Archive for the ‘Bass Guitar’ Category

Creative Processes and Products- Order and Chaos in Dialogue

March 5, 2016

Jim Simmons no guitar

By Jim Simmons

When beginning to write your own music, you will quickly discover the need to record your ideas. Soon after this discovery, another usually follows: namely, the need to make decisions about the ideas that have emerged.

These two problems have many solutions, and that is a good thing, because as you grow in your craft, so too, will your craft change. Even stranger is the fact that your creative process will also undergo its own changes and life cycles. Let me give an example:

Genesis used to write all of her chords down on paper, with the lyrics underneath, but now that her guitar technique has improved beyond simple chord playing, she’s found it difficult to describe what her guitar accompaniment is doing with words, letters, and symbols on paper. After trying to notate riffs and ideas simply by labeling them as they occurred (idea 1, idea 2), she became frustrated at never quite remembering what she had played. So, then Genesis began to video herself playing the ideas.

Now, what could some of the hidden difficulties be in the new approach? Perhaps our song writer still has the necessary and difficult task of sifting and choosing before her, and this may not just apply to different sections of the song—perhaps, she’s discovered there are two versions of a section that seem equally satisfying, and she can’t choose between them.

I have recently been undergoing certain changes in my own creative process, similar to the ones described above. I want to offer a few encouragements to any creators out there who’ve struggled with such challenges.

First of all, your song, project, piece, whatever it is—it doesn’t have to be the end-all-of-all perfect artistic/musical statement that you make. So, don’t feel the need to put all of your ideas into one song/piece/etc. Hopefully, you’ll write more in the future, so leave something else to say for later projects. Secondly, if you have differing versions of a musical section, that may be a good thing, since deliberate variations often lend interest to the listener. Regarding creative process, remember that just because it’s a “process” doesn’t mean it has to be systematic. It’s true that sifting through videos, audio recordings, lead sheets, and other sorts of sketches can be a chore, but such work will always bear fruit. Even if you wind up creating “too much” material, you may eventually use some of the leftovers to get you started on another work.

Lastly, creativity is, in my mind, more a way of life than a means to an end. It’s true that an artist should seek to share their work with others, and that it’s a shame when an artist never gets their ideas out of their head. But, similarly tragic is an artist haunted by perfectionism and the fear of failure. As good as you (and I) want that song, or piece, or project to end up sounding, creating music and art are values in-and-of-themselves. So, on one hand, be passionate about the quality of your finished product. But, on the other hand, be free, messy, methodical, imperfect, and committed to the chaotic, ordering process of creativity.

Here are some videos documenting a piece as it grew. I was sick at the time, and not very concerned with my playing technique, so some of the notes sound pretty bad, and some of the videos end with me more frustrated than satisfied, but I am so glad I can now reference these for the new version of the piece that is now underway.


Happy Creating!

Jim Simmons


Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Part 5


Part 6


Handing Mistakes

February 15, 2015
Michael Sebulsky

Michael Sebulsky













By Michael Sebulsky

Whether it be playing a memorized, classical piece in a concert hall, playing a jazz solo at a local jam, or simply sitting and learning with friends around the campfire mistakes are likely to happen. A mistake is defined as an unintentional musical moment, contrary to musical expectation. Some mistakes seem more critical than others. Whether it is a broken guitar string, a wrong note played on the piano or a vocalist’s voice not reaching the expected high point a mistake does not have to end or ruin a performance. Most good performances contain a mistake, if not more than one. Chances are that if you have seen a live music performance that you have seen many mistakes, whether you noticed or not.

Instead of being afraid of making a mistake, a practicing musician can follow the following tips to learn how to make mistakes and other “unintentional musical events” a part of a good, smooth musical performance.

1. Practice performing

One of the most important aspects of a good performance is to practice the attitude and experience of the performance. This can be done in many ways. Ask your close friends (whom you feel comfortable around) if you can perform your music for them. This is a great way to experience the sensation and nerves of performing for a group of people, albeit people who you know to be your “musical allies.” Allow the performance to go on, no matter what! This is where most of your mistakes will come to light. Allow your friends to give you honest and constructive feedback and feel free to ask them questions about the performance. Remember that your experience of your performance is not always (or ever) the same as the experience your audience has!
Practice performing can happen while learning a piece of music, even before the entire piece is ready. A musician can be well benefitted by working section by section through a piece for performing. When a certain section seems ready (even when the whole piece isn’t) the musician can enter into “practice performing” by not allowing themselves to stop while playing this section. Making notes of what went well, what felt shaky and what went not according to plan at this stage in the learning process can help to better shape the remainder of the piece.

