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

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Flamenco is a very famous guitar style. It has featured in a great deal of popular culture and is one of the most instantly recognisable styles to guitarists and non-guitarists alike. In the fifteenth century the invasion of southern Spain by the Moors from North Africa resulted in various interesting and exotic (from a western point of view) influences on the music of Spain. As a result the music of Spain, especially the southern regions, developed a unique character compared with the classical music of its Northern neighbours.

Flamenco playing often requires a strong attack with the thumb to bring out a bass melody. The approach is often far more aggressive than that used in classical guitar playing; quite often rest strokes are used with the thumb in order to achieve a louder more pronounced tone. Fast and highly melodic scale runs are a feature of flamenco playing. Sometimes slurs and legato can be used to facilitate playing such runs at speed but the ability to alternate the middle and index fingers rapidly while picking is the main requirement of the accomplished flamenco guitarist.

Tremolo – this involves using the picking hand fingers in a repeated, quick, flowing pattern to play one note smoothly over and over. This technique is often used to play a melody on the top string and can be considered a method of reproducing the very long sustain that can be more easily produced on bowed or wind instruments. Various finger patterns can be used for a tremolo but the most common is repetition of A M I.

Rasgueado (or Rascuedo) – this is the quintessential flamenco strumming technique. The strumming hand is held tightly closed, then the strings are played by releasing the fingers in quick succession; the fingers roll rapidly across the strings, striking them one after another with the front of the nails. The resulting sound is distinctive and powerful.

Golpe – this is a percussive effect produced by striking the body of the guitar with the ring finger. Golpes are used to accent and emphasise points within the rhythm of the piece. Flamenco guitars are fitted with perspex golpe plates to avoid damaging the finish of the instrument.

 


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I decided against being as broad as to go for electric guitar as a topic here and S gave me an idea to work towards with this one so here goes.

Choosing what route to take when starting off playing the guitar is a serious decision to make and one that deserves consideration. Most of my students start off with a cheap nylon strung guitar but with no intention or desire to play classical music. Some of them get a cheap acoustic and still fewer are so keen to play rock music that they get an electric guitar.

The first thing to consider is the age of the student. Younger kids will need a smaller sized guitar, this is generally understood. But what isn’t thought about so often is the effect that steel strings can have on young fingers. Nylon strings are better for this but it must not be forgotten that they are not going to produce the same sound as most of the songs you hear on the radio.

Younger kids also don’t always have a good idea of where they would like to go with their playing. Adults on the other hand can generally tell you what kind of music they grew up listening to and what sort of songs they would like to play. From there you can work out what kind of guitar they need, if they don’t already know.

I personally recommend on a individual basis, taking all of these things into account. The most important thing to think about is the fun that the student is going to get out of the guitar lessons. There’s no point in forcing someone (especially a beginner) through an experience that is going to be painful, stressful or otherwise not enjoyable. The best path is whatever suits the player and let us not forget that some great rock music has been written on acoustic and nylon string guitars so there really isn’t a limit.

And on that not I’ll leave you with a song, written by a bass player on a classical guitar. I really did mean no limits. It’s just a tool folks!


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D is for DADGAG
July 29, 2013

I say DADGAd, what I mean is really all altered tunings. Everything from drop-d (DADGBe) to more exotic things such as CEGFAd used by metal band Strapping Young Lad as well as country slide artists and folk picking players. I find that for a lot of my students having finally got the hang of Eddie Ate Dynamite, Good Bye Eddie the idea that this suddenly becomes a movable feast can be confusing. The first one that you come across teaching rock as my students mostly want to learn is drop-d. This is simply a case of lowering the bottom E string a tone to D. Once there the top three strings either open or barred at any fret become a power-chord. This makes fast power-chord riffs a little easier and also gives you options around playing melodies over your chords that perhaps were just out of reach in standard tuning.

