“Tri-Tone Substitutions” Made Easy!

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Understanding “Tri-tone Substitution” Note: This article references my bluesy rave-up fingerstyle arrangement of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” A video of me playing it in Santa Barbara in August, 2017, has been posted here on YouTube: The actual music starts at about 0:35. Perhaps you have come across the term “Tri-tone substitution” in your studies, and had a hard time understanding it. Here’s an easy way to understand tri-tone substitutions: Think of them simply as dominant-seventh chords resolving down a half step – F7, instead of B7, going to E, for example. Most of you use B7 to resolve […]

Mark at Luthier Events in 2017

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I’ve had fun attending and performing at several Luthier events this summer. I was the steel-string demonstrator at the GAL (Guild of American Luthiers) convention in Tacoma in July; and a performer, teacher and demonstrator at August’s SBAIC.com in Santa Barbara. At GAL I performed 40 seconds of my arrangement of “Water Is Wide” 33 times in a row – on 33 different guitars! The luthiers wanted to compare apples to apples, hearing the same player play the same piece on all the guitars. Next time maybe I’ll play O.C. Smith’s “Little Green Apples”… In Santa Barbara I had a […]

“Slap” Harmonics

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Tip From Mark – ‘Slap’ Harmonics I had a question from a client recently about making harmonics sound properly. In particular, he asked about picking-hand ‘slap’ harmonics in my arrangement of “Moonshadow” in Travis Pick the Hits! I will discuss technique using that example. If you need more information about playing harmonics successfully, I’ve written an extensive article that you can read here. At measure 60 in “Moonshadow” (shown below), I barre the four treble strings at the 2nd fret, an Amajor chord. This must happen quickly, as I have just fretted two individual strings with fingertips, and pulled off […]

Guitar Harmonics – How to Produce Them Successfully!

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Guitar Harmonics – Make Them Chime! I occasionally receive questions from clients about harmonics on the guitar: what they are and how to produce them. Guitar players love harmonics for their high-pitched ringing tone (Hawaiian slack key players call them “chimes”), and for the fact they allow a note (or more) to sustain as the fretting hand moves laterally on the guitar neck – not possible when you have to sustain a fretted a note. High-pitched guitar harmonics occur when a player creates a ‘nodal point’ (a non-vibrating ‘dead’ spot) on a vibrating string. Nodal points occur at the mathematical dividing points on […]

Guitar Purchase for Players with Smaller Hands

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I received a question recently from a player with smaller hands about purchasing a steel-string guitar that fits him. I had a couple of thoughts that I passed along: Small hands suggest a couple of things to me concerning guitar size: 1) a 1-11/16″ width neck (many are 1-3/4″ now); 2) a short-scale neck; meaning a 24.9″ neck length – approximately – instead of the more standard 25.5″ (approx). Short scale makes the strings more supple and reduces lateral stretching a bit in the fretting hand. 3) a smaller body size; Martin 0, 00, and 000 guitars, for example, are short scale, […]

A Tribute to John Renbourn

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September, 2016 Greta and I were invited to a tribute gathering this month for English guitar hero John Renbourn. John died at the age of 70 at his home in Scotland in March of 2015. Unfortunately, we had to turn down the invitation to attend. This is the tribute I wrote to be read at the gathering: Tribute to John Renbourn My wife Greta Pedersen and I have known John ever since I recruited him as a guitar columnist for Frets magazine in the 1980s. We have many fond memories of John: from sharing the stage with him numerous times, to […]

Need Help Memorizing a Piece of Music?

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How to Memorize a New Tune By Mark Hanson Of course, a time-honored method of learning a new tune is to read the available notation and/or tablature. But what brought you to the new tune in the first place? Likely, having heard it inspired you. Here is a a memorization suggestion, to go along with the “practice-one-hand-at-a-time” tip: Listen to the tune many times through before trying to play it. Eons ago, the way I learned Beatles and Byrds songs was to sit in front of the record player, listening to a tune over and over all the way through as I wrote down the […]

My Amplifier Settings

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My Amp Settings April, 2016 As I wrote recently, I am very happy with the current amplified sound I am getting. I use a Fishman Loudbox amp, running a Sunrise pickup through Channel 1 and a K&K Pure passive pickup through Channel 2. That stereo pickup system is mounted in both my mahogany Collings SJ and Indian rosewood Goodall CJ. The K&K has more output than either Sunrise I own, so the Channel 2 volume rheostat is lower than Channel 1. One Sunrise pickup has a slightly different output than the other, so I balance the two channels by ear. How […]

Practice One Hand at a Time!

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April, 2016 The following is a practice technique I have used for years with my students: practice one hand at a time. In my experience, as fingerstyle students learn a new tune, they often struggle moving the fretting-hand in time with the picking hand. Most often the rhythm suffers – the student slows down (or stops…) in order to include all of the notes. Consider taking a hint from the piano world: train your hands one at a time. The Notation/Tab seen above is taken from “Happy Together” from my recent book/CD Travis Pick the Hits! (See and hear the entire passage here.) Ex.1 requires no […]