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New post (10 Great Tips for Begining Guitar) has been published on Frank O'Kelly Guitar Tuition

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New post (Chris Whitley....Ten years gone.) has been published on Frank O'Kelly Guitar Tuition

Chris Whitley...Ten Years Gone.

On the tenth anniversary of Chris Whitley's death I wanted to write something about the man who after many years still remains my favourite artist and who still remains criminally unknown to most people.

His first album was "Living with the Law" released on Columbia records in 1991 on the the back of a contract that famed producer Daniel Lanois helped him obtain after seeing him play in a New York club.

The album features musicians associated with Lanois and remains the most polished work in Whitley's canon.

What's remarkable is that this in no way sounds like a first album. The intensity and lyrical scope that would mark all his work are already there.

The songs resonate with vivid images of love, anguish and the hard roads that life can lead us down, all presented against a cinematic background of the American landscape that is portrayed as empty and desolate as the hearts of the songs protagonists.

Like all his work it was praised by the critics and his peers and if he had followed it up with "Living with the law 2" he might have gained enough exposure to achieve lasting fame but instead after a gap of three years he released "Din of Ecstasy" a loud, jagged, mostly electric album that despite moments of ethereal beauty is to most people a  much more difficult listen than  the smoothly produced "Living with the Law"

But this was the sound off an artist who was not afraid to follow his muse and to express that in any way that he saw fit.It would be the template that Whitley would follow throughout his career whether he choose to record a raw acoustic solo record like "Dirt Floor" or with a modern electronica group sound such as "Rocket House". The Music would always be presented true to his vision.

It made him a brilliant performer to follow as a fan but difficult to market on a wider stage and like all of his fans I would be saddened that this most brilliant of musicians did not reap the rewards of stardom.

But as purely a musician he succeeded on every level. If being a musician means being able to connect to your listeners in a profound way and to draw them into your world then he could do it.
With his intimate breathy voice and ever inventive guitar playing he was the spiritual descendent of the storyteller travelling from village to village telling tales whilst people sat listening raptly around a fire.

He had that quality that the best poets have of the ability to create a world more formed than your own and to weave a mood into place.

His death robbed us of one the true greats of modern day music. An artist whom I'm sure would have carried on producing interesting and worthwhile work  but hopefully like Nick Drake or Richard Yates in literature his work will undergo a rediscovery by later generations and his genius finally lauded and understood.

As you can tell, he meant something to me.

I hope his work will mean something to you too.

R.G.T. Grade 7 Chords.

In the R.G.T. Grade 7 Electric Guitar exam, candidates are expected to learn and play altered chords which include permutations of the Dominant and minor seventh chords.

This can seem daunting to begin with as there are rather a lot of variations and seeing Abm7b#5b9 written on a chord chart can be rather intimidating.

The good news is that it's actually easier to play the chord than it is to type it or say it!

The best way to learn these chords is to take the simple triad of Root, 3rd/b3rd and b7th learn the basic shape.

Then learn where the altered notes are to be found.In the case of the Dominant 7th, the 9ths sit neatly in a row under the triad and the 5ths in a row below that Simply add your selected note to the triad and instant altered chord!

Have a look at the charts I have made and this should start to make a lot more sense.

Just click on the links below to download and print the pdf versions.

The majority of the time it is the V chord that gets altered so try resolving it to its Tonic to hear how it sounds as it resolves.

Altered chords can add interest to your chord progressions by adding colour and surprise so have fun with them [and don't be put off by the names!]

altered                          alt2
[Google+ readers please download from my website]

Music Theory for Guitar Part 2.

Like many a guitarist who bought their first proper scale book, I felt baffled at the sheer amount of scales contained within it

What's a Mixolydian? and how would you use a Phrygian Dominant?

I just wanted to improve my Blues licks!

Well you will be pleased to find out that I now know what the above scales are for but had I thought about my learning process a bit more, I could have saved myself a lot of time.

How you ask? Well most of us start off by learning the Pentatonic Scales,usually just the Minor to begin with.
And then we learn to add a note and create a Blues scale and then maybe we add the Major and Natural Minor scales.
So far,so good,but then when we want to expand our knowledge things can get confusing.

Say for example that we want to learn the modes of the Major scale.
First we are taught that from each note of the Major scale we can play a mode,so for example the second mode of the Major scale is called the Dorian and if we are in the key of G then the next note up is A therefore if we play from A to A using the notes of the G Major scale then we have A Dorian.

We can also start on the next note up which is B.playing the notes of the G major scale from B to B will give us the Phrygian mode and right about now is where most people start to switch off.[at least when I explain it].

