Sunday, November 25, 2018

Learning the Guitar Fretboard - Why Knowing How to Read is Helpful

In a previous post I suggested what is hopefully an efficient way to learn the guitar fretboard. The steps I outlined there were:
  1. Find a strategy that simplifies the task of learning the fretboard, and stick with it.
  2. Learn as many of the most important notes as you can
  3. Learn how the "mathematics of the fretboard" results in some easy-to-remember patterns.
  4. Use it or lose it! Practice! You don't even need a guitar to do this. You can just visualize the keyboard even when you're lying in bed at night. Just keep working on it.
Now, in the next series of posts I want to expand on these points and add a few techniques I've found helpful. But before I do I want to emphasize that it is useful to learn how to read traditional music

I know, I know. Guitar players usually think playing from formal music is totally impractical. And in many cases I completely agree! But the truth is, learning the positions of, say, C, at various places on the neck is of limited value if you can't relate it to formal music notation.

And from the learning-the-fretboard perspective knowing "how to read" opens up practice and learning possibilities that you just won't have if you can't read music.

For instance, let's say you want to use some simple melodies as exercises to help you learn note positions. There area number of these simple melodies right here.

Take the melody of Ode to Joy for example. You can play the exact same tune at different places on the neck. This is absolutely the best way to learn note positions on the fretboard.

If you are a complete newbie when it comes to reading music, and if you are interested in learning, here are some blog posts that will help you learn music reading.

So much for that! 

In the next few posts I will touch on the learning-the-fretboard strategy points I've outlined above, starting with: Learning the Most Important Notes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Practical Approach to Learning the Guitar Fretboard

There are lots of guitar gurus who will tell you they have the secret formula for learning the notes on the guitar fretboard. Don't believe them. There is no simple formula. If you know the notes of the guitar fretboard you have probably spent years playing and studying the instrument.

However, having said that, there are effective strategies and not-so-effective strategies. And there is no guarantee that the strategy that works for one person will work for another.

Here are some things about learning the guitar fretboard we can say with some certainty:

  1. The fretboard has a lot of notes. Learning them all at once is very difficult for most of us. You need a strategy that simplifies the task.
  2. Some notes will be used over and over again. Learning the most important notes is an easy and effective place to start.
  3. Because of the way the guitar is tuned there are simple-to-learn, repeatable patterns. Learning these patterns will help a lot in understanding the fretboard.
  4. You have to play all over the fretboard in order to really learn the notes and lock in their locations. Use it or lose it!
There you have an outline of an effective strategy.
  1. Learn the most important notes. See some suggestions here...
  2. Learn the most important patterns. See some descriptions here...
  3. Find some exercises that target note locations up and down the neck...
  4. Play songs and melodies, scales and arpeggios at different locations up and down the neck...

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Free Printable Work Sheets for Bass Players

If you're an aspiring Bass player, you probably know that learning to play the bass guitar - arpeggios and bass patterns at different places on the neck is really important.

Learning about options, different fretboard positions and different patterns can be helped by learning to read bass scores. They can be pretty simple, but the fact that they are written on the bass clef means you will have to pay them special attention.

For someone like me who learned to read many years ago that has provided a special challenge. I learned trumpet music written on the treble clef and became marginally adept at it.

So switching gears to the bass clef took a fair bit of getting used to. Obviously it can be done. Traditional piano players learn to read both clefs from very early in their formal training. In time it just becomes second nature.

 I've put together a series of printable worksheets (in .pdf format) to help you learn the relationship between notes on the bass clef and different positions on the bass fretboard.

