Welcome to our annual Digital Christmas Recital here at stickandstrum!

Students worked hard this year and I'm proud to offer you the results of their hard work. For those that have been with me for a while, be sure to watch last year's Christmas recital too and see how much you've improved!

Feel free to leave comments for students below or copy/paste the URL to send to friends and relatives.

Mattie: Away in a Manger

Ryan: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Jack: Jingle Bells

Bianca: Up on the Housetop

Lucas: Jingle Bells

Andrew: Little Drummer Boy

Cam: Feliz Navidad

Quin: Feliz Navidad

Dakota: Silent Night

Sarah: What Child is This?

Wes: The Christmas Song

Coleton: The Christmas Song

Group Guitar: Silent Night

As I continually seek to challenge students, it is sometimes the easiest statements and questions that can be the most challenging and produce the best results. With practicing at home (and even in lessons at time) playing music can becomes more about a run out the clock situation than a learning experience: "Did I put in my 20 minutes of practice yet?" And we, as educators, are mostly to blame. For so long we have made how much time a student practices the standard of excellence in our lessons because, in our minds, practice equals dedication and learning. Practice makes you get better. But, what if it doesn't?

I've been seeing more and more students lately that I am fairly confident are practicing, but there is almost nothing to show for it. Is it possible to practice for two hours in a week and get nothing done? Absolutely. And students seem really surprised by it. 

So, I've been making a real attempt this semester at more of a goal and performance based concept to practicing. My focus is on what the student got done over the week instead of how much time they spent with the instrument. To be honest, I don't care if the student spent 10 minutes or 10 hours in practice. As long as they are meeting (and possibly exceeding) the goals set before them, I'm thrilled!

So, what does this look like? There are lots of different methods out there that I've tried including the Level System, but I think it comes down to a few things:

1) Teachers need to be ABSOLUTELY clear about what is expected and how the students will know that they have achieved the goal

I spent years saying things like, "Practice page 2" or "Make sure that the chorus section sounds better next week". Those goals are not measurable. I've been making a concerted effort to give measurable goals: "Be able to play page 2 with a metronome at 80 bpm next week. You are ready to play it for me when you can play it three times in a row without error at home." There is no wiggle room there. When the student comes in the next week they are either ready to play it for me as assigned or they aren't. The expectation is clear. 

2) Active Practice vs. Passive Practice

I've begun talking to students about this recently as we prepare for our recital next month. Active Practice involves being actively involved in what you are doing. The student is not watching TV, daydreaming, watching the clock, or mindlessly playing. Passive Practice happens when students are not fully engaged in their practice. Their mind wanders or they are focussed on something else. Ever spend time reading a book only to stop and realize that you've gone through a few pages but have no idea what you've just read? That's passive. I think that most students are very passive about their practice times and don't really get much accomplished. Just knowing this and making an attempt to be actively engaged in your practice can make a big difference. 

3) Two Life Changing Questions: Am I a better musician (insert guitarist, drummer, pianist here) than when I picked up my instrument? In what specific way am I better?

The goal of practice is to be better at something. I am astounded at how little that students can accomplish even when putting in hours of practice. Most seem dumbfounded that they are supposed to accomplish anything at all. These two questions will change the way that you practice. 

There should be measurable goals that were accomplished during your practice session and you should be able to name them. If you cannot pinpoint any specific area that is better than when you started, then you have just wasted time! There is no point in practicing if you aren't actively getting better at something. Here are a few examples of measurable goals: memorized a section, played section with metronome, played section without error, improved a specific technique, maintenance of a  previously perfected section. This is definitely not an all inclusive list, but you should be able to point to a few specific things about your musicianship that is better than if you had chosen not to pick up your instrument that day. 


1. Remove distractions from the Practice Zone. 

2. At any time during your child's practice, ask them to tell you specifically what they are working on and what goal they are trying to accomplish. 

3. At the end of their practice, ask them what they accomplished today and what they hope to accomplish before their next lesson. 

Simply being involved and asking questions can make all the difference. 
Hey guys!

We have successfully made it through another semester. I am so pleased with the dedication that all of my students have put in over these 15 weeks and look forward to seeing what we can accomplish next semester. A few closing thoughts, reminders, and suggestions for the end of our Fall Semester...


Thanks to all the guitarists and pianists who participated in this year's digital Christmas recital. This was my first Christmas recital and so far it looks like it's a hit! The videos have been edited and can be found on my website here. Feel free to share the links with any  friends or relatives that may not have seen your kids play...one of the perks of adigital recital!


