Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, acousticguitar, art, MUSIC

More Than Just A Guitarist

When we are young musicians we often have our sites set on bright lights, touring, albums and all the other hoohaa that happens in the music industry.  But as we mature as musicians we start to see the other sides of music, the joy of playing, the challenge of playing different styles and the various other places where music is used in the world around us.  E.g. Commercially, in the Arts, short films and these days in multimedia projects. We don’t have to look too hard to find an application/use for music.

A few years ago I worked on a project, it ended up I had one evening to compose, record, edit and complete one such piece of music.  As I own the copyright on the piece I have decided to post the piece of music here.

Basically I am a guitarist foremost but like many musicians these days it is possible to use technology to create and complete a whole project in a small studio environment.  On the recording I played all parts, excluding the use of a drum machine, and I wil state I am not a keyboard player but my knowledge of chords through studying music, enables me to play what is required to have a complete piece of music.

Like most musicians I recorded the drum track first and built the song from there.  it was followed by the guitar part which is reasonably minimalistic.  Throughout the piece I double the guitar part with a harmony on keyboard to fatten up the sound of the guitar.  

As I play multiple styles of music, it has enabled me to work on some fascinating projects over the years.  No flashing lights and big PA’s here,  just a love of music and a challenge to meet an outcome.  It was commissioned for a small Arts film.

 It is very laid back and sort of chilly.  It’s called Walk Ins

 To hear it click on the link, it’s about 4 MB.

Posted in Acoustic Guitar, acousticguitar, MUSIC, open tuning

C open tuning for guitar

Over a 25 years years I’ve experimented with a lot of open tunings.  originally I was inspired to do this after hearing John Martyn, John Renbourn, Stefan Grossman and then a few years after that, Michael Hedges, Pierre Bensusan, Alex de Grassi and of course Nick Drake. 

Finding material to play in normal tuning is easy these days, but getting a good range of tunes is not so easy in some of the other tunings.  what I’ve had to do over the years is create my tunes or rejig other tunes to suit.

A few weeks back , I was listening to an album by Anouar Brahem, the Oud player from Tunisia and the Norwegian sax player and I decided to arrange a piece of music in a version of  C tuning, it’s C G C G C F  from bass to treble. you’ll finfd the TAB and music notation at it’s very simple and short but a great piece to work with.

Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, MUSIC

What makes a great guitarist?

How to be a great guitarist, not just a good one.  

What is it that makes guitarists stand out from the rest?

I think the music that I find most meaningless is music that sounds like everyone else.   My approach has always been unusual; I’ve tried over the years not to copy other players, to the point of avoiding working out their tunes , I’d rather have a brief listen, get an overview of what they are saying and interpret it my own way.  It is a bit difficult but it has helped me define my own style(s).  What I found was that if I listened too much to another player it was really easy to sound like them, so it has always been important to listen to lots of genres.  To a lot of people music from particular genres sound the same, all music falls into some musical style category but obviously, it is possible to have your own musical signature in a particular style.  e.g. Hendrix sounds like Hendrix and Steve Vai sounds like Steve Vai,  and with one note Carlos Santana will be immediately be recognizable.

I don’t particularly like cover bands, but I admit that for many people it is a valid way of making an income and we need to eat, and there is a market. 

The thing that separates players from players is the uniqueness of what they do. If there’s one thing in music worth doing it has to be finding your own musical voice. It’s great to admire other players but very important to find your own style that is not a carbon copy of another player.  It’s the way to get the greatest satisfaction from music.

Good players play well, great players are themselves

Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, acousticguitar, art, MUSIC

Who is greatest guitarist?

If you ask most guitar players, ‘who is the greatest guitarist ever’, most will bring up the names of people like Django, Wes Montgomery, Segovia, Hendrix, Hedges, Atkins, Satriani, Martino, Yepes….the list goes on and on.  An argument could go for days on this issue and never be resolved.

