You are wasting valuable time on your technique.

It’s the easiest thing to teach, and it’s the easiest thing for the guitar student to work on.

Blasphemy!

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

What do you want to do?

What kind of music do you want to play?

What does that music require?

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!

Happy guitar-ing!

Shane

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Should siblings take music lessons together?

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.
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Cassidy Best: The Journey of a Nashville Songwriter

record in Nashville It is always deeply rewarding, humbling and inspiring to be a part of someone’s creative journey. In the process of creating, things usually don’t go exactly the way we plan on these things going. And in this space, you can really learn a lot about yourself. Continue reading “Cassidy Best: The Journey of a Nashville Songwriter”
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Switching from Electric Bass to Upright Bass

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. Continue reading “Switching from Electric Bass to Upright Bass”
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What Is A Turnaround Anyway?

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.  Turnarounds and 12 bar blues Download this image as a PDF: Turnarounds & 12 Bar Blues 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!

5 Turnarounds in 5 Keys

  Download these images as a PFDs: 5 open chord turnarounds 1 5 Turnarounds in 5 keys, pg.1 5 Turnarounds in 5 keys, pg.2   Want to learn more about the long history of blues and harmony? Sign up for music theory or online guitar lessons today!
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Frank Giovetti Releases His First Recording Project, Barista

Record in Nashville
Frank Giovetti
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 MurphyKendra ChantelleTravis 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.”
Record in Nashville 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.

Frank’s story

“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.” Record in Nashville

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! Thanks and Happy Guitar-ing, Shane
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Maureen Murphy Joins Green Hills Guitar Studio

I am really proud and excited to announce that Maureen Murphy is joining Green Hills Guitar Studio as our new vocal instructor! Like everyone else in Nashville, I knew of and heard of Maureen before working with her. Maureen is known for being very versatile, professional and passionate about the music she is involved in. Whether it’s live or in the recording studio, Maureen is always a first call for Nashville’s producers and artists. I have been fortunate to work with Maureen over the last few years in the recording studio on several projects. Recently, we have been performing live with the Amanda Broadway Band. When we spoke a few months ago at a rehearsal about her teaching voice lessons at Green Hills Guitar Studio, it was a no brainer for me. Along with a commitment of providing top quality and professional music lessons to our students, having the heart of a teacher and a deep care for people and their growth is very important to me. Maureen is a very versatile and experienced vocalist and vocal coach. While on tour with the Zac Brown Band as a background  vocalist along with Jason Eskridge, Maureen was responsible with contracting, arranging and performing with a local  choir in every city they performed. Maureen’s passion for sharing music with others and helping them find and nurture their own voice is not only apparent on stage or in the studio, but also in her work with her students in vocal lessons. One of Maureen’s most influential experiences was being part of the gospel choir at Berklee College of Music directed by Dennis Montgomery III. She worked with vocalists and musicians from all over the world. The music and absorption of the rich and diverse music became a life changing force. The depth of this study became part of her approach to life, performance and voice coaching. Maureen has sung, performed and recorded just about every style of music.  She believes her students should study and perform numerous styles to not only help them grow as vocalists but also to prepare them for work as a professionals. The necessity to handle any situation in the studio or live performance is a skill Maureen has developed over years of being a professional vocalist. In 2015, Maureen finally got to see her biggest vocal influence, Lisa Fisher, perform live. Lisa’s ability as one of the most in demand background vocalists in the world (25 has with the Rolling Stones!) coupled with her ability to be a front woman with her own authentic voice and approach to cover songs. Her presence, versatility and ease on stage, whether in a supportive role as a backup singer or out front as the lead, has been a powerful  influence on Maureen. Along with all of the experience and professionalism, I am happy to have Maureen teaching voice with us because she cares for people. Music has long been an important part of her life and she loves the opportunity to share in that experience with others. Maureen is always excited and passionate about helping singers find their own voice, grow as singers  and musicians and work toward their own goals and aspirations. Maureen has a handful of open spots available now. Give us a call and get signed up today! See you soon, Shane    
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Hannah Lee Joins Green Hills Guitar Studio

Hello! Today, I would like to introduce you to Hannah. When Hannah and I first met, I had asked her if she would be willing to do some proofreading and editing for the website, along with some of my blog posts. I realized I kept stalling when it came time to share some new information. It is fair to say I ain’t the grammar wizard or skilled writer I once was. All apologies to my 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Berg, who scared everyone in his classes with his enthusiasm and commitment to improving our sentence diagraming and grammar use. Mr. Berg, you did a great job, but it’s faded a bit. Continue reading “Hannah Lee Joins Green Hills Guitar Studio”
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3 Qualities Singer-Songwriters Look for in a Vocal Coach

Hello everybody, and especially you singer-songwriters! Here is a new post from Nashville vocal coach and Green Hills Guitar Studio instructor, Jaime Babbitt. It is full of love, non-judgement, compassion, empathy and NO PITY! That’s right, it’s time to own it! If you are a singer-songwriter, you know it’s important to work with a vocal instructor that not only understands the mechanics and ins-and-outs of the human voice, but also gets what it means to be a writer, performer and artist developing a style and a voice in many senses of the word. Continue reading “3 Qualities Singer-Songwriters Look for in a Vocal Coach”
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