Sunday, April 3, 2011

Guitar Repair and Re-stringing-for students

by Greg Shelley

Recently, I have had many students inquire about guitar repair and re-stringing. Not long ago virtually any music store was prepared to do minor and even major repairs on guitars. However, recently many stores have stopped doing such things as re-stringing guitars and minor fixes.

REPAIRS: The stores I have talked to cite difficulties in handling the volume of repairs and a lack of financial incentive. Most of the guitars people bring in for repair have a value that is near or is less than the actual cost of requested repairs.

Guitars are made of wood products, usually, and so repairs to fine finishes that are factory mass produced can take time and so be costly. Customers are becoming increasingly disgruntled by the cost of a repair as
compared to the cost of buying a new instrument altogether. And so the desired effect of providing a positive service is lost.

This problem is further compounded by the increase of high quality, but low cost guitars which have flooded the market in recent years. Here again, why do repairs when simply buying a new guitar would not cost much more?

The last difficulty for Music Stores in providing repairs has become the liability factor. If a customer feels that there is a mistake in the repair, or that damage was done during the repair, the music store then faces the messy business of rectifying this new problem.

WHAT TO DO ? ? It is still worth a try to contact music stores or even your guitar instructor--me for instance.  However, you may not always get the response you wish for.  When it comes to repairs, you may want to contact a Luthier. In the yellow pages under Musical Instrument Repair, you may find a variety of guitar repair and manufacturing experts.

FOR MY PERSONAL REPAIRS I have always utilized Jack Pimentel of JP GUITARS. His phone number is 841-2954. Jack is an accomplished Luthier and guitar repair expert. He hand makes his own line of guitars and has done work on guitars owned by a host of well known celebrity guitarists.

Jack has customized three of my guitar necks and repaired a lacquer chip or two for me. I once saw a guitar brought to him as a pile of wood and when he was done reconstructing it—well—it looked like it was ready for the showroom floor.  A good Luthier like Jack is worth the cost.

Today, guitars come with a wide variety of tuning and bridge mechanisms. Finding employees that can keep up with the skills and information needed can be difficult or impossible. With such a new wide variety of guitars, tuning machines, nuts and bridges, it is a daunting task to affordably retrain new employees.
Considering the strings for most guitars cost less than $15.00 per set, and re-stringing the guitar can take a half hour or so, re-stringing guitars can detract from the music store’s other business. Time is taken away from a music store’s ability to be selling products that would produce far more income for them—even if they have employees able to keep up with the latest guitar innovations.

For my guitar students I suggest that we take a lesson during which I will show you how to install a string or two. I will have you do most of the work.

First, you need to get a good set of strings at a local music store--Or, I carry strings for my students and they can buy them from me as well.  Second, you have to come prepared to work on your own guitar.
During the lesson, I will talk you through changing a string and let you get the feel of it. Then after one or two tries you can take the rest home and give it a go. Or, you can bring the guitar back to the next lesson and I will talk you through the remaining strings.

Copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mushy Timing Disorder: The Psychology of Bad Rhythm

