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 […]

Getting A Great Amplified Acoustic Guitar Sound

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Getting A Great Amplified Acoustic Guitar Sound I have always created the tone and balance of my acoustic guitar with my hands, rather than with equipment. For instance, I always record through good microphones. But these days when I play smaller gigs and can’t use microphones, I have come up with the best, most natural sound I’ve ever gotten out of pickups and an acoustic amp. It’s a stereo setup, using two pickups. My setup is: • Fishman Loudbox Artist two-channel amp • K&K Pure-Mini pickup • Sunrise magnetic pickup • stereo endpin jack • stereo guitar cable (stereo jack […]

Need Help Keeping a Steady Tempo? (Part 1)

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Above: Four guys with a steady sense of time (L-R) – Doug Smith, Mason Williams, Mark Hanson, and the late Nokie Edwards of the Ventures. At the 2005 Grammy Awards in L.A. — Many students – and some professionals! – have trouble keeping a steady tempo. (“That darn metronome – something’s wrong with it!”) Speeding up is usually the problem, although dropping or adding beats happens, too. For some developing musicians, counting out loud as they play can help, but, in my experience, students often can’t count out loud while playing, or the counting simply speeds up along with the guitar playing. Here’s a […]

Reducing String Squeaking Noises

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The Problem: Moving fretting fingers laterally along strings when shifting positions is an inherent part of playing a guitar. But, as most of us know, it can cause bothersome non-musical screeching sounds on round-wound strings. A player can reduce this noise through choice of strings (coated or flatwound strings), but let’s disuss what you might do with your hands. A Solution: As explained in an earlier Tip from Mark, RELAXING your fretting hand is a key to reducing string screeching. Before you leave a chord position, relax your fretting hand as you prepare to move. This simple relaxation technique likely will considerably reduce the […]

Increasing Fretting-Hand Efficiency

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The simple secret: Relax your fretting hand before you move to the next position. This is a subtle move, but can make a huge difference in the clarity and efficiency of your playing. There are two advantages to relaxing your fretting hand before/as you move: 1) it MUTES the strings as your fingers leave the strings; and 2) it avoids sounding the strings due to “pull-offs.” In other words, by relaxing your fretting-hand fingers as you release a chord you avoid sounding a potentially wrong note as you move to the next position. The Exercise: Get a feel for this […]

Chord Names and Grids

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This question came from a student: In your books Art of Contemporary Travis Picking and Art of Solo Fingerpicking you use an asterisk after the chord name: G*, for instance. What does this mean? In my publications, the chords with an asterisk are a different “voicing” or fingering from the norm. For instance, G and G* are both G chords, but use different fingerings to produce the notes I want at those points in the arrangement. An asterisk (*) is simply meant to guide you from the notation/tab to a particular chord grid diagramming the required fingering. For instance, only […]

More on Half-Diminished Chords

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Here’s another installment concerning ‘half-diminished” chords. Remember that “half-diminished” and “minor-seventh (flat5)” are synonymous. So far we have used three-fingered shapes combined with an open string to produce the four-note “minor-seventh (flat5)” sound. This time let’s find a four-fingered version of it. We’ll get to the theory eventually. If you are familiar with my arrangement of “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” (from my Great American Songbook CD and Book), you already know a B half-diminished chord. In that tune, I use it as a II chord in a II-V-I chord progression in the key of A-minor. It has an […]

Suggestions on How to Practice

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I received a nice email from a student who attended a recent workshop at Dusty Strings in Seattle. The specific workshop topic involved an “easy” way to visualize the guitar neck. His post-workshop question dealt mostly with developing an effective practice regimen. I have also included some other thoughts on how to become a better guitarist and musician. Learning to know the neck of the guitar is akin to a piano player being able to play in higher octaves. This is easy for a pianist, as each octave on the piano looks the same. Not so for the acoustic guitar, […]

To Fret – or Not to Fret – the Bass String with Your Thumb

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In the classical guitar world, fretting the bass string with the thumb is frowned upon. This is understandable for at least two reasons: classical guitar necks generally are wide, making it hard to fret with the thumb and fingers simultaneously; and Segovia figured out how to play the great repertoire without it. But with narrower neck guitars and long fingers, fretting the sixth string with the thumb can offer a guitarist a decided advantage. A main one: guitarists can fret five-note chords that classical guitarists can’t get. Another one: in ragtime styles in the key of C, a barre F […]