Just to give you a little background I'm a full-time professional musician. I perform about 60 shows a year and I've been playing guitar for 29 years, singing for about 24 years, and teaching music for the past 14 years at the time of this writing. Music is my MAIN PASSION, my therapy, and the reason I get out of bed every morning. I recently released my 2nd album entitled, "Frame of Mind," which is comprised of all original music. Music for me is my LIFE and I need it like I need air to stay alive.
Before you read this post just realize that when you are first learning something new you probably won't absorb and understand everything right away, but the more times you hear something said and the more you focus your attention on something the more you will put together the puzzle of music. Also, realize this is from MY personal experience of what has worked for me, but you have to find your own path within the music industry:
Table of Contents: 1-4.........Music advice + recommended books
5-9.........General music knowledge & Guitar strumming
10-12.......Tips on figuring out songs & how to figure out the KEY of ANY song
13............TOP 10 SONGWRITING TIPS
1. Be willing to invest in yourself! If you are not willing to invest in your musical career why would anyone else want to invest in your music? Meaning buy and read books on the music industry, songwriting, marketing, go to Music Conferences, seek out the people that are already doing what you want to be doing and find out what they are doing to succeed in the music industry. Take lessons on your instrument or even invest in an "artist coach." Whatever helps you further your career in the music industry.....DO IT, but also be smart about what you invest in!
TAXI (www.taxi.com) – This is the most beneficial investment I have ever made in my musical career to this day! If not for TAXI I wouldn’t have half the knowledge about the music industry as I do now. I've attended the Music Conference 6 times over the years and it has given me the knowledge and tools to pursue a career in the music industry!
2. Playing music is only HALF the battle in succeeding in the music industry. You've gotta realize that music is a BUSINESS first and foremost. Bobby Borg (www.BobbyBorg.com --Musician/Author/Berklee Graduate) said it best in the beginning of his book "The Musician's Handbook":
"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench; a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." --Hunter S. Thompson
Being a musician isn't an easy road to take, but it can be very rewarding if you stick with it and give it everything you've got!
3. Be willing to help other musicians! The more you help others the more willing they are to help you out as well! This might seem like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at how many people are just out for themselves in the music industry. That's the whole concept of NETWORKING! Gilli Moon, who is the co-founder of Songsalive!, which is the world's largest non-profit songwriting organization that supports and promotes original music, said it best at the 2014 TAXI Music Conference this past November. She said, "Instead of approaching a music industry professional or peer and asking yourself how can that person help me, instead ask yourself how can I help them further their career?" That way when they succeed because of something you helped them with they will be willing to help you in your music career! Makes sense to me!
4. TOP 5 books I've read to further YOUR musical career!:
1. "The Musician's Handbook" by Bobby Borg (www.BobbyBorg.com)
(Click here to view book on Amazon)
2. "The Complete Singer-Songwriter" by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
(Click here to view book on Amazon)
3. "6 Steps to Songwriting Success" by Jason Blume
(Click here to view book on Amazon)
4. "I AM a Professional Artist" by Gilli Moon
(Click here to view book on Amazon)
5. "Writing Better Lyrics" by Pat Pattison (Taught John Mayer at Berklee School of Music)
(Click here to view book on Amazon)
6. "How to Make it in the New Music Business" (2nd Edition) by Ari Herstand
(Click here to view book on Amazon)
GENERAL MUSIC KNOWLEDGE & GUITAR STRUMMING:
5. LEARN THIS SHEET BELOW!: So I've been playing guitar since I was 13 years old (26 years now) and I've been teaching for around 11 years and I wanted to put together a little blog post about the best way to learn guitar and music in general. So here's how I break it down to explain music in the best way possible so anyone can understand it. The English language has 26 letters in the alphabet and I'm assuming you can speak the English language if you are reading this blog? Chances are you responded with the answer, "Yes." So right there you took 3 letters out of 26 letters and formed a WORD to communicate. All we are doing in music is taking 3 lettters out of 7 (Musical language is A B C D E F G) and forming a CHORD, which is made up of the 1 3 5 of any Major scale.
