The Difference Between Entertainment and Art...

Courtesy of Caleb Hsu

At what point in navigating the music business world does a creator get lost in translation...

Lady Gaga recently talked about being used as a "money-making machine" in today's industry at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, and hinted at hopes of branching out of the music world. She has previously discussed the challenges of creating art out of passion while simultaneously being expected to make money for those surrounding her. Gaga's transformation from "Poker Face" to her lead role in American Horror Story: Hotel has some fans confused, while others applaud her newfound prowess.

While this situation is not unusual, it begs to answer the question of art versus entertainment. At what point in navigating the music business world does a creator get lost in translation, having to consistently make art that's commercially viable and true to his or her identity? Are intention and motivation what inspire the differences between being a true artist and being just a public figure? We'll examine these questions and more below.

What is art?
Elbert Hubbard says that "art is not a thing; it is a way." I love this quote because it showcases the process over the product. As musicians, creators of uninhibited art, our mentality and passion is everything. The artistic process starts in your head and in your heart, and what you create after is just a replica of what you feel and what you see. To be a true artist, your creative process music must be born out of a craving desire to express yourself, a need to take something from within and mold it into something that can be felt and understood by anyone.

Artist Paul Knee stated it best when he said, "Art does not reproduce what is visible; it makes things visible."

How does art differ from entertainment?
When aesthetic purpose precedes exposure and sales considerations, art wins over entertainment. It starts with artistic intention and results in audience response. Entertainment is more about artifice, whereas art has a stronghold in substance. At an International Arts Movement, Makoto Fujimura brilliantly stated the following:

"Entertainment gives you a predictable pleasure. Art… leads to transformation. It awakens you, rather than just satisfying a craving."

The problem with musicians who find themselves pressured to create music that sells is that the music itself increasingly becomes less of an art form. Certain genres of music have become almost formulaic because writers are forced to follow stock templates of what's expected to happen where (i.e., the first chorus coming in 20 seconds in). The art is driven first by the desire to please a consumer base. When marketing drives the production of music, the resulting outcome is music that lacks meaning. The issue is that entertainment leaves us relatively unchanged because it doesn’t ask anything from us except our fleeting attention. Alternatively, art forces you to make a choice, to examine your life and sometimes life itself, and to be vulnerable and exposed to real feelings.

While there are notable differences between Picasso and Kendrick Lamar, the attribute they share is that their art taps into the emotions of their audiences. Entertainers primarily focus on creating a fantasy, while artists take on the role of depicting reality and mirroring the human condition.

I'll never forget seeing James Blake live at the House of Blues in Boston. The stage setup was simple: MIDI keyboards, vocal pedals, and lighting. There were no dancers, no crazy outfits, just a man on a bench who had a story to tell. He was unaffected by the transformation some artists undergo when they become entertainers, feeling they have to put on a show full of flashy production.

While I believe that it's possible to overcome this dilemma as a musician, as you become more of a public figure, it's indisputably challenging to do so consistently. You have to be able to deliver compelling material that translates across widely varied audiences and meet the demands of those surrounding you. Gaga mentioned her frustration with being seen as a public figure first and artist second, and how her presence became more important than her product as her career developed.

From an audience perspective
Lady Gaga briefly talked about how we live in a digital age where our communication is hindered and everything is expected to be delivered immediately. With streaming platforms and social media outlets like Snapchat, having instantaneous access to everything has driven attention spans to an all-time low. It's unfortunate that we live in a radio-edit generation, where if a song exceeds four minutes, it loses people's interest. The majority of listeners who call themselves fans of artists only know lyrics to top singles and don't take the time to listen through entire albums.

We need a shift from being consumers to wanting to be consumed. A few years ago, as Beyoncé performed "Irreplaceable" in front of a full house at Atlanta’s Gwinnett Center, she called out a fan for filming her using their phone saying, "See? You can't even sing because you’re too busy taping. I'm right in your face, baby, you gotta seize this moment, baby. Put that damn camera down!" We, as a collective of consumers of music, need to better appreciate the art form.

Entertainment just requires passive receivers, whereas art demands purposeful action that awakens your soul. Beyoncé is an example of an artist who may have experienced difficulties balancing entertainment with artistry. I'm not against entertainment, but I have deeper respect for artists who don't neglect true art as entertainment. Beyoncé could silence any stadium with an acoustic version of "Halo," yet her live appearances consist of provocative attire, heavily produced arrangements, and overtly sexual backup dancers. She focuses on selling a fantasy rather than showcasing her finesse.

The solution?
Lady Gaga says it was important for her to learn to say no (e.g., to taking fan selfies and creating fragrances for marketing). Sia never wanted to be an entertainer, and she still refuses to perform with her face exposed. Adele is choosing not to stream her latest album, 25. Sam Smith had six hit singles from a single album (In the Lonely Hour), proving that you can create somber music that sells, born out of a burning desire to share a feeling with the world.