Our Spring Semester starts back the week of January 9th. I don't have the full calendar yet, but it will be posted here as soon as I get the specific dates. We normally go for 15 weeks straight with the exception of Spring Break. The recital will be in early May. 


I have officially gotten confirmation from all returning students and have a handful of open spots for the spring semester. If you (I do teach a couple of parents!), your kids, or anyone you know is interested in lessons please pass my name along. Most of my new students come through word of mouth. I am especially on the lookout for homeschool students and anyone that can take lessons before 2:00pm. I currently teach guitar, drums, bass, piano, and ukulele. 


I CANNOT wait until our recital this spring! Following the success of last year's recital, this year my students will be focussing on The Beatles. We'll have full bands (comprised of guitar, drum, piano, and bass students), laid back acoustic songs, students singing and playing, a guitar ensemble, as well as solo performances by guitarists and pianists. So, make sure to start letting your kids listen to The Beatles if they haven't already.. It works a lot better when they actually know the songs that they're playing! 


I'm looking for a few people to write up a quick testimonial/reference for me. There are a few on the homepage of the website if you need an idea of what I'm talking about. Let me know if you would be interested in helping me out!


There are three easy ways to stay in touch and follow updates and other related information:

1. Go to the website: www.stickandstrum.weebly.com
2. Add me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/stickandstrum
3. Follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stickandstrum

If you're on Facebook or Twitter be sure to add me. It may be the quickest and easiest way to get information out there and you'll be the first to know! 


I hope everyone has a great holiday season! If I can do anything for you over the next few weeks, please don't hesitate to let me know. Keep practicing and I'll see you the week of January 9th!

As a person who has been involved in music from a very young age, it was always so important to me to have music be in life for the rest of my life. I decided in 7th grade (about 14 years ago) that I wanted to be a band director when I grew up. Now, I know pretty much everyone reading this blog are either drummers or guitarists, but I promise this'll be worth your while. Honestly, this wasn't a very tough decision because I knew at that young of an age that I wasn't really very good at anything else. Playing trombone came naturally to me. I had just enough talent to get me by when I started. 

        That was my problem...

"Just enough talent" got me by, but the older I got the lower on the totem poll I went. I relied on talent, and not work ethic. I was told in 8th grade that I would be a Texas All-State musician... so I relied on that, and never actually worked to get there. Now that I've been teaching middle school, high school, and a little bit of elementary band for over 3 years now, I'm discovering that this is like a plague across our nation in our kids. Too many kids give up on something they once liked because they discover they have to work at it to be good at it. This year was a little bit of a disappointment during our summer marching band camp because a large portion of my middle school kids quit band before the high school year even started, all because they were lazy and didn't want to wake up in the early morning, or because the marching didn't come naturally to them in the beginning. Some of those students had potential to be GREAT musicians. This is happening more and more each year. 

If you love playing drums, or guitar, uke, or whatever it may be (maybe even playing football or public speaking), it's not always going to be easy, but the greatest reward in life is when you reach the end of that long tiring race. Ask Shane about his first race, I'm sure training wasn't easy, but the feeling when it was over was SO worth it! You're going to have fills or licks you want but can't play yet, or a gig you really hope to get, but if you push passed the hump and "just keep swimming", you will feel an unbelievable sense of accomplishment. I marched with the Bluecoats (Drum Corps International) for 3 summers, and those were the hardest summers of my life, and cost a LOT of money, but the feeling after that finals performance at World Championships and hearing the crowd yell "Bloooooo!!" (not to mention that each year I marched, our placement went up), was THE best feeling I've ever had as a musician.         

To bring this blog to an end, I want to just reinforce the idea that if you really love what you're doing, no matter what it is, or even if you're just getting started and you're not sure yet - KEEP TRYING. Keep practicing, keep working hard, and I promise you'll reap the benefits, and I promise in the tough times it will get fun again. And also remember, as another blogger said, it's not always about being the best at what you do... being good may get you A gig, but being a good and reliable person will help you KEEP gigs. Keep practicing, and when the going get tough, just keep swimming.



Cassie Hammond is my wife's cousin and was the proud owner of the only faux hawk that I have ever been truly jealous of. She is currently the band director at J.M. Hanks High School and Desert View Middle School in El Paso, TX.  Cassie has a degree in music education from UTEP and plays bass and drums in various praise bands in addition to her career as an educator and trombonist. I am thrilled to have Cassie on board as a guest blogger at stickandstrum and look forward to her insight and musings on the current music scene. If you have any questions or comments for Cassie, leave them below!


