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Blog: Guitar, Bass and Drum Lessons

Helpful tips and music theory; interesting videos.

Video of the Month


DakhaBrakha; Music from Ukraine

The musicians create noises that set an atmosphere, like it's night time in the woods, with the sounds of birds, insects and frogs. The accordion drones in a loose, hypnotic rhythm. The cello comes in with a melody, and the accordion picks up the rhythm. The drummer joins in; she plays a drum called a floor tom, (from a typical drum kit) and she uses a type of drumsticks called brushes. Brushes have thin wires on the end, and they are used in many types of music, for example jazz, blues and rock. They great for expressive playing, sound much softer than regular sticks, and you can rub brushes on the drum head, creating interesting textures and rhythms. The singers go back and forth, with call and response melodies and polyrhythms. The energy reminds me of fast-tempo jazz and other types of spontaneous, joyful music. At one point, the instruments stop, and it's just vocals. Then the instruments come back in. This is called “dropping out” of the mix, and it's common in many types of popular music today, like pop, electronic music, rock and hip-hop. Have you heard a song lately, where an instrument like the drums or guitar drops out of the mix for a moment? The song ends the same way it started, with the listener being transported back to the woods at night time. The song creates an experience for the listener, there is a whole world of rhythms, melodies, and ideas contained within the song. Is it the goal of popular musicians today to create this kind of immersive environment in a song? What kinds of images and ideas does this song bring to mind? If you're interested in learning how to play the brushes on drums, or would like to learn more about how to apply these ideas to guitar and the other instruments that I teach, give me a call today!

In this song, the group DakhaBrakha transports the listener to night time, in the woods. The group is from Kyiv, Ukraine. They perform on Indian, Arabic, African, Russian, and Australian traditional instruments, and with their voices. The musicians create new music that is rooted in Ukranian folk music. The band was formed at the Kyiv Center for Contemporary Art in 2004, by a theater director, so the band always wears costumes as part of the theatrical element of the show. Their name means “give/take” in the Old Ukranian language.


Folk Music: "Deportees" By Woody Guthrie

"Deportees" is a song written by Woody Guthrie. It's based on a true story, of a plane crash that killed migrant workers that were being deported. What kinds of images does this song bring to mind? One line in the song refers to “the crops are all in, and the peaches are rotting, the oranges piled in their creosote dumps.” This lyric is about how farmers were paid to destroy their crops, to keep farm production and prices high. Since Woody Guthrie's time, not much has changed; many people still go hungry while up to 40% of food produced in America is thrown away. Woody Guthrie wrote this song as a poem, and later it was set to music. The folk singer Pete Seeger helped popularize the song. When Woody Guthrie wrote the song, he was upset that the people killed in the plane crash were referred to by the media as just “deportees,” instead of listing their names. The song is a haunting lament about the nameless deportee and refugee, “scattered like dry leaves.”

In this version of “Deportees”, performed by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, the singers add a bit of zest into the song by singing in harmony. Music should usually have an emotional quality to it, and this version of the song has a lot of emotion to me. Singing in harmony is challenging, but can be learned by anyone willing to learn an instrument, and music theory. Are you interested in learning more about singing harmony, or learning to play any of the instruments that I teach? Give me a call today to get started!


Listening to the Lyrics in Songs, and a Teacher's Journey to Meet a Beatle

I recently watched a Spanish movie called Living is Easy With Eyes Closed. If you are a Beatles fan, the title of the movie should be instantly recognizable. (It's from the lyrics in the song “Strawberry Fields Forever,”) The movie is based on a real teacher who lived in Spain, named Juan Carrion, who was responsible for teaching English to his students. He used Beatles songs that he heard off the radio, like the song “Help!,” to make it easier and more fun for his students to learn English.

In the film, his name is changed to Antonio. Since Beatles albums were not available yet in his country, Antonio listened to the radio, and tried to copy down the lyrics. But of course, this is hard to do. He ended up with missing words in the songs. Beatles albums did not include lyrics at that time. There was no internet to look up the lyrics. So what could he do?

Antonio learns that John Lennon is nearby, filming a war movie (Richard Lester's How I Won The War.) So Antonio decides to take a road trip, in an attempt to meet John Lennon. Of course, by 1966, the Beatles were so successful, that a person like John was understandably weary of all the attention from people he didn't know. Was Antonio able to convince the people around John to give them a chance to meet? If you want to read more about the film, including the ending, read the text below this month's video. The movie does have adult themes though, so kids would be better off watching The Yellow Submarine or A Hard Day's Night.

Is there a band whose lyrics inspire you? I'm willing to bet you don't have any poems memorized, but you have some songs memorized. That's because music aids with learning and communication. Do you like to sing? The human voice can be a fantastic instrument. Are you interested in learning how to sing and play an instrument? Or would you like to learn to play an instrument, so that people can sing with your accompaniment? Or are you interested in learning to sing better? Then perhaps you should study an instrument. Having an instrument like guitar, bass, ukulele to back yourself up as a singer, and provide reference pitches, is a great way to learn how to sing. Or you could sing and play drums, which layers the rhythm of the singing and drumming together. Give me a call to get started, on any of the instruments that I teach.

The character Antonio, from the Spanish film Living is Easy With Eyes Closed, and the real teacher that he's based off, ended up meeting John Lennon. John was very friendly, and helped Antonio correct the lyrics, and fill in the missing words. John even used different color pens, yellow for yellow submarine, green when he wrote the word green, and so on, which showed his sense of humor. After their meeting, lyrics were included on every Beatles album released afterwards.

The message of the Beatles, besides their songs on a great variety of topics, was “Give Peace a Chance” and “LOVE.” So besides writing great songs, they also had a very simple message that resonated with most people. Why did Antonio choose the song “Help!” as a good example of a Beatles song that communicates human feelings? Why would a musician write a song called “Help!” when they are supposedly happy, playing in front of stadiums of fans? Watch the film, or give me a call learn more.


Setting Words to Music

This September, I attended an event at the Syrian Cultural Garden, located at the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. These free, outdoor gardens are a gem of Cleveland, and represent over thirty cultures, and continue to grow with new additions. The Syrian Garden was recently added in 2011. The event was in memory of the preeminent Syrian poet, Nizar Qabbani. For over fifty years, Qabbani wrote great poetry that spoke of love, erotism, feminism, and politics, in places where these things were not always openly talked about. He was no stranger to tragedy and exile, and the harsh repression of dictatorships. He stands as one of the greatest contemporary Arab poets. In fact, his poems were so influential, that many of the poems were set to music, and became hit songs in the Arab world during his lifetime. After all, what are songs, but words set to music?

The newly added bronze statue is a bust of the poet, and was created by my friend, the Syrian-American artist Leila Khoury. The best way to enjoy poetry like Nizar Qabbani, is to read it out loud in it's mother tongue. Since I don't understand the language of literary Arabic, I was happy that the speakers that day also translated some of his poems for the audience. One of the speakers was musically backed up by a young man playing the Oud, the Turkish predecessor to the guitar. The poet's son was also there, to speak about his father. I met him and gave him a copy of my first album. The whole afternoon was a moving, heartfelt experience.

When you read poetry out loud, instead of silently, you not only hear the words, but also the spaces in between the words, which is like the interplay between the lines and the negative spaces in a drawing. In a drawing, the spaces in between the lines and objects is called the negative space. As a visual artist, I was encouraged to not only look at things, but to also look at the shapes of the spaces in between the things, and to draw both. In poetry, sentences are like the lines or shapes in a drawing or photo, and the pauses in between the words are like the negative spaces between those shapes and lines. As you read out loud, the sound of poetry resonates through your whole being, and the spaces in between the words gives you time to process the often complex and wide ranging emotions that the words suggest to the open minded reader. Good poetry is an inspiration to the heart, the mind, and body. Therefore, for the video of the month, I have selected one of Qabbani's poems, with English subtitles, entitled "Five Letters to My Mother."

A poem, set to music, by the Syrian poet Nazar Qabbani. Are you interested in learning how to turn poetry and words into music? Give me a call today, and we'll explore the art of songwriting. Many music instructors only know how to copy, but I can help you create your own songs. A good way to start is to study the songs you love, and analyze what makes them work so well. I've been writing poetry since I was a child, and exploring how to turn those words into songs since I was a young adult. In grade school, I excelled at reading and writing from an early age, and in high school I took advanced classes in English and creative writing. I began performing my songs in public in 2004. I released my first album of original music in 2005, and I've continued to write and perform since then.


