The Blog

How to Play Happy by Pharrell Williams on Guitar

Posted by Mark McKenzie on April 24th, 2014

Hey Guitar freaks.

I had a great week in the studio filming the recent Song Guitar lessons for Youtube. I really enjoyed the process and hope that the lessons come across well and are easily digested by all you hungry Guitar Players.

The song ‘Happy’ by Pharrell is a song I put on to get me sparked up and enthusiastic about my day. But as with a lot of songs these days…there is no actual ‘guitar’ in the song. So often, when I used to create my setlists for solo gigs, I would stick to songs that actually had guitar in them. The problem being, that I simply wouldn’t play some of the coolest and hippest songs.

Some songs, like Happy, are basically a cool beat and a catchy vocal line. The chords are all suggested cleverly. But it’s main thing is the drum groove and ‘feel’. So as a guitarist… the ‘feel’ is the main thing to get across.

This song lesson is a perfect opportunity to nail the groove. It’s mostly about the right hand strumming technique. The whole idea is to basically emulate a drum groove with your strum. To have a great strum, you need great technique. The ‘Tic toc’ is a must for this feel.

When I first began playing Acoustic Guitar in gigs… we played a lot of Irish songs. I was in an Acoustic 3 piece band with no drums… so the Beat, groove and rhythm had to come from our playing. At first, the groove might not really appear from your playing. But persevere and you’ll start to hear the drummer inside of you emerge. Being aware of where the 1(kick) is. And where the Snare is…. what sounds they make etc.

Check out how to play Happy by Pharrell Williams on guitar:

You’ll notice in this video, I play the strings with my left hand simply muting whilst the right hand belts out the percussive groove. The Bass strings are my kick and the thinner, trebly strings are my snare. Top(T) Bottom(B) is how I look at it.

So D D D DU UD D D is the strumming pattern
or Top Bottom is T B T BT TB DT B
or Kick Snare is K S K SK KS K S

Have a good look at the video and see if you can emulate the drum groove:)

Until next time.

Learn more about on his Google profile.


The most important thing a guitar tutor can do for you is…

Posted by Mark McKenzie on April 11th, 2014

Even though I’m known as an ‘Online Tutor’, I understand the benefits of having a one on one guitar tutor. At least it can and should be beneficial, however that all depends on the instructor and your relationship with them.

I realised how powerful this was when I decided to get singing lessons. I was recommended someone and nervously went along for my first lesson. I’d already established my own ‘one on one’ teaching business for guitar in my home town. So I had the free time to indulge a little.

Peter, my singing coach, was a wealth of knowledge and stories about the music biz. He was an old man now, and taught from home more as a way to connect with people.

He got me to sing a few things, chatted about fun stuff, I sang a little more…and that was it.

I had a great time. We connected and I could’ve sat around all afternoon just chatting and hearing stories about recording sessions in London and the time he met the Beatles. I left on a high. Bigtime. I was looking forward to the next session and achieved all sorts of gains vocally.

After a month or so, I realised the secret to being a tutor and/or having a tutor. It’s the ‘feeling’ you get from the time you spend together.

Was he the best teacher as far as techniques and knowledge about the voice? Nope!! In fact, when I look back, he was pretty terrible in that regard.

Most people think it’s the content (information) you get taught that makes the difference…and that too is important for sure. But the number one thing you can get… is the Context or feeling. It’s that motivation, self-belief, confidence, excitement, passion, fun, whatever it is…. and that’s what gets you to the next level on your instrument.

I’m not saying it’s the only thing, but think about it.
Don’t just take my word for it. Ask yourself these questions.

When you’re excited about playing guitar, you will enjoy playing guitar ….right?
If you think you’re getting better, you’ll practise guitar…. right?
If you feel confident, you’ll play guitar…. right?

And, what about the opposite situation. When you feel dispassionate, unexcited, bored, useless and confused. Try even picking the guitar up. It’s difficult when you’re just not ‘feeling it’.

This is the role of the guitar tutor. To look for and spark passion. To encourage you and to make you feel like you’re improving. To look for and find the things that you’re nailing. To see your progress and point out how far you’ve come. To smile and energise you with their enthusiasm. Let’s face it, if the tutor is unenthusiastic, what the hell are they doing teaching?

So when you look for a tutor, try and find someone you enjoy being with. Someone you respect and has passion for the guitar. They encourage you and let you know how well you’re doing. They have a laugh and it’s fun to learn from them.

Sure, they may have a degree, or a diploma in music. They might even be a successful musician, playing gigs and touring. But do they inspire you?

If so, then the amount of money you pay for their time, will feel like an absolute bargain. Infact you will almost feel guilty paying such a small amount, considering the amazing amount of energy they give to you.

Happy playing Guitar Freaks:)

Learn more about on his Google profile.


