Why Practice? ...Here's 6 Good Reasons!

Every aspiring professional knows they need to practice in order to improve their skills, but those destined for a lasting career recognize early on that the journey towards perfection with your art is one that never truly comes to an end. 

There's always room for improvement, whether you're trying to be the best artist or the best publicist, and practicing your art on a regular basis is key to further developing your skills.

But what does that mean exactly?

The dictionary will tell you that practice is defined as the "repeated exercise in or performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it." That's a perfectly generic way to explain the term, but if you approach your work on your art with similarly vague intentions, you'll stunt your development.

To truly practice something means to be fiercely focused and driven toward specific goals, taking every opportunity to improve and further refine your abilities. You don't just play guitar for an hour a day – you work on specific songs and/or song creation. You don't just write to read your own wordplay, but to get something off your chest that feels like it might suffocate you if kept within. To practice is to work towards something with purpose, whether or not you actually achieve your goal.

1. Practice familiarizes you with your art
As creative people, it can sometimes be hard to revisit things we make once they have been shared with the world. Our basic instincts tell us to move forward and continue creating, but it's supremely important we don't give into these urges and instead spend time reflecting on just what it is we're doing with our time and minds. Is your latest work better or at least on par with everything you have done before? How can it be improved? Do you need to scrap the majority of your current project and start over with the handful of honestly good lines you have been able to create? Practice forces us to look at our art and question whether or not we are representing ourselves to the best of our own abilities.

2. Practice allows you to create the future without committing to it
Your next book, album, or press release may change the world, but you'll never complete that project if you don't first practice and refine your current skill set. When we practice we're not only preparing for the future, but we're also taking steps to create it. We're reaching into the ether of creativity and forging something into existence that never would have been seen, heard, or otherwise experienced without our mind and body bring it to life. That's a beautiful thing, and all too often, we forget that it's in the regimen of a strong daily routine that the best ideas are born. By practicing, we can dabble in the possibilities of tomorrow without commitment, giving us the ability to make mistakes free from judgment, and then grow from them before taking steps to further expose our art to the world.

3. Practice makes you stronger
Whether you use your time to work on new projects, spitball future possibilities, or refine already developed works, practice allows creative people the ability to strengthen their skills. To what degree this occurs is directly related to how focused the effort is on the part of the individual. Those who have specific goals and work towards them are more likely to find happiness with the result of their efforts. Those who don't choose a goal or specific task to work towards lack focus, and their practice sessions will ultimately suffer as a result. Practice is meant to be fun, but purposeful fun is far more rewarding than simply messing around.

4. Practice reminds you that there is still room to grow
Have you ever created something you loved only to look back on it days or weeks later in disgust (if at all)? Sometimes we avoid practice because we know it will force us to confront our downfalls, and those are things we as people prefer to leave unexposed. To be a true professional requires us to be honest with ourselves, which includes admitting that we're nowhere near as perfect as we sometimes like to think we are. We are flawed, but if we practice our skills and focus on becoming better, we will, in time, develop both as people and artists.

5. Practice keeps you humble
You know who never practiced? Me either. You know why? Because they never accomplished anything worth remembering. Everyone who goes on to do anything of value with themselves does so through dedication and practice at refining a skill or craft to the best of their abilities. When we practice, we force ourselves to realize that we're not where we ideally want to be. That's okay, though, because so is everyone else walking the planet today. We are all going through our own individual struggles with becoming who it is we feel we are meant to be. If we ever hope to get there, we must come to terms with the fact we're going to have to work – probably quite hard – to achieve the goals we've set for ourselves.

6. Practice reminds you that humility is worth much more than ego
Your practice space should be considered a sacred location. It's the place you shed all the armor and disguises you wear to otherwise avoid the harsh realities of the world and allow yourself to be truly free. Those who gain the most from practice sessions do so because they allow themselves to be honest with where they are as an artist. They must face the fact that the entertainment world will go on with or without them, then find it within themselves to forge ahead and continuing creating in spite of what the rest of the world may think of the final result. They create for the sake of creating, because they know to do anything else would be to stunt their own development as a person and nothing else. If fame and fortune follow, that's good, but true professionals realize during their time in practice that neither reward is everlasting.

True success comes with a feeling of completion. That you finally overcame whatever mental hurdles stood between you and what you were attempting to create without giving up your artistic vision. It doesn't matter if everyone in the world loves it if you know deep down you could do better. Purposeful practice will make you better, but it requires the abandonment of ego.

Micro Lesson 186: "C Major" Ionian Mode Melody

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 186"

This Micro Lesson covers a "C Major" Melody line performed along the neck using multiple fret-board positions. 