If you want to improve as a musician, you need to listen to good musicians.  This is actually one of the easiest things we can do to grow, but it's often overlooked.  I play drums so I'm going to talk in terms of drums and drummers, but this principle is true for any musician.

As a drummer, I want to listen to the best drummers I can as much as I can.  By listening to top notch drummers, my musical imagination is stretched.  Now I can't always play what they play just by listening, but over time I start to think like them.  And with practice, eventually things start to show up in my playing that resemble things I've heard and seen them do.  

Now, if I only listen to one band, I will eventually sound like the drummer for that band.  If I listen to lots of drummers from lots of different bands and different genres, my imagination grows evenly and I become a much more well-rounded drummer that can play lots of different styles.  This will make you a better drummer overall and will give you a greater appreciation of all music.  Don't be narrow-minded and arrogant about your style of music.  No genre is all-encompassing and no style is a complete waste of time.  All have unique facets that are beneficial to a drummers well-rounded growth.  

You might be wondering how you can listen to great drummers without spending tons of money on expanding your music library?  Well, there are lots of ways, but my favorite resource is a website called Drummerworld.  It offers videos and recordings of the worlds top drummers as well as transcriptions, forums, and many other resources and is completely free.

So be diligent and consistent in your practice, but make sure to also listen to great musicians. You'll grow faster and be a better musician for it.


Jonathan and I met in college and have been friends for almost 10 years. We played together in a college ensemble before I joined him in the rock megagroup Hope's Fish. Jonathan is a skilled drum educator and has played with church orchestras and praise teams, acoustic acts, and full-out rock explosions. He currently lives in Nashville, TN. 
I am glad to have him on board as a guest blogger at stickandstrum and know that he will teach and give insight into areas that I lack. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below!

                                          Check out Jonathan's current band, The Redding Shift


Hey guys! Sorry for the delay! Life has been kind of crazy this month. 

Originally I was going to title this blog, The Importance of Groove. Then, I got a call to go record so I was going to call it Preparing for the Studio. Later I got a call later that the recording session got postponed. The next week I found out that I was passed over for a gig by a good friend of mine who went with someone who had better "feel".  My ego was bruised and I was feeling much less confident in my ability to play so I was going to write about Attitude and again the Importance of Groove\Feel. THEN I got the call that the recording session was back on. It's funny how God works things out because  I swear the session was the perfect object lesson on ALL of the topics I wanted to cover...

I leave my house at 6 am on Saturday (yep, even musicians have to wake up early sometimes!), drive two hours to the studio, and get setup for an 8 am session. After waiting for more than an hour, the leader of the band finally finished laying scratch tracks [note: scratch tracks are tracks that provide the basic feel of the song for musicians to record to but are later replaced with 'real' tracks] and I was ready to go! (or so I thought). 

I got together with the bandleader last week to discuss the two songs we were going to record and practiced accordingly (Preparing for the Studio). The bandleader said that he wanted to make one song sound really "poppy". So, I put on my pop drummer hat and played a take...only to hear this from the control room, "Umm....That was good....could you play it again....but, this time without the fill......or..." I would do another take and change it up a bit just to hear the same thing about 15 times...which is both frustrating and makes you feel like you don't know what you're doing. 

I didn't complain and did my best to give the band leader what he wanted (Attitude). We finally got a solid take and it turned out great! I ended up playing solid quarter notes on the kick and crash to give the chorus a poppy kind of drive and it made the song feel really good (Importance of Groove). 

Now I tell you guys this because I want you to know that it was actually a GREAT learning experience. Even losing the gig with my friend turned out well because I now know that I need to work on my feel. Because I didn't complain in the studio, I will get called back for possible gigs with the engineer because he said that he couldn't tell me how many other drummers would get really upset if they were told to "not play that fill here". 

