Improve Your Improvisation – by Mike Overly

October 2, 2014

Improv SignHere is something surprising. Even if you know the key signature of a song, you still don’t know what key you are in. This is because one key signature represents two keys: one major key and one relative minor key. And even after analyzing a song to determine the correct key, you might not be able to improvise. This is because you still need to know what scale to play. As we will learn in this lesson, that’s not always an easy choice to make.

Let’s begin with a traditional definition of improvise, also known as extemporize. Improvise is the creative activity of immediate, in the moment, musical composition. Improvisation combines spontaneous theoretical and technical actions coupled with the communication of feelings and emotions. Improvisation may also include immediate responses to other musicians. Individual musical ideas of improvisation are united on the ground of shared harmonic changes, called chords. And because improvisation is a performative action, which depends on instrumental technique, a major component of improvisation is skill. It’s important to remember that there are musicians who have never improvised, and there are other musicians who have devoted their entire lives to improvisation.

In contrast to the above complex definition, I simply define improvise as: free to choose. By this I mean, the improvisational musician is free to choose any scale or mode that they think sounds good with any chord harmony. For this lesson, let’s simply define a mode as an altered scale. Now, what’s important to remember is that the improvisor is the authority. The improvisor plays what sHe likes, to express how sHe feels!

Improvisational music of “uncertainty” differs from traditional music of “certainty” in that improvisational music enfolds, whereas traditional music unfolds. By that I mean, traditional music begins with one scale which unfolds into many chords with certainty, whereas, improvisational music begins with one chord that enfolds many scales with uncertainty.

With this elementary beginning, we can now understand that improvisational music is the enfolding of one chord into many scales and modes. In other words, improvisation is the traditional unfolding music process reversed in an enfolded retrograde manner. Said in a different way, in traditional music the scale is known first and from that known scale you spell the harmony. In contrast, in improvisational music the harmony is known first and then you are free to choose any scale or mode that you feel sounds good with that harmony. Remember, the choice is always yours.

There are many, many scales and modes that may be played with any given chord. For example, a major chord triad contains the scale degree tone numbers 1 3 5, and any scale or mode that contains these tone numbers may be played. However, don’t forget, this is just a beginning, as there are no right or wrong sounds in improvisation – there are only sounds that you like. Said one more time, as an improvisor, you are free to choose any scale or mode you wish ~ it’s all about you!

The following are a few of the many scales and modes that you may choose to play with the major chord, tones 1 3 5 (one, three, five). At first, a scale or mode may sound unfamiliar and weird to you, that’s okay, just keep playing until that scale or mode becomes familiar. At that point, you will begin to “like it” and begin incorporating it into your improvisation.

Major pentatonic: 1 2 3 5 6
Scriabin: 1 b2 3 5 6
East Indian: 1 3 4 5 b7
Ionian mode: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Lydian mode: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
Mixolydian mode: 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
Melodic minor lydian mode: 1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7
Melodic minor mixolydian mode: 1 2 3 4 5 b6 b7
Harmonic minor aeolian mode: 1 #2 3 #4 5 6 7
Hungarian major: 1 #2 3 #4 5 6 b7
Byzantine: 1 b2 3 4 5 b6 7
Hundusian: 1 2 3 4 5 b6 b7
Octotonic hybrid: 1 2 3 4 b5 5 6 7
Symmetric hybrid: 1 b2 b3 3 b5 5 6 b7
Novem hybrid: 1 2 3 4 b5 5 6 b7 7
Taurus hybrid: 1 b2 b3 3 4 5 #5 6 7
OverMoto hybrid: 1 b2 2 3 4 b5 5 b6 6 b7 7

This same improvisational approach may be applied to the minor chord, tones 1 b3 5 (one, flat three, five).

