White Man’s Rhythm Woes

My progress with the guitar has plateaued. Maybe my skill may have declined a bit. Learning to play may be me trying to be something that I’m not. At times like these, I remember the piano lessons I took as a child. They didn’t last long. When I was older, mom told me that the piano teacher said to her that I have no rhythm. That was at a time that I hadn’t even considered learning anything having to do with music. Still, it’s one of those things I’ll never forget how much it bothered me. Not, that Mom noticed.

I will admit that I’m struggling with rhythm. Keeping the beat is a fleeting talent for me. One night’s practice goes well then another night I can’t teach my right hand to strum. Beyond my regular instrument practice, I get weekly tips from Mike Moots. When I was working on the 12 bar blues, Mike made this recording, so that I could try to use it as a template for learning.

The audio file above is Mike playing the 12 bar blues shuffle. The video file shows me playing “Good Riddance, by Green Day,

Earlier in the video, I was attempting to play a song that I couldn’t identify. That’s how off the rhythm was. Mike and My instructor have both said that I need to work on my strumming.

Meanwhile, Mike is teaching me barre chords, and Pete is showing me different modes of the pentatonic scale. Mike wants to teach me songs and Pete wants me to improvise. I’m learning my rhythm guitar from Mike, and I’m learning my lead guitar from Pete.

Maybe by rhythm wasn’t very good when I had piano lessons as a child, but I believe rhythm can be learned. And, learn it, I will.


My Guitar Training Journal: Learn to improvise a melody

Hands playing a guitar with tires in the background
Photo by Holger Wirth. Licensed as (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Improvising a melody builds towards my long-range goal of being able to play with other musicians. I’m trying to keep my guitar instructor focused on helping me to improvise songs.

He’s a great instructor. Students swarm to him because he is excellent. Each week, I have to remind him of where we left off in last weeks lesson. It doesn’t bother me that he has no real lesson plan, because I like being in charge of that.

By the end of the lesson, he has heard my playing and prescribed techniques for me to use in my practice.

I’m trying to learn to improvise a melody. The latest song that we worked on was “The House of the Rising Sun.” He threw me in the water to teach me to swim. He played the rhythm section and told me to play the melody to “The House of the Rising Sun” by just using one of the scale patterns that I memorized. The trick was to get the melody from my head to the strings. It didn’t work very well. So he played a different rhythmic chord progression and asked me to make up a melody based on the same scale pattern. That worked a little better.

All my life I’ve been listening to music as a consumer. Now I want to listen to music as a musician. In my last lesson, Pete taught me to hear the eighth notes of a scale and assigned me a play at 50 beats per minute. That sounds pretty slow, but he wanted me to include the eighth notes. Eighth notes are like the backbeat of a scale. So if I were to play the diatonic scale of C major on my guitar, I would stress the bolded notes. C D E F G A B C.

If I play the scale at 50 BPM with just whole notes, they would all be bold, but to improve the timing when playing only the eighth notes, I stress or play loudly every other note.

My Niece: Charlotte Rose Benjamin — Singer/Songwriter

Click on the picture and you will be taken to the Bandcamp Player to hear Charlotte Rose performing live.

Comments about Guitar Instructors

I would like to learn to play lead guitar. Twelve or thirteen years ago, my neighbor, Jim, bought a Mexican  Stratocaster. And now I’m the owner of it. He likes to play rhythm guitar. Maybe, someday we will have jam sessions.  I mentioned him in the last post, He’s the one against unions.

Up until last January I was trying to learn to play on an old 1980s era Yamaha acoustic guitar.  My instructor said the neck to it looked as thick as a baseball bat. He also said that it might be impeding my learning process, So, Jim sold me his electric guitar: the Fender Stratocaster, made in Mexico.

I’m playing it in the video above. For about a year now I’ve been taking guitar lessons with Pete Marten. Pete is an accomplished musician. He’s also a patient and excellent instructor.

My previous instructor wasn’t a good fit for me. I stopped taking lessons, and even stopped practicing for a long time.  Then for some reason I picked up the old Yamaha acoustic in the corner and started plunking on it again.

Of course the best instructor can’t make you into a good guitar player if you don’t practice. It’s in the practice sessions where the learning takes place. My weekly lessons seem to be the motivational fuel that revs-up my practice sessions.

The electric hard body is a Fender and the acoustic is an Alvarez

Pete notices the little parts of a song that I’m struggling with and tells me how to work on them in my practice sessions. Another thing I like about Pete is that he’s not afraid to just play along with me when teaching me a new rhythm strum pattern.

Surely, all instructors do these things. It’s the way that Pete does it that make my lessons something to look forward to, instead of something to dread.

Choosing a Guitar

Electric Guitars are easier to play than the acoustic variety. I may be ready to make the switch to electric. Just this week in my practice I noticed there was some background buzz while I was playing. My girlfriend complained about it also. The final straw was when my guitar teacher noticed the buzz coming from the high E string. My Yamaha Dreadnought was built in the 80s. Even though it looks great it never sounded great to me.

My instructor recommends the Fender Squire. They are a couple hundred bucks with the amp.

I have always envisioned myself as a folk singer and folk singers usually play acoustic guitars. I can go back to playing the acoustic guitar sometime later. Like maybe when I’m 75.



With Calloused Fingertips, I’m Learning the Guitar

I’m learning to play the guitar.  I have two reasons for my little hobby:

  1. I took a guitar in trade for a turntable.
  2. A musical instrument sometimes helps me express my moods.

I never was very good at playing a musical instrument. Back in the “Wonder Years” of the 1960s, Mom forced piano lessons on me. She also pushed tap dancing to — but that is another subject for a later piece.

Later, in my adult years, Mom told me that the music teacher said it was hopeless for me to continue.  So, all through high school and my adult years to date, I never considered playing an instrument.

My Guitar’s name in Loretta

It’s a big dreadnaught, Yamaha, acoustic guitar.  It’s got the spruce top and a mahogany neck. It came with its original case that resembles 1980s era luggage.

When I first tried playing it, I took to it like my piano lessons. I spent more time trying to learn music than actually playing chords. I got a music book. That was a mistake. The lessons seemed to focus too much on being able to name the note that I just plucked and not enough on learning chords, tablature, and drills to improve skill.

I heard a great joke: How do you make a person stop playing the guitar? Put music in front of him.  I’m on my second instructor now. I’m learning open chords, and the only music I read is lines of abbreviated chord names that I strum for a designated number of measures. One measure is a complete beat pattern that resonates throughout most of a musical piece.

If it doesn’t have a beat, it’s like typing

I’m trying to avoid playing my notes and chords like I’m typing. So far I can strum a chord great, but then there is always the slight hesitation in the song when I change chords. I think I’m finding ways to overcome that.

A couple of decades ago my late wife and I bought an electronic keyboard. I gave it to some neighbors, but they gave it back when they moved away. So, now I’m also approaching the keyboard with a new attitude that will include more playing and less music reading.