Although artists like Taylor Swift, Thom Yorke, David Lowery, Beck, and even Pink Floyd have blasted streaming services like Spotify and Pandora for shareholders' profits, artists' percentages, and paid advertising content, I think there's a bigger issue at hand. Not only does the model itself need to be improved (like Jay-Z attempted with Tidal) so that artists don't feel like royalty checks from streaming services are effectively severance pay, there needs to be a widespread appetite for true art and genuine artists.

If you value music as an art form, it's important to take further action. It starts with respecting the integrity musicians hold as true artists. True artists embed meaning within their work, and their followers should invest in supporting their ambitions. Remember that all artists are entertainers, but not all entertainers are artists. It's difficult for artists to be discovered and thrive amidst an industry congested with a surplus of entertainers, so it's up to listeners to open the gateways for true art to give it a platform to speak.

Caleb Hsu is an independent vocal producer and freelance recording engineer based in Los Angeles. As a classically trained pianist and composer, he enjoys writing music technology features that combine his psychology background with current industry trends.

Micro Lesson 238: "A Minor" Pop-Jazz Groove

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 238"

This Micro Lesson works through a funky pop-jazz seventh-chord groove in the key of "A Minor." 

The groove plays into the key's tonic chord by way of the Vth, VIth and IVth chords of the "A Minor" harmony. 

In measure one the progression begins off of the key's V-chord of "E Minor 7." This pulls up to the VI-chord "F maj.7" and then drops down in the key to the IV-chord of "D Minor 7." The sound is made unique by the choice of voicings. So, pay attention to the upper chord tones on the 2nd string as each chord in the measure passes by. 

In measure two, we make our resolution into the tonic chord of "A Minor 7th." The third measure brings us back through the Vth and VIth chords similar to measure one. However, things take a twist on our harmony upon beat three where the II-chord enters (Bm7b5). 

This is a strong harmony in our minor key and acts to pull into a Dominant V-chord. The chord of "E7" appears in the final measure and acts in a way to powerfully pull in the Tonic chord once again. The chord changes are very typical of Minor key progressions, but the voicings, melodic upper register and syncopated groove leave us with an effect that promotes the style of "Pop-Jazz." 

Learn the chord shapes, fingerings, and chord changes first. Then, bring the groove up to speed with a metronome. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 238: "A Minor" Pop-Jazz Groove

Developing Guitar Legato

GuitarBlog: Developing Guitar Legato...

This week on the GuitarBlog, I run through Developing Guitar Legato Technique... 

Developing good guitar legato technique involves a lot of skills. When practicing the studies in this lesson plan, you'll want to focus on building skills that involve the fretting-hand technique plus the ability for building speed with legato. 

Legato is the performance of notes in a way that creates a very connected flow between each tone. Developing this very smooth and connected attack allows a very liquid response for the resulting legato lines. The opposite of Legato is, "Staccato," (a very short and detached attack).  Normally on guitar, Legato is achieved through a series of hammer-ons and pull-offs. It can also be applied using slides between some of the notes as well. The technique can be done fast or slower, but the effect is one in where the notes blend seamlessly from one scale tone into the next.

When practicing Legato, it is important to pay a lot of attention to the feel of the attack upon the string and on keeping your hand very relaxed. With good accuracy developed, (hitting the string with the tip of each finger), combined with the more relaxed that you are, you will  have an easy time playing legato licks. However, if you are not hitting the string with the tip of the finger, or if you are tense and unable to allow the notes to flow, your legato will be poor.

Another important element is the use of a metronome. The steady click of using a metronome will work to develop your legato to it's top level of performance. Metronome studies will go a long way in helping you to achieve excellent control. Over time the control will grow to be very automatic for you. In the long run having great control, good technique and a easy relaxed feel will help you integrate the performance of legato runs into your personal style of playing. Enjoy!

Developing Guitar Legato

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How to Choose Effective Notes to Start Melodies...

Courtesy of Jimmy Kachulis (Berklee Music)

They say that first impressions are everything, and the same can be said for your music...

Make sure your songs are starting out on the right foot – er, note – with these handy, easy-to-follow pointers from Berklee's Jimmy Kachulis, who illustrates the process using the Beatles song, "Yesterday."

Songwriter /Music Educator, Jimmy Kachulis has analyzed thousands of hits, identifying the structures and patterns that work best, and why. In his Writing Hit Songs course, he shares the techniques successful writers use to craft vivid, memorable songs and help you do the same.

Whether you're a relative beginner or an experienced songwriter, you can learn how to brainstorm ideas, overcome writer's block, and express yourself more effectively in words and music. Combining technical principles with pure creative expression, Jimmy's hands-on course will help you find your voice, sharpen your craft, and create songs listeners will appreciate and remember.