The melody line begins up in the 12th position using pull-off's on the 2nd and 3rd guitar strings. Measure two copies the feel of measure one with a different resolution tone down a whole-step. Pick-up notes bring in measure three where we have a pedal-tone lick off of the key's tonic note of "C." At measure four of our melody we move horizontal along the 4th string from the 9th position into 5th. 

The phrasing of our melody is fairly rapid with mixed sixteenth-notes and eighth-notes. There are also plenty of hammer-on's and pull-off's in this short four measure phrase to aide players developing those techniques. 

Take your time learning the melody. Be sure to commit it to memory prior to building speed. Use a metronome to get the timing 100%. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 186: "C Major" Ionian Mode Melody

Simple Guitar Soloing Exercises

GuitarBlog: Simple Guitar Soloing Exercises...

This weeks GuitarBlog explores "Simple Guitar Soloing Exercises"... 

I think we can all agree that getting really good at playing solos will take a lot of time and effort. Players need to develop their personal sense of feel plus gain a great awareness of rhythm and timing. 

This is where solid "rhythm guitar" skills come in. Think of; Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai or Stevie Ray Vaughn. These players are not just phenomenal lead guitar players, they're also amazing rhythm guitar players. 

Start off with learning a number of basic chords, (open position and then major and minor barre chords). Then rehearse developing excellent rhythmic feel with using the chords in several styles, (in practical situations). 

As you are doing this, practice the scale patterns continuously at several tempos and using several durations, (eighth-notes and sixteenth-notes especially). 

Using a loop pedal, or DAW, (such as FL Studio), set-up a vamp on one chord to develop your basic feel. Play scale tones around that chord, then add another chord, and another after that. Then, move on to more complex chord progressions and work diligently at trying to target into the chord tones, (Roots, 3rd's and 5th's). 

Be sure to apply several different phrasing devices, (bends, slides, vibrato, trills, hammer-on's, pull-off's, rake's /sweeps, etc.). As time goes on, you'll slowly start to notice yourself establishing your own personal style and at this time you'll notice yourself gaining a lot more control for being able to play guitar solos. Enjoy!

Simple Guitar Soloing Exercises

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3 Things Musicians Don't Think They Need to Invest In, but Actually Do...

As indie musicians get more and more freedom and power over their music, it also means that they need to start making calls about what they should invest back into their career, and these days, there are a lot of options.

Do you focus on branding as an artist, or maybe on creating your music product, and how about developing your merch? Do you focus 100 percent on your music and give up a percentage of your income to a manager or agent to take care of the business side? Do you pay big bucks to work with a top-of-the-line producer? Or, do you give-away physical product to your fans, like perhaps a CD, maybe even vinyl?

Of course, every music career is different, and every artist will need to invest differently to be able to grow their career. But there are a few things that every artist should invest their time and money into on an ongoing basis (and they're probably not what you might expect).

1. Music training
With all the successful, self-taught artists out there, education is probably one of the first things to get thrown out or disregarded by musicians. But the fact is, no matter how good you are at promoting yourself, your entire career is actually built on your musical skills, so it's worth investing in them.

That's not to say you need to be the most technically skilled musician on the planet, but if music is going to be your job, you need to do your best to be the best you can be.

Take time to learn new techniques, new musical styles, or just to challenge yourself as a creative person to improve your songs, performances, or playing. It's also important that you learn how to play or sing properly without hurting yourself in the long run. I'm not saying you need to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a music degree necessarily, but you should invest time and money into learning your instrument on an ongoing basis, whether that be through lessons, seminars, workshops, or just making a conscious effort to jam and play with people who are better than you.

2. A deep understanding of the music business
Especially today, you also need to be investing in your understanding of the music business. As an independent artist, you are an entrepreneur forming a business around your music. Even if you end up working with a manager, agent, publishing company, or record label, you need to be able to discuss your career, your goals, and your strategy with them on a business level.

For many artists, a manager just isn't in the cards, so they need to take a more active role in the business side of their career. You need to know how to grow your fan-base both online and off, how to communicate with your fans to drive engagement and sales, how to book your own shows, and above all, how to find your own unique and profitable place in this industry.

Again, you don't need to go out and get your MBA, but there are plenty of courses, conferences, webinars, and panels you can invest in and learn from, like the New Artist Model online course. If you're not ready yet to take the jump into paying for music business training, you can start by downloading this free ebook.

