Unlikely Rockers… The Newest Addition to the Annapolis Music Scene…

 

You wouldn’t think it to look it at them.  Four kids from The Naval Academy’s Primary School (NAPS) goofing off and playing like typical 9 year olds.

 

Let’s be clear… these are not typical 9 year olds.

 

When the lights go down these four kids are transformed into The Dark, The Red, and The Hell (formerly  Radioactive Rockers, formerly The Five Fires).   This four piece band specializes in hard, sweet, rock music.

 

While most kids spend their time at recess playing games – these guys were forming the next big rock band to come out of Annapolis.

 

Their debut show opened with an intense, fast and steady-paced version of “Seven Nation Army”.

 

Rowan Harriman keeps time on the drums, Zacca Jackson pounds out a relentless and perfect melody on the piano, Charlie Drayton provides the signature riff on guitar, and James Cravens belts out the lyrics and adds lead guitar to the mix.

 

 

It’s hard to imagine that just a short two months earlier these guys were only friends and classmates with ephemeral dreams of playing music (and being rock stars).

 

Perhaps it was the looming concert deadline, perhaps just hard work and dedication, or maybe it was the weekly practice sessions and private lessons that led to the band’s success.

 

Weekly lessons and band practice sessions were facilitated Severn River Music – a local in-home music lesson service.  Instructor Diane Riccobene and owner Jake Posko provided guidance and structure to help mold the kids into a cohesive unit.

 

Posko was skeptical having run group lessons before.

 

“Group music lessons can be hit or miss.  They’re a great way for beginners to get their feet wet and learn the basics of an instrument.  But I’ll be honest… I didn’t know what to expect when these guys said they wanted to form a band.”

 

Posko was beaming with pride after the performance, seemingly convinced that the hard work of the kids had paid off.

 

“These guys did it. After that first practice session I wasn’t sure, but they really came together as a band.  I gotta say I’m most impressed with the way these guys worked together constructively.  It’s incredible to see kids their age collaborate with something like this.”

 

After the opening song, those of us who were lucky enough to score an invite to their basement concert debut erupted in applause and screams.

 

Without missing a beat the band finished off with a pounding rendition of “We Will Rock You” by Queen.

 

And then – like magic –  The Dark, The Red, and The Hell transformed back into tour typical nine year old kids…. and like true musicians they left the audience wanting more.

 

The Dark, The Red, and The Hell are currently working in the studio to prepare for their upcoming worold tour.   Stay tuned on Facebook for updates. 

How Long does it REALLY take to learn the Piano?

Usually I write about guitar stuff…

But I thought I’d switch it up and talk a bit about my piano experience.

I learned to play the piano much differently than the way I learned to play the guitar.

With guitar – I was (and am) self taught.  I took a month or so of lessons when I was 10, but they didn’t last.

I learned piano very differently.

I was probably about 20 years old and decided to take a piano class in college.  It was a group class with one instructor and we worked our way through a beginner piano book.

I loved it.

It was so different from guitar.

So let’s break this down with different piano examples.  Here are two beginner categories… see which one you fit in:

  1. Basic Piano Skills (as few weeks)
  2. Singing and Play Piano at the Same Time (a few weeks to a few months)

Before we start: The difference between traditional playing and “playing by ear”.  Many people can sit down at a piano and play a melody or even a complicated piece without having to learn to read music.  This is generally what is meant by “playing by ear”.  In other words, you listen to a piece of music and slowly begin to figure out how to play it by a sort of trial and error process.

For some, playing by ear is easy and natural.  For others it is very difficult.  Regardless, it is skill that can be learned and developed.  In fact, it should be learned and developed.  But it isn’t the end game.

Traditional piano playing involves reading music.  Learning to read music is like learning to read a new language with a new alphabet.  It’s a combination of language learning and math skills.  And it takes time to understand.  This can be a major barrier when learning to play the piano (or any instrument for that matter).   It is, however, necessary.