Micro Lesson 237: "B Minor" Funky Motown Rhythm

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 237"

This Micro Lesson works through a Funky Motown inspired rhythm riff that is based from within the key of "B Minor." 

The riff uses two chords from the key center to groove out on a slick rhythm pattern that applies both straight eighth note feel against a funky 16th-note pattern in the off-measures. 

In measure one we have the introduction to our groove which anchors the tonic chord of "B Minor." It enters upon the up-beat of one and uses a small segment of the "B Minor Pentatonic Scale" to bring in the riff. Measure two applies the upper-three strings of our "B Minor" triad in the 7th position. 

In measure three we have a great funky slide idea that transitions along the 4th and 3rd strings to highlight the harmony of our keys minor V-chord of "F# Minor." The moves are all lateral shifts along the "B Minor Scale" between the 4th & 3rd strings. In measure four our "F# Minor" triad appears to solidify the harmony and wrap up the jam in the guitars 2nd position. 

The groove is really easy to follow and a lot of fun to play. After you learn the fingerings and playing positions, turn on a drum machine and groove out to this funky two-chord jam. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 237: "B Minor" Funky Motown Rhythm

Josh Rand's "Top 5 Tips" for Guitarists...

Courtesy of Josh Rand from the band "Stone Sour"

Josh explains that working with the busiest man in metal is something that requires a little bit of extra patience.

“Everyone needs to understand these covers are for ourselves,” he adds. “We want to get people into the bands that influenced us, almost take a step back to before Stone Sour. Because the reality is this: Corey has obligations in Slipknot. We are working on new material, but right now there’s no timeline because we couldn’t realistically support putting a record out.

“We live all over the US, really spread out; there’s no city we all call home. So why not jam and do a few covers? We’ve all been influenced by different styles. For example, I really didn’t know much about Bad Brains before this. I’m not much of a punk person, so doing that was like a whole new world to me. All in all, though, this came together pretty easy!”

Stone Sour guitarist Josh Rand gives us five tips to help players tally up those Grammy nominations, Stone Sour-style...

Tip #1). Don't fight your instrument more than you need to
“Because if you do that, you’ll probably tend not to play it! The most important thing is choosing a guitar that feels comfortable to you and taking care of it. Changing the strings, adjusting the intonation and the action… because I feel a lot of beginners forget that. And that’s a tip for beginners and everyone else.

“Even with the guitars I keep in storage, I check to make sure there’s no fretboard shrinkage or whatever. I don’t want to open something I haven’t seen in a couple of years and find it’s all completely jacked!

“Take care of your instruments and they’ll take care of you. People tend to overlook this stuff when they’re starting out.”

Tip #2). You can absorb ideas from every style of music
“This is something I wish I could tell myself 25 years ago: be open to all styles of music! Don’t get trapped into the style you mostly play. I think there’s just good music and bad music, rather than styles.

“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really opened my mind to more and more styles, using new things for inspiration to help me create. It doesn’t have to always be death metal! There are a lot of amazing guitar players out there… go and find them.

“Al Di Meola, for example, has had a huge amount of influence on me. The stuff he was doing back in the 70s… I listen to it now and it’s unbelievable. I’ve been in awe about how fluid he is! There are a lot of jazz guys I’m a fan of, like Wes Montgomery.

“A lot of that understanding comes from listening to different styles of music. Because metal is very black and white in how it’s played. It’s aggressive and always on 11, rather than about dynamics and other things. Listening to different styles help you get those other little things that make the great players really great!”

Tip #3). Meet people and don't be afraid to ask questions
"Play with others and be open-minded. Whether it’s other guitar players or other instrumentalists, just get yourself out there. You can learn so much that way and it’s good for you. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been doing it a while, working with other people is a fun thing to do.

“When you’re jamming, working back and forth… whoever you’re playing with might suggest things you might not think of. It’s a case of being challenged sometimes, when you need to be. That’s why it’s good to play with others.

“A lot of good comes from being open-minded. If you listen to our self-titled record, which is now, like, 15 years old or something like that, and compare it to House Of Gold And Bones, our songwriting has come so far.

“We’ve made five records in that time and one thing we always talked about was never releasing the same record. We’ll help each other try anything different, even if we’re scared there might be a negative response… That’s how you write the best songs you possibly can. You might end up with a Hesitate or an Absolute Zero!”

Tip #4). Play what makes you happy, not what people might like
“Be yourself! I know it sounds really cliché… but you gotta follow your heart. Forget what other people might want to hear or whatever the trend is. Those that aren’t afraid to step outside of their box or comfort zones are the ones that are going to push music forward in five or 10 years.

“It’s not going to be someone following every little step in every article; it’ll be the guy that says, ‘I don’t care about any of this! This is what I hear and want to play.’ That’s who will be the next Van Halen or Hendrix.

