a guitarist's occasional blog
As you can see, my blog has been sleeping the past six months. I've been very busy teaching a whole bunch of new classes at Portland's Multnomah Arts Center!
It's been a long time since I was in a situation like this where I am surrounded by so many other talented, enthusiastic, and hard-working students and artists. Years ago, I had the good fortune to teach children's music at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. This experience has a similar feeling.
I've been giving most of my energy to my songwriting, ukulele, and guitar students here all winter and spring, and I expect to continue to do that. But I've also managed to carve away at some of the distractions that have kept me from this blog. My intention is to get this rolling again, and to get back to posting about guitars and guitar playing a couple times each month.
In the meantime, if you are interested in private or group class guitar/ukulele/songwriting instruction, please get in touch with the Multnomah Arts Center at 503-823-2787.
"It's been a happy Thanksgiving, and I'm feeling fine. I've got a belly full of turkey and a head full of wine. I grab one for the road, and I head out to the shopping mall!" ~ from "Black Friday Stomp"
Here is an original song that you might enjoy adding to your gig this coming weekend. It's a little bit of satire on the upcoming holiday shopping madness.
"Black Friday Stomp" appears on my A Whisper in this Town CD. I was inspired to write this while reading Steve Goodman: Facing the Music by Clay Eals. The biography reminded me of the need for adding more variety (humor!) to my own set when performing. I also have a companion song called "Fourth of July: Made in China" that will likely get me in some trouble down the road!
This one is fairly easy and straightforward. Strum quarter notes aggressively and throw in occasional upstrokes. When I play it, I add a capo to the third fret. This puts the song in Eb instead of C. Perform it in whatever key works best for your voice.
The "G7#5" chord means that you play a D# instead of a D in your G chord. The easiest way is to play ~ (fret/string) 3/6, x/5, 3/4, 4/3, 4/2, x/1. "x" means to deaden the string. Otherwise, you're just pounding out cowboy chords.
A Whisper in this Town on iTunes
This week one of my students asked me if there was a book full of fingerstyle patterns he could buy. Yes, in fact, there are a lot of books filled with chord charts and picking patterns. You could buy these books and begin trying to memorize an infinite number of patterns. And you could spend a fortune filling your bookshelf with these books, probably much faster than you could memorize all those patterns.
But I think a better (and more affordable) approach is to learn a few basic patterns and try to understand how and why the patterns work the way they do. Once you get comfortable with a few basic patterns you can simply begin to mix, match, and even make-up your own patterns using the same approach.
This lesson will build on my Beginning Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson, and I suggest getting comfortable with that lesson before trying the patterns in this lesson. The point with these patterns is to get your thumb playing on autopilot; the thumb keeps the beat. Then your fingers (I, M, A) add notes to make the pattern more interesting and to fill in the harmony.
For this lesson, I've generated eight 4-measure variations for the chord progression G - Em - C - D7. All of these patterns use the same exact thumb pattern! This is the most important point for this lesson. The thumb plays the same notes for each pattern, and the fingers create the variations. As you work through each pattern, really make an effort to compare and contrast the patterns. I've tried to put them in a logical order.
In some guitar books the picking hand fingers are identified by the letters P-I-M-A. here is how that works:
Measures 1-4 and Measures 5-8 are the easiest patterns here; your index finger (I) plucks the third string and your middle finger (M) plucks the second string. Note that beats 1 and 2 of each measure are exactly the same as beats 3 and 4. Also note that the thumb plucks strings 4 - 5 - 4 - 5 for the D7 chord. That is a little tricky at first.
The pattern for Measures 9-12 introduces the first string being plucked by the third finger (A). Also note that no string is plucked on the "and" of beat 1, just like the patterns in the Beginning Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson. The pattern on Measures 13-16 goes back to having a note on the "and" of one.
Patterns for Measures 17-20 and Measures 21-24 introduce a pinch; you will need to play the thumb and a finger together on the first beat. The classic rock ballad "Dust in the Wind" uses a similar pattern, as does Pearl Jam's "Just Breathe".
The last two patterns for Measures 25-28 and Measures 29-32 add a second pinch on beat three, but it is the same basic approach as the previous two patterns – just more pinches.
Practice each of these patterns one-at-a-time repeatedly to mastery. Don't try to play through the whole lesson at once. It's much more efficient and a better use of practice time to get one pattern down before moving on to the next pattern.
This is the first lesson where I have been able to include a sound file. (I may go back an add sound to previous posts.) I suggest you get an app for your smart phone or tablet called the Amazing Slow Downer. This is a great application for guitar practice. It allows you to pull an audio file (song) into it and slow it down or speed it up while not changing the pitch. It also allows you to "loop" a section of a song so that you can practice it repeatedly. I like to take a difficult section a practice it slowly, and then slowly increase the tempo until I have the piece up to speed. You could do that with the sound file for this lesson.
Good luck with your practicing! Once you've mastered these, try to invent a few patterns of your own.
November is here again, and it's time for many of us to begin getting some holiday music ready to go—possibly fueled by too much Halloween candy.
A couple years ago I worked up an outline of "Silent Night" in an uncommon tuning: DGDF#AD. This is the same tuning I used for my original composition "South Branch"
It turns out that this DGDF#AD tuning works nicely, and it allows you to easily leave open strings ringing in the same way a piano player might use a sustain pedal. I'll use anything in my music if I think it sounds good. Letting open strings sustain works beautifully on this one, and the use of unison strings sometimes create a harp-like effect.
Be sure to bring the melody out by playing it with a bit more volume and emphasis than the (usually lower) accompaniment notes. I tried to vary the location of the melody across different strings to take advantage of tonal colors, but you should consider exploring other places on the neck where the melody works. When I begin an arrangement like this, I like to try out different ways of playing the melody before I even worry about harmony and approaches to accompaniment.
This arrangement is simply meant as a guide. I don't play it note-for-note, and I'm still working on a longer arrangement that moves to a higher octave with a little more variation. Enjoy.
Chuck Cheesman writes hopeful, loving, and sometimes funny songs for people of all ages.
All materials ©℗ Chuck Cheesman
Banner photo by Gina Dazzo