2. Do not memorize the mistake.

So many times we let a mistake stop us in our tracks. (There will be more about not stopping in the next section.) By stopping, we are actually setting ourselves up to repeat the same activity. Muscle memory plays a huge part in this activity. One great way to remove the muscle memory is to take a break, and begin the learning process of the mistake section again. Good, successful practice sessions allow the musician to not only practice the notes and chords of a tune but also the mental strength and focus necessary for executing the performance with excellence. Mental fatigue can cause mistakes. So get up, grab a glass of water or a piece of fruit, talk to someone for a moment and distance yourself from the learning momentarily. When you return you will see what parts of the piece are memorized both mentally and muscularly. Sometimes slowing down and starting from scratch causes a musician to focus more on the music, and not the expectation of an error.

3. Don’t stop and focus.

Stopping is the most commonly repeated mistake. We stop because we are not expecting what has just happened. Stopping during the performance of a bad note negates the correct rhythm and placement of the note. Do not allow a note to be both bad melodically and rhythmically by stopping! Instead, allow yourself the opportunity to play the unexpected, incorrect note and allow it to be apart of the performance. In most cases, one wrong or bad note is not something your audience will remember or even notice. By not stopping, the performer draws less attention to the unexpected error and more attention to the overall performance.

4. Practice fixing the mistake.

The activity of fixing a mistake is not one that any musician should endeavor to work on during a performance. In fact, while practicing performing, the idea of stopping is completely frowned upon. Instead, continue playing and practice the activity of not stopping when a mistake occurs. What you will learn is akin to an entirely new skill, that of thinking on your feet as a musician. This is where mental focus on the piece is crucial. Knowing your piece can allow you to patch a mistake during a performance without stopping and smoothly guide you to the next section of your work.

5. Make the mistake a part of your playing.

The great Chet Atkins once quipped that, “The first time I do it, it is a mistake. The second time it is my own arrangement.” A performer can benefit from the idea of knowing that some errors actually help the performance to sound unique! Essentially, not all mistakes are bad or contrary to a good, solid performance. There is no such thing as the mythical “perfect performance.” Therefore, allow mistakes to be a part of the overall sound of the performance and do not let them distract from the larger picture, which is a musical, smooth performance.

Using these tips should help your practice time, your performances, and your understanding of how to handle mistakes. Taking each one of these tips and applying them to your daily study will show results quickly and benefit your overall performing, making your instrument much more enjoyable to study.

The Importance of “Jamming”

March 12, 2013

By Casey Cormier, Guitar instructor at The Lesson Studio

Musicians of all ages can benefit greatly from collaborating with other musicians, no matter what age or level of playing experience.  Private lessons in a one-on-one setting are paramount to developing technique and learning the fundamentals of music theory, but outside of that half or full hour block of time what can be done to improve?  A daily practice routine, as well as a weekly “jam” session with other musicians, is a great way to further any player’s abilities in an efficient manner.  For a violinist, this could mean playing with a quartet of other string players (cello, viola, other violinist).  For a drummer, this could mean joining or forming a rock band.  Vocalists can get in on the fun too, finding a pianist to accompany them or another vocalist to offer harmonies.

One major obstacle in getting the budding musician involved with collaborative music making:  self confidence!  In part this is the instructor’s job, to reassure the student that, at any level, they can participate in a jam session, even if it’s just playing one note per measure.  But some responsibility must be put upon the student to make that initial step.  Programs such as the Rock Band and Bluegrass ensembles, put on by The Lesson Studio, can help make this step an easier one, with the support of an experienced music instructor guiding the budding players towards musical cohesion.  Even if it’s just one other musician to play with for an hour a week, in between private lessons and solo practice time, the benefits are immeasurable.

