Tommy’s roll

One of the licks that Tommy uses very often and in variety of situations is a roll that consists of four groups – three 8ht notes each, followed by one or two notes completing the second bar of the lick. Here is an example from a song The Bug:

bug rollIt occurs in the middle of a bridge. Have a listen:

https://youtu.be/Q6wWT2VMrJw?t=45s

Each group is executed by thumb, 1st and 2nd finger. The notes are usually played so quickly that they blend into one another. At the end there are two (sometimes one) longer notes completing the bar. In some variations the lick starts over at this point (possibly with the change of left hand shape.

There are couple of things that I’d like to point out in this lick. If this pattern is totally new for you start slow on any three strings (for example first group of above lick) and loop it. Search for position of your hand where all three digits are comfortable. Once you can play it slowly you’ll have to change your thinking a little bit. Instead of thinking of every particular note, think about all three notes as one impulse. This shift in thinking is required if you want to play it at full speed. At some point you just have to forget about individual notes, you have to think about whole groups. That way for example, even if during performing one finger slips you still can finish current group and continue with the next. Last thing about the left hand. If it’s possible try to get whole the shape in one go. Try to avoid switching fingers between two positions one by one.

Now think: what other uses can it have? If you’re familiar with Tommy Emmanuel’s compositions, you have surely heard some of this lick versions a few times. Let me give you couple of examples:

https://youtu.be/pfn67otY78M?t=5s

roll fingerlakesStunning harmonic intro of Fingerlakes is based on our lick.

https://youtu.be/A8d0MU4GhWw?t=33s

roll son of a gunHalf of the lick of Son of a gun. Try to guess the other half ;). In this case we don’t have two bar loops. Instead the lick repeats itself with some alterations (one or two ending notes) each bar.

These aren’t all the instances that Tommy uses this lick. You can hunt for other cases and share them here. I could give you at least two other examples off the top of my head (one played with a flat pick) so there must be more than that. And that’s what’s amazing about those things. Such a basic vehicle can give you so many different effects depending on harmony, tempo and licks surroundings. Who knows, maybe you’ll use the idea in one of your compositions?

Silent night in 2 arrangements

Closer and closer, Christmas is coming. I guess it’s a good time to refresh my two takes on Silent night as it’s not to late to learn one of them.

First one is an absolute basic. It could easily be your first fingerstyle song. It consists of melody line and some bass notes. No chords, very straightforward. Alternatively it can be a last resort carol if you wake up on Christmas Eve with nothing to play ;).

 

Second arrangement is in the same key (Amaj) but it utilises full chords (basic though). If you have barre in your arsenal it should be pretty straightforward.

I wish you all Merry Christmas with your family, friends and guitar.

Serious fingerstyle songs good for beginners

It’s usually prudent to start your fingerstyle adventure with something that’s specifically aimed at your current level of playing. There are a lot of publications containing songs especially written or arranged for students. Sooner or later however, you might want to learn some real “stage” songs by your favourite artists. That’s where this list might come in handy. Have in mind that these are by no means easy songs. They are just easy compared to other “stage songs” by the likes of Tommy, Chet etc.

 

Freight train – a lot of people start with this one even though it isn’t the easiest one I can think of. There are couple of reasons for that: there is quite a lot of barre, there is some thumb-over-the-neck fretting, it’s played in boom chick which on its own isn’t that easy. It’s easily customizable so a lot of artist have their own iteration.

Trambone – Chet’s classic. Again it’s in boom-chick. Some thumb over the top but no barre.

Windy and warm – Depending on the version it can be very easy or very hardcore (see Tommy Emmanuel’s medley with Classical Gas). Nice introduction to boom-chick.

Imagine – aside from false harmonic ending and repetition of the theme in higher positions, Tommy’s arrangement is pretty straightforward and sounds great thanks to the 6th string dropped down to D.

Here comes the sun – short and not that difficult.

Blue moon – not all of it. If you’re just starting, do the main part and ending as a great introduction to walking bass lines. As you progress, you’ll be able to add other segments.

***

From this point on it gets a little more difficult

Mr Bojangles – arranged by Chet Atkins. If you cut a little here and there it’s pretty straightforward.

Stay close to me – requires strong barre but pretty doable.

Papa George – sweet tune, has couple of tough spots however.

Up from down under – if you loose crazy cascading harmonics part it’s not that hard.

Countrywide – solid boom chick song with not so many difficult parts.

Cowboy’s Dream – G6 tuning but overall doable.

 

This list will expand with time. Also feel free to suggest your songs.

