Half-Diminished Chords

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This topic came up at our seminar in the midst of the tune “Avalon.” Many folks don’t know what a ‘half-diminished’ chord is. Before I explain it, let me teach you an easy way to play one: In standard tuning, play a simple first-position D-minor chord at the end of the neck – first position. Slide this shape three frets up the neck to the 4th/5th/6th frets, maintaining the open D in the bass. Voila! You are now playing a D-half diminished, also known as a Dm7flat5. (Don’t include the open fifth and sixth strings!) These chords are often used […]

Guitar Travel Strategies

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CARRY-ON: Like most of you, I do my best to get my guitar on the airplane when I travel. If I know I can get the guitar on with me, I use my well-padded gig bag, which is easy to carry once I reach my destination. To ensure overhead space, I try to get on the plane early by sitting near the back, or (on SWA) by getting an early boarding number. CHECKING IT: If I must check the guitar – if I’m flying on a small plane with limited overhead space, for instance – I use the hardshell case. […]

Whether or Not to Use a Thumbpick

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As you no doubt know, many great players wear a thumbpick, and many great players don’t. I used a thumb pick for some years early on, and now use one only occasionally. Some reasons to use one: 1) the angle of attack with your right thumb (assuming you are right handed!) may be very low – nearly parallel to the strings – especially if you are trying to mute the bass strings with the base of the thumb/palm, like Chet Atkins. If you use this low hand position, a thumb pick protruding at a right angle from the thumb provides […]

How Should a Fingerstyle Player Hold the Guitar?

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As you know, there are several ways to hold the guitar. The classical position is more stable, since you contact the guitar with both legs, your chest, and both arms. It provides a good angle of attack for the picking hand, allowing for close to a 90- degree angle of attack with the fingers without bending your wrist to the side. It also provides a good angle for the fretting hand, and, for near-sighted guitarists, the neck is close to your face! Having said all that, when I sit, I prefer the ‘folkier’ horizontal position, with the guitar on my […]

Mark Plays for the President of the United States!

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Greta and I are back from our sojourn to San Francisco. We flew there Thursday morning, October 15, 2009, to play at a reception/dinner for President Obama. The event took place at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square in downtown San Francisco. About 175 people attended. I played guitar solos for about two hours, the last 45 minutes of which the president was in the room greeting people in a receiving line. I made sure to play some tunes that were appropriate for him, including Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” (the Obamas are Stevie Wonder fans), the Beatles’ “Michelle” […]

Getting Started Learning Notes on the Fretboard, Installment #5: “Moving Another Familiar Chord Shape Up the Guitar Neck”

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In a previous ‘Tip’ we had fun moving the C-shape up the guitar neck. This time let’s slide a first-position Amajor7th shape up the neck. This creates some very useful chords. First, play a first-position Amajor7th chord. If you don’t know it, play a normal D7 on the three treble strings and move that shape one string toward the bass. Now you are fretting the second and fourth strings at the 2nd fret, and the third string at the 1st fret: an Amajor7th chord. I use it extensively in my tune “Parasol Spin”. As I recall, I first learned it […]

Getting Started Learning Notes on the Fretboard, Installment #4: “Learning the Notes in First Position”

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At this point, if you have been reading my recent ‘Tips’ about learning the guitar fretboard, you should know the names of the notes of the open strings, and the notes at the 5th, 7th, 10th, and 12th frets. You should also be able to see the “white” notes (no sharps or flats) on the bass and treble strings (6th and 1st). Additionally, you should know what chords you are producing when moving a first-position C-chord shape up the neck. The next step is to learn the names of all of the notes between the nut and 5th fret. One […]

Getting Started Learning Notes on the Fretboard, Installment #3: “Moving A Familiar Chord Around the Guitar Neck”

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Here is a little exercise moving up the neck that may open up some new sounds for you: In standard tuning, finger a C chord. Now, move it two frets up the neck. Play the five treble strings one at a time. This is a beautiful D chord (with an added 4th and 9th) that many folks have used to great effect, in particular Paul Simon in “Kathy’s Song.” He fretted the sixth string instead of the fifth on this chord, producing a second-inversion D chord (A in the bass), which sounds great. Now, move the C shape up one […]

Getting Started Learning Notes on the Fretboard, Installment #2: Seeing “White” Notes on the Guitar Neck, Like a Piano

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On occasion I joke with my guitar maker friends (Bill Collings and Steve McCreary at Collings, James Goodall at Goodall Guitars, and others) about why the dots on the side of steel-string guitar necks are located where they are. “Tradition” is the answer I hear most often. Tradition is great in many instances, but I believe slightly altering the location of these dots would greatly facilitate learning the notes on the guitar neck. On a piano, a key-of-C scale is apparent at a glance – it consists of the white notes. But seeing these same “white” notes (no sharps or […]