Tod's blog


Is it o.k. to look at my hands when I play?

Posted on May 24, 2018 at 1:12 PM Comments comments (5741)
   Is it o.k. to look at my hands when I play? This is question that comes up with newer students. My quick answer is "never at the picking hand and occasionally at the fretting hand". In the beginning a student will do more looking as they are getting used to playing the guitar but you want to learn to find the strings and frets without looking as soon as possible. When? That's a fine line sometimes. The more students develop the habit of looking the harder it is to break.
   I recently had a student come in after practicing a blues piece all week. He had obviously worked hard on the song but before he would play any note he would look at both hands to make sure they were correctly positioned and proceed. I had to carefully break the news to him that he will never be able to play the song that way and had to learn how to find the strings without looking. You will make mistakes in the beginning but it will get easier. Looking at your hands when you play is comparable to looking at your feet when you walk and it won't work! The picking hand serves the fretting hand and as I mentioned you will need to peek at the fretting hand now and then, but not the picking hand. 
    If you walk into your  house at night and the lights are out you will know precisely where everything in the room is placed and avoid the desk, couch or whatever. Even in the dark. It's because you are seeing it in your mind. This is the same thing that happens playing an instrument. You learn to see the neck in your mind and the spacing etc. In the end it makes playing much easier and more enjoyable. Before going to bed at night I often go into my office and pick up my guitar and play in the dark as an exercise to keep myself senses sharp. Try it!

Soloing Ideas

Posted on October 20, 2014 at 12:21 PM Comments comments (1110)
Soloing ideas.
Ideas often come from concepts i.e. play this scale over that chord or play alternate chord changes when soloing.
and combining scales, arpeggios, chromatics.
It's not just pulling things out of the air but finding ideas in these concepts.
That's where many ideas originate from with many players.

Music imitates language in this way. We learn a new vocabulary word and see an example of it being used.
Over time we incorporate that new word into our conversation.
Soloing is very much like building a vocabulary of musical ideas to play from.
After awhile it becomes the way we hear and create.

Also, I have found scale patterns and intervals very useful to unlock ideas because, melodies are made of rhythmic, melodic and harmonic patterns.

It's all about incorporating all of this into one stream of flowing ideas.

Brad Paisley

Posted on April 29, 2013 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (3439)
Jazz is really important to country guitar. Country is jazz on the back pickup.When you switch your Tele from the neck pickup to the bridge pickup and play the same lick, it's instantly twang.

Amy Adams on Playing Guitar!

Posted on April 24, 2013 at 11:21 AM Comments comments (1150)
When I look at my 20s, or when I look at any period in my life, I think about how much time I've wasted trying to find the right man. It's like, if I could go back and do it again, I would have taken guitar lessons. I would have put my energy into something that paid off in the end, instead of trying to improve myself for men. Oh, the time and the energy, trying to impress somebody who was actually a big jerk, you know!

Music: A Therapeutic Release

Posted on March 1, 2013 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (637)
Music is the best outlet for releasing emotions and dealing with your inner turmoil. It is also a way to bring life to the child and artist inside of you. Each person will have different talents and interests that determine the form of art that is best for them. One thing that ties us all together regardless of age, gender, or culture, is music. 

Maybe you cannot teach old dogs new tricks, but that does not always apply to humans. You can pick up music at any age because the talent lives within your heart. You will need to learn technique and music theory, but the passion comes from what is already present within. Music enhances the natural beauty and emotion that lives in everyone. 

"My guitar is not a thing. It is an extension of myself. It is who I am".    -Joan Jett 

Releasing creative energy when playing the guitar will actually reduce stress in your life as well. Some say that playing the guitar is even more relaxing than fishing on serene waters. This stress-relief boosts the immune system like nothing else. Ultimately, everyone should have some form of artistic release, and music is by far the most effective. 

4 Scales to Master

Posted on January 15, 2013 at 11:16 AM Comments comments (3015)
Many of my students want to know how to play lead guitar or at least integrate single note playing into their music. Who wouldn’t?
If you like American music then there are 4 scales to master.
The major scale (7 note) and major pentatonic scale (5 note).
The minor scale (7 note) and minor pentatonic scale (5 note).
Not necessarily in that order.
Then add the passing tone (blue note) to each pentatonic scale.
In the major pentatonic scale it’s the #2 and in the minor pentatonic it’s the #4.
You should be able to play each with or without the passing tone.
The major and minor pentatonic scales are what sets American music apart.
Practicing scales with scale patterns is very helpful because:
They mix up the patterns and get you to see them in different ways.
They help you to get a 360 degree view of a scale versus just playing it up and down diatonically.
They help you to hear the scale in different ways and develop your ear.
They are great for developing hand strength and dexterity.
They are musical sounding and great toward developing your creativity when soloing.
Learning and memorizing solos is a great way to expand your musical vocabulary.
Practice with a metronome and you will speed up the learning process.
Music is derived from scales just as speech is derived from the alphabet.
There are 12 keys in music. Learn all scales in 12 keys. There is nothing else!

