Learning Different styles of guitar playing

Often after I've given a performance in front of an audience and I invite people to ask questions, I get asked interest in learning other styles of playing like blues, country, or rock and roll. 

Most of the time the question goes something like, "can you play x?" (with x being any random song from the questioner's favorite band or group or artist). 

Unfortunately most of the time my answer to that question is "no, I'm sorry I can't play that song" or "I don't think I've heard of that artist." Usually, it's only because I have yet to really listen to that particular song and take the time to figure out the chord progressions and harmonies of that song. 

This is particularly challenging as a guitar instructor because our jobs are to be able to not only teach a student fundamental basics of the instrument but to be in a constant state of learning and listening to new music. This is truly one of the most beautiful things I have discovered as a private guitar teacher: music will never run out and we will truly never know everything on our instrument. 

This is really a drag as when I first began learning the guitar I thought that there would be some point of "ultimate mastery" on the guitar that was attainable through hard work and practice. Although I would say most music is fairly easy to learn; mastering the basic chords and basic bar chord position on the guitar makes is possible to play nearly any popular style of music. But I will say that this is always a reminder to me that being a musician is about choosing what to learn. It is in this process of exposing ourselves to new music and choosing to learn something new that is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful qualities of being a musician that widens your view of humanity. 


Learning an Instrument as an Adult, is it too late?

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks." 

The colloquial misconception that misleads people to believe that you're stuck with the same set of skills and hobbies after reaching a certain level of "adulthood"; I beg to differ. Picking up an instrument as an adult is a fantastically therapeutic activity that both stimulates your brain and itches your creative impulse. 

I think that much of the discouragement from adults picking up new instruments is the hectic schedules we tend to lead as adults. We have jobs, often have a family to take care of, and lots of other things to do including sitting in traffic going from one place to another. 

So, after I've worked, taken care of home responsibilities, got a chance to relax a bit, how much time is there really left in the day? Well, if your mindset is that of a person with no time at all, then you certainly won't be easy to convince. 

HOWEVER, how much time is REALLY needed to learn an instrument? Obviously hours and hours of practice right? Well, yes and no. Yes, it certainly is going to take time to perfect certain skills on this instrument you're thinking about picking up. But, it isn't going to take a single day either. If you instead imagine yourself spreading out the time needed to perfect a skill over the course of a week, you're really only looking at about 20-30 mins of practice every day during the week (we need our weekends of course). Learning something new like an instrument is a long-term feat. You just can't come into a new world like music and believe you're going to master the instrument in a few weeks or months. 

I like to think that embarking on a journey to learn an instrument is much like trying to get fit and slim down your physique. You can't expect to make permanent long term changes in your physical body with bursts of obsessive commitments to dieting and exercise. You've got to spread yourself evenly and realize that physical transformation is a slowly but surely progressing activity. Learning an instrument is very much a physical thing. You have to physically coordinate your fingers and body in a way that you just have never done. So, it's going to be a slow process. But, with patience and dedication, all is possible. 

Parent tip: How do I know if I have a good music instructor/teacher?

Author: Magdiel Zuniga

Article source: www.woodlandsguitarlessons.com/blog

For those who haven't been musically trained for years and never participated in orchestra or band growing up, it's often a challenge and necessary curiosity to wonder whether your choice for a music instructor is a good fit for you and is properly catering to your growth in your newfound musical journey. ESPECIALLY for parents, it's important to know whether your child is learning from a serious professional and not some amateur looking to get some extra cash from a side job of teaching your or your child how to play an instrument. 

Red Flag #1: The music instructor your are considering to take lessons with has never taken lessons before him or herself from a professional and is primarily self-taught.

Alert alert! The fact that your music instructor your are considering to take lessons with has never studied under someone is a sure sign that they have are not properly qualified to teach you or your child. Imagine trying to learn how to speak a foreign language from someone who has never studied it formally and isn't form the country that the language originates from? How would you know and be sure that this person even knows how to really speak this language fluently? Music is in a sense a language of its own and requires lots of study from many different mentors to get a fundamental grasp about technique, proper practicing methods, and pedagogical approaches. MAKE SURE TO ASK IF THIS TEACHER HAS STUDIED UNDER A PROFESSIONAL OR HAS GRADUATED FROM AN ACCREDITED MUSICAL INSTITUTION. 

Red Flag #2: You don't see your music teacher leaving much "home practice", or "take-home exercises." The lessons you're receiving feel disorganized and unclear in their goals. 