Because I’ve played for so long,  people  often ask me questions like ‘who is the best’ ‘your favorite’ etc.  I have a long list of who I like and could go into a long discourse on the intricacies of the different players virtues and strengths. 

If anyone was to answer the question saying that they themselves were the best, people would probably think that the person had a severe ego problem.  Well I’m going to put forward a very different way of answering that question, and it’s an answer that comes from a player not a listener. Usually when we talk about music we talk from a listeners point of view and yes music is about listening but there is another side to it.

I was talking to a friend of mine a few days back and she said that she got a shock when she first saw me play guitar.  My first thought was, oh no, did I have one of those funny guitar faces or something.  But after a bit of prompting, she said that she had never ever seen anyone play the guitar the way I do.  I said ‘what do you mean?’ she said,   ‘it looked like the guitar was an extension of your body, that there was no difference between you and your guitar’.   At first I thought, hey nice compliment, but it got me thinking.

From a players perspective playing guitar can be a very powerful experience. For me music is about feelings, it is the foremost thing that counts,  and yes there is a need to develop a technique that can be a vehicle to express the feelings, but in the end we are ‘feeling beings’  and that is what we seek most, to expess our emotions.   There have been times over the years that I have played in groups and line ups that were not really suitable for me, not because I couldn’t play the music but because I couldn’t feel the emotions that the particular style required.  Durng these times I felt very empty and uncomfortable.

Music comes in waves, it’s not constant, it’s not something that is on tap whenever you want it.  It’s possible to always play well and emotively but I could honestly say that music is not always there.  Sometimes when I play guitar it’s like standing in a gateway between two worlds and talking from one to the other. There is a very weird release of something that creates a feeling of euphoria, at times it’s so strong that I could almost weep and as if my heart was bleeding, not in a bad way but in a manner that my body wants to explode, even in the gaps between the notes.   I once saw Carlos Santana play live about 30 years ago, he played Europa, it was the first time I’d heard it, my eyes filled with tears.  I have only had that a few times with western music, once with YoYo Ma playing cello and another time when I saw Andreas Bocelli sing for the first time, apart from that, the only other times have been when I play. 

So, for the player it is or can be a very profound, more than just music experience. It can be a total experience that cannot really be expressed in words, and somehow as a musician I wish that I could share with you what I actually experience.  It’s like vacating your body and hiring it out to some musical experience.

So I’d like to give a response to the question ‘Who is the greatest guitar player?’  And my response is said in all sincerity, I’d have to say that anyone that also experiences that feeling that I experience would no doubt be the greatest guitarist, because at the moment when a player is experiencing what I am talking about they are totally in the heart of music.  And music is about feelings, not about anything else.

Anyone that has been to this blog before may know about the song that I recorded for my beautiful son after he moved on to his next life.  It was recorded in the dark and there are a few audio glitches but maybe the emotion I am talking of may come through.

Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, acousticguitar, DADGAD

Open tuning guitar – beginning

The first thing we notice when we start playing open tunings after playing in standard tuning is that the guitar suddenly relaxes.  It’s a bit like wearing a suit and tie and then suddenly being barefoot on the beach wearing shorts.

I was ready to post an article on something else today but I received a question from a blogger called MulledVine, it got me thinking.  He was wanting to find some online resources e.g. good basic arrangements of DADGAD songs.  OK, on the spot I couldn’t answer that because I write my own arrangements if I want to play a song.  But I’ll see what I can find in the near future.  But the question had a number of things that prompted me to write this article.

 I had a great teacher (and many others)  Ike Isaacs (Stephane Grapelli Quartet), I’d been playing 20 years when I met him and what he said was ‘you only need to learn about three songs (contrary to popular opinion)’.  What he also said was you need to learn them inside out, play them in every key,  play them with lots of chord substitutions and improvise over them.  If you do all this to three good songs that have great chord changes, by the end of it you’ll be a great player.

