Sep 1, 2010

The Work of MY Students

I put together a 10 medley of my students year end recording work.


Winnipeg Music Lessons

Jun 10, 2010

How to hold the Pick

I am a big fan of simple so when explaining things to students I like the number 3. Three seems to be the number of items I can get at the store without needing a list. 3 legs are more stable they say than 4 that’s why a tripod is used for that kind of work I guess. So here are my 3 rules for holding a pick. If followed correctly they it will minimize the myriad of wrong ways to hold a pick and give us one of the many correct ways.

1. The pointy end goes toward the guitar

2. Only 2 fingers should touch the pick (index and thumb)

3. The pick should be held on the side of the 1st finger with the pad of the thumb

Once you have done this go back to rule one.

Now outside of doing anything whacky or unconventional this should work just fine. Make sure the hand is in a natural, flat and relaxed state.

I recommend the use of hard picks for the best sound and action. Soft picks make things easier at the beginning but are a liability in the long run. Only a small portion of the pick should ‘peak’ out from between your thumb and 1st finger (it should look like you aren’t even holding a pick). The tip of the pick should glide over the strings and not get caught deep inside the strings. The pick can either attack the strings flat or at an angle.

I use #3 Jim Dunlop Stubby, it is very hard and very short, but I do not recommend it or other exotic pick as they seem to go through times of being hard to get. Better to go with a more traditional size and shape of pick while still going with the thick and stiff variety. As well avoid metal picks they wear your strings and the ‘shavings’ get picked up but the magnetic picks of electric guitars and they just don’t sound good.

Winnipeg Music Lessons

May 11, 2010

Musical Definitions

As I have been teaching music for over a ¼ century I have often marvelled at the nature of musical definitions. Almost all of them are only understandable if you already know what they are. I guess it is fair to say that music is best experienced verses talked or read about but nonetheless describing a pickup as “One or more notes at the beginning of a strain, before the 1st measure, are referred to as pick-up notes. The rhythm for pick-up notes is taken from the last measure and the beast are counted as such” gets the new music student no closer to playing them correctly.

Two definitions that irk me in particular are ties and accidentals. “A tie is a curved line between 2 notes of the same pitch. The first note is played and held for the time duration of both. The second note is not played”. This one covers it but usually requires further explanation. Unfortunately, in some music method books, they attempt this. Sometimes they ‘add’ the notes together which has students counting to 6 halfway through a bar of common time which is just wrong. Sometimes the phrase “2nd note is not played” is modified to “should not be played” making it less clear. Just like Johnny shouldn’t eat chocolate before supper makes chocolate eating that much more acceptable.

The other musical explanation that drives me coo coo is the way accidentals (sharps, flats and naturals) are explained. Usually something along the lines of “When a sharp is placed in front of a note that note is raised one ½ step” Well I am here to tell you nothing of the sort is happening.

The note, maybe in this case, an F# is not an F that has had something done to it is an entirely different note called F#! The note we knew before was just called F (short for F Natural). But we knew that note so well we are on a 1st name basis.

And don’t get me started on that Ta Ta Ta Tee Ta Ta baby talk way of counting!

Winnipeg Music Lessons

Apr 20, 2010

My Mother's Passing

As I ready old photos and some of my music for use in a memorial service I find myself pondering her influence on my music life.

She wasn't overly supportive but she wasn't overly negative either. We didn't have a lot of  money growing up so some free irregular guitar lessons in the churchbasement had to suffice. At somepoint she sold my guitar because 'I wasn't practicing enough' the real reason is we were broke. TO become the drummer I literally quit high school before graduating, left the house, moved to Calgary, got a job, bought drums, quit job, practiced drums and then returned east to start playing music.

But dating further back I realize that she had a very eclectic record collection. Not only that we were the only house that I can recollect actually having a modular stereo vs those enclosed ones that were disguised as furniture like they were ashamed of it.

My mom had George Shearing, Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Cash, James Last, Nana Mousqkouri etc. You get the idea. Add to that she liked more contemporary stuff, bought us stereos and radios. She even woke my older brother up to watch the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

I had a friend who insited I needed someone to either encourage me in music so I could get some support or discourage me so I could rebel. I think I got what I needed.

Till next time


Music Lessons in Winnipeg

Apr 7, 2010

Godin Does it Again

It is no secret that I love Godin Guitars I currently have 3 and I recomend them regularly.

Currently I have amid priced acoustic (an S6) nothing special and fine for camping.

Along with that 2 out 3 of my main working axes are Godin.

1 is the nylon string Multiac SA

It combines the warm complex sound of a nylon string guitar (Masterfully reproduced with RMC pickups) and Roland GR Synth Access

The second is my xt SA

It Combines the same rich sound of an acoustic guitar (this time steel string) with electric gitar p/u's AND synth access!

Other guitars I gloat over are the fretless 6 string

The 11 String Fretless Glissentar

The 5 string fretless SA Bass

But I was blown away by thier new archtop series. Again they combine the elements of price good looks and play-a-bility.

Thew 5th Avenue Guitars are All Under $1,000!!

I sent my new Jazz student (a concert guitaist) towards these and he bought and loves the 2nd one (5th Avenue Kingpin)

Until next time

Mar 15, 2010

If this doesn't get you, nothing does

I was looking for versions of this song as a singer I am working with wanted to do it and I ran across this smokin;' version.

You could be marveling at Pat Martino  technical prowess in light of Martino having suffered a severe brain aneurysm and underwent surgery after being told that his condition could be terminal. After his operations he could remember almost nothing. He barely recognized his parents. and had no memory of his guitar or his career.