How to play fingerstyle guitar – Part 1

Posted by Mark McKenzie on March 26th, 2014

Hey Guitar Freaks,

I’ve received loads of emails asking for lessons on different styles. There have been quite a few, but far and away the most requested style was……wait for it…

Fingerstyle guitar. And who am I to say no to such an honest request?

I was in the studio not so long ago knocking out such a course for my youtube subscribers and here’s the first lesson in that series. In it, I demonstrate some of the techniques I use when playing fingerstyle guitar to give you an idea of what’s possible.

Now I know I’ve pressed you pretty hard to learn to play with a pick and you may think this is going against that advice. But before you cross me off as a madman, hear me out.

Playing with your fingers produces a unique sound and enables you to add a ‘human-ness’ to your playing that isn’t possible when playing with a pick – it’s just a little more effort.

It might take a bit of getting used to using your fingers with your picking hand, just take it slowly and go easy on yourself. The variety of sounds and ‘feel’ you can create using your fingers, means it’s worth giving it a shot.

Check out the first lesson in the series and start making some noise.

Learn more about on his Google profile.


Inside the mind of the Guitar Student

Posted by Mark McKenzie on March 12th, 2014

Hey Guitar Freaks,

When I sat down at the age of 14 to practice on my little nylon stringed guitar, I was the only person in my room. However, I was not alone. I was always joined by my friends Fear, Doubt and Negativity. They would constantly bully me and call me names while I was practicing. They would tell me things like: “You’re useless and playing it wrong” or “You’ll never get it” or “You’ll never be a good Guitarist Mark”.The Mind Image

When a new student sits down in front of me for their very first lesson, I can tell they also have the same friends. And this is the case for every student, talented or just enthusiastic. Thankfully, I never have enough seats for any extras in my little guitar room.

My job is to be the encourager and the cheering section for the student. The guitar information is important too, but they won’t receive that information if all they can hear is their ‘friends’ bullying them.

Your job is to be your own cheering section. To carry on playing or learning, even though your ‘friends’ are telling you to give up.

The Mind

Here’s a little secret that not too many people realize. Your ‘friends’ (Fear, Doubt and Negativity) don’t want you to learn the guitar. The mind doesn’t like to be forced to learn or practice or be disciplined. It’s like a spoilt child sulking in the corner with its arms folded. The mind would rather be distracted by unimportant, useless stuff like TV, games, Facebook, funny youtube clips, and drama.

It will do everything in its power to try and prevent you from doing something incredible and worthwhile. Don’t believe me?….What are you doing right now?…Distracted by this blog post?

I’m not an expert on this, but I do recommend that everyone reads The War of Art – by Steven Pressfield. It’ll change your life in every area and help you realize what we’re up against when doing something that requires a strong resolve.

The Good Guitar Student

Your role is to be a good Guitar Student. So what does that look like. You have a time, place and material to practice. You do it! Regardless of whatever else comes up to stop you from doing it. Maybe it’s the first thing you do after work between 5:30 and 6pm. You disappear into your happy place with your guitar and don’t come out until the time is up. What do you do? You play!

Playing guitar is the most important part…not reading about it, watching endless videos of it or talking about it with other guitarists…you PLAY! That half an hour is spent playing guitar.

And after that session you can feel fantastic. Why? Because you overcame your three useless friends Fear, Doubt and Negativity…until tomorrow when the war starts all over.

Mark TheGuitarGuy

Learn more about on his Google profile.


The Ukelele

Posted by Dan on March 6th, 2014

Standing UkeleleIt’s said that great things come in small packages. Take the Ukelele for instance. Easily played by even the smallest hands. Yet, the sounds possible from this unique instrument are limitless – in the right hands.

The Ukelele has punched well above its weight in the international music scene for a long time now.

First there was the epic Ukelele rendition of ‘While my guitar gently weeps’, by Jake Shimabukuro that took youtube by storm.

Ukelele orchestras sprung up playing a whole range of music from Musicals to Rock. The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain being one of the most widely know.

And even our own, Wellington Ukelele Orchestra has sprung up in our capital city with the super talented Brett McKenzie of ‘Flight of the Conchords’ fame.

More recently James Hill has shown just how big a sound can be created on the Ukelele in his rendition of Michael Jackson’s. Inspiring stuff!

There are loads of videos on youtube that demonstrate the range of possibilities on this versatile wee instrument.Essential Ukelele Chords If you haven’t seen any of these videos, you’ll be amazed at what is possible on such a small and seemingly limited instrument.

But let’s break it down. It has four strings, 12-19+ frets and comes in a variety of sizes – Soprano, Concert, Tenor, and Baritone. The most common tuning is the ‘C tuning’ – from top to bottom: G, C, E, A.

There are a variety of one, two and three finger chords that you can pick up pretty quickly and start playing well known songs. In fact, with just four chords you could be playing the most popular songs from the last 20 years.

Don’t believe me, check out this clip from Axis of Evil demonstrating what you can do with just four chords. See how many one hit wonders you can spot!

Learn more about on his Google profile.


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