There exists in my adult students a special phenomenon that I have affectionately labeled The “Should” Syndrome. Symptoms of this syndrome include excessive self-doubt, narrow judgment regarding what is going well with their playing, and when their frustration is at its peak, passive aggression toward their teacher when she tries to give them a compliment. It is always interesting to note the difference in attitude between the kids I teach and the adults I teach. Some of the adults enjoy music as much as the kids do, but there is always an air of self-consciousness about their age and what they don’t already know (read: what they “should” already know by their age). Mistakes in lessons are immediately followed by apologies. Comments are made about how they may be “too old” to still be trying to learn this. They lament, “I would be good at this now if I had just started playing when I was young.” Etc., etc., etc.
Kids, on the other hand (especially the younger ones), rarely apologize or even acknowledge their mistakes. An eight year-old who gets a new guitar rips it out of the delivery box and immediately starts banging on it and sliding his fingers around the fretboard, experimenting with the different sounds even though he doesn’t know anything about the instrument yet. This is because he is too busy being interested in this new, alien thing in front of him than he is with what the world’s expectations of him regarding that thing are. A thirty-eight year-old often comes to their first lesson waiting for instructions and not doing anything until the teacher instructs them to, for fear of looking silly. Ultimately, this is not such a bad thing, but they don’t feel free to experiment and connect with their guitar on their own level because this way might not be the “correct” way. I see this in my more experienced adult students too, as well as my musician colleagues. Once you’re older, your personal responsibilities and psychological demons start to cloud your connection with your art. As adults – both beginners and professionals – we are all familiar with the following scenario:
It’s a weekday afternoon and I need to squeeze in some practice time in the only free hour I have today. As I pick up my instrument, I remember for the third time that the rent is due tomorrow and I’m still waiting for that one check to clear. There’s nothing I can do about it now, but it’s still bothering me. I begin to warm up by playing some scales. As I play and some notes don’t come out as well as I would like them to, I begin to tense up my hands and body. Then the tension makes it even harder. I watched a YouTube video of a ten year-old prodigy playing faster-than-lightning this morning. I’m at least a decade older and I can’t play these scales nearly that fast. My mistakes don’t just feel physically uncomfortable now. I feel silly for making them, as if someone is in the room with me and judging me for being a bad person.
Speaking of being a bad person, I got into a fight with my significant other yesterday and said some mean things, and along with the rent, that’s on my mind too. I look at the clock and I have half an hour left. I still feel silly about those mistakes with my scales, but now it’s time to move on to the pieces I’ve been working on. I still don’t like my sound right now, but I know I have to get this work done.
The phone rings as I’m ten minutes into working on this piece. There’s an issue with a project I’ve been assigned to at work and I need to put down my instrument and go to the computer to solve it. I could fix it later, but my boss will probably want it done right now, and I don’t want to look bad. I’ll need to practice everything another day, even though my sound is still not great and I only have a few days before my next lesson. When will I ever sound like that kid in the video? What am I even doing with my life?
Young children don’t go through this thought process when they play. Children do not have all of the subconscious biases about how the world “should” be, like adults do. They do not separate the everything in their environment into strict categories, like adults do. They do not have a defined idea of who they are yet, so they do not exclude possibilities and pursue their interests without hesitation. (A friend of mine who teaches elementary school told me a story about how on the day before winter break, she had her students cut out and color pictures of holiday objects. The choices included Christmas trees, menorahs, etc. When a boy from a Jewish family chose a Christmas tree, she inquired as to what made him choose Christmas symbols rather than Hannukah ones. The boy stared at her, puzzled by the question, and said “I just think that the tree is pretty”. What many adults would assume he “should” choose did not even occur to him!)
Because of this openness, children have an extreme advantage when it comes to learning anything, and they absorb information like a sponge. The advantage to starting to play music when you are younger, then, is not because people eventually become “too old” to learn – the advantage lies in the fact that the more time you spend studying music when you are a child, the more time you’ve spent building a connection to music without ever questioning your worth at it or having to deal with adulthood’s endless distractions. This connection causes a snowball effect of positive experiences, which slowly creates a positive self-image regarding music for an individual once they have reached adolescence and eventually, adulthood. By this time, they are not trying to learn music – they are a musician.
What is the solution, then? Obviously, we cannot do a System Restore on our minds to make ourselves stop thinking like an overly self-aware adult.
