Beau Simpson Music

Professional Music Lessons Since 2001

Author: acme316

How to Learn to Play a Song Effortlessly and Flawlessly

A song is generally comprised of several sections (ex. intro, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, bridge, interlude, outro, etc.)

Of course, not all songs follow the same structure; but every song can be divided into sections.

Here Are Your 3 Keys to Success

Key #1: Divide the Song into Sections

First and foremost, don’t try to play the song from beginning to end.

Aside from browsing through the piece to see what you’re up against, you’ll want to learn and practice each section as a separate entity.

How to divide the song into sections:

First, designate a letter name for each main section (ex. Intro = “A”, Verse 1 = “B”, Pre-Chorus = “C”, etc.)

This will help you to see the big picture in a manageable way. (Later on, your goal will be to master each of these sections independently of one another.)

Next, number each measure within each section (ex. measure 1 of the intro = “1”, measure 1 of the verse = “1”, measure 1 of the pre-chorus = “1”, etc.)

This will help you to take each section in bite-sized pieces.

At this point, you will have a name for every measure in the entire song.

For example, the 4th measure (“4”) of Verse 1 (labeled “B”) would be called B4.

Key #2: Practice One Measure at a Time (and RELAX)

This is of paramount importance, especially with challenging pieces of music.

Practicing one measure at a time will allow you to focus on every aspect of your technique and play with as little tension as possible.

Even if you’re simply reviewing a part you’ve already learned, you’ll now have a chance to observe yourself with a critical eye, ear, and hyper-awareness of any tension in your body (not just your hands).

Side note: I’ve seen students flexing their ankles while trying to play a difficult passage and it actually hinders their playing. How do I know? Because when I pointed it out and had them relax their playing suddenly improved!

Key #3: Practice Linking Measures Together

Once you’ve practiced two adjacent measures, try playing through them without stopping

Do you notice a “hiccup” at the transition point between the measures?

If so, it’s because you practiced each measure without yet having practiced the transition.

How do we solve this issue?

Easy.

Practice the point of transition between the two measures.

How to Practice the Point of Transition

Smoothly connect the last 2-4 notes of the 1st measure with the first 2-4 notes of the 2nd

You’ll want to spend as much time on this point of transition as you did on each individual measure.

Yes, it’s tedious and I hate it too, but I know it works.

That’s why I recommend using a timer and setting it for 2 minutes.

Repeat the transition over and over, playing slowly, carefully, and RELAXED.

A word of caution:

If you’re tempted to speed up and see if you can do it faster, stop immediately because you’re likely reinforcing bad habits. This is a sign that you’ll want to start using a metronome while practicing.

If you’re tempted to speed up and see if you can do it faster, stop immediately because you’re likely reinforcing bad habits. This is a sign that you’ll want to start using a metronome while practicing.

Once you’ve smoothed out the transition, play through both measures only as fast as you can play perfectly and effortlessly.

Remember: speed is a byproduct of accuracy; not the other way around.

You can be the fastest racecar driver in the world, but if you can’t control the car then you’re going to crash every time…and that won’t win many races. (The story of the tortoise and the hare still holds true.)

Continue this process for each pair of measures in section A.

After doing this, you will be able to play smoothly, effortlessly, and flawlessly from the first note to the last note of the section

Troubleshooting

If you’re still having trouble, try the following:

  1. Start linking 3 measures together (ex. 1-3, 2-4, 3-5, 4-6, 5-7, 6-8).
  2. Then link 4 measures together (ex. 1-4, 2-5, 3-6, 4-7, 5-8).
  3. Now try playing all the way through the section.

 

A Few Words on Mindset

This may seem like a lot of work, but it can actually be a very meditative and stress-relieving experience if you let go and surrender to the process knowing that IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN.

Whenever I feel anxious or frustrated with my playing, I’ve learned to take a few deep breaths (while I’m repeating a phrase or exercise) and say to myself, “I’m allowing it to happen.”

What exactly am I allowing to happen? I’m allowing my hands and fingers to move effortlessly.