“So don’t care about what anyone else says… even when it comes to running effects, just 'cos you might not know anyone else that does it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try it! That’s an important thing as a player. Do what you think you should do!”

Tip #5). Practice with a metronome for at least 15 minutes a day
“I do this myself with any basic exercise. I’ll go up and down the neck using fingerings like 1234, 1243, 134, 124 as hammer-ons and pull-offs. I start around 80bpm and go up to about 120bpm.

“My main focus is literally just locking into the click – it’s not about going fast. It’s about being as clean, accurate and locked in as possible. I have no effects on my signal, just a raw, clean guitar.

“Practicing is very important. But make sure to remember it’s not the only thing to do. Along with the technical aspects, you need to consider arrangement, tone and much, much more.

“Queen are the perfect example of how you can be complicated and layer stuff but still sound musical. It’s crazy how many layers and harmonies are in their songs! But you could always strip their songs down to simple chords, too.

“We learned from bands like that and implemented it into Stone Sour. We want to push through and take things further. Look at it this way: you can sit there and add all the tracks you want, but at the end of the day it takes nothing to remove them!”

Micro Lesson 236: "E Minor" Classic Rock Riff

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 236"

This Micro Lesson covers a classic rock riff in the key of "E Minor." 

The riff functions from a fifth-chord harmony with the chord's roots based primarily off of the 6th and 5th strings with the power chords covering the harmony of the piece. 

The riff begins from an open, "E," 6th string and uses the power chord of, "E5," at the 7th position of the 5th string as it's focus. Within that same measure, the "E Minor Pentatonic," scale is used to bring in measure two with a riff. 

In measure two, the "D5 and A5" power chords enter in our underlying harmony while a "D maj." to an "A Major" Pentatonic phrase is played within the harmony. In measure three, the idea from measure one returns. It brings in a new phrase in measure four that covers two-note power chords of "G5" to "F#5" to "D5." 

There is a brief turn-around lick in measure four that will take us back to loop the part is desired. The part may also be omitted to end the riff upon the tonal center chord of "E5" or even possibly "E minor." 

When learning this riff, commit the parts to memory prior to building speed. The technique required to play the riff is not overly difficult. But, some areas will require more attention than others for obtaining a smooth flowing sound. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 236: "E Minor" Classic Rock Riff

10 Commandments of Bluegrass Guitar...

Courtesy of Andy Falco

Here are 10 tips I hope can help you if you are interested in grabbing that acoustic guitar and pickin’ some bluegrass music...

Andy Falco: I didn’t grow up listening to or playing bluegrass music, although that’s what I do for a living today. I cut my teeth playing electric guitar in garage bands doing classic rock songs by bands like the Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Rolling Stones, and the Beatles. I got deep into blues and played on the New York circuit as primarily an electric guitarist. Eventually, my journey through American roots music led me to bluegrass and I got the bug.

It was challenging to learn bluegrass guitar coming from electric guitar. There were different techniques to develop and it was significantly more physically taxing to me than playing the blues.

Metronome, Metronome, Metronome!
Having a good sense of time is the first step to sounding great with all music, but especially in bluegrass or string band settings where there aren’t drums. Practicing with a metronome is the easiest way to improve your timing, and you will see results pretty quickly. Whether you are practicing scale patterns, chord changes, or just playing a song for fun at home, put that click on. There are many free and cheap metronome apps for your Smartphone these days, so there’s no excuse not to have one.

Flip the Click
Speaking of playing with a metronome, here’s a tip to making it even more fun to play with. To my ear it’s most natural to play with the click on straight quarter-notes, but try playing with the click on the and of each beat. This is where the mandolin chop (the snare drum of the bluegrass groove, so to speak) would be and it seems to feel more like playing music rather than merely practicing with a metronome. To flip the beat in your head, let it click four times, then start your count between click 4 and 5. Keep counting the four beats of the measure until you are turned in your head, then start playing.

Learn It Slow
Always learn to play a new passage slowly, and always with the metronome. It’s much better to play even excruciatingly slow but in time, rather than speeding up and slowing down to get through a line or playing too fast and missing notes. If you do it slowly and commit it to muscle memory, it will be much easier to play the passage fast later.

Rhythm Is King
In a bluegrass ensemble, guitar players have a very important job—laying down a good solid rhythm. We might spend maybe three percent of a song playing a solo, if there is one. That means 97 percent of the time our job is to play rhythm. Therefore, that should be the ratio of lead to rhythm in your practice routine until you’ve got rhythm mastered. There’s no glory in rhythm playing from the audience, but there will be plenty from the musicians. When you can play great rhythm people want to play with you, period. It’s the opposite if you aren’t a good rhythm player—no matter how many breaks of “Blackberry Blossom” you worked up at 220 bpm. 

