Saturday, August 30, 2008

Parental Objection to the Pursuit of the Arts

Parental objection to the pursuit of the arts is premised on what? It is based at least in part on a lack of clear-cut evidence of potential in the field. Because of the confusion concerning the stability of the field, it is possible that those with great ability never pursue a career in music. If they do not pursue it, are they even aware that they have a potential! Certainly, there are many who do not seek their sphere of greatest ability because of fear - fear of failure - failure measured in any way. The same type of uncertainty faces people in other fields but the unknown has always been exaggerated in the pursuit of the arts. Thus, most have pursued "secure' jobs which has often led to discontent. Frustration is typically the result of pursuing work that is alien to one's inclination. Since so many people are engaged in work that is unfulfilling, the entire work ethic is deteriorating or has deteriorated. The majority of the work force clamor for a shorter day, more income and more benefits. Dedication to any field calls for enormous commitment of time and energy. Perhaps an advantage of the arts is that few people pursue them without dedication. If one is not happy with one's work, why does one engage in it? Some possibilities are a lack of ability, foresight, courage or determination. There is no shortage of alternatives. Since so many are engaged in work which does not satisfy them, the world is filled with mediocrity. Why has mediocrity become the standard of acceptability! What is wrong with the criterion of excellence? Is it truly more difficult to attain ? Even if it is more difficult, the rewards and personal satisfaction of accomplishment are sufficiently great to justify the time, effort and struggle.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Unlocking the Guitar - Notes on the Neck

It's unbelievable how weak guitar players are on knowing the notes on their own instrument!

No other instrument suffers from this same fate. Imagine a piano player not knowing the note names of the keys...or a trumpet player not knowing what notes come out if they push specific valve combinations. Yet, an amazingly high percentage of guitar players don't know the notes on the neck.

This problem has certainly been created by the guitar world's penchant for tablature and chord picture diagrams. Despite this, there is no excuse for the failure on the part of guitar players to learn what is absolutely rudimentary on any other instrument.

If you need help overcoming this particular problem, check out my handbook Unlocking the Guitar - Notes on the Neck. It gives different approaches to learning the notes as well as drills to master the topic.

Reading vs Sight Reading

I receive many questions on sight reading. The implication is that it is a special skill with tricks. The reality is that sight reading is nothing but a high level of reading. Guitar players are infamous for their lack of reading skills. Starting with sight reading is akin to wanting to go for your Doctorate before your Bachelor's degree.

Reading encompasses the following skills:
1) Note Recognition and Execution 2) Note Location 3) Fingering Solutions 4) Rhythm Recognition and Execution 5) Ability to follow the "roadmap" - a series of written instructions that moves you from one section of a piece to another and indicates something of the interpretation of the piece.

Putting these together is reading. Putting these together without preparation, just as you would read a book or magazine, that's sight reading!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Progress - Pursuing the Horizon

Progress is never measured from where you are to the horizon but rather from where you were to where you are. Those who focus on what lies ahead to the exclusion of their accomplishments are destined for frustration. To keep balance, use the following affirmation. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I’m looking forward with great anticipation to what I will accomplish”.

Music Pursuing the Horizon
by Chuck Anderson Available at

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Politics of Music

"Who you know" is a commonly thought prerequisite of success in the music business. Though there is a certain amount of truth to that, it is highly overrated. "Knowing" people who can assist you in your music career is nothing more complicated than meeting them. I do not deny the importance of "contacts" or the difficulty of making them but many people allow this problem to disrupt their determination. It is commonly said that contacts allow one to enter a field but ability allows one to remain and prosper in it.

Determine a Direction

Before even considering contacts, one must develop abilities and determine a direction. Whether this involves formal study or self teaching is inconsequential. The important thing is that the physical ability to perform is developed along with the creative sense and the sensitivity of the ear.