3. Feedback on your songs
On a similar note, because musicians are moving more towards independence, they often won't be able to get a professional opinion on their music. In the past, this kind of artist development may have been handled by a label or publisher, but now, (especially in the earlier stages of your career), it falls on you. And being able to take a step back and honestly critique your own music (in an unbiased way) can be really hard!

One of the best ways to improve your songs as an independent musician is to gather feedback. Tools like Fluence allow you to send your music to industry influences like radio DJs, music supervisors, and music producers for feedback. Because of their experience, these "influencers" can often give you very specific and sound advice to consider when looking to improve your; sound, mix, and song composition.

Another website, Audiokite, takes a slightly different approach. Instead of sending your music to a few key influence, you send it to a large group of listeners to gather opinions and thoughts on a larger scale so you can get a better idea of what a typical music listener in the US thinks of your songs.

So, by using both Fluence and Audiokite, you can test out your songs before you release them to get some feedback on what other people think, and if they believe that your music could have the potential to make the kind of impact and impression that you'd want.

Ed Sheeran: The Biggest Lesson I've Learned on Success [Video]

Let's be honest: does Ed Sheeran look like a rockstar? Hell no. When the scruffy little redhead broke out and took the world by storm, it shook the music scene to its core to realize this kid was behind insightful powerhouse songs like "A Team" and "Lego House." 

However, he was an instant sensation, and the lesson here is that if he can do it, anyone else can, too. Here's what Sheeran has to say about being true to yourself as an artist, persevering in the twisting, rough waters of the music industry, and learning to love your music just for what it is.

Is the Internet Killing Touring for New Bands?


The internet has brought the world closer than ever before, yet for young bands on the road, the tool that should be their strongest ally might be working against them.

Most cities have a fairly strong local music scene. There are lots of great bands in them, new and old venues offer good support, and audiences are happy to come on down.

Add to all that... Musicians will quite often play within each other's projects without much care for sticking with a specific genre. As a result, both the local bands and the crowds are more musically diverse. There's also a general pride in seeing local bands succeed – even if it's a band whose music some people don't particularly care for.

But many local scenes are beginning to notice something: not as many bands want to leave the nest. What's more, fewer bands from other neighboring cities seem to be making it to town. There was a time when trading shows with bands from out of town was the norm. Now it seems that bands are more likely to stay in their own bubbles rather than branching out.

This was recently presented on a episode of James P. Fahy's radio show, Blood on the Knobs. A band, (Freaky Deakys) was celebrating the release of their debut album with a short tour of the Southeast, and had noticed this as well. "It's more intimidating now," said singer Trevor Dane. "You see all these other people [vying for shows] as well. It can kind of get to you."

But the long odds aren't keeping the band from getting in their van and going for it. "I wanna go out and experience other places, and other bands, and other artists, and meet and do, and just get out there. That's what half of [playing music] is."

But the only reason Freaky Deakys was able to put together that tour at all was by getting themselves out there. "I don’t know really know how other people do it…as far as trading shows with other bands," says guitarist Rolf Briney. "That's kind of how we built a lot of the dates on our tour." By not touring, you're robbing your band of crucial character development, the chance to make important connections, and, most of all, great stories.

It's understandable why a band wouldn't want to leave its bubble. It can be dispiriting to spend the time and money driving to somewhere new only to play to the bartenders and bouncers. There's also lots of competition from other bands – whether it's another local artist or a nationally known act passing through – or the myriad distractions provided by the internet.

But guess what? Bands playing to no one is nothing new. It happened before the internet, and will most certainly continue until humans are sucked into The Matrix for good. By not touring, though, you're robbing your band of crucial character development, the chance to make important connections, and, most of all, great stories.

\\GT// is another band that was recently featured on Blood on the Knobs. They've put out a couple of EPs and have a new album on the way called Beats Misplaced, which has already been released in Europe and the UK to rave reviews. They were on the show both before and after an East Coast tour, so they could share stories from the road.

Despite some setbacks, they played to small but enthusiastic crowds everywhere they went. They won over the venues, too, many of which invited them back. They moved merch, too, even making some trades: a bartender at Reggie's 42nd Street Tavern in Wilmington, NC, paid for an LP with both cash and a painting of "some guy that comes in his dreams all the time. It was really weird and cool," says singer/guitarist Scotty Lee. "I know how it is – you can't afford something, but if you have something that means something to you like [our album] means to us, then yeah, of course we'll help you out."

"Merch numbers can be equal to or more than the money the band makes off the door," says Charlie Smith, an experienced tour manager who's worked with King Kahn and the Shrines, Man or Astroman?, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones, among many others. "A small touring band's goal should be to break barely even off door guarantees, and then let all of the merch profit be gravy on top…. It's hard if you don't have a following to start touring, but you need to tour to really gain a following. There's no magic formula. You'll probably have to play a few weird pizza joints before you graduate to proper venues."

