Janet Feld

Practice Pep Talk #1 of 6- Honor Your Learning Curve

When we're first learning how to play a musical instrument, most of us are really hard on ourselves.  Really, if we said to our friends the things we say to ourselves, we wouldn't have any friends.

In this 6 part series, I'll give you the mindset tools you need to get over the hurdles that keep you from enjoying learning and can inhibit your progress.



Are you dying to learn to play guitar but are worried you're too busy, too old or don't have enough talent? I know you can do it but you don't have to take my word for it.  Register below for my free video lesson series, Janet's Planet: Music Lessons for Humanoids - Quick & Dirty Guitar Start-up.

 
 
 
By signing up for this free video lesson series, you'll also get weekly tips,  tools and more free lessons to help you bring out your inner rock star.

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Normal Hurdles For Beginning Guitar Players

When people first start learning how to play the guitars there are a number of experiences that can leave them feeling like maybe they won't be able to do it.  This is never true.

When first picking up a guitar, forming the chords can feel awkward and pressing the strings down on the neck usually hurts a bit.  Remember, you're pressing your tender skin against thin pieces of steel or nylon so OUCH!  If you follow my favorite practice regimen, 10 minutes 4 to 5 days per week – scale, song, DONE!, you’ll develop callouses on your fingertips within the first two to three weeks.

Another normal hurdle when first playing guitar is getting comfortable switching from one chord to another.  There are several things I have my students do to help them jump over with room to spare.

1. Without strumming, take chords from a song you’re learning and practice switching from one to another 10 times each.

2. If you have a recording of the song, practicing switching the chords without strumming as the music plays.

3. Strum torture.  The idea here is that you play the song on beat even of your left hand is playing the wrong thing or nothing.  I call it "strum torture" because it often triggers a mild stress response.  Strum the song really, really, really slowly and when it’s time to switch chords, keep strumming even if your left hand isn’t playing the right thing.  I promise, you won’t die, get fired, flunk out or even get a little sick.  You’ll just feel a little stressed.  The worst thing that can happen during strum torture is that you create a cacophony of guitar sound.  It’s called “learning”.  In the end though, you’ll have an easier time switching chords – trust me, the pain is worth it.

I've been teaching people of all ages how to play guitar for decades and know from my experience that anyone can do it as long as they have the desire.

Are you ready to get started? Sign up below for my free video guitar lesson series, Janet's Planet: Quick & Dirty Guitar Startup.  Learn three chords, a strum pattern and how to play a song to start your journey of playing the guitar.

 
 
 
By signing up for this free video lesson series, you'll also get weekly tips,  tools and more free lessons to help you bring out your inner rock star.

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Practicing Switching Chords

One of the first hurdles that beginning guitar players deal with is switching from one chord to another.  This lesson will give you an opportunity to practice an exercise which helps my students make these transitions smoother.

This is just one of a number of early guitar playing issues that often leave students feeling like maybe they won't be able to learn guitar.  This is never true!

Using A Metronome - Nurturing Your Natural Sense of Rhythm

Practicing with a metronome helps your playing in a number of ways.  It nurtures your inner sense of rhythm (we all have one) and also prepares you for playing along with a percussionist/drummer without being thrown off.

Also, it's the perfect way to prepare for recording since it's common to use what's called a "click track" (an in-studio metronome) to make editing and possibly adding percussion tracks easier.

It'll drive you crazy at first but worth it to push through the pain.  The other side is awesome.

 Register below to get started on your journey of playing guitar with Janet's Planet: Quick & Dirty Guitar Start-Up.

"Can I Really Do This?!?"

Are you considering learning how to play the guitar and don't know if it's actually possible?  See if this helps:

If I've never played the guitar, how do I get my guitar tuned properly so I can actually play it?

If you don't know how to tune a guitar yet and none of your friends know either, bring it to a store where they sell guitars. In general, the folks who work in music stores are musicians and tend to be very helpful. For about $60 you can get what's called a "set up" which includes: changing and tuning the strings plus checking and possibly fixing what's called "the action" which is the distance of the strings from the neck of the guitar. It's normal to need the action adjusted on a guitar from time to time.

One of the bonus videos that students receive as part of Janet's Planet: Music Lessons For Humanoids is a lesson on how to tune a guitar by ear.  I've attached the lesson on how to tune your guitar with an electronic tuner.  p.s. You can download guitar tuners for free on iPhones, iPads and smart phones.

I was so excited to get started, I tried playing my guitar and it made my fingers hurt, does that mean I can't do it?

Everyone's fingers hurt at first, even the guitar God Eric Clapton. In fact, he got his first guitar at the age of 13 and quit because it hurt his fingers. Then he convinced his family to buy him an electric guitar when he was 15 and the rest is rock 'n roll history.

Other normal early guitar playing hurdles include switching from one chord to another and singing and playing at the same time.

What if the strings are broken or missing on my guitar?

I suggest bringing your guitar to a music store to have it fixed. If the strings are really old (they're dirty, rusty, been on the guitar since your 60 something mom bought it in 1968) have them put a whole new set on for you. It's also a good idea to have an extra set. I suggest buying light gauge acoustic strings (all the brands are fine). Nylon strings for classical guitars are all the same gauge.   Another bonus lesson video is on how to change your own strings.  It's not a difficult thing to do, it's just really nice to have someone show you.

I have a classical guitar (nylon strings), can I still use it to take lessons?

Yes, the way you play is the same. Nylon strings are a little easier on your fingers because they're softer. Plus, classical guitars have a more gentle sound because of the strings.

My guitar is electric, can I still use it to take lessons?

Yes, the way you play it is the same. The difference is in the sound. And of course, you may find yourself wanting to do a fist pump and shout, "THANK YOU (fill in your city here)!!!" after playing a song.

Have more questions?  Email me at janet@janetsplanetmusiclessons.com.

Interested in getting started with your journey of playing guitar now? Register below for my free video lesson series, Janet's Planet: Quick & Dirty Guitar Start Up and find out for yourself that you can do this.

"Do I HAVE To Use A Flat Pick?!?"

Often when I'm teaching beginners they ask me if they HAVE to use a flat pick.  My answer is they can do whatever they like but I believe that being comfortable with using one in addition to just your fingers gives you more options.  The question is, what will make the song sound the coolest to you.

Sometimes you want it to sound the way the original artist does it.  Sometimes you'd like it to sound different in a way you like better than the original.  Or maybe you're playing an Owl City tune (all electronics) on an acoustic guitar and you have to decide.

In any event, I want my students to have full access to arrangement options.

Also, in this lesson I'll give examples of how playing bass notes sounds really cool with the melody you're singing.

Barre Chords & 1, 4, 5

Barre chords are one of the "keys to the kingdom" with guitar playing because with a few basic shapes you can play just about any chord you want.  How nice to check out the chords for your favorite song and not get freaked out because there's an F#m or Bb7 in it.

In this week's lesson I'm going to focus on a certain progression of chords using the E and A barre chord shapes.
 