 You can find them here: Level 1 Bass Worksheets and Here: Level 2 Bass Worksheets.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Beatles practice track - Let It Be

The song "Let It Be" appeared on the Beatles' album by the same name, Let It Be, and was the twelfth and final studio album by the band. It was released on 8 May 1970, almost a month after the group's break-up. After an unsuccessful attempt to finalize the album in early 1970, a new version of the album was produced by Phil Spector in March–April 1970. Guest musician and keyboard player, Billy Preston, appears on some of the cuts, in particular "Get Back" where he became the only non-Beatle to be credited on a recording. This Let It Be practice track is ideal for Beatle fans.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Exercises and Songs for New Bass Guitar Players

There is an growing number of exercises and easy songs especially for new bass players here: Bass Practice Tracks for new Bass Players We've tried to give you commonly used patterns, and in many cases have indicated alternative positions on the fretboard to help you learn different positions. These exercises and songs use traditional notation, so if you are not familiar with reading music, or if you don't know the bass clef yet, these are ideal for you. Even if you don't feel you need to know how to read music, or if you just want to wing it, these will be helpful. There are certainly many times when knowing some music theory will help you out.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

I Heard it Through The Grapevine practice track

"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for Motown Records in 1966. The first recording of the song was by Gladys Knight & the Pips released in September 1967; it went to number two in the Billboard chart.
It was recorded by The Miracles and was included in their 1968 album, Special Occasion. The Marvin Gaye version was also released in October 1968.
For a number of weeks it was at the top of the Billboard Pop Singles and was the biggest hit single on the Motown label for quite a while.
The Gaye recording has since become an acclaimed soul classic, and in 2004, it was placed 81 on the Rolling Stone list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. On the commemorative fortieth anniversary of the Billboard Hot 100 issue of Billboard magazine in June 2008, Marvin Gaye's "Grapevine" was ranked sixty-fifth. It was also inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame for "historical, artistic and significant" value.
Creedence Clearwater Revival released an eleven-minute interpretation on their 1970 album, Cosmo's Factory.
This practice track of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" features an alto saxophone lead and a trumpet part.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Practice Track - When I Was Your Man

"When I Was Your Man" was recorded by Bruno Mars in 2012. It was written by Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Ari Levine and Andrew Wyatt. This practice track has a lead line, piano part, part for bass, and simple drum part.

According to Wikipedia: ""When I Was Your Man" topped the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and reached the top ten on the singles chart of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom. It was certified six times platinum in the US, Australia and in Canada. "When I Was Your Man" was the worlds eighth best selling digital single of 2013, with sales of 8.3 million copies; joining an elite group of the best-selling singles worldwide."

When I Was Your Man practice track

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Guitar Crash Course - Lesson 1 - Getting Set Up

This lesson covers a brief introduction to the guitar:

1. Parts of the Guitar

2. How to hold the guitar.

3. How your hands work.

4. Practice striking notes.

Crash Course for new guitar players.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Guitar crash course outline

What would a crash course in guitar include? 

First, it would describe how a guitar is typically constructed: the parts of the guitar.

Second, it would explain what the frets do: how they are related to other instruments, like the piano. Some really basic music theory.

Third, it would explain the proper technique for fingering the strings.

Fourth, it would explain the proper way to strike the strings with your fingers or with a pick.

Fifth, it would outline how the guitar is tuned, and why, and have you learn the string names.

Sixth, it would explain where to find some important reference points on the fretboard: the most important notes, other than the open string notes. Such as G, C, and D.

Seventh, it would explain how to play some basic major scales, most likely starting with G, C and D.

Eighth, it would have you work on a few simple tunes such as Ode to Joy, Three Blind Mice, Twinkle Twinkle.

Ninth, it would introduce you to some basic chords, first in two and three string versions, then in 4 string versions.

Tenth, it would introduce some songs that can be played with one and two chords.

Believer practice track

Here's a practice track for the smash 2017 hit "Believer" by Imagine Dragons. Believer practice track

Fender vs Gibson

Here's an older article (2015) addressing this perennial question: Fender vs. Gibson

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Have You Ever Seen The Rain practice track

"Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" was written by John Fogerty and released as a single in 1971 from the album Pendulum (1970) by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Fogerty was reflecting on the band's conflicts that had arisen from their rapid rise to stardom. In an interview he stated that the song was written about the fact that they were on the top of the charts, and had surpassed all of their wildest expectations of fame and fortune. They were rich and famous, but somehow all of the members of the band at the time were depressed and unhappy. Thus the line "Have you ever seen the rain, coming down on a sunny day."

 CCR had a brilliant and extremely short lifespan with most of their memorable work being done between 1969 and 1970. But many of their songs are classics that live on because they are beautifully simple.

