Open position chords, sometimes also called “cowboy chords,” are chords that have one or more open strings to be played as part of that chord. This means you will have one or more strings you set into motion that you don’t press down with a finger but instead hit the string(s)…open. Like sight reading in “the open position,” this guitar playing happens in the first 3 frets of the guitar, including the open strings.
Open position chords are a great place to start when learning guitar because they are utilized in many styles of music. The chords are also easier to play than bar/barre chords, and there are thousands of songs that can be learned & played using just 3 or 4 open chords. This is a fantastic way for beginner guitar students to gain left and right hand independence, build finger strength, gain stamina and endurance, build calluses, work on rhythm playing and consistency, ear training and strum patterns…all while learning songs and having fun.
Here is an example of a few ways you may see the open D chord written:
And here is a sheet of open position chords I start all of my beginning guitar students on:
Remember, unlike piano, you do not count your thumb as a finger. The index finger is 1, middle finger is 2, ring finger is 3 and pinky is 4. Put the correct finger in the correct fret on the correct string and you are good to go! Hit the correct strings (mind the x’s! don’t hit those) with the pick and you are on your way
So, whatever your favorite style of music may be, and whatever your goals are, learning how to play, transition, and memorize open position chords is a great place to start!
Please let me know if you have any questions. If you are in Nashville and want to take some guitar lessons or attend one of our many workshops, let us know. We would be happy to have you. If you live outside of Nashville, we do offer and teach many online students as well.
Why take piano lessons when you can teach yourself? Now more than ever, there are myriad resources online and endless instructional videos on YouTube and other platforms to teach you music. There are music-teaching apps for your smartphone that promise performance-level results in a few weeks or less. For the tech-savvy teacher, there’s an entire business model for piecemeal online content designed to teach only technical tidbits here and there (my own series—Kent’s Keys—would not fall outside of this critique). Simply put, there’s an overwhelming abundance of information for those who have the time and patience to sift through it.
Can you teach yourself piano? The answer is yes, but just like any self-administered product, results may vary.
What you need to know to teach yourself piano
It depends on a few factors. The most important indicator is already having a music background. If you know the fundamentals of music theory on another instrument, then teaching yourself piano is primarily a technical pursuit. However, when it comes to musical instruments, piano allows for the widest range of possibilities, and so it demands a thorough understanding of theory.
A full spectrum of melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic theory is readily accessible on the keyboard. For this reason, piano is often taught in schools to all music majors, regardless of instrument.
For example, if your primary instrument is saxophone, you may find the piano—with all its intriguing potentialities—daunting to absorb on your own. Until you’ve sat down and learned from an “in real life” pianist, it is much more difficult to transpose theoretical knowledge and skill from another instrument onto the keyboard.
Questions to ask yourself before you attempt to teach yourself piano
Another factor to consider is whether you judge yourself as sufficiently self-motivated and self-critical.
Will you commit to seeking knowledge on your own and work to achieve results on the piano from it?
Do you have realistic goals in mind by teaching yourself, and if so, what habits are you forming to reach them?
If you have these goals laid out, do you know if you are pursuing them in the most effective way?
In being your own teacher, can you be humble and perceptive enough to see your flaws and work to correct them?
Do you have other musicians who can analyze and honestly criticize your playing out of a desire to help you develop as a pianist?
If you answered yes to all of these, then by all means teach yourself piano!
Why you might burn out trying to teach yourself piano
For the most part, people will burn out on learning piano on their own by hitting a knowledge or technical plateau. Many will not understand how to progress because while they may have specific goals, they lack a concrete way to achieve them. That being said, you can be the most motivated person alive, but without personalized lessons guiding you, you may be creating unnecessary obstacles and developing bad habits without realizing it.
Perhaps you don’t want a teacher because you desire freedom or unfettered creativity in your playing. This is a perfectly understandable concern, but mostly unfounded. Popular culture has portrayed teachers (music teachers especially [see Whiplash, 2014 film]) with a predisposed affect of pedantry or snobbery. The best teacher will find what works best for you, and help to develop your creativity beyond what you may have thought was possible. No teacher should try to put you into a box, but rather see you as you are, and unlock your potential.
All in all, I would argue that the assorted and complex cons of teaching yourself piano outweigh the pros of the time-tested, well-trod path of seeking a teacher. If you’re reading this and you’ve been teaching yourself piano for awhile now, ask yourself how far you may have gotten with professional guidance thus far. If you’re considering lessons, but not sold on them just yet, I encourage you to try teaching yourself for a bit. If you’re so inclined, maybe even buy that app that keeps popping up in those advertisements, and just see how it all works out for you.