St. Paul and the Broken Bones' Jesse Philips concurs (especially re: the "pizza" gigs): "You gotta tour. The internet can actually help drive folks to the shows, once you gain a bit of notoriety. You will play tough gigs and probably lose money initially. And play a pizza joint or two. But I think it's the only way, ultimately."

So consider this: the internet may be your competition, but it should also be a tool. Obviously, worldwide access to your music won't guarantee you a global audience, but you can instead use that broadcasting power to focus on spots a little closer to home and, over time, gradually increase your touring radius.

"It used to make sense to build tours through major markets,” says Janet Simpson, who's toured the US and Europe with several bands, including Teen Getaway, Delicate Cutters, and Wooden Wand and the WWIV. "Now, I'd say that because the internet has created equal opportunity access to bands' music, the forces that drove major markets like radio and press are basically nonexistent. Instead, bands should tour smaller, tighter circles. Hit minor markets. Small towns have bars where people are hungry for music. You could make more money touring seven cities in one or two regions, plus shorter drives and lower vehicle costs, (fuel, maintenance, etc.)."

Furthermore, make sure your internet presence features quality representations of your music, not to mention videos – particularly of your live show. I know this seems obvious, but if the decision to come to your show will be based on whatever somebody can access from his or her phone, then you really want to put your best foot forward.

Of course, your band doesn't have to tour. Great music isn't made legitimate because of a live show, no matter what any Baby Boomer might tell you. But it is indeed a powerful force. If you have larger aspirations for your band, like getting signed to a label, then putting in road work (and it is work) will likely increase the likelihood of you being signed.

Just ask Banditos. Born in Birmingham and based in Nashville, Banditos' true home is on the road, where they've spent the last few years playing upwards of 150-plus shows annually. They recently signed with the venerable "insurgent country" label, Bloodshot Records, and have since put out a killer record, received tons of well-deserved praise, and a now global audience. All that hard work has earned singer Mary Richardson the right to wax poetic about life on the road, so I'll let her have the last word:

"Since we've been inside the low/mid-level touring band circuit, we've seen many friends doing the same rough touring as we are for about five years now," Richardson says. "I have an optimistic disposition about it. I think the internet is a great tool, but has made it easier to project yourself into the ears of a population that are less and less inclined to leave their house to find new bands. It's so easy when it's right there in their bedroom.

"Of course, we think live shows are the truest form of a band, but it's deciding to skip out on your job's pay, which is way above what you'd make in the split at 2:00 a.m. in some seedy club 500 miles from home. It's moving in with your girlfriend knowing you won't make much money, and you're living in a van. It's being a proud and glorified homeless cult. It's complete lunacy to most stable minds. But folks like us never did well with walls, right? And there's always us. I think the 'us' will never not think touring is the life they need explore, but embodying a bullet ripping through the dark like some sorta crazed firework will always end in a hard place.

"Love and music will always be the highest form of self-expression. I believe live shows are the closest feeling to God, or whatever, because it's all the good stuff mixed together. The internet can try, but they can't ruin that inherent need to express a tangible feeling."

Micro Lesson 185: "D Minor" Classical Music Melody

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 185"

This Micro Lesson takes a look at how a "D Minor" melodic line can operate using a Classical Music approach to the structure of both the melody and the time signature. 

Classic pieces (especially the Allegro Suites and Preludes), will apply different sequences and operate in various time signatures, (i.e., 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 3/8. 6/8, 9/8). This melody in lesson 185 is composed of a strong 16th-note pattern that exists within the Common 4/4 time signature. 

Different sequenced concepts occur in the first measure of this melody as opposed to the second measure. However, the third measure produces a brand new feel that works to resolve the line into the Tonic Chord of, "D Minor." 

The most difficult aspect of this line will be the transition through each part and the quick 16th note pace of the line. Take your time developing the fingerings and work at committing the idea to memory. Over time the melody will be easier to recall and play up to speed. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 185: "D Minor" Classical Music Melody

3 Bed-Room Guitar Amps Under $300.00 US

There aren't many musicians who are more particular about their gear and how it affects "their sound" than guitarists. 

For many guitar-players, every inch of their signal path gets scrutinized, and for some, bigger is always better. 

Here are a few "pint-sized" at home jammin' amp options that might turn some heads, (even for those who are reluctant to take the stage with anything less than a half-stack).