Basic Piano Skills

This is where I started, and this is where most teachers or classes will start.   During your first lesson or class you will most likely learn how to read music at it’s most basic level.  You’ll learn how the keyboard is laid out.  You’ll learn where the notes are.  You’ll learn some rhythmic patterns.

For some, this will be new and exciting.  For others, it will be tedious.

The good news is that once you understand these basic principles, you’ve got the tools to start learning quickly.

By the end of your first lesson you should be able to play some simple songs and melodies.  If you take lessons once a week and practice every day, you’ll be playing more complicated songs using both hands in just a few weeks.

If you don’t practice you won’t make any progress.

Singing and Play Piano at the Same Time

For a lot of people… this is the goal.  You want to be able to sit at a piano and play a song while singing a long.  It’s awesome.  It really is.

But it can be tricky.  Not only do you have to think about what keys you’re hitting and accurately play the piece of music…. you have to focus on singing the right words and melody.

There is a lot going on.

If you already have a solid foundation of music (let’s say you’ve been singing for years).  This level of playing will come much more naturally.

On the other hand, if you’re pretty new to music… it may be a bit more difficult.

My advice would be to pick a song and immerse yourself in it.  Learn the piano part.  Learn the vocal part.  Practice every day.  Go slow. Then faster.

A note about Practice

I’ve written a lot about how to practice.  Usually it’s focused on the guitar… but it doesn’t really matter what instrument… the methods are the same.

Make sure you are taking the time to practice deliberately.  In other words – don’t just sit down to the piano play Chopsticks or Mary Had a Little Lamb every time.  Practice the stuff that is hard.  That’s how you get better and learn faster. 

A note about Progress

In order to make progress when need to be able to measure progress.  And in order to do that, we need goals.

Too often people come to me and ask, “How long will it take me to learn the piano?”

I’ll say: “What are your goals?” or “Why do you want to learn the piano?”

They’ll respond with things like: “It looks fun”, “I’ve always wanted to play the piano”, or “I want a new hobby”

While these answers are admirable – they’re not specific.

When attempting to learn a new instrument, we need to have specific goals.  Here are a few:

  • I want to learn a specific song on the piano
  • I want to be able to play a song for my spouse
  • I want to be able to perform
  • I want to be a professional piano player
  • I want to learn jazz piano
  • I want to learn ragtime piano (my favorite)

You get the idea… you need a specific goal to work towards.  Not only with this keep you motivated and disciplined, but it will provide you with a metric to measure your progress.

The Best way to learn piano the fastest (online)

Obviously having an excellent private teacher will help you learn the fastest.  But not all of have the time, or can afford a private teacher.  Taking a piano class (like I did) is great as well.

The downside with both of these options:  They are expensive and can be time consuming.

If you’re looking to save money, I usually recommend YouTube for free lessons and tutorials.  Youtube is nice because it’s free.  But it can take awhile to find they right lessons and tutorials.  There also isn’t any quality control… anyone can throw up a video and call themselves a piano teacher.

If you’re looking for something with a bit more structure (but cheaper than an actual piano teacher) I usually recommend Playground Sessions.  This is pretty much the gold standard for online piano lessons.   There are a fair amount of online piano lesson services… but I couldn’t find any that I like as much as Playground Sessions.

I like them for a few reasons:

  1. They have lessons for every skill level (including a complete beginner to the piano). 
  2. They update and add new content every month (super important). 
  3. They teach you to play by using notation (i.e. reading music) AND by ear. 

The last reason is enough to give them a try.  Being able to read music (though tricky at first) will make learning piano so much easier…. and playing by ear make you progress even faster.

Let me know if you have questions, comments, or suggestions about learning to play the piano.  I’m a beginner like a lot of you so I’m always looking for new tips and tricks!!

Jake Posko is the owner of Severn River Music – proudly and happily providing in-home guitar, piano, drum and music lessons in the Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at jake@jakeposko.com

What Does it Mean to Get Your Guitar Set Up?

