Mentor

     I am now taking a limited number of students for my Music Mentoring program.  I teach guitar, ukulele, vocals, performance, songwriting, and the business of music.  Whether or not I’ll work with someone depends on the chemistry between us and whether or not I believe I can help you achieve their musical goals.


 

MUSCLE MEMORY
Some teachers may be great players, but because music came easily to them, they may not be able to relate to those of us to whom music doesn’t come naturally.
     As someone who has struggled more than most to learn music (due to a lifelong painful disability), I have learned about the subtle tensions in our bodies that can prevent us from learning properly.  More importantly, I have learned how to play and teach based upon two words SLOWLY and RELAXED.   Of course by “relaxed” I mean to be more relaxed than most of are “naturally,” the actual goal is to use the right amount of tension in your body to play in a way that builds the connection with your guitar.  Too much tension and you limit your success.
     I teach, among other things, how to build muscle memory, something which is rarely taught well in my experience.  It’s similar to hammering in a nail; you move the hammer slowly and in a relaxed manner (because you don’t want to hurt your thumb!) until your muscles learn how to make the moment then you speed up.
     I encourage all my students to subscribe to the FREE email list of the amazing guitar educator Jamie Andreas at www.guitarprinciples.com as well as to buy her wonderful programs.  Getting her regular emails will help keep you learning about building muscle memory in a way that will keep the ideas fresh in your mind.

change-strings

MAKE IT EASY ON YOURSELF
      A) Get your instrument setup properly.   Even if you don’t have the best guitar, you can take it to the shop, and they can do adjustments on it that make it easier to play.  Check how far the strings are from the neck.  If they are too far it makes the instrument harder to play and this will add tension to your playing.  Spending twenty bucks or so to get it setup properly will save you hours of frustration.
     B) Buy a stand.  If your instrument is not easy to access you’ll end up playing less.  Almost every day I pick up the guitar and play a bit during random times of the day when the mood strikes me, this wouldn’t happen if my guitar were in a case.  Plus guitars are usually physically beautiful and make your place look more interesting.  Amazon makes a stand that works with any guitar and is inexpensive.
     C) Buy a tuner – they are cheap and playing an instrument that is out of tune will impede your progress for no reason. You can get cheap or free tuners for both your computer and your phone and clip on tuner for your guitar.  I use the SNARK tuner, don’t forget to buy inexpensive batteries so you will have them ready.
     D) Buy a capo. Very cheap device that allows you to adjust the key of your guitar to fit your voice with ease.  I use the Kieser capos.

[Extra credit if you can find everyone’s favorite Happy Man in the above video]

HOW MUCH SHOULD YOU PRACTICE?
     It’s an old truth that it’s better to practice 10 minutes a day almost every day then 2 hours once a week.  If you do so and you practice how I teach you, you will quickly become a master of your instrument in that you will be able to learn anything, whereas most players struggle to learn everything.
     However, it is important always to be truthful with me as to where you are at any moment.  One reason why people don’t practice is they hit a part that is difficult, and they get overwhelmed and don’t learn it.  These are the very things that we need to go over.  Almost always it is because they are not going SLOWLY enough and are not RELAXED enough.
     An important part of putting in the time is eliminating distractions as much as possible.  Turn off your cell phone, email alerts, and instant messenger programs.   One little interruption can disrupt the flow of concentration, a few interruptions and you can find that you spent 50 minutes and learned almost nothing.
            The bottom line is this: what is the main difference between yourself and your greatest musical hero?  I bet you the biggest single difference is they have put in 1000X more time then you have on their instrument.  Albert Einstein said, “it’s not that I’m so smart it’s just that I’m willing to stay with problems longer.”

 

work

DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP
HUH? Learning to play is mainly a mechanical process that involves the principles we go over.  Thoughts like “I can’t play, I’m lazy, I have no talent, I can’t focus” are usually the result of the mechanical process going wrong and the mind coming up with an explanation for something it doesn’t understand. Keep focused on building muscle memory and your competence will outshine your lack of confidence.

 

REDEFINE PRACTICE AS PLAYING AND WORK
I find that it is helpful to look at the words we use to describe what we are trying to do. Teachers generally want students to put the time in to become better so they use phrases like “This is hard work”, “Practice, practice practice”, “It takes discipline”, etc.
All of this is true of course, however, these words are often loaded for people with images of tension – the very thing that makes learning difficult. I try to teach people that:

1)they do need to WORK on their music, but that “work” is much more effective and motivating if you see it as PLAY.
2) they need the DISCIPLINE to put the time in to get better, but they also need to explore their CURIOSITY while playing.
3) they need to keep TRYING, but by trying does not mean trying HARD, but trying EASY – tension is the enemy of creating music.
It can be very useful to explore what your emotional reaction is to all the words we use to describe how we approach our music.

YOUR FIRST SONG
     I typically teach my song TERRIBLY HAPPY as a first song as it is the same four chords repeated throughout the song C then G then Am (A minor) then F

 
TERRIBLY HAPPY (simple version)
By Happy Ron, Mike Sullivan, and Risa Faith.