So here's the take home advice guys: 


1. Keep practicing 

2. Be flexible (be a team player) 

3. Keep grooving (remember that playing simple and clean is ALWAYS better than playing your "hot new fill")

4. Play to the song

5. Even when you are feeling kinda down about your skills, Keep playing and Have fun with it!!

If you stick with it the gigs will come....that friend that went with someone else called me to play next week because his other guy couldn't make it....( I guess be reliable has some advantages too...)
                                                                                                                   - Justin

As I enter my seventh teaching year I have begun reflecting on all of my past students. Though it's hard for me to believe, I have had well over 200 students throughout my relatively short teaching career. I have had different strategies and methods over the years that have helped me develop into the teacher that I am today. I plan to keep learning, growing, and developing as I continue teaching music lessons in the future. All of this reflecting got me thinking about the different types of students that I have had. Though there are always quirky exceptions (you know who you are!) it seems that I normally have a few distinct types of students. What I have learned through the years is that a good teacher will learn how to treat these students differently. There was a time when my expectations and procedures were the same for every student. Now I see that a teacher must adapt and change lesson plans and expectations based upon the learning style, goals, and ability of the student. 

Basic Beginner Student
A large quantity of students begin here. Typically these students are between the ages of 7-10 and have no musical experience prior to lessons. Regardless of the instrument this student will work on the fundamentals of music. He is taking music lessons because it's fun or because his parents have coerced them.  He generally doesn't have a lot invested in studying the instrument yet, but this will grow as he progresses on the instrument. Playing an instrument is generally something he does, not something he loves. My goal here is to build a solid musical foundation to build upon later. 

The In-Between Student
This student is normally 9-12 years old and has already learned the foundations of music. He has been taking lessons for a couple of years and has the basics down. His only problem is he hasn't quite reached the age where he has 'owned' the instrument. So, we find ourselves in limbo. He has a fair amount of knowledge and ability, has grown bored with the lesson book and basic theory, but doesn't know what he wants to learn or do next. This student is a challenge and if he can make it out of this limbo stage and into his teen years he will normally become a good musician. At this stage I have begun incorporating supplemental material of a general nature. For most students, this is the Classic Rock stage. We continue working in the lesson book and gaining crucial theory and technique but I begin to show them a world outside of the lesson book. The hope is that through this newfound freedom the student will begin to develop his own musical taste and decide where to go from there. 

The Rote Student
This student has a particular genre or artist that they want to work on. Generally he is between the age of 11-15 and have worked through the fundamentals of music and have specific bands or songs in mind that he wants to work on..and only that! This isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's great that he has found specific goals (songs and bands) to work on.  With this student I will spend a lot of time teaching them particular songs/artists. He knows what he wants to work on, but doesn't know how to work on it on his own so we learn by rote (monkey see, monkey do) He is motivated to work on particular songs/artists under my direction, but not motivated enough to take initiative and learn on his own. 

Internet Capable Student
This student has discovered the bottomless amount of information available on the internet and is using it to further his guitar education. That's a really roundabout way of saying that they have found guitar tablature online (probably Ultimate Guitar) and the joys of Youtube. I LOVE it when students get to this level because it means that they have taken ownership of the instrument. They are in the driver's seat and are taking charge of when and how they learn. This student normally plays for at least a couple of hours every day. However, this student can pose a challenge. Since he has found other avenues for learning guitar it is harder to get him to work on assigned material. The issue here is instant gratification vs. long term reward. Suddenly he can learn any song that he chooses with the click of a mouse. But he probably isn't understanding what or why he is playing. Important techniques begin to fall through the cracks as he utilizes these techniques, but doesn't fully understand them. This student can go two ways. He can continue learning songs on his own and use lessons as a way to build a bigger vocabulary of musical ideas and techniques OR He will grow tired of working on 'boring technique'  (long term pay off) when he could be working on his favorite songs (instant gratification) and discontinue lessons. 

Dedicated Student
This student will do EVERYTHING that you ask them to...and nothing more. So, there's good and bad there. Honestly, it's rare to find a student that will do everything you ask him to. And it poses a challenge. If you don't specifically spell it out for him, he won't work on it. Initially this is a problem for the teacher and it will challenge you to be thorough in your assignments. Ultimately, you will want the student to begin taking initiative and filling in the gaps between what you assign. 

Prodigy Student
These are the ones that make you be glad to be a teacher. I seem to get roughly one or two of these students each year. He immediately grasps the material and works hard to perfect it. It is hard to find a combination of natural ability, motivation, and dedication but this student possesses it. The challenge for the teacher will be staying ahead of this student and thinking of new and creative ways to challenge his ability. 