Minor pentatonic: 1 b3 4 5 b7
Balinese: 1 b2 b3 5 b6
Japanese Hiro-Joshi: 1 2 b3 5 b6
Hawaiian: 1 2 b3 5 6
Scriabin minor: 1 b2 b3 5 6
Dorian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
Phrygian mode: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Melodic minor ionian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 7
Melodic minor dorian mode: 1 b2 b3 4 5 6 b7
Harmonic minor ionian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 7
Harmonic minor lydian mode: 1 2 b3 #4 5 6 b7
Natural minor ionian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Natural minor lydian mode: 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
Natural minor mixolydian mode: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
Neopolitan minor: 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 7
Hungarian minor: 1 2 b3 #4 5 b6 7
Moroccan: 1 2 b3 #4 5 b6 b7
Romanian: 1 2 b3 #4 5 6 b7
Taurus hybrid: 1 b2 b3 3 4 5 #5 6 7

And finally, this improvisational approach may be applied to the suspended chord, tones 1 #3 5 (one, sharp three, five).

Scriabin: 1 b2 #3 5 6
Japanese Kumoi-Joshi: 1 b2 #3 5 b6
Japanese Kokin-Joshi: 1 b2 #3 5 b7
Korea Ujo: 1 2 #3 5 6
Egyptian: 1 2 #3 5 b7
Korea P’yongjo: 1 2 #3 5 6 b7
Pacific suspended: 1 2 #3 #4 5 6 b7
Lydian suspended: 1 2 #3 #4 5 6 7
Morollian: 1 2 #3 #4 5 b6 b7
Tarrian: 1 #2 #3 #4 5 6 7
Sharno: 1 b2 #3 #4 5 b6 b7
Diamond suspended: 1 b2 #3 #4 5 6 7
Enigmatic hybrid: 1 b2 #3 #4 5 #5 #6 7
Romanian suspended: 1 2 #3 #4 5 6 b7
Belmontian hybrid: 1 b2 2 #3 b5 5 b6 6 b7 7

As was said earlier, there are many more scales and modes that may be learned and applied to chords, so, be sure to study pages 296 and 297 of Guitar EncycloMedia to discover other choices. http://www.12tonemusic.com/guitar/encyclomedia/

‘til next time, have some improvisational fun, no matter what chord you’re playing… I’ll be listening!

www.12tonemusic.com


The Process of Learning by Mike Overly

September 25, 2014

Mike Overly Custom Schaefer GuiatrA few months ago I asked my students to list ten questions they had about playing music and the guitar. I thought that the vast majority of questions would overlap and I could make a simple top ten list. But guess what?  Nobody asked exactly the same question. What I learned from this random sample of guitar players of all ages, levels and styles is that like snowflakes, no two musicians playing the guitar are alike, each one is unique!

Here are a few of their questions:   

Why is there a nut?
How do I make a solo sound interesting?
How do I tune by ear?
What are some common blues turnarounds?
What does modulation mean?
What is a triad and how many are there?
Which is easier to play, electric or acoustic?
What are inversions?
What is alternate tuning?
What does a whammy bar do?
Why are there two dots on fret 12?
Is learning to read music important?
How much should I practice each day?
How do I know what key I’m in?
How do I overcome nervousness when performing?
What is a power chord?
What is the definition of enharmonic?
What is a moderately slow shuffle?
What are flat wound strings?

And finally, how can you play lots of songs on the guitar if there are only six strings? This last question reminds us that there are no stupid questions – only stupid answers!

Now, even though these students didn’t ask the same questions, the questions they did ask fell into three broad categories which are sometimes hard to separate: music theory, guitar theory and the musician.

Simply stated, theory is what and how we think about music and the guitar, and technique is skill or, how well we play. In other words, we play what we think and we think what we’ve learned. Now, if playing is the result of learning, and learning is the result of questions answered, then how exactly do we learn? The easy answer is: slowly at the speed of thought, transforming understanding into knowledge, in order to practice. Practice is simply the repetition of what we’ve learned until we can play what we’ve practiced at a steady performance tempo. Tempo is the rate of speed of the steady beat. Said a different way, we learn, then practice, and then play.

So, what are we going to learn?

Basically, we learn three important concepts:

1. What to play: scales, arpeggios and chords, and how to apply them,
2. When to play what we’ve learned: time as rhythm, and
3. How  to play what we’ve learned: dynamics and techniques, such as bend, slide, etc..

