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



I saw a terrifying statistic yesterday on Information Is Beautiful. I knew that streaming services really didn’t pay artists very well but I didn’t really know how bad the situation was. In order to earn (US) monthly minimum wage, as a solo artist mind you, gods help you if you’re in a ten piece funk band, you need to sell 143 self pressed CDs. Fair enough I think, and the more we can move towards a post-label industry the better, they are not needed any more. The further down that graph you go however, the more depressing the reading. The more services like Napster get in the way and take chucks of money the more fans you need to make any money at all.

The streaming services at the bottom are where my blood really starts to boil though. From 850k plays for minimum wage on Rhapsody all the way up to a sickening 4 mllion with Spotify. Yes, that’s a 4 and six zeros. 4,000,000. For minimum wage. And they still don’t manage to make any money. Which leads me to wonder how on earth they are in so many homes. Every time I go to a party (admittedly not often) the music is being played by streaming it. No thought what so ever to the people who made it, and would like to get some remuneration for having made your lives a more pleasant place.

There are better places out there to find new music. Websites such as Bandcamp, who are not only inventive but fair, taking a small amount from artists in return for an excellent service. LastFM are an excellent way to find the bands you want to listen to, but again, using their radio leaves musicians high and dry.

By all means use the internet to explore and enjoy the massive and exciting place that is music in 2014, but have in the back of your mind that if you’d like to hear that band make another album, it’s worth making sure that they feel rewarded for the blood sweat and tears they put into making the first one.


Progress as a teacher
August 29, 2014

Ever since I was very small I have enjoyed showing other people how to do things. I remember teaching one of my sisters how to do something on a bicycle which I had worked out (I have no idea what it was now) and the feeling when she understood it and looked happy has stuck with me. Later on I realised that not everyone could play the guitar or cook as well as I could and I liked to pass on my skills with those too, long before I began my long road into professional teaching.

Throughout that however I reminded sure of the fact I was never going to know everything, that there where going to be changes in technology, attitudes and my own experience that where going to lead me to change, question and alter how I teach. I often encounter attitudes in schools, and private classes where the teach is too set in their ways. I get very frustrated by this, because of the detrimental effect it has on young peoples enjoyment of music and their continuing to play and get something out of music for the rest of their lives.

So, in closing, please if you work in any capacity as a teacher or instructor, embrace change. Get excited when a new way of looking at, reading about, recording or writing down music (or what ever it is you specialise in) comes about. Don’t dismiss it as new-fangled rubbish and ignore it. The kids and teenagers you work with won’t, and enthusiasm is a fantastic motivator.


M is for Modes
January 2, 2014

Ah modes. The guitarists obsession. Don’t ask me why but it seems that more than any other class of slightly obsessed musician if you get a guitar player started on modes then you’d best be settled in for a long lecture. But it’s one thing once you understand them, it’s quite another to explain it to someone. I’ve spent more time teaching modes than I really should because there’s so many ways of looking at, playing and understanding them. Still, I’m going to try and do it in one blog post!

Modes are scales created by playing the notes of an existing scale starting from a note other than the original keynote. The most common ones played on the guitar are the ones formed from the major scale as follows;

  • The Dorian mode uses the notes of the major scale starting from its second degree
  • The Phrygian mode uses the notes of the major scale starting from its third degree
  • The Lydian mode uses the notes of the major scale starting from its fourth degree
  • The Mixolydian mode uses the notes of the major scale starting from its fifth degree
  • The Aeolian mode uses the notes of the major scale starting from its sixth degree
  • The Locrian mode uses the notes of the major scale starting from its seventh degree

Even though the major scale (also known in this context as the Ionian mode) and its modal variants have the same notes, because they do not simply start form the same keynote they do not share the same tonality or ‘feel’. For example the major scale has a major third interval (distance) from its root to its third nor and a major seventh interval from its root to its seventh note while Locrian has a minor third and a minor seventh meaning it is a form of minor scale.

This is another way of remembering and playing shapes for the modes, Aeolian is simply what we would refer to as natural minor, the minor scale that most people would recognise. Ionian is our standard major scale and the modes can be thought of in relation to those two, Dorian is a minor scale with a major sixth interval as the sixth note, Phrygian is a minor scale with a flattened second, Lydian is major with a sharp fourth, Mixolydian is a major scale with a flat seventh and Locrian is a minor scale with both a flattened second interval and a flattened fifth.

Using modes is almost easy once you understand them! Two main approaches to using modes are normally taken the first being that the modes are treated as key centres in thier own right with a group of chords to accompany each modal scale. For example D Dorian could be used in a D Dorian minor key centre containing any of the following chords: Dm, Em, F, G, Am and C. Advanced players sometimes use modal scales as chord scales. Using a different scale over each chord. For example using the Dorian scale again it fits of the minor chord built on the second degree of the major scale (Dm in the key of C).

I hope that gives you a little insight into modes, although if it helps you understand why guitar players are so fixated on them, let me know, because after 20 years I’ve still got no idea!


H is for Harmonics
August 26, 2013

Harmonics are musical notes created by making certain overtones louder or quieter on a guitar string. Most commonly this is done by lightly placing a finger on a string at a nodal point of one of the overtones at the moment when the string is driven. If you haven’t got the time to read an depth article on physics then basically a node can be thought of as the ends of the string. When we change the location of the ends by fretting the string and artificially shortening it for a time, the node moves and the pitch we hear changes.

