I know I’ve fallen a few weeks behind in posting my on-going series of guitar technical exercise vids. Kind of got off schedule here due to the hurricane we had. I’ll have the next exercise vid up in a few days. Meanwhile…
Here’s a quick demonstration of a guitar arrangement I put together for the classic French song: “La Vie En Rose”. Hope you like it.
Speaking of hurricanes – if you can, and haven’t already done so, please consider helping the people of Puerto Rico. Here’s an article from PBS New Hour which runs down ways YOU can help and links to proper places to donate money (which they need most of all right now):
Seriously, I just did it and it took me like 5 minutes to send a bit of $ to help these people out in a critical time of need.
Thanks, as always, for your consideration.
It has been a busy week here at the studio. All the students are now back from summer break and my schedule is completely full. A problem which I am always very grateful to have. And still I managed to find some time to (finally) post the 4th installment of this program on guitar technique. This weeks exercise routine combines all the skills of the previous 3 weeks and voi la: Arpeggios!
I decided to get rid of the commentary portion of these videos. While my explanations might be helpful to some people, they are perhaps equally likely to hinder others. Technique is a process of discovery, hence all the repetition. The great Mike Watt (of the great band the Minutemen) used to say, “The knowing is in the doing.” So the less time you spend scratching your head trying to understand what I am saying and the more time you spend putting your hands on the strings, the sooner you will become a better guitar player.
It will probably save us both a lot of wasted time if I simply demonstrate the exercises and limit my commentary to “Wax on. Wax off.”
So with that said, here are the links to this week’s exercise printout…
…and this weeks YouTube play-along video.
Good luck and I’ll see you next week.
Back again this week with the 3rd installment of this new program I’ve developed for teaching guitar technique. The first two exercise routines focused only on the picking hand and consisted of playing only open strings. In this 3rd installment you will focus on the most fundamentally important skill of the FRETTING hand: LANDING.
In the world of guitar teaching, the term “Landing” is not widely used. Most guitar teachers talk about developing the ability to “fret notes”, or to “stop the strings”. These are the terms that I was taught and the terms I used during my first several years as a guitar teacher. The big problem with these terms is that they direct the student’s attention to the fretboard or to the strings, when it is the fretting hand and its fingers that should be focused on.
Using the term “Landing” directs the student’s attention at the posture and movement of the left hand, particularly at the crucial instant when a finger tip makes contact with the guitar string. This is one of the most critical points in developing good technique. Students who takes the time to develop a natural sense for how to consistently and firmly land on the strings will have a rock-solid foundation on which many more important skills can quickly and easily be acquired.
Without this foundational skill, any student who tries to proceed toward learning melodies or chords, or any other skill, will soon feel frustrated – as though their fingers are uncoordinated and they themselves are untalented. The point I would like to stress here is that developing the ability to competently land on the strings is not a matter of whether or not you have talent. Just take the time to slowly and carefully repeat these simple exercises over the 7 CONSECUTIVE DAYS OF PRACTICE, and you’ll have the skill you need. When building guitar excellent technique, I like to say the recipe calls for REPETITION, ATTENTION, and TIME. The subject of “Talent” is another story for another day.
And you can also practice along with my real-time demonstration of any of these exercise routines, which can be found on my YouTube channel. Good luck with your practice and I look forward to seeing you back here again next week for the next skill in this series!
It’s Friday once again and that means its time for a NEW video on guitar technique. So far the new series, which I’ve titled “Sympathetic Technique” is going well. This week we will be looking at Skill #2 (of 30). Skill #2 involves the ability to cross from one string to the next and back with the guitar pick, all while keeping time with a slow and steady drum track.
Like last week, I have carefully designed 5 short drill exercises that isolate the technique of Crossing Strings. The plan, as always, is for you to devote just 5 minutes of your practice time to this skill EVERY DAY for seven consecutive days. You do not need to continue the 5 drill exercises from last week as last weeks skill “Timing” has been integrated into this week’s drill exercises.
You can also view a real-time demonstration of the 5 minute exercise routine on my YouTube channel. If you like, you can play along with me on YouTube for each of the 7 days.
If you have any questions, you can obviously leave me a comment here or on the YouTube channel. Good luck practicing! Can’t wait to see you back here next week for the next installment!
I guess it’s been a while since I posted on the ol’ blog. What can I say? Sometimes you gotta go away for a while. Live. Learn a bit. Then you come back with more interesting things say. I believe that’s what I’ve done.
It’s been over a year of practicing, writing (music) and teaching young guitarists since last I posted and I have learned so much in that time. The only reason I’ve really returned to the old blog is because I’ve decided to codify some of the things I’ve been working on as far as teaching guitar.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I’m kind of obsessed with guitar technique. It’s like my form of meditation, theres always a deeper level it seems. I’m always trying to stream line the process of acquiring, improving and maintaining guitar technique. I think this time I’ve made a big step forward.
I have compiled a list of 30 skills that a guitarist needs to hone in order to play the instrument. If you’re a beginner 30 might seem like a lot, but to anyone who has been playing guitar a little while, it can seem like the instrument demands hundreds of different skills. So many that we guitar players seldom feel like we have time to practice all these skills.
The truth is we actually DON’T have time to practice any old way if we want to become even a half-decent guitarist. So one of my main goals as a teacher is to boil down all the nonsense and come up with practice routines that deliver maximum training for the shortest amount of time invested.
It is currently my opinion, after 25 years of playing and 12 years teaching guitar, that a guitarist should only spend between 15 minutes and 1 hour on technique per day. Most of your time ought to be spent actually PLAYING MUSIC. (You do remember what MUSIC is, right?)
Without question MUSIC is the goal. But technical issues stand between us and the music and so the sooner we sort out technique, the sooner we can get on to the business of putting our heart and soul into music.
Guitar Technique does not need to be a life long pursuit. I believe, with my new method, any beginner can effectively master all the elements of solid guitar technique in 30 weeks. I have developed 30 exercises routines each 5-minutes in duration and focusing on only one skill per week. I’m thinking of calling the method “SYMPATHETIC TECHNIQUE”.
This rather long-winded post is really just my way of introducing the first skill: TIMING. Here you can download the pdf which contains the 5 ESSENTIAL DAILY EXERCISES to develop excellent timing on the guitar:
Perhaps most important is that I am producing demonstration videos of myself performing the 5 minute daily exercise routines in real time. So, if you want to, you can practice along with me (the youtube version of me) every day. Here’s a link to the first video:
Good luck with the Timing exercises and I’ll post the PDF and video of Skill #2 next Friday.
In this age, where the internet is dominated by easily digestible guitar videos, if you are actually going to put out the effort to read this guitar blog, I should do my best to keep things interesting. One sure way I know to keep things interesting is to just tell you some of my weirdest stuff. So here goes…
You know… if you like these blog articles, you should check out the Gables Guitar YouTube channel. Until recently there wasn’t too much content on there, but I am going to make more of an effort to post videos each week. I’ve already got the ball rolling with a series of videos that document a research project on an aspect of guitar playing that I have been grappling with for decades: STRINGS.
In this series of Youtube videos, I will attempt to demonstrate specifically what differences (if any) the choice of strings makes when it comes to guitar playing. With all the different brands, gauges, materials, wining types, etc. it is very hard to decide what strings are right for the job. I have played guitar for over 2 decades and I have tried a lot of different strings over the years. But while I have had a lot of… shall we say string-related-experiences, I feel that what I know about strings is hap-hazard. I feel like I’m at a place in may playing now where I know what to look for from strings and if I just take a little care to organize and document this experiment, I think it will result in some reliable insights.
The Story So Far…
So far I am one video into this project and I can already see that there probably won’t be an overall “best” type or brand of strings. My initial hypothesis is that there will be different techniques/styles for which each specific string type will perform better and others where it will prove less suited. Did I just say “hypothesis”? I better open a window. It’s getting scientific in here.
But you never know. As I look at all the strings I have already purchased for this experiment, I can’t help but wonder if one of them will just light up my life immediately… Well, I have been playing long enough to be highly skeptical of that kind of thing when it comes to gear. After all, by far the 2 most important factors when it comes to tone, intonation, and general magic are you own left and right hands.
That is part of the reason why I am excited to be doing this experiments now. I have been hitting the practice drills pretty hard as part of my new year’s resolution to pump up my technique. I have logged over 100 hours and have done at least 1 hour every day for the past 50 consecutive days. To put it in NBA Jam terms: I’ve been on-fire since January. Sometime around mid-Feb my character jumped out up from half-court, flew up out of frame and is still up there somewhere. I’m not sure when he is coming back down, but I can tell you this: he’s going to make glass-shattering dunk!!
So nothing is off the table for this experiment. I addition to exotic burnished nickel and flat wound strings (which I can’t wait to try) I will also be going back and evaluating the old cheapy-chungy $5 D’addarios I played when I was just a young punk. I need to update my impression of what they sound like in more experienced hands.
Not only this, but my practice routine in 2016 is much more comprehensive than its ever been. I am very confident that I will hear these strings from just about every possible angle because I have this written routine that explicitly makes sure I run through all the techniques and styles: sweep picking, hybrid picking, legatos, tapping, fingerstyle tremolo, frailing… I’m telling you, my practice can only be described as the sickest thing ever. — Ugh, is this how I talk now? HELP!
Anyway Even if there is no one set of magic strings that out performs all others, I expect that this experiment will provide me with more specific and reliable knowledge which I can use to chose among the different strings. I am tired of feeling uncertain as to whether I need to spend $15 on a pack of M-Steels or if I can use $5 strings and they sound just as good. I am hoping that this experiment will help get me to a place where I, to quote both Public Enemy and the Who: “Don’t Believe the hype & won’t get fooled again…YEEEAAAAOOOO!”
Don’t forget to watch part one of this video series here!
One question I ask all of my beginning guitar students is, “What made you decide to learn guitar?” Over the years I have noticed that the responses to this question reveal a few common goals we all share when it comes to learning to play guitar.
I have had singers come in for guitar classes wanting to learn to play guitar while they sing. I have taught guitar to some very creative people whose goals are to write original music or just experiment with harmony and other guitar sounds. While these are excellent goals, by far the most common reason people come in for guitar classes is that they simply want to learn to play songs. Oddly enough, while this most common goal seems like it would be the least ambitious, it is actually the hardest to achieve.
In many ways it is easier to write your own songs than it is to play someone else’s song. Or perhaps I should say that to write your own song, all you need is a little creativity. Whatever you create (good or bad) can never be wrong. If you make it up, then that’s just how it goes. But to play someone else’s song, you need information, focus, patience, and discipline. There is always some room for artistic interpretation, but in a lot of ways if you are not careful you can indeed get it wrong quite easily.
Guitar is a difficult instrument to play well, especially during the first year or two. There are many techniques and peculiar coordinations that need to be mastered even to play basic melodies like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”. For this reason, many of us guitar teachers encourage our students to practice exercises.
Logically speaking, it seems the best way to learn guitar would be to learn techniques via exercises and then learn to play songs which consist only of techniques you have already worked out in the exercises. This is how many method books and beginner guitar courses are structured. As far as teachers go, I find that I am in the camp which believes that spending the majority of your practice time practicing technical exercises, or etudes, is a super fast track to playing real music with ease. The problem with this ideal situation is that music itself is never this logical. Real music almost always contains a diverse collection of technical quirks that frustrate beginners. This makes it hard to introduce students to the real music which they really want to play because to adequately prepare them for even simple blues songs or punk riffs would take 6 months to a year of exercises. Almost nobody who wants it badly enough has this much patience, and nobody who has this much patience wants it badly enough.
So we tell our students to just be patient, do more exercises, and then eventually they’ll be able to play that difficult part and finally complete a few of these songs. This is true, and if they hang in there they will get it. But this is where many guitar students become frustrated and fall off. If they can’t point to a list of real musical songs they can play completely front to back in the first year or two, they may decide to give up. Many teachers simply resign themselves to accepting this as a fact of reality. Like baby sea turtles hatching on the beach. Sadly not all these beginner guitarists are going to make it to the water. But if we, the guitar teachers just accept that, we aren’t really doing our job which is to TRY REALLY HARD to get all these baby turtles into the water. Part of that means not just accepting the current teaching processes and the types of students for which they are effective. We have to actively working to improve the process or find new alternative processes to serve the students who are struggling.
I believe that there exists a learning path from absolute beginner to great guitarist that consists only of learning songs. I am constantly trying to find the right order in which to introduce songs to beginners so that they can completely learn the material in a reasonable amount of time. The order is the whole key to learning by playing songs. You have to chain one song to the next at just the right level of difficulty to create a seamless or at least gradual enough progression. Generally speaking, I think 2 to 4 weeks is a reasonable amount of time to fully learn each new song. If it drags on longer than that, the student is either not practicing effectively, or the song is not at the appropriate difficulty level.
I think that the learning by songs method is fascinating. But, while there are hundreds of method books which teach exercises and etudes as a pretext to songs, there seems to be little in terms of resources that explain what songs a student should learn first and then how these would progress in a logical or gradual manner. Still I will continue to develop my own method of teaching in the hope that one day I might find the right order in which to teach songs so that students can progress directly from song to song, without the need to resort to exercises.
This is just a quick post that will hopefully answer a question that I get asked all the time. The short answer is: “Yes.” A slightly longer answer would be: “Yes. Definitely.”
Rather than try to explain to you why you need to learn scales, I thought I might just talk about the importance of having a positive approach to learning. The value of some things, like learning scales (or learning guitar for that matter) may only become apparent AFTER you have learned them. Any attempt I make to explain why you should learn scales, will probably only make sense to musicians who have already studied scales.
To the beginner or novice I would encourage you to make a choice to truly learn guitar. If you are fortunate enough to be taking guitar classes, then don’t leave anything off the table: Learn scales. Learn to read music. Learn how train your ears and your voice. Learn how to train the finer muscle movements of the hand. Learn music theory. Learn visualization techniques. Learn how to hear music in your mind’s ear. Learn to play with a pick. Learn to play with your fingers. Etc…
Too often I meet beginners who are in such a hurry to learn guitar. As if learning guitar is a phase that can be completed, and shouldn’t actually take that long. Typically a lot of beginners feel that anything other than learning the one or two songs they want to learn is a waste of time. This belief only serves to narrow their focus to a point that it actually prevents them from successfully learning any songs. Learning scales, theory, and other forms of training are in fact brilliant shortcuts that help musicians acquire amazing techniques and other skills that help us memorize lots of musical material with minimal effort in (you guessed it) a reasonable amount of time.
By far the best thing you can do is adopt a positive attitude toward learning. Be open to all aspects of music. You don’t have to play scales up and down the neck like a super shredder. For most musicians, that is not what guitar playing is about. But you won’t get very far if you one foot out the door. Please, come all the way in. Have a seat. Relax and let’s learn what guitar is all about.
This weekend the Florida Guitar Foundation is hosting an open mic night at the Miami Conservatory of Music. I have signed up to perform “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams. I am a little nervous because I really never perform classical style pieces for a crowd. I have been running the piece a lot in rehearsal so I think it will go well. I hope I can pull it off when the time comes.
You don’t have to be a member of the foundation to perform. The performance is open to all classical style guitarists in the Miami area. But I think they want you to RSVP with your name and the piece you’d like to play. If you want in you can email them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Incidentally, if you play classical guitar or even just really enjoy listening to it, you should join the Florida Guitar Foundation. You get a basic membership if you donate $40.00 (even less for students). Of course you could always donate more too. Give a little support for the arts! Membership gets you discounts in their classical concert series and some other perks. For all the details, CLICK HERE to check out the foundation’s website.
Paola has also recently written a small feature article on the Guitar Foundation on her blog which you can check out over at Coral Gables Love.
I am not THAT involved with the group. I have seen some of their AMAZING concerts and I’m looking forward to join the guitar ensemble when they reconvene in the Fall. And then of course there is this open mic thing. Right now it seems like they do this open mic every few months, but I think the Guitar Foundation has plans to start do it regularly once every month. I hope that is true because I really like the opportunity to test out the classical music that I have been rehearsing on actual audiences as much as possible.
There is no telling whether an audience of mostly guitar players will be more or less nerve racking than and audience of average music lovers. I mean the Florida Guitar Foundation has faculty from the University of Miami and the Miami Conservatory of Music. These are some of the best classical guitarists in the country! So I am hoping they won’t judge my performance too harshly. I’m just kidding. I have met a bunch of these guys and they really couldn’t be nicer and more welcoming.
So if you can make it out this Friday, be sure to say hi. No telling when I’ll be playing, but I am really looking forward to seeing everybody else play. Maybe I’ll post a video of my performance on this blog… of course that is IF the performance goes well!
Either way, when it comes to performing, I like to think that you really can’t lose. Performance failures are all valuable (and usually necessary) learning opportunities. And successful performances, well… that is really what this is all about, isn’t it?
The Miami Conservatory of Music is located at 2911 Grand Ave, Suite 400A, Miami, FL 33133.