Flynn Amps and the value of enthusiasmK is for Knopfler, MarkM is for Modes

Tips

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‘Practising’ what I preach
February 26, 2012

I spend a lot of time during lessons extolling the virtues of practice. I have few students who practice as much as they might, and a few that hardly practice at all! I do sometimes have a little pang of guilt remonstrating with them however, because the thing is – I don’t practice nearly enough either. Teaching tends to mean my guitar playing time is taken up learning new songs, but these are not always, in fact rarely, technically challenging.

Over the last week or so I have had a couple of advanced students move into new songs and learning these has just reminded me how much better one can become quickly if you put your mind to it. I don’t think anyone ever truly reaches glass ceiling in their playing. Everyone can get better, even the very best will tell you that there’s something they are working on, or not totally happy with with their playing. Not that I am close to those guys! But from the point of view of a beginner I can sometimes seem to be out of reach.

I hope this coming week will allow me to play some more complex things again, as I say to my students – ten minutes a day makes a difference. Let alone half an hour!

/harry


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Tabs – the only way?
December 13, 2011

Morning all.

I seem to spend more and more of my time communicating about and with tabs. While I was learning, many moons ago, I don’t think I ever really looked at one. They were primitive and clumsy. I spent my time working from chord charts, notation and by ear.

More and more now I find people can’t work without them. Fortunately tabs have come a long long way past what I remember as badly formatted notepad files! They look good, tend to be pretty accurate and can impart massively more information than before. If you have the money there’s a variety of programs that will not only display them in a pretty fashion but will use MIDI to actually play them back to you.

However, to suggest that they should become the be all and end all is as bad as some of the people I used to hear while I was young, ranting that notation was the only way, and that tabs should be banned in schools. While I’m glad that didn’t happen, the ease with which tabs can be read has lead to a decline in the number of young guitar and bass players who are able to read notation. I think this really is a crying shame and I make the effort to insure that my students can read both. No sense in missing out on what is essentially another language just because it requires a little concentration!

/harry out


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Stuck in a rut?
November 4, 2011

We’ve all been there. You’ve been stuck at what feels like the same level for a month, frustration builds and you feel like there’s no point in continuing to push on. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been playing for 10 months or 10 years, everyone reaches this at some stage. Learning on your own, without lessons or an instructor can make this worse.

A good guitar teacher will know how to talk you through the rough patch, and how to keep making progress. I personally start by pointing out the progress made already. A superb way of boosting a students moral is to grab a song that he or she learned a year ago, and asking them to play it now. The ease with which it is played and picked up again always brings a shy but pleased smile to the face!

Picking up on small bit totally, utterly vital things is also the tutors role. These things can seem to be harmless, idiomatic technique variations but to the trained eye can be seen as roadblocks to progress. Common examples of this are fretting hand thumb position, picking angle and playing body position.

Never mind what they are though. This little things are nearly always the cause. Nobody, repeat, nobody reaches the ‘limit’ of their ability. With dedication, practice and the right teacher, everyone always has room for improvement and satisfaction.

So if you’re stuck, with or without a teacher, get to working on these little things. If you can’t find anything, evem two or three lessons with a good professional can lead you to kick on. Who knows, you might even find them useful enough to stick with!

Good luck

/harry


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Making practice count
October 25, 2011

Many is the time I’ve sat in a lesson with a student in front of me, swearing they’ve been practising and asking why they haven’t improved. It’s a common misconception that sitting for an hour with a guitar (or whatever you play) in your hands equals one hour of actual practice. I don’t think that playing while watching TV is actually a bad thing, in fact in terms of training your ear it can be a really useful tool, providing that your mum/flatmate/spouse doesn’t thump you for ruining their favourite program!

Practice isn’t that easy. It’s work, not play. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it, but taking it a little seriously will yield massive rewards. I have found, over the years that an hour is a good time for me when learning anything. I split that up into fifteen minute segments, which vary depending on what I’m currently working towards. I suggest picking a goal, then working out four different routes there.

For example if your idea is to learn the modes by Christmas, I would suggest you spend fifteen minutes on the basic shapes, which would also act as a warm up. Then the next two segments on a couple of repeating patterns to fix the scales in your mind. Finally spend fifteen minutes working on the chord scales which would also help with tonal formula’s and serve as a warm down.

With a little thought, any goal can be laid out like this, incorporating warm up and down or any other themes and it really does make a massive difference to results. Best of luck to you all, and here is one final tip:

Use a metronome!

/harry


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Afternoon everyone,

I was teaching at the weekend, and I had a long discussion with a fairly new student about calluses. He is learning on a steel strung acoustic and it is hurting his fingers to play for a long period of time. He had had a quick look on the internet and had seen a variety of tips ranging from rubbing alcohol to rock climbing! I remember having the same issue when I first switched from a classical guitar to an electric.

I find, as with all these things, people look for short cuts. I have no doubt that rubbing things on the ends of your fingers would make them harder, quicker. But would you lose feeling in the wrong places? I certainly would never advocate anything other than simple practice for this. Stop when your fingers hurt and go back once they feel a little better. That way you are going to build the right hard skin in the right places and you’ll also bring yourself into practising the slower way which I recommend.

Play through the pain!

Best of luck

/harry


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Morning everyone,

I was musing yesterday on stagecraft and the huge void of it that I seem to witness more often than not when watch people live. I have had many occasions to teach it over the years and it really does depend both on the genre and the individual.

My top tip for everyone, however, would be this; The only time you look stupid, is when you look like you’re not enjoying yourself.

This takes different forms. If you’re in a punk band, you going to look better throwing yourself about, if it’s folk you play, a serious look and some foot tapping coupled with a wry sense of humour is better. Tailor it to suit and have fun. It really is as simple as that.

Enjoy

/harry


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If there is one thing that links all my students, it is practice angst. In fact, thinking about it, I’m not sure I know any musician who thinks they work hard enough. I know I don’t!

I do however have an excellent way of getting your head round practice: Lower your targets.

I am aware this sounds like it is going to be counter productive, but I find in fact it is the other way round. If you say to yourself you are going to do an hours worth of practice three times a week and it turns out that due to other commitments, family, job or whatever it is, that you don’t get that done you’re going to be disheartened and if you lose the will to play it’s a slippery slope you don’t want to be on!

And so, I always recommend to my students to lower the expectation. Try for twenty minutes (of real practice mind, not messing about!) every other day. When you hit the target, you’ll find that you’ve more impetus to play more, and so it makes it easier to add to this and take it to the next level!

Signing off. Go practice!

/Harry