WHOLE SONG IS
C /// G //// Am /// F ///

Been working packing groceries for many long years
Been looking for ways to pack up my tears
That’s why I write my songs and try to make em snappy
Because it makes me feel
Terribly Happy, Terry Happy, Terribly Happy, Terribly Happy

My girlfriend got pregnant Got sick in my car
While I built the crib she just went and barfed
She when she finally popped that kid out she felt
UH UH UH UH
Terribly Happy, Terry Happy, Terribly Happy, Terribly Happy

If life gets you down, turn it around and be….
Terribly Happy, Terry Happy, Terribly Happy, Terribly Happy

SOLO C-4 G-4 Am-4 F-4

If I never make it, that’s okay
You know I’m gonna have plenty more to say
It’s all about the people who don’t make me feel crappy
The ones who make me feel
Terribly Happy, Terry Happy, Terribly Happy, Terribly Happy
Terribly Happy, Terry Happy, Terribly Happy, Terribly Happy
ooooooooooo, oooooooooo, ooooooooooo, ooooooooooo
ooooooooooo, oooooooooo, ooooooooooo, ooooooooooo

HOLD FINAL F-12, end on C…….

terribly-happy-guitar-chords

     And it is fun to sing along to.  Here is a video to practice to:

 

 

     Note that there is one section in the video that is a bit different, where the line is “If life gets you down turn it around and be..”, you can simply play the chords as above.

 

UKELELE

Ukelele uses all the same principles of guitar, except it’s easier to play and has only 4 strings!!  The chords for Terribly Happy are here, sounds great when playing along with guitar because the difference in sound a pitches.
ukulele-terribly-happy

 

FIND SONGS YOU LOVE
     Don’t fret as to whether or not you think you can play or sing them; you probably can play them, and we can adjust the pitch so you can sing them.  Put them into your phone as a playlist if you can, with the ones you can sing easiest at the top and practice singing them and learning the words.

 

SINGING
      I encourage all my students to learn how to sing, and you can do it! As someone who has sung poorly onstage for years before improving I don’t judge people’s singing voices and neither should you. Music is simply the result of a mechanical process (combined with emotions) to produce a sound.  I can teach you the process (hint: it involved going slowly and relaxed) and how to be comfortable with the emotions.
     But I can hear the unhappy thoughts already!
     BUT I AM PITCH DEAF. No, you’re not. Try listening to any piece of music or sounds; can you hear the difference between any two different tones? Of course you can!  Everyone in modern times has an excellent sense of pitch due to having been exposed to so much perfectly in tune music all of your life (unless like me, you’ve played a lot of open mikes).
     DON’T HAVE TIME TO SING.  Well, you have a phone, you drive, and listen to music, don’t you? The number-one thing about learning to sing is to find ways to make it easy to sing. Make a list of all the songs that you love and feel comfortable singing and make an Itunes playlist of them. Put the ones that are most comfortable to sing first on this list. I like to have long songs that don’t have instrumental breaks and are in my comfortable range to sing.
     BUT I CAN’T SING THIS SONG; IT’S TOO HARD!! Most songs are singable by most people. The problem usually is that a song goes to a high note that is currently out of your comfortable range. The solution in this modern day is easy; you can use computer programs like ANYTUNE for Mac and iPhone and TRANSCRIBE! for PC to change the pitch of the recording and then you can sing along with it. This results in sometimes garbled, but in pitch, vocal to sing along with, although the instruments usually sound fine. Sometimes you can remove the vocals if you choose.
      I have hundreds of songs on my iPhone, every one of which I can sing along to. I start off every morning by singing some in my easiest range and then move to the top of my vocal range. Usually within ten minutes of singing my voice is very strong and I get good practice on songs that way.
     THIS ONE PART OF A SONG IS TOO COMPLEX. The solution is always the same, sing it slowly and relax into just the right amount of tension (most people use way too much). The above programs will play things at slower speeds, or you can simply hear it in your mind and sing it on your own, SLOWER than the recording. IF something is complicated and it is going to take a while, build confidence and skills by singing lots of songs without the fancier parts.
     BUT MY VOICE ISN’T PERFECT:
     Listen to this track by the late Eva Cassidy, after she died this became a surprise hit and everyone marveled at her wonderful singing voice:

 

 

     Were you blown away by her singing? I was.  Was she one of the best singers you ever heard?  She was for me.
     What is amazing is on that day she had a bad cold and felt she had done horribly.  She was in total tears when her record company was going to release this as her live album.  Why?  Because of her voice cracks and breaks throughout the song.  What carries the performance is her overall skill but also that she stays with the feeling of the song throughout – never reacting to technical problems.
      Listen to it again, especially the last note where her voice breaks.  Notice the imperfections?  Does this make you think she’s a bad singer or not enjoy the track?  I love it just as much myself.
     Now listen to the actual studio track, polished to studio perfection:

 


 

     Which did you like better?  The perfect studio performance or the “flawed” live performance.  Both are wonderful but it’s interesting to note that the “flawed” performance became the hit and is the one that everyone says is one of greatest performances of all time.  It’s also my favorite because the realness of the emotion comes through.