The excitement of learning something new is replaced with "How am I going to learn all that" ?
But that is what we don't want to happen. Knowing these scales is a wonderful thing!
The Dorian mode will make your Blues playing sound wonderfully Sophisticated  and the Phrygian will give you an instant doom laden Black Sabbath sound if you are using distortion and a lovely Spanish sound if played on an  Acoustic and that's just two of the modes.

It really comes down to perception, theory is just sounds ,how one sound relates to another. That's it!
So while I think you should learn all the theory you can.I also think that you should be experimenting with these new sounds on the guitar neck first.

Here's what i mean: if you can play the Minor Pentatonic in one position the add a couple of notes and you have the Natural minor, flatten the 2nd and you have the Phrygian. Sharpen the 6th and you have the Dorian.Sharpen the 7th to a Major and you have the Harmonic Minor scale.

With the Major scale, flatten the 7th  and you have the Mixolydian. Sharpen the 4th and you have the Lydian.

So from the Major and Minor scales you can create an vast range of sounds just by altering one note.If fact I believe that from the Major and Minor scale shapes  apart from a very few [the Symmetrical Scales like the Whole Tone and Diminished]  you can create nearly every scale you can think of, even the complex looking Jazz "Bebop" scales tend to be just Major and Minor type shapes with chromatic notes added.
In the diagrams I have highlighted the changed notes, you can download them as PDFs as well.But get them under your fingers and start to hear their sound.

To begin with play the Minor scales against a Minor chord and then try them out against a Minor 7th. How does the Phyrgian sound against a minor 9th? and so on.

Some things will not sound so good like the Harmonic Minor against a Dominant 7th, but that's great, you are learning real usable theory!

For the Major scales,start off with just a plain Major chord and then try a Major 7th .Notice what a smooth sound you get with the Lydian over a Major7th and how the Mixolydian fits a Dominant 7th like a glove.

This is where your ears and hands begin to find the sounds you like and where the fear of dry academic theory leaves you.
Believe me, once you have played a scale for a while you will begin to understand what it is for in a practical manner which means when you go back to the books [and Do go back to them!] they will make a lot more sense to you.

So to summarise.

Learn the shapes, you probably know the basics already.  
See the similarities in the shapes but Hear the difference.

There is nothing to be scared of just a lot of great sounds to discover!

Major Scale Shapes pdf

Minor Scale Shapes pdf [for Google+ readers please download from my website]

Music Theory for Guitar Part 1.

Music Theory is like love. You can live without it but when you have it everything seems so much easier.

There's a positive thought for you and why not?

Nearly all guitar players have at some point wanted to improve their theoretical knowledge.
But who hasn't into looked a theory book and felt overwhelmed with all the complex terminology?

So what I would like to do over the next three posts is to share with you some of the ideas and concepts that I have used over the years that have helped both my students and myself learn and better understand how theory can be applied to the guitar and how to learn all the notes,scales and chords that we want to but in a way that highlights the similarities between them not the differences and so makes learning shapes easier.

So where do we start? I would say the best thing that you can do for yourself is to learn all the notes on the fretboard. If you can do this then you can begin to understand chords, scales and playing in different keys. In fact if you can do this then nearly everything begins to be understandable.

There are many methods for doing this but the one I recommend is the most simple. Download the PDF here: Octave Shapes  and print it out. It will show simple Octave shapes in sequence over the fretboard. All you need to do is begin to memorise these shapes starting from the sixth string and just aim to learn between three to four notes each week.

If you are consistent you will have the entire fretboard mastered within a few months!

There are other shapes that you can learn but by keeping it simple you will find that the process never really feels that intimidating or arduous and therefore the work gets done.

I've used it with my students and it works without fail.

Another potential problem for the guitarist who wants to improve is chord books. You need them to learn and of course they need to be as comprehensive as possible to fulfil their purpose but again information overload can happen.

So starting with chords lets try and get to the essentials.
Chords can be categorised in one of two ways either by their interval structure which describes precisely what they are or according to their function which describes how they are most often used.

Jazz Players tend to categorise all chords by their function, splitting them into Major, Minor or Dominant categories.

The reason they do this is because given the vast amount of chords that are and can be used in Jazz this is a way of having a large amount of knowledge at their fingertips that is highly practical both for composition and improvisation.

So why is that relevant to the person wanting to expand their chord knowledge?

Well lets take a simple chord progression in A Major. We will start with the I chord A Major followed the by the IV chord D Major and the ending on the V chord E dominant 7 before the whole cycle starts again.

