Tuesday March 31, 2009
Here’s a common question that I receive a lot.
How do you start to solo?
I hear a solo in my head but I don’t know how to put what I ‘hear’ into notes played on the strings! Is there a critical musical moment that initiates a soloing piece? Guitar players keep telling me “Keep working hard & it will all fall into place” but I just don’t know where to start.
I was about to go into my "keep working at it, it'll come in time" speech but I think I'll just get right to the practical.
Ways to Get the Creative Juices Flowing and Start Soloing.
1) Vary the Rhythms. Take a single note out of the Am pentatonic scale and instead of playing it once and moving on, try playing one single note in a variety of rhythms. Just one note with as much rhythmic variation as you can think of for the whole track length. Play it long, play it short, play long-short, or short-long, or two shorts and a long in a repeating rhythm.
Now, I realize that this is not going to be the world's greatest solo but trust me, I'm taking you somewhere with this. Think of it this way, if I gave you a canvas and one piece of charcoal to draw with, initially you might feel painfully limited, but after a while you would realize that there is a whole world of variation that is possible to create once you get acclimated to the environment.
The absence of creativity is not because you only have one color, but that you don't yet see all the things and possibilities that you can do with it. The same is true musically.
2) Vary the Octaves. Now try taking two different notes, let's say an A and a C. Now, you are allowed to play only A's and C's but you can play them in any octave in any rhythm combinations that you can think up.
Well, if you did step one, then this step will feel like the world has opened up to you musically. Be careful, don't cheat and go back to just messing around the scale. Do the exercise. Play through the whole track a few times using only A's and C's in any rhythm and octave.
3) Vary the Dynamics. Now let's add another note, so you can play only A's, C's and G's. Any octave, any rhythm, but now make some soft and some loud. Maybe one three note riff in one octave soft and then answering it with the same riff in another octave played loud and then play the same three note riff in a third octave back soft again. Play through the track a few times.
Part II of Steve Krenz's tips on soloing to come!
Friday March 27, 2009
When I began to get serious about learning to play the guitar about two years ago, I was worried that starting this at the nicely mellow age of 49 would be a problem. I felt great and was in good health, but maybe there were things I couldn't see that would get in my way. Would my aging brain have the ability to absorb and support the skills I wanted to learn? Will I ever be able to play like those guys on the radio? Did I just wait too long for all this?
All my life I've plinked and plunked on the guitar. I first picked one up when I was thirteen years old, and I plowed away at it for a while, learning some basic chords and even a couple of songs that I would play with friends of mine in school. We'd all gather at one or another of our houses and wind through the songs of the day and have a great time of it. My friends were Actual Musicians and could play with passion and skill, and I promised myself that I'd be able to keep up with them. I spent hours in my room struggling just to make basic chords.
I'd love to tell you that I ultimately conquered that guitar and that I went on to become a much-in-demand musician with a great discography to his credit, and have had a great life making music.
But my story is identical to a lot of others in this course. Years pass and somehow you lose track of that guitar. School finishes and life takes center stage. Marriage, career and kids and all of the things that make up a life well lived come along in a never-ending stream. Mortgages, car payments and student loans are handled, and the kids move on to busy lives of their own. And then one day you see your wife digging your old guitar out of the attic and you hear her asking you if she can finally toss this old piece of junk away. And amid the flood of memories that hit you as you look at the old relic, you realize that in a life full of promises kept, you still have a promise to keep to yourself.
So here I am, two years into the effort and 51 years old, and I can now answer some of those questions. It turns out that for me, age hasn't degraded my ability to learn. I have mild arthritis, so warming up is important, but I practice daily and I can now read (some) music and, every once in a while I manage to sound just like those guys on the radio. I'm not there yet, but I'm still playing stuff I never in a million years thought I'd hear from my guitar.
And I'm well on my way to keeping that last promise.
Student Support Forum
Wednesday March 25, 2009
Find Part I of Music Reading vs. Tabs here
There are plenty of resources available that give TABs to everyone's favorite song and they generally work fine if all you want to do is learn your favorite guitar riff. But my goal is to go beyond just copying somebody else's riff to the place of really understanding what music and guitar playing are really made up of. And in order to do that, I have to introduce basic music reading. Not that you are going to end up playing classical guitar concertos, but so that we could learn the "why" of music.
