In The Beginning: 7

So, in this guitar pre-school lesson, we take the chords and strums we’ve practiced and put them in a song: One of the great anthems of my generation, “Blowin’ In The Wind” by Bob Dylan. Here’s the lesson, and look farther down the page for my video of the song.

And here’s a performance video of the song. Hopefully, you can see how the simple techniques in the lesson can eventually lead to the more developed accompaniment in the performance.


Oy! Again, with the J200’s!

A few years ago, I wrote extensively about my long love affair with Gibson J200s. I had gone on the hunt, and ended up with a very nice 1991 rosewood “J200 junior” (actually a J185 with fancy trappings) at that time. It’s missing a couple of the fancy trappings (bound headstock and fingerboard), but it sounds better to my ear than most any maple J200, and I’ve been very pleased with it.

Here it is on a Rev. Gary Davis-esque rendering of the 60s pop hit “In The Summertime”.

Anyhow, the iconic pickguard on this guitar had two little things about it that bothered me.

  1. J200’s are not big flatpicking guitars, but I often flatpick mine, and the deeply embossed pickguard was very scratchy and annoying when my hand slid across it during the picking motion.
  2. On my favorite J200s from the ’40s., the pickguard had a thin outline which defined its shape. Especially on a sunburst model, this has a notable effect on the appearance of the guitar. See pic below.


So, a few weeks ago, I went on ebay and found a suitable replacement guard for the “junior”. It arrived yesterday, and I spent an hour or so removing the original and replacing it. Here’s a before and after shot:


Not only does the new pickguard have “the look”, but it’s not embossed. The painting seems to be safely beneath a substantial clear coat, which means the guitar now flatpicks just like any other guitar, with no embossed impediment! A win-win situation! Okay, now if I can just find someone to put binding on the neck and headstock…

Relic #2: The Third Eyebrow, by Robin Kessinger.

In 1995, I returned to the Winfield “Walnut Valley Festival” with my friend Mark Cosgrove, who proceeded to win the National Flatpicking Championship. We spent much of the festival hanging with his flatpicking friends, and the “Kessinger Camp” was the happening place. I met Robin, his brother Dan, his mom and dad, Bob and Doris, and the sisters, Linda, June, and Alice. They were a wild and crazy crew, and much of the banter was hilarious. The music was astounding, and I found myself trying to keep up with a crew of 5 or 6 national champs at any given jam. Within a year, I’d put fingerpicking on the back burner and dedicated myself to becoming a flatpicker. I learned a lot from hanging with all of those guys, and, while I never approached their level of high speed virtuosity, I got to where I could sometimes almost keep up, and was therefore more than competent to jam with mere mortals.

After that year, Winfield became my annual vacation spot, and has remained so for the past 20+ years. I heard Robin’s great tune, “The Third Eyebrow” very early on. I fell in love with it immediately. At the time, I couldn’t really flatpick, so I set out to arrange a solo fingerstyle version. When Robin and brother Dan heard the result, they said, “Eek! You turned it into a classical rag!!” That was not my intention, but I was fairly happy with the result.
I’ve used the video for this tune as an opportunity to highlight the wonderful Kessinger family, including Robin, Dan, and sisters Linda, Alice, and June, who make a cameo appearance in their matching “Wall Drug” teeshirts. Their family is traditional music royalty, and I’ve valued their friendship, music, and good humor for over 20 years.
Other cameos in the video include Wayne Henderson, Tom Schaefer, and, on the canine side, Keli and Django, our lovingly remembered Australian Kelpies.

Relic #1 – Chapel Rd.

When I was a 19 year old hotshot guitarist, a violinist friend was admiring my left hand technique. With the wisdom gleaned from his classical studies, he said, “Enjoy it now, man, because you’re at the height of your physical skills, and it’ll be all down hill from here.”