Learn how to Improvise and Create Your Own Music. Part 2 of 2. Improvising in Rock, Folk, Blues, Bluegrass, and Jazz

The Grateful Dead and many other bands were known for developing and expanding upon their songs with lengthy improvisations. Improvisation is common in many types of music, including blues, folk, jazz, and bluegrass, and in music from all around the world. The slang word for improvising in music is "jamming." A typical song has a chord progression, meaning you play the chords of the song in a set order, which allows musicians to be on the same page, and then you can build ideas off that scaffolding. That way, when you improvise, it's not random, but it usually follows the chords in the song. It could be a preexisting part in the song, like a verse, chorus or bridge, or it could be a new chord progression introduced into the song. Jazz has the most complex chords, and blues, folk, and bluegrass are typically the easiest.

The main beat of the song is called the downbeat, and the speed of the downbeat is called the tempo. When the tempo of a song moves fast, it can be quite a mental workout to keep up with the changes, while improvising too! It can also be quite a workout for the fingers and wrist of a guitarist, or the arms and legs of a drummer. Improvising, instead of solely copying other musicians, is one the best things you can learn as a musician, and a lot of fun. It will help you communicate your own musical ideas.

Not every musician knows how to improvise. I've taught adult students that took piano lessons for years, but then when they learn guitar or drums, everything about improvisation is new to them, because in classical music you just play what is written, and are almost never taught to improvise. For example, one of my current students was classically trained overseas on the piano and cello, and has played for over 20 years, including professionally. Yet when it came to improvisation, it was something that was never taught. So she requested songs by Grateful Dead, The Doors, and Pink Floyd, and I'm using those songs to explain how rock musicians improvise, and how to listen to rock or blues or any other kind of music and be able to recognize when improvisation is taking place. I've been getting feedback from the student, about how she enjoys learning about improvisation, and how it's changing the way she listens to and approaches music, both rock and classical.

Whether you are a beginner or already know something about music, the way I teach music will help you understand how musicians improvise, from day one. You'll learn about how musicians organize sounds into musical ideas and songs. The way I explain music avoids boring memorization, and could help you create your own music, and help you experiment with sounds so you can start improvising too.

As a musician, improvising is like sketching and developing a musical idea, by seeing how variations of the rhythm, melody and harmony could sound. Are you interested in improvising on the guitar, bass guitar, drum set, hand drum, ukulele, or harmonica? I teach all these instruments, so call me today to begin your journey towards improvisation.

This Ray Charles song originated in improvisation. Basically, the song was made up on stage, during live shows. He started with a piano riff that has a boogie woogie sound. The piano riff is the main idea/melody of the song. That became the template for improvisation. The drummer improvised a type of drum beat inspired by the Latin beat called the Rumba. The lyrics were made up on the spot. The song also features call and response, between the main singer and background singers.

If you go on YouTube, with AdBlock enabled of course, you can watch the video called "Billy Taylor; How Jazz Musicians Improvise." You'll have to find the video yourself, because the video is preceded by an advertisement, and I refuse to host any ads on this website. The ideas Billy Taylor talks about in the video can be applied to any type of music, including rock, folk and blues. He does a great job talking about the three things I would have also talked about, which are rhythm, harmony, and melody. He suggests that you should know a song well before trying to improvise on it. That way you'll have a structure to work with. By the way, I can play you simpler examples of everything he talks about in the video, during a lesson.

He picks a song, one that he knows well, and then he plays an example where he changes the rhythm, which can change the feel/mood of the song. Improvising on the rhythm of a song is a lot of fun, and you can add in or drop out certain rhythms without changing the overall main rhythm of a song. Second of all, he changes the harmony. Harmony is chords, and the way things sound together. You can change or embellish the chords in a song and see how they sound. Harmony can be simple or complex, and can easily create different sounds and moods. Third of all, he changes the melody of the song. Melody is the main idea of the song, it's what you'd hum if you were humming a song. Melody is a sequence of short musical phrases, musical words and sentences, that turn into musical paragraphs, and so on. You can change a melody both melodically and rhythmically. Then you can see if the variations of the melody fit with the the harmony, or change the harmony/chords too.

So why do musicians improvise? Because improvising communicates musical ideas. It could be rhythmic ideas that you want your audience to feel and hear. It could be a melody or a variation of a well-known melody. It could be a song arrangement, with chords and harmonies. It could be a combination of some or all the above. And because of the way music works, someone who listens to the improvisation in the song may feel a certain way. For example, an uptempo song could make the listener feel excited and engaged. Changing an existing song, or creating something new is a way to state musical ideas, and it can communicate what you know about music to the listener. And the more the listener knows about music, and the closer they listen, the more they can pick up on the musical ideas being communicated. The study of how music works is called music theory. Give me a call to start learning music theory and songs today, on any of the instruments that I teach.


Learn how to Improvise and Create Your Own Music. Part 1 of 2. Band Example: The Grateful Dead

Would you like to learn how to improvise, which means to make up your own music or variations on an existing idea? That's something that I teach and emphasize from your first lesson. You can learn any band or style of music that you'd like. When people think of improvisation in rock music, often the first band that comes to mind is the Grateful Dead. They were a band that never played a song the same way twice. The Grateful Dead were an American band that inspired many musicians and fans from all around the world. The living members played a farewell show this July at Soldier's Field in Chicago. They have been playing music together for 50 years! And they plan on continuing to play music. That's because music is a great way to keep your mind fit as you age. For example, if you are an adult looking to take music lessons, you should know that it's never too late to start! You've been listening to music all your life, so you've developed an ear for what you like, and you're already very familiar with bands and styles that you like. So if you want, learning more about the way the Grateful Dead created their music is a great way to learn more about improvisation. Improvising and rearranging songs helps musicians feel like they are staying challenged over the years, and it's fun.

The Grateful Dead were known for improvising in their songs, the way jazz bands do. They have described their music as “dixieland-rock.” Because in dixieland jazz, the whole band solos, there can be multiple instruments soloing at once. The Grateful Dead didn't follow any showbiz formulas. They played whatever songs they wanted, in whatever order, instead of following a predetermined set list. Each night they expanded upon their songs, by trying new things and improvising. When you improvise, you develop a musical idea, by changing any combination of its rhythm, melody, and harmony. This is an influence of jazz, bluegrass, blues, and folk in rock music. You can start with nothing, like in free jazz, or a free improvisation session, and create something out of nothing. But usually musicians start with an existing idea or song. You can start with a basic idea or two, a song structure, and work on developing the idea musically. By repeating the idea, changing its harmony and rhythm, even its melody, you can improvise too!

The Grateful Dead were very good at improvising together, which comes with time, and listening to each other. This is different from bands where one person improvises, while the rest of the band simply grooves. That's because in jazz, when one instrument is soloing, the rest of the band usually doesn't simply play a groove. The band “talks” with the soloist, and they respond and support the soloist with variations in melody, harmony, rhythm, and dynamics (variations in loud-soft.)

Many blues musicians were known for improvising in their songs or solos. In fact, most blues songs were made up on the spot, and only written down later. Bluegrass music is known for it's virtuosic soloing over simple songs. Even folk music often has a sense of improvisation, with variations on lyrics being very common. Songs are often rearranged, or arranged for different combinations of instruments. There could be different types of percussion, hand clapping and improvisatory singing. Another type of improvisation is called “call and response”, where one instrument states an idea, (the call) and then the same instrument, or another instrument responds with an idea (the response.) Call and response is common in music from all over the world.

The Grateful Dead blended many influences, rock, blues, bluegrass, jazz, folk music, avant garde, and more. Besides “dixieland rock,” their overall sound I would call “American roots music” because it draws from so many styles of music. They had a large sound, the band featured multiple vocalists, two guitarists, bass and keyboards to fill out the bottom end, and two drummers. Sometimes each drummer would play a drum set. Or one drummer played a drum set, while the other drummer played hand percussion. This “wall of sound” is common these days in many types of music, for example reggae, r&b, big band jazz, salsa, and world music bands. Many jam bands also copy the Grateful Dead's set up and sound.