Casey Cormier, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Casey Cormier

Scales & Why You Should Practice Them

August 17, 2012

By Casey Cormier, Guitar & Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Casey Cormier, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Casey Cormier

“Eat your vegetables before dessert,” says Mom.  “Stretch before taking the field,” says Coach.  “Practice your scales before playing that song,” says music instructor.  What do all of these things have in common?  Many consider them boring, or unnecessary, but all are good for you!

I’ve been asked many times before, by all ages of guitar students, “do I have to play this scale?”  I always say, “You don’t have to, but your hands will thank you for it in the long run”.  Scales help stretch your fingers, improve your picking and fretting technique, and prepare your wrist for those challenging chord switches.

Of course, the ability of the student should inform what scales he/she practices.  For beginners, the C major scale is great practice for the open position natural notes, ear training (do, re, mi can be sung along to it), and outlining the C major chord.  For intermediate players, the pentatonic scales (5 notes per octave) are great for strengthening the wrist, and provide barre chord approximation as well as lead guitar preparation.  For advanced players, playing the modes – Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, and so on – is equal parts ear training, technique building, and hand strengthening.  Not sure what some of the terms above are?  Don’t worry, you’ll learn as you progress on your instrument of choice.

Scale practice of all types can become stale, so it’s important to mix it up with some exercises.  A metronome is always useful for pushing one’s abilities.  For guitarists, try string skipping, playing in 3rds (do, mi, re, fa, mi, sol), and alternate picking to keep it fresh.  No matter what, you’ll have that song to look forward to after a quick warm-up session, and be surprised by how much easier playing will become!

The Importance of Musical Lessons

August 1, 2011

By Mike Furry, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Furry, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Furry

There are a lot of intriguing studies that show that music training has a significant impact on the development of the brain. Many scholars are becoming more convinced that music lessons are an effective way to stimulate development and cognitive reasoning. Below are some of the most compelling reasons why music lessons are beneficial.

1. Learning The Language

Learning to read music is like learning another language. You have to understand, translate, and respond. Playing an instrument requires the operation of complex physical and mental procedures. These procedures enable the instrumentalist to aurally present the music notation through finger coordination and recognition of symbols.

2. More developed Motor Skills and Brain Connections

Musically trained children show better finger coordination and faster recognition than the non-musicians. According to a study performed by Winner and Schlaug, brain scans of musically trained children show more defined brain connections than those who have not received any music training.

3. Better Overall Performance at School

The recent study of the College Board, the institution that oversees the Scholastic Assessment Test, or SAT, showed that students who are regularly taking music lessons scored, on average, 51 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 39 points higher on the math portion than non-musician students.

We’ve heard it a lot of times – children’s brains are like sponges. They have the ability to learn a lot more than adults can. Why not start early and give your child a head start in life? There are many theories that are the subject of dispute among educators but there is one thing everyone agrees on – music lessons are beneficial for your children.

Building a Woodshed

July 10, 2011

 by Josh Kossman, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman

Don’t worry, this is not a blog about carpentry! Wood shedding is musical slang for getting some serious/productive practicing done, and THAT is what this blog is all about. Proper wood shedding can be broken down into three steps: creating a blueprint of what you want to accomplish, locking yourself inside, and shedding your old habits/licks for newer and more improved ones.

The first step to productive practicing is to create a blueprint for yourself; that is set little (and big) goals to accomplish each time you sit down to practice. While it’s definitely beneficial (and fun) to sit down and strum a few tunes, it’s not always the most productive. In order to grow and improve while we play we must narrow down what we play. Instead of aiming to play an entire song, we should only play the sections that we’re struggling with. Say there’s a difficult chord change in a given song; instead of playing the whole song and playing through that change, we should solely focus on that part. Set a little goal (draw a blueprint) for yourself and work at it, and you’ll find yourself able to play that part a lot quicker!

The next step in wood shedding is simple: lock yourself inside! Productive practicing should be devoid of all outside distractions (yes, you’re cell phone is an outside distraction). Once inside the shed you should only be focusing on what it was you went in to work on. You’ll see and hear your mistakes a lot clearer and you’ll find yourself growing and improving a lot faster, trust me.