I recently got an e-mail from a reader asking about getting their guitar “set up”.  I realize that I often recommend folks get their guitars set up, but I don’t often explain it.

Sometimes you may hear a guitar player talk about their set up.

But what does it mean to get your guitar set up?

Should you get your guitar set up?

Short Answer:

(more…)

Can You Play Guitar with FAT FINGERS (or small hands)….

A while back I got a question from a fat-fingered Severn River Music reader (sorry Robert, but you said it, not me).  Here’s what Robert said:

I just started (1 week ago) teaching myself to play on an old classical acoustic guitar that was given to me. Eventually want to learn to play some old and new rock/pop songs so is learning on a classical guitar ok? I’m just doing basic dexterity/scales practice for about 20-45 mins a day and started learning a few chords. I do have some issues due to having smaller hands/fat fingers and was wondering if that will always hold me back or will it just take longer to get the needed dexterity? Also, calluses are coming along nicely so it’s not as painful now!

Hey Robert – Ahhh yeah, the old fat/stubby/little/short finger issue. A few things that may help:

Use A Big Fat Guitar

Using a classical guitar will probably help anyone who has thicker fingers. Generally, classical guitars have wider/thicker necks, which usually means that the strings are further apart. This lessens the issue of your fingers rubbing up against the wrong strings.  Rubbing up against the wrong strings mutes the strings (or gives you that buzzy sound).

Unfortunately, wider necks can make it more difficult for players with small hands.

Capo That Baby Up!

Using a capo on the 4th or 5th fret (or playing your scales on higher frets) may help as well.

As you get further down the neck of the guitar, the frets become closer together.  This means that you don’t need to stretch your fingers as much as you would in the first position (up near the headstock of the guitar).

Closer frets means less stretching which can make playing guitar easier for people with small hands.  

Examples of Famous Guitar Players with Fat Fingers (or no fingers)

Check out this post (and video) of Django Reinhardt. One of the best guitar players ever, and he only used two fingers.  He lost the use of his pinky and ring fingers, leaving him only able to play guitar with his pointer and middle finger.

Read the full post for all of the details, but the bottom line is: don’t let your physical limitations, limit your guitar playing.

Another example is Richie Havens – who had super large fingers that made normal open position chords tricky to play.  Basic things like G, Am, Em, F, etc  – so he relied on open tunings to get the sound he wanted.  You can see a video of Richie Havens (and his fat fingers) in action here.

From the New York Times...

His hands were very large, which made it difficult to play the guitar. He developed an unorthodox tuning so he could play chord patterns not possible with conventional tunings. The style was picked up by other folk and blues singers.

“A person looking at him might think he was just flailing about,” the guitarist Barry Oliver said in the magazine Guitar Player. “But the way he flailed about was so musical, and it went perfectly with what he was portraying. He’s a good example of not having to have to be a technically perfect guitarist in order to come across.”

I love that quote:  “not having to have to be a technically perfect guitarist in order to come across”.  I also love the his style was picked up by other folk and blues singers!  He couldn’t play using traditional methods so he created his own method out of necessity!

Real Life Examples (from Normal People)

Meet Gus.

My 48 year old student.

He plays a Gibson Les Paul.

He has smallish hands and thick fingers.

Sound familiar?

I have yet to find a song that Gus can’t play.  Now granted, he does a lot of power chords.  But he also plays solos and intricate arpeggiated chords.  I’m talking bar chords… C shaped bar chords.

He loves Red Hot Chili Peppers.  These aren’t the easiest songs to play… and play well.  But Gus can do it.

It takes him a little longer to find the chords.  He has to really focus his efforts.  It certainly doesn’t come as easy to him.  But he loves the music and he loves guitar so he makes it work.

I’ve had other students with gigantic bear sized hands and sausage fingers.  Yet they still execute chords and scales perfectly.  It takes patience and deliberate practice.