The "Why is this student here?" Student
This student rarely practices and seems moderately interested (at best) in lessons, music, and any words that come out of your mouth. In many cases this student will have a fair amount of ability on the instrument and could become a great student/instrumentalist if he would spend time on the instrument...but he doesn't. Or the student will practice (begrudgingly) and seem miserable through the entire lesson. I have tried different techniques, different genres, and different approaches with these students but you can't make a student be something that he doesn't want to be. For some reason, this student continues to return year after year even though very little progress is made. Sometimes a light will click on and these students will become great students. Other times they will eventually lose interest or pick up another hobby and discontinue lessons. They may enjoy lessons, but don't enjoy playing their instrument outside of weekly lessons. 

The Adult Student
This student decides to take on an instrument sometime after the age of 16. Normally he has no musical experience and is looking to pick up a new hobby. I have had mixed success with adult students. Some take for one semester and realize that it is going to take more effort and time than he is capable of or will choose to put in. He often grasps initial concepts quickly, but as the material progresses he begins to get frustrated with his ability and the material. Those that make it past this initial hump tend to do well. He knows what he is looking for out of the instrument and often have realistic, achievable goals. 

The Special Needs Student
This student can come in many forms, but lessons will need to be adapted to meet his needs. Sometimes the lesson will only need to be slightly adapted. Other times the entire lesson plan needs to be scrapped and a new plan needs to be made for this student. Students in this category include students with ADD, ADHD, Dyslexia, Autism, Asperger's, Down Syndrome, Physical Impairments (permanent or short term-like a broken arm), and preschool students. It is important to open up communication with the parents about what this child needs and how you can meet his needs. Though it definitely requires more work, these often turn out to be the students and lessons that I look forward to each week. 


So, that's my list. Know that these aren't intended to target any particular students. These are just observations made from years of teaching and are generalizations. Fellow Teachers..any comments or students to add to the list?
I got a text from a parent earlier today. She was at a yard sale and came across an electric guitar for $20. Should she buy it? Great deal? Utter garbage? How can you know? Here's a few tips to help you on your used instrument purchasing journey. This article is mostly geared towards the well intentioned parent with little musical knowledge. 

       Before anything else factors in, you have to know who made the guitar. The brand and model of the guitar 
       makes more of a difference in the value than anything else. I can't run through every brand and model here,     

       but here are some basics. 

1. First Act
Though they also make high end guitars, almost every First Act that you'll see was bought at Wal-mart. 
2. Fender Starcaster
Though Fender is a great brand, the Starcaster is their bottom-level guitar often sold at CostCo and Target. 
3. Daisy Rock
You're paying for gimmick and aesthetics in these guitars that are marketed towards young girls. 
4. Silvertone
This is Walmart, Costco, Sams, and Target's current brand of choice. 

There are always flunks out there, but these are generally good, safe brands. Here are just a few of the good guys:
*Fender                            *Gibson
*Ibanez                             *PRS
*Taylor                              *Martin
*Seagull                            *Alvarez
*Epiphone                         *Takamine
*Gretsch                           *Jackson
*Peavey                            *Squier, by Fender
*Washburn                        *Yamaha

That says it all. Even without any musical knowledge you can tell if something looks cheaply made and of poor quality. If it looks like it would be at home in your kids playroom, walk away. 

Look for things on the guitar that may have problems but are easy fixes. This will help you knock the price of a guitar down and you can remedy most of these problems for a few bucks and a few minutes of work. 

1. Strings
If it's missing a string or the strings or rusty and old, use this to your advantage. It's an easy way to talk down the price and strings can cost as low as $4 for an entire new set. 

2. Input Jack
Look at the input jack. This is the part of the guitar where you plug in the guitar cable. On budget guitars this is normally the first thing to go. You can pick up a new jack for a couple of bucks and if you're handy with a soldering iron fix it within minutes. If not, you can get it repaired at a shop for about $5. If the jack feels loose, there's a good chance it has either already shorted out or will do so soon. 

3. Plug it in!
Plug in the guitar and see how everything sounds (more on this below). If there isn't an amp or a way to test it, be sure to drive the price down. Since you are buying it without knowing if the electronics work, you are taking a leap of faith and hoping that everything works out. Most problems are easy fixes, but the seller doesn't need to know that!

4. Electronics
If you have the opportunity to plug in the guitar and test it, do it! Even if you don't know anything about guitar, you can see if it makes noise. Turn the knobs all the way to ten to make sure each one works. Volume knobs control volume (obviously) and tone knobs control the frequency/tone of the guitar. As you turn a tone knob you should hear the guitar adding bass or treble (lower or higher) or getting fuller or thinner sounding as you play the strings. If you turn the knobs and hear crackling, this is a problem to bring up with the seller. 