Future lessons will go into greater detail about the “what, when and how” of music and the guitar, but for now, let’s answer one of the student’s questions: What is the definition of enharmonic?  
Enharmonic is “the same pitch” but not the same letter or scale degree tone number. For example, G sharp (G#) sounds the same as A flat (Ab), however, in the key of C major, G# is tone sharp 5 (#5), whereas Ab is flat six (b6). As you can see, the letter and scale degree tone number of any pitch is determined by the key you’re in, but that’s another question.

So, ’til next time, I invite all of you to send me your questions, or answers, which in turn will generate even more questions and answers. This is our dialogue ~ this is the Process of Learning.

http://www.12tonemusic.com

Guitar Image: Mike Overly Custom by Ed Schaefer Guitars.


Tone Note® Music Method for Bass Video – by Mike Overly

September 4, 2014

Tone Note Bass Front CoverThe Tone Note® Music Method for Bass makes it simple and easy to play fun and exciting music on your bass correctly from the beginning.

On the cover of the Tone Note® Music Method for Bass is a connect the dots picture of a bass which presents four very important ideas that a connect the dots picture teaches us: 1. start at the beginning, 2. continue in order, 3. the end connects to the beginning, and 4. when the last dot is connected ~ you can see the picture! These four ideas form the basis of this book.

The Tone Note® Music Method for Bass 1 contains a method book, rhythm book and song book. Each book is designed to present the benefits of the Tone Note® system with clear and simple step-by-step instruction. And each lesson within each book connects and continues with the last in a progressive order so that a person new to music and bass will learn the symbols and signs of music quickly and develop the skill to play bass easily. You will play and enjoy music and bass from the very beginning just like you hoped you would and as you practice, progress and improve, the better you will get, and the better you get ~ the more fun you have!

The purpose of the Tone Note® Music Method for Bass is to introduce a beginner of any age to the simple pitch Letters, tone (scale degree) Numbers and harmony Numerals of music. The following flowchart illustrates this.

Tone Note Music Flow

The Tone Note® Music Method for Bass answers this simple question: why is it so hard to learn to play bass? Is it the fault of the student, or is it the fault of the instructor? The answer is neither, it’s the fault of false methods. So, let’s clean the slate and begin anew with a truly unique 21st century revolutionary music method for bass.

Over the centuries, bassists have believed many false ideas and have kept adding more false ideas over time. This has created much confusion and has made learning music and the bass a problem. The Tone Note® Music Method for Bass solves this problem by keeping only the truth of the past and leaving the false behind.

And the truth is, music is a simple language that may be learned easily by anyone of any age. All that is needed is a clear and simple step-by-step method which will introduces what you need to know, when you need to know it. In other words, a method that presents one idea and then connects it to the next idea. Learning in this manner guarantees that you do not have any gaps between your thoughts and ideas about music and the bass. The benefit is, you will never feel overwhelmed or confused, and more importantly, you will never stop or quit! Understanding music on the bass will always be easy for you.

By the end of the Tone Note® Music Method for Bass 1 your technique will have greatly improved and you will have gained a solid theoretical foundation that will last you a lifetime and prepare you to connect and continue with the Tone Note® Music Method for Bass 2. Meet you there!

Here is a short video that will introduce you to the Tone Note® Music Method for Bass 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BM_gMaDbteI

’til next time, have some Tone Note® bass fun… I’ll be listening!

http://www.12tonemusic.com/bass/tonenote/


Learn Guitar and Bass with Grammy Nominated Music Educator Mike Overly

August 14, 2014

Here is an impromptu video interview I did last week with www.findaguitarteacher.com ~ please check it out and let me know what you think. And when you have a moment, watch more of my instructional videos on the 12tonemusic.com YouTube channel www.youtube.com/user/12tonemusic. Thank You.


Plan Your Practice and Practice Your Plan – by Mike Overly

June 19, 2014

metronomeAre you spending a lot of time and effort practicing and yet never seem to make any progress?  Then maybe you need to re-think what practice is and what you can do to make it more productive.

To the ancient Greeks, practice was definied as: do. Today, the definition of practice is: repeated action to acquire proficiency. You’ve heard the old saying, practice makes perfect, well, this is not entirely true!  Repetition alone will not make you perfect. You must practice perfection, or else you run the risk of repeating previous mistakes… and what good are perfect mistakes?