Here are the 2 BEST sheets I've come up with to help explain music in the SIMPLEST form as the 1 3 5 of any Major scale=a Major chord (the ones in BOLD): (Right-click these charts to DOWNLOAD it to your computer):
This is the right side of the circle of fifths (used more in popular music):
This is the left side of the circle of fifths (used more in jazz & classical music):
**UPDATE**: I recently added the 4 main Ukulele chords to the chart above too. So if you ever pick up a Ukulele you'll know some chords because if you understand what makes up a chord (the 1 3 5 of any Major scale) you will be able to play ANY instrument.
**NOTE**: If you noticed in the D chord I left off the F# on purpose as when you're first learning to play and change chords it's easier to just make a D chord like that as this is really a D sus (suspended) chord. You can always add the F# with your 2nd finger once you get comfortable fretting the D sus as it's just easier when you're first learning to play the guitar.
There are A LOT of things in this sheet that you need to know. So here's a short list of what you should understand about this sheet:
A. 1 3 5 = Major Chord
1 b3 5 = minor Chord
So if you notice, whether the chord is Major or minor, nothing happens to the 1 OR 5. What makes a chord Major OR minor is the 3rd.
1 3 5 of any Major scale makes up a CHORD (the letters in BOLD in the chart above are the 1 3 5).
For example: the 1 3 5 of C Major is: C E G......G Major is: G B D......D Major is: D F# A.
1 b3 5 = minor Chord
For example: the 1 b3 5 of C Major is: C Eb G, G Major is: G Bb D, D Major is: D F A (if you flat a sharped note (#) just simply take away the # and the note becomes a natural note.
B. What makes a chord Major OR minor is the 3rd as the 1 & 5 stay EXACTLY the same in a Major OR a minor chord.
C. The letter "W" means "Whole Step" and "H" means "Half Step." (above the #'s)
In the musical alphabet (A B C D E F G), there is a HALF STEP (1 fret up or down on the guitar) between 3 & 4, and 7 & 8 in EVERY Major scale. All you have to know is there is a HALF STEP between the letters B & C, and E & F. That is why there are SHARPS (#) in music so in EVERY Major scale there will always be a HALF STEP between 3 & 4, and 7 & 8.
D. If you wanted to write a song and wanted to know what kind of chord you could play just look at the TOP of the sheet and it will tell you if the letter is MAJOR (MAJ) or minor (min).
For example: C Major is comprised of: C Major, D minor, E minor, F Major, G Major, E minor, F# minor (it's really diminished, but you're still flatting the 3rd so we'll just call it minor for now, and G Major.
**NOTE**: The most popular chord progression of all-time is the 1 5 6 4 chord progression as it has been used in over 30+ hit songs that you've most likely heard throughout your life. Check out this Youtube video where they literally play 4 chords the entire time and they play all HIT SONGS, like "Don't Stop Believing" by Journey, "With or without you" by U2, among many others songs you'll most likely recognize:
E. The 1 and the 6 of every Major scale is called the "Relative Major and relative minor" of each other. The reason they are called that is because not only are 2 out of the 3 notes in each chord are EXACTLY THE SAME (they both have C & E in the chords), but more importantly if you take the 6 of C Major, which is Am (relative minor of C Major) they are the exact same notes within the C Major scale and A min scale.
For example: If you want to make any Major scale a minor scale all you have to do is flat (b) the 3rd, 6th, and 7th of the Major scale. In the key of C Major the relative minor a A min. So if you take the A Major scale and flat the 3, 6, and 7 it's the same exact notes of the C Major scale. The only difference is in C Major you're starting on the note "C" and in A minor you're starting on the note "A."
F. If you want to make a sus (suspended) chord all you have to do is move the 3rd either to a 2nd OR a 4th.
For example: C Major = C E G (1 3 5), a C sus would be C D G (1 2 5) OR C F G (1 4 5). The reason why it's called a suspended chord is because if you play a sus chord it never resolves as the best way I can explain it is if you're ever talking to a friend and they are telling you a story and they just keep going and going and going and going and you're waiting for your turn to talk, but they just keep talking and talking and talking.
6. Find a good teacher! -- Make sure the teacher is PASSIONATE about music and playing guitar! Are they a performing musician? If so I'd suggest go see them perform live so you get an idea of what they sound like and what they can actually do in a live performance. Here is a 1 min promo video I put together from a Songwriter's showcase I played with my good friend and AMAZINGLY talented musician who plays the drums and sings at the same time and is a Juilliard Graduate, Sean Dolan:
If you're interested in private lessons for guitar & vocals (my 2 main instruments) or piano & ukulele (beginner to intermediate) Click here or e-mail me at Archs21@aol.com as I GUARANTEE I will take your playing and understanding of music to the next level!
