Archive for the ‘Guitar’ Category

After learning your basic chords, what’s next?

February 27, 2017

After learning your basic chords, what’s next? This is a common question that I get when teaching adult students who are self taught or have taken lessons for a few months. In this video, I describe a technique called travis picking and how it can be used to create more interesting arrangements with the basic chords you already know.



I hope you enjoy this instructional video. If you want to learn more about our program, visit and, and contact us if you’d like to sign up for in-person lessons!

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.

Guitar Tips!

May 5, 2013

by Mike Furry, Guitar instructor at The Lesson Studio

As a guitar player, it’s easy to overlook rhythm because we seem to be so focused on playing the notes but the rhythm is as important if not more important than the notes themselves. I could be playing the hippest notes but if my rhythm isn’t discernible then it doesn’t matter what notes I play because music is really the amalgamation of both harmony and rhythm. I could also be playing really bad notes but if I play them with a discernible rhythm then I certainly have a better chance to communicate more to the listener than if I was playing indiscernible rhythms.
In order to understand how rhythm works, it needs to be internalized. What do I mean when I say internalized? When a musicians is able to keep a steady pulse while playing a piece of music, without any outside help (drums beat, clapping, etc…) then the notion of rhythm has been internalized by that musician. In order to gain that internalization we must…PRACTICE. How do we practice rhythm? The use of a metronome is virtually incalculable to the skill of internalizing rhythm.

A metronome is a practice tool that produces a steady pulse (or beat) to help musicians play rhythms accurately. The pulses are measured in beats-per-minute or (BPM). Most metronomes are capable of playing beats from 35 to 250 BPM. The metronome is designed to help you maintain an established tempo while practicing, and learning difficult passages.

There are plenty of free online metronome sites that allow you to utilize a metronome without having to spend any money on it. When using a metronome start simple. I would suggest playing one note per beat (one “click” on the metronome equals one beat). After your comfortable playing one note per click, then try to play two notes per click. What does that mean? That means play a note on the click and play another note halfway between the first click and the second click. This creates a rhythmic imagination where we can understand where the middle of the beat is without hearing a click on the middle of the beat. From most people, this is the genesis of their rhythmic imagination or rhythmic internalization. From there try dividing the beat into three (triplets) and 4 (sixteenth notes). Once your comfortable playing these divisions of the beat, then try to play them at faster tempos by increasing the BPM. This internalization can then be applied to the songs that we learn and allows us as musicians to better replicate both the harmonies and the rhythms of the music that we love.

Mike Furry, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

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 Primary Text

June 1, 2012

By Mike Furry, Guitar, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

ImageRock is a term that has a lot of ambiguity. In his book, The Primary Text, author Allan Moore refers to the music as the primary text. He also argues that musicologists are too busy looking at social factors to determine the validity of a composition. The focus should be on the music itself.

There are several conflicting definitions of what rock means. Some say rock music is a rebellion against pop music. Some say it is pop music itself. Instead of trying to define rock music, it’s best to focus on the stylistic conventions in order to understand it. The techniques that are used to analyze classical music should also be used to study the music of popular society. Unique terms are essential in order to draw parallels between classical analysis and rock analysis. Historical, political, and sociological factors are also relevant in understanding music.

Rock has its own unique style. The music can be identified through specific techniques, such as electric instrumentation, guitar solos, and studio sound production. Because it is always progressing and changing with the times, ultimately there can be no definitive definition of rock, and there are many ways of articulating that musical sound. Finally, remember to always keep an open mind when listening!

It’s All About Creating a Great Sound

February 14, 2012

By Mike Furry, Guitar, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Furry, Guitar, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Mike Furry

As a guitar instructor here in Boulder, Colorado at The Lesson Studio, I’m always faced with the challenge of having to not only find new songs for my students, but also actually listening to, absorbing, as well as transcribing those songs for them. Lately, I’ve been getting into buying tablature books. is a great place to find these. I’ve found Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, Pantera, Metallica, and many others.

While they provide much needed support and guidance, it is still imperative that each player listens to the music. Use the tablature as reference, but the student must work out as must of the music as they can in their head. Most of the time, these books are correct—but sometimes they are not. And other times, you hear the song differently than what is in the book. If this is the case, I must say trust your instincts and play what you hear. At the end of the day, it’s all about creating a great sound—not about playing everything exactly note for note.

There is a series called the Guitar Tablature Edition. Anytime you find a book in this series, it’s a pretty safe bet that the music and tablature will be accurate, and will give you a detailed, precise account of what’s going on in the song. Good luck, have fun, and remember that music is just like any other skill—it takes research and dedication in order to succeed!

Don’t worry, it’s just music

January 30, 2012

By Dave Goldenberg, Guitar and Mandolin instructor at The Lesson Studio


Dave Goldenberg, Guitar & Mandolin instructor at The Lesson Studio

Dave Goldenberg


The idea of letting go has really helped me grow, both as a musician and a person.  When you are first learning to play an instrument or sing, it is common to get nervous or overwhelmed, and thus be less productive. Let me tell you, those feelings are perfectly normal. However, if you can find a way to relieve yourself of these unnecessary stresses, you will be all the more focused. Keep in mind; this doesn’t just apply to music, but to any task in life.

I am going to outline a list of ways to relieve the feeling of being overwhelmed, and thus get you, as a player, to not avoid your practicing or hinder your enjoyment of music.

First things first…  it’s just music folks! Nobody’s life is at stake. So before you even start working towards a goal, you must realize that you don’t really have to care. However, you do care, and being aware of that fact is an important realization.

So now that you have accepted that you have chosen to be here (I understand some children are an exception), you really need to narrow your goals.  What do you LOVE to listen to?  What music really excites you on an emotional level?  What kind of emotional response are you looking to get out of playing?  What are you not as into?

By answering these questions, you really get to the meat and potatoes of what you need to work on. Do you want to play chords well?  Do you want to play complete songs well?  Do you want to sing and play at the same time?  What songs really excite you?  Do you want to write your own songs?

Once you have answered these questions, you need to really narrow your tasks.  Practice one chord.  Practice one chord change to another chord. Practice one strumming pattern. Maybe work on each one of these in different weeks. Before you know it, you’ve learned an entire song. Then, before it seems possible, you know ten songs. Don’t worry about getting an entire section or an entire song the first week or two you try. Enjoy the process. Always be headed towards learning more, even if it’s the tiniest of baby steps.  The goal is to keep the tasks small so that you avoid getting overwhelmed…  and don’t worry if you get it wrong. It is just music, and it takes chutzpah to even attempt doing it!

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.