Test the pickup selector. This is the switch that should have 3-5 positions on it. Each position should make the guitar sound a little different (much like the tone knob). Make sure there isn't any crackling or popping when switching through the pickup selector. You can replace all the electronics on a guitar for about $30. It will cost a bit more if you take it to a shop. 90% of a time if there's a problem with the electronics it's the input jack and this is the easiest and cheapest ($5) fix. If the guitar doesn't play or cuts in and out, this is a great way to drive down the price.

5. Fretboard
This is the part of the guitars where the fingers press down the strings. Look at the fret wires. These are the metal wires running vertically up and down the fretboard. Do they look rusted or grimy? Run your hand over the top and bottom of the neck. Do any of the frets stick out? Are there sharp edges? The frets should be smooth and easy on the hands. These are dealbreakers. Fixing rough frets is not a cheap, easy fix. If the neck has a rough feel or look to it, pass on the guitar. 

6. Playability
This is where it helps to play a little guitar or have someone with you that does. Get your student to teach you a few easy notes or take her along with you for the ride. The action of the guitar (how far the strings are from the fretboard) is what you are looking for. If the action is bad, it's normally a pretty easy fix in the right set of capable hands. Look for fret buzz on the early frets or anywhere up the guitar. Play each fret on each string and make sure there aren't any frets that make buzzing noises. Fret buzz can be indicative of many different problems. Some of them are quick. painless fixes others are expensive and time consuming.

7. Hardware
This is usually all of the metal pieces on an electric guitar and can include the nut and bridge (where the strings rest on either end) on an acoustic. First make sure there are no cracks in the nut or bridge (where the strings are held). Though this is a relatively cheap fix ($25) it will dramatically effect the playability of the guitar if not repaired. Even a small crack or scratch can turn into something major with all of the vibrations of the string over time. Check the tuners on the head of the guitar. Do they turn easily? Are they too loose? Use your best judgment here. Tuners should feel nice and smooth. 

Look for rust on any of the metal parts. This is an easy way to drive down the price and a toothbrush and a little elbow grease can fix the problem in a few minutes. Check out the strap buttons. This is where the strap is held onto the guitar. Make sure they are tight and don't feel loose. If your student plays with a strap the weight of your entire purchase is literally riding on these two small buttons. 

8. Overall Aesthetics
How does the guitar look? Are there any nicks or scratches on it? Is it not the right color for you? These are easy ways to drive down the price. If there is a very noticeable scratch or nick on the guitar, be sure that it won't affect playability or get worse. You can always sand down the guitar and repaint it, but most times you'll be stuck with whatever the paint looks like. Personally, I like a guitar with a little character to it. But when negotiating price, be sure to point out every flaw that you see in the guitar finish. If it's a green guitar and your son really wanted blue, mention that! With a motivated seller you can probably get it a little cheaper because it's the 'wrong color'. 

9. Accessories
What comes with it? Common accessories include a strap, picks, tuner, amp, guitar stand, guitar cable, etc. Most of the time these come in package deals and are of extremely poor quality, so make sure you see what these look like and don't simply rejoice because they're included. You may just be buying someone else's junk in a package deal. Also keep in mind that there are things that you may need if it's just a guitar: amp, strap, cable, etc. If it doesn't include these items, use this as a way to talk down the price. 

                           Closing Tips

1. Fender can be a tricky brand, because they license their name and sell a lot of guitars. They all basically look the same, but the build quality can be drastically different.  As a whole, I would stay away from Starcasters and Squier Bullets unless you get them for around $25. 
Here is a rough (certainly not all inclusive) guide from worst to best with an approximate price tag for a new instrument:

$80 - Fender Starcaster
$109 - Fender Squier Bullet
$179 - Fender Squier Affinity
$229 - Fender Squier Standard
$499 - Fender MIM: Made in Mexico (also referred to as the Standard Strat)
$729 - Fender Highway One
$1000 - Fender American

2. Most guitars can be decent guitars if the price is right and you understand what you're buying. If you pay $15 for a Fender Starcaster in pretty good shape then you've gotten a good deal! But, it's still not a great guitar. It is definitely playable and may be a good starter instrument for your student but you will be upgrading again in the future. I LOVE to buy cheap guitars, fix any small problems they have, give them a good setup and pair of strings, and put them back on the market. It's great to be able to repurpose something and make it useful. 