He was wrong about the time frame, but correct about the concept. Since 1996, I’ve gradually become more limited in my playing ability due to focal dystonia of the right index finger as well as the ravages of age. Because I had developed a wide variety of stylistic abilities, there is still a lot of music available to me, but I sometimes lament the loss of various parts of my repertoire. Right before I started having problems, I’d completed my second CD, “Max’s Ramble”. It’s now out of print, and, listening back, there are some tunes that make me wince…thankfully, when you lose your chops, you have to fall back on good taste, which was not always the case in my youth. But there are some tunes that I’m still proud of, so I thought I’d start posting them as relics of a bygone era, hence this first post.

The house on Chapel Rd.

The house on Chapel Rd.

We lived on Chapel Rd, near New Hope PA, for a dozen years. It was a modest cabin in the woods, with large windows and lots of barn wood along with the white walls. A long porch on one side of the house was a perfect guitar-picking site, and that’s where this tune was written. The music was published by Mel Bay in their “Fingerpicking 2000” anthology, but I’ve long since lost my copy…so it goes…

The slideshow features lots of nice guitars and good friends. I hope you enjoy the tune!

In The Beginning: 6

In our sixth lesson, I’m teaching some left hand hammer-ons and pull-offs, and how they apply to some simple right hand technique, both for flatpicking and fingerpicking. What I show here is very fundamental, but it leads toward more complex rhythms. Here’s the video:

If you’re working with a flatpick, you should also watch this video, a trailer for my “solo flatpicking DVD from Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop, which shows very fundamental but important pick technique:

Okay, have fun, and stay tuned!

In The Beginning: 5

In this lesson, we practice our 6 chords in 2-chord pairs, becoming fluent with every possible pairing:

Pairing C with: F, G, Am, Dm, Em.

Pairing F with G, Am, Dm, Em.

Pairing G with Am, Dm, Em.

Pairing Am with Dm, Em.

Pairing Dm with Em.

Get comfortable with each of this, as shown in the video. Then just sit around and randomly go from chord to chord. These 6 chords are all derived from the C major scale, and therefore they sound good together. See if you can figure out which chords sound like “home base” (good “ending” chords) as you’re playing through them!

In The Beginning: 4

In this lesson, we discuss 3 basic minor chords: Am, Em, and Dm. In addition, once you can play Am, you can move it over one string towards the bass side of the neck and it becomes Emajor.


Am = 002210

Em = 022000

Dm = X00231

Emajor = 022100

All is explained on the video:


In The Beginning: 3

In this lesson, we’ll refer back to one of the two “2-finger shapes” we discussed in lesson one. Now we’ll turn them into complete triads (3 note chords). A triad is the most basic kind of chord, but that doesn’t mean we only play 3 strings on the guitar. For example, a C chord has the notes C, E, & G. The basic C chord in the video below can be played on 5 strings, because some of the notes are repeated…from bass to treble strings, starting with the fifth string, the notes would be C, E, G, C, E.

A simple way of writing this chord in text would be X32010. The “X” denotes a string we won’t play, and the numbers are fret numbers. “0” is an open string that gets played. If this is gobbledygook to you right now, don’t worry. Just learn the fingerings from the video, repeat them again and again, and we’ll sort stuff out later. Here’s the video. Have fun!

In The Beginning: 2

As promised in the previous lesson, here’s a bit of information about these 3 important structural issues when playing the guitar:

  • seating posture
  • left hand position
  • right hand position

The video should explain it all.

In the meantime, you can keep working on the 2-finger left hand positions we talked about in lesson one. We’ll start to enlarge on those next time!

In The Beginning…

I know that a lot of folks who subscribe to this blog are already good guitarists, but I also know that some of you are teachers, and that some of you may have friends a/or relatives who want to learn the guitar, and some of you may just be beginning yourselves. I’m starting with my simplest exercise for the left hand. It’s a “baby step”, and may be useful for students who, for one reason or another, need the least convoluted fingerings for beginning to play. (Children, old folks with some arthritis, people who just consider themselves uncoordinated…)

See the video below for that exercise, but here are some things I’m not covering today which we may talk about in future posts:

  • Posture: How you sit and hold the guitar may make playing easier or harder.
  • How your left hand holds the neck. Relaxation is paramount.
  • Positioning your right hand.

But for now, here’s a little video on how to start laying the groundwork for developing a chord vocabulary with the least difficulty.

Stay tuned for further episodes.