by Greg Shelley
     Often, I meet a new student who comes to me and says something like this: “I’ve never played guitar, and I really want to learn to play only the songs I want. I don’t want to waste my time learning a bunch of songs that I’ll never play.” This happens frequently and I find myself explaining why I won’t teach that way—at least in the beginning.
     When a student who knows nothing about the guitar starts by learning part of, say, “Stairway to Heaven,” or “What it’s Like,” by Everlast, he or she is usually learning in a linear fashion. That is, the learning takes place in a “connect the dots” manner. The student learns to put a finger there, then there, then there, then pick that string then those strings and on and on etc. As the student learns in this linear fashion little attention is usually paid to such things as timing, rhythm and meter. So the student learns to play the song with an arbitrary or random sort of beat to it.  Although learning this way has value, if learning takes place from the beginning in this fashion, it can actually slow down the overall development of the student.
     Because meter and timing are learned without specific attention to exact detail as provided by understanding written music, the student learns to have what I would call “mushy timing.” Mushy timing results in an inability to play with others very well, since the student has learned to play to his or her own internal clock only and not to sync up with some other person or timing device. So anything the student plays may sound something like it is supposed to, but he or she especially would have trouble playing it along with a steady beat or with other musicians.
     Additionally, mushy timing tends to lead a student to quit when the rhythm or syncopation gets too complex in the song, since he or she has neither the discipline nor the understanding to work through difficult music passages. In psychological terms it could be stated: “The student becomes lethargic when confronted with complex external rhythmic stimuli due to a dependence on internal and esoteric arbitrary meter determination.”  But don't fret if this happens to you--though fretting is what we do. 
     I often tell a tale of how my timing was once so mushy that I could not stay enough on the beat to play a guitar part on one of my own songs.  I was very young, and the other band members helped me get through it.  After that I sat myself down and worked hard on curing my own mushy timing disorder.
     The cure is to stick with the basics. Learn to read enough to understand timing from perspectives other than just your own “feel.” Tap your foot in time and in meter with the song. Use a metronome, drum machine or rhythm device when learning songs and stick to the proper meter (4/4, 3/4, 6/8 time etc.) These are the most important basic do’s if you want to develop what we call “tight” rhythm and get rid of “mushy timing.”
     Ideally, students would avoid trying to learn songs too far above their skill levels in the beginning. This can cause a student to utilize right-brain or creative-only type of learning tools and thus contributes to the tendency toward self-defined timing and rhythm. Stick to these guidelines and in time, your timing will change from mushy, to tight and firm.

Copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Guit-Starting At the Top

By Greg Shelley

So the student keeps playing the same lick from his favorite band.  He plays it very poorly because it is beyond his ability.  He stumbles over the notes.  Then he plays the wrong notes with the wrong rhythm.  He generally destroys any meaning or feel of the lick.  What's worse, he keeps practicing it wrong so he is sure to learn all of the poor technique and habits to apply to anything else he might try.  It is clear.  He wants to start at the top.

Just imagine you suddenly wanted to learn to ski and you skip the beginner slopes.  You go right to the high, steep suicide slopes.  People watch as you come rolling and bouncing down the hill. And they think: "Hmm, he is not much of a skier, maybe he should try to stand up on his skis first." But you just keep riding that lift up there, and crashing down again.  You get injured.  Eventually, you give up and go back to your bicycle or something; or, you learn that you should try the bunny slope for a while and work your way up over time.

But with guitar, unlike skiing, you don't get injured if you stink at it--unless somebody hits you on the head and tells you to quit playing.  But really, you can sit in your bedroom playing terribly for years and not realize it.  I get students in my studio all the time who have actually done this for 20 years.  They tell me they have realized this after half of a lifetime.  Then they tell me they need to start at the bottom and work their way up--as if I didn't know this.  In just a few months of step by step lessons and practice, they are amazed at what they can play.  They often say: "I should have done this years ago."

Everybody would like to skip right to the hit songs and hot licks of the day.  Sometimes the songs or licks can be worked into the lesson nicely--because some hit songs are very easy--but most of the time they are something they are not ready for.  It's okay to have dreams and aspirations as long as you understand the steps it takes to get there.

If a young girl wants to play the fast rhythm guitar parts of Taylor Swift, it is always good to be able to play a few chords first and strum them at a steady 2 or 4 beat.  You might be surprised how many people do not understand that in order to strum a fast subdivided chord song you actually have to be able to play a chord first.  Really, people often can't make that connection.  I was actually the same way when I was a beginning guitarist.  I wanted to play the Beatles song, Revolution, but I couldn't even make a couple of chords.  I actually had to learn that--I HAD TO LEARN.  My teacher was patient and kept re-directing me back to the lesson at hand.

This "I want it now" mentality can be attributed to the age we live in.  Computers give us what we want at the click of a mouse.  We hit a button and the music plays.  We watch MTV and it looks so easy.  We see American Idol and they make it all look spontaneous and sudden, without seeing the years of practice and study it may have taken.

But I keep re-directing students onto a steady, methodical approach.  Learn the chords, learn the notes, play songs you CAN play first.  It is truly a joy to watch the student develop this way.  More importantly, the knowledge and skills they learn last a lifetime.

Copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's Different Than Guitar Hero

By Greg Shelley

I'm in a lesson with a 10-year-old boy.  He is frustrated that he can't get his guitar to do what he expects.  He is a bright boy but his frame of reference is limited.  His face is all contorted like he might cry as his mother and I try to explain to him--"It's different than Guitar Hero."

This is a true account. I have seen several incidents like this.  The boy explains to me that he is an "expert" on Guitar Hero and proclaims "Yes of course he can play."  But then when he goes to make sound on his new guitar, he is unable to invoke even one clear note.  He presses down on the fretboard for the note "F" on the first string.  But he gets only a clunky dull thud.  Then he shakes his finger to throw off the pain because the string has pushed too deeply in.  He sucks on the aching finger and then blows on it as if to quell the hurt.  His fingers have not calloused yet.  He cannot press hard enough.  Then after a few tries, he starts to get it.

I guide him step by step through the notes on the first string explaining all the while as I go, "Now, Joey (fictitious name) when we really play a guitar it is very different.  We have to actually make the notes without pushing any buttons.  When you play Guitar Hero, you push buttons which help you imitate what we are trying to learn here for real."  "Joey," I look him in the eyes and gently say, "This is real guitar."  The look on his face is one of true amazement at this new discovery.  At 10, the boy should understand this already.

Joey soon got it.  But it took weeks of lessons for him to fully grasp the difference between the game and real guitar.  He soon blossomed into a pretty good guitar player and eventually an excellent guitarist for his age.

Virtual Life

This scenario may seem isolated and unimportant to all of us, except as it relates to Joey.  But it is part of what you could call a growing social norm.  That being--virtual life.  We have people playing video games that mimic life, when they could actually be living it.

Another student of mine recently explained that the music minister at his church could not not understand Guitar Hero.  This minister is reportedly quite an accomplished guitarist.  My student explained that the music minister ranted one day that: "While people are spending all this time and money trying to learn to play a game that lets you pretend to play a song on a guitar, they might have been able to actually learn to play the song on a real guitar."

Does It Matter?

So what does it matter?  It is the 21st century right?  Maybe guitar is obsolete.  Maybe learning to really play a guitar made of wood and steel is dumb.  For that matter, why learn to play any instrument when you can get video games that make it so easy to feel like you are playing?  It all makes sense.  Why drive a car when you can play a car driving game?  Why fly an airplane when they have games so real for that?  Why travel, play tennis, play football, go hunting or join the military?  There are games for everything now.

And then one day, we wake up and realize that the games are playing us.  While we were playing the games in all our spare time, the people who design and build the games, the people who finance and get rich off the games were out REALLY climbing mountains, fishing, hiking, swimming, traveling, and a thousand other things.  They were really learning to play a guitar.  That way, those who make the games could have real experiences to draw upon so that the games they design for the pretenders--the video gamers--would seem more real.

Okay, yes I have played video games.  I don't anymore.  It was 25 years ago and I could rack up millions of points on a game called Stargate and a few others.  I was lost in it for about 2 years.  But somewhere along the way I realized I was not living.  I was pretending to live. 

This is serious.  And it is changing our world.  Because if someone pulls the plug, it's the person who has been really living who will have the best chance at making it through.  It matters because people are losing touch with reality.  It is evident in the skewed ideas of people who set out to learn guitar with a false idea of what music is, that is, what it means to actually create something with one's own hands.  What does it mean to fashion music from a wooden box and 6 metal strings that you must manipulate in real time--and without electronic aids that make you think you are doing it?   What does it mean to get hard fingertips from the pain and abrasion of moving across the steel?

You know, I actually have heard a young music student say, "Yeah, I am a music producer myself."  And when asked what he produced he proclaimed: "I'm producing Led Zepplin right now, and Nirvana and some others."  Turns out, he thought producing music is the same as arranging an ordered playlist on his iPod.  Really!  He could not distinguish between making music for real and re-ordering iPod playlists of famous bands.  I know because I asked him specifically if he actually recorded the original music.  I kid you not, he just looked at me like I was stupid and said: "Yeah, huh?, Of course."  It took a lot of guitar lessons, but he actually came to realize that making music you can record for real is entirely different than making iPod playlists.