It’s been said that it takes seven repetitions for a memory to take hold and thirty five repetitions to erase that previously learned memory. Therefore, the concept of perfect practice becomes a necessity, otherwise you’ll end-up spending all your practice time trying to unlearn mistakes – with no time remaining to make progress! This unnecessary waste of time results in frustration, disappointment and lack of confidence. In other words, you feel like quitting. So, to help you avoid this and many other negatives – remember: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

Some say that the goal of practice is the performance. I tend to think of it this way: practice is for yourself and performance is for others. However, I would agree that practice is the learning of the individual parts and that performance is putting the parts together holistically so as to play them as a whole from the beginning to the end. In other words, practice is digital (start and stop) while performance is analog (continuous).

Whatever your performance goals are, daily practice is essential for the goal to be reached. By setting aside a short amount of time, at the same time each day, you will start to develop the process of practicing and begin to create good practice habits that will last a lifetime.

It’s important to note that each practice session is made up of many sections. And when each section is followed routinely, your practice session will become more productive. This will lead you to a more successful performance. Although the responsibility to practice is yours alone, encouragement from a parent, spouse, friend, band member or teacher can certainly help you become more disciplined. So, be sure to share this article with them. Now, with that said, here are a few suggestions on how to structure your practice session to make your practice time more efficient and effective and your performances more successful too.

Let’s begin with the practice area. It should be a relatively quiet place with good lighting and a comfortable armless chair. It should also be free of interruptions from the computer, phone, fax, pager, tablet, TV and a host of other distractions that can break your concentration. In addition to your instrument, here are some other items that you will find useful: a music stand, metronome, drum machine or sequencer, tuner, CD, recorder, pencils, eraser and your music books. The idea is to have everything close at hand, so that you won’t have to stop practicing to go get something.  Next, begin to prepare mentally by focusing on what you want to achieve in this particular practice session. If you have the time, think about what you would like to accomplish this week, this month, or perhaps even this year. The more defined your goals, the easier it is to attain them.

To prepare physically, begin by relaxing and releasing any tensions from your body. This promotes correct body alignment and will help to avoid any future health problems such as carpal tunnel and tendinitis. Don’t forget, prevention is the best cure!

Okay, now we’re ready to begin the actual practice session. First tune-up your instrument, and yes, make sure the piano is in tune! Start by warming-up with technical exercises. These will include various scales, arpeggios, chords, etudes and other finger pattern exercises and studies. When you feel that you are sufficiently warmed-up, proceed to the next step of the practice session.

At this stage of the practice session, time is provided for a re-view of previously learned material. The definition of the prefix “re” is: again, therefore, rehearsal could be thought of as “re-hear-all” or, to hear it all again. This review of previously acquired skills creates a connection with the new material being learned. Other topics that may present themselves for review at this time are: rhythm, melody, harmony, sight-reading, analysis, tone production, and dynamics. Daily practice gives you the ability to proceed to the new material with confidence and optimism. That’s a very good thing!

The next stage of the practice session is the actual learning of new material. This is when you thoroughly examine the new material to learn as much as you can before you play it. Some of the things you might encounter at this time are: key signatures, time signatures, tempo, fingerings, phrasing, and lots of other direction signs from the composer. After carefully considering all these elements, you are ready to begin practicing, starting at the beginning and proceeding slowly and perfectly until you reach the end.

You will find it beneficial to break a whole song into smaller sections (even bar by bar) and then link those sections together. This will enable you to minimize, and hopefully eliminate, mistakes at this stage of the practice session.

Sometimes the fastest way is to go slow: think of the tortoise and the hare! A perfect practice is only possible if you begin slowly. Slow enough to think before you play. Another benefit of going slow is that you can break the habit of stopping and repeating from the beginning whenever you make a mistake. This in itself is a mistake! Instead, you learn to isolate and focus on a mistake as it occurs, then re-think it through as many times as necessary to get it correct before moving on. This is much better than wasting time repeating what you already know.

It also helps if you can record your practice so that you can objectively hear what you really played. This will help you identify any problem areas, correct them quickly and improve your future performances. And finally, a progressive practice guarantees that each practice session builds upon the last and that each sequential practice assures your continued ability to confidently proceed from perfect practice to successful perfect performance.