See more variations of Have You Ever Seen The Rain practice track.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Home on the Range Practice Track

"Home on the Range" is regarded by many as the unofficial anthem of the American west and has actually been adopted as the state song of Kansas.

The song is based on a poem written by Dr. Brewster Higley in 1871. He had moved to Kansas under he Homestead Act, and was so inspired by his new surroundings that he wrote the poem in praise of the setting.

It was put to music a bit later by Daniel E. Kelley, and published to sheet music in 1925. The most famous version was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1933, and the song eventually became a kind of western hymn.

An animated Disney film by the same name was released in 2004.

This practice arrangement of "Home on the Range" is available in several keys, and is a great practice track for new guitar players.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Greensleeves Practice Track

"Greensleeves" is an ancient English ballad that first appeared in published form in around the 1580s.

Many have claimedf that Greensleeves was composed by Henry VIII for his lover and future queen consort Anne Boleyn. Boleyn allegedly rejected King Henry's attempts to seduce her, and this rejection may be referred to in the song when the writer's love "cast me off discourteously". However, the Italian style of composition used in the song did not reach England until after Henry's death, making it more likely to be Elizabethan in origin.

Many Christians know the tune as "What Child is This?", a popular Christmas hymn.

The Greensleeves practice track has a melody line in various keys, with piano and bass guitar accompaniment.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Overcoming that feeling of "Burnout"

Here are some good suggestions for dealing with creative burnout. When things just aren't going the way you'd like, and you think you maybe should quit beating your head against the wall, there are some practical things you can do to step back and get a better perspective on things...

8 Things to Do When You Experience Creative Burnout...

Friday, July 13, 2018

3 String Chords on the Guitar

These Level 1 Chord Exercises help you work on 3 note chords. First, because you’re a beginner and they are easier. And second because they may help you see chords in a different light.

When playing a chord you do not have to use all six strings. Three is enough. And, in the case of "power chords" 2 is all it takes.

Technically speaking a major chord is a triad consisting of the 1, 3 and 5 tones of the major scale. For example, C major consists of C-E-G, or some "inversion" of those notes.

Power chords normally consist of the 1 and 5 tones played on two lower strings.

Monday, July 9, 2018

A Mandolin is not a Guitar

When I was a kid my dad had an old mandolin that would get played every now and then. It eventually got broken, but an attachment to the instrument has stuck with me all these years.

Obviously a mandolin is not a guitar. It has a unique sound of its own because, like a 12 string guitar, each course has two identical (and identically tuned) strings. It is tuned like a fiddle, and these days is used mostly (it seems) by bluegrass bands.

Here's a good article about the difficulty of tuning a mandolin.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Trumpets and Cornets - What's the Difference?

The Trumpet and Cornet are similar. They are both members of the "brass" family of instruments. This means they are played the same way - through a very similar mouthpiece. You get a sound by "buzzing" your lips in the mouthpiece.
Both trumpet and cornet have three valves. They both consist of approximately 4.5 ft. of wound tubing. And they are both tuned the same way. Standard models are pitched at Bb relative to concert pitch.
The cornet appears to be shorter than the trumpet, but that is because the tubing is wound in a tighter pattern. 
More importantly, the "bore" of the trumpet (i.e., the diameter of the tubing) is different. On a trumpet the tubing is the same diameter from the mouthpiece to the point at which the bell starts to flare out. 
On a cornet the "bore" starts out a bit smaller at the mouthpiece and gradually increases throughout the full length of the tubing, until it flares out at the bell. This gives the cornet a warmer, softer sound more akin to the human voice.
The trumpet, on the other hand has a more brilliant, brighter, and some would say, more piercing sound.
Popularity and Usage
Cornets have traditionally been more widely used in British military inspired Brass Bands where they are paired up with other brass instruments. 
Trumpets are more typically used in orchestras, jazz bands, and ensembles where they provide the upper range "punch", and serve as solo instruments. 
Trumpets became more popular in the early to mid 1900s with the popularity of professional players such as Louis Armstrong, Harry James, Miles Davis, Al Hirt, Bert Kaempfert, Herb Alpert, among many others.
Which one should I play?
Children often start on cornets because they are a bit smaller and lighter, but this is quickly changing as lighter plastic-based trumpets are becoming more available and more reliable.
If you  play in a jazz ensemble or high school band, you'll probably choose a trumpet (or it will be chosen for you.) If you like jazz or dixieland music, or have a flair for soloing, you'll also probably gravitate fairly quickly to the trumpet.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Guitar Instruction has to connect