Getting back to DADGAD.  If you play an open chord in DADGAD it will give you a chord that I would call a Dsus4(no3rd). 
This chord is neither minor or major because it doesn’t have a 3rd; a 3rd being the defining factor of whether it is min or maj.  It has the first, a D note, a 5th an A note and the 4th note of the D scale G ( D, E, F sharp, G,  1234). 

 A lot of people would like the 3rd ( an F sharp)  to make a standard D chord, me I don’t mind, it’s implied in some way, the ear fills in the gaps.  One of the beauties of DADGAD is that it doesn’t sound like normal tuning.  But if you want a D sounding chord without the frills, the added G note, all you need to do is add a finger at the second fret on your 3rd string and it will give you another A note, so what you have now is a stack of D’s and A’s.  This is very useable regardless of all the repeated notes.


Lots of songs have 3 chords, so for this post I’ll add a couple of other chords.  To play a  G (type of) chord is very simple, just add three fretted notes, one to the 3rd string on the 4th fret, one to the 6th string on the 5th fret, and also a note at the 5th fret of the 2nd string.  The notes you would have then would be G A (avoid this low A when you strum) D B D D.  This is a G chord. In some tunes,  leaving the 2nd string open and adding that high A is quite sweet and useable.

DADGAD G chord how to

The next chord we add will be an A chord.  All you need to do is slide the fingers up two frets. 
You’ll have A A D C sharp E D. You can use the added high D note depending on the tune. 


Now, above we have three foundation chords in the key of D, with 3 chords we can play a lot of simple tunes.

Many classical players have a glorious guitar technique, but sometimes ( not always) they haven’t developed an ear because when they studied guitar they learnt to rely on dots, dots are a bit like training wheels, there’s a time to get rid of them.  The remedy that I find is useful for fixing this is to sit with a guitar, hum a few notes and then play them.  Then gradually get to the point where you can hum a whole melody and then play it.  Whenever I work with a singer I always learn to play a complete arrangement of a song that includes the melody and the chords together.  If the singer falls off the stage or falls in love with someone in the audience and runs off, I can keep playing.

 If you are interested in DADGAD.  I highly recommend two things, artilcles from acoustic guitar magazine Oct 2007 edition and also the April 1997 edition if you can get your hands on it.  Also the Mel Bay Complete Celtic Fingerstyle Guitar Book By Stefan Grossman, Duck Baker and El McMeen has some good arrangements. update I have checked the book this evening and I have noticed there are only three tunes in there that are DADGAD, but there are numerous arrangements by El McMeen in CGDGAD, these tunes are beautiful to play. There is a simple arrangement at  which is worth a look and could easily be developed into something much larger.

 In a nutshell, what I’m implying in this article is:

  • Develop an ear for melody and the ability to play what you here
  • Learn some basic chords in DADGAD
  • DADGAD is different to normal tuning and chords are implied not necessarily played

The idea of playing in DADGAD is to broaden your musical possibilities.  Take a simple 3 chord song that you know and try and put it into the key of D.

To be continued…

Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, acousticguitar, MUSIC

Did you stop playing guitar?

Someone visited my blog yesterday and she said had tried learning guitar, was useless and gave up.

After teaching for many years I’ve noticed there are phases to learning, and this is not just about guitar, it’s in all learning.

 When we first get the idea to play guitar we’re wide eyed and have lots of dreams.

The first week or two we’re in seventh heaven and are really clear…’I want to play music..that’s we’re I’m going and what I’ve always wanted.  Does this sound familiar?  If not, read on anyway.

 Week three we wobble, it starts to hurt a bit, the fingers suffer, co-ordinating the two hands is difficult and you’re wondering why you don’t have two brains…one for the left hand and one for he right…your confidence goes down.

 Week four is when most people drop out of playng an instrument, that’s if they don’t have the right things in place.

So what are the things that need to be in place?

 Firstly (and I’ve mentioned this in one of my other posts.)

