Posts Tagged ‘guitar lessons’

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!

5 Resources That Will Enhance Practice Outside of Your Lesson

April 3, 2011

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

Wilson Harwood, Guitar, Banjo & Bass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Wilson Harwood


Many ambitious musicians choose to save a few dollars by teaching themselves.  I, myself, fall into this category as a banjo player. I currently take lessons for classical guitar, but cannot afford/find time for banjo lessons. As a teacher and student I am a huge advocate of learning from a teacher because it speeds up the learning process while also keeping you focused.  However, I also know that due to finances and time, many people choose to teach themselves at some point or another.  Below is a list of five resources that will enhance your lessons or help guide you if your not currently taking lessons.


1) Youtube:


At the top of the list is everyone’s best friend, Youtube. If you haven’t used it as a tool yet then do a search of your favorite song. Chances are you will find a lesson along with the recording of the song. Youtube is also a great way to get inspired.


2) UltimateGuitarTab:


Everyone has heard or experienced finding tab online only to realize something just doesn’t sound right.  I recommend this resource with a bit of caution.  I find tab to really speed up the learning process and can help you navigate the fret board when learning by ear fails you.  Use tab as an aid, but not the sole source for learning a song.  Try using the tab to help you while also learning by ear or on Youtube.


3) Books, Books, and More Books.


It feels overwhelming to step into a music shop and browse the books they have. Many seem either to easy, to hard, or simply don’t make sense.  Some guidelines when choosing a book are:

a)     Look for concise wording with out to much clutter on the pages.

b)     Look for books with CD’s or DVD’s. They really do help.

c)      Hal Leonard and Mel Bay are good beginner publishers, but may seem boring to the advancing musician.

d)     Try to stay away from books with extensive chord diagrams. I find many songbooks derive from piano parts not guitar parts.


4) Jam Sessions, Friends, Neighbors, Ensembles


Here at the lesson studio we teach ensembles to give students experience playing with others.  Private lessons are great instructional tools, but they will not give you experience playing with people.  Go to jams or open mic nights to play or simply watch.  You might meet others who would like to play on a regular basis.  If you have friends or family that also play, ask them if they would like to start a group or a regular jam session.  Mainly, until you play with others you will not feel the immense improvement it will bring to your playing.


5) Blogs and Music Subscription Services:


Hey, look, you are reading this blog and learning about some new techniques. Check out some other blogs such as,, Blogs will introduce you to new music, ideas, and musicians. They are a great way to get connected to the musical style you like.


Lastly, if time is your problem than maybe online lessons are the right choice.  More and more teachers are selling tab or full videos online.  I have come across a great site for metal guitarist at Kristofer Dahl is from Sweden and is a bit of a character, but also a great teacher.


Remember, these resources are helpful in enhancing your lessons with a teacher face to face.  I cannot emphasize enough the value in taking regular lessons.  If you have to take a break from lessons, use this advice to help keep you on track until you start lessons again.


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.

Working With Others – Some “Do”s and “Don’t”s about making music in a group

May 23, 2010

By Daniel Ondaro, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Daniel Ondaro, Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Daniel Ondaro

Lately I’ve been wondering how great bands work and why so many bands at all levels break up, get in fights, or in many ways are dysfunctional and unhealthy. There are typical problems that many bands go through despite their level of fame and success. Even the Beatles for example, one of the biggest bands in history, couldn’t keep it together. In fact one could probably say that the bigger a band gets the more there is at stake and that the stress level and tension between members can elevate much more easily. Many of the problems within groups may fundamentally be because of personality differences between members. Aside though from the personal issues between each member of the band, it is misunderstandings about each player’s role within the group and miscommunications about each players intention for the music that contribute to the demise of a band.

Behind each band is a shared idea and goal for which each player is contributing in order to create an interesting and effective group sound. If it’s a corporate wedding band, then each member will focus his or her energy on playing corporate wedding music. If it’s a Mariachi band then each member will play Mariachi music. As a band develops and its style becomes more refined, each member of the band begins to play a more specialized and specific role. That’s why, depending on the significance of the role, certain players become more and more valuable within the group. However, unlike a product or parts on a machine where if a simple or valuable part goes you can replace it with another exactly like it, if any member of the band leaves the whole chemistry of the band is affected and needs to be reworked even after that member is replaced. Bands therefore always have to be flexible and open to whatever changes may occur without losing sight of the fundamental element of the band, which should always be centered on the music and each players emotional and technical contribution to it. Even for bands that stay together, if either of those elements, the emotional and technical, are lacking from any member of the group then the band is in danger of creating a poor performance or possibly facing conflict because of dissatisfaction between members. It is therefore essential for every member to have an understanding about the overall intention of the band, and what each player is expected to contribute with his or her unique technical and emotional capabilities.

