Learn to Arrange Songs for Guitar at Huber Guitar Studio

Have you ever wanted to play a song on the guitar, but couldn’t find any decent TAB, video, or sheet music to learn to play it? Or you found some TAB or sheet music, but it didn’t capture the whole song or the hook of the song? Maybe you want to play a song on the guitar where the original recording has no guitar at all and come up with your own version of the song. In all of these cases the issue is how to arrange songs for solo guitar or how to arrange a solid guitar accompaniment for singing along.

What is song arranging?

Song arranging is a reworking of a piece of music so it can be played by a different instrument or combination of instruments, or a musical reconceptualization of a previously composed work. As a guitar teacher, part of my job is to help students learn to arrange pop, rock, jazz, and folk songs to meet their skill level and instrumentation needs.

How to arrange songs for voice and guitar

Arranging songs for voice and guitar is a bit easier skill-wise for the guitarist than arranging for solo guitar (see below), but can still be a challenge when trying to distill a full band arrangement down to voice and guitar. Certain choices have to be made by examining the whole song and not just the guitar parts. This includes possibly listening to the bass, drum, and keyboard parts to identify the overall groove (rhythm) of the song. Frequently a rhythm guitar part on a recording may be perfect in a full band arrangement, but it may not be right for solo voice and guitar. Sometimes you may need to simplify the guitar accompaniment to make it easier to sing along with, or you might want to embellish the rhythm guitar to suit the song and make it more interesting.

How to arrange songs for solo guitar 

One of the more challenging feats for a guitarist is to create a chord-melody arrangement of a song for solo guitar where the chords and melody are played at the same time. There are several ways to accomplish this on guitar:

  • Place the melody in the higher register (1st or 2nd String) and play the chords on the strings below at the same time. This is sometimes known as “Jazz Chord Melody”
  • Strum the chords in the spaces between the melody note,  known as Folk or “Carter Style” strumming.
  • Imply the chords with a bass line played by the right hand thumb and play the melody with the right hand fingers (Folk-Blues Finger-style or Travis Picking.)
  • Using a mix of all of the above!
Learn to arrange songs like MS John Hurt at Huber Guitar Studio
The legendary Mississippi John Hurt, a master at Folk-Blues finger-style guitar.

Learn to create your own arrangement!

It goes without saying that the best cover songs are the ones that don’t try to replicate the original as much as ones that cast a new light on the song by creating a new take on it. As an artist, I always try to keep that in mind when working with students to create a new song arrangement. Learning to arrange songs and rework them to meet your own skill-set and ideas is a demanding process, but also very illuminating and can vastly improve your musicianship!

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Now located in the Old Goucher/Charles Village neighborhood!

In March of 2017, Huber Guitar Studio moved from Hampden to the Old Goucher Historic District of lower Charles Village. Old Goucher gets its name from its proximity to the original Goucher College buildings along St. Paul St which are currently occupied by the Baltimore Lab School. We’re located on the 3rd floor of the James E. Hooper House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, at 100 E. 23rd St.

There several music and arts related offices and studios in the building. Morphius Records, a record label and CD/Vinyl manufacturing and distribution service, is located on the first floor and Lord Baltimore Recording Studio is in the basement.  The building also houses a photography studio, a massage therapist, and a custom bike repair shop.

Parking for Huber Guitar Studio has been much improved since we moved from Hampden! Students and parents can find parking on the parking lot adjacent to the building, or 23rd St and St Paul St.

Huber Guitar Studio
Huber Guitar Studio

Above is a glimpse inside the studio where the guitar lessons take place. Below is the waiting area.

Huber Guitar Studio waiting area
Huber Guitar Studio waiting area
vending area of the James Hooper House
vending area of the James Hooper House
1st floor of the James Hooper House
1st floor of the James Hooper House
Beautiful 19th century staircase in the James Hooper House
Beautiful 19th century staircase in the James Hooper House

Guitar Lessons Tailored to Your Needs!

Custom Guitar Lessons, Tailored to Your Needs

Whether you’ve been playing guitar for years or are just starting out, personalized, one-on-one guitar lessons at Huber Guitar Studio will put you on your own path to excellence with guitar.

At your first lesson, I will sit down with you to find out where you are with your guitar playing and where you would like to go. As we go along, I hope to find out how you work best so we can develop a solid practice routine. From my many years of teaching guitar, I’ve seen that each student has different strengths, musical interests, and time frames to work with, so I hope to learn a lot about you so I can tailor the lessons to meet your needs.

If you are brand new to playing guitar, we’ll start at the beginning, but it’s important to have an idea, even at the very early stages, of your overall expectations and of what style of music you’d like to focus on. It can give you a lot more motivation, if you have some specific goals in mind!