The blues is the great great great great granddaddy of American music from rock 'n roll to hip hop, from swing to dub step.  It evolved like a game of telephone as West African slaves brought their tribal music and rhythms with them as did many waves of immigrants.  As these sounds were passed from person to person, generation to generation it evolved into people creating a new sound.  The blues told the truth with three chords: one, four, five.
 
What's one, four, five?
Chords are a group of notes that have a particular pattern.   Let's start with an 8 note major scale (do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do) that begins with C:
 
C D E F G A B C
1 2  3 4 5 6 7 8
 
An octopus has 8 legs, an octogon has 8 sides and an octave has (you guessed it) 8 notes.  1 and 8 are both "do" but they're an octave apart.
 
To create a C major chord you play the 1, 3 and 5 together; C E G
 
If the notes and chords of a song are based on the C major scale you say it's in the key of C.  In the key of C, the 1 chord is C, 4 chord is F, 5 chord is G.
 
Here's another example:
 
G A B C D E F# G
2 3 4  5  6 7  8
 
In the key of G, G is the 1, C is the 4 and  D is the 5 chord.  The notes in a G major chord are G B D.
 
If you've been playing guitar for awhile, you've probably noticed that there are these three chord "families": GCD, ADE, CFD, DGA.  Those are all 1, 4, 5
 
In this lesson you'll learn two different barre chord patterns of 1, 4, 5 - one begins with the E shape, the other with the A shape.
 
Once you know this, if you're hanging out and playing a 1, 4, 5 song with other musicians, you'll be able to play along in any key you want because barre chord shapes stay the same as you move up and down the neck.

Oh yeah, rock 'n roll baby!!

Ready to learn more ways to make friends with barre chords?

Register for a free video lesson below.

"How Do I Buy A Guitar When I Don't Know How To Play?"

Buying A Guitar for Beginners

If you’ve never played a guitar before and you want to buy yourself one here are the a few things you can pay attention to so you can get something you’ll enjoy playing.

The size and shape of guitars vary and it’s important to find an optimal fit.  Place the guitar on your lap with the neck to your left and the waist of the guitar resting on your right leg.  Let your right arm rest on the body of the guitar.  With your left hand, place your thumb on the back of the neck, your wrist bent and your fingers curved with the tips touching the strings.  Neck width varies.  You want a guitar that doesn’t feel like you’re wrapping your fingers around a tree trunk or alternately, a tooth pick.

Also, pay attention to the size and shape of the guitar body in relation to your height.  If you have to hunch your right shoulder to get your arm resting on the body, a smaller size might be better for you.  If you feel like you’re playing a ukulele then perhaps you’d be better off with something bigger.

I always recommend listening to several different guitars in your price range to hear how they sound different.  Bring a friend who plays along with you or have a salesperson play them.  Buy the one that when you hear it you can almost hear it saying, “Buy ME!!”

There are a number of different brands that are excellent starter guitars.  More expensive doesn’t always mean better.  It’s good to buy from a store that offers a return policy.  My favorites are guitars with a solid wood top and laminate sides and back as they’re inexpensive yet the solid wood top gives them a decent sound quality.

Find out if the guitar comes with a gig bag (a soft case).  It’s not necessary to buy an electronic tuner if you have an iPhone/smart phone as there are a number of free apps available.  It’s a good idea to have an extra set of strings.  I recommend light gauge acoustic strings.  I also prefer medium flat picks.

How To Hold A Flat Pick

It's not difficult to hold a flat pick correctly, it's just really nice to have someone show you how.  I learned it from my friend Jim Henry, singer, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire (he plays guitar for Mary Chapin Carpenter, Eliza Gilkison and a bunch of other really cool artists).

Choosing The Best Guitar Teacher For You

I believe that finding the right teacher is as important as finding the right therapist or primary care physician.  You want to work with someone who is a great teacher and also has a style that's a good fit with who you are and how you learn.

Make your first lesson like a first date; you're there to see if you'd like to see them again.  Pay attention to how you feel about yourself during the lesson.  It's normal for the playing to feel awkward at first but you want to be working with someone whose style helps you feel inspired, like you'll be able to get it with guidance and practice.  If you feel like a moron, you're with the wrong teacher.

I'm a teacher who prefers to teach the skills and theory in the context of specific songs.  That's great for many people and some prefer to work with a teacher who keeps the focus on reading notes and other technical aspects of playing the guitar.  Also pay attention to how much of the teacher's focus is on you verses impressing you with the fancy guitar licks they know.

I believe the burden of the learning should be on the teacher; if you don't understand what I'm showing or explaining to you that's my problem.  Finding an optimal way to teach students something is one of the things I love about being a teacher.  If your teacher is putting that burden on you I recommend trying out someone else.

I know that the only prerequisite for playing the guitar is that you feel like it.  Working with a teacher who inspires you is the best way to honor your time and the money you spend on yourself.

Think you'd like to try your hand at playing the guitar? Sign up below for my free video guitar lesson series, Janet's Planet: Quick & Dirty Guitar Start-up.

 
 
 
By signing up for this free video lesson series, you'll also get weekly tips,  tools and more free lessons to help you bring out your inner rock star.

We HATE spam and will NEVER share your info with anyone.
 
Pinky swear.

Capos and Keys or "How Do They Do That?!?"

Have you ever been to a live concert and watched multiple guitar players perform the same song, at the same time but one had a capo on their guitar and the other didn't?  Did you wonder what they were doing?
This weeks lesson is all about how to play a song in the same key with the capo in different places.  Why would you do that? Well, it means that each person is playing the same chords except that they're on different octaves.  This creates a multi-layered, full sound and avoids the "wall 'o guitar" sound.
Enjoy!

The Scale That Shall Not Be Named

Verses, Choruses & Bridges, OH MY! Part 3 of 3

Did you ever wonder how a song was built? You know that you love listening to music, maybe you play as well but wish you could write your own songs and don't know where to get started.  This series of 3 lessons is designed to help open your songwriting faucet a bit as I lay out the basic structure of a song.

In Lesson 3 of 3 you'll learn about bridges:

Verses, Choruses & Bridges, OH MY! Part 2 of 3

Did you ever wonder how a song was built? You know that you love listening to music, maybe you play as well but wish you could write your own songs and don't know where to get started.  This series of 3 lessons is designed to help open your songwriting faucet a bit as I lay out the basic structure of a song.

Lesson 2 of 3 you'll learn about what a pre-chorus (or lift), chorus and refrain are and what they do.

Verses, Choruses & Bridges, OH MY! Part 1 of 3

Did you ever wonder how a song was built? You know that you love listening to music, maybe you play as well but wish you could write your own songs and don't know where to get started.  This series of 3 lessons is designed to help open your songwriting faucet a bit as I lay out the basic structure of a song.

Tuning With An Electronic Tuner

Like so many things about playing the guitar, tuning with an electronic tuner isn't hard, it's just really nice to have someone show you how to do it.  Let me know how it goes!