Thanks for everyone that comments and asks questions.  If it weren’t for you, I would never be able to address questions like the one in this article.  That’s it!  If I missed anything (or if you have any questions) let me know in the comments below!

Jake Posko is the owner of Severn River Music – proudly and happily providing in-home guitar, piano, drum and music lessons in the Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at jake@jakeposko.com

How to Use a Guitar Strap

If you’re looking for the best guitar strap, you may want to check out the top selling straps here.

For more details, read on…

 

How to Use a Guitar Strap

 

Guitar straps are super easy to use and attach.

There are two ways to attach a guitar strap:

  1. Using the buttons on your guitar
  2. Using one button and using a string.

Using the Buttons

how-to-attach-a-guitar-strap

 

In the photo above we can see the button on the bottom of the body of the guitar.

This is where we attach the guitar strap.

For newer guitar straps, it may take some work to fit the strap onto the button.  Over time, the strap will start to wear down and attaching it will be easier… just make sure it doesn’t get too loose (otherwise it may slip off).

For many guitars there is another button located at the base of the neck of the guitar, or on the opposite side of the body of the guitar.

how-to-attach-electric-guitar-strap

 

In the photo above you can see where the two buttons are located.

If your guitar has two buttons, attaching the strap is pretty straightforward.

If it only has one button at the base of the guitar, here’s what to do.

 

Using one button and using a string

If your guitar only has one button for the strap, you’ll need to use a string or other rope-like device to tie off your guitar strap.

string-to-attach-guitar-strap

In the photo above you can see where the guitar strap has been tied off.

You’ll need to thread the string underneath the guitar strings just above the nut of the guitar.

It can be kind of tricky at first, but that’s how it’s done.

You could also get one of these cool snap-on guitar strap attachments to make things  little easier:

snap-on-strap-guitar

Ok.

So.

Now that you’ve got your strap attached.  There are some other things you’ll probably want to keep in mind…

 

You gotta practice with a strap.

I’ve written previously about how I regret not using a guitar strap early in my life.

It’s true.

I exclusively played while sitting down – this included when I performed at gigs.

It didn’t really matter from a performance perspective since I was using just singing and playing by myself.

When I started playing with other people, I had to stand.

And.

It.

Was.

Tough.

I wasn’t used to standing up so my playing suffered.

Plus it was exhausting.

I’ve learned my lesson and now I practice standing up every so often (especially if I have a gig coming up).

I also teach my students to practice while standing if they have a gig.

It will make you that  much better when you actually perform.

Plus, it will force you to test your strap out prior to playing

 

You gotta test that thing out.

 

Last thing you want is your strap to slip or break.

If you want – you can get a locking guitar strap.

I’ve used them before (though not often).

They work pretty well and they keep your guitar secure…. they’re just kind of a pain to change on and off.

Even if you use a traditional guitar strap – make sure you test it out so that it’s working.

I’ve had cheap straps that slip off the button on my guitar while I am playing.

This is obviously dangerous for your guitar.

Test your straps and have an extra on hand just in case.

For those of you with acoustic guitars that don’t have buttons behind the neck by the body, you’ll need to tie the strap just above the nut by weaving a string, shoelace, rope, or paracord underneath the strings.

Make sure you don’t tie it off on top of the strings or it will alter the tuning and the sound.

I usually use a hefty shoelace, nylon rope, or paracord.

 

You gotta use it at the right length.

 

Just as you want to test out the strap durability, you should also test various lengths.

So, how long should a guitar strap be?

Really it just comes down to personal preference.

I like to have my guitar hang around my belt buckle or belly button.

Any lower and I can’t play as well.

Any higher and I feel restricted.

Don’t be afraid to play around with different lengths.

I also find that when I play my acoustic, I have the guitar slightly higher.

When I play the electric I have the guitar slightly lower.

Again… personal preference.

 

Get a few different kinds.

 

I have a few straps that are my go-to guitar straps.

And I have a few cheap backups.

Don’t be afraid to express yourself with your guitar strap.