3. Google it! Most phones have internet on them these days. Use it! Look up the brand and model of the guitar and see how much it's worth new. This will give you a better idea of what you're up against. 

4. Ask around. Feel free to Contact Me (use the contact tab above) or current students can call/text me any time. Sometimes you have time to research and other times you have to make a decision on the spot. Current students can feel free to call/text me for advice. If you're not a current student, find someone reliable that you can trust to give you advice if you need it in a hurry. 

5. Plan to take it to a guitar shop for a basic setup. Most shops will charge about $25 and it is well worth the money. They will look it over and make it play, sound, and feel as great as it possibly can. This is also a great opportunity to throw on some new strings. Be sure to factor this into the cost of the guitar and maybe even use it to haggle. If the action or strings are bad, mention to the seller that you'll have to take it top a shop to get it setup and that costs money. 

So, there you go! Hopefully not as scary as you thought. I think that almost any guitar can be a good buy if the price is right. If you have any questions or thoughts or think I can add something else to the list leave a comment below!
In my last blog, I talked briefly about the importance of learning proper music fundamentals and addressed some of the problems with relying only on guitar tablature or youtube videos for guitar education. Now we talk about learning to read and understand standard notation and music theory. Why is it important? What practical use will it have for you as a guitarist?


Ok. I'll admit it. There is definitely a learning curve when starting to learn standard notation. It will take some practice and dedication, but everything good in life takes perseverance and hard work. That being said, it's not as bad as people make it out to be. I'm not going to teach you how to read standard notation here (that's for another day), but I will convince you of the greatness of it. 

If you've never seen Standard Notation or aren't sure what I'm talking about it looks like this (with guitar tab pictured below):
So, you're a tab reader and you see the above example. The bottom half looks easy. The top part looks crazy. Why would I want you to learn to read music when the bottom part is so much easier to understand? 

      1. Because it will potentially make you a great musician. 
               Only you can make you a great musician. But being able to read music will open many doors for you.
       2. Learning to read music lays the foundation for being able to understand music.       
              If you don't have a basic understanding of how music is written you won't be able to understand the more  
              advanced concepts that come later. Imagine if you had only learned how to read picture books as a child. 
              Without the ability to read words and phrases you are severely hindered in what you can accomplish when 
              you are on your own. Sure, you can have people read to you or show you what you are supposed to do  
              but even the most simple tasks (making sure you use the men's restroom instead of the women's    
              restroom, for example) can be frustratingly difficult because you never learned the language of the world 
              around you
       3. You will be able to communicate with other (read: non-guitarist) musicians.               
              Let me be very clear here. The times are few and far between (read: almost never) that you will be handed 
              tablature in a band or studio situation. If you're in a band or group setting and a new song comes up there 
              won't be tab available. If you're in a basic garage band, one of the other musicians may quickly teach you 
              your part by rote (monkey see-money do). But in most cases (or if you're the only guitarist) you'll be 
              handed a chord chart or lead sheet with basic chords and changes on it and be expected to play. 

              I can vividly remember one of my first gigs as a guitarist when I was a teenager. I had a cool lead part to 
              play, but the keyboardist also needed to play the part with me. I handed her my guitar tab and was ready 
              to go. Of course, she has no idea what tab is or how it corresponds to the keyboard. So, I took the time 
              to explain how tab works and then expected her to figure out what to do from there! After quite some time 
              we managed to use the relatively small amount of music theory that we shared to figure out what notes I 
              was actually playing so that she could play it on the keys. Had I known then what I know now, the whole 
              problem could have been averted or solved within minutes. 

        4. Learning to move notes to other locations on the guitar.               
             Quick Quiz: Play your first string (E string) open. Name at least four other places on the guitar where you 
              could play the exact same note *answer below*. Sure, if you have a good ear you could sound out the 
              note on different strings and find it that way. But if you don't know what note you're playing, it's really hard 
              to locate that note efficiently on another string and location on the fretboard. I cannot tell you the number 

              of times that I've pulled up a guitar tab for a student online and found that a few of the notes (if not the 
              whole riff) was in a really awkward playing position. With a little knowledge of music theory, I was quickly 
              able to locate 2-3 other places to play the riff and found one that was much easier for my student to play.
              Without this knowledge you are simply stuck at the whim of whatever tab you currently possess. What if 
              you needed to play the above music example at a different location on the fretboard? Could you do it?