Everyone is different in his or her approach, and some may feel they do not need supplemental support or instruction. But, know that there will always be physical, individualized guidance available for those who are ready to learn from others who were once in their position.
We are all looking for ways to improve our playing. The problem is, we usually keep doing the same thing over and over, thinking & hoping it’s going to just get better…somehow.
Often times, my guitar students are practicing hard and consistently but they aren’t seeing the results as quickly as they want. Part of it may be unrealistic expectations but part of it could very well be a student needs a different approach on something they’ve been working on. If you are building your skill set, you will be able to take new approaches and respond differently.
That’s the approach…just checking in on what we are doing, gaining awareness and finding areas to improve.
I often record my guitar students so they can hear and experience their playing. It is not an opportunity for them, or me, to beat themselves up but to become more aware. Also, I start recording my students fairly quickly after beginning a new piece of music. The end result takes care of itself if you do the little things along the way.
It is not about perfection or performance. It’s about being in the music and learning as you go. This approach also helps my students became less anxious, fearful and negatively self critical. Wouldn’t it be weird if athletes didn’t watch film of themselves? Imagine if a running back had no concept of his footwork. Or a golfer that didn’t watch video of his swing. That’s the approach…just checking in on what we are doing, gaining awareness and finding areas to improve.
Here is a great example by one of my students, Matt. He has been gracious enough to allow me to share this with you so you can try it as well. Matt has been woking on all of the things necessary to be a better guitarist: rhythm, technique, ear training, music theory, etc. In his last lesson, he wanted to learn the Stevie Ray Vaughan version of Little Wing, by Jimi Hendrix. We worked on it briefly, talking about the chord progression, chord & scale shapes, what notes to let ring, some fingerings and then I saw him a few days later.
The end result takes care of itself…if you do the little things along the way.
When Matt returned for the next lesson, he had put the time in and had a good understanding of the intro. The goal wasn’t total perfection (there is no such thing!) or expectations of performance level playing, just a good understanding so we could work on some of the aspects of the piece.
In the first video, Matt played the intro pretty softly and with a slightly narrow dynamic range. It felt like this is where he had settled after a few days of practice and working on the music. Playing Hendrix is demanding and difficult….there is a lot going on. I wanted to have Matt tap into more dynamic range, a smooth phrasing while also having a punchiness at the right moments and also a less spongey rhythm.
Instead of addressing some of the timing, phrasing and rhythm issues on a micro level, I simply asked him to play it again, but to just play harder. Here is that performance:
Not all of the “problems” many of my students encounter are going to be resolved by a linear technique exercise. It is not always about chops.
Notice how quickly Matt was able to get closer to the things I mentioned above. This was just seconds after the first time through. Notice how some of the punchiness, dynamics and phrasing just…kind of fixed itself. We didn’t turn it into a technique exercise.
Making adjustments to HOW you are treating the dynamics and phrasing is tough to do! It really throws a wrench into your technique and you have to figure out how to adjust. That’s the beauty in this approach. That’s exactly why it’s so important to do. It really changes everything, quickly.
Not all of the “problems” many of my students encounter are going to be resolved by a linear technique exercise. It is not always about chops. You have to be IN the music and it will REVEAL what needs to happen if you are listening and paying attention.
DO NOT wait to start paying attention to important musical elements other than technique.
On the 3rd time, I asked Matt to find a good compromise between the two approaches. I asked Matt to hear the music in his head as he was playing, to really think about the phrasing and dynamics and to shape them in more of an ebb and flow. Where do you think it should build and come down? Where does it feel the phrase is going? The goal being to identify and connect the musical phrases and not just approach it note to note. Here is that time through:
Keep in mind, all of this happened one right after the other. By focusing more on the musical aspects of phrasing and dynamics and not making too big of a deal out of the technical (which is what we usually do and just beat something to a pulp), Matt was able to quickly make adjustments that solved many of the underlying issues.
My point in this lesson for Matt, and you, is DO NOT wait to start paying attention to important elements other than technique. If you pay attention to phrasing, vibrato, tone and dynamics, it will INFORM your technique and your sense of timing and rhythm. Information that is what is needed to pull it off musically.
This approach will save you a lot of time and frustration when practicing and learning a new piece of music. Try to get inside the music with elements other than just technique.