How To Practice

If you're like me, an over-scheduled New Englander, then you may be wondering how you'll ever have the time to learn to play the guitar.
No problem.  I have a simple, manageable practice regimen that works even for us crazy busy people.  I like to call it, Scale, Song, DONE!!
Over the years, my students have really enjoyed this regimen and it's gotten them to a point where they can enjoy playing guitar within just a few weeks.  The repetition is what really makes a difference and help you get over the initial hurdles of playing guitar: pressing your fingers on the strings which hurts at first, switching chords, holding a pick and strumming.
Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.

Singing And Playing At The Same Time

Most of us learn how to play the guitar so we can play the songs we love most.  It feels awesome to listen to songs that make us "feel right" and even better to play them.

In this lesson I show several different simple things you can practice so you can sing and play your favorite songs gracefully.

Remember, you have to let yourself make bad art so you can eventually make good art.  Be nice to yourself while you're learning!  Remember, if we said to our friends the things we say to ourselves, we wouldn't have any friends.

Enjoy!

“Am I a good enough guitar player to buy a really nice guitar?”

When you first start playing, I think it’s great to get yourself what I call a “starter guitar”.  There are several companies that make inexpensive ($100-$300) guitars that stay in tune and have a decent sound.  They’re perfect for a beginning student who isn’t sure yet if they’ll stick with it.

We often feel like we have to be expert players before making an investment in a nicer guitar.  Also, it’s really easy to keep deciding that we’re not “good enough yet” to go for it.

My criteria for deciding when it’s time to invest in a more expensive guitar are as follows:

  1. You have the money available (nice guitars run from about $500 to many thousands of dollars).
  2. You’ve been playing the guitar for a bit and realize that for you it’s like being in the mafia – once you’re in you too much to leave.

In terms of the price of a nice guitar, more expensive doesn’t always mean a better sounding guitar.  Sometimes it’s $5,000 because it has pearl inlay and Eric Clapton autographed it but has the same tone as the $2,500 model.

There are also differing opinions on whether guitars made with both wood and a laminate have as good a sound as the all wood guitars.  For $500 - $1,000 you can find some really nice sounding guitars made with laminate sides, back and neck and a solid wood top.

I perform with a Martin OM-28V and an M36 which are both all wood.  I also really love the D series Martin my sweetheart owns that’s part laminate.  It has a really sweet tone and would have cost twice as much if it were all wood.  With a nice guitar, over time the sound gets better – like a fine wine that gets better with age.  I’m not sure this is the case with a laminate mix but it’s definitely so with all wood guitars.

If you’re ready to take the leap, I recommend that you play a bunch of different guitars on different days in different stores. If you’re plopping down some serious money, you want to get a feel for how you’ll be treated in the store where you’re possibly going to buy.  Buying from a store with an in-house luthier is ideal.  Also it’s a good idea to check into their return/exchange policy.

I think it’s a good idea to play guitars that cost way more money than you’re actually planning on spending so you can experience the difference in sound.

When you take the time to play a bunch of different guitars, at some point one of them will sing to you, “buy me!!”  Listen to that voice.

Nice guitars are usually easier to play, sound nicer, can inspire you to practice more, and overall feel even better about playing.  Once you know you’re in it for the long haul, a really nice guitar is your friend for life.

Chord Structure of "Why Do They Call It A7?"

If you've ever wondered why chords are called "A7" or "Bm", this lesson will take the mystery out of the theory behind it.  Still have questions? Contact me at janet@janetsplanetmusiclessons.com

Part 3 of 3 "Manageable practice regimen, with my crazy busy life?!?"

Part 3: Creating A Comfortable Space

It helps to practice in a place that feels good to be in.  If no such place exists in your home, create one.  You'll need a place to sit where it's comfortable with your guitar, an armless chair or couch can be great.  You also want a place that just feels good to be in so that you'll look forward to your time there.

If you have little kids, wait until they're in bed.  When they're awake, they need you (of course they need you, they're kids).  It's awesome to play guitar for them too, but this is your time.  I recommend 5 days a week, 10 minute sessions.  If you have time and feel like it, by all means play longer.  Remember though that it's not a moral issue; you're not a better person if you play longer or worse if you don't.

I also think it's great to play for your kids.  It's important for them to see that even grownups can learn new things.  Even if you have teenagers who think you're the dumbest human on the planet, they will at least secretly enjoy the fact that you're learning to play.  You may also have the opportunity to train them in the art of cheer leading versus criticizing.  You have a enough mean voices in your head, don't let them help.

We call it "playing music" because it's supposed to be fun.  Follow these suggestions and experience the fact that you don't have to get stressed about your stress reduction activities.

Part 2 of 3: "Manageable practice regimen, with my crazy busy life?!?"

Part 2: Honoring Your Learning Curve

Picture a toddler who's learning how to walk.  If you've ever watched this process, if you said anything to them it most likely wasn't something like, "You fell down AGAIN!?!? I can't believe how clumsy you are!" and more likely to have been, "Good try! You're doing great!" or "Keep it up, I know you'll get it!"

This is how I'd like you to speak to yourself while you're learning guitar.  There are no mistakes, only research; you want to know what you do want to do AND what you don't.  The information is of equal importance.  Or as Miles Davis said, "Do not fear mistakes, there are none."

If mean voices pop up in your head, acknowledge them, name them and put them on a bus. I call this the terrorist committee living rent free in my brain.  I like to say, "Thanks for sharing, here's your ticket, bon voyage!"  You can't control whether or not the voices come up but you can control how you deal with it.

Part 1 of 3: "Manageable practice regimen, with my crazy busy life?!?!

or, "If we said to our friends what we say to ourselves, we wouldn't have any friends."

Part 1 - Creating A Regular Routine

The three biggest issues when it comes to practicing are:

1. creating a regular routine.

2. honoring your learning curve.

3. creating a comfortable space to do it.

The following are what I suggest to my students and they're always really happy with the results.

The first issue is creating a manageable schedule. Pick 5 days during your week and schedule in 10 minutes. Put it in your calendar and treat it like you've made a date with your most favorite person on the planet. If you have young kids, wait until after their bedtime. Set an alarm for 10 minutes and let phone calls go to voice mail, answer the text or email later. The dishes and laundry can wait too. If you only had 10 minutes with your most favorite person on the planet you wouldn't do these things because you'd be interrupting your time with them and it might hurt their feelings. Treat yourself that well. Students who adopt this routine are amazed at how quickly their playing improves.

If you have time and feel like it, by all means play longer. Just remember that it's not a moral issue; it doesn't make you a better person anymore than a short session is a negative. Just know that what's most helpful is repetition over a period of days.

4 More Myths That Are Stopping You From Learning How To Play The Guitar

Sometimes when people find out that I teach guitar lessons they get a sad, defeated look on their faces and say something like, “I’ve always wanted to play the guitar but…” and then they give me one of these 4 reasons why they think they can’t:

Myth #1: “If I’d started this when I was a kid, it would have been easier.”