One of the things that made the Grateful Dead unique was their memorable songwriting. They all wrote songs, and they also had a friend, the poet Robert Hunter who wrote a lot of lyrics for them. The band members would often read his poetry and select lyrics that would work as a song. Then the band members would compose music to the lyrics, and develop the song's melody and form. This is a very collaborative way of working. The lyrics tended to stay consistent from show to show, not everything was improvised!

The Grateful Dead also covered rock, blues and folk music, paying tribute to the artists and styles that influenced them. This often helped the less well-known artists and styles get more attention from music fans. For example,the songs “Big Boss Man” “Turn on Your Love Light” and “Me and My Uncle” are all songs that the Grateful Dead popularized with their own version. When I checked out this list, I was surprised which songs that I thought were composed by the Grateful Dead were actually written by other people. This month's video features the original version of “Turn on Your Love Light” by Bobby Bland, a song that became a staple of the Grateful Dead's live shows. The Grateful Dead helped bring improvisation and the roots of American music to music fans in America and all over the world, despite being ignored by the mainstream radio of their day, and only scoring a top 40 hit once. Now their influence is ubiquitous. Tape swapping at shows anticipated file sharing, and the way the Grateful Dead bypassed the music industry and played their music directly to fans helped to get the music out there. Are you interested in learning more about improvisation in music? The easiest way to get started is to give me a call today.

How did the Grateful Dead arrange their music to sound coherent, avoiding a chaotic mix with too many instruments and sounds? Listening, trial and error, and making mistakes as a musician, are great learning tools for improvisation. So is studying other people's music. If you learn with me, you can learn how to improvise in a stress free environment. I can help you progress and give you feedback every step of the way. By trying out how things sound, you'll develop a musical vocabulary, and you'll develop ideas that you can choose between for each song, or style of music that interests you.


The Science of Sound; Introduction to a Stringed Instrument like Guitar, Bass, and Ukulele.

Here are three things about how a stringed instrument works. This is useful for any music fan to know, even if you don't play a stringed instrument, because it's an applied example of the science of sound. Anyone that has played a little guitar or bass would probably already know the first two things that I will mention. And as for the third thing, many guitarists play for months or years without knowing about it. If you read this whole blog post, you'll know more about the science of sound.

The first thing is that the guitar has six strings, and each string has a slightly different thickness. When you play a string without holding anything down on the neck, it's called playing the string “open.” If you play each string open, the thickest string makes the lowest pitch, and the thinnest string makes the highest pitch. That's because strings of equal length produce different pitches when they are different thickness. The thickness of the string is called the gauge, and you can put anything from medium strings to extra lights on a guitar or bass.

What if you play higher on the neck of the guitar, instead of open strings? The second thing is when you push a string down onto the neck of the guitar with your finger, squeezing the string against the fretboard, it shortens the string a little bit. This raises the pitch of the string. The higher up on the neck you hold the string down, the higher the pitch will sound. That's because when you shorten a string, the pitch gets higher. (Higher on the neck means down towards the body and bridge of the guitar, not towards the top where the neck and tuning pegs are.) If you divide the string in half, by pressing down at it's halfway point, (the 12th fret) you will double the pitch, or frequency of the sound wave. If you have room on the guitar neck to divide the string again, it would double the pitch again. This concept is called the “octave” in music, and was discovered by early music theorists, musicians, and instrument makers. The octave is a good sound to be able to recognize easily by ear. Even if you are not a musician, recognizing intervals, the spaces in music, can increase your enjoyment of recorded and live music.

The third thing about stringed instruments is that when you play major and minor chords, they sound a certain way that can be identified. When you start combining notes, you get chords. Some chords are called major and some are called minor. Did you know that these chords sound a certain way to people from all over the world? So how do they sound? Major basically sounds happy, and minor sad. But there's more to the story than that. Major chords can also sound vibrant, energetic, strong, “finished” sounding, and bright. Minor chords, besides just sad, can sound weak, “unfinished”, mellow, and dark sounding. Many guitarists and pianists play for months or years and don't realize this! In fact, from what I've noticed, most piano and guitar teachers forget to explain and reinforce this very important concept from day one. They'll have you mindlessly copying by reading sheet music like a robot, never explaining the “why” of music. So which chords are the most common in rock?

Most rock songs are built of mostly major chords or “power chords” which -almost- sound major, with some minor chords thrown in, to spice things up. From these basic building blocks, you can add more notes to make any kind of chord, to suggest any kind of emotional state, or musical idea. From unfinished chords, to beautiful sounding chords, to rock, folk and jazz chords, if you study a stringed instrument with me, you'll never be left in the dark when it comes to learning and playing songs. With these chords you can even create your own music and improvise (make stuff up,) which is the topic of next month's blog post. Does learning a stringed instrument sound interesting to you? If so, give me a call to learn more about guitar, bass or ukulele!

Watch what happens when sound waves vibrate grains of sand on a metal plate. The sand forms into geometric patterns with each sound wave. The higher the frequency (pitch) of the sound, the more complex the patterns become. The science of sound was explored by early music theorists, for example, Greeks like Pythagoras, and Indian, Arab and Persian authors. Almost all musical treaties of the Greeks would have been lost, with countless other knowledge from all disciplines, if it had not been transcribed, preserved, and disseminated by Arab scholars, and stored at libraries like the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, which was the largest book depository of the ancient world, until it was destroyed by Mongols. Many instruments like the guitar, bagpipes, zither, dulcimer, trumpet and piano descended from Arab and Persian instruments. Humans have been designing musical instruments with preconceived pitches, for thousands of years. For example, the earliest bone flutes found in Germany date to 35000 BCE and early Chinese flutes date to 9000 BCE. The pitches produced by early Chinese flutes correspond very closely to the pitches we use today.


Learning about Drumming from Jason Bonham

This month, the drummer in my band treated me to a free ticket to a rock show. The show was Jason Bonham performing the music of the British rock band Led Zeppelin. Jason Bonham is the son of John Bonham, who was the well-loved and influential drummer in Led Zeppelin, before he passed away. Jason paid tribute to his father by performing the band's songs with solid studio musicians, playing a generously long set. He opened with a joke from the movie "Spinal Tap," and talked in between songs about his father's influence in his life. Growing up with a famous drummer for a father, Jason didn't see his father as "cool," he just knew him as "dad." Then when he was an adult, Jason got serious about drumming. According to Jason Bonham, learning how to drum and studying his father's drumming style led Jason to a deeper appreciation and understanding of his father. With music, and other worthwhile things in life, sometimes it's not enough to study from a distance, as a passive observer or critic, one must dive in and learn the minute particulars themselves.

Seeing a good drummer at a live show inspires me to go home and practice. And the next day, when I played some Led Zeppelin songs on drums, just for fun, I felt more confident that my hands and feet could do what the sheet music was telling me to do.

Led Zeppelin's music is very influential to many musicians today. The first generation of bands that copied Led Zeppelin mostly missed the mark, copying their “sound” but missing out on the fact that most of Led Zeppelin's sound was based on syncopated blues music, great songwriting, and putting four talented minds together to create a whole that is greater than what one individual can contribute. They were also one of the first progressive rock bands, which means they expanded on the basic blues structure to merge a variety of influences and create interesting and well developed compositions. They were progressive without being overindulgent. Their influences included Middle Eastern music and music from India. When Led Zeppelin first came out, the world was ready for bluesy music that had a heavier edge to it, with more complex beats and arrangements than the standard blues form. And that's why John Bonham's drumming and Led Zeppelin continue to be influential today, because their music is fun, and captured the spirit of the band's youth and exploration of musical territory.

Thanks Steve for the ticket to the show! He is the drummer in my band. The band plays my original songs. I sing and play electric guitar, and a little bit of harmonica.

Do you love the drumming of John Bonham as much as I do? Give me a call today, and you could start learning Led Zeppelin songs on the drums, or any other instrument that I teach. We can start with the easiest parts and go from there! Step by step, you can learn to play some very fun beats. John Bonham also had a great sense of dynamics, which means the range of how soft and loud a drummer plays. Give me a call today to learn how to drum with dynamics!

The drum beat in this song is very catchy, and has been sampled in many songs over the years. It has a nice sounding echo in the beat; the drums were recorded in a stairwell to capture the echo on tape. Led Zeppelin's version is a tribute to the original "When the Levee Breaks," which was written in 1929, about a devastating flood in Mississippi. There is bluesy sounding harmonica in the song, which you could also learn about because I teach harmonica lessons too!