Now, with your eyes on the music, your hands on your instrument, and your ears on the sound, be sure to plan your practice and practice your plan. I’ll be listening…

http://www.12tonemusic.com


Top 10 Behaviors of Successful Musicians – by Mike Overly

June 13, 2014

Practice

 

Do you want to be a successful musician? Of course you do! Then it would be beneficial to learn all you can about how to effectively and efficiently approach the development of your musicianship.

Don’t worry if you feel as if you don’t exhibit these Top 10 behaviors already, the good news is, you can begin to cultivate them now. And best of all, as you acquire these ways of being, you will become more effective, efficient and successful in other aspects of your life as well.

If you surf the internet for advice on how to become the musician you’ve always wanted to be, you will most likely become overloaded with endless suggestions. So, for now, let’s just focus on the Top 10 behaviors that will guarantee your musical success.

1. Successful Musicians Practice Consistently
Successful musicians maintain a regular practice schedule and practice every day. Practicing is easier than most believe it to be. Just 15 minutes a day, everyday, will have you progressing steadily – little by little each day. The key to efficient and effective practicing is time management. In other words, successful musician creates the habit of practicing at the same time each day, every day. Some like to practice in the morning, while others like to practice at night. The time of day doesn’t matter as long as you practice daily. The important thing is to pick a time and do it. Remember, you can’t skip a couple of days and then practice for hours and hours to make up for the lost time – it doesn’t work that way. Slow and steady wins the race.

2. Successful Musicians Are Inquisitive
Successful musicians are curious and ask many questions to get the answers they need in order to progress. They are interested in what other musicians are doing and are happy to learn from them. Start by looking for different ways to approach your practice. Seeking new systems and methods of learning is always healthy and beneficial. Remember, contrary to the old cliche, curiosity did not kill the cat – she just played better!

3. Successful Musicians Are Analytical
Successful musicians don’t practice without thinking about what they’re practicing. They stay focused to avoid distraction and diversion. Successful musicians practice with attention to detail to ensure their success. So, be sure to think through your problems to find ideas that will solve them. Try out several approaches until you find the one that leads you to success. By staying on course you will discover what works and what doesn’t.

4. Successful Musicians Are Lifelong Learners
If you’re new to playing music, you will more than likely face a steep learning curve. But don’t let that stop you, learning and practicing gets easier after you’ve been playing awhile. And no matter how long you have been playing, there is always something new to discover that will keep you inspired and challenged.

5. Successful Musicians Plan Ahead
Successful musicians know where they’re going. They have a plan and stick to it. They realize that prioritization is the key to the success of any endeavor. Successful musicians put things in order and choose what etudes and songs to practice at the beginning. This makes it easy to follow through to the end. Successful musicians work on their plan daily, weekly, monthly and yearly so that they may reach their goals based upon importance rather than urgency. It’s important to periodically evaluate whether your efforts are propelling you toward the achievement of your goals. If they are not, then clarification of your goals and the means needed to achieve them will be necessary. Plan your practice and practice your plan.

6. Successful Musicians Are Self Motivated
Successful musicians take the initiative and are proactive self-starters. This is the primary determining factor for their effectiveness in music and life. Being proactive rather than reactive will quickly lead you to success. If you like the idea of playing an instrument, and perhaps even impressing people with your skills, then you will need to manage yourself. Successful musicians know that through self mastery many wonderful things may be accomplished. Remember, no one will fire you if you don’t show up to practice, and no one will remind you of the deadlines you’ve set for yourself. To paraphrase Smokey The Bear, only you can make yourself a successful musician!

7. Successful Musicians Think Win-Win
Perhaps it is your goal to be in a band or orchestra and play harmoniously with other musicians. If so, it’s important for you to value and respect others, as this will lead to the best long-term relationships. Genuinely striving for mutually beneficial solutions and agreements will guarantee success for all. Win-win relationships are much better than having only one person get their way. When everyone feels included and involved in an environment of trust and loyalty, everyone succeeds.

