Sunday, February 26, 2012

Music Theory Basics

Theory Basics 
Music is essentially a language. Understanding the language of music will help you to learn musical concepts and will also allow you to communicate with other musicians. The basics of music theory are not difficult and do not require a lot of time. As little as 20 minutes a week will give you a solid grounding in music theory within 12 months. I suggest you also find a teacher to assist you as this will accelerate your learning and ensure you are not misunderstanding or getting stuck.
To begin please refer to the G4 GUITAR Chords and Reading for an introduction to the basics of music theory and music notation before preceding.  
Musical alphabet
There are 7 alphabetic letter names. 
A B C D E F and G
Musical note names (Chromatic scale)
There are 12 notes used in music based on the 7 alphabetic letter names.
1)2) A#/Bb  3) B 4)5) C#/Db  6)7) D#/Eb  8)9)10) F#/Gb  11) 12) G#/Ab
The 12 notes are know as the chromatic scale.
An easy way to remember the chromatic scale is to simply note that B & E have no sharps.
On the guitar you can work out any note simply by starting on an open note and using the chromatic scale.
The open notes on the guitar are E, B, G, D, A, E. Try applying the above chromatic scale to each string to work out where the C note is on each string.
Try matching the notes on your guitar to the notes on a piano (keyboard).

This lesson has been taken from the G4 Guitar Theory book. For your free copy please email

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Improving your guitar skills. Start with what you are good at.

When I ask people the question 'What are you good at?' the answer is almost always related to a hobby (E.g. painting tennis, golf or writing poems or repairing cars etc.) Rarely do they mention the little things like cleaning their teeth, driving a car, getting dressed, taking a shower, speaking, writing or using a computer. We often over look these daily tasks because we are so good at them that no effort is required. In fact very little conscious thought is needed to execute them.

So why are we so good at these things? 

There was a time long ago when you had to learn these skills. Each day you would struggle but gradually you mastered them. It was the daily attention you gave these tasks that resulted in your current level of mastery. That's right Daily Practice. Almost anything you do on a daily basis will become natural and second nature over time. In contrast if you were to do something only occasionally it will likely always take concentration and effort.

Is daily practice enough?
It is enough to reach a certain level but if you want to improve beyond that point we need to be continuously challenged. Without this continuous challenge improvement is unlikely. We see this with language. Most people reach a point where their vocabulary for instance begins to plateau out. Without a conscious effort to increase your vocabulary through reading along with a dictionary and perhaps a thesaurus you are unlikely to improve much beyond your current level despite the fact that you use language everyday. The daily practice helps you to maintain your level but improvement comes through stretching yourself.  

Begin with daily practice and once you have locked yourself into a routine focus on making every minute of your practice count. Make sure you are being challenged and pushing yourself to the next level.

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Guitar and child brain development

Playing guitar to your child can be both beneficial and soothing. The video is an example of my own daughter who could be relaxed simply by playing guitar. It seemed to work every time except if she was in pain or in need of something. We knew when the guitar playing didn't work something was really wrong. I found it fascinating that babies were naturally curious about music so I did a little research. Apparently researchers have found infants respond more to rhythm than speech. This is obvious in the video as my daughter is both entranced and physically engaged in the music.

Are we naturally musical?

In an experiment carried out by British and Finnish researchers (see the Exam Health website) they tested the responses of babies between 5 months and 2 years of age. The result was babies were more responsive to music opposed to speech which may suggest that musical awareness is encoded in our DNA. Listening to music may very well be an important part of the human experience which therefore means playing and creating music may just be a natural part of life like language. It may not be a case of whether to play a musical instrument or not but more a case of which instrument to play.

Does music make you smarter?

The idea that music makes us smarter is still open for debate although many music teachers believe the evidence is undeniable. The Mozart effect was popular throughout the 80's and 90's but was based on an experiment which when replicated some years later showed very different results. True science is about replicating results.  What is true though is the correlation between music students and better grades at school. One study published on the Science Daily website claims that learning music helps improve reading skills.  There are many theories as to why but from my own evaluation I concluded that confidence probably plays a role. Music students build confidence usually via music lessons with a supportive teacher and this transfers across to other subjects. Perhaps this is partly my own personal experience as well.

Expose your children to all kinds of music.

There is no doubt that our brains benefit from music and in years to come I am confident more and more evidence will come to light. It is therefore well worth taking time to introduce your child to music and expose them on a daily basis. Don't be too concerned about whether it's rock, jazz, classical etc. Just play the music you enjoy and that way it will be a pleasure. Your child will discover their own musical preferences in time. I also question what we have come to know as children's music. Sure children respond to simple songs about dinosaurs but this doesn't mean its all they should be listening to. Exposing children from an early age to different styles of music is important. My daughter who is now three years old sings all the standard children's songs but also loves to rock out, tap along to jazz and even relaxes to classical music. Her tastes are wide and varied mostly due to early exposure.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Group Guitar lessons v Private Guitar Lessons

Let me premise this blog by saying I believe both group and private lessons are important its just that group lessons tend to be viewed as less important and this is just not the case. I guess when the average person imagines a guitar lesson they think of a private scenario. We see ourselves sitting one on one with our guitar teacher in a small dark room with a music stand, a lap top,  sheet music and guitar posters on the surrounding walls. I know this is what we expect and private lessons have their place but many guitar students miss out on the benefits of group work.