Downbeat and the Backbeat

The main beat in a song is called the downbeat. The downbeat is the heartbeat and the strongest pulse of the song. When people tap their toes or dance to a song, hopefully they're hearing the constant downbeats, or at least some of the downbeats. The speed of a song is called tempo. Tempo means "time" in Italian.

Tempo is calculated in Beats Per Minute (BPM.) So a song that is 60 BPM is 60 beats per minute. How fast is that? It sounds like one beat per second. That's a medium tempo, not very fast or slow. The human heart beats, on average, from 60 to 80 beats per minute. So music at that tempo feels moderate. If you double the tempo, from 60 to 120 beats per minute, now the tempo is more in the range of dance music or faster rock, up to around 230 BPM. If you go slower than 60 beats per minute, now the song will sound slow, possibly good for contemplative music. So think of tempo as related to the way that we perceive time as humans. There is only a certain range of tempos that sounds musical.

In rock, and other types of music, the song usually has something called a "backbeat." The backbeat is usually played by the snare drum, on beats 2 and 4. The snare drum is the drum that has a snappy sound to it. So if you're counting 1,2,3,4, clap your hands on the 2 and 4. That's called the backbeat in a song.

Now that you know how to count the backbeat, it can be easier to find the downbeat in music. Just clap on all four beats, instead of just the 2 and 4. Hearing the downbeat in songs of different genres is an acquired skill that we can work on during the lessons.

Ever wondered if there's an easy way to figure out the tempo of your favorite songs? There is, you'll need a tool called the metronome. The metronome basically makes a clicking sound, and you can set it at any tempo you want. You'll need a metronome with a "tap tempo" feature. For example, download a free metronome app on a phone or tablet, or use a free online metronome that has the tap tempo option, like this one.

Listen to the song until you hear what you think the downbeat is. Tap the "tap tempo" button around ten times in a row, on each downbeat that you hear. Don't skip a beat! The tap tempo button takes an average of the speed you are tapping. So you're taking a sample of the tempo. After pressing it about ten times or so, you can read the number it tells you. So for example, the song "Johnny B Goode" by Chuck Berry has a tempo of around 171 BPM. The tap tempo button saves musicians from having to do some kind of complicated math equations to figure out the tempo. Hearing the downbeat in music, and knowing how to count time in each genre will reveal the challenge in the seemingly simple activity of figuring out the tempo. And the more you learn about rhythm and music, it will get easier to hear the downbeat and know how to count it. Another way to quickly find out the tempo of a song is if you read the sheet music for a song, it will almost always tell you the tempo at the beginning of the song.

As a musician, keeping a steady tempo, that's the challenge. No one cares how fast you can play, it's not a competition. It's more of a competition against yourself, to see if you can keep a steady tempo. Not only steady, but a rhythm that still "feels good," which means it "swings" a little bit. The tempo has life to it, because it's coming from a living spirit, a person. You don't want your music to sound strictly mathematical, like a beat machine or computer could produce.

Did you know that one way to organize the music you love is by tempo? With the ongoing demise of FM radio under the stranglehold of corporate homogeneity, radio stations like Pandora have become popular. Online radio stations suggest bands and songs that you may like, based on many factors, including genre. However, researchers have realized that you may like music that has similar tempos too. A way to explore new music is to search for music that has similar tempos to music that you already enjoy. For example, some internet radio stations make jogging mixes for people that enjoy listening to music while they run. All the songs would share a similar, fast tempo. This upbeat, faster music could be great for exercising and driving. Then you could search for a couple of slow songs, and switch to a slow playlist for studying and relaxing. By searching for music with similar tempos, you'll be likely to find a variety of music that you may enjoy, beyond the limitations of genre, even the language of the singer.

Give me a call today to get started learning more about tempo and rhythm. You'll get better at the instrument of your choice, plus you'll have a better ear for music. If you've always wanted to dance to music, but didn't know what to listen for, let's listen to some songs and listen for the downbeat.

Listen to the song Johnny B Goode, by Chuck Berry. Can you hear the snare drum playing the "backbeat" on beats 2 and 4? Keeping a steady backbeat is a common sound in rock and many other types of music. This song has a fast, lively tempo (speed.) Can you tap your hand on the downbeats in the song? "Having a sense of rhythm" is a listening skill that anyone can learn.


Playing the Drum Set with Sticks Uses Muscles in the Hands and Fingers

Who are the drummers that take lessons with me? Anyone and everyone. One of my students finds time to drum every week, in between her family life and career. She is a wife and mother of three kids. She just took a trip to India to go to her friend's wedding. She knew there was going to be a drum set at the wedding, so she requested to learn a two minute drum solo to perform for the wedding guests. I created a unique drum solo for her, and gave her options of how it could sound. She practiced for 5 weeks, till she was ready. I'm excited to hear how her drum solo went, when she gets back from India! What a great way to share what she learned about music with others!

This month's blog is all about the drum set. Many people assume drumming is something like smashing things with a baseball bat. They would be shocked to realize that to correctly hold the drum sticks, you need a loose, relaxed grip. Furthermore, they would quickly tense up and get tired, if they didn't realize that drumming with sticks is all in the muscles of the hands and fingers. It should take as little effort as possible to strike the drum, and the drum should be struck in a way that it takes as little effort as possible to bring the stick back up from the drum, ready to strike again. What? Drumming is all in the muscles of the hand and fingers you say? Let me prove it to you, but first a little history of the amazing instrument that we call the drum kit.

The drum set is a modern, sophisticated instrument. I blogged about the roots of the drum set in an earlier blog, which Max Roach explained very well. It's wild to think the drum set has existed in it's modern form for only about 100 years. For example, the bass drum (the biggest and lowest drum, operated by a foot pedal that presses a beater to the drum head) was originally called the “kick” drum. That's because before the foot pedal was invented, drummers literally kicked the drum with their foot to make a sound! Such a primitive setup is nearly unimaginable now. Another crazy thing is that the drums that make up the modern drum set used to have calfskin heads, now most drums have synthetic heads. Synthetic heads weren't invented till the 50's, so all recordings made before 1957 have calfskin heads, which have somewhat of a more "thud" kind of sound to them and are harder to keep in tune. You can read more about the history of the drum kit here. Basically, artists created the sounds they were looking for through creative, improvised means, and eventually drum manufacturers caught up. The drum manufacturers studied the drummers, and created the modern drum kit to bring out what drummers were looking for.

How are the drums played? Where is the force coming from that directs the stick or hand to strike the drum? Is it a full swinging motion of the arm, resulting in a constantly loud sound? It's actually the opposite, although some drummers choose to waste energy by moving around too much. Striking the drum with a stick comes from the muscles in the hand and fingers. Not the shoulders, arms, or even the wrists. It's all about the fulcrum, and there are two fulcrums. The fulcrum point is the point between your thumb and index finger, where you balance the stick. But there is also a muscle in the hand called the fulcrum muscle. This muscle is where all the action comes from. You'll use the fulcrum muscle in your hand to bring the stick down, and you'll use a little bit of the rebound of the stick and muscles in your fingers to bring the stick back up.

Playing with the wrists and arms is tiring, and you'll reach a certain tempo or idea where it's just not possible anymore. Then what happens is you tense up, because you're making drumming harder than it needs to be. One thing that happens when we tense up is we forget to breathe. If you are tense, and holding your breath, you won't be able to maintain the groove for long. For a great explanation of how to hold the stick, check out this months' video. Of course, the hands are connected to the wrists, arms, and shoulders, so you'll be using your whole body to play the drums, including your feet, but the action of striking the drum with a stick comes from the hands and fingers.

If you've never seen a drummer that has successful form, instead of waving their arms around wildly, do yourself a favor and check out a great jazz drummer. Or any great rock drummer, like Hal Blaine or Bernard Purdie. Your best bet is to see a live show, so you can literally hear the dynamics (the range of soft and loud) that the drums are capable of. For example, one of the most fun things for me on drums, is to play the drums quietly, yet quickly and very intensely. Another fun thing is to change where the strong beat is, and subdivide the beat in different ways, so basically you go on musical adventure where you can play with time, speed it up, slow it down, stretch it, make it "swing", and explore the different sonic textures and sounds that can come from a drum set. Time is most often perceived as linear, but the passage of time can also be viewed as a circle. Some beats sound like a circle, because they loop (repeat) well. To "swing" basically means you delay every other beat by a little. So if you're counting “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”, you'd delay the "ands" by just a little bit. Music that "swings" feels good, and music that doesn't swing can sound too stiff or robotic. Drummers adjust their style to suit different songs, and you need to stay relaxed no matter what the tempo (speed.) Another creative use of circles: Often successful drummers move the sticks in small circular motions, instead of straight up and down, especially when playing with the type of stick called "brushes."