Recognize that even if the voice inside your head has some unhelpful things to say, you can learn to silence it and just enjoy the music. Think about all of the things that you enjoyed as a little kid with unbridled passion and how you approached those things. Have fun and stop the adult voice in your head that says your picture is “wrong” because you didn’t color in the lines. Play like a child…
Rianne M. is currently giving guitar lessons in NYC to adults and children, and occasionally blurs the line between them with her teaching styles. Contact us today to schedule a lesson with her!
If you really want to get yourself into a routine and stay motivated while practicing your instrument, then it’s best to have a solid plan. The following are five tips to keep you going:
1. Create the right atmosphere
Nothing will motivate you in your musical practice like the right environment. You might be one of those people who prefer a quiet room. Others need a little bit of stimulation. Whatever setting you like, try to be consistent so as to enter the right mindset when you start practicing. If you will need water, snacks, picks, pencils, manuscript paper, and sharpeners etc. have them with you. If you use apps, download them in advance.
2. Warm up
Musical instrument practice is much like a physical workout. To get yourself in the mood, ensure you do a warm up every time before you start. That way, you will be able to prepare your mind and body before the actual practice. It doesn’t have to be 15 minutes of fiddling with scales but can be something like sight reading or playing a familiar song if you like. Also, get into the right mindset by considering the keys of the pieces you are rehearsing.
3. Set Goals
Practicing is not synonymous with just playing through your music. You need to have the end in mind at the start of each practice session. With a prior goal for each practice session, you will find yourself progressing more quickly and effectively. Only that each goal needs to be broken down into smaller and focused objectives. Every time you complete a goal should help you feel more accomplished.
4. Be realistic
Many people – including your teachers – have told you to “get a lot done now”. Of course, it’s not realistic for you to do all your practice in one go. It gets even worse when you have a tough part to practice. The best way to go about this is to practice a little but more often. That way, you can go through a long-drawn process bit-by-bit. Think more about quality and not the quantity of your practice. Practice smarter and not necessarily longer if you want to have the willpower to keep going. Small and realistic goals should help you overcome areas that looked tricky and accept any missteps you might have made.
5. Identify and overcome problems
There is no need to ignore any areas you might find problematic. Learn to identify where you are using the wrong fingering or stumbling out of time. Decide why it’s going wrong and make up your mind how you will fix it. Obviously, different problems require different techniques. Problems with rhythm call for steps at mastering it. You may want to practice rhythm by simply clapping it out or use one note alongside a metronome. That way, you will know when to increase the tempo and when to slow it down. With time, you will master your musical instrument. Having the right music teacher is also a huge factor in overcoming plateaus and ultimately making the most progress. That’s where we come in, contact Music to Your Home to set up your NYC music lesson today!
When I was a kid I took lessons in NYC. I learned all the basics and I wasn’t half bad. I would play for my parents, who would watch me move from the songs I was learning to a freestyle, bow-rubbing frenzy. Honestly I didn’t practice enough, but I did get used to my violin for about twenty minutes a day.
I liked violin well enough, and my violin lesson instructor was very skilled. She knew how to get me excited about going home to practice, but something was off. I didn’t love playing violin.
By the end of the year I told her I wanted to switch instruments, to something louder and more vivacious. I wanted a brass or a woodwind instrument. I decided on clarinet. My teacher protested, saying that if I quit now for another instrument I’d never come back. She gave me an old LP that describes the tragedy of a young girl switching instruments for louder better, more interesting instruments. The girl moved through the entire orchestra, only to give up entirely on playing music.
Sure enough, the wet reeds and the honky blow of clarinet disappointed me too. By the end of the following year I had dropped it too. It wasn’t until years later that I picked music back up. I realized that what I had really wanted the entire time was to play guitar. I took guitar lessons and found that because I was able to play songs I recognized that weren’t just nursery rhyme songs like ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,’ I could get excited about practicing every day.
Seven years later I still take guitar lessons in NYC. I only wished I had started playing guitar when I was younger by being honest with myself, and thinking more about what kind of music I liked, rather than the kind of music I was supposed to play.
Violin wasn’t right for me, but that’s not to say that it isn’t right for others. Playing Bach or Vivaldi on violin requires more skill than strumming three chords on guitar, and for that reason, I imagine it to be much more rewarding. The advice I want to give is: Be honest with yourself when deciding what instrument you want to play. You’re going to have to stick with it for a while.
Getting guitar training is the first step in becoming a guitar god. Well, after you buy a guitar. The next part, the key to getting really good at guitar, is practice. Guitar lessons offer a mentor and way to stay on track. Think of each lesson as a weekly test that will keep you determined to impress your teacher. Your guitar lesson instructor can correct any mistakes you may be making, and challenge you to learn harder songs and techniques. After that hour of guitar lessons, it’s on you to love your instrument and play every day, to prepare for next week.