And I have heard there is a new guitar video game that has "real strings" so you "really" have to play it.  And I want to stand up and shout: "You are ripping yourself off! JUST GET A GUITAR! !  And maybe take some lessons.  It hurts a little sometimes but eventually you learn real skills that can be applied to real life.  You learn to engineer your own real live music instead of pretending.  And you can even play the acoustics without electricity!"

copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved

Friday, December 3, 2010

Melody and Madness

by Greg Shelley

1 Corinthians 14:7 (NIV)  "Even in the case of lifeless things that make sounds, such as the flute or harp, how will anyone know what tune is being played unless there is a distinction in the notes?"


I was in Guitar Center the other day--the famous music store.  As usual, there was another metal masher pounding out a random, undefined, chaotic, power chord jam.  I've talked to and known some of the metal-heads, as they are often called. All of them embrace the random and chaotic nature of their music with pride.  I'm sure there are those who don't but I have not met them.  Usually their style is random.  And among my many guitar students, it seems the word "random" has become a pop culture expression. 

Let me say, I would never seek to stop anyone from playing this way--that is, random, often with walls of sound.  During my nightclub years I played similar music for a living.  But the talking point here is melody.  And it is melody that is lacking from much of our music these days.  Not just the death-metal music but often more mainstream music has it's melody obscured by too many instruments, random chord structure, too many sound effects processors, or just too much sound. 

Historically, consider the "wall of sound" started by Phil Spector in the 1960's.  This music legend produced the The Beatles, The Ramones, Ike and Tina Turner, John Lennon and many others.  In the wall of sound type of production, the guitars are so drenched in compression and overdrive, or stacked on top of each other, track upon track, that the melody can be buried. Sad note: Phil Spector is now a convicted murderer currently serving 19-years-to-life in a California state prison. 

Other random and chaotic pioneers include the much loved Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Cobain, again both of whom played music I have enjoyed or played myself.  Sad that both of those icons met untimely deaths surrounded by scurrilous circumstances.

Not to disparage Phil or any other iconic musician, I have enjoyed much of the music from these historic figures. I mention Spector and Hendrix because they rose during what I think was the real start of it all--Cobain being more recent.  There was melody in the music of these icons.  But it was starting to be drowned out back then.  And it seems melody has been disappearing from mainstream music, little by little, decade after decade, ever since.  Even the melodic country music genre often is giving way to a hard driving sound wall.

History aside, I spend about 40 hours per week teaching people guitar, in individual sessions.  I've done this off and on since I was 14 years old.  I see lots of people on an individual basis.  Back in 1974, if I asked any of my students to hum the melody of their favorite song they could usually do it without thinking much. These days if I ask a student under the age of 25 to hum a melody from their favorite song I usually get a puzzled look.  They don't understand.  Either they don't know the melody, or don't know what a melody is, or their favorite song has no melody that is defined enough to remember.

May I divulge, one of my degrees is focused in psychology and I worked in the field for six years.  I pay attention to people's actions and words on such things.  And this I promise, I have noticed the trend towards a lack of melody or melodic understanding as it has developed gradually over the years.  Student by student, as well as in the media, this has become evident.


1 Samuel 16:23 (GW) "Whenever God's spirit came to Saul, David took the lyre and strummed a tune. Saul got relief {from his terror} and felt better, and the evil spirit left him."

As a former therapist, I used guitar with patients and saw, at times, remarkable results.  It was the tune, the melody, that brought the troubled mind into focus.  But the melody was always defined.  By contrast, I knew of patients who were obsessed with chaotic heavy metal madness--literally.  I knew one patient who would sit for hours just playing the same heavy metal jam over and over.  It would be fine if it was just practice.  But the jam was just a few seconds long and he played it perfectly--over and over for hours.  For him the loudness, the chaos, was an expression of what was in his mind.  He embraced it so much that it led him further into madness. 

By contrast, those patients I worked with who embraced melody and definable sweet songs always got better--dramatically better.  There are many stories like this I could tell--maybe another time.  It should be stated that I no longer am a therapist.  But this illustrates the point about melody which is so illuminated now in my guitar teaching and in my music.