There are hundreds of free guitar lessons and demonstrations on Youtube. Many of them link to websites where you can find more free lessons, and, more frequently, packages of instructional videos you have to pay to access or download.
How effective are free guitar lessons like this? Can they be as good as traditional lessons involving a face-to-face teacher?
Not all lessons are of the same quality or effectiveness
It hardly needs saying, but some online lessons are good and some are bad. Some teachers have a great way of communicating with their viewers and some don’t. Some hit just the right subject matter, and some talk about stuff you’re completely uninterested in, or not ready to tackle.
So the first thing you should look for – whether you’re at the beginner, intermediate or advanced student level – is an interesting and engaging presentation. The teacher should speak clearly, get straight to the point, and not waste your time demonstrating what a great guitarist he or she is.
Secondly, and even more important, the subject matter should be appropriate to your own level of development. If you’re a raw beginner there’s no point in watching an advanced presentation of blues soloing, or even an intermediate level demonstration of barre chording. You’ll just get frustrated trying to do things you can’t possibly master yet.
There are different levels of instruction
A lot of guitar instructors are accomplished guitarists, and they want you to know it. They will often begin each video with a dazzling display of their soloing capabilities. This is supposed to inspire confidence that they know what they are talking about. But in my experience, students – especially beginning students – don’t care how well the teacher can play. They just want assurance the teacher knows what they are talking about.

One of the greatest golf instructors of all time, Harvey Penick, spent part of the last few years of his life in a wheelchair. I don’t think his students minded one bit. In fact it might have made them more attentive, and more impressed by his devotion to teaching than they otherwise might have been.
Back a few years ago when I sang in the university choir – the next best thing to a professional choir – I can’t ever remember our choirmaster actually singing. In fact I think most of us would have been shocked if he would have broken into song. Occasionally he’d give us the pitch with his voice, but to call that ”singing” would be a stretch.
The point here is that teachers can inspire confidence in their students in surprising ways. Students get value from instruction that is geared to them personally, and that is suited to their particular level of accomplishment.
Is it possible to do this in a series of online videos? Yes, of course it is. But just remember that there is no such thing as a lesson suitable for everyone.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Is Achy Breaky Heart one of the worst songs of all time?

"Achy Breaky Heart" was recorded by Miley Cyrus' dad - Billy Ray Cyrus - in 1991. It was a smash hit for Cyrus and made him famous. This song and line dancing are pretty much synonymous.

 According to Wikipedia, "The song is considered by some as one of the worst songs of all time, featuring at number two in VH1 and Blender's list of the "50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs Ever." [It's hard to say if this is a bad thing or a good thing.] "However it is recognized as a transitional period in country music where Cyrus brought renewed interest in a dying breed of music amongst younger listeners."

The arrangement on captures the best aspects of the song and is very cool for new guitar players to strum along with.

Check it out...  Achy Breaky Heart

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Lean on Me - An Easy Classic Everybody Knows

Bill Withers in the 70s

"Lean on Me" is a song written and recorded by American singer-songwriter Bill Withers. It was released in April 1972. Withers had been brought up in a tight-knit coal mining town in West Virginia. When he moved to L.A. in his early twenties he missed the tight connections of his home town.
In an interview he said, "I bought a little piano and I was sitting there just running my fingers up and down the piano. In the course of doing the music, that phrase crossed my mind, so then you go back and say, 'OK, I like the way that phrase, Lean On Me, sounds with this song.'"
Covered by many different artists, "Lean on Me" is one of only nine songs to have reached No. 1 in the US Singles Charts with versions recorded by two different artists.[Wikipedia]

Lean on me,
When you're not strong
And I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
'Til I'm gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Is Music Theory Necessary for Learning the Guitar?

Many guitar players can go a long way and be effective players without knowing much explicit guitar theory. That's pretty much an obvious fact.

