Chords With Root on the Fourth String

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Earlier I wrote about my “six-chord” neck visualization method, with two chord shapes anchored on each of the three bass strings. The advantage of knowing this is to gain access to a different range of melody notes on the treble strings while fretting the root note in the bass. Let’s start with the fourth string. You all know the first-position, end-of-the neck D shape, with the root note as the open fourth string. This fingering is “in front” of the root note – meaning the fretted notes are at a higher fret position. This shape, of course, can slide all […]

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 […]