8. Successful Musicians Listen
Successful Musicians understand that listening to another first and then having them listen to you is the fastest way to create an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive conflict resolution. This skill of empathetic listening cultivates an environment where misunderstandings can be avoided to facilitate harmonious music making with others.

9. Successful Musicians Realize That The Whole Is Greater Than The Parts
Synergy, or combining the strengths of many people into one positive team, will make possible the achievement of goals that no one person could do alone. Successful musicians know that creating the most prolific performance by a group of people is best achieved by encouraging meaningful, inspirational and supportive leadership by all. It is essential to understand that everyone is a master of something – but not of everything. Be the one who takes the positive approach with other musicians in your group, then everyone’s potential will come together for the best result.

10. Successful Musicians Are Persistent
Successful musicians understand that success doesn’t happen overnight. If you persist in working toward your vision you will eventually realize it, even if there are a few rough patches along the way. Know that constant improvement of one’s self, along with the development of one’s skills, is necessary in order to achieve success. By balancing and renewing your resources, energy, and health you will experience effective musicianship throughout your life and become the successful musician you have always wanted to be.

Okay, now ask yourself which behavior is the most important for you to become a successful musician. It might be one of the Top 10 above, or, you may believe that it’s something else. I, and the others who are reading this post, would like to know what you think, so, please leave a comment… thank you.

http://www.12tonemusic.com

image ©Joshua Wells


What’s Your Point – by Mike Overly


June 5, 2014
Guitar Pick

Let’s imagine we are playing guitar 10,000 years ago. One starry, starry night, while sitting around the fire in our cave after a long, hard day of hunting, we begin fooling around with our bow. An accidental pluck of the string makes a pleasant musical tone. This is good. Then, another accident occurs, we push on the bow, and like a whammy bar, the string gets looser and the tone gets lower. At that moment, relative pitch is discovered.

Things seem to be developing nicely until we begin having difficulty playing at faster tempos. Then comes the thought to reach over and pick up our favorite arrowhead, and like magic, the plectrum, also known as the pick, is born.

Now, let’s fast forward to the 21st Century and look at the development of the modern pick.

Shape  


Although picks may be of any shape, they generally take the heart-like shape of an isosceles triangle with two very rounded corners, and a third corner, the point, rounded to a lesser degree. Regardless of the shape, the picks edge will be smooth and rounded, or sharp and beveled. The classic pick shape of today, the 351, was created by Luigi D’Andrea in 1922. It was the first pick made of celluloid, and with the imprint and endorsement of Nick Lucas, it became the most popular pick of the 1930’s.

Thickness 

Picks vary in thickness to accommodate different playing styles and gauges of strings. Manufacturers usually print the thickness on the pick in millimeters. The following is a thickness guideline: Extra thin/light less than 0.38, Thin/light 0.51-0.60, Medium 0.73-0.81, Thick/heavy 0.88-1.20 and Extra Thick/heavy more than 1.50.

Thinner picks are flexible and do not deliver a forceful attack. They do not play very loudly and tend to make a clicking sound when the string is struck. Thin picks do not respond well when fast alternating down and up strokes are required. Also, they tend to rip and tear when used forcefully or with heavy gauge strings.

In contrast, thicker picks produce very strong attacks and are capable of both quiet and loud dynamics. Thicker picks are less likely to wear down over time and they offer more control with heavier gauge strings.

Jazz guitar players, who favor heavy gauge flat-wound strings, often use small tear-drop shaped medium picks of various materials.

Materials

In a pinch, just about anything will function as a pick: a coin, button, popsicle stick, credit card, paper clip, ice cream wooden spoon — even a baseball card. Over the years, picks have been made out of just about every material imaginable: bone, shell, tortoise-shell, wood, amber, stone, gemstone, coconut, ivory and metals: steel, brass, nickel, silver, gold and platinum.

Metal picks produce a very bright sound and tend to wear out the strings quickly. Metal picks can easily damage the finish on the guitar if used for strumming, especially acoustic guitars. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top uses a Mexican Peso filed down to the classic 351 shape.

Today, the most common of all modern pick materials is plastic. Plastic ranges from the easiest to bend, nylon, to the hardest to bend, ultem. It’s interesting to note that a pick of the same thickness will be fairly flexible if made out of nylon and very stiff if made out of ultem. Thickness and material go hand-in-hand.

