Other people show pictures of their kids. I go on about my three ‘workhorse’ gigging guitars…
This is a short video from TED Talk on how to practice more effectively. It includes some useful tips & really interesting information based on what we know about the brain & how we learn tasks.
This ties-in with my previous blogs on rehearsal & my own (admittedly rather limited) research on music and the human brain [see previous posts]. Let me know what you think!
If the above video doesn’t work, here’s a link so you can access the short TED Talk video on YouTube.
As a general rule, I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. My philosophy is that changes can be made at any time, so why wait until January?
However, there is something about the end of a year which causes us all to reflect on the previous twelve months and start focusing on our plans for the next twelve. For us working musicians, many of us have recently reached the end of one of our peak times, the ‘Christmas Party Season’.
Like many bands who find most of their work comes from weddings & function work, 2016 ended for me with a NYE gig. In January, things start to feel a little quieter by comparison, which gives us time to ponder on the gigs we’ve enjoyed, what we didn’t enjoy, and what we hope to change for the new year.
So, with that in mind, here are a few of my suggestions for guitar-related resolutions for musicians looking to grow as better musicians in 2017:
- Learn a new style.
Always wanted to start learning those jazz chord voicings? Perhaps you keep meaning to work on your reggae & ska rhythm playing? Or your country picking? Blues slide? The list goes on…
Take the time to work on these new genres & styles of playing. We are very fortunate to live in a time where we can access a world of free tutorials on the Internet, or videos in YouTube. However, don’t rule out the possibility of taking lessons to focus on specific areas – working one to one with an experienced guitar tutor does wonders for improving your playing!
- Mix things up.
Learning a style doesn’t mean you have to abandon all you know & travel the world playing strictly Django/gypsy jazz for the rest of your life (though I imagine there are plenty of worse ways to live)!
Have you found that the majority if your playing has been on acoustic guitar? Trying swapping to electric more often (or vice versa). Do you always practise at the same time of day? If possible, can you change to a different time? Your brain operates differently throughout the day – you may well find yourself going down very different musical avenues simply by switching from a morning to an afternoon practice session.
Sometimes learning to play a song you are very familiar with in a new style works brilliantly in helping your playing. Not only do you freshen up material which might be getting a bit stale, but you’ll have a safer means of exploring new options in your guitar playing.
One area of guitar playing I can’t recommend highly enough is solo performance. By this, I don’t mean the lead guitar solo in a song, but playing the melody, harmony, rhythms, etc on one unaccompanied guitar. It’s something a piano player wouldn’t think twice about, but I’m frequently amazed at how many guitarists simply haven’t tried it properly! If you’re unsure about how to start doing this, there are several books, online tutorials (like this blog!), and of course YouTube videos to help inspire you. Which brings us nicely in to…
- Widen your horizons.
Music is a language. Even when playing on your own, you are creating sounds for yourself to hear, effectively taking to yourself. But there’s only so long you can do that before you end up going round in circles, or going crazy!
Set yourself the following challenge for the year: discover a new artist each month of 2017. Learn from what you hear. Take examples of their playing & try to incorporate it into your own. It can only make you a better guitarist! The beauty of this is that you don’t have to focus on other guitar players. In fact, it might be better not to! Many of the jazz & Blues guitarists I admire take inspiration for their improvisational playing from horn players, translating their melodies & ideas into their own instrument. Try it!
It also helps to get out amongst other musicians, jam, join or start a new band, particularly in a new style. It also goes further than this – always wanted to sing while playing? Start! Learning a new instrument? Do it! The best way out of a rut is to climb upwards!
- Get your music ‘out there’.
…And if you’re meeting new musicians & launching new projects, you’re already doing this. Go to more live gigs, gig more yourself, especially new and original music. I know all too well how easy it is to get stuck in one ‘world’ (in my case playing in a covers band), and finding it hard to do other things, but I promise it’s worth the effort.
Remember to have fun while you’re out there expanding your guitar playing horizons!
Best of luck and wishing you all a very happy new year! Let’s make 2017 – like every year – a great year for music, for the guitar, and for you!
Please do get in touch to tell me what your own guitar/music new year resolutions are, and stay in touch to let me know how you’re getting on with them! Don’t forget I’m here to help if you need it! xx
Some of you may know I am involved with a few community music therapy projects in the north-west of England. Now think it’s time you met ‘me gaffer’, and had a wee peek at the new £2million centre which has recently opened its doors in Penrith, Cumbria.
Annie, Michael & the whole team at Sunbeams Music Trust have been working tirelessly for several years, and not just in fundraising for their brand new centre. Sunbeams Music Trust now provides community music across the region. Their ‘Music for Life’ & ‘Music for Dignity’ projects reach children and adults in schools, day centres, care homes & much more, bringing music (and improved wellbeing) to so many people who need & enjoy it. But there is always more work to be done and more communities & people to reach out to. This new centre will go some way to meeting that obvious need.
Featuring a large performance room, state-of-the-art digital recording studio and small music & therapy rooms, the new centre comes well equipped to meet the needs of the charity. A well-equipped kitchen & boardroom means they can also raise much needed revenue through conferencing & hosting events. The recording studio is also directly linked up to the performance hall, meaning the centre can also serve as a commercial studio capable of recording anything up & including a small orchestra!
My only contribution to the new centre so far has been laying out the guitars on the floor (as above, however the remnants of which can also be briefly glimpsed in the video, via the link below). However, I hope to start leading a few of the projects there from 2017 and truth be told, I can’t wait! The new centre is, in a word, AWESOME!
Sunbeams runs entirely on donations & charity funding. If you haven’t yet chosen a charity to donate to for Christmas, or raise money for throughout 2017, please give Sunbeams some serious consideration.