From my experience it is essential in working with groups to stay humble and cooperative while also being clear about your intentions and needs as an artist and player. If your needs and the overall needs of the group and music are not being meet then the band will suffer. Working in bands as a guitar player, percussionist and vocalist I have found myself in many diverse situations trying to work cooperatively with others. In all of these situations, beyond personal issues, it was miscommunications about the bands intention and the intention of the players that lead to their failure. The successful ones were the groups where we all found a common ground and were satisfied with the group and ourselves. I find it therefore essential to be honest and open with your band mates, instructor, and all of those with whom you try to make music with, about the needs of yourself as an artist and musician and the shared needs of your group in order to create great music with others.

Bass Player Needed!

May 13, 2010
Adam Buer, Bass Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Adam Buer

By Adam Buer, Bass Guitar Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Bass player needed:  the three most common words on music store bulletin board postings.  Very often people are under the assumption that playing bass is much easier than playing guitar.  Afterall, bass players only have to worry about playing one note at a time while guitarist are playing 3-6 note chords.   Just about every band has a bass player so it’s important to address the importance of the instrument.  In larger bands, if one instrument gets lost and stops playing often, no one notices.  If the drummer or the bass player get lost EVERYONE notices.  One professional bass player understood his role perfectly when he told me “Musically speaking, I am the earth…and everything is built on top of what I play.”  Sure, he was a little odd, but I understood what he was saying. It’s easier to sing, play, or dance when the lowest sounding notes are confidently played.  Furthermore, this bass pro was the kind of player who played the same 1 or 2 lines over and over throughout a song.  One of the difficult things about doing these kinds of bass lines is that it has to be perfect every time or listeners will notice a mistake instantly..

Beginning rock and roll guitarists sometimes start by playing simple chord progressions with the root note only and call this the “bass line.”  Once that is mastered, we add the 5th and octave notes to form a power chord.  Therefore, the beginning guitarist is under the impression that bass is easier than guitar because their only playing 1 note instead of 3.  Then, I point out to them that good bass players “connect the dots.”  What I mean by “connecting the dots” is that bass players need to learn how to add notes in between the basic roots of the chords.   For example, if a guitar is playing from a G chord to a C chord, the bass player can see the G and C on the neck as dots that can be connected with an A and a B.  Once their bass teacher helps them with an appropriate rhythm, they can figure out their own bass line with the pattern G, A, B, C.  Rhythm is a very important aspect of writing bass lines because the C must almost always be played at the exact moment the guitar switches to that chord.  Listening to bass lines and learning basic scales and arpeggios with your instructor is the first step in being able to create your own unique bass lines.

Sure bass players aren’t usually as successful as guitarists playing solo, but they are usually more successful than guitarists finding people to play with.  Again, every band needs a bass player and they are  rare in number compared to guitarists.  You don’t necessarily need to choose between bass and guitar either.   Many great bass players I’ve known also dabble with guitar chords.   If you are interested in playing bass I encourage to give it a try.  It has it’s unique challenges, but is well worth the effort.  Bass players are the earth…musically speaking.

Can You See What You’re Playing? And I’m not talking about the notes on the page.

March 9, 2010

By Hollie Bennett, Intern at The Lesson Studio

You know you’re a true music nerd when you start finding all the similarities between everything you do or see and how it could relate to music. And you know you’re especially bad when you just see something and bam! Now that you watched that special on the Discovery channel about outer space, you know how you can explain vibrato to the twelve year old. But really, finding those parallels between, let’s just call it this for fun, the “real world” and the “music world” can help you understand exactly what you’re doing even more than before.

Imagery is such a staple part in music, at least for me. Hearing a piece of music that really attaches itself to me makes me feel in colors, imagine stories and truly understand the emotion that the composer or performer was trying to convey. Part of me thinks that as a musician that is your true purpose in life is to tell the story, show the audience what is happening, even if you don’t know, you need to show that you do. Sometimes doing crazy things like pulling out your box of 64 Crayola crayons that you haven’t used since the fourth grade and literally coloring your music the color that you thinks conveys each part of your piece can do wonders. Even making up words to go along with what you’re playing or seeing a story that can play out in your head can get the emotional and expressive side to connect with the technical of your playing.