By "explicit" guitar theory I mean having a formal understanding of how scales work, how chords are related, what keys are, etc., etc.

By the same token it is also obvious that a guitar player must know what a note is, must be able to play chords in sequences and progressions, will intuitively know how a scale works, and which bass notes work with what melodies.

Asking whether you need an understanding of music theory to be able to play effectively, is similar to asking whether you need to know English grammar to be able to speak intelligibly and "correctly".

This question has a dual answer. "No" you don't have to be able to explicitly say what the rules are. But also "Yes" you need a grasp of how language is used in practice, and therefore need an implicit understanding of  how the rules work. - at least the major ones.

As far as I can tell the same thing goes for music theory. Like a grammarian you can get hung up on the rules and spend more time and energy analyzing the way we speak rather than just putting the rules into practice. 

The beginning guitar player can spend more time learning how chords are constructed, and why progressions work the way they do, than she does actually playing them.

I suspect this is what most criticisms of formal music lessons boil down to: "Too much attention to theory and not enough attention to actually playing."

Practicing Scales is Not All About Theory

I think the same criticism is also levelled at teachers who emphasize exercises and scales for new students.

The simple fact is new players are encouraged to do repetitive exercises and scales for two fairly distinct purposes. 

On the one hand we play the C Scale over and over in order to learn where the notes are and how they go together. That much is what we might call "theory".

But on the other hand we play repetitive exercises to train our hands (and minds) to make the general kinds of moves we need to play the instrument smoothly and relatively effortlessly. This is not theory. It is like a baseball pitcher learning to throw strikes, a soccer player learning to hit the top corner of the net, or a golfer hitting thousands of shots on the driving range.

It's just that a musician playing scales is doing both things at the same time: learning a bit about theory, while gaining dexterity, strength and quickness.

So Far, So Good. But What About More Explicit Theory?

The most obvious example of "more explicit theory" is learning how to read traditional notation. But there others such as learning about minor chords, different modes, odd and unusual rhythms, standard chord shapes, playing chords further up the neck, and having access to relatively unusual chords such as diminished, augmented, and on and on.

Most of us can get by without a formal understanding of most of these things as long as we stay in our own little comfort zone or stick to playing with our regular band mates. 

But as soon as you step outside of that comfort zone to play with other musicians - especially if they know more than you do, or approach things a bit differently - that's when you find out how much you don't know.

So it's difficult to see how it would be bad to learn some of these things. Probably the best way to find out which things you should focus on is to ask other musicians you respect. 

One place to start might be an online forum moderated by people or instructors who share your specific interests. For example, if you're into blues it would be hard to beat the advice you can get from Griff Hamlin.

The Guitar Professor has his own website where he provides practice tracks for aspiring musicians.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Some Benefits of Music for Seniors

It is well known and generally acknowledged that musical activity can have beneficial results for seniors. These benefits come in different forms for different people depending on their circumstances.

"Music Therapy" is one well established method of helping people with physical and cognitive disabilities caused by conditions such as dementia. "MT" as it is referred to, often involves relatively passive activities like listening to music under controlled conditions. But it can also involve singing, drumming or tapping, and playing other simple instruments like the harmonica.

Research has shown that the soothing effect of music leads to better social interaction and often helps improve communication skills where they have been impaired by such things as stroke, or been the result of some other injury or sickness.

For what we might call "ordinary" seniors, music is often used  in retirement communities and senior centers in the form of special musical entertainment, sing songs and even dancing classes.

Participants are encouraged to engage in singing, clapping, and dancing to old familiar standards. This type of musical experience provides pleasant and enjoyable social interaction, a much needed bit of physical activity, and a jolt of positive emotional stimulation.

Can seniors benefit from playing musical instruments?

Listening to music can be emotionally stimulating, but it is a relatively passive activity. Can seniors benefit from being more actively involved in making music - by, for instance, singing or playing a musical instrument?

Of course it depends a lot on the senior, and on the instrument.

Many seniors have physical limitations that make fingering a violin or a guitar almost impossible. But those same people might benefit from participation in a drum circle.

Here is an example of a drum circle for seniors.

