Question: You have asked me to practice "strict" alternate picking. Well, it seems that I have a habit of always using a down stroke when moving to a higher string (like 6 to 5) and an upstroke when moving to a lower string. Not sure where I picked this up but it is proving very difficult to change. I would rather not spend the time to un-learn this given all the new things I really want to work on. What are your thoughts on this? Is it critical for me to break this habit now? Will it lead to a roadblock later on if I don't?
Answer: The issue you mention is a common one with players just starting to build their technique. I believe strict alternate picking should be the primary picking style utilized. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to not just fall through the next string when crossing over, this creates problems with the "feel" of the playing.
We perceive music to have a natural downbeat and upbeat, just like when you tap your foot to music: the foot goes down, the foot goes up, etc. There is a natural emphasis on the downbeat and de-emphasis on the upbeat due to gravity. You are going against the natural order of things when you don't use alternate picking. It is also very hard to play with a balanced, even sound and to develop speed when using an irregular picking pattern. There are times you might choose to use a "sweep picking" approach, but they require special left hand fingerings. You will need to slow your practicing way down to focus the necessary attention to change the habits you have ingrained. I highly recommend you say "down-up" out loud while practicing scales to facilitate the change. If you concentrate that way for a week or two, the habit should start to fall away. The sooner you are able to break the habit, the sooner you can start building a technique with a solid foundation.
Question: Why do I have to bother with learning to sightread traditional music notation? I have been using TAB for years and am comfortable with that
Answer: Learning to read music is beneficial in several ways that may not
be readily apparent to the non-reader. In my teaching practice, one of my goals is to help you become a musician, not just a guitar player. I want you to be able to speak the language of music with pianists, horn players, bass players, drummers, etc. For instance, if you have a band and you want the keyboard player to work with the same piece of music, he will look at you cross-eyed if you hand him a piece of tablature to learn. There is nothing inherently wrong with TAB as a device for communicating how to finger a piece of guitar music, but that's all it can do.
Learning to read music notation is one of the basic skills of musicianship and it reinforces many other skills you use as you play, as well as providing additional perks:
Question: How do I get to be a faster player?
Answer: This is a common student question. In reply, I say I don't consider myself to be a "fast" player, however my mind is VERY nimble. I have practiced in all 12 keys, I can spell chords easily. I know my chord scales, formulas, arpeggios, key signatures, etc. and my ears are well-trained. Like a well-written computer program, my mind can negotiate fast changing chord progressions and react quickly to fellow improvisers in the band. This is a kind of speed that is so valuable and often misunderstood. Sure, I recommend practicing finger exercises and scales too, (and have a battery of them I give to my students) but make sure you have programmed your own "computer" and minimized "bugs" by practicing musical ideas through all twelve keys.
To help students with the programming task, I have them write out theory ideas and important chord progressions in all 12 keys. Here are a few worksheets I have created for my students to that end. Help yourself! (More to come...)
Go to free harmony worksheets
Question: I want to buy my first guitar, should I buy one with nylon or steel strings?
Answer: Choosing a nylon or steel string guitar is an important decision. The nylon string guitar is really appropriate for classical music, but in my opinion, is not the right way to go for most other styles. It's possible to play classical music on a steel string but steel strings do not have the flexibility or tonal range needed for serious classical right hand technique. Conversely, the sound produced by the nylon-stringed classical guitar is not what we associate with traditional popular styles such as folk, blues, jazz, rock, pop etc. Also, string bending techniques and fingerings common to pop music styles aren't accessible on the wider classical fingerboard.
So, you should buy a steel string folk guitar if you are mostly interested in popular styles and might want to dabble a bit in the classical realm, or buy a nylon string classical guitar if the reverse is true. I would not worry about whether steel or nylon strings are "easier" to play. I believe that idea to be a false concern.
Question: Who do you like to listen to?
Answer: Listening is a huge part of developing musicianship. Listening to all kinds of music and instrumentalists, not just guitarists is very helpful. I myself am a music omnivore and like to draw influences from many sources. Here are a few of my favorites...
Got a question? Feel free to email it to me at email@example.com and I'll respond directly to you and perhaps post it here!
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