My experience is that adults have a faster learning curve than kids.  This is mainly because, unlike kids, our brains, gross and fine motor skills are already developed.

The two things that make learning hardest for adults are fear and lack of confidence.  It often doesn’t occur to kids that they won’t be able to do/learn something.  No toddler wonders, “I wonder if I deserve to play with this toy?” or “I wonder if I deserve a hug from my mommy?”  They just grab the toy and give their mommy “uppy arms”.  Also as adults, we already have things we’re competent at so putting ourselves in the “beginner seat” can be an emotional hurdle for us.

When I identify these issues with my adult students, it helps to have them play songs that they’ve been working on with their eyes closed.  It gives them the opportunity to experience the fact that their fingers know where to go after they’ve been studying for a while.  If they’ve experienced it for themselves, they can’t dismiss my complements with, “Oh, she’s just being nice.”

Myth #2: “Only really special, talented people can learn how to play music.”

There’s a joke among musicians that it takes 10-25 years to be an overnight success.   We joke about it because there’s a cultural perception that someone like Eric Clapton just popped out of his mother’s womb knowing how to play guitar.  Or the myth that Robert Johnson was such a great guitar player and songwriter because he made a deal with the devil.

Actually, they just practiced a lot.

The story goes that Eric Clapton tried playing the guitar for the first time when he was 13 and it hurt his fingers so he quit.  He didn’t play again until he was 15 and convinced his family to buy him an electric guitar.  The rest is rock ‘n roll history.

Robert Johnson was booed off the stage and didn’t show back up to play anywhere for a year.  After a year, he showed up on stage again and blew everyone away.  I suppose it’s more romantic to imagine that a badass blues player had the devil for a boss.  I prefer the truth because given time and diligent practice it’s possible that any of us could be that good.

Myth #3: “I’d have to study at a music school for at least 500 years to understand it.”

Whenever I utter the phrase, “music theory” to my adult students they tend to get your basic deer in the headlights look.  One of my goals as a teacher is to take the mystery out of it because I know anyone can learn what I teach.  I believe the burden of learning is on the teacher – my job and one of the things I love about being a teacher is finding an optimal way to show or explain to students how to do something.  If you don’t get it, that’s my problem!

Recently I was teaching a beginning guitar class about something called “The Circle of Fifths” (did your stomach clench when you read that?)  As I went through each part of the lesson I checked in with the class to make sure everyone was with me – they were.  I also did my usual scanning of the students for the “glazed over” look.  At the very end of class a student said, “It’s confusing.” even though she’d understood everything I’d talked about during the lesson.  With some probing I realized that even though she understood the material, it scared her because she hadn’t memorized it.  Learning music theory is like learning any foreign language – you become fluent because you use it consistently in its context.

When I give my students worksheets with the material I tell them, “You’ll memorize this information by using it repeatedly.  Please don’t try to memorize it studying this sheet unless you suffer from insomnia.”  Think of the difference between memorizing vocabulary words in Spanish class verses hanging out in a Spanish speaking country and you can’t find your hotel, are hungry and have to pee; suddenly those words are REALLY INTERESTING because you need them.  I believe music is optimally learned the same way.

Myth #4: ”I’ll learn how to play on my own, then I’ll take lessons.”

When adults show up for beginning guitar I always congratulate them.  Once we’re adults there are generally a bunch of things we’re good at and it’s a bit of an emotional hurdle to put ourselves in the position of being beginners.  Some of this comes from cultural pressure on men to know things even if they don’t.  For women, there is pressure to not take up too much space or be a “show-off”. But remember, you wouldn't need to take lessons if you already knew what the teacher can show you.

You have to let yourself make bad art so you can make good art.

When Eric Clapton first picked up the guitar, he sucked at it.  After many hours of practicing he became awesome and has gotten better and better throughout his life.

Check out this video on how playing an instrument benefits your brain:

Think you'd like to get started but aren't sure if you can do it? Or maybe you're not sure if I'm the right teacher for you?  Click here to register for Janet's Planet: Quick & Dirty Guitar Startup totally free.

Top 5 Myths That Are Stopping You From Learning How To Play The Guitar

Sometimes when people find out that I teach guitar lessons they get a sad, defeated look on their faces and say something like, “I’ve always wanted to play the guitar but…” and then they give me one of these top 5 reasons why they think they can’t:

Myth #1: “I have no musical talent.” 

At times when people find out that I teach guitar lessons they get a sad, defeated look on their faces and say something like, “I’ve always wanted to play the guitar but…” and then they give me one of the reasons I'm discussing in this aricle why they think they can’t.

I’ve been teaching guitar for over 30 years to people ages 4 to 89 and know from my experience that the only prerequisite for learning play is that you want to. If you’ve always wanted to play and think you can’t, I hope my blog posts will inspire you to get started.

It turns out that 80% of us are born with the same musical aptitude as a professional orchestra musician.  How much we’re using this aptitude depends upon the exposure we got growing up like music being played at home, exposure to live music, music classes and lessons.

If you’re thinking, “I’m definitely the other 20%”, if that’s true then it only means that your musical aptitude is less as opposed to nonexistent.  Also, the only people who are actually tone deaf are deaf.  All humans have musical aptitude and taking lessons will tap into and nurture it given regular lessons and a practice regimen.

Myth #2: “I’m tone deaf.” 

Did anyone ever tell you that you're tone deaf?  Tell you not to sing, to mouth the words when your class at school was singing?  Did it leave you feeling like you can't create music?  If someone did, it wasn't nice and more importantly NOT TRUE!!

There’s a saying from Zimbabwe that goes, “If you can walk you can dance and if you can talk you can sing.”  If you have trouble or can’t carry a tune at all the only thing that means is that you need to take your voice and ears to the gym – voice lessons.  One of my students was told her whole life she was tone deaf.  She’s recently completed a year of voice lessons with a moderate practice regimen and can hit about 50% of the notes right.  Another year and she’ll get them all!

Learning the guitar will also help train your ears.  Like anything else, with time and regular practice you'll get better and better at it.  You have to let yourself do it badly for awhile so you can get good at it.  I call it a "dare to suck" moment.

Myth #3: “I’m too busy.” 

O.k. this one is not going to fly with me as I’m the quintessential over-functioning New Englander.  Because I teach in Harvard Square, Cambridge I have many students from different parts of the country who have indicated that when they first arrived in town they were sure us Yankees were FREAKS!!!  They’re right. 

From the beginning, I give my students a simple finger exercise/scale and one song at a time with each one containing a specific skill set.  Here’s my favorite practice regimen: five days a week, ten minutes, scale, song, DONE.  You’re always better off practicing multiple days in a row rather than trying to sit down once or twice during the week for longer periods of time as the repetition of days makes a huge difference.  Even I have 10 minutes in a day to practice.  Also that time frame is optimal for me since I have the attention span of a flea when it comes to repetitive work.

Myth #4: “I tried it once, it hurt my fingers and I felt like an idiot.” 