That’s it!  If I missed anything (or if you have any questions) let me know in the comments below!

Jake Posko does Online Guitar Lessons and Coaching as well as in-home lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at jake@jakeposko.com

Photo Credit: Tim Walker

Best Halloween Guitar Songs

halloween-guitar-songs

I really dig Halloween.

I’ve loved it since I was a kid.

As an adult it holds an even more special place in my heart – my wife and I met on Halloween and were married on Halloween (separate Halloweens… obviously).

I love Halloween music.

But sometimes guitar songs get the shaft on Halloween.

While I love Thriller and Ghostbusters… they’re not exactly “guitar songs”.  Don’t get me wrong, there are excellent versions of these songs being done on the guitar.

But I’m talking about songs that either highlight some wicked electric guitar, or can be played easily on an acoustic guitar.

So, as your resident online guitar teacher and guitar music recommender, I’ve compiled a list of the best Halloween songs to play on the guitar.

There are some obvious choices and some that are less popular but worthwhile.

Here we go….

The Less Obvious Halloween Songs

Little Ghost (The White Stripes)

This song is cute and creepy.  A ghostly love song with some strong mandolin, but easily played and translatable to acoustic guitar with simple open chords.   You can probably get by with just I – IV – V chords (not necessarily in that order).  Capo your guitar up around the 7th or 8th fret to get that mandolin sound.

My Fathers House  and/or Nebraska (Bruce Springsteen)

Open chords, all acoustic.   Both of these Springsteen songs have a mystical creepy vibe.  Nebraska (about actual murderer Charles Starkweather) is smart, calm, and poignant.  Sung from the perspective of Starkweather.   My Father’s House is essentially a dream.  Not so scary as it is ethereal and sad.  Neither of these songs have anything to do with Halloween… but they feel right for this time of year.

Blue Moon (The Marcels)

Chosen explicitly for it’s inclusion and use in the soundtrack to An American Werewolf in London.  I love the movie.  The choice of the song at this particular moment in the film feels wonderful.  Jarring and hilarious.  The Elvis Presley version also works earlier in the film… but there is something about the way this song hits that makes me love it.  Also… easily played on the guitar with open chords.

Hangman and the Papist (The Strawbs)

Again – not a Halloween song, but a disturbing song nonetheless.  It starts off with organ and quiet guitar and progressively builds as the story unfolds.  I’m not going to spoil it, but listen for yourself.

Oh the Vampyre (A.A. Bondy)

First of all, if you don’t know A.A. Bondy – check him out.  He’s a great singer/songwriter and this song demonstrates how you can tie in sadness, hope, and love into a funny little song.   It’s short and sweet and I could listen to it over and over.

Smoking too Long (Nick Drake)

Most of Nick Drake’s music has a steady mix of melancholy (Things Behind the Sun) or hope (From the Morning).  It’s easy to close your eyes and let it wash over you.  This song is different.  Smoking too Long was written by Robin Frederick.  You can find more details about the song (including the chords) on Frederick’s website here.    Drake’s recording is sad and lonely and seems to jump rather than flow to the end of the song.  Again… not Halloween… but it feels good to sing and listen and play in the fall.

 

The Popular Halloween Guitar Songs

You know these songs (if you don’t, you better get to know them).   They work anytime of year… and they all work really well on the guitar.

Bad Moon Rising (CCR)

I put a Spell on You (CCR)

Highway to Hell (AC/DC)

Don’t Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult)

Abracadabra (Steve Miller Band)

Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon)

Season of the Witch (Donovan)

Bark at the Moon (Ozzy Osbourne)

Sympathy for the Devil (The Rolling Stones)

Psycho Killer (Talking Heads)

Runnin’ with the Devil (Van Halen)

That’s it!   Did I miss any?  Leave them in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list!

 

Jake Posko does Online Guitar Lessons and Coaching as well as in-home lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at jake@jakeposko.com

(Photo Credit: FHgitarre)