The one thing I really try and press on my students as we encounter other tunings is that it is important to track, mentally, the changes in note. The temptation is to keep referring to the string by it’s standard tuning name and thus keeping all of the notes on it the same. This is fine in a small band situation with everyone working from the same tuning. However as soon as it comes out of that and you’re playing with a fiddle player (as is very likely if you’re using DADGAd to play common folk songs) then knowing how to think in terms of the transposed string is as useful to them as it is to you.

Plenty things to think about in other words. But the world of altered tunings shouldn’t be something to be afraid of, rather something to be explored and enjoyed.

E up next.

Any suggestions?

/harry


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C is for Classes
July 24, 2013

Over the last few years I have been asked more and more often to teach guitar in classes rather than one on one. The challenges are very different and yet retain a lot of the same factors. Teaching one to one needs a much more specialised touch and requires getting to know your student and how they learn and then fitting each lesson to them and their own personal goals on the guitar.

With group lessons clearly one persons targets are not going to be the same as the next person. Smaller children are easy to bring along together, teaching them all a wide range of the basics and most importantly giving them the chance to get used to playing with other guitarists. Adults can have more of an idea of what precisely they would like to learn and even sometimes how they would like to get there and what route to take.

Classes require more personality of a teacher. Getting a group of six or more guitar players in tune and not playing so you can explain where this lesson is going is the first task. I have been in class rooms where each budding six-stringer has their own amp and this isn’t ideal. I prefer having self contained effects units running through a mixer so that is someone is being really difficult I can subtly reduce them in volume in order to make myself understood without upsetting anyone.

Group playing does require some different skills. Listening to a practised accompanist (the teacher) or a backing track in a solo lesson can be easy. Trying to hear the same through another five players all finding different parts of the song or exercise harder or easier than you is something else to get used to.

Teaching one on one can be more flexible, and I would say I prefer it. For advanced students it really is the best way to get the most out of your lessons. However for getting a love of the guitar and making friends who also love the sounds, sights and feeling of the instrument (leading to future band mates maybe?) classes have a real role to play.

D up next. There’s a few obvious ones, such as DADGAD (Alternate tunings post) but does anyone have anything more exotic in mind?

/harry


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B is for Blues
July 22, 2013

This is the obvious one to go for in terms of the letter B. Blues is a starting point for a huge number of guitar players musically and for many of them goes well beyond being simply what made them pick up the instrument in the first place. Blues, along with a few other genres admittedly has a wonderful learning curve. You can quite literally play the blues with a bit of wire nailed to the side of a shed and equally, at the other end of the scale, make it as instrumentally complex as you like.

It’s a great tool when teaching the guitar. Many students learn it as the first music they improvise over, or even a 12 bar form being the first song they can play all the way through. It can be as simple as just three power chords, then adding vamping and moving on to full chords and the idea of dominant 7ths. You can play it on acoustic, or electric using a backing track or solo without any loss of the feel of the music. It really is a dream genre for teaching guitar.

Improvising over it can start with basic open position pentatonic (five notes from the root scale) movements. Once there’s a degree of self reliance and phrase knowledge you can introduce the “blue note” to the pentatonic making it what is normally referred to, not inappropriately as the Blues Scale! For more advanced students there’s nothing to stop you introducing modes to the blues. Dorian is the first mode after the major (Ionian) and works nicely for just spicing up any blues. And when and if you tire of the 12 bar format there’s a huge number of different ways to play that can challenge and inspire you.

C is next, any ideas?

/harry


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A is for Amplifier
July 20, 2013

Amplifier is a very obvious choice for the letter A, but Occam’s Razor and all that. Amps feature rather often in my teaching day, mostly in connection to  I find I generally have two different kinds of electric guitar students. I have the kind that are terrified of making too much noise and so avoid the distortion channel as if it was aural torture aimed at their families (Sometimes apt…). And on the other hand there is the classic archetype (generally teenaged) guitarist who can’t seem to get enough of the loud noises and screeching that can be created intentionally or otherwise.