Learn Some Standards
Every genre of music has its standards — the songs that define the sound and style of the genre — and bluegrass is no exception. Learning and working through these tunes will not only give you a great place to start building your musical vocabulary, but you’ll also know material when you roll up to a jam session. Start by learning the chord changes, then the simplest form of the melody. From there, you can work up a solo by incorporating the melody and adding “ornaments” like some passing notes during rests in the melody or inserting a lick between phrases.

Here are a few to get you started: “Old Joe Clark,” “Fireball Mail,” “Salt Creek,” “Whiskey Before Breakfast,” “Angeline the Baker,” “Big Mon,” and “Red-Haired Boy.” Pay attention at local jam sessions, as you’ll start to notice that certain songs might be called out more. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the more experienced jammers if they could suggest any tunes as well. If you take their advice, you’ll know you have at least one other person to pick it with! Take a look at the video below to see super-picker Bryan Sutton absolutely tear through “Salt Creek.”

Find Your Palette
There are many tonal colors on your palette, and this is mainly controlled by your right hand. Play a scale up and down at a slow or moderate tempo. I like the chromatic scale because it doesn’t take any thought for the left hand, and the idea here is to focus on the right hand. Try moving your pick back and forth from the end of the fretboard all the way to right against the saddle.

Also, try changing the angle of your pick against the strings, starting with the pick perfectly parallel to the strings, then moving it slightly clockwise to increase the angle. As you can hear, you’ll hear different tones, and these can all be used to get whatever sound you feel fits the song.

Bluegrass guitar is particularly physical, so it’s important to keep your muscles relaxed. This includes not only your hands and arms, but also your shoulders, neck, back, and mind. If you are feeling tension build up in your forearm — let’s say it’s at seven out of 10 — try tensing up those muscles to 10 for a few seconds, then relaxing them. You should be able to feel the tension come down to a manageable level. Also, make sure you are breathing, which will aid in relaxing.

Playing smooth runs at fast tempos will sound better when you are more efficient with your motion. Try not to pull your fingers off the fret-board too much, and try not to over strum with your right hand. You can try to break bad habits by practicing very slowly, then increasing the tempo while always keeping tabs on your movements.

Practice for the Game
When you’ve mastered rhythm and start learning melodies to fiddle tunes, practice the rhythm with the melody. Once you’ve got the melody to the point that you can play it all the way through, put on your trusty metronome at a manageable tempo and play a round of the melody followed by a round of rhythm, then back to the melody and so forth.

All too often I’ve seen intermediate players in jams play melodies and rhythm beautifully, but struggle transitioning between lead and rhythm. People forget to practice moving between these two roles, so when they get to the jam, they fumble with the transitions. Even if you are an absolute rhythm master, if the form is AABB, at least play one A and one B to shorten the rhythm time. It really does help to always be practicing those transitions.

Record Yourself
It’s very difficult to fully analyze your own playing while you’re in the act. For a better perspective, record yourself and listen back. You’ll be able to hear problem areas, as well as identifying things that are sounding good. It’s important to understand your playing from the listener’s point of view. You’ll be surprised how different it sometimes can be.

Andy Falco is a guitarist from Long Island, New York, who specializes in American roots music. In 2007, he joined The Infamous Stringdusters and has toured all over the United States, Canada, and Europe. The Infamous Stringdusters have earned three IBMA awards, as well as a Grammy nomination. Andy also produces, engineers, and mixes albums in his home studio on Long Island when not on tour. For more information, visit

Micro Lesson 235: "F Minor" Neo-Classical Melody

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 235"

This Micro Lesson takes a look at a "NeoClassical" style melody line from the key of "F Minor." 

The sixteenth-note triplet melody operates between the "F Natural Minor" scale and the use of both "F Minor" triad arpeggios and other diatonic arpeggios from the key. 

In measure one we find a short "F Minor" triad arpeggio that is built from the root of "F" and then doubles-back across the chords. Measure two, carries along from there and runs across another pattern of our "F Minor" arpeggio. 

Measure three uses "Bb maj, Ab min., and G diminished" arpeggios to bring in our ending idea which pushes on the notes of "G and C" to produce a triumphant ending. The patterns are fairly manageable, however if arpeggios and faster scale lines are somewhat new to you it would be best to commit this melody to memory. 

Once the ideas are able to be played from memory, turn on a metronome and start increasing the tempo until the parts can be played quite quickly. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 235: "F Minor" Neo-Classical Melody

Compose Better Songs Using "Melodic Contrast"

Courtesy of Benjamin Samama

How to Use Melodic Contrast to Make Your Songs Way More Memorable

Last week we went over the form of a song: verse, pre-chorus, chorus, post-chorus, and bridge. This week, we'll talk about how to make these sections stand out from each other and how to not get lost in the grey noise that is a four-minute song.

When I was teaching at Berklee College of Music, a lot of beginning writers would bring in a song that was hard to follow. "Where was the chorus?" "Is this the verse?" "It all kind of sounds the same to me!" These are comments you don't want to hear from your audience.