Feeling like you're not getting enough material to work on until your next lesson is a sure sign that your teacher is "stalling" or "stretching" the little material he or she has to offer you. A great teacher is always goal-oriented and path-driven. Every week, the student and teacher should have agreed upon goals to pursue. There should be clear semester-long goals too! This is very important for as a clearly drawn curriculum gives the parent or new student a way to assess their progress. You're able to track the new skills learned on an instrument and see your level as a musician gradually rise with your dedicated practice. When you're shopping for a music teacher, make sure to ask if that music or guitar teacher has a curriculum that they follow. 

Red Flag #3: None of the music you or your child is studying seems relatable.

Being able to practice music that you recognize and connect with is absolutely fundamental to developing your skills as a musician and student. It's very common for the music community to feel "divided" between serious classical musicians and popular musicians. Some people are picky and want to stick to their intellectually challenging classical repertoire. Some people don't bother to pick up anything classical because of "how boring it is" and stick to playing popular tunes that are heard in radio and popular culture. I think this divide is really unnecessary and a good teacher should provide you with a well-rounded approach that explores classical and modern music. Let's be honest, we don't just listen to Mozart or Beethoven all day. I'm a classical music fanatic-I don't listen to it all the time. I like my popular music and so do you, why limit your musical learning to just one genre of music? A good musician can play anything from serious repertoire to popular music without skipping a beat. Make sure your music teacher has this well-rounded approach and is willing to explore new musical interests. 

Classical Guitar for children: what to expect from children in music lessons

As a parent, it's important that you know answers to certain questions that you have when first enrolling your child for music lessons. First of all, you're in the small percentage of parents that take the initiative to invest in early music education for their children -putting them way ahead of their peers.

How long should my child practice?

I think a healthy practice time for a beginner is 20-30 minutes of fun exercises and real musical practice 4-5 days a week. It's important that the child recognizes that practicing is simply a normal daily routine in order for that child to benefit the most out of his or her music education. Any more than half an hour for a child that is still in elementary school can be difficult simply because it takes lots of high energy and mental stimulation to keep a child interested in learning something like an instrument for long periods of time. Even as adults we can only sit and do one task for so long before we feel the need to stand up and stretch or change up the activity we're engaged in. To a certain extent, our high-speed internet smart phone culture has certainly complimented this lowered attention span in a lot of us. So, really focusing in on a particular activity for a burst of half 20-30 minutes is a great tool that consumes little time for your busy daily schedule. 

What kinds of songs should my child be learning?

This is a question that ultimately arises out of the belief that the most important and worthy study in music is the study of classical music. Classical Music IS NOT the end means of taking lessons. A child's music education should foremost be based on the roots of songs that are familiar to that child. Nursery rhymes, the Happy Birthday Song, Row Row Row Your Boat, are all great examples of melodies that any child can recognize. Starting the basics of an instrument learning these songs and connecting them with important educational aspects of music (like reading notation) is by far the best way to ensure that your child's musical development will be stimulating and effective.

How can I help my child? 

As a parent you absolutely want to feel some kind of efficacy and assistance with your child as they start something new in their life. The absolute best thing that parents can do to engage with their children is to sit in lessons and learn with the child! Even if you're not looking to learn an instrument yourself, there are many things that you can do as a parent during the beginning stage of your child's enrollment. First, sitting in the first few lessons with your child helps the child overcome any anxiety or behavioral complications that arise from meeting someone new. Having your presence in the room with the child boosts the child's confidence and can facilitate the learning process. Second, learn the material that is covered during the lesson yourself! Educate yourself along the way so that any homework given can be done with the child. 

Guitar basics: How long should I practice to get good?

This is something I get asked a lot of when people first find interest in wanting to pick up an instrument and enroll in lessons. The simple reason is that our time is very much a commodity in our lives and making sure that use that time wisely matters quite a bit. "We have other things to do during the day so I just wanna know much time is this thing (learning guitar) going to take up in my day-to-day?" is what you're probably thinking....

I think to answer this question you have to ask yourself: WHY are your deciding to take lessons and WHAT are your goals with the instrument? 

Your "why" will determine the majority of the answer; if you just wanna stick to basics and play easy songs you can sing a long to and even play to your friends/family the amount of time is very minimal (20-30 mins of practice a day, 3-4 days a week). If you're very intense and see yourself playing some really technical music and playing in an advanced style, the time requirements will fit the hours of a less-than-part-time job (1 hour a day, 5 days a week). If you're like me and see yourself being paid as a professional to perform at venues and events and maybe even become a guitar teacher some day, you're looking at a definite part-time job of practice (3-4 hours a day, 5-6 days a week). 

For some, music is very much a therapeutic past-time and taking lessons is a way to reinforce their practicing and be introduced to some great music to enjoy during leisure. I made the mistake early on in my teaching career thinking every student that came into my doors was going to be the next prodigy and they're going to love classical guitar and it's going to be awesome! But, I soon realized that there is no such thing as "the perfect student profile." It's most important that you're honest with  yourself and put in the time that will reap the benefits that you're looking for. After all, the hours I've suggested are just that, suggestions. 

Self-taught on the Guitar, things I wish I knew.

Guitarists are one of the few class of musicians that usually start out being self-taught because of the prevalence of the instrument in popular music. No matter where you go, there's bound to be a guitar in there somewhere. So, most guitarists start out plucking and strumming away to some of their favorite tunes in rock, pop, metal, blues, and more. 

This is a very interesting situation that distinguishes guitarists from must musicians as most other instrumentalists start immediately in some kind of educational environment like a school orchestra, choir, or band. Guitarists are somewhat underrepresented in this educational environment and are sometimes even forced to go the "self-taught" route because, unless you want to pay for private lessons, that's simply the only way to go!!!

Now that I've studied with several professional guitarists and am a beginning professional myself, I look back 7 years ago to when I started and wonder how things were and what tips would have benefitted me to improve my skills and develop faster on my instrument. 

Tip 1: Beware of Tabs

Now, this is something that I've been adamantly against since tablature for guitar suffers from two very limiting things: tablature does not notate rhythm and is not compatible with other forms of musical notation. For the first downside, tablature restricts you to playing with a soundtrack since the tablature does not hint at the rhythmical value of each note. Tabs only tell you where to play a note on the guitar, but not how LONG to play that note or the next one. Imagine trying to play a piece/song that was written for you by a friend or by a professional that has never been recorded before and gave you tabs for your guitar part, how would you know how the music even sounded like? How fast? How slow? It's even more of a problem when you try to approach classical music on the guitar which is very precise in its rhythmical notation. 

The second reason guitar tablature is just a waste of time is that it is incompatible with other instrumental notation. Why is this important? Well let's say you hear something on the piano, violin, or harp that you really would love to play on the guitar. Well, most music on the violin, piano, and harp is notated on standard notation (e.g. sheet music) and can be easily transferred to guitar by reading straight from the source of the music and then playing it on the guitar. To transfer what is played on another instrument to guitar in the form of tabs you would have to spend endless time trying to map out each note by EAR. The problem here is that the human ear is inevitably fallible and we can often mistake certain notes or add wrong notes in the process of mapping out a song by ear. Learn how to read sheet music for the guitar!!!! 

To learn how to read sheet music buy the book: Hal Leonard Classical Guitar Method (link click here). Even if you don't want to focus on classical guitar, learn to read sheet music for the guitar so that your doors of opportunities become endless! 

Tip 2: Guitar Chords are not for absolute beginners

This is surprising to most as that's EXACTLY what most guitarists start out with when they first pick up the instrument. The reason you shouldn't start out learning guitar chords as the absolute first thing that you learn on the instrument is because it's like trying to juggle 4 balls at once when you haven't even learned how to juggle 2!! Playing a guitar chords requires coordination in multiple fingers of the left hand that can get very frustrating to learn as an absolute beginner. You simply can't do algebra without addition. Instead, focus on learning individual notes on each individual string. Learn the names of each string on the guitar and how to find other specific notes on each string of the guitar before approaching chords. After you can play some simple melodies on the guitar, go to playing multi-note chords. A good place to start would be Suzuki. Suzuki Method offers super basic songs that are meant to hone your skills on finding and playing individual notes. (link click here)

Tip 3: Find a guitar instructor

Although being self-taught can be an interesting journey and fulfilling, we always hit some wall or plateau in our learning. This is simply because we reach a certain level in our self-teaching that we feel like we don't really know what to do to get better or what to learn to improve our skills and technique. Not knowing what to do can be one of the most frustrating things for a guitar player that is really interested in improving and hungry to pushing their technique and skill level. Once you've reached this point in your learning where you can't really do it yourself anymore, take time to find a local teacher near you. Why spend a lifetime teaching yourself through failure and mistakes when you can learn from someone who has already specialized and learned everything there is to know about what you want to do? The most successful and brightest people are always looking for others smarter, faster, and more skilled to learn from and push themselves.