Guitar Gods of the Past
To give you an idea of how past guitar gods have made reached the pantheon, look at Eddie Van Halen. He used to strap his guitar around his neck and sit on his bed playing for hours at a time. When other kids were going out to party, he was practicing. That’s dedication. Eventually he become one of the world’s greatest.
NYC guitar lessons are super helpful when you have questions about technique, when you think you’re doing something wrong, or when you want to learn a new song or style of playing. Sometimes playing really slowly, making sure you hit all the right notes, or making sure that your strum pattern is perfect and everything else is right is the best way to practice by yourself. Listening to your favorite guitar solos can inspire you to learn them, bringing out your love for music even more and making it easy to practice guitar for half an hour a day. You can find tabs for solos and your favorite songs online. Also try to listen to classical music, to appreciate the foundation for awesome riffs and sick solos. Eddie Van Halen was a student of classical piano before he ever picked up a guitar. Reading music can help too.
Different (Guitar) Strokes
Stevie Ray Vaughan—a blues guitar god—didn’t know how to read sheet music. Then again, he also had cocaine and whiskey for breakfast during his later years—not exactly a role model. Some guitar gods reach their status through a natural amount of talent. Music theory is also important, and because of its difficulty, it’s a great subject to explore with your mentor during guitar lessons.
Another guitar great who played as much as he could was Jimi Hendrix. He couldn’t afford guitar lessons, since he was so poor growing up in Seattle, so he took guitar lessons from blues masters. Jimi is perhaps best known for how he used distortion so originally. He was also famous for doing crazy tricks while performing, like biting and smashing his guitar. Some people say that he was sloppy, that he would take tabs of acid and put them in his headband, so that while he performed his pores opened and he became high. But one night he was challenged to play sober, and he played the same way to a standing ovation. Because his hands were so big, he was able to use his thumb over the fretboard to fret the lower E string, thereby creating melodies that are otherwise difficult or impossible to play. Though this technique existed before Jimi, in the early days of blues guitar, it was probably he who popularized it.
Guitar Lessons are Still Your Best Bet
Keep in mind that a lot of the guitar gods who didn’t take guitar lessons were troubled souls who often died young. Who knows—maybe it was easier for them to follow a path of destruction without a guitar mentor to guide them along the way.
So you’ve been taking lessons on the guitar for a few months now, and you’re finally starting to get the hang of things. You practice regularly, you’re careful about your technique, maybe you’ve even convinced your instructor to let you learn a few of your favorite songs.
However, there’s always an aspect to any instrument that nobody tells you about and you have to learn on your own. Here’s a few quick tips that will help you see drastic improvements.
1. Change you guitar strings regularly
Those strings get worn down from all that guitar shredding. Some people swear by changing the strings once a month, but if you manage to change them out once every 3 months or so, you should be fine. Learn how to do it yourself (it’s easier than you think!).
2. Warm up before you play!
Just like runners need to stretch before they hit the pavement, you should be warming up your fingers before you delve into your daily rundown of guitar solos. Go through chord progressions over and over to get your fingers loosened. My guitar teacher used to take the first 20 minutes of class warming up with chord progressions. Sometimes I wanted to hit him over the head with my guitar because of it. Now, I realize the value in it when I can stretch my fingers to hit the high notes.
3. Get some musical background
How can you expect to ever be an expert at something if you don’t know the basic knowledge behind it? Taking some music theory courses or reading some music history books will transform you from guitarist to musician. It’s going to take a while to get the ins and outs of it, but once you start to truly understand music, you won’t just be playing songs anymore.
4. Let other people hear you
I get it, playing in front of other people can be scary. Playing WITH other people can be even scarier. However, anyone who plays an instrument knows that everyone is always at different skill levels. Let people know you’re learning and are just looking ot jam, and get feedback from those who are willing to listen to you play. That is why you’re taking guitar lessons in the first place, right? So people can hear your wonderful music? Then get out there and share some tunes with the world!
5. Record yourself
Sometimes you just need to hear it for yourself. You can’t really know how you’re sounding if you’re focused too much on just trying to get through the song. Record yourself and play it back. It will be very enlightening. You can gauge if you speed up when you play (most of us do), how smooth your transitions are, if you’re playing the song the way you think you are in your head. Nothing helps improvement like personal insight.