Melody is about definition.  It is about clarity of thought.  Madness is about confusion and uncertainty.  And so I spend a lot of my time in private music lessons helping young people learn what a melody is.  That is, I teach them what a "tune" is that you can hum and remember and use to comfort yourself on your guitar or with your voice--when the iPod is not there.  The tune or melody is what fixes a song in our hearts so that we can recall it for whatever reason.  Consider the Psalms of the Bible which often begin with "to the tune of . . . "

So why does this matter? 

It goes to the idea that art and life mirror each other.  If our melodies are not well defined, if they are too obscure or too random to remember, what does that say about our ability as a nation, as communities or as individuals, to produce anything usable?  For example, if we set out to manufacture a car using the random and undefined premises which are taking over our music, hmm, well, I think you get it.  The car will be random and undefined and probably run the same way.  Nobody really wants a car that runs randomly, or indefinably.  We look for clearly dependable cars that are well defined, well appointed and clearly going to get us where we want to go on time. 

Hey! You can imagine the commercial:  "Buy our new Lexus, when you are in a tight spot, when the road is snowy or wet or rough, you can count on the randomness and undefined performance of our fine automobile." 

Anyway, our minds, our spirits, our personal well-being are all linked to this.  We must ask, are our thoughts defined, clear and available to be accessed for use?  Or are they cluttered, blurry and too covered with mumbo jumbo to be of any real productive value.  It matters because music is integrated with our minds.

As our music and art goes, most likely our industrious nature follows--or is leading.  Either way the result is the same.  It's the old question, "does art imitate life or does life imitate art."  Whether our nature is leading or following our art, still we should take notice.  It matters because we may be spiraling into an ineffectual life.  We should determine what is happening because it may be the "canary in the coal mine" telling us that the air is getting to be sub-standard--so to speak.  If our thoughts and our nature are without definition, it manifests in sub-standard work of all kinds.  This is irresponsibility and it produces a society unable to take care of itself well.

Of course, this is all conjecture, right?  Is the madness and moral decay in our society the result of undefined moral code?  Is it like the undefined melodies of our music? 

With God, the Bible and the name of Jesus Christ being wiped from our societal set of absolutes, our criteria for moral judgements regarding right and wrong is disappearing.  It is lost in a sea of loosely defined ideas about proper behavior.  If it feels good do it, right?  Do we have a consensus?  Of course, until it is inconvenient for the most powerful and elite.

Our politicians get away with fraud and lies on a daily basis.  Our courts turn loose criminals on technicalities.  Our laws are random because they change based on how good someone's lawyer is--how much they can afford--instead of on clearly defined commands and absolutes which spell out clearly how to behave. 

All of this matters because without absolutes everything is arbitrary.  Arbitrary absolutes are random.  And in this setting the tyrants and elitists abound.  Madness and usually oppression ensues.

Does having a random nature in our society lead to guitar players who play random undefinable melodies and walls of sound?  Or, is it the guitarists and producers who play this way that are leading society astray?  You've heard the old saying: "It's the Devil's music."  Hmm. 

Wait, I know!  Maybe the guitarists play that way because they just like to play that way.  Well, okay.  Never mind.

Isaiah 23:16 (ESV) "Take a harp; go about the city, O forgotten prostitute! Make sweet melody; sing many songs, that you may be remembered."

copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Greg Shelley Guitar Students Perform in Edgewood

By Greg Shelley

I watched Josh Keenan and Jagger Hess last night.  Josh is a former student.  Jagger, well he may be moving on soon from Greg Shelley guitar lessons here at Private Guitar Enterprise--I mean, Jagger is getting to the point where he is able to learn on his own and could do fine without any lessons.  But I hope he stays for a while.

Josh, about 19 I think, is a former student.  He showed a performance level on par with many professionals.  He has only to incorporate original music instead of all cover tunes.  His sense of rhythm, continuity, definition and musical feel were all superior to most guitar and vocal performers you might hear.

Jagger is younger, 14 maybe, he is not far behind Josh in expertise.  He will become a very good musician. I'm using professional measures here as the standard.

As a guitar teacher, it is rewarding to have had some part in both of these young men's development.

copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved