One very common musical exercise that I have noticed all the best guitar teachers recommend is to sing what you play. A lot of instrumental players tend to think that singing is for singers and that they don’t need to work on their vocal ability. The truth is that the ability to vocalize a melody is perhaps the strongest way to internalize and therefore control the way you will ultimately make it sound on your instrument. The more you practice singing, the more clearly you will be able to imagine the sound in your mind’s ear.
Whether you are a classical guitar player looking to better understand and interpret written music, or if you are a jazz or blues player looking to develop your ability to improvise melodies, a bit of singing should absolutely be part of your daily routine. Great musical improvisors like Thelonious Monk and Jimi Hendrix had been known to hum or scat what they were playing as they were playing it. So great was their internal sense of melody (and their command of their instruments) that they could just instantly realize these melodic threads as soon as they imagined them.
As far as classical guitar goes, many popular methods stress singing, particularly in the early stages. Aaron Shearer goes so far as to insist that beginners sing every note of every etude they are given in solfege and at tempo before so much as plucking a string. I’m sure that any of my students reading this are happy that I don’t stress singing as much as Shearer did, but we can also appreciate that this kind of thorough musical rigor leads to truly outstanding results.
Obviously, even with the Shearer method, the intention is not that every guitarist needs to develop a fantastic singing voice or an enormous vocal range. You just need to develop some ability to create and control the pitch of your voice. Once you’ve got that sense of control you can practice moving up and down via half steps and whole steps. Initially this type of practice will train your ears much more than your voice, which is precisely why music teachers stress the importance of this training specifically to non-singers.
In my experience, learning to sing scales and simple melodies has done wonders for my sense of intonation. I would even go so far as to say that I barely had any sense of intonation before I started vocalizing melody (it has improved my ears THAT much). I don’t go overboard with vocal exercise. I basically try to make sure that I spend at least 15 to 20 minutes a day singing what I am playing. Initially this meant that I just played one or two notes and practiced matching them in a vocal range that was very close to my speaking voice. Once I got up to the point where I could sing a complete C scale, I simply sang along as I did my normal scale practice.
Eventually, I learned to use the Solfege syllables (Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do) so that I could keep track of the scale degrees and develop some sense of the intervals between them. After getting the hang of straight scales, I tried to sing simple arpeggios (Do-Mi-Sol-Do, Re-La-Fa-Re, etc). This improved my sense of thirds, fourths and fifths. It is also a good idea to try and play a note on your instrument and practice singing specific harmonic intervals above or below that note. You can start with 2nds, 3rds, 4ths and then eventually try to get a sense of all the intervals up to one octave. This really has helped me distinguish between intervals of chords that I am playing. It also really helps me to pin-point problems when my guitar is sounding slightly out of tune.
Currently, I am training under the fixed-Do solfege system. Which means that “Do” is only used to vocalize C natural, and therefore every major scale uses a different collection of solfege syllables. I used to use moveable Do, which is simpler to understand, but I want to see if the fixed Do can help me to hear the difference between specific tonalities. I am currently going through this obsessive phase ever since I read about the differences between “just” and “equal tempered” tunings and the smearing effect equal temperament supposedly has on certain tonalities. I want to know if I can actually perceive and appreciate these inherent tonal characters that others say exist.
So look, you don’t have to be the next Beyonce or Bublé, but you should learn to sing a bit simply because it will improve just about every aspect of your playing. Remember to keep it to just about 20 minutes a day and start very simply. If you are consistent you should experience a tremendous boost to your ear training in 2 to 4 weeks.
First I should say that this blog post is NOT going to be a basic tutorial on guitar tuning. There are hundreds of websites out there that can show you how to tune your guitar strings to EADGBE. What I want to do today is address some of the finer points involved in tuning the guitar.
Nearly all of my students, somewhere between a year to year-and-half into their guitar lessons, start to report having a certain difficulty with tuning their guitar. It isn’t that their guitars are suddenly not staying in tune or that their electronic tuners need calibration. What is happening is that after about a year of playing, their ears begin to really notice (and are bothered by) slightly out of tune harmonies.
The complaint is always that the student is fingering something very simple, usually an open C or open E chord, and the chord just sounds sour or “off”. And when they play it for me, it certainly is. I used to try and get students to correct this problem much earlier in the learning process. But there is just so much to grasp in the first year of lessons, and let’s face it you are going to sound bad in the beginning for a variety of reasons. Fine tuning your guitar isn’t going to make a difference until your ears are capable of understanding what you are hearing; which is precisely when you will begin to notice this problem.
I first encountered this problem years ago. I found it particularly baffling that I could tune my guitar’s open strings using an electronic tuner, play and open E chord that sounded perfect, but then my open C sounded way out. Specifically the problem with the C chord was beats in the perfect fourth interval between the 3rd string G and 2nd string C. I tried tuning the 3rd string upward to eliminate the beats (which make the C chord sound perfect) only to find that the problem of beats had now shifted to the open E chord: between the 3rd string G# and second string B (what should be a minor third harmony).
I found out much later on that this problem has to do with the difference between the something called “just intonation” and the system of “equal temperament” which western music has adopted in order to make fixed pitch instruments (including the fretted guitar) equally playable in all 12 keys.
The issues arising from equal tempered tuning and its effect on intervals and key centers is fascinating but a bit to DEEP for me to get into right now. If you really want to understand how equal tempered tuning effects the intervals of the guitar you should start reading up on the overtone series and the history of equal tempered tuning. Be patient as this subject is very hard to understand. It took me a few years even to begin to wrap my brain around it. If you have specific questions on this subject, send them to me in an email and I’ll do my best to explain. Or, if you’re already one of my students, just bring it up in your next guitar class.
Assuming that most of you are NOT interested in going deep into equal temperament, and would just like to fix the problem and have your chords sounding nice an pretty. You are in luck. There is a very practical solution to this problem. There are actually several, but I’ll just tell you the one that I use most often.
I just explain to you how I tune my guitar and then you can try it and see if it helps you.
1.) Tune all open strings by one of the normal methods. Tuning the open strings to EADGBE using an electronic tuner is the fastest. You can also tune the open strings by ear to their corresponding piano keys, or use a pitch fork or whatever.
2.) Strings 6, 5, and 4 (E-A-D) are fine so long as you really tune them right using the traditional methods. So these do not need any additional adjustment.
2.) We will make fine adjustments to strings 3, 2, and 1 (if needed) using by fretting an open D5 chord. The open D5 is made by playing the 4th string D (open), 3rd String A (2nd fret), 2nd string D (3rd fret) and 1st string A (5th fret). Low to high the notes of this chord are D-A-D-A. Check the first D against the first A (a 5th interval) then the first A against the second D (a fourth) then the A against the second A (an octave). Basically I check all the intervals against each other and balance out any beat frequencies or inconsistencies. Usually this only requires a slight adjustment of the 3rd string to get all 4 stings resonating with perfect clarity. Whatever you do don’t adjust the open 4th string. That should be the the reference for the other 3 fretted strings.
After you’ve do this fine tuning carefully, go back and try the open E and open C chords. You should find that both sound great. In truth their upper intervals are slightly degraded and if you listen real close you might here a very slow *wow* in the C chord, but it is certainly not enough to sour the harmony.
I also use this method to check my guitar in between songs during a performance if I think the 3rd or 2nd strings may have slipped out of tune due to bending, temperature change or some other fluke. In truth it is probably impossible to keep your guitar in tune 100% of the time. But if you master little tuning tricks like these you can identify tuning problems and resolve them immediately; and as a result you guitar will always sound great!
Attention all Private Lesson Students at Gables Guitar Studio:
Hopefully I have told all of you individually by now, but I want to make sure that I mention our upcoming move officially here on the Gables Guitar blog. So here goes:
Effective June 1st, 2015, Gables Guitar Studio will move all business to our new address:
224 Palermo Avenue
Coral Gables, Florida 33134
This new location is very near our current location. It is less the a half mile down Ponce (see the map for more detail). I believe that you will all find this new space to be more convenient as we will be able to offer you FREE PARKING. Our new building has a small parking lot in the alley between Palermo and Catalonia Avenue.
We plan to finish moving all the books and equipment this weekend so that lessons can begin at the new space as soon as Tuesday, May 26th. So this week, classes will be held in the current space as usual and then next week we will see you at 224 Palermo.
The new address is not hard to find but you might want to allow yourself a few extra minutes of travel time next week if you aren’t familiar with the area. Of course if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call me directly: (305)582-6881
Thanks so much and I look forward to showing you all our cool new space!
We are so excited to announce we have partnered with four amazing businesses in Coral Gables to celebrate Gables Guitar Month! During the month of April, we will give a free half-hour guitar lesson to anyone that shops or dines at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, Chocolate Fashion, Janette & Co. Maracons, or Pummarola Pizzeria. Simply bring your sales receipt from one of these businesses as your proof of purchase. The promotion is limited to one per customer and the redemption of the free private guitar class expires December 31, 2015.
We love to shop local at Gables Guitar Studio! This month, while you support some of the best businesses in Coral Gables you get a free first step towards learning the guitar. Yay for National Guitar Month!
We couldn’t be happier to work with the Gables Cinema, Chocolate Fashion, Janette & Co. Macarons and Pummarola Pizzeria. And here’s why:
Gables Cinema is a non-profit art house that brings really cool independent movies to South Florida. I’ve seen several movies in that theater and it always feels like a unique and personal experience. Also, I have enjoyed the movie every time. I suppose that is due to the fact that the talented team at Gables Cinema hand-picks their programming for the best independent films. The Gables Cinema is located at 260 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables, FL.
Chocolate Fashion is a French bakery and restaurant. We love this place so much they know us by name. I personally recommend their chocolate croissants, blueberry scones, Saturday Brunch chocolate pancakes, lunch sandwiches, palmieres, and coffee. Everything I’ve tried at Chocolate Fashion I have loved. If you have never been here, you should definitely check them out. Chocolate Fashion is located at 248 Andalusia Ave, Coral Gables, FL.
Janette & Co Macarons make the most delicious macarons you have ever tasted in South Florida. They are crunchy and fluffy on the outside with a moist and decadent filling. If you like macarons and haven’t gone to Janette & Co you must drop whatever you are doing and head there right now. If you need another reason to check them out right now, their April macaron flavor of the month is Cookies & Cream. Janette & Co is located at 208 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, FL.
Pummarola Pizzeria does not kid around with their recipes. Every pizza is made by a Master Pizzaiolo that has been brought over from Naples, Italy. I love their margherita pizza and their tiramisu. If you are big meat eater, their spicy salami pizza is one of their best sellers. The great thing about Pummarola is that you can enjoy their Italian food from the comfort of your home. They deliver to the Coral Gables, Coconut Grove and South Miami areas. Pummarola is located at 141 Aragon Ave, Coral Gables, FL.
We had a blast rocking out at the Coral Gables Farmers Market today. Brian rocked the crowd with his modern take on classic songs like the Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old McDonal Had a Farm. The kids got to participate dancing along and shaking maracas and tambourines. We always have fun during our Rocking Kids Concerts and Sing Alongs. Continue Reading >>>