        5. Instant Gratification. 
              Here is what it really comes down to. If you want to play the above example and you only read tab, then it 
              may in fact be easier to simply read the tab. But what happens when we get to more complex pieces of 
              music? What happens when you need to transpose it to a different key? What if you need to explain the 
              part to a keyboardist so that he can play the part with you? If you simply want to learn whatever song is in 
              front of you, tab may be an easier solution. But, if you want to understand what you are playing and pick 
              up songs/riffs quicker in the future it is beneficial to understand reading music and music theory. 

So, there you go. That's my take on why you should be learning to read music and music theory. Feel free to leave a comment or question. Stay tuned for part three: Can't I learn music theory without learning to read music?

***Answer to Quick Quiz: B string 5th fret, G string 9th fret, D string 14th fret, A string 19th fret, E string 24th fret***
We are in a new day and age when it comes to music education. With the advent of tablature and youtube, music education is changing rapidly (especially guitar and drum education). I have always believed strongly in the value or learning the fundamentals of music and how to read standard notation and all of my students begin there. More on that later. 

When I first started teaching guitar almost 10 years ago my intermediate lessons focussed on one thing: learning songs. Normally the focus was on whatever song the particular student wanted to learn. I worked my way through everything from Garth Brooks to Green Day and everything in between. Today, there is a growing resource of online music education. Anyone can access almost any song from anywhere. It's staggering to think that I used to have to learn songs the old fashioned way: listen to the song over and over until I figured out what the guy was playing!

This blog will be part of a series. I am very passionate about the art of music education and I think if I drop all of my thoughts on the subject now it may be a bit overwhelming. This series will focus mainly on guitar education, but many of the same principles apply to other instruments. So, I shall break this series into a few parts. Part One is titled Guitar Tablature Vs. Standard Notation OR What kind of musician will you be?

Guitar tablature is a simplified way to write out music for guitarists. If you've never seen guitar tab before here is an example of Crazy Train written out as guitar tab. It is amazingly beneficial for complicated lead parts, scale patterns, and riffs. Standard notation refers to the treble clef staff that is common to musicians of all instrumentation. Here is an example of Crazy Train written in standard notation. These are often presented as though they are in opposition to each other. As though, as a guitarist, you must choose one or the other. Each side looks down on the other side. I'm not here for sides. I want to look at the benefits and faults of each system, in a concise manner. 

Guitar tablature is great if you are familiar with a song. If you have never heard the song before, guitar tablature is utterly worthless. This was common during my first few years of teaching (before youtube on the iPhone!). A student would bring in guitar tab for a song I had never heard and want me to teach him how to play it. Impossible. Guitar tab is simply a series of notes with no rhythm attached. Which leads me to the first of two main problems with guitar tablature: There is no rhythm given to the note. In standard notation every note tells you two things: the pitch of the note (E, G, F#, High or Low, etc) and the duration of the note (long note, short note, quarter note, dotted eighth note, etc). 

The other fault with guitar tablature as a system of learning is that the fundamentals of music are never taught or addressed. If you never learn the notes on the guitar (my assumption if you focus solely on tablature and disregard standard notation and music theory) then you won't know how to move guitar riffs or chords to different locations on the guitar or understand what you are playing outside of what you have been spoonfed through tab or youtube. Since it seems like most guitar tabs online are tabbed by 17 year old kids (another huge fault with guitar tab: no standards for publication online), I often find mistakes. Technically the notes will often be correct, but there are usually much easier ways to play particularly passages in a song. Without some basic knowledge of music theory (or a decent teacher) you are simply stuck with whatever tab you have in front of you and have to assume that this is the only way to play the song.  Knowing what notes you are playing and where to find other similar notes on the guitar is a huge benefit for guitarists. More on this later. 

I'll close with this thought. Ultimately it comes down to what type of musician you want to be. If you are content to sit in your bedroom and just want to play a few of your favorite songs then guitar tablature and youtube are an invaluable resource to you! I don't want to make light of the previous statement. Not everyone desires to be a great guitarist and many are happy to simply pick up the guitar every now and then and play a few familiar tunes. This is great! But, most guitarists want more. You have rock star dreams. If you want to be able to play with other musicians, and understand what and why you play what you play then you need to learn the fundamentals of music theory and standard notation. The fundamentals of music theory can be learned in an afternoon and built upon with a small amount of dedication. You simply have to be realistic with your goals (what kind of musician are you?) and make sure that your learning style matches it. 

Part 2 will focus on the benefits that come with reading standard notation and understanding the basic fundamentals of music.