My First Gig

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Photo Credit: Antti T. Nissinen via Flickr

I was going to call this final post for my learning project “The Grand Finale,” but I decided that wouldn’t be accurate. This is only just the beginning. My first gig.

Learning guitar using websites, apps and social media has been an incredibly rewarding self-directed inquiry. I’ve felt both connected and isolated, invigorated and frustrated, motivated and defeated. Looking back, I’m proud of the tools that I’ve found and used and my overall growth as both a digital learner and a guitarist.

Techniques and Lessons:

GarageBand offers a series of lessons for guitar. The tool teaches you how to hold the guitar properly, tune it, play the most commonly used chords and barre chords, and strumming patterns. You have to have access to Apple products to use this service, so that might limit some people from using it.

Guitar Tricks provides access to a series of free beginner lessons and more advanced lessons for a small monthly fee. The website asks a series of questions about your musical background, commitment to learning, and previous guitar experience and designs a path of lessons based on your responses! All of the lessons are linked to songs, so you feel more like you’re really playing guitar early on.

MunsunMusicLive’s videos are a great way to learn new songs if you already know how to play the chords in the songs that he has uploaded, but not if you are just learning.

Drue James goes a step further on his YouTube channel with lessons that are broken down into categories based on your skill level, and by providing instructional lessons. He also sends you two emails each week with tips, ideas and encouragement. Both the videos and emails are motivating.

Tuning:

get-tuned.com offers both tuners and articles that teach you how to solve tuning issues and use other tuning methods like the fifth fret method.

Guitar Tuna is a (mostly) free app that is designed to accurately tune stringed instruments. You don’t even have to remember each of the strings because the app allows you to tap an image of the string you want to tune. It plays the pitch for you so that you can match it, but even better, it shows you how flat or sharp you may be as you tighten or loosen the string! The app also has games for learning chords, chord diagrams, and ear training. To get multiple levels, you do have to pay for an upgraded version of the app.

Chords:

ultimate-guitar.com is a comprehensive website that includes guitar tabs, reviews, interviews, columns, lessons, and forums. They have a fantastic lesson on learning how to read tab. It’s clear and comprehensive.

chordbook.com is perfect if you only have a few minutes to sit down and review chords. It’s really user friendly, but you have to have wifi or use data to access the site.

Song Chords and Tabs:

Guitar Chords and Tabs is an app that curates thousands of song chords and tabs in one place. The chords and tabs are easy to read on a small phone screen, and the app even has the option of “favoriting” the songs that you are working on so that you don’t have to search them each time you use the app.

Interesting Reads:

A Neurobiological Role of Music in Social Bonding is a study by Walter J Freeman III, concludes that even though knowledge is formed in individual brains, “rhythmic behavioral activities that are induced by drum beats and music can lead to altered states of consciousness, through which mutual trust among members of societies is engendered.”  He further states that “music together with dance have co-evolved biologically and culturally to serve as a technology of social bonding.” The entire article is fascinating, and you should definitely check it out for yourself. When people make music together, it fosters trust and bonding in ways that language cannot. The social and human experience are critical to the music-making experience.

5 Tips on How to Get Your Child to Practice Piano suggests discussing practice time as “playing” time instead to foster a positive attitude toward learning to play an instrument. The difference between the connotations is substantial. Practicing is hard work. Playing is fun. Another tip that the article suggests is to create a pleasant environment for playing. This means keeping your instrument in an accessible and comfortable place.

Important Connections:

I discovered that it was possible to connect with people in a meaningful way on the internet. I didn’t believe that was possible before. This was by far the most important realization that I had throughout this learning project. I always knew that I could access information, but what I didn’t know was that I could connect with people.

Twitter – @GuitarMag, @guitarcenter, @guitar_mag, @GuitarPlayerNow, @The_Guitar_List, @ZoobieDood (Dave Eichenberger)

YouTube – I had a helpful guitar teacher post a comment to a YouTube video of myself learning guitar. That was a generous and exciting comment. I finally felt like I had connected with another person that I really didn’t know in this learning process.

Classmates/ Fellow Bloggers – Other students in the class, particularly Logan Petlak, who is also learning to play an instrument, were so encouraging throughout this learning process.

Friends – The face-to-face interactions that I had playing with friends were also incredibly important when I was feeling isolated and missing the joy of making music.