You can also search on YouTube for videos of great jazz drummers, a simple google search will give you plenty of names to get started with. In jazz, basically the cymbals keep the beat, and the rest of the drums are used to accent things going on in the song, so it's very different than rock drumming. Learning just a little bit about the “rules” of jazz, can help tremendously in understanding and appreciating jazz music. Same with Latin music, and any other kind of music. But no matter what your style, if you want to play reasonably fast, long, and without wasted effort, you'll need to hold the sticks the same way, and learn how to use the fulcrum muscle.

Another great drummer, Charli Persip explains in this video, that drummers (and any musician) should practice outside of their comfort zone. You shouldn't just practice what you can already do, because you can already do it, so where's the challenge? I agree with his assessment that a drummer should practice things that they can't do about 80% of the time. This is the way to grow as a musician. And if you take lessons with me, you'll have plenty of useful things to practice, and I'll provide constant feedback on your progress and rhythmic accuracy.

Although I never teach out of a boring book, I do have some awesome books and resources that we can learn from! Latin and Afro-Cuban music are great to learn about, and so is Middle Eastern and Indian drumming. There are certain fascinating rhythms that are common to music from all over the world. These rhythms have been documented and passed down over the ages, because they sound so good and satisfying. So they appear almost everywhere, in nearly every culture. No matter what your goals are as a drummer, you will benefit greatly by learning about these rhythmic ideas and units. And we'll cover their applications in both rock songs, and in other types of music. Next month, I will break drumming and rhythm down into it's most basic concepts, and we'll learn what the downbeat is.

Ralph Peterson Jr, jazz drummer bandleader, and educator, breaks down how to hold the sticks. 0-1:20 Intro. 1:20 Song Example. 2:25 Explanation what not to do. 3:15 Example of the drumming method. 4:00 Breakdown of the drumming method, and explanation of fulcrum point and fulcrum muscle. Note: The drummer decides every time he hits the drum, everything in successful drumming is intentional. Controlled, yet relaxed sticking and a steady tempo (speed) should be every drummer's goal.


The Bass Guitar; an Essential Instrument

Bass guitar is one of the instruments I teach. A bass guitar is like the regular guitar, but it sounds lower in pitch. Many people don't realize that there is a bass guitar player in almost every successful band in the history of music. For example, Paul McCartney was the bass player in The Beatles. A well-written bass melody is often so catchy that you can hum it like a song. For example, the bass line in “Stand By Me,” by Ben E. King. Or the boogie woogie bass line, common in the blues. Or for example, the bass lines introduced at the start of Michael Jackson's “Beat It” and Nirvana's “Come as You Are.”

The bass guitar is a lot of fun to play, and it's low pitched sounds can be stimulating or relaxing. The bass guitar can be a very expressive instrument, or it can be simple and solid. The bass guitar is like a basement, you wouldn't build your house without one. It provides the low pitched sounds, along with the low pitched drums, which is considered the “bottom-end” of a song. Then higher pitched voices, like guitars, other musical instruments, and male and female singers can layer their voices on top. So bass is the background, and other instruments are in the foreground. Higher pitched sounds “stand out” to our ears more than low pitched sounds, and sound more directional. Imagine, the crying of a baby compared to the low rumble of a train in the distance. The crying baby is more immediate and compelling.

But the bass is more than just background sound. The bass is like the glue that holds everything together. The low frequencies of the bass compliment and support the rest of the instruments, providing a foundation for the mix. The bass player is also part of the rhythm section, “locking in” rhythm with the drummer. They work like a team, providing the rhythm of the song. Taking bass lessons, and then finding a guitarist or drummer to jam with, is a great way to interact with other musicians. Since I teach both drums and bass, I can help you learn how to create this rhythmic groove with a drummer, in a comfortable teaching space. This gives you the freedom to try different things, make musical mistakes, and get feedback about your playing, something that is often hard to find when simply jamming or auditioning with a band.

Often a bass melody mimics the guitar, like in “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream. A good example of a bass player locking in with a drummer is “Fire” by Jimi Hendrix. Also, any groove-based music, such as soul, funk, and r+b. For example, “The Twist” by Chubby Checker and “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing” by James Brown. The bass line often helps make a song danceable. Examples of expressive bass players include Jaco Pastorius and James Jamerson. And there's always the country-blues bass lines, like in a Johnny Cash or Hank Williams Sr. song.

One more thing about the bass. Your bass guitar amplifier will have speakers large enough to faithfully reproduce bass frequencies. And when you listen to music, listen to it on a decent pair of speakers. Tiny little speakers have a hard time reproducing bass frequencies! Most people listen to music on their cellphones these days, and I don't know if you noticed, but there is almost no bass being produced by those speakers. Back in the 90's, everyone listened to music on boomboxes, and these boomboxes often had a “bass-boost” button, which I remember using many times! A boombox is a vast improvement over a cellphone speaker.

The bass guitar is mostly a mid range instrument, like the guitar. However, it does have some very low notes too. These low notes on the bass (and and the low notes on the piano) sit at the bottom of our hearing threshold. There are very few sounds in nature that occupy these bass frequencies. The low rumble of an thunderstorm, things like that, and animals like elephants and koalas that emit low pitched sounds. Sounds that are lower than we can hear are often felt instead, if the sound wave has enough power. Bass sound waves are the most challenging to work with when mixing audio or setting up a room for a live performance, because they can sound boomy or "muddy." That's because bass sound waves are long waves, with a greater distance between each peak than high frequencies. Bass frequencies tend to "fill" a room and sound less directional than high frequencies. So what thing emits the lowest pitched sounds in the universe? That honor belongs to a certain black hole in outer space. The black hole emits a note that called B-flat, and this B-flat happens to be “one million, billion times lower than the lowest sound audible to the human ear.” The bass guitar is a lot of fun and is often overlooked as a choice of instrument. Give me a call today to get started on the bass guitar!

This guy on YouTube performs the bass line to “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash, on the bass guitar. Watching a bass player accurately cover a song is a good way to hear the possibilities of the bass guitar. The bass line in this song is melodic, it has it's own melody that also supports the melody of the song. It keeps the rhythm going with the drummer, and adds additional rhythms. The bass guitar is easy to get started on, bass players play mostly one note (one string) at a time! Although the bass guitar can seem simple, writing interesting bass lines that support a song is challenging and takes practice.

January 2015

Drumming and Rhythmic Music, a Full Body-Brain Workout

Even if you are not a drummer, I recommend watching the video below! It explains how playing and listening to music benefits the brain.

Everyone can be a drummer if they want to be! Are you interested in learning more about drums, but don't know where to start? One thing that successful drummers do is they name certain ideas on the drums. This makes it easier to talk to other musicians in the vocabulary of drumming. If you've ever tapped your fingers and hands on a table, or tapped your toes on the floor, then have begun the journey that every drummer makes. Read on to learn more about drum techniques called the single stroke, double stroke, and the flam.

When you want to learn more about drumming, the first thing I will ask you is are you right or left handed? If you are right handed, you'll naturally want to begin ideas with the right hand. Then after you get comfortable with starting with the right hand, you'll want to switch and start with your left hand too. Beginning more ideas with your weaker side will improve your weaker side, and improve your overall coordination.

When you hit a drum with a stick or your hand, it's called a stroke. When you alternate one hand at a time, it's called single stroke. For example, tap on your table, right, left, right, left. While you're tapping, count 1,2,3,4, one number per stroke. You just did some single strokes! Now try the opposite, lead with the left hand. Left, right, left, right. 1,2,3,4. If you can play this, you can play anything on drums, as long as you practice. You can also tap your feet instead of your hands, one at a time, counting 1,2,3,4.

