Warning – Take Care of Your Hands

Our hands are important in every day life but they are even more important to us as guitar players.

As a teacher I get asked questions all the time like “are my fingers too fat/big?”, “are my hands too small?”, “should I do stretching exercises?”, “should I warm up before playing?”…

Let me address the stretching one first and hopefully it will answer the other questions for you.

Flexibility and Stretching…

The answer is a bit zen like. You can stretch as far as you can stretch…

Ok, when you start playing your hands won’t be flexible, that’s only normal. As for them being big enough or too small, I haven’t found anyone yet whose hand/finger size has been an issue. Let your fingers find their natural range and please don’t push any further. Play them in, let them find their range.

I know there are stretching exercises out there for guitar players and different gadgets to increase your finger strength. Forget them, the best way I know to improve is just playing the guitar…simple. Don’t over do it and if you are feeling sore, stop playing.

Warm Up, Technique and Your Instrument…

Warm up by running a couple of scales, strumming some chords or playing a simple tune. If your hands are cold, run them under some hot water or simply put them under your arms to get them warm. Develop a good technique that doesn’t put too much stress on your hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders.

Make sure your instrument is well cared for and is the right fit for you, this is often overlooked. You can get a good value for money instrument that plays well but you can also buy a poor quality instrument that’s nearly impossible to play. Don’t defeat yourself before you even start.

A Cautionary Tale…

Now for the cautionary tale: I remember taking some classical lessons back in the day, my teacher Nick was a very fine player. Unfortunately he had done some damage to his left hand and needed an operation for damaged tendons.

The damage was caused by stretching exercises he had been doing to increase his reach on the guitar. Some people may get away with it but I would think caution is the better approach. You can stretch as far as you can stretch, don’t push it.

An Open Mind…

It’s seems in this day and age people are so polarised in their views. Be it sport, politics, religion, music, you’re either on their team or not. It’s always been the case I guess but it appears to be more prevalent now. Maybe the rise of social media magnifies it more.

I had a couple of interesting conversations with Simon and David (friends and students) in the lead up to Christmas. Those conversations along with another situation got me thinking about this and how it effects learning and I guess life in general.

In music a lot of what we like is instilled from our teenage years into our early 20’s…the soundtrack of our lives, the good old days. Some people never want to move out of this to explore anything else. It’s as though if we listened to or heaven forbid liked anything outside our soundtrack all the music we love would disintegrate. For some it’s almost like treason or sacrilege.

I have great memories of the music I grew up listening to and loving. I mean it had such an effect on me that I made a career out of it. Great music with great memories attached.

My soundtrack not only included the music of my day but of days gone past. In my childhood TV brought the black and white movies into the lounge room , the great musicals and music of the ‘Great American Songbook’ for want of a better term. It’s why these great melodies are still so familiar to me. They’re stuck in my head for better, definitely not worse.

Keeping an open mind to new music is not always an easy thing though. I find some of the pop music bland but that’s always been the case. I listen to new music from artists and in genres that I like but a lot of it seems a bit stale.

Maybe rock in particular has become a bit of a parody of itself…the same songs, the same acts, ever increasing ticket prices. Nostalgia has become an expensive addiction, deja vu.

To grow as a musician it’s good to look back and understand where something came from. Nothing is created in a void. It’s also good to stay open to new music, new ideas, to challenge your thinking. Look outside the box and find something new. Investigate new (or new to you) players and genre’s.

I listened to a lot of podcasts over the Christmas break and found an appreciation for some of the metal guys and the shredders, it will never be a great love but I can listen more appreciatively now than before. I found the depth that some of these players have in their craft to be inspiring. Areas of music and players I had previously closed off opened up for me.

The situation…well let’s just say I missed seeing someone that I now would love to have seen. I’m kicking myself about it. My mind was closed pre podcast and a bit of youtube investigation.

So the moral of the story is this, open your mind…there’s a whole other world of music, opinions and ideas out there. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with or like them, and it certainly doesn’t devalue your past experiences and memories.