Remember, we are working to play MUSIC and find our own voice and style on guitar, so there isn’t a right or wrong. We get closer when we can make informed and conscious choices in our playing. Here are some examples.
Ask yourself, how did these players get there?
Thanks to Matt for allowing me to share these videos with you. We all feel vulnerable when we are learning something new and don’t quite have it under our fingers yet. It takes a lot of guts to do this in real time. If Matt and I hadn’t been working on these other aspects for a while now, he wouldn’t have been able to do this so effectively. He was able to pull many elements of the music together because of his willingness and ability to approach it a new way, and not just keep playing it the same way over and over.
Over the weekend I hosted a 2 hour workshop on songwriting. The focus of the workshop was to help people work on the areas where they feel stuck. I asked everyone to bring in something they were either currently working on or had been working on for some time and felt they had creatively hit a wall. The goal was to get everybody back into the process as quickly as possible and help them see the options they had with where they were feeling stuck, creatively exhausted and frustrated.
The songwriting workshop wasn’t about a performance or a critique, it was about process and being right there in it, up close. Often times, we approach situations the same way every time, and that means we keep strengthening and reinforcing that same approach, the neurological groove and habit. We get the same frustrations of landing in the same place with our creativity. And this feeling is really brutal.
I would not say I am some pie-in-the sky optimist or hope-aholic. Having so many of those frustrations and difficulties with my own process in the past, I have learned a lot of useful tools and approaches that honestly make me feel excited to lean into those challenging times. I tend to view situations, whether music or life related, like this:
In private songwriting lessons, it’s easier to get buy-in from the individual because it’s just the two of us. There is already a level of trust and less mental self-judging or internal critique going on. In this workshop, I was asking a group of people to come together that didn’t know each other, and most of them didn’t know me yet. It was extremely courageous of them, and they showed up ready to dive in.
Treat it like it’s important. Take note of what you are good at, and more importantly, what you’re not.
We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, our interests and the things that just don’t feel fun to do (for whatever reason, but it’s usually fear based…more on that later). The first topic I started with was being more self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency builds confidence because it requires gaining more knowledge and the gaining of more skills. Plus, with the ever evolving music industry coupled with the rapid changes in technology, the downward pressure on creators is substantial. You really have to be more self-sufficient and take responsibility for your music. That is the reality.
There were some people in the class that wrote lyrics and poetry, one that was a singer that started taking voice lessons and guitar lessons within the last year and wanted to write more, and a few that played guitar well but were getting stuck on presenting their ideas and finishing songs.
Every person in the workshop exhibited and shared a real passion, interest and love for songwriting and creating. It was really inspiring. I could tell everybody had worked hard, sacrificed and put in the time. Each person also shared their frustrations with feeling creatively blocked.
The first thing I suggested was about tapping into their obvious passion, commitment and willingness to work. I suggested a slight tweak to their routine:
It’s not about being an expert. It’s not about being great at everything. It’s about gaining some proficiency and broadening your skills and tools.
If you write lyrics, learn some basic guitar or piano skills and sing each day. To get there faster, commit to some guitar or piano and voice lessons. Have a pro help you get a solid foundation. More skill means more confidence and ability. You will experience music differently and you will have more tools!
If you are pretty decent at guitar or piano, work on your melody writing skills, singing and lyric writing. Study songwriters like you studied guitar/piano. Read poetry, read literature and study songs from the vantage point of lyrics and melody, isolated and separate from the song…and each other. Write out the form and structure of songs you learn. Learn songs by ear. More skill means more confidence and ability. You will experience music differently and you will have more tools!
Basically, put yourself in a new position and study music. Learning something new reminds you how hard you’ve worked to be good at the other thing. Plus, learning something new requires a different energy and attention. You get immediate return on your effort and you pretty quickly start to see how this new skill is going to help. This builds confidence, enthusiasm and excitement.
Music theory is not a creativity crushing bogey man, it is a tool! Learn it! Use it!
It is very difficult to move forward if you don’t know what key you’re in, what your options are and how to tonicize or modulate. A basic understanding of harmony and form/structure will save you so much heartache and frustration. You understand the impact of a melody more if you understand how and why it relates to the underlying harmony. Structurally, what is the set up to the chorus? Why and how do great choruses feel so good and seem to just be right?! Free Falling by Tom Petty, for example!