One of my favorite topics to bring up to students is the Olympics. I’ve probably been driving my students crazy trying to convince them to watch everything from figure skating to the super-g to curling. The parallels between musicians and athletes are really interesting to me. How much work each party puts into perfecting their own craft is mind blowing: hours in practice versus hours on the ice or snow. You can find so many similarities. Figure skating spins and trills is one of my own teacher’s favorite analogies. You can also think of the idea of balancing between technique and musicality as the way a speed skater like Apolo Ohno and J.R. Celski balance around their turns with speed skating. So go out and try to find those parallels and start imagining them will you play. It might just help even more than you’d think!

Tab vs. Music and Sight Reading for Guitarists

March 4, 2010

By Adam Bauer, Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Adam Bauer

Adam Bauer

How do you make an electric guitarist turn his volume down? … You put sheet music in front of them.  Ha! I remember hearing this joke a while back and wondering why guitarists are notorious for being bad sight readers.  Most instrumentalists are expected to be proficient readers of the standard system of music notation.  Why would the expectation be different for guitarist?  Is it our attachment to reading tab?  Is it the mechanics of the instrument?  Is it our training?  Our ability to read rhythms?  Or are we spending too much time in front of the mirror practicing our bend-the-high-notes facial expressions?  In my opinion, it is all of the above.

Some guitarist do begin their studies by reading music and this can be very advantages.  They establish a sense of precise rhythm and the confidence of playing a song exactly like it’s written on the page.  The songs they begin learning are very simple.  Great sight readers can play the the correct fingerings, pitches, rhythms, and style instantly.  Because some notes (ex. our middle C) can be found in as many as 5 to 6 places on the neck we can find ourselves with too many options to choose from. With sight reading you need to make quick decisions.  Fortunately, most notation for guitar contains left hand finger markings which tell you exactly which fingers to use and where.

On the other, tab ONLY tells you where to place your fingers and never which fingers to use.  Tab is easy to learn and a great way to learn the pitches contained in songs.  However, rhythm and style must be learned by listening to a recording of the song.  Proper fingering will also need to be decided from the tab.  This can be very difficult for students without guitar teachers.  Furthermore, for some people working on correct fingerings, pitches, rhythms, and style through tab could take just as long as learning to read music when all is said and done.  Guitarists and guitar-like instruments have read tab for centuries and there have always been a lot of successful beginning level players who use it.  For more serious musicians, I believe having some notation reading skills is essential.

Reading music in an ensemble or band is a great way to improve sight reading abilities.  Unfortunately, guitarist don’t always have this opportunity.  Besides, we can play a lot of fun things as solo guitarists.  One thing that has helped me greatly is reading by myself from methods, anthologies, fake books, and real books with a metronome. It’s fun!  Seriously.  Find something that you can read easily, at a slow and steady tempo, with the metronome. Your instructor can help you find things to look for in the music before you attempt to play it.  Play it 2 or 3 times without stopping until you reach the end.  This is sight reading.  If it is still too difficult, start with a beginning guitar method (without any tab!).  The many great method books used by the lesson studio guitar teachers are listed with the instructor bios.

Guitarists who can read are in demand for school jazz bands, chamber music groups, Musical pit orchestras, jam sessions, and solo guitar gigs.  Learning to read music on guitar is hard work, but is certainly worth the effort.  Get some sheet music, get a metronome and turn up your volume!

Classical Guitar – Guitars Unsung Hero

March 2, 2010

By Daniel Ondaro

Daniel Ondaro

Daniel Ondaro

Classical guitar is truly the unsung hero of guitar styles. While not nearly given as much praise as other styles, it still provides some of the guitars most complex and fascinating music. Tending to be overshadowed by louder, more in your face music, the classical guitar is constantly shrouded in misconceptions and stereotypes in many realms of music and musicians. The style however, moves on. Expanding the techniques and literature of guitar music in many interesting and organic ways through the ingenious work of excellent composers and performers of many different genres. By conducting a brief survey of the classical guitar’s instrumental, literary, and stylistic history one can gain an enhanced perspective on the guitars richest and oldest tradition while dispelling stereotypes and misconceptions commonly held about the style.

For thousands of years humans have been playing lute and other guitar like instruments but it wasn’t until the 15th century that the classical guitar as we know it started to take shape and gain popularity in Europe. Originally brought to Spain by the moors and redeveloped there, the early classical guitar like instruments attracted lots of attention in high courts and among the people. Early forms contained four of five sets of coursed strings (two strings for each pitch, usually in octaves) made from animal intestines. These instruments were much smaller than the modern classical guitar and were less potent in sound. As the centuries passed the instrument was able to grow larger (because of new technology to brace a large body), course strings were eliminated, nylon materials for strings were invented, and six non-coursed strings (three treble and three bass) became the norm.

