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 […]

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 […]

Mark’s Three New Books Released!

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Mark was busy in 2018: Two 30th Anniversary Editions and a new Repertoire book! Relaxing Songs for Fingerstyle Guitar includes 15 new Hanson solo guitar arrangements of well-known tunes, from a spectacular new version of the classic “Sleepwalk” to Ed Sheeran’s recent “Photograph” and “Hallelujah” from Leonard Cohen. Notation/TAB/Online Audio. Lower-Intermediate to advanced. More info. The Art of Solo Fingerpicking 30th Anniversary Edition includes 20 new/updated pages and four cool new tunes, including Mark’s “Cast Away” and “Easy Virtue.” Notation/TAB/Online Audio. More info. The Art of Contemporary Travis Picking is the perennial best seller, having trained scores of thousands of […]

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    

“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 […]