Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Most Useful Things for a Self-Taught Guitarist To Know

I was fortunate to attend an elementary school that still taught music. I have fond memories of that class and the songs we sang together. I am also glad that I learned the basics of musical notation. I used to play violin until the 8th grade - I gave it up because of a crappy 7th grade music teacher and lack of inspiration. And also because to my adolescent mind I didn't look very manly carrying a violin on the bus.

That being said, my musical interests re-asserted themselves after I left home, joined the USAF, and started buying albums. I bought a guitar and started to teach myself how to play. Since then, I have continued my musical pursuits and I now write and perform my own original songs. I have been playing now for about 30 plus years. So I'd like to impart some of the wisdom that I have acquired over this time. I am still a long way from being a virtuoso, but I am fairly adept at figuring out the chords to songs and being able to improvise both with guitar and harmonica.

Don't spend too much time learning complex note for note performance of your favorite songs. - Spending a lot of time trying to learn something complex when you are just beginning to play is a way to quickly become discouraged. I'd recommend just learning chords at first - pick a fairly basic song that you like to sing and work on changing chords fluently and training your ear for chord changes.

Know the basic musical scales, major and minor
- Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do - seven notes in the major scale. Know they are one step apart in a major key, except for "fa" which is a half step, and that Ti is only a half step from Do. Know that in a minor key, the third is a half-step lower as well as the seventh. Know the key of C has no sharps or flats and neither does its relative minor, A minor.

Become familiar with the 1, 1V, V Chord progression - This chord progression is used in so many popular songs and in so much of the blues. Also learn the relative minor for each key. You will then soon be able to figure out the chords to a lot of popular music. Train your ear to recognize these changes - listening to blues songs is an excellent way to do this.

Practice playing first postion chords - First master first position chords, chords that you don't have to "bar" with strings that are open that are formed down low on the neck. Get comfortable making E, Em, A, Am, B7, D, Dm, C, F and G. You should also try to learn the 7ths of most of these chords as they can be made without "barring" - holding down all the strings with one finger which can be difficult for a beginner playing an acoustic guitar.

Learn to play an acoustic guitar first - Acoustic guitars allow you to listen without distortion. They can be taken everywhere. You can sing while you play without being drowned out. And because it is harder to push the strings down, you develop strength and calluses.

Learn to tune your guitar - the benefits of this are that you train your ear and that if you play with others you can always play together without relying on an electric tuner.

Well, that does it. I know all of this is pretty basic, but I still see people trying to learn guitar who quit because they set the bar too high at first and quickly become discouraged. Anything readers can add is encouraged!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Beach Boys v. Crosby Stills and Nash - Songwriters Match-up #8


This match-up is between two classic rock bands known for their beautiful harmonies.

Lyrics - The Beach Boys 5, CSN 5

I am calling it a tie here. CSN wrote lyrics that were perfect for late sixties counter culture, emphasizing peace, free love and a breaking from tradition. But The Beach Boys had so many great songs that so perfectly summed up an “endless summer” eternal teenage themes such as girls, cars and surfing. Compare CSN’s Teach Your Children with The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows – both are so different and both are so good.

Composition – The Beach Boys 7, CSN 3

Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys is widely regarded as one of the most talented composers and arrangers Rock and Roll has ever seen. Although both CSN and The Beach Boys are known for vocal harmony, the harmonies and vocal arrangements of songs that were composed by The Beach Boys are hard to beat. There is also more of an orchestral quality to the work of The Beach Boys from the mid-sixties onward as they began to move away from the simplicity of their earlier material. The Beatles and The Beach Boys were both trying to out do the other in the late sixties, each exploring the most innovative new studio techniques and complex arrangements. The Beatles released “Rubber Soul” and The Beach Boys answered with what many consider their best album, “Pet Sounds”. Paul McCartney of the Beatles had this to say about it.

It was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. I love the album so much. I've just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life ... I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard that album ... I love the orchestra, the arrangements ... it may be going overboard to say it's the classic of the century ... but to me, it certainly is a total, classic record that is unbeatable in many ways ... I've often played Pet Sounds and cried. I played it to John [Lennon] so much that it would be difficult for him to escape the influence ... it was the record of the time. The thing that really made me sit up and take notice was the bass lines ... and also, putting melodies in the bass line. That I think was probably the big influence that set me thinking when we recorded Pepper, it set me off on a period I had then for a couple of years of nearly always writing quite melodic bass lines. "God Only Knows" is a big favourite of mine ... very emotional, always a bit of a choker for me, that one. On "You Still Believe in Me", I love that melody - that kills me ... that's my favourite, I think ... it's so beautiful right at the end ... comes surging back in these multi-coloured harmonies ... sends shivers up my spine.

Influence – The Beach Boys 6, CSN 4

The Beach Boys had more influence I believe because they set the bar for so many other bands. It is just as Paul McCartney described in the excerpt above.

Originality – The Beach Boys 6, CSN 4

The Beach Boys take this category as well. Just listen to the song “Good Vibrations”. I can’t think of almost anything like it.

Durability – The Beach Boys 6, CSN 4

The romanticized endless summer immortalized in the music of the Beach Boys has a way of resonating with youth of any decade and living on in the hearts of those who are older but still like to revisit their teenage years through good rock and roll music.