7. When you are first learning something, SLOW IT DOWN! -- So many players try to learn something new and try to play it as fast as possible and play it sloppy as hell. I GUARANTEE you that if you slow it down you will actually pick it up 100x quicker because you are teaching your brain and fingers to do it right the right way over and over instead of messing it up over and over. In order to really learn something you MUST slow it down to give your brain time to comprehend and fully understand what you are doing!
8. Learn to strum FIRST! (Beginners) -- I've noticed over the years that most teachers show how to fret chords first and when they try to learn a song, they have NO RHYTHM at all. If you learn how to strum with your right hand FIRST and just mute the strings with your left hand you can do. It's very difficult to explain this without showing someone in person, but I'm going to give it a shot!
***IMPORTANT***: Make sure you keep your RIGHT hand moving the entire time when strumming no matter what rhythm you are playing! Your right hand is basically like your metronome and is like a pendulum because it should NEVER stop moving!***
Here is the strumming pattern I came up that I use all the time when I teach that explains it visually:
D = DOWN STROKE
U = UP STROKE
(+) = NO HIT (still strum the down stroke just don't hit the strings)
(Right-click this chart and DOWNLOAD it to your computer)
**(In order to find the quarter note in the song just listen to the drums as the snare drum (in 4/4 time) is almost always on beats 2 &4!)**
A. Quarter note rhythm (1/4): Count "1 (+) 2 (+) 3 (+) 4 (+)" for this rhythm. All you are really doing is "1 (+)" 4 times if you really think about it. Do a down stroke (1) and on the second down stroke, which is the &, do NOT hit the strings, but still count the "+" OUTLOUD. So it's basically 2 down strokes and you count "1 +" and you only hit the first down stroke. Think of it like this: 2 down strokes, but you're thinking HIT on the 1st down stroke, then NO HIT on the 2nd down stroke. So basically you're only hitting the strings on the NUMBERS 1, 2, 3, 4.
IMPORTANT: keep your right handing moving at ALL times even when you're not hitting the strings!
B. Eighth note rhythm (1/8): Also Count "1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +" for this rhythm. All you are really doing is "1 +" 4 times. Do a down stroke (1) and on the second down stroke (which is the +), you HIT the strings this time. So it's basically 2 down strokes and you count "1 +" and you hit the strings on both down strokes.
C. Sixteenth note rhythm (1/16): Count this "1e+a, 2e+a, 3e+a, 4e+a" for this rhythm. All you are really doing is "1 e+a" 4 times. The ONLY difference between this rhythm and eighth note is that you will be hitting the UP STROKES too! If you notice you're still counting the "1 +", but now after the 1 you have to come back up right? Well, that's the "e". So here it is broken down:
Once you get those rhythms down and pretty comfortable learn a few chord shapes (Em, D, C are the easiest) and try to do 4 beats for each chord with each rhythm separately. The KEY to strumming is keeping your RIGHT HAND moving at ALL times, even if you totally screw up the chord! Your left hand will eventually follow your right hand (strumming hand), but most importantly you will have a much better sense and feel for the rhythm!
***TRY THIS***: Put the song "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" by John Mayer OR "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd on and mute the strings and try to play along with the song using all 3 rhythms. It's a slower song so it's a good one to start out with and the cool thing about this exercise is that you can do it to any song you want and your rhythm will get REALLY good!
9. ALWAYS COUNT OUT LOUD: Our job as musicians is to create pleasing sound to the ear from within ourselves and the more we can get used to externalizing by counting out loud the quicker it teaches our brains what we are doing. At first it is a little more difficult, but to really FULLY understand and be able to have COMMAND of any rhythm or song it's HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to count out loud, especially if you want to play and instrument and sing at the same time.
TIPS ON FIGURING OUT SONGS:
10. Listen to the BASS GUITAR to figure out what the chords are to a song: if you can figure out what notes the bass guitar is playing then you can figure out what the chords on the guitar should be because the bass guitar is simply just following what the guitar is playing. You will see patterns the more songs you play and understand what the artist was thinking while they were writing the song. If you can delve inside of their minds and figure out what they are doing then you are one step ahead of the game and it will also help you in your own writing of original songs.