If you’ve been playing for a while and want to take your guitar playing to the next level, I will assess all the aspects of your playing, then ask you about where you’d like to be as a guitarist and about any difficulties in the past that you’ve encountered as well as what you like the most about playing music and guitar.  My goal is to get feedback from you so that we’ll be moving in the direction that feels right for you.

I aim to make my guitar lessons as enjoyable as possible and I hope that after each lesson you’ll feel like you’ve learned something new and will feel motivated to keep your guitar playing moving forward!

 

5 Best Guitar Practice Habits

As it is important for students who want to get the most out of their guitar lessons to have long term goals about what they want to achieve as guitar players, it is equally important to develop great practice habits to ensure success. A practice routine is one of the most important parts of learning an instrument. Even after you’ve achieved a certain level of success, it’s important to still practice new concepts to maintain your chops! Here are five practice habits that I feel will greatly improve your chances of success at guitar!

  1. Practice a piece of music, a riff,  a lick, etc,  slowly and correctly, the first time. 

It’s important to make sure that you’re practicing your music with the right notes, rhythm, and fingering at the outset in order to keep you from having to relearn it later. You want to be sure that you’re not practicing mistakes and putting them into muscle memory, which makes it tough to break out the mistake. This will save a lot of time. Practice your music slowly, double-check the rhythm, and listen to a recorded version of the piece several times. If what you are playing doesn’t sound like the recording, then you need to find out the issue before you practice it over and over.

2. Practice a minimum of 15 minutes a day

This one I tell my students all of the time and the ones that abide by this guideline do better than the ones who don’t. Practicing a minimum of 15 minutes everyday forces you to pick up the guitar like the pros do, and streamline your practice session. Daily practice helps you remember the concepts and techniques far more than a marathon practice on a single day.  Most people have 15 min free at some point in their day. When you only have 15 minutes to practice, you better make sure that you stay focused on the task at hand. Be sure to set a timer and when 15 minutes is up, stop!

3. Plan out what you are going to practice.

For this it is good to have a log-book of some kind to keep track of what you’ve been practicing. Often times we’ll cover a variety of concepts in the guitar lessons and you want to make sure that you get to them all during the week or so between your lessons. It’s a great idea to plan out a week of 15 min practice sessions so that you are sure to cover all the new concepts and whichever old ones that are necessary.

4. Practice in 15 minute increments.

This goes right along with the previous two habits. If you decide to practice longer than 15 minutes on certain days, it is still a good idea to break down your practicing into 15 min blocks of time so that you’ll be sure to take a break and move around between blocks as well as stay focused on what needs to be done to move your playing along.

5. Practice the difficult passages of a piece of music more often than the easy parts.

I have found this habit to be a great time-saver. Look over your piece of music and identify what passages are causing you the most trouble, circle them on the page, or if you’re learning by ear, write down the time that the trouble spots occur in the music. Practice only those passages during your practice session, then try the whole piece.

I hope this helps jumpstart your guitar practice and I hope to have more practice tips on this blog in the future!

~Dave

25 songs for beginner guitarists

So you’ve just decided to start playing guitar, or you’ve tried to learn before and you didn’t get past the first few pages of Mel Bay’s Guitar Method book 1. I don’t blame you. While I have absolutely nothing against Mel Bay (one of the biggest publishers of guitar books), starting with a method book, while informative, may not be the best approach to keep your interest at the early stages.

While there are many great beginner choices, I’ve decided to go with songs that are relatively easy to play and are popular. So you can get a lot of mileage out of these. I’ve omitted “Smoke on the Water” for reasons you can imagine!  I’ve also chosen tunes that are in a variety of genres so as a budding guitarist you can be versatile in your playing. I hope to expand on each genre in subsequent posts.

Here they are, in order of easy to more challenging:

  1. Jambalaya on the Bayou – Hank Williams – (Country)
  2. Horse With No Name – America – (Classic Rock)
  3. Eleanor Rigby – The Beatles – (Rock)
  4. Seven Nation Army – The White Stripes – (Rock)
  5. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – The Rolling Stones
  6. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door – Bob Dylan – (Rock)
  7. Peggy Sue – Buddy Holly – (Rock’n’Roll)
  8. Old Joe Clark -Traditional – (Bluegrass/Old Time)
  9. Yellow Submarine – Yellow Submarine – (Rock)
  10. Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley – (Folk-Rock)
  11. Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash – (Country)
  12. Sweet Home Chicago (basic version) – Robert Johnson – (Blues)
  13. Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show -(Bluegrass)
  14. You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere – Bob Dylan – (Folk-Rock)
  15. Redemption Song – Bob Marley – (Reggae)
  16. Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) – Green Day – (Rock)
  17. One – U2 – (Rock)
  18. About a Girl – Nirvana – (Grunge Rock)
  19. Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana – (Grunge Rock)
  20. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd – (Rock)
  21. Sittin’ on Top of the World – Various Artists – (Blues)
  22. Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran – (Pop/Rock)
  23. Malagueña (Flamenco)
  24. Blue Monk – Thelonius Monk -(Jazz)
  25. Blackbird – The Beatles – (Rock)

There are many many other songs I could list here, but hopefully these will spark some ideas. The tunes above will be easy in their original key. With a lot of songs, you can make them easier by changing the original key to G or C, simplifying the strum pattern, and/or simplifying the chord voicings.

