Guitar was the first instrument to which I really dedicated myself, and the rewards have been immense. I acquired skills that allowed me to easily learn other instruments, including mandolin, fiddle, ukulele, tenor guitar, and banjo. The friendships I've made along the path will last a lifetime. The beauty, enjoyment and sanctuary found in music are extraordinary. And if you get a thrill from going to a great concert ... imagine the music coming from within.
I teach a wide range of guitar styles. You can hear some examples below which are primarily finger-picking.
Some people pick up guitar naturally. Others not so much—but they needn't get stuck there. If they adopt good practice habits they often surpass those who take off with an easy start.
I've been teaching music for over three decades. During my first couple of years of teaching I noticed something both apparent and profound. People generally view guitar as an easy instrument: something anyone can play. However, in reality, guitar is pretty challenging for most people, especially those who take it beyond the campfire jam.
The secret to success is in how you approach practicing—in other words you don't have to be a natural to become an accomplished guitarist. Progress is based on good study skills more than "natural" talent. There's some truth to the notion that some people have an aptitude for music, in to a large extent, this means they have a natural tendency toward good study skills.
There are plenty of tricks of the trade, and you should know that. We're not talking about anything extraordinary; think of it as learning to sail with the trade winds. Catch the current and it carries you along.
I took up fiddling about seven years after starting guitar. Within three years fiddle became my main performing instrument. With just seven years of fiddling under my belt I placed 7th at the National Fiddle Contest.
I'm not trying to suggest that I possess some sort of extraordinary talent. Quite the contrary. My quick advancement on fiddle was possible largely because I had developed a reliable and rewarding set of study skills while learning guitar—learnable skills, available to anybody, but not necessarily readily apparent. Read more about music study skills...
Still loving guitar
When people see me play a variety of instruments they often ask, "Which instrument is your favorite?" The fiddle is incomparably fun and exciting when you're contributing to a group sound. But the guitar is incredibly rewarding when playing alone.
You can produce a remarkably full sound on guitar because you can simultaneously spin up melody, chords, and bass (listen to some samples below), and sorta sound like a one-man-band. And guitar is one of the best instruments for accompanying vocals. Plus you can play late in the evening without disturbing the household.
So I guess, if I always was playing in groups, I'd probably pick the fiddle as my favorite instrument, because it's blends so well, and is great for soloing. But if was not going to ever play in groups, I'd probably pick the guitar, because you can create such a full sound with it—melody, chords, bass, and even percussion, all at once.
I teach a wide range of guitar:
Genres and styles
Creativity and style
Technique and relaxation
Like most guitarists I started off strumming and playing melodies. Then I learned finger-picking patterns for vocal accompaniment. Eventually I ventured the steeper slopes of solo finger-picking—a rich style, like classical guitar, where the guitarist plays the melody and accompaniment simultaneously, creating the illusion of two guitars playing at once.
Here are some MP3 examples of solo finger-picking:
Nine Pound Hammer - My arrangement starts with the melody, then switches to a chord riff that works great for backing the vocal, then onto some other variations.
Star of the County Down - Oakland based artist Sylvia Herold joins me on this lovely recording. Sylvia's strumming accompaniment is in the left speaker. My guitar finger-picking is in the right speaker. And as you'll hear, the melody and lyrics are magically blessed by Sylvia's voice.
Between the River and the Road — An original finger-picking piece in Hawaiian Slack key style. The tuning used here is CGDGBE; a simpler approach is to tune the guitar DADGBE (drop-D) and with a partial capo placed 002220. (Here's a higher quality mp4 version of this cut.)
Setting Sun - This is an original composition. There are two guitars on this recording. I finger-picked the melody with a "Drop-D" partial capo configuration (022222). Then I overdubbed the harmony, which is flat-picked.
Shady Grove - Here's is a simple melody combined with a plain alternating bass, and yet the result is rather impressive. This is an example of intermediate solo finger-picking. When I create arrangements like this I always write them out, usually in treble clef and tablature notation. Here's the notation for Shady Grove.
John Hardy - This my arrangement of a famous American folk melody. Again I used a "Drop-D" partial capo (022222). This version of John Hardy sounds rather difficult, but it's a fairly easy intermediate-level piece. If you're comfortable with basic guitar chords, even just G, C and D, and you have a couple of months of finger-picking experience, you can learn it in a few weeks ... if you apply good study skills.
I've arranged and transcribed lots of intermediate level solo guitar material. And I've created plenty of fun and interesting beginning lessons that help students get started so they can advance to the point where they can easily learn pieces like those above.
Here are some MP3 examples of flat-picking:
Sandy Boys - Here's an example of some flat-picking accompaniment performed with a partial capo, using a 577755 capo position. This capo configuration creates the sound of the well loved DADGAD tuning ... and because I only fret notes on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th strings, the guitar behaves exactly as if it was actually tuned to DADGAD. This recording is another overdub, with me playing the fiddle and mandolin. I've put a bit of a Celtic slant atop an old-time American tune by choosing this style of guitar accompaniment.
Sally Coming Through the Rye - Here's a Carter-style flat-picking, made extra resonant by way of the partial capo: 022200.
NOTE: If you have trouble playing the recordings, read the page Listening to the Music.
Getting started right.
Many musicians overlook some very important basics: posture, relaxation, economy of motion, and effective practice habits.
Most beginning guitarists inadvertently adopt awkward, restrictive, and inefficient postures and hand positions. This limits their ability to play quickly, and they find it difficult to play fast for extended periods of time without tiring
It seems to be human nature. When we have the good intention to do a good job, we tend to exert move physical effort than required. If this is ignored for long, it becomes habit, and it's a habit that's hard to undo. Worse, excessive strength restricts movement, making simple tasks unattainable. This can lead people to conclude that they don't have what it takes. If one perseveres with yet stronger resolve, this is often accompanied with increased physical effort. This is a normal course of events. However, with proper guidance and mindful practice, a rough start bears no indication of one's ultimate achievements. It's very important to make some course adjustments right from the start.
I provide ongoing coaching in the area of form and posture, with lots of friendly reminders, and explanations that emphasize why. Usually the benefits are immediate and self evident.
Guitar is a wonderful instrument on which to learn improvisation. Improvisation is an essential skill if you want to play rock, blues, jazz, country ... pretty much any style other than classical. If you want to play along with other musicians, but you're not in an orchestra or school band, improvisation is the key. Then you can jam.
Click here to find out more about improvisation.
My lessons are in Walnut Creek, near Broadway Plaza, and are easily accessible to residents of Concord, Pleasant Hill, Alamo, Danville and Lafayette.
More information to come