I call it the game of tension and resolve. What is going on lyrically, melodically and harmonically right before the chorus? What is the band doing? What is the arrangement? You see, everyone is on board and helping build and set up the tension and then the release…the band, the producer, the engineer, the backup singers, the janitor and the security guard. Everyone is working to craft the song and dial in those moments of tension and resolve.
It’s everywhere…in art, in architecture, in literature and drama, in religion and mythology. Keep in mind, some folks like to take you out there and not resolve the way you want or expect. When you develop more skills, you understand more of the game and how it’s being played.
Have words to burn!
Often times when I’m working with songwriters and they start getting stuck by thinking too much or holding back, I write a line and pass them the paper and have them write the next one. We go back and forth. When they pause, I yell, “Hurry! Write! No thinking!” People are afraid to write very quickly. They are afraid it may not make sense or come out wrong and not rhyme, be too long, blah, blah, blah. It’s about staying in the process! You can’t fix rhyme scheme, edit, or sculpt a song if you have nothing to work with except your anxiety and a blank piece of paper.
I also ask people to write 4 or 5 verses if they only need two more. It’s good practice. Plus, it’s not uncommon to have some really good lines or clarity in those extra verses. Why? Because you’re in a groove, the pressure is off. You know you will have more than you need. Then, you take some of those great lines and put them in another verse to make it stronger.
You’re a vulture! A scavenger of your own writing, subconscious and creativity. Doesn’t it feel great?! Where’s all this stuff coming from? Not from the little judge and jury that lives in your head and constantly criticizes, I promise you that!
The idea, the inspiration is a gift. Who knows where it comes from? Acknowledge it as a gift and get moving. The rest is just work, so get to work!
Take stock of what you have and let it inform your next move. Think structurally. Do you have a great hook or chorus? Then, you need some verses! If you know you have a first verse, what do you need? A chorus! A few more verses. Verses need words and story line. Free write, and don’t worry about rhyme scheme, length and all of that! Don’t even worry about it making sense. You need the story, the thread.
A word on bridges: I bust ’em! When people try to sell me a bridge that is really just a confused or short verse, I call them out. Don’t just jam a section on there and call it a bridge.
If you try to edit all the time as you are writing, if you are so concerned about spitting out another verse, you will freeze and stall. Write a lot and whittle down later. JUST GET WRITING! Write quickly, crazily and fearlessly. There’s a lot of good stuff in the subconscious.
Bob Dylan said ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ started out as 14 pages of vomit he just had to get out of his head as fast as possible. Just sitting there and thinking about it won’t get you there. Thinking will get you stuck. Write like a man (or woman) running to water with his head on fire!
Search for inspiration
Another really important item is inspiration. When it’s there and firing, doesn’t it feel good?! When it’s not, it’s so torturous for people. Thats when you become like a hunter. You go looking. Pay attention, read, listen, learn new songs and study other writers. Let the universe know you are serious, ready, and committed.
Sitting there like a lump and thinking it’s just going to “show up” is pretty unrealistic, and pretty lame. A part of the creative process is soaking things up, collecting. When I feel wrung out, I know I need to shift my approach and start soaking up again. I still enjoy making a pot of coffee and figuring songs by my favorite artists, learning guitar solos and jamming to records. I don’t stay uninspired for long! I go looking!
When I am working with songwriters that are writing for a project, there comes a point where they start to worry about what the recording will sound like, will it make sense, are the songs making sense together, are the songs too slow, what if this, what if that.
Anxiety. Self doubt. Fear. Comparisons and judgement. Thats a good way to get stuck. I tell people what they need to worry about is having a pile of songs. Thats their job, just write songs. The project always reveals itself. The songs emerge and the threads come together.
If you get down to the last two songs and the producer says, “Hey, I think we need an uptempo song to round this out,” you don’t panic, and you don’t write a ballad. You know what’s needed and you write it. There is so much you just can’t worry about on the front end. You just need to write and keep writing. You are honing your craft.
An example in abundance
By the time Lennon & McCartney met up with George Martin, they had written quite a few songs. So when they played a bunch for him, and he said, “I like that one, this one, not these so much, that one,” the boys didn’t run and cry and freak out. They said, “Ah, ok! We know what he wants more of, what he’s looking for! Let’s go!” And they wrote.
They had developed their skill. They had studied—a lot. They knew all those Elvis songs, all the Buddy Holly and Little Richard songs. Jerry Lee, Chuck Berry and so on. And they wrote—a lot. They had piles of songs.
Study the writers you love, the artists and bands that matter to you. Thats where the inspiration lives, where the compass is hidden and where the skills are on full display for you to learn. Bob Dylan said, Everything you need to know is in the music you love.”