As Classical guitar virtuoso Pepe Romero famously said, “To play the guitar well is easy, to play the guitar poorly is difficult.”

How to Build Calluses Quickly and Easily

One of the most frustrating things about learning to play the guitar is the fact that it’s so ***ing painful on the fingertips.

There’s nothing quite like physical pain to derail your practice and put a damper on your motivation.

Every guitarist deals with this regularly.

If you’re just starting out and trying to break past that pain period, you’re certainly going to feel it.

If you’ve been playing for months or years and take a few days off, you’re going to feel it when you get back into the routine.

Even if you practice on a daily basis and spend more time playing one day than usual, you’re still going to be subject to tender fingertips.

The old adage was to just keep playing, push through the pain, and eventually, you’ll grow calluses.

Not to say that this isn’t true, but luckily there’s a better way.

Enter tea tree oil.

This stuff is amazing in so many ways, and accelerating the callus-building processes is just one of them.

How I Found Out About Tea Tree Oil

A few years ago, during a break at a rehearsal, my drummer/friend grabbed a little bottle of tea tree oil and poured it all over his hands.

When I asked what he was doing, he told me that he had gone surfing earlier in the day.

“The ocean water softened my callouses and I’m getting blisters from my [drum] sticks.”

Clearly, he could see that I was confused.

He continued, “Whenever I need to rebuild my calluses, I just rub this stuff onto my hands. Tomorrow morning when I wake up my blisters will have turned into calluses.”

I had never heard of such a thing and almost couldn’t believe it, but I had to give it a try.

Even after years of playing, my fingers still burn and blister after long, intense rehearsals and practice sessions.

The next day I went out and picked up a bottle of tea tree oil.

After my practice session, I applied the oil to the tips of my fingers.

I remember it smelled funny and made my fingers tingle, but I was anxious to see if it worked the way my friend had described.

Lo and behold, the next morning my fingers were sporting calluses that were stronger than ever.

I picked up the guitar and went off into my own little world, completely free of pain.

I couldn’t believe I had never heard of this stuff!

It was miraculous how well it worked and now I carry it with me wherever I go.

 

 

How to Fight Stage Fright and Win: Tip #2

Welcome to our second installment of “How to Fight Stage Fright and Win”. I hope you found some useful advice in the first issue. If you haven’t read it yet, check it out here.

Got it? Good!

Here we go.

Tip #2: Practice Playing Standing Up

If you’re anything like me, you probably spend a lot of your practice time sitting down.

Practicing scale sequences for hours on end is exhausting enough even without having the weight of a guitar hanging off your neck.

Sure it’s fun to stand up and rock out sometimes.

That’s one of the fun parts of playing the guitar.

However, there’s a distinction between playing (the fun part) and practice (the discipline part).

The general rule that applies here when you want to feel comfortable performing can be summarized by the old adage, “Practice the way you play.”

That phrase is used a lot in the world of sports to encourage young athletes to work so hard in practice that the competition itself feels easy in comparison.

But there’s a second meaning to the phrase: practice under the same conditions that you perform.

For our purposes, this means that if you play (i.e. perform) standing up, then it reasons to practice while standing up.

Without a doubt, it can be tiring and uncomfortable to have a guitar slung around your neck as you stand and practice for hours on end.

Thankfully, this doesn’t mean we have to spend ALL of our practice time standing up.

Here’s the formula that has worked for me and many other guitarists to make the most of our practice sessions without putting too much strain on our bodies.

Whether you’re sitting, standing, leaned back, or lying down, if you spend too long in one position, it’s eventually going to get uncomfortable.

Use that discomfort as an opportunity to practice playing in different positions.

For instance, if you practice one item for a total of 20 minutes, then spend the first 10 minutes sitting down and the last 10 minutes standing up.

You could also alternate between 5 minutes of sitting and standing practice until you’ve reached the 20-minute mark.

You can use a timer if you want to be more structured with your practice time (which I recommend) or you can just change positions whenever you start to feel fatigued.

As long as you spend a decent amount of your practice time standing up, you’ll become familiar with the position of the guitar relative to your body and will ultimately feel natural.