Just like with Eric Clapton, your fingers hurting is a normal early hurdle when learning to play guitar.   Other issues that a teacher can help you with are holding the guitar comfortably, forming chords and switching from one chord to another.  I have specific things I do with my students that help them over these hurdles simply and easily.

Another issue is finding the right teacher.  If during your lessons you feel like a moron, it may be that you need a different teacher.  The best sign that you’re working with the right person is that the lessons leave you inspired, knowing that you can do it.  There are plenty of great musicians who aren’t the best teachers.

Be as picky about finding a teacher as you would about a primary care physician or therapist.

Myth #5: “I’m too old to learn how to play the guitar.” 

One of my dad’s favorite things to say was, “if you don’t use it, you lose it!” and indeed he was sharp as a tack until he died at the age of 91.  When he was born in 1911 in Poland, his home was heated with a coal stove and lit by kerosene lamps.  In the ‘80s he bought his first PC (with the operating system on a 5 ¼ inch floppy disk) and by the time the technology was available, he was happily using the Internet.

These days the scientists call it “brain plasticity” and learning new things like how to play the guitar nurtures it.  When you engage in creative activities you use both sides of your brain.  There’s the right brain “wow that song makes me feel so great” part and the mathematical, left brain music theory part.  If that last phrase made your stomach clench, stay tuned for more myths next week including: “I’d have to study at a music school for at least 500 years to understand it.”

The oldest person I've ever taught was an 89 year old named Gerda Silberstein.  She’d never played guitar before and we worked together for about a year and had so much fun while she learned.  Ever since that experience, whenever I have the thought, “Maybe I’m too old to learn how to…….” I think of her and invite you to do the same.

Also, you might be thinking, “I’ll be really old by the time I learn how to play!”  Which would you prefer: being really old and able to play guitar or really old and not able to play guitar?

Check out this video on how playing an instrument benefits your brain:

Think you'd like to get started but aren't sure if you can do it? Or maybe you're not sure if I'm the right teacher for you?  Click here to register for Janet's Planet: Quick & Dirty Guitar Startup totally FREE.

Shoots and Ladders, a finger exercise

This exercise will help you with dexterity particularly with your third and fourth fingers (ring and pinky).  They naturally want to move together but this exercise will help you strengthen all of your fingers but make it easier to move the third and fourth fingers separately.

How To Hold A Guitar

Beginning students ask me about this when they're first taking lessons and often with the idea that they're the only person who's having a hard time getting comfortable holding their guitar.  If you've had this experience, you're not alone.  Holding the guitar, placing your fingers on the strings, strumming not to mention trying to sing and play at the same time is really awkward at first.

This lesson will show you how comfortably hold it on your lap so you can practice and enjoy playing your guitar as soon as possible.

If you want it to be, your guitar can be your friend for life.  If it weren't for mine, I'd be a much crazier person than I am (are the voices in my head bothering you?........)

Capos & Keys

If you've ever seen guitarists playing a song together with capos on different frets and wondered what they were doing, this lesson will explain all.

This is a lesson I teach students in my ensemble classes and workshops as an introduction to arranging songs when playing in a group.  Enjoy!

Open Tunings - Don't Let It Bring You Down by Neil Young in Double Dropped D

You're A Songwriter!!

Vinyl vs. iPod

I spent my childhood collecting Beatles records with my sister Barb and bought my first LP with my own money at the age of 12 when I started babysitting.  It was 1972 and I bought Tapestry by Carole King, which I think is one of the best albums of all time.

 
That was the beginning of decades of collecting the music that became the soundtrack of my life.  My favorite scene in the John Cusack movie, High Fidelity is when he's reorganizing his LPs autobiographically.  While laughing hysterically at this scene it was also appropriate for me to laugh at myself since I thought something like, "Wow, cool, why didn't I think of that?........"
 
So it was a huge thing when I gave away my collection of LPs.
 
"You WHAT?!?! You GAVE them away?!?!"
 
Yeah, I did. 
 
The thing is, I didn't want to sell them to some stranger even though many of them are valuable (full collection of Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, original Yessongs, Woodstock and Thick As A Brick).  I hadn't listened to them in 10 years and they were languishing on a shelf in the basement.  They were lonely and it wasn't good for the feng shui in my house.  #hippieproblems LOL
 
I discovered one day at school that two of the 20something teachers I work with are really into vinyl and that apparently collecting LPs is a "thing" with young, hip music lovers.  So it was with great joy and relief that I sent my beloved collection off to two new homes where I know they're being lovingly cared for and listened to with much enjoyment.
 
Plus, I no longer have to worry about shlepping them around.  LPs are heavy and I've been moving them from house to house since 1977 when I left home.
 
However, I've been curious about why these younguns are so into vinyl as I relish having enough memory on my iPod to fit my large, once heavy music collection.  Jill at school talks about the warm snap, crackle pop sound and the cover art work, a sentiment that apparently is widely shared by new LP listeners.  She's also into the retro aspect of it.
 
The comment I was most struck by came from one of my guitar students who's a film student at BU.  At his last lesson he talked about the commitment involved in listening to vinyl.  This is something I hadn't thought about and he's right.
 
When you listen to an LP it's an event.  You have to be in the room or at least the same house/apartment/dorm room.  You can't carry it with you outside or play it in the car.  You also have to be present to turn it over to the other side.  Also, you're committed to listening to the music as a whole piece of work versus a song here or there chosen for you in iPod shuffle.
 
While he was talking about this I was flashing back to the many hours of my life through my twenties spent just sitting and listening to records.  This goes back to sitting on the floor with my sister Barb playing with our Legos while listening to Abbey Road, Peter, Paul and Mary records, various classical albums for kids my mom bought for us (the children should have a little culchah....) like Tchaikovsky's Peter And The Wolf and musicals likeThe Sound of Music, West Side Story and Oklahoma.
 
Sometimes I would get together with friends and specifically listen to records and this was a normal, common activity.  Most of the time it was me in my room, dorm room or apartment listening to the music, reading the cover information and memorizing the lyrics.  I still remember many of those lyrics.
 
So while I'm really psyched about my "excellent rectangle" (see video below), it was really nice to remember the many hours I've enjoyed listening to my LPs with others and alone.  Once I started buying cassettes and CDs most of my music listening happened in the car.  With my iPod this is still the case.
 
During my heaviest touring years (1992 - 2002) a crucial part of packing for my trips was choosing the cassettes I would bring in the car with me to keep me company as I drove to Texas and back.
 
My LP listening years also informs how I make my own recordings.  When I've released my cds, the songs are chosen carefully and put in a specific order to take my listeners through the experience in a particular way.  The songs are available for single downloads but that creates a different experience for the listener.
 
On the other side of things, I really appreciate the single song download especially as a teacher who's often using them as part of a lesson plan calling for one or two songs.  I love the convenience of buying the songs I want and putting them in a specific order on my iPod.  I used to create mix tapes and cds for myself and friends so being able to do it on the iPod is an excellent "no muss, no fuss" experience.
 
And no, I never owned any 8 tracks - from the get go I thought they were a wikkid pain.
 