It should be mentioned that plastic is very slippery and many non-slip devises and friction coatings such as: wire loops, rubber, cork and holes were incorporated into pick design from the very beginning to provide traction to keep the pick from twisting and flying out of sweaty fingers. As Aerosmith said, get a grip! Now, let’s examine some of these plastics.

Celluloid, discovered in 1870, was the first commercial plastic and the most popular pick material of all. More picks were made from celluloid than all other materials combined. By the turn of the century, the celluloid pick had begun to replace the warm and comfortable tortoise-shell pick. And by the 1940’s, picks of modern plastics were out selling celluloid picks. Amazingly, D’Andrea continued to make tortoise-shell picks until 1973 when the Endangered Species Act halted production. Fender didn’t stop making celluloid picks until 1993.

Nylon is more slippery than celluloid and most manufacturers add a high-friction coating to make them easier to grip and less likely to twist and fly out of the players fingers. Nylon is extremely flexible and most thin and extra-thin picks are made from it. Nylon picks tend to lose their flexibility and become fragile and break after extensive use, so, guitarists should have several spare picks in the case, just in case.

Delrin by DuPont, also called Acetal or Tortex, is smooth, glossy and slick. It is very hard and stiff and wears down slowly.

Lexan has a shiny, glass-like and extremely hard surface that wears down relatively fast.

Ultem is a space age plastic that has the highest hardness and stiffness of all plastic picks. Ultem produces a very bright (treble) tone.

Tortis is made from polymerized animal protein, and comes very close to the sound and feel of natural tortoise shell picks. Tortis picks are usually thick with smooth beveled edges. Dweezil Zappa endorses a tortis pick.

Agate guitar picks are harder than metal andcannot be flexed regardless of their thickness. Since no press or injection mold is needed to make an agate pick, they may be individually crafted to meet the players specifications.

Lignum Vitae is a rare wood that is harder than ebony. Its cellular structure contains natural oils that give this pick its unique feel and sound.

Glass picks are generally hand blown and range from round points with natural edges to sharp points with beveled edges.

Pick Technique

The pick is usually played with the pointed end and gripped with two fingers: thumb and index. However, many players use different grips.

Eddie Van Halen holds the pick between his thumb and middle finger, while James Hetfield and Steve Morse hold the pick using three fingers: thumb, middle and index. Pat Metheny also holds the pick with three fingers, but plays using the rounded edge of the pick. George Lynch also plays with the rounded edge and so did Stevie Ray Vaughan. George Benson and Pat Martino hold the pick very tightly between the thumb and index finger and attack with the surface of the pick nearly parallel to the string for a very articulate and consistent tone.

Circle picking is a technique where the thumb is bent on the downstroke and straightened on the upstroke, causing the tip of the pick to move in a circular pattern. This tends to produce a lighter articulation.

The angle of the pick in relation to the string can create a broad range of effects. For example, moving the pick edge along the length of a round wound string at 90╝ produces the pick scrape.

Shredding is a goal for many and there are two main approaches to fast picking: alternate and efficient. Alternate picking is when the player maintains strict down and up strokes regardless of which string is being played. Efficient picking is when the player uses the least amount of strokes. For example, if the next sound is on the same string, pick with an alternate stroke, however, if the next sound is on a different string, pick toward that string. Here is a very cool site for an indepth look at right-hand picking styles. http://troygrady.com/

In closing, here’s a tip my classical guitar teacher taught me to keep my fingernails smooth and slick. I discovered it works on picks too. Lightly sand the point edges of your pick with 600 grit sandpaper until a smooth, slick surface that slips effortlessly over the string is achieved. Do this when the edges get rough from playing, and since new picks tend to have rough edges, be sure to sand your pick before you use it the first time. One final thought, my pick of choice is a Dulop Delrin 500 Series, 2.0 mm.