The last step in productive wood shedding is to accept that the way you’ve always played a certain lick or chord might not be the best way to play it. In order to improve as musicians we have to look how we’re playing and how we can streamline/maximize. Personally, I’m constantly changing my technique and expanding my options for playing certain styles, which means I’m constantly in the wood shed shedding my previous techniques and outlook on musical in general. The best part is, the more we change the easier it gets to change again!

So now when you hear a musician talk about Wood Shedding you’ll know they’re not talking about a strange skin issue or their weekend backyard projects. They’re talking about something we all should do, and we all should do more, practicing! After all the only way to improve and be able to play on whatever stage we wish is to…Practice, Practice, Practice. Happy shedding!

Tips on Composing

February 6, 2011

By Mike Furry, Guitar & Bass Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Furry, Guitar & Bass Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Furry

Musical composition is a challenging and rewarding practice. Learning how to compose music that is engaging and interesting can be very difficult for some people to learn. Composing music doesn’t have to be like doing a math problem. Here are some helpful steps that I’ve found to assist me when composing.

1.         You Can’t Be Wrong.

Remember this while writing music. It will make you feel better and help you avoid writer’s block. Writing music is one of those things you can do and never make a mistake because it’s your song.

2.         Define Goals.

Is this composition for you, or for someone else? This will change the tone entirely. What’s the attitude? What’s the point? Having a message or theme can keep the creativity flowing. Who/what inspired the composition? Where did it originate? It’s important to convey this in the music.

3.         Change Is Good.

It’s easy to find a great arrangement and want to showcase it time and time again but change can help you grow as a composer. Try picking up an unfamiliar instrument. It may lead you to a different finish line.

4.         Learn From Others.

There is something to be learned from every single musician or band out there. Listen to how your favorite musicians construct their songs—examine the style, the tone, how different instruments work together and so on and so forth. You can implement many of the same ideas into your own music.

5.         Practice.

There is no substitute for hard work and practice. It is the only formula that will guarantee you will become a better songwriter.

6.         Have Fun!

Write music because you love music. The idea is to enjoy it. If you get frustrated, then put it down and walk away. You’ll find that after a few minutes you’re ready to start back up.

Caring for your Instrument as the Weather Changes

January 30, 2011

By Josh Kossman, Guitar/Bass/Mandolin/Ukulele Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman, Guitar/Bass/Mandolin/Ukulele Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Josh Kossman

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably noticed vast and sudden changes in our beautiful Boulder weather lately. What most of us probably haven’t noticed, however, is the effect the changing climate has had on our instruments, specifically our acoustic stringed instruments. Even slight changes in temperature can cause our strings to go out of tune but 30 degree swings, like the ones we’ve had the last few weeks, can do considerable damage to our instruments. Luckily, there are steps we can take to prevent such damage from occurring.

The first and most important step to your instrument protection is keeping it stored in a climate controlled area, NOT in your garage or car. Again, even slight temperature variations can cause your strings to go out of tune, but varying temperature extremes (for example, leaving your guitar in the cold car all day and then suddenly bringing it into an 80 degree house) can actually cause the wood to warp and possibly even crack. Instead, store your instrument at home, where the temperature won’t be changing so drastically. And if you have to bring it along with you to work, don’t leave it in your car. Instead, bring it into the office to store for the day. That way, when you bring it into The Lesson Studio’s heated facility it won’t crack or warp.

The second step in instrument protection is maintaining good humidity. This is especially important in Boulder’s dry air. All instruments, but especially acoustic stringed instruments (mandolins, guitars, ukuleles, violins, violas, cellos, etc…) need a healthy amount of humidity where there stored so that their wood doesn’t dry up and crack or split at the seams. Some of us have humidity controls in our heating devices at home, but for the rest of us we need a different solution. The best thing for the instrument would be to buy what is called a Damp-It®. A Damp-It® is a holed rubber tube with sponges inside that you would insert into the sound hole of your instrument. It is outfitted with a nifty clip so that it won’t fall all the way in. When wetted the Damp-It® will moisturize and greatly extend the life of your instrument. If you cannot get a hold of a Damp-It®, you can poke holes in a 35mm film canister, fill it with a wetted sponge and keep it in your case. This works, but is not as effective as a proper product manufactured to moisturize your instrument.