Or listening to Mingus Miles Davis alumni John Scofield  as his years of experience surfaces as he rips those changes apart.

For me it is the way Joey DeFrancesco  really builds his solo to fever

Anyhow enjoy

Winnipeg Music Lessons

Feb 27, 2010

Another CD I Have Played on

Along with 50 members of my church including Steve Bell & Larry Campbell we contributed to this work of art. The last Piece on the CD is a 20 minute 5 movement work I composed, arranged, performed all the instruments and recorded myself.
Beautiful Mercy

Launch is March 2nd McNally Robinson Booksellers (Grant Park, Winnipeg) 8pm

Feb 18, 2010

Zoom Q3 Handy Video Recorder

For years I have been making music videos. Not the MTV type, but where musicians are playing music on tape. I have not been happy with the sound as they are designed to get baby's first words they give music a very mid rangy overbite and the sound of the hand moving controls on the camera is louder than the subject being recorded.

Back in the day we had these huge cameras that took a full sized VHS tape. They were heavy and hardly convenient but you could pop the tape out of the camera and right into your tape player and watch it right away. They also had a nice could unplug the microphone and plug in a better mic or ever take a feed from a mixing board.

Today the tapes are smaller or not at all, they are now small 'palm' 'hand held' camcorders. No longer huge and bulky requiring a strong should but gone is the immediately watchable recording (unless you are moderately tech savvy) and gone is the ability to change the sound quality (without buying a commercial or 'pro-sumer' type outfit).

I was considering buying the latter or maybe one of the many portable digital recorders (Yes I have a gazillion dollars of recording gear but it is a lot to bring if you just want to do a 'report card' type of recording)

Then along comes the Zoom Q3 video and audio recorder for slightly more ($30) than a recorder alone.

  • Decent cost (around $300)
  • Above average stereo sound. While it is not the equal of closed miking it does a 1000% better job than  a consumer camera.
  • Very light
  • Very Portable
  • Works with any Tripod
  • Comes with a built in USB cable
  • Carrying case, 2GB sd card and a windsock included
  • Capable of expansion to a 32GB card but you get about ½ an hour recording per GB
  • Some zoom ability but still fixed focus
  • 3 level settings high, low and auto
  • Can be an audio alone recorder

  • The name. While there is some merit in calling a product exactly what it is calling your breakfast aborted chicken embryos instead of scrambbled eggs dosen't help the cause.
  • The handy USB cable is too short, while fine to hooking to a MacBook it is a male end and a port would serve better. For plugging into a serious machine like a PC you need to find a USB extension cable with both a male and a female pin
  • The colour. Minor I know but what is wrong with black or grey for equipment?
  • The recording format. For some reason they went with the proprietary Quicktime format instead the more useful Windows Media or the universal MPEG format. This makes editing a bit of a pain. Even with Quicktime pro the options are VERY limited compared to Windows movie maker.
  • The Q3 needs A LOT of light. Most of my club recordings are grainy
  • It eats batteries and while it still runs when the batteries are low the audio will fade in and out. So you need the AC adapter ($35)
 Over all I am very happy with it. There isn't anything out there to compare this too and given the price point someone will make a similar product with more features and a higher cost.

Here are a couple of vids I shot with the Q3

Feb 10, 2010

Former Students of Note

I have a healthy list of former students who are now very active musicians.
The most famous of which is Jon Gallant of Billy Talent 

I used to teach out of a music school in Streetsville Ontario Canada. As I taught Guitar, Bass and Drumset AND as I was seriously busy (not unlike now) I always knew that if a band made it out of that area one or more of the members would be former students of mine. Well one did but I was pretty unaware until I saw the band on Much Music but mentioning the name to current students was what really put the effect over the top. Some were impressed, some were not and some thought I was lying but EVERYONE of them had heard of the band (as I am sure you have).

Until Later

Winnipeg Music Lessons

Feb 6, 2010

A drum solo from last night

Instead of the percussion break in the middle of Funk #49 I take a solo. It starts off as being groovish but qickly goes free form

Feb 4, 2010

Playing a single Note

The guitar (along with a few other instruments) needs 2 things to happen just to make one note. Like brass and woodwind instruments which also need 2 things to happen, the guitar needs a finger to be placed and pressed in the right spot (not accounting for the mere 6 open string notes). The ‘other thing’ that needs to happen is the pick striking the right string (the right string deemed to be the one you already have put your left hand finger on) With a brass or woodwind instrument the other thing is blowing into the mouthpiece but there is only one of those on those instruments. With guitar there are usually 6 strings (which we need to find without looking).

Secondly the guitar has the distinction of giving the most difficult task (four fingers playing 6 strings over 12-22 frets = 288-528 combinations) to the left hand and the easier job (at least in flat pick style) moving 1 pick among 6 strings

I make playing a note on the guitar akin to opening a door. No matter how hard you pull on that door it won’t budge unless you have turned the knob all the way. In guitar the door pulling is the pick action and the knob turning is the left hand fingering. No matter how hard you pick nothing will sound unless the right pressure is applied with the left hand finger(s).

Until next time.


Feb 3, 2010

Once more unto the breach

I have tried blogging before and it either ends up banal or with victims in need of therapy. So I will attempt it again from a strictly educational viewpoint.

So I will blog about holding drumsticks or guitar picks, posture, tab w/e

Anyhow hopefully I will fine the balance point between  the banal & being gossip worthy