‘Til next time, no matter what pick you use, get to the point and have some plectrum fun. I’ll be listening!

http://www.12tonemusic.com/


The Process of Progress on Bass Guitar – by Mike Overly

April 24, 2014

Tone Note® Music Method for Bass

There are many reasons why students quit their bass lessons. Sometimes it’s because the teacher doesn’t inspire them, or because the lessons aren’t focused enough on their specific goals. In some cases, it could be that the teacher isn’t qualified and really doesn’t know how to help the student become the musician they would like to be. Then again, it could be that the student’s relationship with the teacher and the teachings aren’t as focused as they need to be in order for the student to progress.

Having taught fretboard music successfully for many decades and to many students, I have come to realize that the way in which a student relates to the teacher has a very meaningful effect on the student’s development. Different students get varied results from the same teacher and teachings. This is because different students approach the learning process uniquely. For example, one student might believe to know better than the teacher and eventually quits, while another student learns and applies everything that is presented and becomes a world-class bass player. We all understand the wonderful attitudes, aptitudes and behaviors of the student that goes on to become a world-class player, however, let’s look more carefully at different types of behaviors commonly displayed by students who can easily become frustrated and quit their bass lessons.

I want to be perfect.

Some students want to master everything that is presented in a lesson before moving on to something else. This may seem like a good idea, but in reality, it is not the most effective way to progress. Music is best learned when many elements are worked on simultaneously without worrying about mastering any one given component. For example, the student must work on the technique of playing the bass, while at the same time learning the theory of harmony, improvisation and composition. The point is, after learning something new, don’t hesitate to begin combining it with everything else you have previously learned. Application and integration are essential elements that must be developed from the very beginning. By proceeding in this way, the student will not let one aspect of their learning get too far ahead of the other things that they know. Approaching music and the bass in this multi-tasking manner will keep the student in balance.

I only want the new.

Some students think that each lesson should consist mainly of new material. However, this isn’t necessarily the best approach. The simple reason is that too much new information leads to the feeling of being overwhelmed. This is because there is not enough time to integrate this new information with past information. Being overwhelmed is what causes most students to become frustrated and quit. Here’s an important point: simply learning new information will not improve technique. Technique takes time to develop and demands more than just simply being aware of a new musical concept. In other words,  it requires lots of  practice to achieve the fluency of technical skill needed to play the bass proficiently. Remember, you can buy knowledge, but can’t buy technique — technique must be earned!
Said again, the student may think that learning something new in each lesson is a good thing, but, as time goes by they will notice that they are not making significant technical progress. At this point, the student may want to quit because they think lessons aren’t effective, however, that is not really the reason for their lack of progress. Said a different way, learning new musical information is an important part of lessons, but, if the student is only interested in learning the new, they will probably not continue with lessons and will miss out on one of the most important aspects of taking lessons which is the unfoldment of knowledge. Unfoldment being the in-order process which leads to the progress of information presented. It is this in-order presentation of knowledge that makes bass lessons so valuable. The student will need to practice patience to realize this and gain the benefits of unfolding learning over time.

I know what’s best.

Some students have been playing for a while and perhaps have studied with other bass teachers. These students may have preconceived ideas about what their lessons should be and may wish to control what and how they are taught. Asking questions and expressing goals to the teacher is a good thing, but trying to direct the teacher as to what and how to teach is not. If the student seeks help from a qualified teacher, they should trust the teacher and accept the fact that the teacher knows more about music and bass than they do and therefore can successfully teach the student.

With that said, all bass teachers are not the same, some are more qualified than others. This is why the student needs to clearly communicate their goals, and challenges to the teacher. That way, if the student is not receiving what they communicated, then they should seek a different teacher. What’s important is that the student needs to have faith and belief in the teacher they have selected and commit themselves to the lessons.

If the teacher has helped others to succeed, then probably that teacher will be able to help you as well. Just remember, the teacher’s ability to help you will be limited and delayed if you constantly question everything that is taught. Working with a qualified teacher is the fastest and most efficient way for you to achieve your goals. So, if you truly want to accelerate the process of progress, then you should think about your relationship with your teacher to see if there is any room for improvement.

There are many other factors that affect the rate of progress when learning music and the bass. But, if you study with a qualified teacher, follow the most effective music method, for example the Tone Note® Music Method for Bass http://www.12tonemusic.com/bass/tonenote, and develop rewarding practice habits, then you will become the musician playing bass that you have always wanted to be!


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