Sunday, September 22, 2013

diggin' it? or diggin' out of it?

Got a call last night from a former student, who now has his own medical practice and still plays in a blues band.  He's a monster guitar player.   I haven't seen him for  a few years but every so often we exchange FB messages and when his band is going to play anywhere nearby, he lets me know.  It was great to catch up with him for a little while.

The real purpose of his call was to discuss the possibility of taking lessons again, after all these years.   It isn't that he can't play nor is it that he hasn't been playing guitar.  Quite the contrary. He's fabulous at what he does.  But now, he's feeling like he's in a rut because he isn't being stretched or thought about what his guitar says when he plays.  I reminded him that he's got to assess whether he really has the time for lessons, because with a thriving medical practice, a wife, 3 young children, a home and a band he plays in when they can all get together, he might not actually have time for another thing.  I also talked about the approach I'd use to broaden him as a musician.  I would capitalize on but challenge his ear. I would move away from his blues in order to stretch his articulation. I'd also have him not listen to much guitar music, but some other instruments in the hands of extremely gifted musicians.  He saw the merit of what I was suggesting.

He said he tends to work better within structure and the ideal would be to take lessons.  We'll see if I'll be working with him again.  

The take away I want you to have is this:  even if you're accomplished in your genre.  If you play covers, rather than original music,  you may excel right into a rut that bores you or even worse, makes you feel like there isn't any reason to play, because you already play all the stuff you like.  Gasp!!! There's more to say, musically! There will always be.   You just have to think it, hear it and play it.  That's the challenge that will  stretch and illuminate you.  So, you players who haven't said anything musically new in a long time,  I'm throwing the gauntlet down to you.  Evolve!!

I'll keep you posted if my former student and I resume working together.

Until next time, I'm D A Arlaus, doing my part to spread the excellence, one guitarist at a time.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Go Have A Fit

While sifting through email recently, I came across a Gretsch's article about its Jim Dandy Flat Top being on the list of the 25 best budget guitars. The list is from MusicRadar's 25 Best Budget Acoustic Guitars in the World Today, posted a little over a month ago.

The initial qualifier, to make it onto this list is, to quote MusicRadar, is, "Not only do they all sound great, most - if not all - are easy on the eye, and best of all, they all retail at under £500 / $750."  So, there is your price point.  That makes the range roughly $800 - $1200, here in the US.  It's a good list and I applaud MusicRadar for doing the research. There are a few tweaks I'd make, but it's worth a read if you're in the market.  

Let's say I have a philosophical issue with the first sentence: "Generally, when it comes to buying a guitar there are three key factors to consider: how does it sound, how does it look and, perhaps most importantly, how much does it cost?"

If you have listened to my podcasts or are a student with whom I have gone to purchase a guitar, budget or otherwise, you'll know that, sure, sound is the first consideration. If it doesn't have the sound you're looking for, what's the point of even purchasing it?  But the second very serious consideration is how does it fit?   I feel like I'm alone in the desert on this one, but as guitarist and instructor who has accompanied more friends, friends of friends and students than I care to quantify, to return guitars they bought or were given, that are downright uncomfortable to unplayable, I have to  hold firm on this one. 

Of course you don't want an ugly guitar.  Obviously, you can't buy a guitar you can't afford.  But come to grips with that no matter how well-priced and pretty and gorgeous-sounding it is, if you can't hold onto it comfortably, you're not going to be able to play it well. You may be able to play around with it, but play it?  Uh uh.  

Kids, extremely muscular men and petite people (usually women, but some men, too) have the hardest time finding a guitar they like that fits them.  With the major gift-giving time just around the corner (2 months and a bit until Hanukkah and 3 months and a bit until Christmas) please take what I'm saying under advisement:

If you are purchasing a guitar for anyone other than yourself, or an adult who has played the guitar they have asked you for, give your recipient a gift card or photo of the guitar or some other representation of it, until they can go guitar shopping with you.  I realize that you may want to do your shopping online.  In that case, still take them shopping to a guitar store, where the model of their desired guitar is available for the lucky one to play. In more than half the cases of kids or petite adults I know, the guitar they thought they wanted sounds great but they can't hold it comfortably. 

Don't allow them to get locked into thinking they only want a particular body shape.  Hey, dreadnoughts aren't for everyone.  Neck profiles vary noticeably from maker to maker, as well as from model to model from the same maker.  Their left hand needs to be able to grip properly.   If that left hand has to support the neck while they play (because the counter weight of their right arm isn't sufficient, or because their right shoulder is up so high, when their right arm is over the guitar, it's not the guitar for them.  Sometimes, that's hard to take.  I've been with students who owned the guitar they were about to buy, in their mind for a long time.  Try as they might to justify buying it when we were at the guitar shop, they could feel that the axe wasn't right for them.  

Okay, the annual rant is out of my system.   If you're buying online, verify that you have a reasonable return/exchange policy, and don't allow the recipient nor yourself to mark, scratch, bump, nick or otherwise compromise the cosmetic appearance of the guitar before you or they are sure they're going to keep itIf you're shopping online, use a reputable dealer, not an unknown. 