The goal is to make sure that your listeners are aware of what section they are in at all times, even when they're not paying attention – which is what will happen most of the time. Chances are they're either driving their car, taking selfies during a concert, or slam-drunk grinding up on some dude /babe on a club dance-floor. 

What this means is that you need to make it very easy for your audience to know what's happening, and what part of the song we're in. "Can we sing along yet? Almost! The chorus is coming up!"

The main trick for songwriters here is called melodic contrast. What I mean by that is the difference between low- and high-range melodies and fast and slow melodies.

Check out these five hugely successful songs. What do they all have in common?

Taylor Swift, "Wildest Dreams"
Verse: low range and fast rhythm
Post-chorus: high range and slow rhythm

Whitney Houston, "I Will Always Love You"
Verse: low/mid range and fast rhythm
Chorus: high range and slow rhythm 

Shawn Mendes, "Stitches"
Verse: low range and fast rhythm
Chorus: high range and fast rhythm 

Hardwell feat. Jake Reese, "Mad World"
Verse: low range and fast rhythm
Chorus: high range and slow rhythm

Lianne La Havas, "What You Don't Do"
Verse: mid range and fast rhythm
Chorus: high range and slower rhythm

So, what's the overall consensus here? Verses: low and fast. Chorus: high and slow. Pretty much. It's a fairly simple idea, but once you notice it, it's hard to un-notice this in all your favorite songs.

This might be used to more extent in some songs and less in others. Some songs are just as fast in the chorus as they are in the verses, but then at least they're higher (like in "Wildest Dreams"). Some songs might be lower in the chorus than they are in the verses, but then at least there's contrast ("Can’t Feel My Face" by The Weeknd is a good example of this).

I am very aware that production and vocal performance can help a ton with creating contrast in a song, but those are a crutch. A great song needs to work just as much when it's sung on a single acoustic guitar as it does with full production under it. It needs to work just as much when a crappy singer does it at open mic night as when the superstar artist does it in a stadium with a professional band.

Also, notice how the rhythmic emphasis in each of the five songs is on the title. Every single time the notes get longer in the chorus, it's on the title. This is on purpose. The title is a hugely important part of a song. We'll discuss this more in a future article!

Benjamin Samama taught songwriting at Berklee College of Music from 2013–2015 and currently writes and produces pop music full-time in Los Angeles. His songs have been released by dozens of artists all over the world and enjoyed by millions.

Micro Lesson 234: "E Major" Triad Inversions Riff

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 234"

This Micro Lesson runs through a triad inversion rhythm guitar riff in the key of, "E Major." 

The riff uses triad inversions based upon our 5th string for their lowest tones. This method of using chord inversions is quite popular and songs like the, "Red Hot Chile Peppers - Under the Bridge,"  apply this concept to their chord changes in that piece of music. 

Triad inversions have three positions, they are the; "Root" "First" and "Second." The order is based upon which chord tone is in which position. If the First chord tone (the naming note) is in the bass, this is the Root Position. When the chords 3rd degree is in the bass, this is 1st Inversion. And, when the chords 5th chord tone degree is in the bass, we call that, the 2nd Inversion. The lowest tone of the chord can function within the bass at any point in time. The only rule is that if the chosen position produces an effect of nice voice leading between the chords, then it works, if it does not, try something else. 

In measure one of this lesson, the first chord is an, "E Major." The third chord tone is in the bass, (G# = 1st Inversion). The second chord of measure one is an, "A Major." This chord has an, "E," in the bass, (2nd Inversion). Measure two of our riff begins with a, "C# Minor," chord in it's, "Root Position." The final chord of our riff is, "B Major," and this chord applies it's 3rd chord tone in the bass position, (D# tone). This would be another example of a chord in the "1st Inversion," just like our initial chord of, "E Major." 

Take your time learning all of these fingerings if they are new for you. Over time they'll get easier. Be sure to work at using chord inversions in your own songs too. Enjoy the lesson!

Micro Lesson 234: "E Major" Triad Inversions Riff

Speed Learning for Guitar...

GuitarBlog: Speed Learning for Guitar...

This week on the GuitarBlog we're looking at "Speed Learning" for Guitar... 

The way that we learn and memorize song parts (both physically and on our guitar neck) will vary from student to student. But, one thing is for sure - every time we learn a new idea we will process information differently (using a specific order and sequence). 

And, generally, if we can't quickly nail down a guitar part, we're likely not applying the correct sequence at that time. An effective solution is that of using a two part process. This process will; #1. involve several different learning strategies, and #2. have us designing a new group of learning sequences that cause the riff (or the lick) to become more highly aware to our senses. 

Applying a learning strategy like this will ultimately cause us to become more alert and responsive toward the guitar part that we are trying to commit to memory. Enjoy!

Speed Learning for Guitar

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5 Ways that Famous Musicians Trained...