Fundraiding information can be found on Sunbeam’s donation page.
Thanks, guys! xx
…And here’s the recent feature on the new Sunbeams Centre, courtesy of ITV News.
As the late, great David Bowie sang, ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…
Hi all, been a while! So where have I been?
In one respect, nowhere new. I have however been rather busy as wedding season came around & I took on a lot of additional limited-run teaching work about the same time. I’ve also been keeping busy preparing for the first big change to my work/life balance…
I have been successful in securing a place to study for a MSc in Music Therapy in Edinburgh. This means for the next two years I will be in Scotland for two days (one night) per week. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that qualifying as a music therapist has been one of my long-term goals for a while now. I expect it to be a pretty intense period of study, but I will aim to keep this blog updated of my progress. I’ll also continue to post any interesting insights into MT that I discover on the way.
Using ‘bedsit research’ as an excuse to travel up to Edinburgh this week, my partner & I spent a few days enjoying the Festival Fringe. You can expect blogs reviewing the shows we saw showing up here very soon…
Any other ch-ch-changes?
Well yes, actually. Remember that new music project I’ve mentioned starting (or attempting to start) intermittently over the last year? Expect a new update very soon – new (heavier) sounds are on the way!
(pic courtesy of ukulelemusichawaii.com)
So you’ve bought your first ukulele & learned a few chords. But now you’ve noticed that it’s gone out of tune. No matter, you have a tuner, you tune up. Done. But after a pretty short time, it’s out of tune again. Why?
I get this query a lot from my new ukulele students. Just as they are getting started with their first steps into music-making on this instrument, they become frustrated with it’s apparent lack of tuning stability.
New ukuleles come with new strings, which haven’t been ‘played in’. Just like a new set of strings of a guitar, they need to be ‘stretched’. As ukulele strings are made from nylon, which is a very flexible material, this is even more apparent.
The quickest way to to this is following these basic steps:
- Tune your ukulele
- Take a hold of the strings & gently pull them up, away from the fingerboard, repeating across a few different parts of the string (see an example video here)
- Re-tune the ukulele
- Repeat steps 2 & 3 until re-tuning is no longer required
Hey presto! problem solved! Your ukulele should now not only remain stable after playing, but also hold it’d tuning better when travelling (though extreme changes in temperature will still cause the strings to expand and contract).
The video included via hyper link in point 2, above (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=px0ds0T3ric) is one of many available online to help you better visualise what I mean by stretching the strings. It’s not as difficult as you might think!
Other things to remain mindful of:
While stretching the strings is by far the most common solution to fixing a consistently out of tune uke, you may still notice occasional tuning issues. Perhaps simple, mostly open chords sound correct, but those with three or four fretted notes, or barre chords, have one or two out of tune strings when played. More perplexing, this can happen when the open strings are still correctly tuned up.
The problem? In this case, it’s intonation.
Provided you have a decent instrument, where the frets are set up and spaced correctly (watch out for the false economy of the bottom range ‘budget models’), then this can easily be fixed by paying close attention to how you fret the notes. You may find, on new or more interestingly shaped chords, that you are pressing down too hard on certain strings, pushing that note slightly out of tune with the rest of the chord. Some positions might require you to stretch or bend a finger in a way which means it is not sitting behind the fret as per the standard method. This too, can be fixed with a little bit of practise, and a small amount of mindfulness. Happy Uke-ing!
All very last minute, but I am now officially a mature student.
I’ve been meaning to return to higher education and ‘top-up’ my foundation degree in Music, and now seemed like the right time. This time next year, I should – hopefully – have a BA in Music.
At present, I am unsure as to weather I will continue on into either a teaching qualification or head down the Masters/academic route. I will of course keep you all updated.
Despite considering this for some time, it was only following a chat with a friend that I originally contacted Sunderland University with a view to applying for next year – I mean, it’s already September, I assumed it was too late for this year! However, they mentioned available places and suggested I speak to the Head of Course. Following a ten minute phone conversation about the modules of the course and my relevant education and working experience I was offered a place.
To ensure the university had everything they needed (presumably for audit/OFSTED reasons) I had to complete the basic application form and take along a copy of my last HE certificate – and that was about it. Now all I need is for the Student Loans Company to get their finger out and send the fees/living expenses over!
So here’s some tips if you’re considering going into (or indeed returning to) higher education –
* Speak to the Universities you are interested in DIRECTLY. Find out as much as you can about the staff, facilities, teaching & assessment methods and of course the course itself. If it seems like a good fit for you, keep the information handy.
* Leave UCAS out of it – they operate best when catering for A-Level students waiting on results for their conditional offers. As a mature student, you only need ONE reference (an employer character reference).
* Wait until Universities are in their ‘clearing’ phase. This is immediately after A-Level results day and they will be very keen to fill up any places they haven’t yet found students for and therefore very attentive and helpful.
* Have everything ready to apply for any student finance. Find out what you are eligible to receive and what you need to provide in order for your application to be processed smoothly & quickly, without referring back to you for extra evidence (usually this is proof you have been self-funded for rent, mortgage, food, bills, car, etc, etc for the last three years). The Student Loans Company are notoriously awkward so make it as easy as possible for them and you!
* Finally, have fun and enjoy broadening your horizons! Don’t be put off by the perceived age difference – on my first day I realised everyone else was a 20 year old going straight onto the course from their HNDs, and hough I’m only 30, I had concerns it would be difficult to get along with a gaggle of younger pups. However I was surprised to see a motivated and mature group of individuals so I’m still very glad I signed up! I did, however, get mistaken for a lecturer as well – pros and cons I suppose!
My blog will continue with updates on my (mature) student life as well as information on my written and live-based project work. Either way, it will find a way into the projects I am currently working on in my own time.
Peace out for now xx