In conclusion, The Beach Boys win this songwriter match up 30 to 20 mostly due to the greater compositional complexity of their music. Still, in certain frames of mind, I'd rather listen to CSN.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mike Watson of The Mike Watson Band - "Biscuit On My Mind"

Last night I got a chance to catch up with my old friend Mike Watson who was playing at Doc's in Smyrna with his band, The Mike Watson Band. Mike is a seasoned musician, who has opened for, or performed with, the Freddy Fender Band, Confederate Railroad, Cheap Trick, Darlene Austin, Hamilton, Joe Frank, and Reynolds, Bill Haley's Comets, Janie Frickie, Melva Montgomery, Allen Frizzell, and Doyle Grisham, just to name a few. Mike and his band really do a great job interpreting the blues, and a MWB set might also include country, classic rock and southern rock standards, by artists such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, Santana and Merle Haggard.

Mike also writes his own songs and does commercial jingles. I asked Mike about how he goes about it.

I am a mood writer. I don't just sit down and write, the mood has to be right. The hook always comes first, the music falls into place.

He explained how he came to write one of his favorites "Biscuit On My Mind".

I was inspired by my bass player. We had a room together in Nashville. We'd only slept about three hours and he said to me, "get up Mike, I have a biscuit on my mind!" and I told him to go back to bed.

The next evening we were rehearsing at the club and I said "I have a new one. It is just a I, IV, V blues." It was supposed to be just a joke, but people who heard liked it and started requesting it, so I had to finish it.

Go to Mike Watson's website at to listen to or purchase MWB music and more.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

White Boy Writes a Blues Song

This morning I think I finally wrote my first blues song that I am satisfied with. My challenge has always been that I am not in a band and I am not a good enough finger-picker or slide guitar player to pull off that Robert Johnson sound. In addition, it is really hard to make something that has at least somewhat of a fresh sound so that it doesn't sound completely predictable and therefore boring. One of my strengths as a performer is my skill playing blues harmonica. And I love the blues.

I didn't intend to write a song this morning, but for some reason I was thinking about music and that phrase "The blues ain't nothing but a good man feeling bad" popped into my head. So right there the songwriter in me said "that's a good lyrical starting point." Within a half hour the lyrics fell into place along with a chord sequence that avoided the usual three chord 1, IV, V twelve bar blues structure; as much as I love it, it can be such a bore at this point since it has been done sooooo many times before. If I still think it sounds good tomorrow, I'll have to give it a trial in front of my fellow musicians and songwriters to see how they respond. I guess the phrase should probably be in the public domain, it is old enough - I did a Google search, and some songs are already out there using the starting lyric or something close to it, but I think that is OK because I know that there are sometimes totally different songs with the same title.

If there are any musicians out there reading this who can share how they approach writing a bluesy song that isn't just another cliched, soul-less imitation please share!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Open Mic Mania Final Show - A Win for Live Music and Entertainment

Last night I attended the final Open Mic Mania which was held at The City Loft in Cartersville, Georgia. It was a resounding success! A large and appreciative crowd showed up to see local musicians perform their own original songs and music and stuck around to see who would ultimately win. Twelve songwriters competed in this final Open Mic Mania event. Several members of the Cartersville Songwriters Exchange were among the twelve contestants including Cindy Smith, Allen Hicks, Gavin (EZ) Powell, Debbie Gains, Ron Caird and Shawn Michael Haney. Each performed a song and then the judges picked five winners. Then these five winners each performed one more song and the judges picked the final winner from this set of five. At the end of the night, local musician Rick McKee was pronounced the winner. Mr. McKee is very talented, and I would highly recommend him to anyone who likes to catch live music.

We were also treated to performances of the Owens Brothers who were joined by their beautiful and talented daughter Amanda who sang "All Around the World", a song written by a friend of the Owen's who passed away several years ago. It was an emotional and passionate performance. Later on, I got a chance to play harmonica with Randy and Billy as they performed a couple of Randy Owen's original songs "Go Away" and "It Don't Matter to Me".

What a great evening. Thanks to all the musicians with the pluck to put their talent on the line in front of a live crowd and a special thanks to the Owens - Randy, Billy, Patricia and Amanda who give so much of themselves to promote local musical talent. Make sure to read The Seed of Song to find out more about upcoming events such as the "Songwriters Showcase" in February in which a circle of four of the Cartersville Songwriters Exchange members will play and join in on their own original songs. The first showcase will feature myself, Allen Hicks, Jeff Putnam and Cindy Smith. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Songwriter Showcases in Cartersville - Great Live Entertainment

The Cartersville Songwriters exchange will be hosting two songwriter showcases in 2011. The first will be in February and will feature four songwriters, each performing about a half an hours worth of their own material. What a great way for aspiring musicians and songwriters to garner some attention! This event is relatively unique because it differs from a typical open mic in that the music is new, and right from the source. You can find a ton of places that have an open mic night, and most of the performers at these open mics play covers of songs that the audience has heard over and over again. Randy Owens, the founder of the Cartersville Songwriters exchange, and his wife Patricia are working with the local media in Cartersville to help promote the event. The first showcase will feature Cindy Smith, Allen Hicks, Jeff Putnam and myself. Look for these Artists on ReverbNation to hear some of their original music. The showcase will take place in The City Loft in downtown Cartersville. This is a great venue for acoustic music. There is lots of room, it is separated from the City Cellar restaurant, so there isn't much background noise to distract the listener and the wooden floors make the room nice acoustically. Keep reading The Seeds of Song for more information about upcoming shows and future events. 2011 looks to be an exciting year.


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