Category Archives: Sunderland

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

Ukulele Problems: Tuning

Ukulele beach(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:

  1. Tune your ukulele
  2. 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)
  3. Re-tune the ukulele
  4. 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!

New Direction – the joys of being a mature student

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