Participants in activities like this quickly get involved in making music, having fun, even dancing, chanting, and singing.

As Shannon Rattigan of says,
"If a facilitated drum circle is presented properly, in a matter of 10 minutes everyone can
be playing a drum rhythm together...The key to it is setting the right tone that this is going to be playful and fun. You can improvise,
play around, and just have a good time. Like we did when we were kids."

Can this be done with other instruments?

Again, it depends a lot on the senior and on the instrument. 

Many older people have played a musical instrument when they were younger, and stopped playing when family and work intervened. I often read on music instruction forums comments from older guys (most of them seem to be men) who have picked up the guitar after it sat in the closet for 40 years.

Yes, 40 years! That is not an exaggeration. I am an example. I played the guitar and trumpet in my teens and twenties, and didn't actively pick them up again until I was in my 60s.

The incentive for me was the opportunity to teach some of my grandchildren a bit of what I knew. And that led to many opportunities to perform with them at family gatherings. And of course that has resulted in the joy that comes with watching the kids become talented musicians in their own right.

The point is, it is possible to dust off old talents if the circumstances are right. Reviving old talents and playing in a small, informal band with friends or family is one possibility.

A retirement community seems like the perfect place where a group of people might get together to make music together in a more structured way - say as a singing ensemble or a little band. 

An enterprising social director in a seniors community might even form a larger band - using regular musical instruments or simple ones such as whistles, harmonicas, and a variety of percussion items (drums, tambourines, shakers, wooden blocks, etc.)

Playing traditional musical instruments

Is it realistic to think that a 70 or 80 year old person might continue to play a traditional musical instrument like a keyboard, guitar or trumpet? Or could he or she learn an entirely new instrument - a keyboard, for instance, or a banjo, harmonica or even a saxophone or guitar?

Again, it depends on the circumstances a person finds herself in - in particular, her physical limitations. 

Many aging people have lost flexibility in their hands. They may have a sore back or hips that make it difficult to sit in positions required by some instruments. And often an older person has difficulty seeing or hearing.

If none of these things are holding a person back then why not go for it!

But there is always the question of motivation

Learning to play an instrument like a piano - even in the most basic way - has real benefits. It provides enjoyment, mental stimulation, and a sense of accomplishment. And that may be enough incentive to get you to take on (and stick with) a project like teaching yourself a musical instrument.

But playing for your own enjoyment is often not enough of an incentive to keep you going. Playing a musical instrument, or even singing in a small ensemble, almost inevitably involves the opportunity to perform for others - usually friends, family or fellow community residents.

In other words it is often just the prospect of performing for others that keeps musicians going. Taking music lessons when you are a child almost always involves a "recital" every now and then to display what you have learned. Without the recital practicing starts to seem pointless.

There is no reason to think it should be any different for a senior. My father played his violin in church for at least 50 years, and it was those "performances" that kept him interested in playing. When his faculties started to deteriorate and the invitations to play dried up, so did his interest in playing at all.

It is performances like this that provide the incentive to become better and to learn new material, or for an older person, to hold on to the skills they developed earlier in life. 

So I would answer "Yes" to the question "Can a senior like me learn a new instrument?" It will give you enjoyment as well as mental and spiritual stimulation. And it will give you something meaningful to do with your time.

But don't keep it to yourself. Play for friends and family. Join a group or form a band.

Have fun being a musician, and share the joy with others.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The difference between 'backing tracks' and 'practice tracks'

These terms - backing tracks, practice tracks - get thrown around by musicians. What's the difference?
Of course there is no formal definition for these terms. First of all, a "track" is just a piece of music. More specifically, as musicians use the term, it usually refers to a recorded piece of music - something you can actually listen to.
Roughly speaking a backing track is a recorded piece of music used by an instrumentalist or singer as an aid either for practicing or performing. It often focuses on providing the rhythm, and usually does not include the part the person using the track is providing. 
For instance, if you are a singer a typical backing track will not include the singing part; if you are a saxophone player, the sax part will not be included, except, perhaps, in accompanying notes or charts.
Karaoke recordings are another good example of backing tracks.
Some backing tracks are good enough and complete enough, and are intended to be used as accompaniments for actual performances. Back in the day, when a visiting soloist would do a special performance at the small church I attended, they would bring a recorded backing track rather than bring their own musicians or rely on the locals. Those of us involved in music thought of that, somewhat snobishly, as “canned music”.
A backing track is different from what I call a “practice track”. Practice tracksare used by musicians to help practice their instrument. They are often produced completely digitally, with no actual musicians involved, and they are rarely, if ever, used in actual performances.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Advantage of Practice Tracks for New Guitar Players

For the budding musician trying to learn a new instrument, music lessons - either online music lessons or private instruction - are great and important.