And now for my first gig! Thank you for following along and sharing with me. This song is for you!

Learning to Play Guitar… Without a Guitar

Last week, I was travelling in Europe, so I had to figure out a way to work on my learning project while I was there. I didn’t want to bring my guitar with me, so I ended up using Guitar Tuna. In addition to being a tuner, the app has games for learning chords and chord diagrams as well as ear training. (You do have to pay if you want multiple levels.)

I have to admit that it was a great change of pace, but I’m looking forward to playing again and preparing for my final learning project reflection!

Jam Sesh

This week I met with my best friend, Riley, for a jam session (and some coffee). It was great to play with and for someone else who is already an accomplished guitarist. She showed me some of the things that she has been working on this year, and it was encouraging to hear from her that it takes time to see progress!

Ri

After that, It was my turn to played for her. She noticed that the guitar that I’m using has a really wide fretboard, which makes it  difficult for me to switch from one chord to the next, especially because my hands are small. She also said that the fretboard isn’t cut away where it meets the body of the guitar, which is why I’ve been struggling to play the high part at the beginning of “Brown Eyed Girl.” She recommended that I ask a professional about a better guitar if I’m serious about sticking with playing. (I think I am…) I had no idea that I was playing a guitar that was such a bad fit for me, and wouldn’t have learned differently without continuing to be frustrated, or by meeting with another more experienced guitar player. This kind of personal connection definitely makes a difference for this type of learning!

I’m still receiving Drue James‘ lesson and tip emails, and this week one of them was particularly fitting to the idea that a music student really benefits from face-to-face interactions with others when learning to play an instrument. He said:

I’ve been teaching beginners for 10 years now and one thing I’m seeing increasing is bad playing habits.

I think it’s because there’s more self taught YouTube guitarists than ever. Being self taught is awesome and without you guys watching my videos life wouldn’t be as much fun. It does have one big disadvantage…

No one is checking your playing and offering you personal feedback. Bad habits can make playing the guitar much harder than it needs to be and it’s easy for them to sneak in when you’re learning by yourself.

The video below has my top 5 bad playing habits. The video not only shows you what you might be doing wrong it also shows you how to correct it.

This video was so helpful, and I wish that I had found Drue James and his videos earlier in my learning journey.

In addition to my jam sesh with Riley and Drue’s email, Logan Petlak’s tweet with a link to “5 Tips on How to Get Your Child to Practice Piano” was also an encouragement to me this week.

Playing vs practicingThe article suggests discussing practice time as “playing” time instead to foster a positive attitude toward learning to play an instrument. The difference between the connotations is substantial. Practicing is hard work. Playing is fun.

The other tip that the article suggests is to create a pleasant environment for playing. This means keeping your instrument in an accessible and comfortable place. I’m going to try to find a better home for my guitar so that I’m tempted to play (not practice!) more often. Let’s do this! I’m excited to share my song with you in a couple of weeks!

Guitar Blues: Making Music Should be a Social Experience

Although I have found some great apps and sites to learn how to play guitar, I am missing the human element that makes music-making so much fun. I’m used to having lessons with teachers in-person or playing and singing in an ensemble.

This led me to ask what is it about making music with others that is different from learning alone? Do I learn better in-person? Is the social experience separate from the musical experience or do they work together? So I decided to investigate.

Thanks to a study by Walter J Freeman III, published by  UC Berkeley and shared through Creative Commons, I’ve found some answers. Freeman concludes that even though knowledge is formed in individual brains, “rhythmic behavioral activities that are induced by drum beats and music can lead to altered states of consciousness, through which mutual trust among members of societies is engendered.”  He further states that “music together with dance have co-evolved biologically and culturally to serve as a technology of social bonding.” The entire article is fascinating, and you should definitely check it out for yourself. When people make music together, it fosters trust and bonding in ways that language cannot. The social and human experience are critical to the music-making experience.

My goal for the upcoming week is to play  “Brown Eyed Girl” with a friend who already knows how to play guitar. I’m hoping that this will motivate me to continue practicing and to bring the fun back to learning and playing music. When I look back to my very first post about this project, my goal was to learn how to play some campfire songs to share with my family and friends. I didn’t simply want to learn a song; I wanted to use music to connect with people.

Campfire on Honeymoon Beach, Isla Danzante

No matter how great technology becomes, there is no substitution for the human experience.

