1/2/18 BASIC INSTRUMENT CARE (WINTER EDITION)

Well, winter is upon us again in the northeast.  As we bundle up into gloves, wool hats and layer up in sweaters and down jackets, it seems to be a good time to talk about caring of your instrument.

 

IN THE CAR

My general rule is this: do not treat your guitar the way you would any other living being.  Would it be safe to leave a person in the trunk of the family car on a 10 degree evening?  Probably not.  While your instrument might not suffer in the same way a living creature would, it is sensitive to humidity and temperature, and extreme damage could happen, including cracks in the wood, and separation at the seems.  This would be a tragic fate for your cherished axe.

 

COMING IN FROM THE OUTDOORS

It's a wise idea to let your guitar stay in the case when you first come in from a particularly cold day.  I generally leave my guitar in its hard shell case for an hour or so before I feel comfortable opening the case.  I have heard horror stories of the finish cracking when a cold instrument is suddenly blast with the warm air of a heated house.  Luckily, I have not experienced this myself.

 

HEAT AND DRAFTY WINDOWS

I generally avoid leaving my guitar near baseboard heat, and drafty windows.  Maybe I am being overly cautious, but the last thing I want is my guitar drying out and cracking.    Many people leave their instruments in the case during the winter with a humidifier for this reason.   I myself like to keep it on the stand.  Guitars are work of arts, and every time I walk by one, I want to play it.  This helps my practicing a bunch.  I am a firm believer of out of sight, out of mind!

 

SETUP AND RESTRINGING

Lastly, guitars will shift with the temperature and humidity.  This is called "action" on a guitar, which in short means "how far away are the strings from the fretboard".  Going into what a setup entails would be beyond the scope of this article, but let's just say, if you do not know how to do your own setups, it's worth bringing your guitar to a competent tech every time there is a significant change in weather.  This should cost roughly $50 per guitar.  Living in an area of the country where the weather changes so much, I taught myself how to do setups. Owning 10+ guitars at any given time, its been worth the investment of time and modest amount of tools.  

I have also noticed that my strings die quickly if I leave them in the cold for an extended period of time, especially on my acoustic guitars.  String changes should happen at least once a month anyways, but it's worth changing them out more often if you are constantly bringing your guitar in and out of the cold.  

 

CONCLUSION

So there you have it.  As long as you use some common sense, you should be fine.  When in doubt, just imagine your guitar as a living creature, and you should never have any major problems with your instrument.  Happy practicing!

 

 

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WHAT SHOULD MY STUDENT BE PRACTICING?

So last week we talked about how long and how often to practice. You came to the conclusion that you are going to dedicate daily practice to your instrument and your musical goals – congratulations! 6:30 PM rolls around, you sit down at your music stand in a quiet corner of your home. You play through the song you are working on... and its been only two minutes. What are you going to do for the next eighteen to twenty-eight minutes? My friend, you need a plan. I have two rules that I follow in organizing my practice routine:

 

  1. 50% of your time has to be spent on learning actual music, 50% on some other skill; and

     

  2. Always practice something that actually engages and interests you.

 

This week, let's explore the first tenet of the Commonwealth Music School practice philosophy. When I was in college, and an impressionable young man, I would spend up to six hours a day running scales, triads and chord inversions up and down the fretboard of my hollowbody. When the evening rolled around, I would end up in jam sessions that I was ill-prepared for. Someone would call out “Impressions" or  “Blue Bossa”, and I did not have the slightest idea how the songs sounded and what was appropriate to play. The funny thing was, I would not cut out any time out of my day to listen to the music, or even look at the chart for these standards as something to be played and enjoyed - it was more something I needed to defeat. I remember going home for the holidays and my family would ask me to play something I learned in school - but I really truly did not know too many songs. Sure, I could run scales and chords at various speeds on the metronome, but those are just tools that aid in the making of music, not the music itself.

My last year of school, I spent learning as many songs as possible, and transcribing as many solos as possible. I felt like my playing came alive that year, because I was making actual music. Now do not get me wrong, I was happy to have all the tools and knowledge I built up by my previous practice, but looking back on it, I really should have switched things up more.

I am going to share an example from my own practice routine this week, and then I will give you an example of how you can implement this in your own routine. I started working on “Marquee Moon” by Television this week, and when it came to the solo section, I realized I do not have the speed and dexterity to play the part in time with the fluidity and command I would like. The last fifteen minutes of my time was spent practicing the first line of the solo, broken down to a metronome. I edged things up slowly, 5 BPM at a time. Essentially, by learning this song, an area of weakness showed in my playing: speed, and legato scale runs.

Let's assume your CMS teacher has given you a song to work on this week. “Our Song” by Taylor Swift. You play the chord progression a few times through, and then you do not know what to do. Well, was there any difficult changes in there for you? Maybe everytime you switch from D to E Minor, there is a pause. START THERE! You can play the chords back and forth out of time, fast, slow...anything you can think of. Find your weaknesses, and come up with little games to overcome them. If you really feel stuck, talk to your teacher and they can write out an etude for you to play that will help you get better at your song.

Next week, we will explore a little more. Happy practicing!

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HOW LONG SHOULD MY STUDENT PRACTICE ON A DAILY BASIS?

In my sixteen years of teaching, this is by the far the most common question I receive from new families. As with any other skill, there are a vast amount of factors including age, skill level, and personal goals that that can lead to different answers. The short and simple answer I can give you is “everyday”.  So what does that mean? Well, for me, I cut out two hours of my busy adult life too practice, and I wish I could do much more. In between the demands of playing weddings, acoustic singer-songwriter gigs, recording sessions, and writing music, that is barely enough time for me to be prepared for the week, and maybe have a little fun with it. Most professional musicians I know are around the same amount of time, depending on what they do.

Obviously, for a younger student, two hours probably sounds ridiculous, and I would think it would be for your typical eight year old. With younger hands, we need to build up the stamina to be able to play. Much of what I do in my own teaching is expose a younger student to the instrument and proper pedagogy. The first few years is building up the necessary strength and dexterity to play the instrument, and build up from there. My general rule of thumb for beginning students is to not watch the clock, and to play every day. Music is a life long journey; one you're going to need to enjoy the daily practice of if you want to get any good (trust me, it gets really fun the better you get). For parents, 15 – 30 minutes a day is a really good place for your young prodigy to be at during the first year of lessons. They will make progress from week to week, and you will get the most out of your experience with us at Commonwealth Music School.

Practicing does not need to end with your time at the instrument! Even though I only have two hours set aside where I can sit with my instrument(s), I am ALWAYS listening to music: car rides, background music at dinner, and my personal favorite – turn off the TV at night and throw on a record!  Listening to music together as a family is a really great way to expose each other to new styles of music. Even the stuff I did not necessarily like as a kid I know soaked into my musician brain. 

Next time, we can explore what to practice. Feel free to leave any questions in the comment section below, and happy practicing!