but if you put the time in, you will get the results out.  If you find yourself getting upset, just walk away from the guitar for a while--clear your head, let your fingers rest a bit, and then try again later.  You WILL get there!

In the video below, I expound upon these tips a little bit.  So enjoy--and Happy Pickin'!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Four Good Reasons to Write Your Own Songs

As one who teaches both guitar and songwriting, I am always encouraging my students to start writing their own songs.  Every great songwriter has to start somewhere, and you will find that the more you write, the better your songs will get--and the easier they will come to you!Here's four very good reasons to write your own material:

1 – You Already Have The Ability To Turn YOUR Thoughts Into Actual Songs!Each one of us experiences, people, places, thoughts, feelings, and situations--no matter our age.  As they say “A good writer can portray a beautiful story out of the most everyday experiences.” Well, for us guitar players, with the guitar in our hands helping us through our way – this is easier to achieve and stay motivated than it is for anyone else who is not currently in the world of playing music.  Write about what you know--even the ordinary and mundane--and you will find that songs come easily. A rhyming dictionary app and notebook or iPad is all that you will need. And your guitar, of course!

2 – Writing Songs Develops Your Overall Comprehension Of Music To New Levels:Every great songwriter started somewhere--they threw out words, melodies and harmonies that, in some cases, have come to inspire and uplift millions of human beings. But sitting with yourself and trying to come up with your own words and music will slowly give you the ARTIST'S point of view on music. From this point of view, you will see a lot more, and I can definitely say that all of my enjoyment and appreciation from music has moved forward by leaps and bounds since I started writing songs myself.  Write constantly--you may only use 10% of what you write down, but that's enough to make some great songs!

3 – Writing Music To Your Lyrics Dramatically Develops Your EAR and your grasp of music theory.Suddenly you will start getting the feeling of how a transition from a V (the “fifth” chord of a certain key) chord to a I (1st – Root) Sounds like. You will start noticing the unique feeling of a VI chord and the sense of a IV chord that is building the tension before the V and so on. You will start literally hearing and seeing things that you have never heard or knew existed in ALL the music you will listen to, and it will all come back ten-fold in a very practical way.  And remember: a LOT of really great songs have been written around three chords.

4 – Songwriting Develops Your Creativity This one is self-explanatory. I also believe that creativity is something that can be seen as a whole, and when you engage your right brain and work on it through songwriting, it takes all your ideas and thoughts in life to new heights. Not only in music, but in all other areas of life as well.I talk more about this in the video below; enjoy, and Happy Pickin'!