Tip From Mark – Should I Learn to Read Music?

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This question came to me from an adult client. My reply follows it: Q: Do you think it’s beneficial for guitarists to learn to read standard notation and, if so, what method do you recommend for doing so? A: I think music, because it is a language I learned when I was in second and third grade and have used all of my life. That said: Sure, learn to read music and learn to understand how music “theory” works, even at an advancing age! It provides a way of thinking that tab-only guitarists generally don’t possess. But, be aware that […]

A Suggested Low-Stress Practice Routine

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Maybe sitting in front of an interactive computer screen is part of your practice regimen (that’s yours truly in the photo jamming with BB King’s band at his museum in Indianola, Miss.). But if not, here are some thoughts I recently offered to a student. To avoid the Yngwie Malmsteen-like physical maladies caused at least partly by shredding without warming up, I suggest starting your sessions with major scales at the end of the neck, using open strings. You’ll fret about two-thirds of the notes, so your fretting hand relaxes continually. Play the scales relatively slowly and softly to avoid […]

Modulate the B String to Help Make the Melody Stand Out

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The B-string on a steel-string guitar can be loud – it is the thickest wire on the guitar, even thicker than the wire inside the wound sixth string. The inherent volume of the second string can produce unbalanced melody notes compared to notes played on the first string. Your ear is your guide in determining how hard to pick each string to balance the melody. However, when you pick the first and second strings simultaneously, it’s not easy to make one louder than the other. The volume differential between the first and second strings may obscure the actual first-string melody […]

Free Notation/TAB/Audio of Italian Classic “Return to Sorrento”

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Mark was contracted to provide guitar solos for a 70th Anniversary (!) party in Portland in March, 2019. The husband, a  native of Italy near Naples, requested the time-honored song “Return to Sorrento” (“Torna a Surriento”) in celebration of their lives together. Mark arranged a fingerstyle version, which is published here along with audio of Mark playing it. On YouTube you can watch Pavarotti, the Three Tenors and Dean Martin, among others, singing this famous melody. It was written in 1902 by the brothers DeCurtis. Here is a WikiPedia history of the song, listed by its Italian title “Torna a Surriento”.  

Turn Your Amp Around for a Better Concert Sound!

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If you are performing with a small personal amplifier, consider this: Turn the amp around so it is facing the wall behind you. The reflected sound off the wall adds to the richness of the overall sound, and distributes the sound well around the room. And the folks in front don’t get the direct output from the amp. Tommy Emmanuel does this in some settings. Bose designs their reflective speakers this way, so that some of the sound is bouncing off the wall behind the player. In December, 2018, my trio Acoustic Guitar Summit performed for the Sacramento Guitar Society […]

Which Fingerpicking Book Do I Start With?

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Folks write to me on occasion asking which of my fingerstyle books to start with: Contemporary Travis Picking or Beyond Basics Fingerstyle Guitar. My response: •    The Art of Contemporary Travis Picking is strictly alternating-bass (“Travis Picking”), using pretty basic chords until later in the book. It is largely about training the PICKING hand. You get two actual guitar solos amongst the 14 pieces in the book; the other 12 are accompaniments to a melody that is played/sung by a second instrument. The techniques in this book allow singer/songwriters to beautifully accompany their songs, but it also provides all […]

Right-Hand Muting Without a Thumbpick

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Several people have asked recently how I mute the bass strings without the aid of a thumbpick, as heard in my tune “Easy Virtue,” which we published recently in the 30th Anniversary Edition of Art of Solo Fingerpicking. Video. I learned this approach from the late, great John Renbourn, who picked with skin and nails (glued on ping-pong balls, actually!) – no picks. Above is a bird’s-eye-view photo of my right hand for the section of the tune that mutes the bass strings. From my normal “classical” picking-hand position (high wrist; palm parallel to the top; nothing resting on the […]

Scales for Warm Up

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CAGEDScalesEndOfNeck Warm Up Correctly & Shoot 100% As I shot baskets at 24-Hour Fitness recently, I was thinking about my old coach’s advice about warming up and shooting accurately, and how his advice might pertain to guitarists. He said to start by shooting easy shots – close-in layups – to get your mechanics going, your muscles loose, and your confidence level up. You should shoot these at close to 100%. Then gradually increase the distance from the basket, shooting easily, being as relaxed as you can. His comment: If you can’t make the easy close-in shots, you won’t make the […]

STOP READING THE MUSIC!

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Great musicians are able to think ahead, hear the music in their heads as it approaches, and anticipate what their hands need to do in the moments to come. To do this best, I highly recommend you MEMORIZE your music. To memorize your music: STOP READING IT.  My suggestion for memorizing: play each passage of a tune you are working on copious times while reading it, but then CLOSE THE BOOK, or turn the music over so you CAN’T read it. Now play it without looking. If you stumble, go back to the notation/tab to ensure you are playing it correctly. […]

Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” Main Theme – Playable Version

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Here is a my relatively easy fingerstyle arrangement of the main theme of J.S. Bach’s beautiful melody “Sheep May Safely Graze.” It is set in the key of G, standard tuning. To play it in the original key of B-flat, capo it at III.   One challenging “stretch” fingering occurs in measure 3: an F#dim chord over a droning G in the bass. (You can think of this as a D7 chord with G in the bass.) Finger the sixth string in that passage with your ring finger, and the fourth-fret note with your little finger. SheepMaySafelyGrazeMainTheme