I understand that it can be truly frustrating to go back and try to read the music to play these simple songs when you can already play somewhat better by reading the TABS. I have found that in my experience in teaching many adults in your situation just say "Forget it, it's too much work and I don't even sound that good when I read the music. I can play better just reading the TAB. Besides, who wants to learn how to play Yankee Doodle anyway?" So they quit trying to learn the music and just tell themselves that "Some people can read music and some can't and I am just one of those that can't."
From having taught more adults in this situation that I can remember, I am fully convinced that everyone can learn to read music. Yes, it takes work and practice and at first it's quite frustrating as you struggle to play these simple songs and, yes, you probably can play much better without reading music at this stage. But if you want to get past your current stage then I think the ability to read music may help you. I encourage you to give music reading a try.
Wrestle with simple songs until you get to the point that you can play a simple melody by just looking at it. Don't give yourself the excuse to avoid the work and quit by saying that it's "too hard and irrelevant". Many players, just like you, face this music reading hurdle and decide to avoid it and end up 10 years later still sitting on their couch trying to figure out the TAB to someone else's music rather than making their own.
Music reading is probably the most fundamental skill a musician should have in his arsenal and it has been one of the greatest advantages in my own musical life.
Here's a real life example. I was in a rehearsal last night with one of the finest musicians and bass players I have ever played with. I was telling them what notes to play during this particular part of the music because they couldn't read the music well enough to keep up. And I thought to myself, how much further along could they be if they had even a little bit more music reading ability. But as it is now they need the notes to be explained to them in order for them to be able to play.
Here are some quick reasons why I have found it more effective to teach people by music reading than by TAB.
1) Music reading is a skill that I think everyone who calls themselves a musician should have. This is not some esoteric statement. I play music for a living. I have never had someone give me a piece of paper with TAB written on it to play in any sort of real music situation... EVER.
It doesn't matter whether you are trying to play in recording studio or play with your church’s music team or trying to learn play with a singer for the company Christmas party. TAB is musical shorthand that only guitarists speak in. When you are trying to play with other musicians you will never see it.
2) If you really want to understand how music works, then music reading will answer those questions. How chords are made, why certain notes work against certain chords while others don't or what notes can I use to solo on over these chords, music reading can answer those questions and TAB can't.
3) On a practical note, there is no way you can notate concepts of scales, keys, and soloing apart from the use of musical notation.
I encourage you to not give up on music reading and to really think about what I am saying. If all you looking for is to play some riffs for your own recreation then TAB will suffice fine. Not everyone is looking to learn about music, they just want to play for their own enjoyment. And this is perfectly fine. If that is where you are, then great. TAB will work well for you and music reading will just frustrate you.
But if you are really interested in getting beyond learning someone else's intros and licks and really understanding how to make them for yourself, then I think music reading will eventually open up the understanding of the instrument that thus far has eluded you.
I firmly believe that music reading is the only way to really get true results in improving people's playing. I have devoted my professional life to playing guitar and teaching people how to play it. I have worked with thousands of guitar players, and music reading is what I have seen that works. It is more than just my personal opinion.
Professional Guitarist and Educator
Author – Learn and Master Guitar
, Guitar Playing Techniques
Monday March 23, 2009
Here's a common question that I receive a lot.
Why do you teach music reading? Can't Tab give you all of the information you need anyway? Besides, my friend told me that this famous guitarist ______ (you can fill in the name of any famous guitarist here) doesn't read music.
Let me first say this TAB vs. Music Reading debate is about as fundamental as it gets in guitar discussions. Often times the debate gets polarized - us vs. them, TAB readers vs. Music Readers - which I have always found a bit perplexing. It would be the equivalent of someone shouting across the shop floor saying "I am a hammer man and all of you wrench guys are dumb". They are both just tools - each with unique advantages and limitations.
I have nothing wrong with TAB and learning by TAB. As long as you realize what TAB can and can't do for you. TAB is a physical representation of how to make music. TAB says "Put your finger here on this fret and the right note and sound will be made". The advantages are that you can make music quickly without going through the laborious task of understanding why these notes sound good together. If all that you are looking to accomplish is to learn how to play the intro or riff to your favorite song then TAB generally works fine.