It’s the easiest thing to teach, and it’s the easiest thing for the guitar student to work on.
Yeah, I know, I know. Go ahead and get all of the, “But, but, buts…” out of the way. We guitar players love to work on our picking technique and chops—obsessively. It’s a great way to feel like we are doing something really important, and sometimes we are. I did it for a long time too. Many guitar instructors really drill down and spend a lot of time on a student’s picking technique. Why? Because it’s the easiest thing to teach, and it’s the easiest thing for guitar student to work on.
One of the biggest revelations, and revolutions, in my own guitar playing and musicianship happened when I implemented a new approach to my practice routine and gig prep. It was hard, really hard, because I had been approaching it from the standpoint of technique for years. Also because I had been taught that way.
Drilling technique brought me a lot of frustration
When I first moved to Nashville and began working as a guitarist live and in the recording studio, I really had to embrace, question and also solidify a different way of functioning. The Nashville Number System, guitar gear and tones, playing on recording sessions, demos and rehearsals were quite a bit different than I was used to. I was busy. But I had always been busy.
What was the frustration? What was different now? What was I noticing about my playing?
I was performing with multiple artists and bands, rehearsals were fewer in number and time in the recording studio went quite fast. This meant there were a lot of charts to be written, prep time for the 1 or 2 rehearsals at most, do the gig, and then do it all over again with another artist and another batch of songs.
In the recording studio, we listened to the demo, talked about it for a minute, then pretty much started recording the takes with very little rehearsal. The red record light came on quickly.
It wasn’t uncommon to do all of the electric rhythm and lead parts and the acoustic parts on a whole record in 2 sessions. Often to keep things moving, I was laying down a second guitar part while the keyboardist was recording a Hammond part after just doing the piano part. Add a tremolo part during the chorus while the background singers were doubling a part, add a 12 string guitar under the solo while the horns added a pad.
It became clear, very quickly and with much anxiety, the way I had been thinking, preparing and working for years was not going to work anymore. Feeling confident about my chops was not enough.
What changed in my practice
This realization was really powerful—shattering and liberating all at once. I had to really consider what kind of guitarist and musician I wanted to be. This cut to the core of how I practiced, prepped and showed up to play. This new information, this new reality allowed me to make significant changes to my own playing and then how I taught my guitar and songwriting students. I know this approach will change the way you think about and approach your time and playing. Warning: it does require unflinching courage and honesty to ponder some things.
I really believe this realization and the changes I made because of it are just as important and beneficial to you. Why? Because I’ve seen it’s benefit for my students and myself. It sounds simple, but it’s not because our brain kicks in and takes over with all kinds of messages and chatter. It comes down to time management and asking yourself what you want you want to do and accomplish. It doesn’t matter if you are playing guitar for and by yourself, jamming with your friends once in a while or wanting to play guitar professionally. You will get more enjoyment and satisfaction out of your time and playing if you focus on more than just technique.
The music I wanted to play began to immediately dictate how I practiced.
For me, it meant the music I wanted to play began to immediately dictate how I practiced. There was a time when I was playing very technically demanding music. I was in college and playing in a band that did all instrumental music. At that time, I worked on my technique alone for hours every day. But the biggest mistake I made was thinking that just working on my technique was going to magically solve my other problems and shortcomings. Even as my musical interests and the musical and scheduling demands changed, I still spent too much time practicing technique at the sacrifice of other important skills that I actually needed to improve. I had been in a routine and habit of approach with my practice that wasn’t serving me anymore. I wasn’t considering my current needs, weaknesses and time constraints.
Now, for myself and for my guitar students, I implement many other important elements into the routine. Keeping your hands and basic chops in shape are one thing. Properly warming up is another. But spending a bulk of your time just doing technical workouts aren’t going to get you where you want to be. If you want to play like B.B. King, you don’t need Yngwie Malmsteem chops. If you only have 30-60 minutes a day, 3-4 times a week to practice, spending half your time doing picking exercises will rob you of time needed for other musical skill development.
A case study: Stevie Ray Vaughn for guitar players
Here’s an example: guitar students will come in and tell me the want to learn some Stevie Ray Vaughn. Regardless of how long the student has been playing, I say, “Great! Let’s do it!” I get excited because I know, like myself, the attraction to those chops, solos and that searing playing and tone is really attractive—and a gateway to more than you’ve bargained for. Learning Stevie’s solos and licks will require an obvious dedication of time to working on your technique, but that is just the beginning.