**You will also be able to figure out by listening and using your ear over time if the chord is Major or minor, but it's all about training your ear as the more you do it the better you will get at it. Then the more you can figure out what the bass guitar is playing then it's basically process of elimination after that.
11. How to figure out the KEY of ANY song: If the song starts on a MAJOR chord that is MOST LIKELY your 1 and if it starts on a minor chord that is most likely your 6th (relative minor). After that you need the other chords in the song to help determine what the actual key is.
For example: if the 1st chord is C it is most likely going to be in the key of C Major. If the 1st chord is an Am it's MOST LIKELY the 6th of C Major because that is the relative minor of C Major. Then, if you know that the 4 & 5 of any Major scale are both Major chords you can play then if you have an F & G Major anywhere in the song then you know the key is C Major. If you have a D minor then that would be your 2 chord. See below for more details...
12. KNOW THAT THE 1, 4, 5 of any Major scale are the MAJOR chords you can use: if you are trying to figure out a song and #11 doesn't fit, then the 2nd thing you can do to find out what key the song is in is if you have 2 MAJOR chords together anywhere in the song then that is your 4 & 5 of the Major scale.
For example: If you are in the key of C Major and you have an F Major in the verse and a G Major in the chorus of the song that would be your 4 & 5. Simply count up to 8 to get your key as it's MUCH easier to count UP 3 (from the 5) with numbers AND letters rather than count backwards to 1 (1 & 8 are octaves so they are the same note).
**NOTE**: If you wanted to write a song in C Major what chords can you use if you wanted to stay in C Major? Here is the answer:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C Maj D min E min F Maj G Maj E min B dim** C Maj
**The 7th is really diminished (dim: 1 b3 b5), and is primarily used in jazz & classical music. The most common chord progression in popular music is the 1, 5, 6, 4 and the 2(min) also sounds good as well. You can simply just use the Maj/min format within the rest of the keys (refer to chart above).
12. TOP 10 SONGWRITING TIPS
- There are no shortcuts to songwriting! You just have to do it! The more you do it, especially consistently, the better you will get at it!
- You MUST BELIEVE you CAN write a song!
- Try starting with a song title--there are many ways to write a song and you have to find the right fit for you, but starting with a song title (or even a TENTATIVE title so you have an idea of what you are writing about) is a great place to start.
- Be able to describe what the intended message of the song is about in 1 sentence.
- Have something to say, believe you can find the words, and put your emotions and personal experiences into the song. Chances are that if you are experiencing something than many other people are probably experiencing the same thing or something similar.
- Ask yourself better questions, empowering questions. If you ask yourself questions like, "What CAN I write about?" or "How CAN I say what I'm trying to say?" your brain will come up with answers to those types of questions and it will benefit you in making progress in writing whatever song you are working on.
- Realize out of every 10 song ideas you have that you might like 2-3 song ideas you come up with. Take those ideas you actually like and start working on them. Discard the rest and also realize for every idea you may not like it's bringing you one step closer to coming up with an idea you DO actually like.
- It's like being a Major League baseball player. Did you know that a MLB player who averages .300 is considered an EXCELLENT hitter and is most likely considered for the Hall of Fame? Did you know that in order to average .300 that means they are failing 70% of the time??? Failure is a part of learning and is the gateway to SUCCESS! Something to think about...
- Realize that when you are learning something new it takes time to find your way of doing it. You will NOT use 100% of everything you read, rather you will take what YOU consider useful for YOURSELF and discard the rest. (It's the BRUCE LEE philosophy--take what you think you can use in your present situation and discard all the useless info).
- Every one of us learns things in our own way. You have to learn how YOU learn things in your own way!
-click here if you'd like to hear me perform the National Anthem at MetLife Stadium for Monster Jam or watch the 6 camera HD shoot of one of my original songs entitled "Frame of Mind."
-click here if you're Interested in taking private lessons with me over FB OR Skype or in person.
Good luck with your musical path and don't forget to enjoy the journey along the way!
-If you have any questions at all feel free to e-mail me at Archs21@aol.com
I hope I have helped you in some way with your musical journey. Please pass this along to anyone who might find this blog post helpful as it's all about helping one another out in life! Thanks again for reading and have a great day! :)
...Stay tuned.......more to come....
"True nobility isn't being better than anyone else; it's being better than you used to be."
"There is only one success -- to be able to spend your life in your own way."