Category Archives: songwriting

What’s your biggest guitar issue?

ATTENTION GUITAR FRIENDS!

This is a call for submissions!

One aim of my blog is to offer guitar & music-related advice and for the next few posts, I’d like to pass the power in dictating the topic of discussion to YOU. So tell me: what is the is the biggest issue you face in learning the guitar?

I’m happy to examine any relevant queries which have been bugging you. They could be technical (finger tapping, getting the right tone out of an amp), or more vague (who do you feel the best guitarists to listen to when learning Afro-Cuban jazz, etc). You might want to ask about bass guitar, ukulele or band performance/management in general. Feel free!

You can message me here, leave a comment in this post, or drop me a DM/tweet via my Twitter account: @tim_guitarist.

I look forward to hearing from you & talking your queries over the next few weeks!

Tim x

Music that made me (part one): Early years

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” – Victor Hugo. 

Humans are a musical species. Throughout our history we have created such beautiful sounds which are simultaneously abstract and intimate. You could say we are the music we listen to. If that’s true, then that first music we absorb as children must play a large part in informing our futures, a least to some extent. If nothing else, it helps form your musical tastes for the future! 

As I sit here typing this, ‘Deacon Blues’ by Steely Dan ha started playing on the radio. I’m instantly transported back to a younger version of myself, still as moved by this song as I was the first time it fell upon my ears. (if you don’t know it, here’s a live version you can enjoy by clicking here).

As musicians & composers, we should be both mindful & appreciative of this. With that in mind, here is my very own early music

Using that term, I’m excluding nursery rhymes and songs from school. I was also planning to leaving aside hymns & church music. But the more I thought about it, the less it made sense to do so. This was a huge part of my formative years. To ignore the music of my church and community growing up would mean I was only presenting to you half of the music that made the man sat here typing this right now.

I was raised by a family of regular churchgoers in a close Catholic community in the north of England. Music was a large part of our times attending Mass or in Church-related events, and without a doubt my favourite ingredient of the Christiam experience.

Folk & Celtic Music

My community had a strong Celtic connection, with regular social events, often ceilidhs featuring additional Northumbrian dancing. If you’re unfamiliar with these traditional Irish & Scottish dances, here’s a classic, the Gay Gordons (Yes, that was a part of my childhood!)

There were also more reflective songs, performed by certain members of the parish. These included several traditional Irish songs, such as ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘Molly Malone’.

My interest in folk music stems directly from hearing so much of it as a child. As a professional guitar player, I’m often called upon to play these tunes. Here is my own version of ‘Danny Boy’ (called  Londonderry Air here) from my Vimeo site.

…and here’s the traditional Notthumbrian tune Waters Of Tyne

Hymns

While there was no one particular hymn that stood out, I quickly discovered which melodies, chord sequences, and – crucially – their relation to each other, I preferred to listen to and sing along with. Some, especially Christmas Carols, managed to embody powerful music with a soft sweetness many classical composers have struggled to attain. Obvious (non-Christmassy) examples include ‘Abide With Me’ and of course, Jerusalem.

‘Jerusalem’ gets bonus points for being thought of as such a patriotic ode to England here in the UK. This is despite the fact that the words are taken from William Blake’s thoroughly sarcastic prom, mocking the mediaeval belief that Jesus visited these lands as a teenager with Joseph of Arimathea. However, the music by Sir Hubert Parry is sublime. In particular, the downwards harmonic movement towards the end of the second line in both verses never fails to raise goosebumps on my arms!

Finally…

This is just one part of my life, but the music here still stirs memories of growing up, and the sense of community spirit we had. My father is still a regular at my old church, and like me, his favourite part of the experience is the music – the singing together, and belonging.

But that’s not the whole story…

Coming up next: the other side of my early years. Specifically, the albums I first heard as a child. Until then, stay happy and keep making music xx

New Year’s resolutions for guitar players

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!