Another option is to double stroke. As you may have guessed, double stroke means to hit the drum twice per hand. Right, right, left left. Continue to count 1,2,3,4. Or you could count “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and.” Everything should sound nice and even, the spaces between all the strokes are the same. Don't forget to try the inversion! (opposite.) Try the double stroke now leading with the left hand. Left, left, right, right.

As a drummer, you'll be combining the single stroke and double stroke quite often, in many different ways, so it's good to be comfortable with either one. Also, when you repeat them fast, the strokes turn into what's called a drum roll. A single stroke roll sounds slightly different than a double stroke roll. Both rolls sound nice, and they each have their own unique sound. A single stroke roll sounds different than a double stroke roll for many reasons, including where on the drum each hand or stick is striking.

When you hit a drum with two hands (or sticks) almost at the same time, within milliseconds of each other, it's called a flam. You may have played a flam before, and not known what it is called. Now you know the name for this sound. A flam is a fun way to “thicken up” certain strokes, and make that beat sound a little fuller. To play a flam, tap on your table with both hands, spaced milliseconds apart. The ear somewhat blends the two strokes into one main sound. The first stroke is milliseconds ahead of the beat and quieter, the second stroke is on the beat.

Playing the drums is one of the most fun and satisfying things I can think of. Few things get all four limbs moving in different rhythms like drumming, greatly improving your coordination. In fact, playing certain kinds of drum beats can feel like dancing at the drum kit! Drumming also helps improve your The parts of the brain that are responsible for rhythmic accuracy and timing are also involved in problem solving, planning and managing time. That's because playing or analyzing rhythmic music is musical problem solving! All of this applies to learning rhythms on the guitar too. Your brain is like a muscle, and music is one of the best workouts for your brain.

There's no excuse not to sign up for lessons if you're interested. A drum set can be quieted to the level of a loud TV, so it's possible to practice drums without bothering your neighbors. And for those that live in apartments, you can always practice on a practice pad drum set, that makes almost no noise! The loudest sound it makes is the sound of a stick hitting the rubber pads. So call me today to get started!

This animation describes how listening to music benefits the brain, and how playing an instrument takes those benefits even further.

December 2014

Spanish Music from Andalusia

Flamenco music is type of Spanish folk music and dance from Andalusia in southern Spain. Flamenco guitar is a virtuosic type of guitar playing. Most casual listeners can identify this kind of music as “Spanish sounding.” The area which is now Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and parts of the Middle East all shared and intermingled musical styles for many generations. This mixing of cultures resulted in many types of music, including Andalusian classical music, a predecessor to flamenco guitar.

The Doors were one rock band that was influenced by Andalusian music. You can hear the influence in songs like “Spanish Caravan,” “Blue Sunday” and “The End.” There is also a chord progression called the “Andalusian Cadence” which appears in some rock and r&b songs. For example, you can hear the Andalusian cadence in the song “Walk Don't Run” as performed by The Ventures, and “Hit the Road Jack” as performed by Ray Charles.

This month's video features Sledge Azem playing the flamenco guitar. He is an excellent flamenco guitarist based in The Ukraine. He's got some nice lessons in his other YouTube videos.

Flamenco guitar is a style of music that I'd like to learn more about. My cousin Sledge Azem plays “Entre Dos Aguas” by flamenco master Paco De Lucia.


A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words; So is a Well Written Song

Are you a visual learner? One of the advantages of studying music with me is that there will be no shortage of visual examples. From the very first lesson, I draw many pictures and explain what they mean. These pictures will help you learn faster, and help me explain music in a more efficient way. The pictures literally save me many words. The visual examples will also help you practice during the week. Other instructors will spend time searching for print outs, or spend five minutes explaining something that I can explain in 30 seconds by drawing a quick picture. That's because my teaching style is inspired by my background in Visual Arts.

Another advantage of drawing pictures is that I can prove to you that I know my stuff. You can literally see, step by step, how to break a musical idea into smaller ideas for learning. This is easier than being handed a print out with tons of information and feeling overwhelmed. Growing up, going to school, I always was bored with instructors that taught from only print outs and books. My favorite instructors went beyond the print out, writing things on the board and explaining things; beyond repeating what's already on the page or in a book.

The third important advantage of drawing pictures and teaching from my own materials is that each lesson is unique and catered to your needs as a student. I always assess what you know, and teach you the next small step of what you need to learn. But learning out of books and print outs doesn't offer that kind of flexibility. I understand that each student has different needs, and many students already know certain things on their instrument. Music books approach learning from a one-approach-fits-all method, but since when does a one-approach-fits-all method work? If you've been learning from a book, an instructor that teaches out of a book, or from the internet and YouTube videos, try lessons with me, and you'll notice a huge difference right away.

(Skip this paragraph if you don't want to read about a student's experience learning guitar with another instructor.) A few months ago, I met with a new guitar student that had taken lessons with another instructor in Cleveland. He taught her the same way as everyone else, out of a really boring, basic book. After a year of lessons with the other instructor, she had only played one partial song with chords! (Playing chords is when you strum a few strings at the same time.) All my students learn at least a few songs within their first month of lessons. Even worse, she told me the instructor would answer his phone, and check his voicemail during lessons. It disappointed me to hear that she was being treated this way. She also told me that she asked him for more information about a certain topic, and he said he was unable to give her more information that wasn't in the book. Honestly, I was amazed she didn't give up music altogether, and I was happy that she gave it another chance. After a month of lessons with me, she learned more than in an entire year with the other instructor! If you live in Cleveland, don't miss out on the opportunity to learn music with me. You owe it to yourself to at least try one lesson, call me today to get started on your musical journey! I've had many students that began by teaching themselves with YouTube videos, books, and the internet, and they always thank me later for dramatically speeding up their progress, enjoyment, and understanding of music.

Sometimes a well written song can be worth a thousand words. Songs are lyrics or poetry set to music (a melody.) Songs often tell stories, just like a book, TV show, or movie. Music has the possibility of being able to suggest certain emotional states. Therefore, setting lyrics to music often makes the lyrics stand out, and heightens their emotional qualities. Try this: speak the lyrics of your favorite song in your normal talking voice. Now sing the lyrics instead. Isn't singing them much more fun and interesting? It adds another whole layer of enjoyment and sophistication to the storytelling. Rather than writing an entire book, or a long essay about a topic, a musician can make the same emotional impact with much fewer words.

This month's video is a song that a student requested. It's called “Everything is Free” by Gillian Welch. I love the lyrics and melody of this song. You can look up the lyrics online, and read along while you listen to the song. What do the lyrics mean to you? To me, this song is about doing what you love, for the enjoyment and experience of doing it, rather than focusing on the outcome, whether it's financial success or some other kind of external reward. I get the feeling that even if Gillian Welch wasn't a relatively famous singer, she'd still be driving around the country, singing her songs and doing what she loves, for the intrinsic value of it.

Have a a story to tell? Musicians often set lyrics (poetry) to music (melody), which when done well, helps suggest and heighten the emotional qualities contained in the lyrics. Notice how David Rawlings sings harmonies, and how their voices blend together so beautifully. Singing harmony is challenging, and it's something you can request to learn if you take lessons with me.


Music from New York; Rock, Punk and Jazz

This month I had the pleasure of visiting New York City. Many of my favorite bands and musicians have come from New York City, and many great albums have been recorded there. To list them all is beyond the scope of this post, but I'll mention a few. For example, my favorite jazz album of all time, Miles Davis “Kind of Blue” was recorded in Manhattan in 1959. The 30th street studio had one of the nicest sounding rooms in the world at the time. Pink Floyd's “The Wall” was recorded in the same studio, twenty years later.

One of my favorite bands is the Velvet Underground, and they were from New York. I love Lou Reed's songwriting, and I was sad to hear of his passing last year. His songs “Rock n roll” and “Sweet Jane” have given me the chills and made my hair stand on end, more than once. They were all great musicians, and they had a great female drummer, which should encourage more women to try drumming.

In the sixties, Bob Dylan came to New York to play in Greenwich Village, and in the seventies, John Lennon lived in New York. It must have been an inspiring place to live and work. In the mid seventies, New York was home to many punk rock musicians. Bands like The Ramones and Patti Smith will always be dear to me. Later on, there was Sonic Youth and The Beastie Boys. I loved the way Sonic Youth tuned their guitars differently, and used dissonance (“clashing/tension sounds”) as a tool in their music. There always seemed to be great music coming out of New York. It's a hub of intellectual activity and culture.