Courtesy of Jhoni Jackson

Most everyone will agree that honing your chops as a musician is a lifelong effort. If you're just getting started, that truth can make the initial steps seem that much more daunting — this article will help put musical training into perspective.

There's never a point where any musician can throw up his or her hands and declare, “Okay! I can stop practicing! I know everything now.” Every musician's gotta start somewhere, and it might help the ambitious amateurs to know that even the most famous players had humble beginnings. Of course they did, right? Nobody's born a fantastic guitarist or drummer. Serious dedication to improving playing skills is necessary work, no matter who you are.

Read on for five ways that well-known and well-respected musicians first began learning their craft. It's not all about university or classical training. There are many different routes to finding and fine-tuning your skills — and these examples should reassure you that, with the right amount of commitment, any method can lead to incredible results.

1. Professionals self-educate (at any point in life)
So many iconic musicians never took lessons, but instead taught themselves. Jimi Hendrix, Dave Grohl, Joan Jett, Prince, David Bowie—all self-educated. You don't have to start out as a kid, either. Marnie Stern, renowned for her finger-tapping skills, first picked up the guitar at 15, but abandoned it after only a few lessons. It wasn't until her 20s that she really began the process of mastering her instrument.

2. Top players approach learning conceptually
The experimental no wave scene of 1970s New York inspired Kim Gordon and her Sonic Youth bandmates to see music-making through an artistic lens. This conceptual, more abstract way of both writing and playing likely had a crucial role in shaping the raw, non-conformist style in which she continues to create. To this day, she still does not consider herself a musician in the traditional sense.

3. Great musicians constantly learn from others
Widely considered a guitar virtuoso, Tommy Emmanuel learned how to play from his mother when growing up in Australia. Meg White hadn't even tried drumming before marrying now ex-husband Jack White in the late '90s. He had a spare kit, so she began figuring out her style while they were simultaneously writing material together.

4. Pros know to play for audiences as practice
The Beatles gigged their way to perfection back in the '60s, performing more than 1,200 shows before the Beatlemania craze began. You don't have to start in venues, though. Joni Mitchell and Bessie Smith, (two legends of different eras and sounds), both spent a lot of their early years busking in the streets. (Mitchell had played a few clubs in western Canada before busking in Toronto).

5. Many professional musicians went to music school
If you can afford to go to music school and think you'd benefit from the education (not to mention the connections and resources), then go for it! Plenty of great players (of all genres) are formally trained in music.

Just keep in mind that conventional learning, while certainly valuable, doesn't guarantee a style or voice better than that of a self-taught artist. Like any method of learning, the gained knowledge is ultimately up to you and how you apply it.

Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.

Micro Lesson 233: "G Major" Open Chord Riff

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 233"

This Micro Lesson covers an open chord style riff in the key of, "G Major." 

The progression uses an approach that places it's focus upon open strings played around phrases in order to influence the sound of the harmony. The harmonic movement is of a, I-IV-V progression is the basis for this riff. 

The riff begins with a slide from the 4th string, "A to B," on 7th to 9th frets. Under this slide lick we have a sustaining open 3rd string which acts to create the harmony of. "G Major." 

At the end of this measure, a 16th-note triplet scale lick is used to bring in our second measure. Here, the "G Major" chord is further highlighted with open 3rd and 2nd strings. Another 16th-note lick is applied to complete the idea. 

In our third measure the progression brings in the, "C and D," chords of this key. The color of each chord is produced between the bass-note (Root) and their interaction with the open 4th and 3rd strings. The "C" chord takes on a, "sus2" effect. And, the "D" chord has a "sus4" sound. 

At the end of this progression we run across the sound of the Tonic Chord, "G Major," which applies open 4th, 3rd and 2nd strings. 

Take your time developing the chord layouts and open string set-ups. The fingering isn't too difficult, but mixing the different licks along-side the open-string patterns and passing licks may cause some technical challenges. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 233: "G Major" Open Chord Riff

Songwriting: What's the Purpose of Song Sections?

Courtesy of Benjamin Samama

In this article, I'll give you an overview of the different sections of a song, and the purpose each one of them serves.

Most songs start with the verse, so is the first thing the audience hears. Because of this, it is hyper-important that it’s not boring. There is nothing worse than a mopey verse sung over a lifeless instrumental. I will swipe left in 10 seconds if I hear a boring verse, and so will the rest of the world.

Here are two things you can do to keep your audience’s attention until the chorus hits:

1. The “Head Bop” approach: make it rhythmically exciting/driving

2. The “Say What?!” approach: make the lyric super interesting or heavy


Not every song needs a pre-chorus (and sometimes people mistake a long verse for a pre-chorus). Really, the only reason a pre-chorus exists is to set up the chorus in the best way possible. Usually in a melodic way.