If you’re ready to take your playing to the next level, contact me for personal coaching. Together we’ll work on the physical and mental aspects of practice and performance, allowing you to leave every challenge in the dust.

Click here for tip #3.

How to Fight Stage Fright and Win: Tip #1

Do you ever feel like a pro when you play guitar in your bedroom and an amateur when you play onstage?

Nobody likes to talk about it, but it’s more common than you’d think.

I can attest to that feeling myself.

That’s why I’ve put together a game plan to help you perform at your highest level.

By integrating these strategies into your practice, you’ll replace those pangs of nervousness and anxiety with a sense of calmness and composure.

Many of these ideas come from the thoughts I had while reflecting on my first performance and what I did to enhance. There were a few key insights that I took with me from that moment onward.

Apply them to your own life and you can save yourself from a lot of uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing moments down the road.

By integrating these strategies into your practice, you’ll be calm, cool, and collected where you used to feel pressure, nervousness, and anxiety.

That said, here’s your first tip to beating stage fright.

Tip #1: Act the Part

Many fans forget that what musicians are doing on stage is an act, a performance, and a source of entertainment.

Lots of musicians are introverted, which makes it hard for them to bask in the limelight.

It’s a vulnerable feeling being up onstage and judged by all the arms-crossed musicians in the crowd.

Now think about this for a second:

Have you ever noticed how many musicians use stage names?

In the same way that actors take on a different name and personality to play a role, you may find a sudden transformation creating a stage name for yourself.

Even if you continue to use your birth name, you’ll immediately feel more comfortable with an onstage persona because it’s not YOU being judged; it’s your character.

While your character doesn’t have to be completely different from who you are offstage, remember that it’s still important to have some personality.

Much like an actor’s job is more than just reading lines, a successful musician conveys emotion and connects with his audience.

You’ll also give yourself permission to have more fun instead of taking every note too seriously.

I’ve been guilty of putting too much effort into playing the right notes and not enough effort into making it a great overall experience.

Some musicians love the fanfare, others not so much.

I was always more intent on playing well than being in the limelight, but I’ve certainly met a lot of musicians who made it a long way on personality alone.

After years of listening to and implementing different schools of thought, I’ve come to a glaringly obvious conclusion: a solid performance consists of playing the right notes at the right time with the right energy.

Of course, like most things, this is far easier said than done. However, if you’d like the ability to enter into a headspace that makes you feel invulnerable (and, in a way, superhuman), then I encourage you to contact me for a personal coaching session. Together we’ll break through psychological barriers that will shatter the glass ceiling and open you up to infinite possibilities.

Click here for Tip #2

Music Theory: Friend or Foe? (Part 2)

Oftentimes when people think of the words “music theory,” they think of rules and regulations. They have two unconscious beliefs that go something like this:

  1. “If I know the rules, then I will have to follow them.”
  2. “If I follow the rules, then I won’t have an original sound.”

In Part 2 of this article, we’re going to tackle both of these assumptions. Let’s get started!

“If I know the rules, then I will have to follow them.”

This is just false. There is no “theory police” that’s going to give you a ticket or lock you up if you break the rules. Knowing the rules and following the rules are two entirely different things. Moreover, music theory isn’t just about rules. Music theory allows you to label sounds and ideas, making them easy to communicate to yourself and others.

Creative ideas are fleeting. If it’s not written down, it could be lost forever. Say you come up with a musical idea and don’t have time to record it. Sure, you might be able to remember it, but studies show that memory is never an exact replica of the original thought.

Music theory provides you with a vocabulary, which allows you to communicate easily with other musicians. Ever try to communicate with someone who didn’t speak a word of English? How did you do it? Draw pictures? Point to objects? Act something out? Sure communication is still possible. That said, think of all the time and energy that would be saved if you already spoke the same language.

Let’s move on to the second assumption regarding music theory:

 

“If I follow the rules, then I won’t have an original sound.”