Tim xx

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

Seven Nation Army (cover)

My previous blog mentioned a recent recording date with function band Switch. We recorded about three or four tracks for the band’s website, two of which we filmed videos for.

The first video, for ‘Mercy’, you can watch here.

Our cover of ‘Seven Nation Army’ was the second video we recorded that day. As you can tell from the video, we had a bit of fun with this one. It still has quite a few nice shots of my Gold Epiphone Les Paul though…

Guitar wise, this is the LP from the video, using the neck pickup, coil-tapped. The slide is solid brass & it’s going through one of the studio’s Marshall amps (not the Orange stack you see in the video, though that does sound pretty cool).

Thanks to Loft Music Studios for the recording & production of the track, Nemix Studios for the video location and Artifact Media for shooting it! 

Enjoy!

A song for Black Friday: Mercy (cover)

Is it Black Friday? Have mercy…

Tenuous enough of s link for you? Good.

Earlier this year I hit the studio with function band Switch, and this cover of ‘Mercy’ (made famous by Duffy) was one of the tracks we recorded.

The guitar I used was the same one you can see in the video: Fender Modern Player Stratocaster going through one of the in-house Marshall combos at the Loft Studios.

Thanks to Loft Studios, Newcastle upon Tyne, for the recording session & production. Also many thanks to Nemix studios (also Newcastle), which was our location for the video, and to Artifact Media for the film production!

Enjoy!

Where have I been?

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!

Tim x

#5×4 (demo) – New Music

New music! Listen to it by clicking here.

In recent posts, I’ve discussed one of my current works-in-progress, a four movement minimalist work. You can read about the opening movement, #6×5, here.

The new video is the next movement to be almost entirely completed, #5×4. Again arranged for solo or duo piano, this is the slow movement of the work. Though using the same principles as #6×5, this piece is the exact opposite in a number of ways.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, is the ambience of the movement itself. It was created as a reflective piece while I thinking about the recent passing of a dear family member. The rhythm has an unchallenged 4/4 feel throughout. All of th parts work together well harmonically, so there is nowhere near the level of dissonance as we hear in #6×5.

Secondly, the ‘rules’ (for want of a better description) of the overall piece are more relaxed in this movement. Where #6×5 features six separate motifs, each of which are five notes in length, #5×4 is more general. True, there are only five motifs throughout. However, the number of notes in each ofthis piece’s musical phrases is an average. For example, the lead phrase uses five notes, so to balance this out one of the other motifs is comprised of a mere three notes. Also, the four notes (on average) in each motif refer to unique notes. For example, one of the repeating phrases runs: D A D A F# D B. While there is reputation of D’s and A’s, there are only four separate pitches in the entire motif.

 

Image from the video for #5×4 (Tim Higgins)

So, why have I used such a relaxed approach in this movement? And does it go against the principles of minimalist music?

Here are the main arguments justifying my compositional choices:

  1. First and foremost, good music is good music. I like how this piece sounds, very much the way it first came to me.
  2. Rules are made to be broken (a topic I have covered in several previous posts)!

This piece came very quickly for me. In refining it, I’ve tried to ensure a small element of development while retaining the simplicity of the soft, repeating lines. To me, I still think of the same person who inspired the creation of this music. The remaining two movements will be a combination of the frantic style of #6×5 and the hypnotic repetotion of #5×4. However, as always, I’d love to hear what your thoughts so do get in touch!

Give the new trailer a listen. Visually, I used pictures from a recent visit to Marciac and the surround region of Midi-Pyrenees, in the south of France. The gorgeous vineyards & crop fields on those beautiful sunny days seems to lend itself well to the calm and reflective elements of the music. I also noticed that juxtaposing this piece over pictures of Marciac and Bassouse added a certain air of melancholy to the images, as if the towns had been abandoned (they most certainly haven’t been). Feel free to leave a comment below – updates on the remaining two movements to follow very soon!

 

Image from the video for #5×4 (Tim Higgins)

 

My demo video for #5×4, as well as all of my current demos & videos, are available on my Vimeo page.