 

After years of studying singing, I’ve finally found the perfect online singing information at the wonderful website: http://feliciaricci.com/ . I love her teachings as she is in line with my philosophy of learning music through learning songs and her whole attitude is fun and encouraging. She has lots of free content on youtube, and if you like it I highly recommend her paid programs.

 

KEYBOARDS

Most people think of learning keyboards as classical melodic style, where you learn the individual notes of songs. This is wonderful if you want to put in the time to do so. However, I teach in a similar way to how you play guitar – where you are playing chords that you sing along with. This is much a much easier and quicker way to learn as by learning just a few chords you can play an infinite number of songs:

A wonderful program that teaches this way is online is http://pianoforall.com/ which I highly recommend.

 

SONGWRITING:
     The best way to learn about songwriting is to play and sing as many GREAT songs as you can.  That way when you go to write songs, you will have the knowledge of many songs built into your muscle memory, and you will be able to mix different chords, rhythms, melodies, words, song structures, and song concepts into your own songs and create something new.
     It’s a little-known fact that The Beatles had only written a few songs until just before they became famous, they were mainly a cover band who were embarrassed by their songs.  Then just before they broke they started quickly great writing songs and that – combined with getting one of the best rhythm players in Liverpool, Ringo, – is what made them.  Then the Rolling Stones, perhaps the 2nd most experienced cover band in England, saw them write songs and realized they could do it as well and very quickly wrote some of their biggest hits.
Aside from playing songs, studying songwriting and studying great songs is vital.  Most don’t do it to their and their listener’s detriment.   This is particularly important if you are NOT someone who can play tons of songs, because you are more likely to not notice when you do things in songs that don’t work as well.
We live in a time where there are so many great options to learn. Books are great; I love videos as well. My recommended initial programs are the books and audio at http://jaijomusic.com/ particularly his “Songwriter’s BluePrint” where he talks about coming up with a premise for your song that people can relate to, then mapping out each section so that it supports that premise.
Any professional will tell you that the secret to writing great songs is to be able to EDIT your initial ideas of inspiration so that you start off allowing yourself to write freely and grab all the inspiration you can. Then you take these ideas and CRAFT them into a song that communicates. Most amateurs think the purpose of art is self-expression, this is fine if all you want to do is is express yourself to small groups of people. But professionals will tell you that if you want songs that reach many people you need to go beyond simple self-expression into crafting your song so that the listener feels what you feel.
There is a free course on https://www.coursera.org/learn/songwriting-lyrics that I recommend everyone take.  To learn how to EDIT songs, the videos on www.songwork.com are one of the best and most intimate ways to learn about songwriting.  You’ll find yourself with more options for what you want to do in songs.
My #1 piece of advice for songwriting? Keep writing until it’s great. People seem surprised when I say read books on songwriting and I often will work 25 to 50 hours on writing a song and on recording a song. My response is that many songs are written in 5 minutes and a few are recorded quickly, but others take hundreds of hours or years. If you are writing something that you hope millions of people might eventually like, doesn’t it make sense to spend as much time on it as most people do on their jobs in a given week?

 

MUSIC THEORY
Music theory is good, but music reality is better. Some people think of music theory as being complex formulas for how to create music. The truth is that music theory is mainly just a way of recognizing and (if you chose to) putting names on what is happening in music so that you can apply that to your own songs.

For instance music theory in pop music started with an article that described “the Aeolian cadence” in The Beatles song “Not A Second Time”. The Beatles didn’t and apparently still don’t know the term “Aeolian cadence”, Rather then learning formal theory, they learned all sorts of songwriting techniques through playing many different types of songs and organically bringing these techniques into their songwriting.

Some chose to learn by playing songs and others by studying songs and theory. Which is better? I am a firm believer that songwriting is such a rich experience that we need to bring our emotions, body, AND brain into it, and that our music will be the better for it.

If you’d like to know more theory refer to the programs I mentioned above. If you want to find out exactly what an “Aeolian Cadence” is and more theory check out http://www.aeoliancadence.co.uk and the author of that site’s wonderful book “The Songwriting Secrets Of The Beatles”. The author of that site wrote a wonderful musical analysis of my song “Emotional Issues“.

 

THE HAPPY SONG CIRCLE
     Once a week, with enough interest, I hold a private song circle for my students only.  This ties into the great saying by Benjamin Franklin “Tell me and I forget.  Teach me and I remember.  Involve me and I learn.”

 

THE BUSINESS OF MUSIC
After years of going to music business workshops and seeing myself as a musician and making musician wages, I attended an amazing workshop that directly lead to me starting my keynote speaking and custom song businesses and more. You can find out more at Musician’s Money Making Secrets I’m very skeptical of these things, having seen lots of people promise things about making more money in music and rarely learning anything that truly helped me, but this program definately changed my life and you may find it helpful as well.