Joe Walsh

Posted on January 15, 2013 at 10:33 AM Comments comments (3477)

JOE WALSH                                                                   Daryl’s House 2012
Taken from a conversation Joe had with Daryl Hall. What do you think?
Record sales, record stores, it’s all gone
And it’s up to the young musicians to figure it out
There’s no money in it, there’s no record companies
It’s free, you can download it, nobody gets paid
So they can’t afford to make music
That’s what’s happening
They’re cranking out music that is just recipe
Nobody’s playing together at the same time
Everybody’s adding on virtual instruments that don’t exist
Onto a drum machine that somebody programmed
And you can tell in the music that’s out now
There’s no mojo, there’s nobody testifying
There’s not the magic of a human performance
Which is never perfect
And the magic of the human performance
is what we all know and love in the old records by the way they were made
and it’s all gone
So we’ll see what the digital age has in store

James Taylor

Posted on November 17, 2012 at 5:27 PM Comments comments (3278)
One guitarist acoustic players want to play like is James Taylor and who could blame them. I’ve learned and taught many of his songs but if you’re going to learn one song by him learn Carolina On My Mind. It’s a great workout and it’s filled with most of his guitar tricks. This link is from his site and has a bird’s eye view of both hands. He has some unorthodox fingerings for some of his chords and I use his fingerings in a couple of places because it plays better. My advice is to master one section at a time and learn to play them together as you go. Be patient, he didn't learn to play it overnight either.   [email protected]    


Posted on November 17, 2012 at 5:02 PM Comments comments (9949)
Vibrato is rarely discussed but is very important. It is to music what icing is to the cake. Vibrato is a steady change in pitch. It expresses emotion like nothing else. There are 2 ways it’s done on a stringed instrument.  
  1. – Think of the way a violinist or cellist moves their hand back and forth on the neck while playing a note.  On the guitar this is the most subtle type of vibrato. The idea is to keep the finger firmly pressing down on the note/string while moving the fretting hand back and forth or left to right. Changing the speed of the movement changes the speed of the vibrato. I use this type of vibrato for soft passages and for long tones, not short, staccato notes.
  2. – This is the most popular type and takes the longest to do well. Here’s the catch. With this type of vibrato the idea is to holdonto the fretted note/string and move the hand back and forth bending the string steadily. Anchor the base of the index finger to the neck. What beginner students do is move the fingers instead of the hand, which sounds like a spring going “boing”. It will never sound good or express the desired feeling.  
  There are 2 aspects of vibrato that must be mastered.   A)   The speed at which the pitch changes. i.e. slow – fast B)   The width. i.e. how much does the pitch change.          Practice these variations: slow and wide Clapton (bluesy and soulful) and fast and narrow (B.B. King).  The last thing to master is applying vibrato while bending a note. This is the most difficult but it’s powerful. When bending a note it’s important to first establish the pitch and then add the vibrato, not the other way around. Ever hear a opera singer or violinist with such a constant vibrato that you can’t really hear the exact pitch? Nasty stuff. There are many types of vibrato. Angus Young and Jimmy Page are 2 guitarists that have a vibrato when they bend a note that is distinctly British (o.k. Angus is Australian). Angus uses it half way through his solo on You Shook Me All Night Long and Led Zeppelin’s Since I’ve Been Loving You. Also, listen to the solo in All Right Now by Free. There’s soulful vibrato, 60’s San Francisco vibrato, of course all the many blues players have there own sound.   Finally and mysteriously to me I’ve never heard 2 guitarists with the same vibrato. It is a unique stamp on a person’s playing in much the same way that no 2 voices are the same. Listen for different types of vibrato in music and you’ll find the ones that appeal to you. Use different types of vibrato for different styles of playing and you’ll sound like a seasoned player.

The Black Keys

Posted on October 8, 2012 at 4:14 PM Comments comments (2425)
Love the Black Keys. I read an interview with Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) and Billy Gibbons (the guy with the beard). When talking about the old blues players and what I would call roots music Dan said "I want to say it's simple, but it's deceptive because there is so much soul involved. It's not simple, but minimal". Well said.