At whatever point the individual feels that he is ready to pursue a specific direction, he can begin his search for contacts. The most important fact to remember in this search is that you must locate the contact not the reverse. Though you may disagree, the contact has less to gain than you do, at least initially. You are vitally interested in yourself and your future. The contact is typically not that interested. Thus, the pressure is on you to make the moves. You do not have to be born into contacts. You do not have to live next door to a contact. You do have to open a strong, definite line of communication between yourself and everyone with whom you come into contact. If you are shy and reluctant to express yourself, you must work on overcoming this problem. Though it does require an effort, it is well worth it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Tribute to Al Stauffer

Al Stauffer was a giant musician but a gentle and supportive human being. Someone asked me recently what was it about Al that was so important to me. I must admit that no one ever asked that question of me before. It wasn't difficult to answer but it was important that I got the words right.

Al was strong, creative, encouraging and rock solid. That not only describes his music but also his character. He was always ready for something new but also valued tradition. His ability to respond musically to the moment was legendary. Whatever I played, he had a spontaneous musical reaction to it. He was the proverbial team player and yet a completely original voice.

Al taught for me at my school Modern Music Studios in Berwyn, PA for 5 years. Every night after teaching, we would go to a local pub where he would eat a roast beef sandwich and drink a couple of beers. My weakness leaned toward ham sandwiches and birch beer. Late into the night, we would talk music, sports or anything else two friends would talk about.

Al kept a distinct line between his musical life and his personal life. I realized that after he was gone, that I knew nothing about his personal life. I didn't know where he lived except in a very general way. I didn't know much about his family or his life outside our music. I didn't know where he went school or where and how he trained musically. Despite this, I always felt that we were remarkably close.

I'm always disappointed that when I see any mention of Al in print, that it never mentions our collaboration. We did concerts, taught together and recorded for 5 years at a critical point in my musical development. Fortunately, our work continues on through the recording, The Vintage Tracks.

I owe a great debt to Al for his support of my music.

Chuck Anderson

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Commercial Work

Commercial work is filled with adjustments. The musician interprets them as compromises, a term filled for the most part with negative implications. The music, atmosphere and audience are rarely to his choosing and still more rarely to his liking. The gap between what he has prepared for and what he finds is difficult to reconcile. The aspiring player begins a war within himself. Accepting work for the income it provides gives way to refusing work in order to preserve artistic integrity. Feeling financially pressured, he accepts work again only to be caught in the same dilemma and so the vicious circle continues.

Those who accept all commercial work to the exclusion of any other musical pursuits have usually made their decision in favor of income and a degree of stability. Those who turn down all commercial work in favor of artistic pursuits have made quite another decision. For some this decision has led to income and stability but only for very few. For the majority, the decision has prevented them from achieving financial rewards and those things which society equates with success. If the individual has made the decision that finances are unimportant to him and if he can remain immune to society's pressure, he will be free to pursue his art in peace.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Composer versus the Song Writer

To many, the terms composer and songwriter are interchangeable, In reality, they are not! They certainly share many common skills but there is a significant difference between the two.

A songwriter writes a single melody line and lays it over a chord progression. Lyrics are added if the song is to be a vocal tune. The order in which he or she creates these elements is irrelevant.

Sometimes these elements are created by a pair or team of writers. Sometimes they are created by a single writer.

A composer, on the other hand creates multiple streams of melody which harmonize at certain points to create harmony ie the chords.

Songwriters tend to use chord symbols in generating their songs - composers don't tend to work that way. Many songwriters start their songs with a chord progression - composers don't.

Songwriters tend to use basic harmonic rhythm and standard theme lengths and structures - again the composer does not.

Certainly writers can operate in the song field and the composer field but it does take the development of the knowledge, experience and the techniques of both fields!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Neo Classical Guitar

What is neo classical guitar? According to some, it's a style of lead guitar featuring speed as well as "classical scales and arpeggios" such as the Harmonic minor scale and the diminished 7th arpeggio.

To claim that this has anything to do with classical or neo classical guitar borders on the ridiculous!

We certainly recognize the form called classical guitar as a nylon string instrument, played on the left leg, using the nails and fingertips of the thumb (p), the index finger (i), the middle finger (m) and the ring finger(a). This is the form made popular by Andrea Segovia. Its repertoire as well as its sound and technique stamped this form as classical guitar.

I think the form that I developed in the 80's qualifies as Neo Classical Guitar. It's characterized by the use of the modern guitar, acoustic or electric, played with a pick and performing transcriptions of recognized classical composers.