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To Read or Not to Read Music

Should I focus on learning to read music in standard notation for guitar?

Learning to read music will open many doors in learning guitar, but it is not required to play the instrument and become an effective player. Learning to read standard notation will make you better able to communicate the language of music, and help your ability to learn pieces faster, but like anything in music, it takes time and consistent practice to get efficient at it. It can be difficult in the beginning if you’ve never read standard notation before, which is why I don’t push my students to learn to read music in the beginning stages. There are plenty of guitar techniques to master that don’t necessarily require reading music, but I do instruct students to learn to read rhythms, tablature, and the note names on the fretboard.

It is true that many great guitar players are not great readers of standard musical notation, or do not read music at all.  This is in part due to the fact that modern guitar player has a few other tools other than standard notation at his or her disposal to communicate how to play a piece of music: By ear (audio), by sight (video), and tablature.

Here are the pros and cons of each:

  1. By ear (audio)
    • Pro: develop your listening and ear training abilities
    • Con: It can be tough for beginners and intermediate players without any ear training or music theory background
  2. By sight (video and audio)
    • Pro: a little easier than learning from only the audio, you are able to see exactly where to play the notes and chords.
    • Con: Still tough for beginners and can be frustrating.
  3. Tablature:
    • Pro: Know exactly where on the fretboard to play the notes
    • Con: Often tablature does not convey the rhythm, so you often have to figure that out by ear.

As I mentioned above, tablature is more specific in that it tells you exactly which frets to play the notes or chords. When something is written in standard notation for guitar, unless it conveys which position to play, you have a few options of where to play the notes on the neck. Tablature takes out the guess-work and in general it is easier for most people to read.

I highly encourage my students to explore all the ways to learn music on the guitar: sight, sound, tablature, and standard notation. Doing so will make you a well-rounded, effective guitar player and musician!

 

 

Group Guitar Lessons

Learn guitar with friends and neighbors of a similar playing ability level at Huber Guitar Studio!

Huber Guitar Studio offers small group guitar lessons for beginner and intermediate players. Groups are usually 2 to 3 people.

  • Learn guitar in a fun, friendly environment and meet fellow guitar players in the Baltimore area.
  • Learn songs together and learn how to play along with other musicians.
  • Observe and learn from fellow students on how to tackle problems with learning guitar.
  • Get more time with the instructor at a lower cost!

Group Rates are $20/person for a half hour and $30/person for an hour lesson. 

The 5 Best Ways to Improve at Playing Guitar

When teaching guitar, I like to break down songs and techniques into smaller more manageable parts. So I thought it would be a good idea to break down my teaching philosophy into 5 areas that will help beginner students maximize their practice time. Here are the 5 best ways for beginners to improve at guitar.

1. Practice 15 minutes every day. Set a timer and practice no longer than 15 minutes, but practice for 15 minutes everyday.  It’s not too hard to fit in 15 minutes of practice into the day somewhere. 15 minutes over 4 days is better than an hour once every 4 days.

 2. Learn to read rhythms and practice strumming. Setting a strong    foundation in rhythm is vital for success in guitar playing down the road. So many issues arise as a result of a lack of understanding rhythm.

3. Learn the notes on the fretboard. There are a few methods for learning the fretboard notes and it’s a good idea to employ all of them. Being able to “see” the notes on the fretboard will take you very far.

4. Learn to play simple melodies by ear. This will greatly improve your ear for music and help your ability to learn songs faster. It can be tricky at first, but very rewarding.

5. Practice chord changes. Mastering chord changes is a very fundamental step, but an extremely important one. So special attention should be made in this area. I’ve found that a lot of issues arise from simply not being able to play the chord changes effectively.

DH-4002

 

Guitar Conditions: What to Look Out for

What to look out for when buying a guitar:

When you purchase a starter guitar you want to make sure that it is in a functional and playable condition. This particularly applies to used guitars, but new guitars can potentially have issues as well. Most of the time, the guitar that you walked out of the door with is not the one that you tried out in the store. So you want to be sure that the one you are getting is in good condition.