What’s to lose?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continuous Growth as a Guitar Player

I have many people come to me for lessons with the goal of improving their guitar playing. They already play at some level and would like to get better. It’s a noble thought, great idea, a good thing to do but not always so easy.

The problem is that it means change and that can be a very difficult thing for some people. Even with the greatest intentions, change is a real challenge.

I’ve recently been playing around with my right hand technique and seeing if there are better ways to approach it. Through 2018 I’ve adopted a different positioning and it’s worked, giving me greater stability which in turn has given me more accuracy and speed.

Currently I’m looking at how I hold my pick and it’s relationship to the strings…this is harder but I’m putting in time because I think it will be another leap forward for me. If it’s not, at least I’ve tried it. I will have something to measure against the current way I do it.

Why am I telling you this? well, I think if I’m able to adapt my playing after so many years of doing it a different way then anyone can if they have the desire to really get better. I’m not saying it’s easy, just that it can be done.

It’s easy to put up roadblocks, find ways not to do something but if you truly want to get better then you need to not just want to, you need to do something about it.

For some it’s enough to just strum a few chords and play songs for friends. Maybe it’s a bit more advanced and you want to be a good picker or play the blues, maybe some jazz or rock or just to be in a band.

Balanced and well conceived programs like the ones I teach will get you there. Of course you still have to do the work and follow the program but if you do you will achieve your goals.

It’s the following the program that some find difficult. Moving out of their comfort zone, having trust in the program and themselves to achieve.

For me it’s about continuous growth, I want to get better at what I do. Be that as a player, as a teacher or even as a person. it’s not easy, but it is the path I’m on.

 

 

A Cautionary Tale

I recently watched a video documentary about the band ‘Badfinger'(see link at bottom of page), one of the more tragic stories in rock’n’roll’s chequered history.

‘Badfinger’ were the first band signed to Apple Records, the ‘Beatles’ own label and looked set for a long and successful career, but it wasn’t to be. A mix of appalling management and bad luck left them penniless and virtually forgotten.

The real tragedy of ‘Badfinger’ was during the turmoil founding member Pete Ham suicided.  His band mate and songwriting partner Tom Evans followed some 8 years later.

They weren’t the first band to be ripped off or taken advantage of by unscrupulous management and/or legal problems and they won’t be the last.

Artists such as Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, John Fogarty and the Beatles have all paid or are still paying the price of poor decisions in the past.

As a musician it’s easy to be totally immersed in the creative process of making music and not taking any care of business and this is ‘manna from heaven’ for those wanting to make a quick buck at your expense.

Even in the process of putting a band together things get left in the too hard basket or the everything will be alright, we’re all mates basket only to be tangled up in legal’s and acrimony down the track.

The cautionary tale is to take care of the business, it is important to have everything sorted from the start so that everyone knows where they stand. It’s also important to keep an eye on the business as your career progresses. Let the managers manage but take an interest in your career, don’t be an absentee client.

Don’t take for granted that everything will be ok because if that’s your thinking you can almost guarantee that it won’t.

 

Beware – this could damage your guitar…

This is only a short post but very important for all those who value their guitars.

I have an acoustic guitar that I used for years, mainly to play around the house and for teaching. I wasn’t doing any acoustic gigs at the time so I used to leave it out on a stand.

Sounds reasonable I guess…

After some time I started to notice some marks on the guitar and tried to clean them off but unfortunately found I couldn’t. The marks were on the front of the guitar and I worked out it was the same spots the guitar stand kicked up to hold the instrument in place.

I thought this was interesting as I’d been told that these stands would not leave marks and were perfectly safe to leave your guitar on…this myth is still told around many music stores.

Eventually I decided to write the manufacturer and got this response… “Indeed no colored stand is safe to use with nitro lacquer finish due to the rest risk of the included colour.” My stand is black by the way.

So the lesson is this; if you value your guitar, put it away in a case and don’t leave it sitting on a stand for lengthy periods of time.

Chances are it could be ok, but I wouldn’t take the risk.