But learning to play along with real music, real songs is equally important. A good way of doing this is to use practice tracks.

Practice tracks (or "prax trax") are songs recorded by actual bands, or created in a digital music composition program like the free one available from Musescore.

A practice track, like the ones available at, will often have the band parts (different musical instruments) broken out so you can see the written music for the part you are interested in.

So, for instance, if you are a new guitar player you'll find practice tracks of both simple songs and easy-to-follow exercises.

Not only will you see the music, but you can actually play the musical arrangement right in your internet browser. And you'll be able to play along with, learning the song and refining your technique at your own pace.

It's definitely the way to go.

Here's an example of a well known popular hit from just a year or two ago - Hey, Soul Sister.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Learning to Read Music: Play Scales

Yes, it sounds boring and like the kind of thing only music geeks like doing, but playing scales is really the best and easiest way to get to know written music.
 So you understand the basics (as outlined in the previous series of posts: Reading Music for Guitar Beginners. Now it’s time to put this knowledge into practice.
It may sound too good to be true, but once you understand these basics, “learning to read” is just a matter of practice, practice, practice
It's no secret. The more you practice with written music, the more you will understand and become familiar with it, and the more you will understand how it can help you with your guitar playing.
For a description of some practice tips, check out things to do before beginning serious work on scales and songs.
Most new guitar players will begin with the C Scale because it has no sharps or flats and has you going from A3 up to B1 (and another octave up to E8).
Here is a simple exercise for the C Major Scale starting at A3. Here is one of the C Major Scale going from B1 to E8 (high E 8)…
The best way to practice these and ingrain both the note positions on the staff and the physical positions on the fretboard is to say the notes as you play them.
Two more relatively easy scales, and commonly used in songs are G and D…
Another very popular key is D. Here is a D Major Scale Exercise starting at D0.
D Major Scale
Practice these scales on a regular basis and soon “reading” will become second nature.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Learning to Read Music: Musical "Keys"

If you've ever been in a band, played or sang at a special event, or sung in a choir, you've probably heard your fellow musicians say something like:

"This one is played in the key of F".

What this means is that the note "F" is the natural home to which you return as you sing or play the song. This is fairly difficult to explain, but has two very practical results for the musicians.

1. The key determines the pitch range you have to work within.
2. The key tells us which notes are to be played as sharps or flats.

Let's have a brief look at these two things...

1. Pitch Range 

Imagine you're singing a solo at the Christmas concert at your school. You're going to sing the song "Joy to the World". 

You give it a try at rehearsal, but it doesn't go too well at first. You can't hit the high notes!

Your piano player says "We're doing it in the key of F. I guess that's too high for you. Let's try it in D."

You try it and it works. You can hit all the high notes and all the low notes.

What has changed?

It's actually pretty simple. Every song contains a range of notes organized around a "home" note. In the song "Joy to the World" that natural home happens to be both the first note of the song, and the last note (an octave lower).

If you try singing it in the key of F, you know that you'll have to hit both a high F and a low F. If you're not able to do that, just try moving the natural home lower.

That natural home note is also called the "root" or "tonic". The song "Joy to the World" is built around a major scale with the root (or tonic) as the first note (the lowest one) and the last note (an octave higher.) 

2. Sharps and Flats

As I've previously pointed out, songs are built on scales. And scales have a starting point that determines the pitch range used in the song.

But that isn't all. 

Without going into a lot of detail, let's just say that every major scale has the same pattern. It consists of 8 notes (if you include both the starting and ending notes), and the pitch gaps between those notes is the same from scale to scale.