Keeping Tabs on the Debate Between Standard Notation and Tabulature

When I was VERY little, I would crawl up onto the piano bench and pretend to read the music that my mom had been practicing for her choir rehearsals. The tiny black notes seemed chaotic, and I’m sure that my plunking at that time would have been a little cacphophonic too. When I started learning to play piano in grade two, the notes straightened out as I began to corral them into lines. Now, when I look at music, I can hear it. It’s the most beautiful language in the world to me.

kid plays piano

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Flickr

But language is about far more than written expression, and music even more so. It is about tone, expression, emphasis and, above all else, communication. So, here are my questions for you today: Does it matter how we come to learn a language? Do we need a common written expression to communicate? How do standard notation and tablature fit into this conversation?

Learning a Language

People learn in a variety of ways. Some learn best by seeing, others by hearing and still others by doing. Ultimately, a combination of all modes is most useful. For most musicians, this means learning to read standard notation, listening to talented musicians, and practicing. A lot. I know some incredible musicians who have learned to play entirely by listening and practicing. They can’t read music, but are talented in ways that I will never be, even though I read standard notation. These artists are often fantastic improvisers and self-aware of how they fit into an ensemble, because they have trained themselves to listen so carefully. Still others learn to play an instrument by reading standard notation and can sight-read almost anything without ever having listened to the piece. Incredible! Regardless of how the musician has learned the language, they are able to communicate emotions and ideas through their music to an audience.

Speaking the Same Language

Although it is easier to communicate with someone who shares your language, people are still able to communicate when they speak different languages. They use hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language. They teach each other their language and slowly learn to speak it. When musicians want to share their music with others, they write it down or record it for others to learn. Standard notation is a common language that allows musicians to communicate clearly. Guitarists often use tab as a way of notating and sharing music, and it can be incredibly effective for beginning musicians. Alternatively, musicians can listen to recordings and learn the songs by ear. Although reading standard notation can be the most consistent way to share written music, it is not the only way to communicate. This leads us to the standard notation versus tablature debate.

The Standard Notation Versus Tablature Debate

This week I learned how to read tab using ultimate-guitar.com. It was really easy. I enjoyed experiencing success early on, and I’m sure this appeals to lots of other beginners too. The only downfall was that the rhythm wasn’t notated, so I had to know the song’s rhythm before reading the tab. However, in a world with so much technology, it is easy to find a quality recording. Even with this in mind, in the music communities on university campuses, student-teachers and professors argue about teaching high school guitar students to read standard notation or tab. For me, this is a particularly interesting conversation. Here are some of the pros and cons of each.

Standard Notation

Pros

  • widely used
  • consistent
  • includes rhythm, pitch, dynamics, tempo, and other cues

Cons

  • it is difficult to learn
  • it takes a lot of time to learn
  • not as much guitar music is available in this form, especially for free online

Tabulature

Pros

  • easy to learn/ accessible
  • lots of guitar music is available in this form because amateur guitarists can learn how to play a song, record what they’ve learned using tab, and share it for free online

Cons

  • doesn’t indicate anything other than pitch (rhythm, dynamics, tempo, and other cues are not included)
  • amateur guitarists post their versions of tab online, which may have mistakes

I think that hidden in the rhetoric of this discussion is also the idea that standard notation is superior to tablature, in the same way that certain languages, like English, also hold privilege in global society, while many people discredit Indigenous oral languages in favor of written text. If teachers make the decision not to teach tab to their guitar students, it shouldn’t be to uphold dominant notions that privilege standard notation.

Dave Eichenberger, a professional guitarist, outlines the history of both tabulature and notation and explores the pros and cons of each in his post Cage Match: Standard Notation vs. Tablature. After thoughtfully weighing the pros and cons, he says, “Both have terrible disadvantages and huge advantages.” So why not use both?

 

Song Time!

If you’ve been following my progress, you’ll know that I’ve been working on learning basic chords and strumming patterns. Now, it’s time to make the pain worthwhile by learning a song. I have decided to try “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, so I’ve been searching for music and lessons.

I’ve found an app called… wait for it… Guitar Chords and Tabs. I simply search the song or artist and the app provides ranked options of both chord and tab versions of the song. (The app will also come up with options for ukulele and bass.) It’s easy to read the lyrics and the chords on my small phone screen, which is impressive and convenient. However, this app doesn’t indicate what the strumming patterns should be.