1. Melodic contrast
If the verse is high-ish in range, then the pre-chorus needs to go low so the chorus hits harder when it comes in high again. If you take out the pre-chorus, the chorus wouldn’t be as epic.

2. Melodic bridge
If the chorus hits super high and the verses are super low, the pre-chorus could act as rise up all the way to the chorus. In this example, it also kind of feels like an “EDM build.” Essentially, it makes it less of an awkward jump up.

Everyone knows what a chorus is. It’s the part that you remember when someone asks you, “How does that song go again?” Or it's the part that you sing along to at a concert. In both cases, you will need to remember it, and you need to sing it. In other words, choruses need to be simple and sing-along-able. If your audience is running out of breath, or can’t remember the melody after hearing it a few times, you’re screwed.

Here are a couple of examples of super-simple choruses. Simplicity in this case means, "repeat the lyric and melody."

The post-chorus, as a section, kind of creeped into the popular conscience in the last 10 years. The way people are using it is to just pound the title in more and more and more. No extra information, no story, no nothing. Just repeat the title till you die.

Remember, the post-chorus happens after the chorus (hence the name).

Honestly, I try to avoid writing bridges as much as I can. Their only purpose is to make sure you don’t get bored halfway between the second and third chorus. (A better way to get the same result is to not write boring choruses, but whatever.)

Writing bridges is easy musically, because you can literally do whatever you want. Lyrically, though, if you do your job right, you’re gonna be fighting for things to say that aren’t redundant. My only advice: keep ‘em short.

Final Thoughts:
This was a lot of information, I realize that. Fortunately, most of ya’ll already kind of know this stuff. Still, it’s good to be reminded of the function of each of these sections so that in my upcoming articles, we don’t get confused on the terminology.

Just keep in mind, the reason I talk about these sections in a slightly mechanical and unartistic way is because they’ve been specifically created to be used like this. Each section has a function in order to get the best result, which is: make the chorus the most effective it can be.

Now that we have this first building block set up, next week we can get a little more in depth! Stay tuned.

Benjamin Samama taught songwriting at Berklee College of Music from 2013–2015 and currently writes and produces pop music full-time in Los Angeles. His songs have been released by dozens of artists all over the world and enjoyed by millions.

Micro Lesson 232: "F# Major" Jazz-Fusion Riff

Welcome to... "Micro-Lesson 232"

This  Micro Lesson runs through a Jazz-Fusion Chord Riff in the key of, "F# Major." 

The chord progression  applies a series of, "Triad Over Bass-Note," chords that operate mostly within the key of, "F# Major." However, at the end of this 2-bar phrase, the progression borrows harmony from the parallel-minor key (F# Minor), to produce an effect in harmony known as "Modal Interchange."  

Starting in measure one of the riff we find an, "F# major," chord played with a, "B," tone in the bass. This shifts over to a, "C# major," chord which applies another, "B," tone in the bass. The interesting use of these, "B," tones applied as bass-tones occurs from the octave displacement of the "B" bass tones. One "B" (the second chord's "B") is performed an octave lower. 

In measure two, the "F# major" harmony gets extended out to a 7th quality chord on the first beat. The chord is. "F# maj7/A#," and produces a rich color at the start of the measure. The last two chords are "A/D," and "B/E," chords. These chords are not from the key of "F# Major," but rather are borrowed from the parallel key of "F# Minor." This is a very popular sound in Jazz-Fusion called "Modal Interchange." 

Have fun learning this riff. The chord fingerings may feel awkward at first, but in time you'll memorize the fingering. Enjoy!

Micro Lesson 232: "F# Major" Jazz-Fusion Riff

10 Traits of the Creative Musician...

Courtesy of Bobby Owsinski

Here are some great tips that that have been floating around various blogs for a while about how to get creative and stay that way. 

Regardless of who created the list, it's still pretty good advice and something I wish I would refer to more often myself. Take a look:

1. The best way to get great ideas is to have lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.

2. Create ideas that are 15 minutes ahead of their time…not light years ahead.

3. Always look for a "second" right answer.

4. If at first you don’t succeed, take a break.

5. Write down or record your ideas before you forget them.

6. If everyone says that you are wrong, you are one step ahead. If everyone laughs at you, you’re two steps ahead.

7. The answer to your problem, “pre-exists.” You need to ask the correct questions to reveal the correct answer.

8. When you ask a 'dumb' question, you get a smart answer.

9. Never solve a problem from its original perspective.

10. Visualize your problem as solved before solving it. 

It's easy to let a creative block slow you down, but it doesn't have to. Even one of these ideas can get you those creative juices flowing again. 

Producer/engineer Bobby Owsinski is one of the best selling authors in the music industry with 23 books that are now staples in audio recording, music, and music business programs in colleges around the world, including The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook, Social Media Promotion for Musicians, Music 4.0: A Survival Guide for Making Music in the Internet Age.