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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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) […]

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 […]