TOP-PICK @ #1. Fender Champion 40
Street Price: $180.00 US /$250.00 CAD


- Power rating: 40W
- Weight: 19 lbs.
- Speaker configuration: 1x12"
- Amp type: solid state
- Other features: multi-effects, 1/8" in and headphone output

This tiny, two-channel amp is the descendant of a 60-plus-year pedigree of small amps. The newest incarnation of its classic studio staple brethren is sure not to disappoint. 

Pumping out classic Fender tone and able to hold its own on smaller gigs, this is your chance to grab some classic Fender clean tone with versatility without breaking your back or pulling out the credit card. Look at a list of classic amps, and the name "Champ" will usually make an appearance.

Now before any of you valve-heads wrinkle your nose at the idea of a solid state Champ, this isn't your father's solid-state amp. Fender hasn't forgotten the tone and feel that guitarists are looking for, and I can't stress enough that you try this one out before you dismiss it as a classless reissue. 

It wins top-pick for it's low price, great tone (pushed by that powerful 40 watt power-amp) and for that big fat sweet sounding 12" speaker.

2. Orange Micro Terror (with Orange PPC108 Cabinet)
Head Street Price: $150.00
Cabinet Street Price: $100.00
Total = $250.00 US / $333.00 CAD


- Power rating: 20W
- Weight: 10 lbs. total
- Speaker configuration: 1x8"
- Amp type: hybrid (12AX7 Tube Pre-Amp and Solid State Power Amp)
- Other features: 1/8" in and headphone output

The smallest in the Orange Terror offerings, the Micro Terror delivers that orange tolexed British tone in a package that almost literally fits in a pocket. This head/cab configuration that is smaller than most practice combo amps will give you a tone that is not merely good for its size, but just simply great. The hybrid setup offers a best-of-both-worlds configuration, giving the tube response and tone to the front end while offering the compact power and reliability that solid-state technology can bring. This amp is great for recording or anyone looking to exploit the tone and sensitivity tubes can bring without the weight or the volume of a larger rig.

3. Yamaha THR10
Street Price: $300.00 US / $400.00 CAD


- Power rating: 10W
- Weight: 6 lbs.
- Speaker configuration: 2x3.15"
- Amp type: solid state
- Other features: multi-effects, USB connectivity, amp modeling, battery-powered option, 1/8" in, and headphone output

This amp is so overlooked as a tool for practicing/songwriting/recording, it almost deserves its own post. While you probably won't be gigging with this coffee-table powerhouse, the features and flexibility almost make it literally worth its weight in gold. With tone and options normally only found in larger modeling amps, this amp is punching way above its class. USB recording/editor capabilities and the fact that you don't need to have an outlet nearby to use it are just the cherries on top of an already highly capable amp.

This is a must-have to add to the arsenal for the guitarist/songwriter who needs flexibility or needs to be space conscious with his or her gear. This lighter-than-a-house-cat amp is no exception to round out our trio of amps that are the exception to the "you get what you pay for" rule.

Micro Lesson 184: "B Minor" Phrygian Mode Lick

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 184"

This Micro Lesson covers a fast-paced guitar lick in "B Minor" that is based upon the "B Phrygian" Mode. 

The lick operates within the 9th position and begins from the 4th guitar string with a triplet phrase in 16th-note triplets. 

This phrase immediately highlights the unique lowered 2nd degree of the Phrygian Mode. It achieves this by pushing through the Tonic of "B" into the "b2" degree tone of "C." 

A run follows up from the 5th guitar string carrying through up to the 2nd string. Here, the phrase executes another 16th-note triplet and brings in a line on the 2nd string that once again highlights the Phrygian Modes unique lowered 2nd degree. 

The lick resolves on the 5th scale tone of "F#." Take your time with this phrase and build the speed slowly over time with a metronome. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 184: "B Minor" Phrygian Mode Lick

How to play guitar like... James Taylor

James Taylor's acoustic guitar style has been instantly recognizable since the early 70s, and has influenced countless singer-songwriters since. He might not be a virtuoso instrumentalist - always using the guitar to accompany his voice - but there's a lot you can learn from his style.

In contrast to the more pattern-based finger-picking styles (often blues-derived) of the more folksy acoustic songwriters, Taylor's style has a more pianistic approach - think about how a pianist uses the sustain pedal to add suspensions and create smooth transitions between chords.

This requires careful note choice and a certain amount of control over your picking hand. Every note can be selected or avoided, depending on the sound you want to make.

Example one


James starts by showing how he might finger-pick a chord progression. Notice how he'll introduce notes from the next chord to add interest, such as that first A to Gadd9 change, where the F# prepares us for the new G bass note and the open B gives a suggestion of the new chord.