If you live in New York and want to take guitar lessons, it’s probably to learn how to play your favorite songs. Right? But did you know that there are other benefits to guitar lessons? Learning about tonics, quarter notes, rhythm draw on different parts of the brain. A musical instrument can make you an overall better person, giving you and those around you greater happiness. Don’t believe me? Read on.
Like most studies, music has its own specific vocabulary. For example, a scale is made up of individual notes, or degrees. The first degree is the tonic, also known as the tonal resolution. In a C scale for example, the tonic is C. Based on a note’s distance from its tonic, it will sound good or bad. The fifth note is known as a dominant, and is second in importance to the tonic. When you move from any tonic to that tonic’s dominant note, it will always sound good. In a C scale, the dominant note is G. In a D scale, the dominant note is A. On guitar, a C chord is composed of a tonic note, dominant note, and mediant note, the third note in a scale, in this case an E. Therefore, in relation to any tonic, the third and fifth notes will always sound good. Figuring out which notes work for which tonic is an exercise in math.
A quarter note is one quarter of a whole note. While some musicians refer to a quarter note as a beat, this isn’t always the case, since a beat depends on the time signature. For example, any time the signature is other than 4/4, a quarter note is not a beat. There are also eighth notes, sixteenth notes, even 32nd notes, if you’re playing a gnarly guitar solo.
Get rhythm, when you get the blues. I.e., dance. According to Wikipedia, rhythm is a “movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions.” In terms of guitar lessons, I think of rhythm when I think of strum pattern. Up down down up, down up down up, up up down, the variations are many.
When I took guitar lessons in NYC, my teacher would tell me to open up every practice session with five minutes on chord changes, five minutes on scales, and five minutes on strum patterns before moving into the meat of my practice. With that in mind, I would try to focus on strum rhythm by playing with a metronome. This can also help the timing of scales and chord changes and will make you feel more comfortable playing in front of people and with others if you want to join a band one day.
Music may not make you smarter, but it definitely doesn’t make you dumber. If you’ve ever felt tears in your eyes or gotten chills while listening to music, you know its power. Feeling down and being able to play your favorite song is a sure-fire way to forget your problems. When it comes down to it, learning how to play an instrument is part of what makes someone well-rounded, no matter if you’re covering music theory or trying to dance to a beat.
When starting out with guitar lessons, it’s important to have a guitar of one’s own. While you may be reluctant to invest too much in a beautiful instrument, there are good reasons to splurge, especially if you imagine playing guitar for the rest of your life. Guitars are pieces of art which can be hung on a wall, and unlike cars, boats, and motorcycles, fine guitars appreciate in value as time passes, though you shouldn’t buy a guitar with the intention to sell.
There are lots of guitars for under $500, perfect for beginners just starting in lessons. One of the best options is the Hagstrom Swede, rated so by users on MusicRadar.com. But also at the top of the list are cheaper alternatives made by classic guitar companies such as the Epiphone Les Paul Standard, made by Gibson, and the Squier Classic ’50s Vibe Telecaster, by Fender.
Telecasters vs. Stratocasters
If you know you want to take guitar lessons for many years to come, you’d do well to examine those made by Fender. Long has the debate raged between Telecasters and Stratocasters, but what’s the real difference between these two guitars?
Both have alder bodies and maple necks and are the same size, although the Strat has a headstock a bit heavier. As far as the pickups go, the Strat has a 5-way pickup selector switch, while the Tele has a 3-way, which means that there are more available options for tones on a Strat. And because the Strat has 3 single-coil pickups and the Tele has a Broadcaster pickup at the bridge and a custom one in the neck, the overall sound is different. Telecasters can be classified as twangier, while Strats are what you think of when you think serious shredding. Ultimately it comes down to which sound you prefer when you play them at the guitar store before you buy. You may be more into getting country guitar lessons, but if you like the sound of a Strat, go with it.
No matter what you choose, as you take more guitar lessons you’ll come to love your guitar and appreciate the beautiful music it makes.
When I first started professional guitar classes, I chose a teacher who I had heard was really cool. My friend told me that he was the kind of guy who’d let you play what you wanted, and who wouldn’t get really upset if you hadn’t practiced so much during the week. And since I was just starting guitar lessons, I didn’t want a teacher to make my lessons a chore; I wanted to learn guitar for myself.
