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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5 Instagram Guitarists You Need To Follow

  Few mediums have been as entraining and enlightening for musicians as the internet. The access to sheet music, video tutorials, and countless recordings are all at your fingertips. While YouTube remains both entertaining and helpful, Instagram has really become a valuable platform for guitarists, regardless of wether you are sharing content or gleaning some inspiration from others. The tight time limitation of Instagram is perfect for readily digestible and motivation guitar nuggets. In no particular order, here are five accounts you should be following.

1. ProGuitar | proguitarofficial

Curated by Swedish finger style wizard Emil Ernebro (@emilernebroguitar), this account offers clear, concise, useful, and oh-so-tasty guitar licks that work well in country, jazz, and blues settings, but can easily be worked into any idiom. Beyond the fantastic playing, Emil’s earnest and genuine interest in sharing his craft is inspiring.

2. Josh Meader | joshmeader22

Personally, I love guitar players that don’t play like a “typical” guitar player, but rather they make their guitars sound like horns or pianos. Josh’s effortless playing and flawless transcription of sophisticated horn solos is truly remarkable.

3. Jack Ruch | @jackruchguitar

Jack Ruch has chops, but more importantly he has taste. Everything Jack plays is musical, lyrical, and honest. It’s important to find your own voice as a musician, and it’s clear that Jack has found his. I am consistently delighted by his blues, jazz, and soul playing.

4. Jens Larson | jenslarsenjazz

Beyond being a highly proficient guitar player, Jens is wildly prolific. Nearly every day he posts a like complete with harmonic analysis. If you are an aspiring jazz guitar player, or simply desire a more sophisticated understanding of the instrument, follow Jens. Bonus: his YouTube videos are fantastic, and highly informative.

5. Soundslice | soundslice_music

Last but certainly not least, Soundslice is a must for all musicians. The platform combines traditional notation, tablature, audio, and video. The musical transcriptions are crowd sourced and distributed amongst theirs users and subscribers. You can find highly accurate transcriptions of the classics, as well as original collaborations by musicians from opposite sides of the globe.
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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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Drop 2 Chords

Drop 2 chords: A Crash Course

The world of harmony is a vast and beautiful place, with nearly limitless possibilities to explore; one is only limited by their creativity and their ear’s ability. Many players often ask themselves where to start on their chordal journey. You’ve got that G and C chord under your fingers and you know there must be more out there. But where? Drop 2 chords are the perfect place to start. Let’s forgo the explanation about the naming convention and construction of these chords, as that information is detailed in the video.
Let’s talk about why these chords are important. Drop 2 cords allow you to easily play chord inversions, or the order of notes within the chord itself. Do you want to have a certain chord tone in the bass? How about the melody? No problem – just use the desired inversion. This concept is critical for chord-melody playing. Secondly, drop 2 chords are incredibly efficient because the use four adjacent strings (1 through 4, 2 through 5, or 3 through 6), making them ideal for rhythm playing all over the neck.

Develop your ear & your understanding of the guitar fretboard

Lastly, drop 2 chords are important because they develop your ear and your understanding of the fretboard. Soon you’ll be to hear different chord inversions and know all of the notes in that chord regardless of string set or position. As such, modify the notes of a single chord allow you to quickly create all chord qualities (major, dominant, minor, diminished, etc.). What are you waiting for? Grab your guitar and start exploring this important concept. Have fun! For more information about Drop 2 Chords, guitar lessons in our Nashville studio or online lessons, please contact me at [email protected] Thanks,  Sam Nashville guitar lessons, drop 2 chords
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Aging and Music

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but at Green Hills Guitar Studio, that’s exactly what we do. The myth that older adults are incapable of learning new skills is just that…A MYTH. Although scientists once believed that after a certain age your brain was incapable of growing and absorbing new information, a new discovery called Neuroplasticity proves that adult brains are way more resilient and savvy than previously thought. Continue reading “Aging and Music”
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The Benefits of Piano: A Starter Instrument

So, your child wants to start music lessons. Well, one of the very first steps is simply picking an instrument. While there’s no wrong choice when it comes to playing music, there are different advantages to playing various instruments, especially as a beginner. And if you aren’t quite sure where to start, the piano is a great first option. Continue reading “The Benefits of Piano: A Starter Instrument”
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Vocal Coach on Musical Self-Criticism and Judgement

voice instructor in Nashville I am very excited to have Nashville vocal coach Jaime Babbitt joining us at Green Hills Guitar Studio.  Aside from being a really great human being, Jaime is a songwriter, a very experienced singer, an in-demand vocal instructor, speaker and recent author with her book, Working With Your Voice, published by Alfred in 2011. Continue reading “Vocal Coach on Musical Self-Criticism and Judgement”
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What to Look for in A Guitar Instructor

In my last post, I talked about what you need to know about yourself before looking for a guitar instructor. In this post I would like to share some thoughts on what to look for in your guitar instructor. This applies whether you are looking to study guitar in your home town or seek guitar instruction online. Continue reading “What to Look for in A Guitar Instructor”
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