I have been using Guitar Tricks, GarageBand, and Chordbook for some lessons about tuning, technique, and chords and although they offer some great beginner learning experiences, I feel ready to try to something slightly more complicated. Guitar Tricks offers limited access to song lessons for users like me, who have signed up for free, and GarageBand and Chordbook don’t teach songs at all. So, I did a YouTube search for lessons and found MunsunMusicLive, which is a fantastic channel. Munsun has uploaded hundreds of videos of himself playing and singing popular songs on both guitar and piano, and while he’s playing the lyrics and chords appear on the screen. It’s a great option for learning the strumming patterns. I can’t keep up with him yet, so I still practice slowly on my own, while following along on the Guitar Chords and Tabs app.

Here’s Munsun’s lesson for “Brown Eyed Girl.”

Munsun’s videos are great if you already know how to play the chords in the songs that he has uploaded, but Drue James goes a step further on his YouTube channel with lessons that are broken down into categories based on your skill level, and by providing instructional lessons.

In my search to find songs to play, I’ve also realized that most people learn how to play using tab. When I was studying to be a music teacher in university, we would have heated conversations about whether students should learn to play using chords and reading music notation, or to learn by using tab. My goal for next week is to learn how to read tab and find tab for “Brown Eyed Girl.” I’d like to know which method is easier for beginners to use, so that if I end up teaching guitar at some point in my career, I can make an informed decision.

Ultimately, people who learn to play any instrument, regardless of the method, do so because they love music and have fun playing. And that’s really what it’s all about.

Guitars Hurt

Did you know that guitars are mean? It’s no wonder that people shred them. (Pun intended!)

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But seriously, this week of practicing has not been a rewarding experience. My chording fingers are raw and my sound hasn’t improved as much as I had hoped it would at this point. Some strings buzz, some thud, and a few ring the way they are supposed to. Check out the video to see what I mean.

This week I am most excited about learning how to cut the beginning and ending of my video before posting to YouTube! Say goodbye to awkward filming transitions. The hidden curriculum really is the most exciting part of learning.

A Music Teacher Learns to Play Guitar… Slowly.

Learning how to do something well takes concentrated effort and careful practice. Week two has now passed, and I can play something that resembles an E major chord and an A major chord. Contrary to my plan, I haven’t mastered switching from a G major chord to a C major chord, and find it difficult to play a C major chord well on its own. (You might want to plug your ears for this week, folks.)

I’ve also signed up for a free Guitar Tricks account, which gives me access to a series of beginner lessons. The website asked me a series of questions about my musical background, commitment to learning, and previous guitar experience and has designed a path of lessons based on my responses! All of the lessons are linked to songs, so I feel more like I’m really playing guitar. Motivating! So, in addition to GarageBand, which I discussed in my post last week, I’m using this site. I also like using chordbook.com when I only have a few minutes to sit down and review chords. It’s really user friendly.

I am following @GuitarMag, @guitarcenter, @guitar_mag, @GuitarPlayerNow, and @The_Guitar_List on Twitter, but I don’t often see new Tweets from them. If you follow someone who posts interesting information either about learning to play guitar or famous guitarists, please let me know!

A Music Teacher Learns to Play Guitar

What kind of music teacher can’t play guitar? This one. Until now!

I’ve been playing piano since I was seven and currently teach choir at Balfour Collegiate. My best days are those filled with listening to great music and singing with enthusiastic students! It makes me truly happy. Learning to play guitar will give me more ways to make music with students and maybe I’ll even be able to play a few popular campfire songs this summer.

It’s tough to be patient in this learning process. I have never really thought about the number of hours that I spent learning how to play piano. I take for granted that it is something I can sit down and enjoy doing. It’s been a long time since I’ve challenged myself to do something that I struggle with. And based on the numbness in my fingers, I am struggling to make those chords sound good! I have a Bachelor of Music Education from the University of Regina, so I have a background in music theory and history, but guitar technique is all new to me.

I’ve learned how to tune my guitar using both a tuner and the fifth fret method and how to play an E major chord. I’m using GarageBand to learn the basic chords and strumming patterns.

To watch me in action, follow the link below.

By next week I hope to learn how to play G major and C major chords. Wish me luck!