Steve Ray Vaughan started as a drummer. His rhythm playing is often as challenging as his lead playing, maybe even more so. He was an amazing rhythm guitarist. His phrasing, dynamic control, muting ability, ability to target chord changes are all really important and difficult. Thus, the student gets to begin deeper work on counting, subdividing, swinging and grooving, and, hand control and some right and left hand palm muting.
Your overall musicianship will greatly improve!
You don’t have to work on your chops relentlessly so one day far down the road you can play a burning Stevie tune. By slowing down the tempo and still being aware of your technique and working on all of the other elements like: phrasing, dynamics, tone, connections to harmony and scales, you gain a better understanding of rhythm and lead guitar. Your overall musicianship will greatly improve!
Stevie could play really hard and aggressively but he also played very quietly and dynamically. This allows us to work on musical phrasing, tone, dynamics, right hand string approach, left hand slurs like pulling off, hammering on and slides. Also, his bends are amazing! That’s a whole other workout on timing and intonation. You see, still technique work, but within the confines of a piece of music, not so separate from. The music is dictating.
Next, you get to look at how he targets chords and uses note selection and timing to get that wonderful tension and release. This opens up work on ear training and understanding when and how he uses major and minor pentatonic scales.
Then, there is the amazing tone and how he achieves it. There is a lot of work to be done and a lot of musical benefit to be gained. But if you spend the bulk of time working on picking technique, you will be missing out on many important issues in your playing.
I have had students come in that can play several of his solos but CAN NOT play his rhythm parts, or play the rhythm part to Nowhere Man by the Beatles with the recording without speeding up or missing chord changes. See what I’m getting at here? I tell my guitar students, even the ones that one to be professional players, you will spend a big chunk of time playing rhythm guitar. Unless you want to put your name on a project and do your own thing, you need to be more versatile and well rounded as a player.
Change the way you practice to suit the way you want to play
Let the music dictate what you need to work on. Don’t be fooled, or distracted, by chops and technique alone.
The answers are always in the music that inspires you and that you love. Let the music dictate what you need to work on. Don’t be fooled, or distracted, by chops and technique alone. Go ahead, try to play like B.B. King, Grant Green, David Gilmour for a bit. Want to go the other way, Django Reinhardt? Yep, chops are required! But that’s just the beginning of the journey. Don’t overlook all the other stuff!
Often when a parent contacts me for music lessons for their children, their second questions is, “Do you think it’s a good idea for my kids to take lessons together?” The first questions usually is, “How much are lessons?” The two questions are linked together, and I do understand why.
Any type of private study or lessons for a child are an expense. With more than one child, the expense can grow quickly. I do recommend that siblings work on a piece of music or duet individually and then come together to practice and then perform the music. We do offer sibling and family discounts, but I always tell parents that after 4-6 weeks of learning the basics, siblings are better off to study individually, and here’s why:
Individual lessons can meet different needs
First of all, they are siblings. Conflict, and competition, is only a breath or look away! I have found when children are in a lesson, each one is having their own frustrations, successes, questions and overall needs presented.
I have taught many siblings, including twins, and it is always more beneficial for them to learn individually. Even in situations where the siblings get along well together, their needs are better met one on one. Differences in age, one being more dominant than the other, different goals and musical preferences, and differences in learning styles are also big factors. Often, one child takes it more seriously than the other and practices more at home. Spending valuable lesson time each week trying to bridge the two can result in a misuse of an entire lesson. This quickly leads to frustration for one or both of the students.
A case study
I once taught twin girls that were very mature and respectful of me, and each other. They got along well and mostly liked the same music. They also paid close attention and didn’t get distracted or mentally drift off. But they learned completely differently.
One had a very strong ear, she learned complicated rhythms and strum patterns quickly by watching me, she heard where the song was going and often times didn’t need a chart after using it just a few times. She was totally fine just jumping in and going for it, learning and figuring it out as it was happening.
The other sister was very serious, studied the chart carefully, noting the form and structure, asked several questions and wanted to piece it all together in her mind before playing something new. She counted out all of the rhythms and strum patterns before starting. She was very methodical and linear. They were both very serious students and practiced consistently outside of lessons, but they each had very different needs as individual students and from me as an instructor. If I were to teach them in a lesson at the same time, it would not have gone well for them. There would have been constant frustration and a push and pull between their two approaches, skill sets and learning styles. I don’t think they would have lasted more than a few months. They started individual lessons a few years ago, and they are still playing today.