"These are lines that are happening all around each other rather than all at once," James says. "They're independent. It's very different from a strumming technique. I often lead with a bass line and then break it up rhythmically, so it has an internal back-and-forth."

Example two 
Below you'll see a list of chords, all of which James considers to be typical of his sound. Let's get stuck in and examine them properly, in a sort of mini Substitute special!





Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Taylor's technique is his approach to tuning the guitar: he tunes all the strings flat but by very specific, microtonal amounts.

"In Bach's time they came up with the tempered tuning that allowed you to play in different keys but still stay in tune," he explains.

"I do the same thing on the guitar. If I'm playing in A440 [standard concert pitch], the first string will be an exact E, but the sixth string will be 10 cents flat - 10 cents being 10 hundredths of a half-tone - 10 cents lower than an exact E, so it's a wider tuning. But because I use a capo so often and because the capo itself pulls the guitar slightly sharp, I actually tune the first string to minus three cents.

"Because the second string is always such a devilish thing, it gets minus five; then I do minus four for the third, then it's minus eight, minus 10, and minus 12. So that compensates for the capo pulling it sharp, but also because the bass strings ring sharp because they're getting tighter as they vibrate.

"So as you play up the neck, this wider tuning is very forgiving; you don't get the same problems with the 3rd in the chords ringing sharp. So that's how I temper tune the guitar."

Example three 


Example four
The difficulty with having a liking for particular sonorities on the guitar is that they don't always translate to other keys, where barre chord shapes might make certain note groupings impossible. Enter the good old capo!

Here James runs through a few simple chord shapes with the capo at the 2nd fret, making the chords sound a whole tone higher.

"The capo is on my guitar as often as it it is off," James says. "It probably started because I found something I liked ot play but it sounded better up a whole tone. I very seldom capo any higher than the 3rd fret. It's so that that playing in E and D and A, I can go up to hang in F and G or in C.


"I very seldom play in open C. It's just an uninteresting chord on the guitar, for me. I much prefer the D, A and E fingering. It just pulls it into a different range for the voice so you can do a different thing melodically to it.

"I'm a baritone, which is not great - I think the best thing to be is a tenor, like Jimmy Nail or Sting, Graham Nash, Ricky Skaggs, and have that really high range, because when you're playing guitar and you have this huge thing up above it so it feels like a much wider range that's available to you.

"I'm constantly working on finding a way to make the guitar lower. I do play bass with my thumb and my bass players Jimmy Johnson and Lee Sklar will tell you the challenge is working with somebody who's already playing bass."


At the end, James demonstrates his 'pick-and-strum' approach. Basically, you're picking the bass notes with your thumb as normal, but strumming the high notes both upwards and downwards with your fingernails. You can, of course, also play regular finger-picked single notes, as in bar 6.

Micro Lesson 183: "Key of A" Pop-Rock Riff

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 183"

This Pop-Rock Micro Lesson Riff involves a blended progression that borrows chords from parallel major and minor tonalities in the key of, "A." 

The riff begins from the IV-chord of "D" and moves into the tonic chord of "A," using two-note double-stops. The next measure comes in from the movement of the V-chord to the IV-chord (E major to D major). 

The "Pop-Rock" groove is highlighted here and is connected further along with a Pentatonic Lick into measure three. Measure three borrows both a "C Major" as well as, a "G Major," chord from the parallel "A Minor" harmony. However, the fourth measure is brought in by way of a return back to the "A Major" harmony. 

This is further embellished using another Pentatonic Lick that can either be used to turn the progression around, or it can be left out for the progression to resolve on the "A Major" chord. If any chord shapes are new to you, take your time memorizing them first. Afterward, work on building the speed using a metronome or drum machine. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 183: "Key of A" Pop-Rock Riff

The Impact of Music on Society...

As musicians, we are carriers of influence, whether or not we are aware of it and whether or not we intend to be. The sound and messages we release through our art form directly impact our listeners in powerful ways. This is especially true of the youth and adolescents of our society, who are still extremely malleable to the world around them. 

People who care about music are the ones who grew up listening to songs that touched them and spoke to them in a profound way. Often times it is in middle school when the music we listen to begins to define so much of our identity. As professional musicians, it's no doubt that so many of us can identify with music being a keen agent in shaping the person we have become over the years. Thus, in return, it's almost our unspoken job to create a sound that will be amplified to the next generation, impacting them and impacting our society in return. If we can gain a more comprehensive awareness of how our art form is making a difference around us, we will undoubtedly become better musicians – musicians with a purpose.