I also prefer the digital sound which is a fact that would horrify many of my musician friends.  I really don't miss the snap, crackle, pop or having to flip the record over, not to mention the risk of the record skipping, getting scratches and warping.
 
How about you?  What's the first music you bought with your own money? Which format do you prefer now?

You Can Play The Blues. Really.

At least once a year I bring a keyboard into the classroom and give students an opportunity to play it.  I do this with everyone, 3 to 13 year olds.  I also invite their teachers to give it a try and love to see the look on their faces when they discover that they can do it too.

 
Wondering how this is possible with people who've never played the piano?  Well, it turns out that if you play only the black keys, you're playing a blues scale in Eb (E Flat). Does that sound scary?  No worries because one of my missions in life is to take the mystery out of stuff like this.
 
If I play the chords for blues in Eb and then anyone can play a solo that sounds cool by playing only the black keys.  Really.

Even the 3 year olds can do it.
 
Here's how it works:
Let's start with something most of you will have heard of, do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do.  This is the template for what's called a major scale.  From do to do is 8 notes or an octave.

An octopus has 8 legs, an octagon has 8 sides and an octave has 8 notes.  The month of October used to be the 8th month until during the ancient Roman Empire they added July for Julius Caesar and August for the Emperor Augustus.
 
Basic blues chords are based on the 1st, 4th and 5th note in a major scale.  Here are the notes of a C major scale:
 
C D E F G A B C
2 3 4  5  6 7  8
 
The "1" is C, "4" is F and the "5" is G.  Each of these notes is the foundation or what's called the root of a chord.  A chord is a group of notes in a specific pattern.
 
A blues scale is also called a pentatonic scale which sounds like something you need to take antibiotics for, "Hey Janet, why weren't you at school today?....Oh man, I was home sick with a pentatonic scale!" "Penta" is 5 (think pentagon) and a pentatonic scale has 5 notes.
 
The pentatonic or blues scale in Eb is as follows: Eb Gb Ab Bb Db  An Eb Major scale has the following notes: Eb F G Ab Bb C Db Eb. If I play an Eb (the 1), Ab (the 4) and Bb (the 5) chord someone can create a perfect solo using the notes in the Eb pentatonic scale.
 
Did your brain just shut down?
 
No problem, I've attached an mp3 of me playing blues in Eb so you can just try it for yourself.  Let it play through some speakers or load it on to your iPod and try playing along on the black keys of a piano or electronic keyboard.  Don't own a piano or keyboard?  You can download keyboard apps on to your iPad (there's a cool one for free called "Grand Piano").  Don't have an iPad? Go on a field trip to a music store and try it out there.

Don't worry, you can't make a mistake if you only play the black keys.  The worst thing that can happen is that you'll create a cacophony of piano sound.  No one will die or even get a little sick.  You won't get fired or flunk out.  Remember that we call it "playing music" because it's supposed to be fun.  Otherwise we'd call it "working music" or "suffering music".

Blues_In_Eb.mp3

Building A Creative Foundation for Kids

Rest & Creativity

Over the last 7 or 8 years I've needed to work 50-60 hours a week, including during my school vacation weeks to make ends meet.  I'm privileged to be in a position where I have the education and experience where making that happen has been possible.  Also, I've been constantly exhausted.  I'm grateful now that I've been able to grow my music school to the point where this is no longer necessary and have been really enjoying how much of a difference it makes with my overall creativity.

After two years of not writing a song, I wrote my current favorite after 10 days in Vermont, reading, napping and playing guitar.  I was deeply relieved when on the evening we returned from our restful vacation, I got the "download" for my song Waves and was available to hear, get out of the way enough to write it all down and edit.  Plus, I learned an important lesson: If I'm not rested and recharged, I won't get those downloads.

When I began the school year last fall, now having grown my music school so I was earning the same income for half the hours (!!) I noticed that my teaching took on a new, higher level of creativity and engagement.  It's amazing what happens when you're not tired all the time!

Most importantly, I feel I'm available to my students at a much greater level because I have so much more to give.  Like they say on the airplanes, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.  Seriously, if you're dead you can't help anyone.  And so it is with keeping my well full so I can be of better service to my students and all of the people in my life.

In a world where being over-worked and over-scheduled is considered a badge of honor, finding ways to recharge our batteries is critical to be of the most service to others.

Who knew?

Buying A Guitar When You Don't Know How To Play

If you’ve never played a guitar before and you want to buy yourself one here are the a few things you can pay attention to so you can get something you’ll enjoy playing.

The size and shape of guitars vary and it’s important to find an optimal fit.  Place the guitar on your lap with the neck to your left and the waist of the guitar resting on your right leg.  Let your right arm rest on the body of the guitar.  With your left hand, place your thumb on the back of the neck, your wrist bent and your fingers curved with the tips touching the strings.  Neck width varies.  You want a guitar that doesn’t feel like you’re wrapping your fingers around a tree trunk or alternately, a tooth pick.

Also, pay attention to the size and shape of the guitar body in relation to your height.  If you have to hunch your right shoulder to get your arm resting on the body, a smaller size might be better for you.  If you feel like you’re playing a ukulele then perhaps you’d be better off with something bigger.

I always recommend listening to several different guitars in your price range to hear how they sound different.  Bring a friend who plays along with you or have a salesperson play them.  Buy the one that when you hear it you can almost hear it saying, “Buy ME!!”

There are a number of different brands that are excellent starter guitars.  More expensive doesn’t always mean better.  It’s good to buy from a store that offers a return policy.  My favorites are guitars with a solid wood top and laminate sides and back as they’re inexpensive yet the solid wood top gives them a decent sound quality.

Find out if the guitar comes with a gig bag (a soft case).  It’s not necessary to buy an electronic tuner if you have an iPhone/smart phone as there are a number of free apps available.  It’s a good idea to have an extra set of strings.  I recommend light gauge acoustic strings.  I also prefer medium flat picks.

Janet's Planet: Music Lessons For Humanoids - Hammer-ons and Pull-offs

Practice Pep Talk #4 of 6 - "Do I HAVE to use a flat pick?!?"

When we're first learning how to play a musical instrument, most of us are really hard on ourselves.  Really, if we said to our friends the things we say to ourselves, we wouldn't have any friends.

In this 6 part series, I'll give you the mindset tools you need to get over the hurdles that keep you from enjoying learning and can inhibit your progress.

Are you dying to learn to play guitar but are worried you're too busy, too old or don't have enough talent? I know you can do it but you don't have to take my word for it. Register below for my free video lesson series:

Janet's Planet: Music Lessons for Humanoids - Quick & Dirty Guitar Start-Up

 
 
 
By signing up for this free video lesson series, you'll also get weekly tips,  tools and more free lessons to help you bring out your inner rock star.

We HATE spam and will NEVER share your info with anyone.
 
Pinky swear.

Practice Pep Talk #2 of 6- "Why Doesn't It Sound Like When You Play?"