 

Tommy E’s slide turn

In this post I’m going to write about an ornament that Tommy uses quiet often, especially in his soulful ballads. To be able to learn it you should have prior experience with barre, slides and hammer-ons. Without further ado let’s take a look at our little bugger:

https://youtu.be/DTFCVwQNHVQ?t=50s

So here it is. Notice the pinky doing it’s dance at around 51 s into the clip. What is actually happening there is a consecutive hammer-on, slide up and then slide down. Let’s take a closer look and try to refine the pinky move. By the way, Tommy’s guitar is tuned down a whole tone so he starts with barre on 7th fret. We’ll start with barre on the 5th to sound like him.

slide-turn-1Here our main note is the B on the 7th fret. It means that we could simplify all those hammer-ons and slides to just this one note. We start with the 5th fret and hammer-on the 7th with our pinky. Now we rapidly slide our pinky to the next fret and return to the 7th. I noted an accent on the final 7th note as it is most important in this lick and it should be well spelled (even if it’s just slided).

The hammer-on is pretty straightforward. The slide on the other hand might be a little tricky. First of all I don’t recommend using your whole hand movement to achieve it even if that is the initial temptation. It should be performed with muscles that distance your pinky from your 3rd finger. To locate those muscles lay your left hand on a table palm down with fingers slightly bent (there should be some air between your hand and the surface). Than try to move your pinky left (away from the rest of the fingers) with as little overall hand movement as possible. If you understand the correct movement you can isolate just the slide part and practice it while holding the 5th fret barre like that:

slide-turn-2 There are two key aspects of successful execution of this double slide. First of all muscles of your metacarpus (the main part of your hand) should be relaxed. It will ensure effortless sideways movement of your pinky. The pressure that you put on the string with your pinky should also be as tiny as possible. The less pressure – the less friction while sliding. Once the sliding part is no more a problem for you, try to add the initial hammer-on (5th to 7th fret).

Here are some modifications of this pattern that I stumbled upon the way (I’ll use our initial example as a base)

slide-turn-3In this example you remain on the first 7th a little longer. It sort of breaks the lick into two two-notes parts.

slide-turn-4Similar to the previous one but here you don’t slide 7-8. Instead you pluck the 8th fret and then slide back to 7th.

So this is a basic concept. Try doing it with different chords (open CAGED chords work very well for this). The other thing you could try is reversing the slides direction (as in making your main note the 8th fret and doing slide to 7th and back to 8th. Do you have any other ideas for this pattern? As for some homework for you, check Tommy’s Stay close to me and Angelina videos and try to spot patterns similar to what we’ve been discussing here.

Have fun!

Dynamics

Dynamics in music is a relation between loudness of individual sounds in a piece. Of course the loudness of what you play is important, no matter what instrument or genre you play. It is the way to express intensity of emotions, build tension and release. In so many words, its vital for mature performance. Chances are, you are using dynamics already but you might do it unconsciously. Let’s try to make it a little more controllable and deliberate.

So here is the most basic exercise to make you aware of dynamic.

dynamics1

The “arrows” between standard notation and tabulature are signs of crescendo (increasing volume) and decrescendo (hope you can guess by now). In other words, start rather quietly and with each of the first 8 notes increase the volume. Then over the next 8 notes decrease it to the initial level.

While absolutely basic, this exercise allows you to get acquainted with the concept that you are responsible for controlling the loudness of notes that you play.

Now let’s try something else.

dynamics2

Notice  the letters over each bar. They are relative dynamic marks. Mf means moderately loud. F means loud and more f’s means even louder. P on the other hand means soft (quiet), and similarly the more p’s the quieter you should play. So the mf is your base here. While playing try to establish three levels of “louder than average” in first line and three levels of “quieter than average” in the second one. Remember to return to the base level (mf) between each change. Later you can experiment and mix different levels of loudness more randomly.

In tab books of your favourite players you won’t always find dynamic marks. That doesn’t mean there are no dynamic changes in the song. While listening  try to concentrate on how the loudness changes throughout the piece. Take something you can play well and try to consciously apply dynamics to it. Plan ahead. Think about how emotions are flowing through the piece. Where are the intensity peaks.  Also think about how the sudden changes of loudness attract attention of your audience. What will happen when you suddenly start playing very quietly in the middle of a piece? What would happen if you suddenly started speaking very quietly during a conversation?

If you’d like to know more about ways to note dynamics, read the wiki page on the topic. Also more information and exercises on controlling the dynamics (especially in fingerstyle) are coming soon.

Two ideas on learning new songs

It seems pretty straightforward: you start at the first bar and finish at the last. I’ve learned a lot of songs that way and could keep on doing it if it was not for wanting something new. So here are two not so obvious ways of approaching new piece of music.

1

Start at… the end! If you always start at the beginning then the first bar is probably learnt the best and the last… you get the idea. Instead start at the last bar (last phrase or whatever) and just stick new segments on top of what you’ve learned. I used it for the first time with Tommy Emmanuel’s Bella Soave. Let me tell you: it feels very refreshing. It also gives you whole new inside into the song you’re learning. You can also mix it by starting with a bridge, or B part.