With the first kind I find the key is to start them off with a low gain classic style of distortion with a song that suits it. Trying to keep the guitar under control in terms of unwanted noise without messing overly with technique can be a battle for people with less than adult sized hands. It’s very easy as a teacher to forget about things that we do automatically and expect children to do the same. Even a slight adjustment of one finger to control excess string noise can be a big deal and as teachers we cannot forget that.

With the second kind of student the key is not to get them to turn down here. Again it is about making small and gradual technique changes to give the player more control over WHAT is being amplified and distorted. There are few things nicer than a singing, overdriven guitar playing lead but if you colour that with strings ringing out after they have been moved away from or with too much hand movement noise then you end up with a sound that will make the dog next door bark!

Next up is the letter “B”.

Anyone got any ideas?

/harry


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OK, while running over in my head ideas to try and keep the site fresh and even slightly interesting I have decided to set myself a challenge  Over the course of the next few (26 I suspect)  updates (which will with any luck by a little bit closer together if I have some kind of idea what I’m working towards) I am going to go over the alphabet.

Now, you might be wondering what on earth this has to do with teaching the guitar. And to be honest, I’m not sure. The idea will be to find a topic for each letter that I can turn into a post. I will appreciate your suggestions and encouragement along the way. As a tutor I should be a “learning example” so this is going to be my goal for the next few months.

That said, starting tonight I am also going to start letting my students set me targets. I don’t practice nearly as much as I should and I think that if the girls and guys that I teach saw that I too have to work, and do work, towards set aims then perhaps my exhortations to practice would sound less hollow!

Now, I’m off to try and think of something for the letter A.

Suggestions in the box below please!

/harry


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Towards the end of this month the school year winds itself up. I have a few end of term performances to get out of the way and then I’m off through the summer trying not to think about the fact I don’t get holidays!

From now until the end of the summer holidays I’m offering a block booking discount. Ten lessons for the price of eight. If you have kids with more time on their hands than they and you are used to then this is the perfect way to give them something to do both during the lesson and playing in between them.

If you’re interested or would like more details or just for a chat during which I won’t try and sell you anything, please feel free to get in touch.


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Summer problems
June 3, 2013

So it’s June already. This year seems to be flying by. What with trying to make sure that all of the performances I have to help run and teach at this month I am having little time to worry about how I get through the summer. Maybe some guitar teachers don’t suffer from this problem but I do know that all of the tutors I know tend to have much less business over the course of the summer holidays. People are less likely to want to start playing the guitar and many of our current students go on holiday.

I am hoping that the Yamaha School will provide me with another night of work and that other employers actual get round to paying me (thinly veiled hint) before the end of July! However there’s nothing to say that YMS will be really worth while as there seems to be a lack of pupils there at the moment and I don’t know where we will get new ones from without the schools being on. It’s not worth my while only going through for a few short classes as the rates just don’t add up without a full load.

One day the dream is to have my own studio, with people coming to me! I should add up my weekly petrol costs and see if it makes financial sense. I could then start slowly moving my pupils to my own base. that is a just a dream for now however, as it’s more than I can afford to set up right now.

Here’s to a summer with a little bit more work!

/harry


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Firstly I can only say: norovirus isn’t fun.

With that out of the way and the accompanying mental images lodged firmly in your minds, let me continue.

Just been doing the only bit of my accounting that I actually enjoy; asking people for money. There’s more than a little bit of my father in the way I do business in more than one way. I do like getting paid. Having said that the summer is worrying me and I am looking for sessional work to try and tide me over as well as the constant search for new students. I have also had a complex shuffling process of moving lessons about to get room to rehearse for Glastonbury in my week. As much as I have loved being a part of the festival and performing at it for over five years I think it’s time to use the time to earn more rather than costing me more  just to have fun. Drat I’m channelling Dad again.

Oh well, that’s all my metaphorical socks paired, back to the accounts.

/bernard

I mean…

/harry