When we're first learning how to play a musical instrument, most of us are really hard on ourselves.  Really, if we said to our friends the things we say to ourselves, we wouldn't have any friends.

In this 6 part series, I'll give you the mindset tools you need to get over the hurdles that keep you from enjoying learning and can inhibit your progress.

Are you dying to learn to play guitar but are worried you're too busy, too old or don't have enough talent? I know you can do it but you don't have to take my word for it.  Register below for my free video lesson series, Janet's Planet: Music Lessons for Humanoids - Quick & Dirty Guitar Start-up.

 
 
 
By signing up for this free video lesson series, you'll also get weekly tips,  tools and more free lessons to help you bring out your inner rock star.

We HATE spam and will NEVER share your info with anyone.
 
Pinky swear.

Guitar Lessons: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Registration is now open for my classes at The Passim School of Music.  I'll be teaching Guitar 1, 2, 3 and 4 beginning the first week in January.  Classes at Passim are an amazing deal.  For $140 you can begin your journey with playing guitar, make friends with barre chords or experience the fact that understanding basic music theory doesn't require studying at a conservatory for years and years.
Check out all the deets here:

Click here for all the details on Guitar 4

Myth #9: "I'm too old to learn how to play the guitar."

One of my dad’s favorite things to say was, “if you don’t use it, you lose it!” and indeed he was sharp as a tack until he died at the age of 91.  When he was born in 1911 in Poland, his home was heated with a coal stove and lit by kerosene lamps.  In the ‘80s he bought his first PC (with the operating system on a 5 ¼ inch floppy disk) and by the time the technology was available, he was happily using the Internet.

These days the scientists call it “brain plasticity” and learning new things like how to play the guitar nurtures it.  When you engage in creative activities you use both sides of your brain.  There’s the right brain “wow that song makes me feel so great” part and the mathematical, left brain music theory part.  If that last phrase made your stomach clench, please see Myth #5: “I’d have to study at a music school for at least 500 years to understand it.”

The oldest person I've ever taught was an 89 year old named Gerda Silberstein.  She’d never played guitar before and we worked together for about a year and had so much fun while she learned.  Ever since that experience, whenever I have the thought, “Maybe I’m too old to learn how to…….” I think of her and invite you to do the same.

Also, you might be thinking, “I’ll be really old by the time I learn how to play!”  Which would you prefer: being really old and able to play guitar or really old and not able to play guitar?

Check out this video on how playing an instrument benefits your brain:

Myth #8: "I'm way too busy to learn how to play the guitar."

O.k. this one is not going to fly with me as I’m the quintessential over-functioning New Englander.  Because I teach in Harvard Square, Cambridge I have many students from different parts of the country who have indicated that when they first arrived in town they were sure us Yankees were FREAKS!!!  They’re right. 

From the beginning, I give my students a simple finger exercise/scale and one song at a time with each one containing a specific skill set.  Here’s my favorite practice regimen: five days a week, ten minutes, scale, song, DONE.  You’re always better off practicing multiple days in a row rather than trying to sit down once or twice during the week for longer periods of time as the repetition of days makes a huge difference.  Even I have 10 minutes in a day to practice.  Also that time frame is optimal for me since I have the attention span of a flea when it comes to repetitive work.

Stay tuned for next week's post, final of this series: Myth #9: "Do you know how old I'll be by the time I learn out to play the guitar?"

Myth #7: ”I’ll learn how to play on my own, then I’ll take lessons.”

When adults show up for beginning guitar I always congratulate them.  Once we’re adults there are generally a bunch of things we’re good at and it’s a bit of an emotional hurdle to put ourselves in the position of being beginners.  Some of this comes from cultural pressure on men to know things even if they don’t.  For women, there is pressure to not take up too much space or be a “show-off”. But remember, you wouldn't need to take lessons if you already knew what the teacher can show you.

You have to let yourself make bad art so you can make good art.

When Eric Clapton first picked up the guitar, he sucked at it.  After many hours of practicing he became awesome and has gotten better and better throughout his life.

Stay tuned for next week's post: Myth #8: “I’m way too busy to learn how to play the guitar.

Myth #6: “I tried it once, it hurt my fingers and I felt like an idiot.”

Just like with Eric Clapton, your fingers hurting is a normal early hurdle when learning to play guitar.   Other issues that a teacher can help you with are holding the guitar comfortably, forming chords and switching from one chord to another.  I have specific things I do with my students that help them over these hurdles simply and easily.

Another issue is finding the right teacher.  If during your lessons you feel like a moron, it may be that you need a different teacher.  The best sign that you’re working with the right person is that the lessons leave you inspired, knowing that you can do it.  There are plenty of great musicians who aren’t the best teachers.

Be as picky about finding a teacher as you would about a primary care physician or therapist.

Stay tuned for next week's post: Myth #7: ”I’ll learn how to play on my own, then I’ll take lessons.”

Myth #5: “I’d have to study at a music school for at least 500 years to understand it.”

Whenever I utter the phrase, “music theory” to my adult students they tend to get your basic deer in the headlights look.  One of my goals as a teacher is to take the mystery out of it because I know anyone can learn what I teach.  I believe the burden of learning is on the teacher – my job and one of the things I love about being a teacher is finding an optimal way to show or explain to students how to do something.  If you don’t get it, that’s my problem!

Recently I was teaching a beginning guitar class about something called “The Circle of Fifths” (did your stomach clench when you read that?)  As I went through each part of the lesson I checked in with the class to make sure everyone was with me – they were.  I also did my usual scanning of the students for the “glazed over” look.  At the very end of class a student said, “It’s confusing.” even though she’d understood everything I’d talked about during the lesson.  With some probing I realized that even though she understood the material, it scared her because she hadn’t memorized it.  Learning music theory is like learning any foreign language – you become fluent because you use it consistently in its context.

When I give my students worksheets with the material I tell them, “You’ll memorize this information by using it repeatedly.  Please don’t try to memorize it studying this sheet unless you suffer from insomnia.”  Think of the difference between memorizing vocabulary words in Spanish class verses hanging out in a Spanish speaking country and you can’t find your hotel, are hungry and have to pee; suddenly those words are REALLY INTERESTING because you need them.  I believe music is optimally learned the same way.

Stay tuned for next week's post: Myth #6: “I tried it once, it hurt my fingers and I felt like an idiot.”

 

 

 

Janet Feld
 
Sign up below for your free download of Lesson 1 from Janet's Planet: Music Lessons for Humanoids to experience how easy it is to learn how to play the guitar. You don't have to have any special talent or gift. By the end of this lesson you'll be able to play 1. Three chords, 2. One strum pattern and 3. One song slowly.
 
 

Myth #4: “Only really special, talented people can learn how to play music.”

There’s a joke among musicians that it takes 10-25 years to be an overnight success.   We joke about it because there’s a cultural perception that someone like Eric Clapton just popped out of his mother’s womb knowing how to play guitar.  Or the myth that Robert Johnson was such a great guitar player and songwriter because he made a deal with the devil.

