Rock Around the Clock

 

So I recently picked up a new jazz box, an ES300.   When I was researching about the guitar as well as discovering that Django used the model on tour with Ellington in ’46, I also found out that it was the guitar that ‘Rock around the clock’ was cut on.  In a break in practice today, I thought I’d have some fun and have a go at playing the iconic solo. The guitar player on the record, Danny Cedrone was a session player and paid just $21 dollars for the session and died (aged 33) 2 months later after falling down some stairs. I also didn’t know that it was originally a B side and only found popularity due to being used in a film (Blackboard Jungle). The solo is also lifted off an early Bill Haley and his Comets tune from 1952, called ‘Rock the Joint’.  Danny never got to enjoy the popularity of this song or his solo, are the chromatic runs the influence of Django?

This tune is just a blues in A. For the A chord it uses an inversion with the major 3rd in the bass (A/C#). For the D chord it used a D9/F# and similar for the E it uses an E9/G#. If you listen carefully he often slides down the chord shape at the end of each rhythm phrase. For those attempting the solo, the first few bars (the crazy bit!) are all semiquavers/16th notes. I found it easiest just to keep the right hand going alternate picking. Try to avoid having a tense picking hand or too firm a grip on the plectrum. For the final chromatic run, for me it works best with fingers 1,2 and 3 instead of all 4. I think this comes from my Gyspy jazz playing, as this is often how chromatic runs are played.

Wes Montgomery: Mi Cosa

 

A student of mine put me onto this wonderful instrumental by Wes Montgomery, called Mi Cosa (My Thing in Spanish). Wes apparently recorded this in 1963 but it lay unused as an unaccompanied guitar piece for some time.

Guitar: 2015 D’angellico Exl1. The guitar is plugged into logic using the clean jazz setting. Didn’t fancy getting out the mics today…

B minor atmospheric backing track

 

As a bit of New Year’s resolution I decided that given all of the backing tracks I use on YouTube it was about time I gave something back and put up some of my own. My first backing track is in the key of B minor. It contains the following chords:

  • B minor
  • G maj7
  • E7/G#
  • Aadd9
  • D maj7
  • F#7
  • Asus4

I suppose it’s an intermediate backing track as you can’t use the same scale throughout. The chords to watch out for are E7 and F#7 as these both contain notes outside of the key. Check the video description for further information.

The song structure is:

  • Intro
  • Verse
  • Bridge
  • Chorus
  • Interlude (same as intro)
  • Verse
  • Bridge
  • Chorus
  • Middle
  • Bridge
  • Chorus
  • Outro (same as intro)

I also thought that rather than having a static picture or chord chart it would be nice to have some images for you to look at whilst you improvise. These are pictures from my very amateur photography. They were taken in a small fishing village in Cornwall, England.

If you wish to use this backing track for anything other than practicing soloing, please email me stroudguitar@gmail.com

Please comment below if you have any feedback on the backing track or what sort of style I should go for next.

 

 

5 Chord Changing Tips

guitar-756326_1920

The biggest hurdle to overcome in the early stages of playing guitar for most players is changing between chords in time. In the long term you should be aiming for the following:

  • Being able to move between shapes without any gap in time
  • Clear sounding chords, with no fret buzz or missing strings
  • Moving between chords without having to look at the left hand
  • Moving all fingers simultaneously, rather than one by one.

When you start out with your first 3 or 4 chords these goals feel a long way off, but they are achievable with the correct approach to practice. Here are my top 5 tips:

  1. Figure out the most logical way to change between chords and then stick to this way. This is essential, as your ability to play chords smoothly is thanks to muscle memory. If you alter the way you play a chord change each time you pick up the guitar, then that muscle memory won’t even get started. My main tip here is to try and put down the fingers which are on the bass strings first (E,A,D). This is because these are the first strings that you are like to hit with the right hand. It is then a case of analysing chord changes for the most logical movement. Ask yourself, are any fingers close to where they need to be for the next change? Are fingers already on the correct frets, but perhaps not strings? sometimes fingers are already in the correct shape/formation and ‘just’ need to move.
  2. Separate out the hands: you can start this by simply moving between chord shapes without playing them. This seems like a strange thing to do at first, but it allows your brain to focus solely on the movement and good finger placement. When I started out, I used to do a lot of this. As it is silent practice it can be done any time of day too!
  3. When moving between chords don’t lift your fingers away from the fretboard. Try to keep them as close as possible as this will minimise the time to find the next chord. To start with you may find that the fingers involuntarily jump away from the fretboards in anticipation of the chord change, so this is really about training the fingers and you may have to go very slowly at first.
  4. Practice playing in time in a gradual way. I do this exercise a lot with students. It goes like this: either with a metronome or drum track (at about 60 bpm) play your chord of choice 4 times to the beat. Then leave a clear gap of 4 beats/clicks. This is your time to move to the next chord. Once you can do this, reduce the gap between the chord to 3 beats and then 2 and then try without a gap at all. This is a great way to see progress.
  5. Visualise chord shapes/changes when away from the guitar. To reinforce your memory, try visualising chord changes when away from the guitar. This could be whilst walking, waiting for an appointment, free time when you can get in some guitar practice, without a guitar! To do this you need to clearly visualise the fingers, where they are and how they move neatly to the next chord.

There are other things that you can do, but I find these most effective. If there was a sixth tip , it would be don’t give up! Every guitar player has difficulty with this. To get beyond this stage try not to think negatively about how difficult it is, instead take a problem solving approach and try to look at it logically.

Eric Johnson Manhattan Cover

Here is my cover of Eric Johnson’s instrumental; Manhattan. This 1996 tune featured on his album ‘Venus Isle’.

A year into playing guitar I unknowingly met Eric at a music trade show in London. Mesmerised by the Orange amp stand, I asked the salesman if I could try out an amp, the guy politely said ‘I think you’ll have to ask someone that’s working the stand’ and walked off. Thinking it was an employee that couldn’t be bothered to let a kid try out an amp he is never going to buy, I walked off to try out a Parker fly! Later that day, on the coach to head back to school I look through the free stuff I have crammed in my bag and pull out a copy of Fender magazine. On the front is the salesman, who I learn to be Eric. Being pre- internet, I loaned a cd of his from the local library and have loved his playing and tone ever since. Looking back he was very polite, he could easily have told me where to go! This album came out the year I began playing too. If I met him now, there’s plenty of questions I would have for him, Orange amps wouldn’t be one of those topics! His playing seems to straddle genres and that’s one attraction to this piece.

Gear: Fender No Neck ’08 Stratocaster, Deluxe Reverb, Carbon Copy delay, TC Corona chorus, Hardwire tube distortion and SP compressor.

 

 

Should I start on electric or acoustic?

A question I often get asked by beginners is whether to start on an electric or acoustic guitar.

Whether you start on an acoustic or electric guitar will depend on a few things:

  • The sort of music you wish to play
  • Budget

In terms of whether you should start on an electric or an acoustic your first consideration should be: which one will help me play the music that I want to play? If you want to play rock and lead guitar solos then electric is the way to go. If your favourite artists use acoustics, then you will need one to replicate that sound. It used to be that people started out on an acoustic before progressing onto an electric. The guitar market is now flooded with low cost electrics, which means some people skip out learning on acoustic. The one downside of starting out on electric is you may find it harder playing acoustic later on. Below is a summary of the pros and cons of acoustics vs electrics.

steel

 

Steel strung acoustic

Pros:

  • There is an abundance of cheap models
  • No need for any other equipment eg. Amplifiers
  • Great for fingerpicking
  • Steel string acoustics have a nice and bright sound (more so than a nylon strung guitar).
  • Harder to play lead guitar on (guitar solos)
  • Strings are slightly tougher on the fingers than electric guitar strings. You therefore have to apply more pressure to sound a note than on an electric guitar
Nylon strung acoustic Pros:

  • Again, there are plenty of cheap models available
  • Strings are soft on the fingers and require less pressure than a steel strung guitar
  • Good for fingerpicking/classical
  • No need for any other equipment
Cons:

  • These guitars have quite a mellow tone, on cheaper examples this could be described as ‘dull’!
  • They have quite a wide neck radius to get your hands around
  • Changing the strings on a nylon guitar is a bit fiddly
Electric Guitar

 

 

Pros:

  • Less pressure is required to play notes, meaning it is easier than an acoustic guitar.
  • Neck radius isn’t as large , which for some people makes it easier to play
  • Work better for guitar solos than acoustic.
Cons:

  • You will need some additional equipment ( a lead, amplifier and strap)
  • Depending on what you buy, can be a bit more expensive than starting on acoustic.
  • You may find it hard to play acoustic if you start on an electric as you won’t be used to the required pressure needed to play notes.

Fingerstyle guitar: pinch picking

Here is another example of the kind of materials I use with students in lessons.  I will often devise an etude/exercise to focus on a particular technique, as it not always possible to find songs that cover what’s needed.

This exercise is designed to improve a student’s pinch picking. This when to notes are played at the same time with the right hand in fingerstyle guitar. It is often the thumb and either the middle or index finger. Below is the etude and pinch pick exercises.

Pinch pattern ex

Pinch Pick Etude 1

If you’re interested in learning the guitar and you are in the Stroud area (Gloucestershire), then get in touch to arrange your free introductory lesson

stroudguitar@gmail.com

How to approach learning a song

notes

 

One of the skills I often find myself teaching is how to approach learning a song from notation/tab. Take the wrong approach and you can end up frustrated and wondering why a piece of music is eluding you. Before diving into a piece of music I would suggest the following strategies:

  1. Listen to the piece of music several times. This is particularly important if the song has any tricky rhythms. If there are different versions of the song by other artists then listen to them also. You may also find it useful to find out more about the band/songwriter and the context in which the song was written. This may help you put the required feeling into playing the piece.
  2. Divide the piece up into sections. Learning a piece in chunks is a proven way to commit something to memory.  Some music will have titles for each section eg. section A,B,C etc or Verse, Chorus. If this hasn’t been done for you then look for double bar lines. Double bar lines are used to indicate the end of a section. Once you have done this take it section by section.
  3. Isolate any technically difficult parts. A phrase might be a bit quick for you or have a challenging rhythm, whatever the difficulty isolate such passages and practice them independent of the piece. If possible play them to a metronome and gradually increase the speed by no more than 5bpm. If you have the technology you could also slow down the recording and loop it. Picking is often the main barrier to the effective playing of a lead guitar parts, make sure you’ve opted for the optimum picking pattern.
  4. Look at the notation as well as the tab. If both notation and tab are present then you need to look at both. Tab is a very accessible but limited method for writing music. Ideally you should be looking to the tab to guide you on rhythm and expressive techniques/dynamics.
  5. Deal with frustration positively. Instead of feeling like giving up, ask questions to help you overcome problems. If you can’t execute a passage at speed or keep making mistakes, then ask what technical issues could be the cause of the problem rather than allowing negative self-talk to fill your head.
  6. Perform! Practice performing it at home or record it to listen back to.

New Year Offer

New year offer

Guitars make great Xmas gifts, but it can be a little bit daunting knowing where to start if you’re a beginner. I’ve decided to extend my Xmas offer for the full month of January. Whether you’re a  beginner, intermediate or advanced player – my offer is 3 lessons for the price of 2 and designed to help kick start your guitar playing in 2013. I teach rock,blues and jazz and tailor my lessons to what you want to learn. Lessons take place in my music room at my home in Kings Stanley ( inbetween Stroud and Stonehouse).

For further info please call: 07922 159 574 or email at: stroudguitar@gmail.com

Look forward to hearing from you and helping you achieve your musical goals for 2013!

Andy