Yesterday In Guitar Lesson Land

I had three students yesterday, and this is what we worked on.

Student #1: This gentleman worked on a song that he will perform at his own wedding. The tune is Paul Stookey’s “Wedding Song.” He is fingerpicking the chords and singing. He was one of my early students from when I began teaching in mid-aughts. He’s not an ongoing student but has returned to help him polish up this particular song for his nuptials.

Student #2: We worked on advanced intervals, as both ear training and in order to play them as shapes on the guitar. We focused on the weird ones like minor sixths and flat fifths, and also discussed how even the weird ones show up frequently in chords.

Student #3: With this young man, we worked on jazz improv skills. He’s adept at simple minor pentatonic work, so we practiced adding other notes into the scale. We also discussed and practiced how voices might move within the jazz chords he’s learned for his high school jazz band.

It’s really cool to get to help people move forward in their music. It goes beyond simply giving a guitar lesson and into the realms of mentorship. This obviously takes an investment of time, patience, and maintenance, from myself AND from the students. These rewards we’re reaping together are the gratification that comes from sticking with it for a LONG period of time, and building the skills one by one.

These students from yesterday, by the way, did not necessarily start out very impressively. One was already a middle aged man who was just beginning to learn guitar, and had terrible rhythm, but now he’s fingerpicking Travis-style, and likes to play folk and country songs. The second student held his pick wrong for about a year, had it the point facing back upwards instead of keeping the pick parallel to the floor. It took a lot of correction, but now he’s as solid a rhythm guitarist as I know of. He also plays bass and drums, and writes songs and sings. The third student had a somewhat poor attitude towards his practice and didn’t begin really loving our work until about 4 years into it. Now he’s doing jazz band in high school, as well as playing acoustic folk-pop songs like those of Cat Stevens and Jack Johnson. So yeah, I tend to think that ANYONE can learn, because I’ve seen that those that continue to TRY to play will always eventually break through to higher levels of musicality. So nobody out there should feel totally hopeless! Just keep trying stuff, even if you have a rough go if it.

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Week 1

This is the first lesson. We cover such basics as keeping the beat with the right hand and playing one finger chords on the guitar.

Note: check your guitar’s tuning prior to playing along with the lesson.

Feedback is appreciated, and will help me improve next week’s lesson.

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The Water and The Cup: A lesson about the creative processes

We all need a drink, am I right? Water makes life possible, to such an extent that human bodies are made more of water than other substance. So water is a BIG deal. Like I said, we all need a drink, but we also need a place to put it. We need a vessel to hold the liquid, or it’s going to be more difficult to use. A canteen is a must for a camping trip. Even if the boy scout is drinking straight from the river, his canteen is still the most important piece of gear that he carries. We need the water more than anything, but it’s the drawing of the water from under the ground into tanks and pipes that makes human civilization possible, whether we’re talking about a village being built around a well, or the complex systems that keep water pumped into the many houses in my suburban neighborhood.

In the realm of songwriting and composition, I see the creator/artist/whateveryouwannacallit as needing both¬†inspiration and craft. The inspiration is the part of the art that gives it life. It’s the spark of genius that makes a song truly great, puts it over the top, makes it irresistible. It’s the spiritual component in the music. When songwriters sheepishly admit that their best songs came in a flash out of nowhere in five minutes, they’re confessing that the spirit of the music took over and something happened. If you look into the creative lives of your favorite writers, whether they are poets or philosophers or novelists, you’ll find that many of them came up with their most essential ideas in a short moment of inspiration. Read the story of how C.S. Lewis began The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, or how J.R.R. Tolkien invented hobbits, and you’ll discover that they basically just put pen to paper and allowed something to happen. When something is magical to you as a listener/reader/viewer, when a hook grabs you, when you hear a lyric that perfectly describes something you’ve experienced, you’re probably responding to the inspiration. It’s the truth, the life, the feeling of something. It’s the ecstasy of the thing. This to me is like the water.

The craft is the OTHER part. The harder part. The craft is what gives a thing it’s shape and appearance. When you see a fine piece of furniture, a well-built cabinet, you’re seeing someone practice a craft. I think of the blacksmith who has to lift his hammer all day long if he’s going to get his work done. Even if he’s a true artist within his craft, he’s still got to lift that hammer up and bring it down accurately, over and over, through his entire work day. When you admire the structure of a story, when you hear a well mixed album on headphones and realize¬†holy crap, somebody worked HARD on this sucker, you’re probably responding to the craft. It’s the structure of whatever you’re looking at. To me, this is like the cup. It’s the bottle, thermos, whatever, that stores the water and keeps it in shape.

If I’m writing a new song, improvising a guitar solo, doing anything creative, I’m going to need some water. I need a meaningful lyric, a strong emotion, a sense of conviction or truth. If I don’t have some water, there’s not going to be life in what I’m working on. Likewise, if I don’t have a good bucket in which to carry my tune, how am I going to do anything with it? I need a sturdy structure. A writer of fiction like a J.K. Rowling has to structure her stories very carefully for the sake of the reader’s experience. Her ideas may have been less resonant with readers if they hadn’t been put together in a way that made them effective stories. So whenever I work, I try to work within the streams of inspiration, while keeping good tools of my craft at hand.

Do you want to write something wonderful, something awesome, something important? Then court the muse, invoke the Spirit, raise the spark however you can. Do you want to be able to channel your good ideas into great works? Then learn your craft! Get the right tools, learn how to use them. The greatest artists in any field are going to be the ones that have mastery of their craft AND have a way of opening themselves to great ideas. You want both things, even if you feel more attracted to one thing than the other. To me, if you have one and not the other, your work will always be less effective than you’d like it to be. Think about it.

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A Tiny Untitled Poem About Goosebumps

freeze me and

my lazy arm hairs will

Stand At Attention

with a point beneath


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    photo of  Luke Leverett
    New Braunfels, Texas Phone: 830-708-5883