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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Guitar Lesson #2

Time for your second guitar lesson! Last time we discussed the basics - how to hold the guitar comfortably, how to agress upon the guitar (play the thing), and some rudimentary note identification. Now, we're going to get into sheet music.

Here's a handy diagram that demonstrates how to find the notes in sheet music on the neck of a guitar. Let's define some terms. When I say, "string one," that's the thinnest string, the one closest to the floor. "String six" is the thickest string, the one closest to your head. When I say "up the neck," that means you are getting closer to the body of the guitar. "Down the neck" means you are getting closer to the headstock. When you think "up," think about the notes getting higher in pitch, not necessarily a physical direction.

Now, using the legend you have here, let's learn a simple piece of music.

I have written out the first half of Beethoven's Ode to Joy from the 9th Symphony. Let me give some explanation as the difference between lengths of notes. When I write that quarter notes are "one beat," that corresponds to one pulse, or, if you have a metronome handy, one metronome click. If you're counting to yourself (1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4...) you would play a note every time you said a number. Half notes last for two beats. So, if I were to write out a line of half notes, you would only strike the strings every other beat. The emphasis would be on beats 1 and 3. Some people play half notes as if they were just two quarter notes back to back, striking the strings on both beats of the half note. If this were the case, wouldn't I just write a pair of quarter notes? We need notes that indicate longer and shorter periods of time. We'll get into longer and shorter notes in another lesson.

As you learn this, do not just "play through" at performance speed until you "get it." I guarantee you will make mistakes the first time you play it, everyone does. If you play the same mistakes over and over, you will just reinforce those mistakes and they will become habit. Unlearning mistakes takes much more energy and work than just learning things right the first time. So, start slow. Very slow. So slow, you have to think about each note as you play it. Compare this to reading a book one word at a time, absorbing and studying each word as you see it. You'll get faster over time, don't just start out at breakneck speed. Yeah, it's boring, but this is where we separate the people who really want to learn from those who think they'll be Eddie Van Halen after a week.

Now, in addition to starting out slow, making sure you have the correct notes from the very start, we're going to learn the piece in a different way from how most people are used to memorizing material. I want you to focus on just the first two measures (measures are the spaces between the vertical bars in the sheet music). Get those perfect in one lesson, then put the guitar down. Don't go any farther. The next day, sit down with your guitar and play what you have learned. If you notice you've made any mistakes, correct them by playing it as you learned it, the wrong way, and then correct it. You must bring mistakes to the surface and understand what you did wrong before you can correct anything. Now, once you're satisfied that you learned yesterday's two measures, learn the next two. Repeat this process until you have the whole piece.

The reason we learn pieces of music like that is that every part must be strong. When the audience goes home, they are going to remember the beginning and end (mostly the end), the rest is glorified filler. If your piece begins and ends strong, the audience will forgive mistakes made in the middle. You can even learn the piece backwards, focusing on the last two mesaures, then working on the previous two, etc. That way, you'll always know where the piece is going, and it will be easier to memorize. That's a trick that my guitar teacher, Jimmy Chandler, taught me, and David Russell reinforced when I saw him at the 2006 GFA Competition.

Practice well, learn the piece, and we'll pick up another day!


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