And considering the time, travel and expense of lessons, you want your children to get the most out of that half hour or hour lesson because it is happening for a just a short period of time each week. Their individual growth and reward will be stronger for it.
Maybe you’re a seasoned veteran of the electric bass, or perhaps you’ve been at it just long enough to get your feet under you. Or maybe you’re a guitarist who can function on electric bass but you feel bewildered of where to start on upright bass. For me, I played guitar, then learned electric bass, then through exposure to more kinds of music, fell in love with the sound of upright bass. So I rented an instrument with an option to buy and got started. Boy did I have a lot to learn! I remember sitting with a tuner and trying to find each note on the neck because… well, there’s no frets!!! It’s true that the upright bass can be a daunting instrument to tackle. However, my 10+ years of experience have helped me gain some insight that will help those just beginning the rewarding journey of learning upright bass. Here are some starters to get you going.
What is a turnaround? The turnaround functions to literally turn the chord progression around. One place you can almost always find a turnaround is at the last 2 measures of a 12 bar blues progression. Keep in mind, there are other lengths of blues progressions as well, but for now, we will keep it on the 12 bar progression.
The turnaround in blues
In a 12-bar blues progression, the turnaround has one purpose: to set up a repeat of the 12-bar chorus. When the 5(V) chord appears in measure 12 to signal the resolution to the 1(I) chord, the turnaround turns the chord progression around, back to the 1(I) chord. If the measure stays on the 1(I) chord, the turnaround creates a tension and anticipation to build momentum, motion and drive back to the 1(I) chord for a repeat or for the final resolution at the end of a song. Turnarounds can and do show up anywhere and everywhere in a progression: intros, verses, solos, endings and so on. The turnaround also helps to separate the sections of a song.
In a more songwriter/pop situation, the turnaround functions as a section that follows the chorus and either gets you back to the verse or takes you to the Bridge.
In a basic 12 bar blues progression, the harmonic movement occurs from the 1(I) chord to the 5(V) chord in measures 11-12 of the progression. In a slow blues, the turnaround typically moves from the 1(I) chord to the 4(IV) chord in measure 11 and the from the 1(I) chord to the 5(V) chord in measure 12, with each chord receiving two beats in the measure.
It is a really good idea to know several turnaround licks, in the open position, across the guitar neck and in every key. Guitar players love the keys of G, E, D, A…you know, the guitar keys! Horn players and pianists love the flat keys and you DO NOT want to be stepping on landmines in Ab because you haven’t done your homework!
The turnaround is older than you might think
You may take comfort, or feel more pressure, in knowing that the ending of a verse on the 5(V) chord and resolving to the 1(I) chord is found as far back as the mid 1500’s in the Renaissance period(roughly 1400-1600). Harmony and chord progressions/changes weren’t “a thing” yet. Music up to this point was written and experienced as linear, independent lines. This is called polyphony and it consists of several simultaneous melodies.
But if you take a snapshot of some monks or country folks singing these independent lines and look at the end result horizontally(harmonically) instead of in a linear fashion (melodically), the end result is…harmony! Chords!
If you are feeling a bit wild on a Friday night, check out some modal English folk tunes from this period. In these songs you will begin to hear how the direction of the vocal line and musical accompaniment was implying the changes. It’s worth noting that the next musical period, the Baroque, began around 1600 and lasted roughly to 1750. During the Baroque, homophonic music (melody with chordal harmony) along with polyphonic music, was created and performed. Did the 12-bar blues kick off a revolution then too??
Put the turnaround to work
I believe a little music theory goes a long way, usually too long. So, the best way to hear and understand turnarounds is to learn a bunch of them to have in your bag of tricks and licks when needed! To get you started, here are 5 turnaround licks in 5 keys. All of these turnarounds are in the open position and we will explore other turnarounds soon!
I remember my first meeting with Frank. He came in with an acoustic guitar and had been studying for about a year. After a few minutes of talking about his playing, I could tell right away Frank was a hard worker, disciplined and focused. He wanted to really explore and grow as guitarist and musician. I asked him the 3 questions. We talked about the music he loved, what inspired him and what he wanted to do. Frank wanted to write songs and record an album in Nashville.
Focus on what you want to see more of
I suggested a whole new approach to his guitar playing and focus. Frank expressed a strong interest in songwriting, and together we quickly laid out a plan of studying music theory, getting an electric guitar and amp and studying different guitarists from a lead and rhythm perspective that were important in the music Frank liked.