Now, and through the holidays, I'm D A Arlaus, doing my part to spread the excellence, 1 guitarist at a time. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Lessons for Babies

My schedule is just awaiting a few returning Jewish students to finish up the fall holidays, before it's set for this new "academic" year. My students who took the summer off, are back and I'm getting calls from new potential students and 

One of the parents who called about her way-too-young child, the other day was surprisingly receptive to allowing her kid wait a while before beginning.  It seems that a lot of parents who may even know better, are reluctant to say "no" to anything for which their children petition, especially, if they can financially afford it.

If  you know me from all the podcasts, you know I'm not a huge fan of putting a guitar in a child's hand before they are likely to have success learning to play it properly.  In my long experience, the low end of the age scale for guitar lessons to be permanently worth the child's effort and the parents' money is about the age of 9 and sometimes later for boys.  There's the whole eye hand coordination thing, and the using the non-dominant hand, if the intended student is a righty. Let's not forget the general complexity if music in general.  Below that age, I suggest parents surround their children with music of all styles and from all cultures. Even if really young ones want to play guitar, little minds and fingers can only benefit from having a keyboard in the home, if there isn't a piano there, already.Young kids can be impressed for a long time by failure and especially failure at some endeavor at which they really, really, really want to succeed. 

I have taught some young prodigies.  They are the exception. One young girl I taught, who also played piano, danced, painted (Mom was an artist) and played sports, in addition to the highest grades in school, was particularly remarkable. She was a little peanut of a girl and played a very well made, vintage 3/4 size guitar. There was nothing she couldn't do and there was nothing she didn't understand when I broke it down and explained it clearly.  

The first time she played in drop D tuning, I had her sight read and play a simple instrumental piece.  She did very well.  In that piece, the only note affected by the new tuning was the low open D string itself.  There were no other notes on that altered string.  When we moved on to music she had practiced in standard tuning, I didn't remind her to re-tune that low string to E, because I knew the unpleasantness of hearing a wrong pitch by fretting a note where it is sounded in standard tuning would be the best way to teach her to retune her guitar immediately after she is finished playing in an alternate tuning. To my amazement, as the low E string notes approached, she made a wincing face and recalculated her fingerings, to accommodate a far away G#m which was no longer at the 4th fret, but at the 6th.   She didn't play one incorrect note.  When we were finished, she asked, "Can we re-tune my guitar now?"  I never told her how astounded I was.  I did have her mother walk me out to the car and I told her.  For the student, it was "normal," for her.  She was so musically gifted and it still makes me smile when I think about it.  

Unless your young child is extraordinarily gifted, let them wait until a competent instructor thinks they are ready for guitar lessons.     

Epiphone has a gift for you!

Well, it's Epiphone Month and that means there's a manufacturer's perk for buying and registering a new Epiphone axe.  Cool!

Who wouldn't want a free EGi cable interface?   The deets are fairly simple and quite clearly enumerated on the site. A list of countries will define what you must do to quailify.  

If you have apps on your iPod, iPhone or iPad, this is the interface you need.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

If You Have $5 Grand

In the category of drool-worthy, the extremely limited  edition Takamine TLE-M1 has a preeminent position. How limited?  How's 50 worldwide?

This looks like a masterfully crafted instrument.  If you used to listen to the podcast, you know I prefer ebony for my fingerboards.  This jewel, appropriately, has a gorgeous ebony fingerboard. The tone woods are just right, bear claw Sitka spruce and blackwood. Personally, I'm not a fan of spruce, because it's crisper than what appeals to my ear.  The Takamine TLEi reported to a warm sound, which I have to infer is due to the blackwood.  Sounds like this orchestral size instrument would delight my ear.  

Although I haven't been enamored of very much spruce, I do like the split bone bridge.  If you have an exceptional ear, you're a frustrated guitarist - unless you have an expensive guitar.  It seems the more you spend, the closer to really in tune you can get your axe. The truth is, we  compromise for playability. A guitar is rarely completely in tune.  the split bridge or in lower priced guitars, a slanted bridge, compensates for the limitations  

The onboard electronics are the top of the Takamine line. Because there are 2 pick ups, including a soundboard transducer, which offers a broad range of qualities, not found on all guitar in this price range.

The MSRP, not "street," is just a touch below $5,000.    Does this Takamine limited edition resonate with you?  She's s beauty!

No matter what your axe of choice is, whether is set you back $5 grand or $150, strings will make all the difference in the world.  If you are not using DRs and have not yet tried them, what are you waiting for?  They're the best strings I have ever used, whether electric, acoustic, nylon or bass.  I understand that strings are a very personal choice, but I encourage you to try a set.  If you're like me, you will love the sound.  If not, it's just  a string change.

New guitar or old one, catapult your creativity with a genuine Raptor R Series pick.  It's unique and offers 3 distinctly different picking tips to enable you to create an array of timbres with the same pick. Get yours today, at