It’s important to create something musical as soon as possible.  Unfortunately a lot of the old school ( I don’t mean old age) teachers are hell bent on shoving music theory at you straight way.  They suffered…you must suffer.  This is a really, really bad teaching practice and contributes to the dropout rate.  They don’t have an understanding of music, it comes from a limited mindset.

Find yourself a teacher that can inspire you. 

So how to chose a teacher?  Audition them…yes that’s right, they are working for you, audition them, make them show you their worth.   Oddly enough, I did this at 13 years age…I said to a guy …i want to play like Santana…he said ‘a what’…i said ‘latin music’…he played something that I couldn’t relate to, I went somewhere else and the guy taught me Blind Faith, Cream and some other stuff…this was about 1971.  Within a few years I was studying with great jazz musicians.

See if the person you are auditioning can play what you would like to play.  Give them a clear understanding of what you like, take a CD.  Be wary of the guys that want to sell you their ‘kit’…it might include a T shirt with their pic on it 🙂 .  There’s a teacher I know that teaches like that,  he’s a good player but starts everyone from the same place.  I don’t like it at all, music is personal.  It’s possible to deliver a professional service but also have respect for the needs of others.  The Internet marketing guys are telling everyone to ‘give em what the want’…’not what they need’..well my obligation is to music and not to Internet Marketing. 

 But I’ll tell you something, sometimes a teacher may not play the style you like but if they have their head screwed on correctly they’ll be able to take you a certain level, make it enjoyable and inspire you to play what’s in your heart.

 Music is very personal and what you need is someone that can:

  • Teach you what you need to know to be a good musician.
  • This means the basics to start playing simple music that is in time and in tune and most of all WITH FEELING.
  • Teach you to be a good self-learner and not dependant on them
  • Help build your confidence
  • Help draw the music out of you

Now here’s an interesting one that no one has ever mentioned to me but I know from personal experience.

The music that wants to come out of you may not necessarily be what you like to listen to.  This is a major factor that has not been addressed by any teacher I’ve met or in any magazine that I have read in the 37 years that I have been playing.  It’s an obvious one really. 

If you play the music that suits your nature and not what is fashionable, you’ll get a much better result musicaly and emotionally. ..And this may not be a thing that you will appreciate when you are younger but it’s worth considering.  It’s just a matter of being yourself.

 Thanks Lady Banana for the inspiration.

Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, MUSIC

How to play a song your way

Over the years I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of guitar players that are trying to make music but are not really happy with what they do.  There is a natural desire for many guitarists to be successful. Watching the Idol series will give you an idea what many people consider to be important.  Ok, to be fair they are not necessarily guitarists and not everyone has exactly the same desires, nor do we all think the same about music, or have the same attitudes and goals. But the Idol approach is an interesting approach to explore and it is fine if that’s what you want out of music, note I’ve said ‘out of music’.  But some of us have a desire to make music and hold that goal much higher than the offshoots of playing music.  E.g:

  • Being on television is not about music, it’s about being on television. 
  • Signing CD’s is not about making music, it’s about people worship.
  • Making a music video, is not about music, it’s about expressing through a visual media format
  • Winning a competition is not about music, it’s about popularity and commercial product

All of the above are valid…but I have difficulty locating music amongst it.  And for me music is about emotions, something expression from the core of us.

Ok, so the years  roll by, your playing’s got smarter, smoother and maybe more relaxed in the way it sits against the beat.  But here’s what I’ve noticed.  A lot of players are playing songs in what I’d consider to be an inappropriate key (I won’t say wrong).  By inappropriate I mean, the song doesn’t sit right.  Often you’ll find there are songs that you wanted to play but they never really worked for you but there’s something in it you wanted to express.  Whether the problem is the way your voice sits against the chord changes, or it might be that the chords are technically correct but it doesn’t quite do it for you, it may lack depth, there’ll be something that prevents the song from being a channel for self expression.

I’ve met many players who want to play carbon copies of the original tune.  Can anyone see a problem with this?  It seems obvious to me  but what I’ve noticed for years is that a lot of players are frightened to rip a song a part and rebuild it completely. 

Why not try playing the song in another key?  For me, other people’s songs are just a basic idea to work from. Songs are crying out to be interpreted in a different way, and chances are that at some point in your life a song that you like is expressing an emotion that you felt.

To be creative with a piece of music:

  • you only need a ‘rough idea’ of the melody – it only needs to be implied in some way
  • a basic set of chords…and really all chord patterns are sreaming out to be reharmonised
  • and an understanding of what you want to say with  the song

There’s nothing Sacred in music apart from being yourself.

Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, MUSIC

Air Guitar – the acoustic set

It’s very easy to get over serious sometimes.  So as a type of music therapy I was considering the idea of air guitar for acoustic guitarists.   For anyone that is not up to speed on air guitar, think guitar performance minus one thing – the guitar itself.  A lot of us are familiar with the wonderful antics of virtual electric guitar but how deeply has air acoustic guitar been explored. 

 I’ll make a few suggestions on a particular style.  We’ll call it the air ballad.

 So how to play the air ballad?

  • Sit quietly on the edge of stage.
  • Start with …”this is a song about a woman I once loved, anyone that has ever loved will know what I’m talking about ..”
  • It’s got to be a very mournful expression
  • I think fingerstyle is the go
  • I guess it’s ok to sing along …yes?…or do we do the air vocals as well
  • Expression…maybe meaningful in the chorus
  • A virtual tear in the bridge

Or…maybe there’s people out there already doing it.  Do old air guitarists eventually do an acoustic set or do they just do a reunion tour?

Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, acousticguitar, MUSIC

Acoustic guitar blog

I’ve been looking around at a lot of the other guitar blogs to see what people are writing/ blogging about.  There’s a lot of people trying to sell their lessons, I guess ‘why not’ because guitar players need to make a living, but I guess the question arises about whether they can play or teach, that’s not a criticism but more a curiousity.  A bit of the theory I’m seeing is a bit skewiff, but it’s a bit rude for one guitar player to comment that some the theory they are teaching is incorrect and has errors in it.   Typos are forgivable but incorrect information is a worry.

But  after digging through a lot of articles, i’m finding it really hard to find any really good inspirational blogs, and they are out there somewhere, I’m sure of this.  So please, if you find any, don’t hesitate to recommend them, even after 38 years on guitar I’m open to learning, I guess that’s a good sign.

The approach that I’ve taken in this blog relates a lot to the headspace / mindset of guitar players.  I guess this has come about by playing in so many different musical combinations and styles, and also from studying with exceptional players.   

I’ll be blogging soon about studying with the guitar master Ike Isaacs, the former Stephane Grappelli guitarist and the Indian Sarod player Ashok Roy, the student of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.  The fascinating thing about Ashok was he knew nothing about the guitar and we ended up with the tuning (bass up) B F# B F# B F (natural), yes an odd tuning but I think it’s important to discuss what I learnt, it was only recently that I heard that Ashok had passed away and I’m not sure if any other players were studying Indian music on the guitar with him.   There are  other ways of learning that I think could help players open up a bit.  Neither of these players specialized in acoustic guitar, that’s why i think it’s important to discuss their approach to music.

 So drop in with some guitar blog links if you think they are inspiring in some way, and let me know why you think they are good.

 Oh yeah, is there any acoustic air guitar happening out there?

Tony Hogan

p.s Also I have been wanting to update my simple guitar theory blog at blogspot but there’s been some techy issues. 

Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, acousticguitar, MUSIC

What makes a good guitar player?

So what does make a good guitar player?  Depends on who you ask, doesn’t it?  And maybe there needs to be an understanding before we get too far into it, that the question wasn’t  ‘what makes good music?’ Occassionally those two questions can meet, but not always.