This is also false. Although I’ve been calling them “rules,” they’re really just guidelines. Think of “college ruled” notebook paper. In this case, the rules (lines) really are guidelines.

Let me ask you a question: Does lined paper ruin your creative writing?

No. It doesn’t affect the content whatsoever; it just makes it look more organized and legible.

This is exactly what theory does. It actually makes everything easier!

 

A Word on Originality

It is strongly recommended that you do some composing strictly within the guidelines when you are first learning to apply music theory. As a result, this music will end up sounding like things you’ve heard before; hence, unoriginal. This is merely a stepping-stone as you enhance your musicianship. Think of these as exercises. You don’t have to try to sell this stuff, but you certainly can if you’d like. Either way, it as a learning experience.

If originality is a legitimate concern for you, then I would suggest never listening to anyone else’s music ever again. Every piece of music that you have ever heard has, in some way, influenced the way you play and compose. So really, it’s already too late. You will never be 100% original.

Music theory can actually help with your originality. Through music theory and analysis, however, you can identify exactly what is and isn’t original.

Before you go, I’d like to show you an interesting case of just that:

A few years back, guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani nearly sued Coldplay for ripping off one of his songs. Someone actually analyzed the music theory to compare similarities and differences, creating a clear case of musical plagiarism. Check it out!

http://youtu.be/OEGGFJLpbu4?t=5s

http://youtu.be/YJWLfpOecyE?t=3s

 

 

 

Music Theory: Friend or Foe? (Part 1)

“I don’t need to know theory. It will just get in the way of my creativity.”

-Every musician who doesn’t understand music theory

Many (dare I say, “most”?) musicians go their entire lives with little to no knowledge of music theory. Of course, these musicians tend to be amateurs and hobbyists. However, there’s a handful of pros who never bothered to learn music theory—some of the greats, in fact. Guys like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, and even film composer Danny Elfman created highly successful careers in music without ever having learned the rules of the game, so to speak. So, what does this mean for the rest of us?

First of all, it goes without saying that these are examples of outliers. They were all gifted with an extraordinary ear, allowing them to understand music in their own way.

(Sometimes I wonder if Hendrix himself referred to an E7(#9) chord by name, or if he just called it “The Hendrix Chord” like his successors.)

Taking this into account, there is no definite answer as to whether or not you need to learn music theory. BUT…and this is a big “but”…it’s very likely that you are not in the 0.000001% of players like those mentioned. They also worked incredibly hard at their craft, allowing them to bypass some of the most traditional methods of learning.

For the rest of us mere mortals, let’s consider an analogy.

Imagine you have a 5-year-old son who wants to get involved in sports. Other kids in the neighborhood have been taking up soccer and your little boy is inspired to start playing, too. Here’s a question for you: What’s the best way to help your son develop into an effective soccer player? We’re not talking about priming him for the pros; just becoming effective on the field.

Would you explain all the rules, positions, and strategies before tossing a ball his way? Of course not! Theory (i.e. “rules) are far too abstract for anyone to learn prior to real-world experience. This goes for kids, adults, and everyone in between. The first step to effective learning is to get out there and try it. Mess around and get a feel for it. This heuristic approach will give context to the rules.

Of course, your son might be naturally gifted in athletics. He might be able to run faster and kick the ball farther than most kids his age. He might be “the Jimi Hendrix of soccer”. Then…he starts getting a whistle blown at him every minute or two. Why? Because he’s offside. Because he’s fouling the other team. Because he’s taking the ball out of bounds. Because he doesn’t understand the RULES.

Now that your son has gotten a feel for the game and experienced the perils of ignoring the rules, he’s eager to figure out how to keep the game going without causing any whistle-blowing. He’s ready to learn the rules of the game and how to strategize a game plan within the confines of those rules. From week to week, month to month, and year to year, your son develops into a formidable opponent on the field.

Think about this as you continue your development as a musician. Sure you can play by your own rules. You wouldn’t be the first. But imagine how much more effective you would be (not to mention how much faster you would learn and retain new information) if you took an interest in the rules of the game.

Check out Part 2 of this article for more on music theory.

 

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