Actually, they just practiced a lot.

The story goes that Eric Clapton tried playing the guitar for the first time when he was 13 and it hurt his fingers so he quit.  He didn’t play again until he was 15 and convinced his family to buy him an electric guitar.  The rest is rock ‘n roll history.

Robert Johnson was booed off the stage and didn’t show back up to play anywhere for a year.  After a year, he showed up on stage again and blew everyone away.  I suppose it’s more romantic to imagine that a badass blues player had the devil for a boss.  I prefer the truth because given time and diligent practice it’s possible that any of us could be that good.

Next week's post: Myth #5: “I’d have to study at a music school for at least 500 years to understand it.”

Myth #3: “If I’d started this when I was a kid, it would have been easier.”

My experience is that adults have a faster learning curve than kids.  This is mainly because, unlike kids, our brains, gross and fine motor skills are already developed. The two things that make learning hardest for adults are fear and lack of confidence.  It often doesn’t occur to kids that they won’t be able to do/learn something.  No toddler wonders, “I wonder if I deserve to play with this toy?” or “I wonder if I deserve a hug from my mommy?”  They just grab the toy and give their mommy “uppy arms”.  Also as adults, we already have things we’re competent at so putting ourselves in the “beginner seat” can be an emotional hurdle for us.

When I identify these issues with my adult students, it helps to have them play songs that they’ve been working on with their eyes closed.  It gives them the opportunity to experience the fact that their fingers know where to go after they’ve been studying for a while.  If they’ve experienced it for themselves, they can’t dismiss my complements with, “Oh, she’s just being nice.”

Stay tuned for next week's post: Myth #4: “Only really special, talented people can learn how to play music.”

Myth #2: “I’m tone deaf.” or reasons why you think you can't learn to play guitar

Did anyone ever tell you that you're tone deaf?  Tell you not to sing, to mouth the words when your class at school was singing?  Did it leave you feeling like you can't create music?  If someone did, it wasn't nice and more importantly NOT TRUE!!

There’s a saying from Zimbabwe that goes, “If you can walk you can dance and if you can talk you can sing.”  If you have trouble or can’t carry a tune at all the only thing that means is that you need to take your voice and ears to the gym – voice lessons.  One of my students was told her whole life she was tone deaf.  She’s recently completed a year of voice lessons with a moderate practice regimen and can hit about 50% of the notes right.  Another year and she’ll get them all!

Learning the guitar will also help train your ears.  Like anything else, with time and regular practice you'll get better and better at it.  You have to let yourself do it badly for awhile so you can get good at it.  I call it a "dare to suck" moment.

Stay tuned for next week's post: Myth #3: "If I'd started this when I was a kid, it would have been easier."

Myth #1: "I have no musical talent." - or reasons why you think you can't learn to play guitar

At times when people find out that I teach guitar lessons they get a sad, defeated look on their faces and say something like, “I’ve always wanted to play the guitar but…” and then they give me one of the reasons I'm discussing in my blog why they think they can’t. Starting today I discuss reason or Myth #1: "I have no musical talent."

I’ve been teaching guitar for over 30 years to people ages 4 to 89 and know from my experience that the only prerequisite for learning play is that you want to. If you’ve always wanted to play and think you can’t, I hope my blog posts will inspire you to get started.

It turns out that 80% of us are born with the same musical aptitude as a professional orchestra musician.  How much we’re using this aptitude depends upon the exposure we got growing up like music being played at home, exposure to live music, music classes and lessons.

If you’re thinking, “I’m definitely the other 20%”, if that’s true then it only means that your musical aptitude is less as opposed to nonexistent.  Also, the only people who are actually tone deaf are deaf.  All humans have musical aptitude and taking lessons will tap into and nurture it given regular lessons and a practice regimen.

Janet's Planet: Music Lessons For Humanoids - Harmonics or "Is Tinkerbell here?"

Janet's Planet: Music Lessons For Humanoids - Tuning By Ear

Electronic tuners are awesome in many situations but I think it's a good idea to also practice tuning by ear.  What you're doing is taking your ears to the "tuning gym" and "toning" your listening muscles.  Like anything else, the more you do it the easier it gets.

The Rule Of Twos - open your songwriting faucet

This week's video lesson focuses on a songwriting rule called the rule of twos.  l believe that if you're drawn to not only listen to music but also to play it that you're a songwriter, even if you've never written one before.  If that's you, then you just need your songwriting faucet opened a bit.
 
In this video I demonstrate the rule of twos with a cool example of how Nanci Griffith breaks it in her song Trouble In The Fields.

Janet's Planet: Music Lessons For Humanoids -The Major Moveable Scale

One of the main things that pushed me over the threshold from mediocre to advanced guitar player was practicing my scales.

It's all Jim Henry's fault since he's the one who pushed me to do it to move beyond guitar skills that were detracting from my performances with our group at the time (late 1980s).  He pushed me to honor my abilities and the songs I was writing and performing by improving my guitar skills.

The first scale he taught me was the major moveable scale.  I practiced it on my own and we played it together at different speeds during our lessons.  This is just one of several scales that once I began practicing it, I love what it did for my guitar playing.

Be picky about how you hold your pick and your fingering on the fret board.  As Picasso once said, "Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist".

Janet's Planet: Music Lessons For Humanoids - A musician?!?! For a LIVING?!?!

The image of the starving artist is prevalent in our culture so if you're thinking you'd like to make a living as an artist or your kids are telling you that this is what they want to be when they grow up, it may be scaring you.  A lot.

I've been a working artist for most of my adult life and know that you can do the creating you're meant to do still pay your bills, have food to eat and a roof over your head.

If that sounds like you, click on the video below.

"Keep wicked calm & carry the hell on."

The explosion at the Marathon on Monday is so unfathomable, and being in a semi-lock down situation today is also extremely strange. All week long we've been saying prayers for those who lost their lives, were injured and their loved ones. 

I feel humbled by the incredible kindness and caring of people in response to this terrible event; runners who continued running over to hospitals to give blood, people who gave rides and invited total strangers to stay in their homes until they could reunite with loved ones. Also by the outpouring of support from around the country and around the world.

I'm thinking of my dad today, may he rest in peace. He was a Holocaust survivor. Some survivors had their faith strengthened and others like my dad felt cynical about faith. Like many he asked, "If there's a God, where was He in Auschwitz?" 

So after he and my step-mom had been to a bris (a Jewish circumcision/baby naming) and I asked how it had been, I expected a cynical reply from him. But this is what he said, "Well, as I watched this ceremony that Jews have been performing for thousands of years all I could think was, 'This is proof that Hitler failed.' " I was stunned and deeply moved. 

I think of his words when I'm teaching. It is my privilege to have the opportunity to share music with my students, no matter what else is going on in the world, even as some people choose to honor rage, hatred and fear in themselves by taking it out on others. 

It is my wish and prayer today that we keep our focus on love. To carry on, give love and care to others is the best way to show that the Marathon bombers failed. 

Wishing you all a safe and restful weekend

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