2

If you anticipate some difficulties in the song (for example a difficult lick, chords or whatever) start with it. If you’ve listened to the piece a lot (and you should) you can probably figure out which part will bring you the most frustrations. Instead of leaving this part for the end start with it and get it over with. That way if you simply aren’t able to learn it you won’t loose time for learning the rest of the song. Moreover it won’t be hanging over your head like an axe. Instead you’ll have comfort of knowing that the worst is over. For example when I was learning Tommy’s arrangement of I go to Rio (quite some time ago), I didn’t know if some of the licks are even within my reach. Having learnt them at he beginning, the rest of the song was pure pleasure.

Did you come up with any unusual ways of practising new songs? If so, share in comments section.

 

Quick beginner tip on left hand

The good way to think about pressing single strings (not applicable for barre though). Just think about it like driving your nail into the fingerboard. Your nail and the fingerboard should be at 90 degree angle to each other. That way you’ll make much more space for strings below.

Another way to approach this: when you look down on your left hand you should see whole the nail of a fretting finger. If you see just the fingertip then your finger is too flat.

In general you should try to maintain the arch-like (or claw-like) shape of your left hand fingers. Arch is the best way to transmit movement of your muscles into your fingertips (look at architecture).

One last thing: if your nail is too long it will hit the fingerboard before the string is pressed to the fret. Keep them short.

Strategies of the greatest #1 – Pepe Romero

I start a cycle of posts where I’m going to take the best guitar players and extract and analyse their approach to music, playing, learning, to show their strategies and their thought process. Right at the start I expect to find some similar points in all the greats but also a lot of individual differences and even conflicting ideas. So for the first part of our course we’ll take…

Pepe Romero

He is one of the greatest classical guitarists ever. His career spans over almost 6 decades. His technique is incomparable. But I’m not writing his biography. Here are most interesting things I got from him (bold) with a little of commentary (not bold).

Be eternal student – Absolutely. Guitarist stops learning the day he dies. You’re never a complete work. Never!

Balance of mechanics and spirit – Technique is important but it’s only a tool that helps you express yourself. If you have nothing to express your technique is just a circus trick. For me the problem is the other way around. I approach technique in periodical dashes. It probably would be better to include some technical workout on a daily basis. Watching Pepe however always makes me want to do some more work on it.

Think about what you play as easy – This one is so important. The way we perceive reality might not change it but it sure can change our performance. Worrying about difficult parts in songs makes you tense and make mistakes. We play best when we’re relaxed.

Keep balance between practising and keeping it fresh – This one is difficult for me. Playing the same song for hundreds of times sometimes makes it flat emotionally. But not playing it… The light in the tunnel is that with each new songs it takes me less and less time to master it. Taking breaks from some songs helps as well.

Piece doesn’t begin with the first sound. It’s surrounded by silence – There is nothing worse than starting to play the piece mindlessly and only then trying to get inside it emotionally. You should always do it before you start playing. Give yourself this moment of silence before starting to play to fully get your mind into it. Same goes with an ending. Let it fade (especially in slower pieces).

What do you like? Develop your taste – You have to work on your musical taste. You have to know what you like in others (guitarists, singers, cellists, whatever) and then search this sound while playing. It’s your job to tell the difference between good and bad sound. Especially in your own playing.

What it should sound like? What it should feel like? – These questions are almost equally important in playing the guitar. Take the feedback from both sources  while playing. Try to imagine the perfect relaxed movement and then try to achieve it.

Best way to bypass the nerves is to dive into the sound – Having problems with stage fright? Just start playing and loose yourself in music. Practice your concentration muscle so that it becomes more and more obedient. Then, just concentrate on playing.

Eyes should be looking at where left hand has to go – You don’t have to watch your left hand, but if you do, always look at its target before the change of position. When you try to throw a rock at something, you look at the target and not at the rock in your hand. Use the same principle when playing.

What limits you in playing fast isn’t how quickly you can move your finger but how quickly you can relax the muscle after that – This was mentioned when studying fast playing with two fingers at the same string. I use it in many other situations. The factor that usually slows me down is not speed of my finger (or hand) movement but the fact that right after playing something the muscle is still tensed. This makes the next motion more difficult. Working on impulse playing (quick movement followed by total relaxations) really helped me.

Here are some interviews and master classes that I based my post on.

Just a short motivational interview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZtNGhddzrw

Pepe’s approach to Concierto de Aranjuez – best known guitar concert. Understanding piece’s emotions:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AYAf-tC8HI

Two hours of master class. Long gut super interesting. A must-watch!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaBzeWQpiGI

 

A lot about technique. Check other videos on Andrey Parfinovich’s channel. There is more there:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNQ8D51pn-8