If you really want to find out how good the music is then maybe it’s not a good idea to ask a guitar player.  Does that make sense at all? 
Here’s why. A lot of guitar players have a tendency to analyze the technical side of music; they’ll often stand in the front row and watch the the guitarist’s fingers and comment on the compexity of the music. This is all very well if we are trying to sort out how good the player is at finger gymnastics, understanding chord substitutions, harmony or the knowledge of scales etc.

I highly recommend that if you want to find out how good the music is, ask somebody that has ‘a good ear’ but does not play a musical instrument, otherwise the judgement might be a little too colored by the persons musical education. 

I remember when I was talking to the guitar great Ike Isaacs about a certain guitar player that is rated at the top of his field.  His comment was a turning point for me as a musician.  Here’s an overview of what he said, ‘He’s brilliant, the best but the problem is he plays everything he knows in the one song’.  Now as a young musician that wanted to be as good as the top guys, I had to rethink everything and decide what was important for me, and in the end, the only conclusion that I could come to was that the final result when playing music, is it needs to sound good (to a non musician this statement may possibly seem obvious but a lot of musicians miss this point), and ‘cleverness’ needs to be avoided.  Good music obviously means something to each individual but in the end it has to listened to without the intellect getting in the way. When we get our ‘head’ out of the way and drop our musical bias and listen without judgement, it’s easier to enjoy the music more.

It took me a long time to like Bluegrass guitar. it wasn’t til I heard players like Tony Rice playing with David Grisman, Russ Barenberg, Norman Blake and Doc Watson that the ‘penny dropped’ about how good it was. And then when I tried playing it, it made a lot of sense on how brilliant it is for not only in developing a better ear but for my musicality. What I found was that while working through the Bluegrass tunes I could develop a fluency in my playing that was much more enjoyable than playing hours of scales that  were monotonous and non-musical.  And I’m not saying that we shouldn’t play scales but they need to be kept in their place. An over emphasis on scales can make a guitar player sound like they are a brilliant scale player, get it?

So what does make a good guitar player?  … be continued on the 17th Sept…..

Posted in acoustic, Acoustic Guitar, MUSIC

great playing …that was a really good half a song

Ever noticed how lots of guitar players sit around and start playing a song…and stop…and doodle on the guitar and then play another half or sixteenth of a song, then a bit of an intro and so on.  Does this sound familiar? 

One of the things lacking in many players is the ability to complete, to follow through and turn what they can do on a guitar into a musical package that defines who they are as a unique musician.  What many guitarists have is a bundle of bits and pieces, this is extremely common.  Fortunately someone was kind enough to point this out to me about thirty years ago, and it helped me prevent catching a bad habit very early in my musical career. 

So how do we deal with this issue of bringing all our musical bits and pieces together?

I have a strategy that has worked for many students, and the reason it worked for them is because they followed through and acted on some very simple advice.  We often bypass the simple things but it’s astounding how the small things can make a massive impact on what we do.  So here it is:

  •  Get a piece of paper, a ruler, an eraser, a pen and a pencil

  • Draw three columns on the piece of paper in PEN

  • Create a heading at the top of the first column:


  • Create a heading at the top of the second column 


  • Create a heading at the top of the third column 


  • Write a list of the songs you can play in the 1st colum in PEN

  • Write a list of the songs you’re learning in the 2nd column in PENCIL

  • Write a list of the songs you’d like to play in the 3rd column also in PENCIL

When you select songs for the third column make sure that a number of them are achievable.

As you learn a song completely, or get it to the point where it’s reasonably good,
move the song from the second column to the first.

  • The next step is to sit down and play a concert to yourself, from start to finish.  The concert will consist only of the songs from the first column.  No doodling around.

Even if you can only play one or two songs, it’s OK you’ll build on it. If you follow the simple steps I have recommended, you’ll find that you’ll be developing a repertoire of songs for performance. Your style will gradually become more defined and more refined.

Click the link on song_list.doc to DOWNLOAD a simple list template

In my next blog I’ll be discussing how to practice so it’s not a painful non-musical experience.