Cultural impact
The popular music of our day reflects the culture of our day. We can see the fingerprints of a certain generation in the lyrics and sound of that time. One recent and almost outrageous example of this is the song "#SELFIE" by the Chain-smokers. It's a pretty spot-on commentary about the youth and media culture of our day. And in this present age, culture is changing far more frequently than ever before, reflecting styles of music that are evolving and birthed just as rapidly. Interestingly, it wasn't always so.

"There were times and places — in the Europe of the Middle Ages, as an example — where music might remain largely the same for hundreds of years," (writes Selwyn Duke in "Influential Beats: The Cultural Impact of Music"). "And it is no coincidence that in medieval times something else also remained quite constant: culture.

It is clear that changes in music trend closely to changes in society’s consensus worldview. This explains why musical tastes change so quickly today: With no dominant cultural stabilizer, such as the Catholic Church (whose medieval influence is undeniable); the ability to transmit ideas worldwide at a button’s touch via modern media…society is prone to continual arbitrary change.

In other words, culture and music flow together. What our parents used to dig, kids of today would deem as lame. And in a few years, the music we think is cool now will probably be outdated. It's nothing against the music. It's just a representation, a manifestation of what's constantly changing around us. With that said, we need to be very aware of our modern day culture, but more importantly, we need to be intentional about the cultures we want to create and cultivate with our music.

Moral impact
Merriam-Webster defines morality as "beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior." A quick Google search on the impact of music on morals will yield many results on the negative impact it has on society, especially in the realm of rap and hip-hop music.

But in all styles of music nowadays, there are a plethora of songs with lyrics that glorify sex, drugs, and violence. While research can't concretely link the cause-and-effect behavior of listening to these songs with directly inducing this type of behavior, many researchers and people agree that it surely encourages it.

I believe that morals and behavior, especially in teens, aren't completely steered by the lyrics they're listening to, because there are so many factors to building a moral compass. However, music can definitely play a significant role in determining what seems to be right or wrong, okay or not okay, and good or bad. Because of this, we need to become wary about the messages that we are putting out with our songs, but to take it a step further, what if the songs we wrote intentionally carried positive messages? What if they became anthems that declared hope and joy, triumphs over weaknesses, courage and love? We would have the influence to empower the hearts and minds of the next generation, and that is something to truly take hold of.

Emotional impact
This is probably the most identifiable and direct impact music has on people in society. It makes us feel a certain way. Music sets moods and creates atmospheres. And as humans, we're so behaviorally influenced by the way we feel. That's why we throw on an upbeat playlist while we're working out, put on jazz on a romantic date, or get up and dance when a four-on-the-floor beat is going down. For many of us, when we wake up in the morning, we know exactly what songs to play to get us focused and ready for what's up ahead in our day. That can be a very powerful thing for us to get our day going.

Music has the potential to change a mood, to shift an atmosphere, and to encourage a different behavior. In fact, the average American listens to around four hours of music each day! Just imagine what kind of an impact music is having on our emotions throughout the day, whether we consciously realize it or not.

With emotional impact, the most important thing to consider is: What am I feeling, and how do I want my listeners to feel when they hear this song? Because what you're feeling will help determine what your listener will feel, and that carries a lot of weight.

So in short, music has the power to culturally, morally, and emotionally influence our society. Thus, the more intentional we become with the sounds, messages, and moods we create and release through our music, the more powerful we will become in making deep positive impacts. We have the mandate and authority as artists and musicians to change the world around us because of the influence we carry, and that truly makes music something worth dedicating a life to.

Micro Lesson 182: "Key of D" Modal Interchange Riff

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 182"

This Micro Lesson applies the unique sounds of Modal Interchange off of a Tonic note of, "D." 

The harmony of this progression operates between a, "Dmaj7," chord and a, "Dm7," chord. Each chord lasts two measures and functions within the Major and Minor harmonies. 

In measure one, the, "Dmaj7," takes center stage with a quarter-note strum occurring at the first beat. A melodic statement carries the harmony into measure two where a pair of "6th Interval" double-stops help to both close out the, "D Major," harmony as well as, bring in the, "D Minor," harmony of the next phrase. 

In measure three the, "Dm7," chord enters once again from the rhythmic feel of a strong quarter-note strum. The Minor tonality is highlighted through a similar melodic concept which we initially heard back in measure one. An eight-note line takes us out in measure four, yet still allows for this riff to operate as a repeated loop if the musician desires that effect. 