If you would like to hear this form, check out Kaleidophon the Art of the Neo Classical Guitar.

There is a demo at The CD is also available on the same site.

Look for two new Neo Classical Guitar CDs titled "Timeless": and "Virtuosity" to be released in the Fall!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Music and Selling Out

We hear much about "selling out". What does it mean! To many it means playing anything that becomes financially successful. This is an extremely narrow and destructive point of view. An individual can "sell out" in only one way. That is to violate and give up the pursuit of goals and ambitions for himself thus never achieving a meaningful sense of accomplishment and fulfillment.

Music and Age

The musician too often convinces himself that at the age of eighteen or twenty-two or. . . his decision is irreversible and has lifelong implications. This is not true. If he follows his own inclinations and tries, he will be moving toward the realization of a goal. This movement is important because it is a positive attempt to move forward. It is not the crippling inertia caused by indecision. It is never too late to change directions and to reshape goals. It only takes courage and effort to do it.

Talent must reflect individuality

Every individual is unique. Talent must reflect individuality. This unveiling of the unique individual reflects varying degrees of depth, perception and maturity. The uniqueness of an individual does not primarily center on physical ability. The physical ability to play is a mechanic and can be acquired by most with sufficient work and determination. Physical aptitude should never be equated with the possession of "talent". The physical is an essential means to the ultimate goal of revealing the self through music but it is by no means the only factor. Talent strives forward and upward on two fronts: the technical (physical), and the musical (creative). Missing or limited development of either interferes with the development of the musician's totality. The fusion of the physical and creative aspects of music reflects the ultimate possibilities of development for a particular individual.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Students and Practice

Students seem to think that they should be above low points of practice enthusiasm. They are perhaps unknowingly denying their own humanness. No one is perfectly consistent. Musicians are not machines. There will be peak periods and the opposite. The true measure of one's potential is not the consistency of highs but rather the ability to recover from low periods. During periods of depression and sagging enthusiasm, students often begin to tell themselves that they must not have the ability to achieve in music. Because if they did, so their reasoning goes, they would not have any difficulties with their own motivation toward practice. They tend to look at an established player and assume that this player never had problems like theirs. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is their assumptions only that is giving them their "information". If the established player were to be questioned and if he were to be honest and open with the inquiring student, he would reflect the same problems as the student himself. Naturally, it must be looked at within the framework of the established player's development.

Music Pursuing the Horizon
by Chuck Anderson Available at

Music - Self Reflection

Music is basically a type of self reflection, a communication form intended to convey the uniqueness of the individual player. The uniqueness of an individual is the sum total of his experiences. These experiences shape the personality of the individual to a great extent and it is this personality which is reflected through music. The importance of life involvement and life experience is greatly overlooked. Many have confused the reality of music with the theories of music. Music is part of this world. It is not above, beyond or outside of it. It is so integrated with day to day living that it should not become separate. Those who have decided that a four, six or eight hour practice day takes precedence over or eliminates the need for other experience should reevaluate. Based on the thought that isolated practice is the key to success, all great players should be single, unattached, without responsibility or pressure and totally free to devote all their energy to music. However, the smallest investigation reveals the opposite facts. Great players throughout history have been human beings fully involved in the business of living as well as in the pursuit of their art. They have married, divorced, had children, mortgages, debts and emotional trauma. In short, they are exactly the same as non-players except for their specific ability and direction.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Friendship and Bands

Here is a common problem in bands. You start a band with your good friend. You're not concerned with the fact that your friend doesn't play well. You're just glad to be making music. Over time, it becomes apparent that your friend is not as committed as you are. Perhaps you study and he or she doesn't. Perhaps you practice but he or she doesn't.

The progress of the band suffers and you suffer! The chain is as strong as its weakest link. But you don't know how to handle this problem. After all, it's your friend, maybe your best friend.

This is your first test of developing an attitude of professionalism - or at least seriousness.

If your "friend" won't put the effort into improving, you should replace him or her in the band. Don't let some misguided sense of loyalty stop you from doing what you should do. It's not fair to you to be held back by such an individual.