The third thing we can do, and by far the simplest, is to just keep an eye on our instruments. Every day you should check the wood on your instrument. Look for warps, bends, cracks, or splits. Hold your instrument so you can look straight down the neck and check if the angle is true. Play a bit and listen for buzzes or anything that sounds odd. If you do find something that troubles you, bring it into The Lesson Studio for your teacher to look at, and hopefully it will be something simple we can fix.

I hope this blog has shed light on some basic instrument maintenance techniques. As musicians, it’s extremely important we keep our tools-of-the-trade in good functionality and tone. It makes it easier to play and easier to listen to. So, enjoy the changing weather, but be wary as well. Keep a steady eye and an ear on your instruments and treat them with the love and care you would yourself.

Essentials for Guitarists

October 24, 2010

By Mike Furry, Guitar and Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Furry, Guitar and Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Furry

As a guitar instructor in Boulder, one of the most common questions I’m asked during a music lesson is “how do I learn this song?” As I answer my students’ question, I find that the most essential elements needed, in order to learn any composition, are often overlooked by students.

When a student comes to me wanting to learn The Beatles, I always ask them “what does it mean to truly learn the song?” The most common answer I get is “to know the chords.” Knowing the harmony is one of the essential elements to memorizing any composition but there are several other fundamental techniques that will help a student on their journey to committing the song to memory.

Rhythm is the name of the game. Without rhythm there can be no music (in the traditional sense). Rhythm is usually the first obstacle I encounter when teaching students a new song. Students often want to learn the notes before they learn the rhythm and I believe it should be the other way. If someone can sing the rhythm to a melody then they are more than half way to learning how to play it on guitar.

Listen to the recording! This seems like an obvious statement but time and again students are not spending enough time listening to the recording. The more you hear the song, the more the song is committed to your long-term memory. The key is to listen to the song so many times that the student can:

  1. Play along with the recording
  2. Perform the song in its entirety.

Practice every day! It makes sense to think practicing for two hours once a week is better than 10 minutes everyday but it is not. It is more efficient to practice for five minutes everyday than two hours once a week because there has to be consistency. The more consistent the practice routine, the more advanced the student.

“Nothing in life is hard, it’s just unfamiliar.”

– Rodney Booth


July 15, 2010
Wilson Harwood, Banjo/Guitar/Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Wilson Harwood

By Wilson Harwood, Banjo/Guitar/Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

I am sure we have all read books, been to classes, and heard our music teachers talk about practicing. I am going to add to the discussion in hopes that a simplistic approach may turn you on to the daunting task of practicing.

In Tina Lynn’s book, “What I wish I knew when I was 20” she states that things are best managed in threes. Using Tina’s advice I found that practicing is also best managed in tasks of three. Start your practice session with a warm-up.  Without warming up our tendons are too tight to play our instruments. They need to stretch and ease into our playing.  Warming up could be running through scales and arpeggios or it could mean playing a simple song that doesn’t require much strength.  The choice of  a warm up is up to you and is best if it is something you are working on. Examples of warm-ups include working on vocal pitch, exercises with a scale, or playing through the chords to a song.

After warming-up we move on to the second part of practice.  The goal is to focus.  I think everyone feels that they have so much to learn that 30 minutes of practice will never lead them anywhere.  The truth is that little steps towards a goal will be much more rewarding than trying to practice a handful of things at once.  For your second and third parts of practicing pick two things you really want to learn. This could be a technique, memorizing song lyrics, or working on a lead. The important part is to narrow exactly what it is that you want to accomplish. The more focused that goal is, the easier it is to practice.

Now that you have chosen a warm-up and two goals to work on you are ready to sit down and practice. Hear are some tips while practicing:

  • If you are feeling frustrated with one of your goals, move on to the next or take a break. Walk around the block and get some fresh air and then come back.
  • Engage your mind. Write on your music and try to visualize how you would play a part on your instrument. Interact with your music and try to avoid passive noodling around.
  • Practice without your instrument.  Listen to the songs you are learning. Test yourself by saying note names if you are learning to read music.  Practicing does not have to mean playing your instrument.

Here is the simple re-cap:

  1. Warm-UP
  2. Practice Goal 1
  3. Practice Goal 2

Its up to you how long you spend on each part.  Remember to practice the same goal at least three days in a row to really sink it in to your brain. Most of all have fun feeling that you are accomplishing your objectives.