My first lesson
At my first guitar lesson, I found out my new guitar teacher was a Texan with long salt-and-pepper hair and a glazed look in his eyes. Man, could he play. Best of all, I could tell that we were going to be friends. At first I was just going through the basics, trying to read music, learning the scales and chords. But within a few weeks I was ready to play songs. He asked me what I liked to play. At that time of my life I was just getting into Bob Dylan. He asked me if I ever listened to Nashville Skyline. I had never heard of it; he said it was Bob’s first foray into country music. “You know the song ‘Lay Lady Lay’?” “Of course,” I said. “That was on Nashville Skyline.”
Guitar lessons improving my life
I went home and listened to that song and fell in love with it. The syncopation, the lyrics, everything about it epitomized the romantic notion of guitar playing that had made me want to start taking lessons in the first place. My learning of the song coincided with my falling in love with a friend, and when things wound up not working out, I had to tell my guitar teacher. “Don’t sweat it man,” he said. “How old are you?” “Twenty-one,” I responded. “Twenty-one? You’re free to live the rest of your life! Now pick up your guitar and let’s get playing.” The chords I played attenuated my sorrow, making me feel better about everything, like a songbird singing before a new dawn.
I stayed with my guitar teacher for a year, until he decided to move back to Texas and get back into playing with bands. We still keep in touch and he asks me about my playing, but I’m so busy I don’t play nearly as much as I used to. And I don’t find a different teacher because something wouldn’t feel quite right, as though I were being unfaithful to my first guitar teacher. Which just goes to show how important choosing the right guitar one for your lessons can be.
The best and hardest-to-stomach teaching you will learn from guitar lessons is that practice is the best way to get good at guitar. But while scales and chords are all well and good, we wondered if there were any quick guitar hacks to make you a better player, or at least impress your teacher during your next guitar lesson.
Here’s a video that shows some cool tricks, like tuning your guitar to an open chord, and sharpening picks on a rug.
If you feel like some of those tips were above your head, keep reading. The best thing to do to start your practice routine is to start with scales. By getting them out of the way first, you can reward yourself by playing a song after. It’s crucial to play with a beat, even when you’re picking scales. Make sure to alternate the direction of your pluck. Plucking down makes a different sound from plucking up, and if you only pluck in one direction, you will have trouble going the other way in the future.
Getting Guitar Fundamentals Right
Perhaps the most important scale to practice for your guitar lessons is the pentatonic. Once you learn that, you can isolate pieces of it to solo. Try to learn it in different keys, and move it up and down the fretboard to familiarize yourself with the different sounds you can make.
When learning songs, play the recorded version of the song you’re learnign while you strum to listen to how it’s played. You may hear certain melodies you hadn’t before. Also check to see if there are video performances on Youtube of that song. Watching how your favorite guitar player can help you learn certain tricks.
It may be tempting to speed through a new chord progression or scale while you learn it, but it’s much more effective to slow down and make sure you nail what’s giving you trouble. If you still have difficulty, ask your teacher for extra tips at your next guitar lesson.
Whether you’re starting NYC guitar lessons or you’ve been taking them for a while, you may be thinking about getting a new guitar. A few weeks back we guided you through the best options for electric guitars, but if you want to stay traditional, you have two main choices.
Classical vs. Acoustic
Classical guitars are the original guitars. Their necks are thicker, they use thicker nylon strings, the neck meets the body at the 12th fret (so fewer chances for solos), and their bodies are slightly smaller. Acoustic guitars have thinner, steel strings, the neck meets the body at the 14th fret, and their bodies can be much larger for a bigger, more resonant sound.
Typically classical guitars are used to play classical music, while acoustic guitars are better for folk songs, rock, and blues. Classical guitars can be cheaper than acoustic, so in a sense they can be good if you haven’t yet taken NYC guitar lessons and you don’t know if guitar is something you want to stick with for a long time.
Fingerpicking has a lot of styles, though it’s traditionally associated with classical guitar, since in the days of yore, plectrums, or picks, didn’t exist. In most fingerpicking scores, the finger is indicated by letters that refer to the Spanish word for finger, p being thumb, i for index, m middle, a for ring, and c or e is pinky. Traditional classical styles include: i-m-i-m-im; i-m-a-i-m-a; p-a-m-i-p-a-m-i.
North American fingerpicking styles typically use the thumb to play the three bass strings and the other fingers to play the higher strings. The result is a bluesy sound that has its roots in African-American blues players trying to imitate the ragtime sound popular at the end of the 19th century. Today, it’s almost a standard style for acoustic guitar fingerpicking.
Ultimately, the kind of guitar you choose will impact how the kind of music you play. Having taken NYC guitar lessons in the past will definitely help you if you’re looking to buy your first guitar or your second!