Guitar is personal

Many school bands surprisingly do not include guitar despite its enormous popularity. Instruments like saxophone, clarinet, tuba, trumpet etc are usually offered at school along with an opportunity to participate in group learning. Many of these students have private lessons plus group band rehearsals several times a week which gives them a great all round learning experience. Guitar students on the other hand rarely get this opportunity at school and find themselves learning privately after school with no real opportunity to participate in group learning.

Discovering the group learning advantage

It was not until I started teaching groups after almost 10 years of doing exclusively private teaching that I came to truly appreciate the advantages of group work. I was already aware from my own experience with bands but I had not really made the connection when it came to my own students. As a young teen I would get together with classmates but it was often a frustrating process. We were all too loud, out of sync and none of us really had any idea how to make it work. My guitar teacher eventually put together a Rockschool program and with his guidance the magic appeared. What had been lacking was an understanding of how to work together as a group. The teacher was able to show us how to work together as a team. Teamwork is probably the most important element of a successful band. There are many great guitarists who simply never learn to play with anyone else. In fact there are thousands of bedroom guitar heroes all around the world. Just look at Youtube and you will see them shredding along to their own backing tracks somehow hoping to be discovered.

Keeping up with the pack

Another big advantages of group learning is it can prevent many students from becoming lazy. Some students are fortunate in they are highly motivated and work hard no matter what but they are the exception. Most of us need external motivators. One of the best motivators which has been shown in study after to study is group influence. This is apparently embedded into our species because throughout our evolution it meant survival. We will work harder to stay with the group. I have seen it many times. My group students almost always out perform private students.

The importance of friends

Another big plus to group learning are the friendships we make. Friendships mean support and encouragement. Learning guitar is not easy and having a friend or two learning with you will give you the support you need when it seems all too hard. Students tend to see the teacher as someone who is accomplished who may not understand how they feel whereas another student is able to relate. Their words of encouragement can make the difference. Students who learn in groups we have found are less likely to drop out as well because of this support factor. If they drop out of lessons they are not just leaving their teacher behind but often good friends. You can see this in team sports or when children have to change schools.

Combine private with group for best results

Now group lessons are definitely worth considering for the above reasons but this doesn't mean that private lessons are not beneficial. The best guitarists know that they need both. If you are truly serious about becoming a great guitar player you need to be spending time in both camps. If you visit a place like the Guitar Institute in Hollywood you will see exactly this. Students moving in and out of group classes and private tuition. If there are no group learning opportunities in your area speak to your teacher as they may be able to put something together.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Teacher or no teacher - What's the difference?

Many people who take up guitar try to teach themselves mostly to save a little money but there are of course other reasons like time and convenience factors. Self teaching is not impossible and there are definitely some examples of great guitar players who are completely self taught so I won't try and convince you that with out a teacher you are doomed. The internet offers students a way of finding many of the resources they need most of which are free and convenient. A teacher on the other hand offers some important advantages that you won't get through self teaching. Most elite sports people, business and political leaders, rockstars, actors etc know this fact. The investment they make in teachers and coaches can run into the millions of dollars in some cases and it is usually money well spent.


A guitar teacher is not just about having someone who can show you where to put your fingers. There are a million websites that will do that for you. A teacher offers several advantages. Top of the list is having someone to whom you are accountable. Someone who you have to answer to each week. Someone who will ask the question? Did you practice this week? Usually the more accountable they make you the better.


The second most valuable role of a good teacher in my opinion is their ability to help you to focus. Life gets in the way as they say. Your teacher will keep you on track and aware of the distractions most students face. Your teacher has an interest in seeing you succeed and can give you an outsiders perspective. When you depend totally on yourself chances are you will justify skipping practice or just throw in the towel.

Get it right the first time

The next benefit of a good coach is a proven strategy. Why reinvent the wheel? If you are teaching yourself you are learning by trial and error. Why not just find out from a pro what works best and do it right the first time?  30 minutes a day doing it the right way is better than 4 hours the wrong way. A good teacher is like a guide. They should know the best path to get you to your goal or at the very least help you to question your chosen strategy.

Faster progress

So if you are not yet a Segovia, Petrucci, Satriani, Gambale or someone of that calibre you may want to reconsider your decision to be a self taught guitarist. I did and in 6 months I progressed more than I had in the previous 3 years.

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