If this individual is truly a friend, go to the movies with him or her. Hang out, eat meals together, go to a ball game.

Be a friend but don't let it interfere with your future!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Performance and Teaching

It's commonly believed that teaching and performing are mutually exclusive. Not so!

Each of these pursuits is an outlet for creativity. They are separate but interrelated.

The effort and energy required to pursue two fields is certainly greater than the effort required to pursue one field. But it can be done. Typically, anyone involved in teaching and performing tends to favor one or the other at various points in their career. But if you've trained for both, you should be able to pursue both.

This applies to every field, even Classical music. I remember reading an article about Janos Starker, a famous cellist. He performed and taught at Indiana University. He was the first Classical musician I ever heard who stated emphatically that the duality of teaching and performing could be a reality.

Remember, perform seriously and teach seriously. Each will enhance the other!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Promotion in the Music Industry

There is something about musicians that resists marketing, especially self promotion. I think there is a perverse pride that musicians have about not being in business. This alienation to business creates a great disservice to everyone involved.

If you don't approach your music as a serious endeavor, it will not be taken seriously. Is music your full time career or is it a hobby? The answer to this question is central to your decision as to how you should approach the business side of it.

Think of any business, product or service. They all have one thing in common. They promote, they advertise, they sell. This is not a violation of your internal commitment to the arts and creativity. On the contrary, it's what makes you a professional as opposed to a hobbyist. Playing music as a hobby is fine. These comments are more addressed to professionals and those who want to be professionals.

Creativity creates your product or service. Then, you have to introduce it to the public, find your audience and provide something of value.

This is simply a mind set. Learn to think business after you have created your service or product.

Your reward will be the opportunity to indulge your passion while making a living.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Value of Formal Music Study

Should you study music with a teacher or should you "wing" it on your own? This question always comes up in this type of discussion about music.

An objective assessment of the two alternative approaches leads me invariably towards the formal route. Why? Because without guidance, there is a tendency to go in circles, What do you practice, when do you move to the next topic? When are you doing something wrong? How do you practice what doesn't exist to you?

Many complain about time as a factor leading to the decision not to study. I would suggest that exactly the opposite is true. Those with less time need the efficiency of study. Without it, there's a tendency to "practice" what you're already good at. Study ensures that you will be working on your weaknesses. The results of self teaching are obvious. A player may get good at one thing but have blatant weaknesses in another.

If you use famous players in the past as your justification for not studying, you'd be wrong! Wes Montgomery was self taught - there's your justification. But is it? Wes was self taught because there were no teachers at that time. I don't mean no qualified teachers. I mean no teachers. Wes told me "Make sure you study. Don't do what I did."

All this, of course is premised on the presumption that you study with a qualified teacher. What makes a teacher qualified and how do find such a teacher? We'll save that one for the next installment.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Diversity of Music

One of the most fascinating aspects of music is its diversity. By diversity, I don't mean styles of music. Certainly, there are many forms of music available - Classical, Jazz, Rock, Folk, Blues, Country and on.

In this context, I'm talking about the many levels of music. How many ways there are to enjoy and appreciate music.

1) Music is intellectual. There are so many principles behind music that one could spend a life time unravelling them. As a profession, we could call one who pursues these principles, a theoretician. But on a more casual level, understanding what is behind, what is beneath the music merely enhances one's enjoyment of music, regardless of the form that music takes.

2) Music is emotional. Whether you are a singer, an instrumentalist, a composer, a song writer or just a fan, music provides a deep sense of emotional satisfaction. It's difficult to find another activity that offers so much to so many.

3) Music is physical. Musicians train endless hours to develop the strength, agility and stamina that it takes to play music successfully. In this sense, the pursuit of music is like the pursuit of athletics.

4) Music is psychological. The control of the mind and the psyche is enhanced by the development of patience, the ability to communicate, the ability to work with others and the ability to balance ego and humility.

5) Music is philosophical. In music, many have found a way of life that benefits them in many facets of their own lives. The Greek Golden Mean of moderation, harmony and balance provides a basic structure by which you can guide your life.

These are just a few of the many ways that music influences and impacts lives.