This piano keyboard gives us a graphic way to look at this. If you start on C and play a series of white notes you will come to C again, eight notes higher. These white notes represent what are called "natural notes" - C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C.

But some notes in the sequence are separated by a black note, and some are not. In fact there are only two note pairs that don't have a black note between them: E-F and B-C.

The notes on the piano are all a semi-tone apart. And as we can see, most of the time the notes of the C scale are two semi-tones - or a full tone - apart. 

But in two cases they are only one semi-tone apart.

That gives us a major scale pattern with the sequence of tones (or "steps") and semi-tones (or "half steps") changing as the anchor point of the scale changes.

If the anchor point is C we will play (or sing) one set of notes, centered around C. But if we move the anchor point up to D or E or G, the song will be centered at a different point and, as a result, the set of actual notes we sing or play will be different.

And here's where sharps and flats come in: the gaps between the notes will be the same, but because of the irregularity of the whole-step/half-step pattern, the non-natural notes (sharps or flats) will fall in different places.

Just to take a fairly simple example, the song "Ode to Joy" starts out: (where the number is the note of the major scale): 3-3-4-5-5-4-3-2. In the key of C this would be E-E-F-G-G-F-E-D, but in the key of D it would be F#-F#-G-A-A-G-F#-E.

How the musical staff helps simplify this

As we said at the beginning, changing the key of a song has these two important effects for the singer or instrumentalist.

First, it pushes the range of musical tones in the song either up or down.

And second, we end up playing some notes as sharps and flats, because the gaps between notes fall in different places.

For the singer this second point is not significant. But for the guitarist, pianist, or trumpeter, etc. it is very important. Because now it means some notes have to be played as sharps or flats; and the song sounds terrible if you screw that up.

What the musical staff allows us to do is to indicate that we are playing in a "key" where certain notes are to be played sharp or flat all the time (unless otherwise indicated).

The use of the staff allows us to put the complicated musical theory aside and just focus on playing the correct notes.

*To keep it simple, C# and Db are the same note - the note between C and D. When we're thinking in terms of sharps - e.g., in the key of D - we think of this note as C#. But when we're thinking in terms of flats - e.g., in the key of Gb - we think of this note as Db. 

Check out more articles on music theory for guitar.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Proper Fingering Technique for New Guitar Players

You will find fingering the strings of the guitar a bit awkward for the first while.

Eventually (after a week or so of  serious practice) you will build up callouses on your fingers and the initial pain will not be there.

The correct technique for fingering is to spread your four fingers out over the first four frets, one finger per fret.

Your thumb should be placed behind the neck to add leverage to your fingers. Classical guitar players learn to keep their thumb back there. Just about everybody else tends to wrap their thumb around the neck to varying degrees, depending on the string(s) you are fingering.

The point I want to emphasize here is the "one finger/one fret" technique. Try not to move your hand up and down the neck unless the fret you are going for is out of range of the designated finger. Discipline yourself to use finger one on fret one, finger two on fret two, finger three on fret three, and finger 4 (your pinky) on fret 4.

Use these same fingers across the different strings. For example when playing A3 use finger 3, when playing G2 use finger 2, and so on.

Press down on the string behind and as close to the appropriate fret as you can to get a nice clean sound. At first the notes will probably sound muddy and weak. Just keep working on it and it will eventually start to sound better.

See this website for more guitar instruction for starters.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Twinkle, Twinkle for New Guitar Players

"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" is a popular English lullaby based on a poem by English poet Jane Taylor.
It was first published in 1806 as a nursery rhyme in Rhymes for the Nursery, a collection of poems by Taylor and her sister Ann.
The melody is from an old French tune Ah! vous dirai-je, maman, which was published in 1761. The tune was arranged by several composers, including Mozart.
This version is available in C, D, A and G.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Learning to Read Music - Rests

Rests – where you don’t play anything
A sometimes overlooked element of written music is the rest
A rest indicates when you don’t play anything. The beat keeps going, but you don't play or sing when a rest is indicated.
Special symbols designate rests of different lengths.
The usual note values - whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth and sixteenth - these note values each have a comparable rest. Here's what rests look like, with their values.

Go here for a more detailed description of symbols used on the standard staff .