Damping the string at a given point kills off all the overtones that have a node near the damped point. Leaving the remaining overtone with the lowest pitch to dominate the sound. Other harmonic techniques include pinching the string with the picking hand, tapping with the same hand and the use of feedback and tools such as an Ebow to vibrate certain portions of the string and their attendant overtones.

Learning to play harmonics can be difficult. Those with smaller fingers (young kids) can struggle to get the hang of pressing down to fret notes. Then when you tell them to touch the string more lightly, getting the hang of this new feeling can be a struggle. There can be many uses of pinched harmonics in rock music so there reaches a time where this can be more of a focus. The angle of the thumb has to change significantly for this technique and it is a difficult one to master. Not least because for each fret and each string the best position to pinch with the picking hand changes.

No substitute for practice!



This is something I had drilled into me by pretty much every teacher I ever had. Playing fast, with feeling, verve, taste and space all mean nothing if you can’t find the one and you’re out of time. There’s an alarming number of guitar players out there who have never had lessons from someone who has told them this. I see bands (Sometimes quite good ones) ruined regularly by a guitar player who has no idea how to stay in time with the rest of the group.

When I first started playing the guitar we didn’t have the internet and I had to have a separate metronome to keep me right. Nowadays a simple Google search reveals as many free browser time keeping devices as you could wish for. You can get free iPhone and Android apps to do the same thing and frankly there’s no excuse for not being in time!

Good luck



This seems like a really simple thing, but it is always surprising how many of my students look like a cartoon witch when I turn up to tutor them. Teaching a witch to play guitar would be a challenge indeed and I do spend a small proportion of my time telling my students that cutting their fingernails will make a difference. I couldn’t care less about your toes frankly.

I understand that many fingerstyle guitar plays like to keep the nails on their fretting hands long and for good reason. Used properly nails can increase accuracy and volume. However I am of the opinion starting out with the guitar is hard enough without having to get used to fingers having an extra 1/4 inch on the end of them and I tend to advise my students that until they are comfortable enough with normal playing, to keep the talons short.

If you’re reading this J or M, you are indeed the worst culprits!



Before we head off into Tuesday Tip land I have to say that this is another area of the guitar that can only truly be improved by practice. That, of course, goes for everything to do with the instrument. However, that said, there’s no point in practicing the wrong things or the right things in the wrong way.

So with that in mind here is my top three tips for changing chords quickly.

Number one: When changing chords in a progression many beginners take the whole fretting hand off the guitar and the reposition it all together. Sometimes this is necessary but most of the time you find that if you move one finger at a time, common chord progressions allow you keep one or more fingers on the fretboard on the same string or fret and sometimes both. Open chord sequence’s are the most likely to be made easier this way but even more complex CAGED chord work can be speeded up.

Number two: When you find that you’re playing a simple chord and you have spare fingers, keep them close to the action. A common mistake surrounding chord work is sticking unused fingers up in the air or even behind the neck with the thumb. It may look tidier folks, but when it comes to flashing from chord to chord it isn’t going help if half your fingers are on holiday.

Number three: Timing should be your focus. Get your foot tapping, and keep your picking hand in motion. If you play some dead strings or a wrong note that’s OK. When you get back to the troublesome point you’ll know which note to focus on. It’ll train your fretting hand better if it’s striving to keep up rather than dictating the pace of proceedings.

Good luck and good practice!



Returning to old projects
September 18, 2012

Having another run through songs that you tired of a long time ago can be a great way of confirming that you have progressed as a player. Something that gave you no end of trouble two, six or eight months ago can seem strangely easy and bits of chord or scale theory that you struggled to apply the last time can just slot right into place.

Six months ago I played Hot For Teacher,  not the hardest bit of Eddie tapping but not the easiest either. Picked it up a couple of days ago and it’s already feeling much more fluent and smooth. Back to practice it!

What did you play six months ago?


I know I haven’t done anything in a while, I’m currently between flats and my computer is mothballed!

I was reading some tips on how to hold and play with a pick today. I’m not sure I agreed with very much of what I read. I have a slightly odd way of holding a pick which I show my students as an example of a different way of playing. What I do try and insist on, is not the way the flatpick is held, but rather not bunching up the remaining fingers. This tends to lead to the whole forearm being tense, and your playing sufferes.

I read this morning  also about playing from the elbow. I don’t think I know anyone who can really make this work, the best guitar players work from the wrist, and the elbow is used to adjustments. Basics also seemed to include not hitting on an upstroke. Nonsense! Maybe for the very first time you strum a guitar, but you’re not going to get much better playing like that. If your teacher has you doing these things you’re not playing to your full potential.

Hopefully I can update again this week.



I read somewhere once that the shortcut to building calluses fast is to wipe rubbing alcohol on the tips three times a week to help dry the skin out and form them. I don’t know if this works because I did it the hard way! To be honest, it most likely does work, drying out the skin and making it easy to play longer, sooner.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that the callus formed with this method isn’t going to be as long lasting or as easy to play with as the one that builds through playing alone. It may work OK, but can you afford to be just OK where your playing and practice is concerned?

Hopefully you’ll have the guts to do it properly!