Here are some of the limitations of TAB. It generally doesn't indicate rhythm. Some TAB have some cues for rhythmic indications but much of it gives no indication to which notes are long and which are short. Another drawback is that TAB on the internet is notoriously inaccurate in all but rare cases. So, while it may have most of the notes to the riff you are looking to learn it leaves out some pretty wide gaps in the full knowledge of what was actually played. And while TAB leaves no indication for a host of other musical nuances like dynamics (loud or soft) or musical form, it's biggest drawback is that it doesn't tell you the "why" of music. Why these notes sound good together? Why does this pattern work over this chord and something else doesn't? If I see this chord in the future and want to solo over the top of it, what should I play? TAB is just not able to answer these types of questions. If these more complex musical questions are of no concern to you and your goal in playing and learning guitar is just to play a few intros and riffs then TAB will do fine for you.
When I am wanting to learn a specific solo or to understand how somebody fingered a particular passage, then the notes on the music reading page doesn't give me this information, but TAB can tell me (if it's accurate) where the guitarist played and how they played this or that. So TAB has it's place in your learning.
But music reading has some advantages that TAB can't give you on your way to becoming a great guitarist. Music reading can tell you information about HOW the notes fit together and WHY they work together. How they are functioning and how I can use them in the future if I have a similar playing situation. While TAB can tell me to play this series of notes, music reading can tell me that this is a pentatonic scale with an added blues note. I can then use that knowledge to recreate that scale and sound in a different key or when I want to get that sound in the future. Music reading is more complex and it takes generally a bit longer to learn. You will spend some time playing simple "Yankee Doodle" type songs and your mind will start saying to you "What are you doing wasting your time doing this? What you really want to do is learn how to play this? This is a huge waste of your time and, plus, it takes an incredible amount of effort for you to just end up playing some dumb little song".
This hurdle of music reading is exactly the point where many learners just stop and quit. It's too hard, it's irrelevant, it's frustrating and for a host of other reasons many just give up, content to download some TAB off of the internet and to mess around trying to play their favorite guitar lick. Often times they will find themselves a few years later, still playing the same downloaded TAB sheets and wondering why real understanding of the instrument and significant progress seems to elude them.
Many were trying to use TAB for what it wasn't designed for - that being to help you understand what music was about - the "why" of music.
If you are already familiar with TAB, sometimes taking the steps to read the notes can get quite frustrating. The reason that I teach music reading is because I feel that learning to read music is the key that will open up a world of guitar concepts to you.
It's within the realm of music reading that we can begin to understand what notes make up scales and chords and how to improvise from a position of knowledge and educated guesses as opposed to just trial and error. TAB is a wonderful tool to help guitarists learn to play music easily by just telling them what fret to hit. But it is very limiting when you start asking questions about why these notes function the way that they do.
Part II of Steve Krenz's advice on music reading vs. tabs to come!
Tuesday March 17, 2009
Part II of Steve Krenz's advice on barre chords
Here’s the deal. Barre chords take some time to bloom. At first you can try your hardest and you just don't have the muscles in place to get them to sound. It's a physical thing. It takes time to develop the muscles needed.
After a while of consistent work the muscles develop and the chord starts to open up and sound correctly.
Here is a quick exercise to help you develop those index finger muscles that you need for barre chords. (Most of you are right handed so I will describe it from that perspective.)
1) Hold your left arm out straight in front of you with an open left hand in front of you (like you were in the street telling someone to stop. You should be looking at the back of your left hand stretched out in front of you about at eye-level.
2) Now, close your left hand so that only your index finger is still up. (Like you were at a ball game, face painted, saying to the camera "We're number 1 !")
3) Now, take your right hand and with your right hand index finger making contact with your left index finger on the end (the opposite side of the nail) try to push your left hand index finger back toward you. But resist this pressure with your left hand index finger. Try to hold your left hand index finger straight even though there is this added pressure against it from the right hand.
The muscles that it takes to hold your left hand index finger straight even with added pressure pressing it to move are the correct muscles for barre chords. Do this exercise for a few days or a week and you will notice that the strength needed for barre chords to sound clear is developing. Don't put too much pressure against your index finger. Remember the goal is to strengthen your index finger (for the barre) not break your finger.
The strength needed for barre chords comes from the index finger, not from the "squeezing" muscles in your hand. When playing barre chords, resist the urge to raise your wrist up and start squeezing the neck harder. The answer is not in those muscles. Lower your wrist. Even bring it forward slightly so that you are coming back onto the neck with your first finger. Then you are using the right muscles.
Work at it daily for several weeks and you will notice your barre chords starting to get clearer. Most people just give up on barre chords too soon. Unlike other aspects of playing, barre chords take time.
I hope this helps. Keep working at them and don't get discouraged.
Professional Guitarist and Educator
Author – Learn and Master Guitar
, Guitar Playing Techniques