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 […]

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 […]

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. […]

Mark in a Fretboard Journal Video!

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I visited Jason Verlinde and his cohorts at Fretboard Journal‘s office in Seattle a few months back. They filmed me playing my arrangement of “Water Is Wide” and  my alternating-bass warhorse “Key to the Kingdom.” Although I brought my own guitars along, they requested that I play a guitar that the magazine had commissioned from local luthier T. Drew Heinonen. Below is the “Water Is Wide” video. The “Water Is Wide” notation and TAB are available three ways in hardcopy from us: 1) as a stand-alone piece  2) in my publication Great American Tablature Songbook (57 tunes in all), and 3) […]

“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 […]