Overall, this phrase can be performed by almost any guitarist who is at a reasonable level of skill. As always, memorize the part and then use a metronome or drum machine to help develop speed. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 182: "Key of D" Modal Interchange Riff

Micro Lesson 181: "Key of A" Minor Pentatonic Lick

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 181"

This Micro Lesson takes a look at an easy to play "A Minor" Pentatonic Lick based in the popular 5th position. 

This relatively easy to perform minor pentatonic scale lick is formed within the very common 5th position layout of the "Minor Pentatonic Scale" 

This "A Pattern" from the 6th string root is used in thousands of popular licks and riffs. 

In the first section of our Micro-Lesson lick we descend across the string sets from the first string into the fourth. The resolution tone is the 7th fret "A" tone on the fourth string. 

The second section of the lick deals with strings 5th through 3rd remaining within the 5th position. Notes of, "A, G, E and C," highlight the "A Minor" harmony. 

The final resolution pushes through two double-stop chords of, "C5 and D5," rounding out the melody and offering players a way to loop the idea for more fun during rehearsal. Have fun learning the lick and building it up to speed. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 181: "Key of A" Minor Pentatonic Lick

Top 4 Challenges Musicians Face in the Studio

There are many lessons regarding recording in a studio that you won't know unless you've been there. These are the lessons that are only learned the hard way: by spending countless hours in the studio and making a number of mistakes along the way. 

Below are four challenges musicians face in the studio and some tips for dealing with them...

1. Not paying enough attention to the small stuff
A couple of songs into an album, with the clock ticking, it becomes incredibly easy to start letting things slide. It can be anything from letting slightly sloppy performances through ("I'm pretty sure we've got what we need to edit something together…"), to not putting quite as much care into maintaining perfect tuning on your instruments ("You can't really hear that bit of wobble once it's in the mix, can you?"), to even scrapping parts that require extra recording time ("Actually, I think that part sounds great just single-tracked… let's just leave the double and harmonies out!"). As justified as you might feel those decisions are at the time, you will almost without a doubt regret them further down the line.

While receording try and do your very best to make sure that everything that was committed to the final version of the song was exactly the way it should be – in tune, in time, delivered with conviction, and engineered without technical flaws. Sometimes that means re-recording whole instruments for a song – possibly re-tracking the drums for a song a second time after you decided the snare tuning wasn’t ideal for the song. And, when it comes to your guitar sound, spend the time fully forming those guitar parts, and anything glitchy sounding should be muted for a period before being sent to the trash upon a 2nd or 3rd review.

The biggest separation between amateur and professional productions is simply the level of attention to detail maintained throughout the recording process. It may drive you neurotic, but it'll be so well worth it in the long run, believe me!

2. Paying too much attention to the song-parts
With all of that said, there is a point where you can disappear down the rabbit hole if you're not careful, never to return.

Make sure that your mindset is as objective as you can possibly manage, to be sure you're not allowing your mood or external factors to cause you to totally lose your perspective and leave you running around in circles second-guessing every decision. It's so important to have a clear vision of what all of your material should sound like, or to have someone at the helm who you trust to have that vision on your behalf.

I know I'm not the only person who has seen artists actually go beyond the point of improving their track and to actually start making it worse as a result of tunnel vision. Don't let that happen to you!stay clear headed, stay on-track and understand what you want in the end. Also, make sure your producer is following your vision and your band's sound.

3. Burning out
Pulling incredibly long days and late nights in the studio every day for a month or two will drive anyone insane. When you start on a record, the initial buzz can have you up all night in a flurry of productivity, but it's important to remember that recording an album is a marathon, not a sprint.

Set strict working hours that make sense for your lifestyle (11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. is my standard – easy to maintain a healthy morning routine, and you're done in time for dinner so you can unwind at night), and give yourself a minimum of one day off per week.

It might feel like you're not grafting as hard as you could be, but trust me, the resulting motivation, positive mood, and attention to detail is going to make your recording process as smooth and awesome as it can possibly be.

4. Dealing with "demo-itis"
If you've done your pre-production and demoing dutifully, there are undoubtedly going to be certain moments of magic in those recordings that are going to be nigh-on impossible to recreate in the studio.

This is why I'm a big proponent of using tracks from demos in the final version of the song if they have the right feel and are suitably in tune. To make this as easy as possible, try to record a dry DI of every guitar and bass part while demoing. (This has the added bonus of allowing you to experiment with various amp-sims and effects after the fact to find the exact sound you’re after, so you can concentrate on the music while you're writing.) That way, when it comes to the final mix, you can re-amp the parts to get the perfect tones that are totally coherent with the mix – the best of both worlds!