As the instrument evolved so did the literature. As in other classical styles the classical guitars literature can be categorized into different periods of classical music history with each period growing out the old one, while reacting to it in different ways. These musical periods for the guitar include the Renaissance (in which early tab systems evolved and were unique to their European country of origin), Baroque (of which Bach was a large contributor to lute/guitar literature), Classical (a prolific time for guitar literature with works by Giuliani, Sor and others), Romantic, and 20th Century. It is however true that the literary evolution of classical guitar was indeed significantly later for each period compared to other western classical instruments and that as an instrument it enjoyed considerably less popularity in conservatories all over the world.

Many people theorize one of the contributing factors to its lack of popularity in classical circles and subsequent delay of stylistic evolution to be because of the public’s perception of the guitar in general as an instrument only used in folk styles. The more we study the stylistic elements of classical guitar, however, the more we can discover similarities to other classical styles and instruments in the western and world classical realms. Many classical guitarists place a great emphasis on tone, volume, etc. in hopes of achieving all the expressive possibilities capable of the instrument. Therefore much of the student’s time is devoted to practice of foundational and progressive exercises. Many methods have been created to build upon aspects of the classical guitar student’s physical and mental capabilities. Accordingly the student is expected to practice his or her skills for sight-reading, scales, and other elements essential to classical guitar playing in addition to repertoire. The apprentice style pedagogical approach remains at the heart of this tradition and is a fundamental aspect to the student’s progression. In general the stylistic and pedagogical approaches to classical guitar compare to many other styles of classical and non-classical music in that practice is done before hand in order to achieve great expressiveness and virtuosity in performance.

Today the style of classical guitar enjoys considerable popularity and recognition in many of the worlds leading conservatories and music programs. It is also being recognized in the public eye more and more by the incredible work of performers and composers such as Andres Segovia, Christopher Parkening, Joaquín Rodrigo and others. These people have indeed popularized the style of classical guitar in both the classical and popular realms and have helped dispel myths on both sides about the classical guitars capabilities and place within the world of music. Many players however still struggle to find a place in the classical realm and to be recognized by the general public. Because of this the style of classical guitar still remains the unsung hero of guitar music. One finds, however that through the historical and instrumental study of classical guitar one can gain an enriched perspective of the guitars evolution, literature and stylistic qualities as well as a deep interest in its oldest tradition.

How to Excel Locally, by Wilson Harwood, Guitar and Banjo Instructor

November 18, 2009

In my experience there is nothing to help you improve your playing more than to go out and play with other musicians. To me, this is the greatest part of playing and one of the strongest ways to improve song repertoire, inspiration, rhythm and countless other nuances in your playing. We cannot forget to mention it is a whole lot of fun as well. So, for those of you in the Boulder area, here are some places to start getting out and playing. I am speaking from the perspective of a bluegrass and old time enthusiast, but this advice could help any musician.

To start, let’s talk bluegrass. It just so happens there is a Colorado Bluegrass Music Society. Their website has a great page devoted to “Jams”. On Tuesday there is a jam in Lyons at Oskar Blues. I haven’t made it up to this one, but I hear it is a big one with lots of incredible players. On Wednesday, check out “The Big Pick Bluegrass Jam” at the Pioneer Inn up in Nederland. In our very own Boulder, Abo’s Pizza hosts a Thursday night jam at 7pm. Always call ahead to check times. Those were just some local examples, but there are many more in Fort Collins, Denver, Loveland and more!

So now you have picked a bit, how about seeing some pros. If you check out KGNU‘s website, you will find a list of upcoming bluegrass shows around town, both in large venues and tiny hole-in-the-wall bars. Seeing shows is also an integral ingredient in your education (I know — life is hard; right?). Check out the Southern Sun Pub to see show times and jam times, not to mention great beer.

When I said excel locally, I really meant locally. The best way to play more than once and with those at your level is to ask friends, co-workers, and neighbors if they want to jam. Try it out and if you find it to be to easy or hard or just bad chemistry, keep looking. If it works, try to play once a week. Having a goal with a group is a great way to get motivated. Hope this first blog helps a lot.

Next time I am going to write a bit about Santeria and the music of Cuba.

Have questions for Wilson, or would you like to schedule a lesson with Wilson at The Lesson Studio? Call 303-543-3777 or e-mail: thelessonstudio@comcast.netbanjo instructor, guitar instructor, The Lesson Studio