Most beginners will know these chords and and the progression is really simple, but the movement from the I chord [Tonic] to the IV [Sub - Dominant] to the V [Dominant] and then resolving back to the I  chord again is a much used [that's an understatement] and highly important device in composition.

Now any chord that has more than three different notes has what is called Extensions.So a common A Major can become an Major 7th  or 9th , 11th or 13th  or in the case of a Dominant chord it can sometimes have what is called Alterations where a note normally the 5th or 9th is flattened or sharpened to create extra tension so that the resolution to a more stable [consonant] chord is more aurally satisfying.

So a good way to look a seemingly complex set of chords would be strip them back to their basic forms.
For Example:  G Major 13th  C Major 7th  and D9b5 is just G Major  C Major and D7 with added notes or different notes.

It really is important that you look past the name of a chord and begin to see how it is used.So that in any given chord position you have a lot of choice and understanding as to how you "Flavour" the chord.
Now some chords such as Suspended, Augmented and Diminished chords are not technically one of the three functional groups, however they are used [generally] as a Dominant type chord [ tension before release.] in progressions and I think that by using this system of classification you will really start to expand your chord vocabulary and see their purpose.

So to clarify  an A Major7th/9th/11th/13th/ and so on is just an A Major with add ons.If you can learn to think of chords this way then all of a sudden things can become a lot easier conceptually for you and you wont get put off learning all the shapes.

Start by fingering a basic chord and then see where you can make it a 7th then a 9th and so on but see it as just one unit with a lot of options.Even if at the moment you have difficulty with playing some of the chords the important thing is learning to "see" them.

This system is based on function not strict theoretical accuracy but is a great way to learn a lot of chords quickly and most importantly usefully.

So give it a shot  and if it makes life easier then go for it!

In Part 2 we will look at an easy way to memorise scales.

Sweet Emotion...3 Great Guitar Players.

We all know that there are many great guitarists out there possessed of superb technique and facility who can rip out stunningly fast and accurate solos all day long.

But even though i appreciate their talent and I'm in awe of their workrate and commitment to practice it is the players who can wring every last drop of emotion out of their instruments that really get me.

So I'm going to recommend a track each from three players you may not have heard of that for me epitomise the passionate player.

The first is "Maggott Brain" from Funkadelic's  1971 release of the same name.Over ten minutes long this slow meditative piece is guitarist and co author Eddie Hazel's finest recorded moment.
Long languid notes mix with fast wah wah flurries to produce a psychedelic hymn of passion and brilliance.

The second track is "Hey Joe" by Roy Buchanan from his 1974 release "That's what i am here for".
Roy does a very different take than Hendrix on this song,his flat unemotional vocals adding menace to the lyrics as the song builds slowly to a solo of ferocious intensity.

The third track is "Heavy Load" from their 1970 "FIre and Water" album.
Paul Kossoff's guitar only comes into the mix at the end of the song.A long floating note followed by some lovely phrases, he then gets into a call and response with Paul Rodgers gritty vocals.It's a masterclass in restraint and working for the song.

All three guitarists had relatively short careers, Kossoff dying at the age of 25 and Buchanan and Hazel not reaching 50 but they were all brilliant intuitive players whose back catalogues are well worth investigating.

Here are some links to the songs:
Maggot Brain
Hey Joe
Heavy Load

Just Listen.

In Will Hodgkinson's excellent and entertaining book "Guitar Man" he relates a story of having a guitar lesson with acoustic legend Davey Graham which consisted of Mr Graham putting on a record, telling Will to listen to it and then going to the pub for an hour from which when he returned he then charged £20 for his trouble.

It's a funny story and i think that though most pupils would be pretty much annoyed at this teaching method it is not without it's merits.

In the grim and distant past ( no internet, only 3 channels on the T.V !]  i started to learn some chords from a guy who was advertising guitar lessons in the local paper.
He wasn't a proper teacher and was only doing it to get money to start another business.But in retrospect he was a great natural musician with a brilliant ear and because he didn't plan the lessons he would often put on one of his records and get me to listen to them to see if that was the kind of thing i wanted to play.

Through him i heard for the first time John Martyn and John Renbourn as well as Leo Kottke.
Wonders of the acoustic guitar!
 So far beyond my skill level at the time and yet i was fascinated by this complex and serene music. It opened up an entirely new avenue for me in two synth chord 1980's Britain.An avenue that i didn't even know existed.
So am i advocating teachers doing the same?
No, not quite. But i have taught pupils who havent heard of Jimi Hendrix let alone heard him play.
Yes that's an age thing and it works the other way.I've often said "Who" to my younger pupils.
But i think a few recommendations from a wise old teacher could  go a long way in helping to inspire those we teach.
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