There's also a great music scene in Cleveland. I blogged about some local music venues last month. My students have been playing in school bands, and jamming with their family members. One of my students performed with his school band at Playhouse Square. I look forward to more student success stories.

Here is a video from April 1959 of Miles Davis and John Coltrane performing "So What." From Miles Davis' album, "Kind Of Blue. It's wild to think that this album was brand new then, how fun it must have been to create and perform it.


Live Music In Cleveland

This month, I had the opportunity to hear Shonen Knife perform at the Beachland Ballroom! I also saw them in August 2012 at the same venue. The members of Shonen Knife are from Osaka, Japan. Seeing Shonen Knife live is great, very similar to seeing a band like The Ramones, because they have catchy songs, played with just the right amount of distortion on the guitar. It's so great to hear a song off their album, which is produced in a certain way, and then to hear it live and you realize the guitar is turned up! They also sing great harmonies. The songwriting is idiosyncratic and often funny; it's cheerful, vibrant music. Their album “Let's Knife” is a great place to start; with songs like “Riding on the Rocket,” “Bear up Bison” and “Twist Barbie.” There are too many good songs on that album to list, I love this band. Many of their songs are about the songwriter's fascination with tasty food, like “Banana Chips,” “Flying Jelly Attack,” “I wanna eat Choco Bars” and “Black Bass,” all of which they played live.

I created an arangement of the guitar chords in their song “Black Bass” because the song was stuck in my head for a week after the show. It has a lovely melody, intriguing guitar, layered vocal harmonies, and solid backing from the bass guitar and drums. Shonen Knife also played songs off their new album Overdrive, which sounds like a tribute to American classic rock bands from the 70's.


The Beachland Ballroom is a great place to meet international music stars, like Shonen Knife from Osaka, Japan.

The same night, I went to the Grog Shop and saw an English punk band called Sham 69. I love the D.I.Y. (do it yourself) ethic of punk music. For example, if you write some words, try to set them to music. Or if you learn an instrument, try to write a song; or create a certain rhythmic pattern or sound. I can help you learn an instrument, write a song, improvise, and even talk about how to eventually record your own music.

Sham 69 put on a great show. During the show, the singer often pointed the mic at audience members, and many people clearly knew the lyrics and sang along to the songs. The most fun was when they played their song “If the Kids are United,” and half the crowd got on stage and sang along.

Cleveland music fans sing

Cleveland music fans sing “If the Kids are United” on stage with English band Sham 69, September at the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights.

Here's a video of the band back in the day. These guys have been around since the days of the Sex Pistols. Although the Sex Pistols are more probably famous in pop culture, Sham 69 is the highest charting punk band in the UK. They actually broke into the top 20, which is almost unheard of for punk music. Thanks to the Grog Shop for hosting them! Cleveland is a great place to see live music, and venues like the Beachland and Grog Shop are independently owned businesses, which bring great culture and music into the area. Thinking about starting your own band, or producing some music of your own? Give me a call today for lessons, and you're guaranteed lessons with me, never some random instructor! I teach all the instruments mentioned on this website.

This energetic song reminds me of The Who's "My Generation."


Boogie Woogie Piano and Guitar

A style of piano playing called the “Boogie Woogie” became popular in the 1920's and 30's. This is one of my favorite and exciting styles of music, because of the repeating bass line (the low pitched notes) which is a pattern called the Boogie Woogie. It's associated with dancing, in the times when every house had a piano in it, and someone who could play. The boogie woogie is 4 beats long, and it repeats through the whole song, moving to different starting points. There are many variations of the boogie woogie pattern, and they are a lot of fun to play.

So the bass or piano plays a boogie pattern. The higher pitched notes on the piano accompany the boogie woogie bass line with chords (combinations of two or more notes) and melodies. So the left hand of the piano player is what a bass guitarist would play (low pitched sounds). And the right hand of the piano player is what the guitarist would play (mid-range to higher pitched sounds). So a good piano player, using both hands, can play the parts of two instruments! This sound can be emulated on guitar.

The boogie woogie has been applied to guitar, in many different ways and songs. For example, the following seven songs all feature a boogie woogie pattern:

Early piano based boogie hits include Pinetop's Boogie by Pinetop Perkins, recorded in 1928. And Honky Train Blues by Meade Lux Lewis, recorded in 1927 and released in 1930. After that, the boogie craze was everywhere, transitioning to many different styles of music, from blues, jazz, gospel, country, rock n roll and pop.

Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson play an uptempo boogie woogie. They were members of the Boogie Woogie Trio, which included Meade Lux Lewis. They were known for their virtuosic and influential work in the boogie woogie piano style. Call me today to learn to play a boogie woogie on any of the instruments that I teach!

Make Connections between Instruments like Guitar, Voice, and Piano.

I play basic piano, and I've helped many students make connections from the instruments that I teach to the piano. I've found that many students enjoy guitar or bass guitar lessons more than their previous piano lessons, and are able to stick with practicing guitar without losing interest or motivation. Don't ask me why, because they are all great instruments. The guitar does make certain things easier to play, though you still need to practice. Piano is a simple, yet very complex instrument. To be really good at piano, it takes years of dedication and practice, like my brother did.

Piano is a good instrument for everyone to learn a few basic things on, if they want to. It's a very linear instrument, so it's easy to picture how the twelve notes of music appear on the piano. Because it's so linear, piano is a useful visual tool for seeing how certain musical ideas work, both on it's own, and when you study music on any other instrument.

I grew up in a house with piano, so it's one of the first instruments that I tried to make music on, just for fun. I never took piano lessons. Trying out the piano at my cousin's house, and then later on my brother's piano, was an essential part of my ear training as a young child. I loved improvising melodies on the piano. I also experimented with building chords on the piano (a chord is when you play one or more keys on the piano at the same time.) I noticed each combination of sounds had a different feeling.

For great ear training on the piano, try this: play a key, then play a lower or higher key, and listen to the way the pair of notes sound, and the emotional quality of the sound. Some pairs will sound nice (consonant), some pairs will have a tension sound (dissonance.) This has to do with the science of how we perceive sound waves. For example, two adjacent keys on the piano sound dissonant, they are too close, and the sounds clash. But if you skip a key or two, the pair sounds consonant. The distance between two keys on the piano (two notes) is called an interval. I think about intervals all the time when I play music. Learn more about ear training, by calling me today for your first lesson!


Carnatic Dance; Call and Response in Music.

Last month, I had the opportunity to be invited to an Indian Classical Dance Performance. It was one of the most remarkable live music events that I have attended in a long time. The solo performer was one of my student's sister; the performance was part of her graduation from the Nupur Anjali Dance Academy in Cleveland.

The dance was accompanied by live musicians; an orchestra provided by the Indo-American Academy of Classical music, Virginia. These top notch musicians played various instruments; including a drum called the Mridangam, also beautiful flute, violin, and vocals. There was such a strong communication between the dancer and her very receptive audience. This feedback between performer and audience is one of the things that makes a good live show turn into something really moving and memorable. It becomes more fun for everyone involved.

The Indian Classical Dance was very joyful and graceful; it seemed to celebrate life. The dance form is called Bharathanatyam. It's name means “Bha” for Bhava (expression), “ra” for raga (music), and “Tha” for Thala (rhythm.) There was a call and response between the vocals and the flute, violin, drums, or combination thereof. Call and response is like a conversation between two or more voices. One instrument plays something (the call) and the other instrument or voice responds (the response.) Call and response is common in many types of music, including Middle Eastern music, the Blues, Latin, and African music.

The drum accompanies the flute and violin, in this example of call and response in Carnatic music. This band is similar to the one that I saw. To hear these instruments live is a magical experience.


Ukulele Lessons and a Student Success Story

One thing I love to hear is when my students apply their learning to create new music. This month, one of my adult students played me a song that she wrote the Ukulele. It was a funny blues song about a popular TV show. She also wrote words to a simple melody that I had previously taught her on the instrument. I thought that was a great way to remember the melody. I encouraged her to write more songs! Kristen grew up listening to her mother sing. Now she's teaching her mother to play the Ukulele through Skype! Explaining what you have learned on your instrument really helps you clarify what you know.