I also suggested Frank begin writing right away…chord progressions, melodies, lyrics, riffs and grooves. And in true Frank manner, he accepted and jumped right in. Frank wanted to write songs, so we set him up to start writing.
From song to record
It takes a lot of courage to do what Frank did, and a lot of commitment, time and energy. We met every week for at least 90 minutes. We worked intensely on Frank’s guitar playing and his songwriting, all at the same time. Soon, Frank began finishing songs and after a period of time, we contacted Casey to head to the studio to record demos.
Once the songs were written, the demos done and the charts written, proofed and finalized (by Frank, that theory pays off!). We put a really good band together and went into the studio to record. The band consisted of: Casey on drums and percussion engineer and producer, Tim Marks on bass, and Jon Lancaster on keyboards. Frank and I played the guitar parts. The background vocals were performed by Maureen Murphy, Kendra Chantelle, Travis Thibodaux. Additional vocal production provided by Katie Talbot and Chanelle Guyton. On horns, we had Max Abrams on sax Ron Agee on trombone.
That recording is this project, Barista. Frank has said this about his music,
“The music is meant to feel good, like the way Erykah Badu or Jill Scott ease me in with steady but relaxed beats and soft vocal melodies. However, the lyrics are crafted for more, resembling the way I reflect when listening to Luther Vandross or Whitney Houston sing a line. I have also tried my best to emulate the moments of delicate and melodic guitar playing of John Mayer and Robert Cray and use this tool to drive the songwriting process. The process of my creation is one all my own and ever-growing.”
If you’re interested in learning more about how to record in Nashville, let’s talk! As Frank found, it’s hard work, but the rewards are great.
“Finding your greatest passion isn’t easy, nor is it guaranteed. Many don’t ever find it. I’m one of the lucky ones who have, and it has transformed my life.
“When I was finishing graduate school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I had built a fair sense of accomplishment and confidence having early scholastic achievement, yet I felt a great sense of boredom with my current prospects. I have always had the haunting memories of waking up in the middle of the night and asking my mom for music lessons or listening to songs/artists until my ears could no longer withstand the pressure of my headphones. The urge to pursue artistry was always there subconsciously, but I had no bearings as to what that entailed nor did I know how to get there. Musically, I knew nothing. However I did know two key things:
I wanted to bring about awareness and positivity to the world
I wanted to be damn good at it, ensuring that I was able to communicate this message as effectively and competently as possible
“Fast-forward through years of woodshedding and multiple teachers/methods; here I am, doing what I set out to do. My music is a story describing the pursuit of those key things. It is a journey, beginning with Barista (my first project) that will continue until I no longer have the strength to put a pen to paper or a string to fret. My work has not been perfect nor will it continue to be, but with the help of those I trust and a commitment to push myself I will remain in ambitious pursuit.
“The thing I am most grateful for, that which remains as my best decision along this journey, is the choice to surround myself with knowledgeable and trustworthy individuals. I sacrifice a substantial amount of resources (time & money) each week in order to do so, however, I have found a fulfilling and accomplished path. The great ones find a way to impart wisdom humbly and ably yet pass the torch readily to those who have greater or comparable knowledge in other areas, and I am becoming better at weeding these out.
“Having spoken with other artists and musicians, many who are more polished and experienced than I am today, I am overwhelmed by how similar we are in our uncertainty of the future. The truth is: there is no blueprint as an artist or musician. Anyone who sells you a guarantee or “knows” how to do it for you is an utter charlatan. Every situation is different.
“Conversely, I know my situation, and there is one thing that is undeniable. I have made music. I have jumped into the arena. I have created art for the sake of creation. My mark is made and has set the foundation for things to come.
“I thank Shane and Green Hills Guitar Studio for opening doors along my journey. I thank them for making me swim when I was uncertain about my readiness. And I look forward to our prospects in the future.”
Share your gift
It takes a lot of courage to find your own voice as an artist. There is a lot that goes into the process. It is not linear, nor is it predictable. It has been very inspiring to be a part of the process with Frank. He has worked at his craft consistently and in a very dedicated fashion. He has been performing weekly in Nashville and has also been hosting a writer’s night for other songwriters. Frank already has enough material for a new record. His guitar playing, singing and writing have expanded and focused.
You can learn more about Frank, see when and where he’s playing live and follow him on social media at his website.
If you would like us to help you with your recording project, from writing all the way the the final production, please give us a call today!