Without getting too technical, here are some basic things to check:

  • Action/Fret Buzzing: The action is the distance of the strings from the fretboard. It shouldn’t be too high from the fretboard or too low. If it is too high, the strings will be hard to press down. If it is too low, certain notes may make a buzzing sound. Both problems can lead to bad intonation
  • Intonation: Intonation is how accurate the pitches (notes) are at each fret. When the guitar strings are tuned to standard tuning, all of the notes played at each fret should also be at the correct pitch. The best way to check this is by using a guitar tuner on the chromatic or “all notes” setting and play each fret on every string.
  • Body Condition: Make sure the body of the guitar is in decent shape.  Make sure the finish on the body is not cracked in anyway or the bridge is not sinking into the wood (symptoms of the wood drying out). Also be sure that there are no dips or swells in the body (signs of over humidifying).
  • Neck Condition: Make sure that the neck is not warped or twisted in any way. Guitar necks can have a slight bow in them, but make sure it is not bowed too much. Also, be sure that there are no cracks in the neck or headstock.

Conclusion

These are some very basic tips on guitar conditions. If you’re buying a used guitar, some superficial cracks or nicks in the wood can add character to the instrument and not affect its playability in any way. Just be on the lookout for the potential issues listed above and you should be in good shape.

Photo by Paul Familetti – willie-guitar, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13657133

Buying a Guitar for Beginner Students

Many people who are new to playing guitar ask me about how to go about buying a guitar, what type of guitar to buy, what price range, etc. In this post, I’ll give you some advice on how to do just that. Also, if you don’t want to go full blast into purchasing a guitar you might want to ask around and see if anyone you know may be willing to loan you a guitar that they might not use very often.

Where to buy a guitar?

In the Baltimore area, the biggest guitar retailers are Guitar Center in Towson and Glen Burnie, and Bill’s Music in Catonsville. Two other favorite places are Appalachian Bluegrass in Catonsville and Music-Go-Round in Cockeysville. In Baltimore City there there are two small music shops: Ted’s Musicians Shop , and Brothers Music. It’s also a great idea to check craigslist for a used guitar, but always examine it and try it out before you buy!

Electric vs. Acoustic, what’s the difference?

Whether to buy and electric or acoustic guitar for a beginner depends in large part on the style of music that they want to play. Someone wanting to play rock, jazz, or blues, would most likely want to buy an electric whereas someone wanting to play folk, classical, or bluegrass would be interested in an  acoustic.

Electric and acoustic guitar strings in standard tuning are tuned exactly the same and therefore the notes on the fretboard are identical. So learning the basics on an acoustic are pretty much the same as learning the basics on an electric. But there are some differences in regards to playability, note range, volume, and tonal quality.

Some benefits in starting with an electric guitar:
  • The smaller strings on the electric make it easier to play certain chords and to bend the strings.
  • When it’s not amplified, electrics can be fairly quiet which can allow you to not disturb your roommates or neighbors while practicing.
  • It’s easier to match the tone quality of songs that use electric guitar.
  • The body shape of an electric allows you to reach higher notes on the fretboard.
Some benefits of starting with an acoustic guitar:
  • The strings are thicker and better suited for finger-style playing.
  • It’s loud enough on its own in small settings, so there is no need for an amplifier.
  • It’s simpler than an electric, therefore there are fewer components that could break or cause issues.
  • You can match the acoustic tone found on many recordings.

Whether to buy and electric or acoustic guitar for a beginner depends in large part on the style of music that they want to play. Someone wanting to play rock, jazz, or blues, would most likely want to buy an electric whereas someone wanting to play folk, classical, or bluegrass would be interested in an  acoustic.

Body Size

The size of the body of the guitar can be an issue particularly for children,  but also for adults who may prefer a smaller over a larger body size and vice versa. There are adult size acoustic guitars that are smaller than the standard dreadnought type, the largest and probably the most common body size. The best thing to do is to try out different types and see which one feels the most comfortable.

When trying to size up a guitar for a child, please see my post on Buying a Guitar for a Child (coming soon).

What is the price range?

I recommend spending between $100 to $250 for a starter guitar, although you may find some decent used ones for under $100. I’d say stay away from the super-cheap new guitars.

Which brands to buy:

For brands in the $100 to $250 range for acoustic guitars, in my humble opinion from what I’ve observed through years of teaching beginners, Yamaha is a favorite. Epiphone, Washburn, and Fender are decent. Hohner and Mitchell (Guitar Center’s brand I believe) are ok too. Stay away from Rogue, First Act, and Oscar Schmidt (most of these brands retail below $100), they seem to always have issues. There are lots of other brands as well and most are fine as starter guitars. Basically, you want something that is functional and not going to have issues or fall apart after a few months.

In my next post, I’ll discuss a few tips on examining the condition of a new or used guitar. 

Guitar Lessons for all ages and ability levels.