The Ukulele is one of the instruments that I teach. It's funny because it's small and sounds higher pitched. You play it like a small guitar. It's easier than guitar because it has less strings. Plus two of the strings sound almost the same. So that limits the range of the instrument even further. But that just means the Uke has it's own unique sound that works for higher pitched music. It's nylon strings sound mellow, perfect for strumming while relaxing on the beach this summer. And even though the Ukulele is funny, it's also a serious instrument. That's because the way I teach Ukulele is the same way that I teach any other instrument. You will learn all about music and how it works, and how to listen to music in a new way. You can apply everything you learn on the Ukulele to other instruments, if you want. You can take your Uke anywhere. Why not try a Ukulele lesson today?

Tiny Tim tiptoes through the Tulips in this month's video. He sings in his signature falsetto (high pitched) voice, which is perfect for this funny song. He was the son of a Polish Jewish mother and a Lebanese Catholic father.


Evelyn Glennie: How to Truly Listen. A Deaf Drummer Teaches How to Listen to Music

In music, you can play by ear, and/or read music from a piece of paper. However, when you read sheet music and play the music literally as it's written, something often feels missing. This missing element is called the "feel" of the music. To know the "feel" of an existing song, you must hear the song first. You listen to the musician and the subtle things they do to create their "feel." Then you can attempt to copy the "feel" of that musician/song by ear. Now the song will sound better, and be much more satisfying to play.

Each person/musician plays with a different feel. Nobody is going to sound exactly the same. However, it's good to copy the feel from as many great musicians as possible. The goal is not to simply copy other musicians. The goal is to incorporate their feel into your musical vocabulary. That way you have many styles/feels to choose from, for any particular song. You can interpret a song anyway you like, and create your own version.

Genres of music also have a certain style or feel. For example, Classical sounds different than Rock. Blues and Jazz have similarities, yet also a different kind of feel. Copying the feel of different styles of music will increase your musical vocabulary. As you learn to listen, you will start to hear music in a new way, which is a very rewarding experience. Learning to listen increases your understanding and appreciation of live and recorded music. As you grow as a musician, you will develop your own unique style of playing, as you bring what you have to offer to the table.

Give me a call today to start learning how to listen as a musician!

Guide to the Video.

1:00 Introduction to the difference between reading music the way it's played, vs playing with a "feel" that one brings to the music.

2:43 Example of drum music played literally from the sheet music.

4:00 Example of the same drum music as interpreted by Evelyn Glennie.

Which one of these two sounds more satisfying?

6:00 Good tip for drummers. Holding the stick tight (incorrect) vs holding the stick with a looser grip (sounds better and less effort.)

7:00 Marimba music played literally.

7:25 Marimba music played with a musical feel. Again, which one sounds better?

8:00 Explanation of how Evelyn Glennie first started learning music, as a deaf musician. Music is made up of soundwaves, vibrations that travel through space. One reason music is so satisfying to play and listen to is because you can feel the soundwaves. In the video Evelyn says "sound is our daily medicine." Think about the last time you heard relatively loud music, the low frequencies were probably making things in the room vibrate and shake. I love upbeat music because the beat motivates me.

13:32 Example of Marimba music; how the vibrations through the whole instrument affect the overall sound. This also happens with guitar and drums; it's called sympathetic vibration. It's proven that listening to, or playing certain kinds of music can help one relax, slow the breathing down, and lower blood pressure. Evelyn also explains how music can sound different depending on the position of the observer and the room. The rest of the video explores these topics in depth. Thanks to the person who told me about this drummer!


Jazz Workshops and a Student Success Story

In early April, I headed over to Tri-C East for a Jazz Workshop with bassist Christian McBride and his band. The topic of the workshop was "what is swing?" The band played a set, and then Christian McBride and his amazing piano player Christian Sands stuck around afterward to answer questions from the audience. I love hearing different musicians explain how they think about music. Swing isn't just for jazz, almost any kind of music can swing! Swing is a rhythmic feel based on the triplet (123.) When you swing in music, you must be relaxed, which is a great way to practice, and it's a lot of fun! Tri C occasionally hosts workshops like this one, and the workshops are free and open to the public. It's a great way to learn more about music!

On April 26th, I'm off to Case Western Reserve University's Drumming Conference. My former drum student Mandy Smith will be opening the conference with her presentation, "The Rhythm is Gonna Get you: The Primitive vs. the Virtuosic in Rock Drumming." Mandy is a doctoral graduate student of rock drumming at Case. Mandy had ten years experience in reading drum music, yet she had never taken a lesson before. She had also played in a few rock and punk bands, just for fun. With her busy school schedule, Mandy only had time to take a few lessons from me. In less than a month, she built up the confidence to join the Rock ensemble at Case! During the lessons, we discussed how drummers add power and meaning to the beats that they create. Want to learn more? Contact me about drum lessons today, you can start with just a notebook and tapping your hands on a table!

The Christian McBride trio showing off their chops.


Harmonica Lessons

The Harmonica is an instrument you can take and play nearly anywhere. It's also an instrument that I teach. There are two main types of harmonicas, Diatonic (the most common) and Chromatic. How does the diatonic harmonica work? It has two rows of holes that you blow into to produce a note, or you can also draw (breathe in) to produce a different note. The harmonica is designed to be easy to play certain things. If you blow, or draw on adjacent holes, it makes a nice sounding chord (two more notes/sounds at the same time.) By changing the shape of the lips, it's possible to make the harmonica produce different types of sounds, you can even "bend" the pitch up and down, a technique common in the blues. The harmonica was originally marketed as an instrument that everyone could play and easily afford. The harmonica is great for playing certain melodies, especially slower melodies, because the way the harmonica sounds can add an emotional quality to the melody that is hard to replicate on other instruments. If you learn harmonica with me, the lesson will also provide a solid foundation in music theory that can be applied to any instrument; guitar, piano, singing, drums, etc. Here is one of the greatest harmonica players of all time, one of my favorite musicians, Sonny Boy Williamson II. He could make the harmonica sound like anything, for example a train, birds chirping, and frogs croaking. Check out how he plays the harmonica near the end of the video!

It's fun to play the harmonica, and if you want, I can also show you how to play guitar and harmonica at the same time.


Parts and History of the Drum Set

Max Roach was a brilliant percussionist who played with many great musicians. I was inspired to transcribe this following quote from one of his master classes. He does a great job of explaining the history of the drum kit.

"That was a demonstration on just one part of this instrument we call the trap drum set. The drum set is an American innovation. It's the only percussion instrument that I know of, in the world, where you have to play it with all four limbs. It also exemplifies, in some way, the sociological and racial makeup of this country. The cymbals come from the Middle East. The side drums that we call tom toms simulate the sounds that came out of the drums from Africa, as well as the American Indian. The bass drum and snare drum are decidedly European. And somehow they got all together, and had us play with both feet and both hands. And of course, it introduced new techniques towards approaching the drum set."

I will also add that the toms and other drums also resemble the sounds of percussion instruments from South America, India, Persia, and every other country and culture that expressed itself with membranophones (drums.)

You can practice drums anywhere, and there are many ways to quiet a drum set so that it doesn't bother your neighbors. A used drum set can be bought for under $350. Why not get started drumming today?

Max roach master class. He performs and talks till 5:00 into the video.

January 2014

Ancient Melody

This month's video features the oldest complete written melody ever found! It was found on clay tablets in Ugarit, Southern Syria. The melody is 3400 years old! It has been interpreted by a few groups of scholars. No one is one hundred percent sure exactly how to interpret the music, because we know little about the Hurrian civilization that produced the music. We do know that they weren't Syrian, they came Anatolia, (Turkey) and they spoke the now extinct Hurrian language. A modern Lyre player has performed the song, based on the researcher's interpretation of the melody . The Lyre is a stringed instrument, similar to a harp or guitar. The song seems to be a hymn dedicated to Nikkal, the wife of their Moon God. If you want to learn more about these ancient songs, visit this webpage created by the Lyre player who made the recording; it even has videos of different versions.

This ancient melody dates back to 1400 BCE! The clay tablet survived damage from water and time, yet amazingly was preserved well enough to read the whole song.

Read more of my Blogs:

2012 Introduction to many great bands, musicians, and styles of music.
2013 Music from Cleveland and all over the world. Music as a form of communication.

Guitar-related links and resources outside of this page.

Music Theory. List of topics: (I recommend going in order)

Names of the Strings   

Learn about the 12 notes in music   

Intervals: The spaces between notes