The Blog

How to Play Sweet Home Alabama Intro by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Posted by Mark McKenzie on July 24th, 2014

So you want to learn how to play Sweet Home Alabama? Well, this is a great starting point…

Whenever I sit down to a guitar lesson with somebody, and they’re unsure of what they wanna learn… I just start playing the intro to this song and watch their face light up.

“I wanna learn THAT!”

Regardless of age, ethnicity or musical taste…they all want to be able to play it. And it’s actually pretty simple. I’ve taught it to so many people I couldn’t even tell you how many.

OK so why is it so cool??

I think it’s a combination of two things. Palm muting and the cool riff with the Pull offs and Hammer ons.

It’s one of those Intros that sounds way harder than it actually is to play. But with a simple grasp of a few chords and a good picking technique, you’re halfway there.

Watch the video and enjoy learning how to play Sweet Home Alabama!

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The Right Guitar Teacher

Posted by Mark McKenzie on June 20th, 2014

When I started playing guitar, at around 12 years old, my dad showed me a few ‘Cowboy Chords’. He was my first guitar teacher.

He was self taught and managed to turn four chords into a party set-list in the folk era. Those few chords were D, A7 and a kind of G – but with one finger.

Why did he show me this way? Because that’s how HE was taught.

Later I showed some confidence in music, so I managed to convince my parents to fork out for some guitar lessons with a guitar tutor who showed up every Wednesday afternoon at school.

He was charming and funny when presenting his talents at a school concert he did every year to drum up students to teach. He played a bit of everything and charmed the teachers and parents well.

However his class was 20mins and had 30-40 kids all with saxes, drum sticks and guitars at the ready. He’d arrive late and flustered…and write out the next lesson in your book while each kid went through last weeks piece one by one. He’s say ‘Great but needs work’ and run out the door saying see ya next week.

He made a killing out of eager little children. No-one got any better in those awful classes. Yet, no-one would dare say it was the teacher….we’d just think we were useless and quit. Then he’d call our parents asking for more money and saying… “little Mark is really showing promise” and scam another term of tuition fees.

Why did he teach this way? Because it made him lots of money.

At High school I was a lone wolf, learning from whatever way I could and trying to decipher it all through my limited capacity to learn. Then the School announced we were to have guitar lessons available this Tuesday afternoon.

I went along… sat in front of a tall, woolly ginger haired man with a big smile. He went through each person finding out how they played, if at all, and making notes of who was who…. that was new for a start.

He then separated people into similar levels and small groups of 2-4 students. I was by myself. He then said… you’re very talented, so I want to give you 20 minutes one on one! I was blown away… for a number of reasons:

  1. He believed in me..and complimented me.
  2. He assessed me before teaching
  3. He got to know where I was at.
  4. Then he skipped all the BS and showed me exactly what I wanted to learn immediately.
  5. He let me decide what I wanted to learn.

Why did he teach this way? Because he genuinely wanted to help me learn guitar.

I only had about two months of lessons before he had to move…. but his lessons were vastly different from anyones before and gave me the tools and confidence to be here in front of you guys teaching guitar.

His replacement tutor was a cool laid back Jazz and Rock muso who spoke like fonzy from happy days and had just spent the last 15 years of his life playing rock in clubs and living the rock n roll lifestyle.

I liked him a lot and he introduced me into a world of Jazz fusion and helped me think about music differently… but he wasn’t a great guitar tutor. He did however broaden my thinking. He helped expand my ‘Context’ (my beliefs) so I could later fill it with new ‘Content’ (information).

It was while getting lessons from him, that I had decided to become a full-time muso after leaving school. I thought he would be very encouraging when I told him… but he went crazy! Saying that his life was ‘S#*thouse’ and that I should study hard and get a real job. He’s always tired and broke and not to do what he’d done.

I was completely shattered. I had no self esteem…. bad grades…. and a pile of guitar player magazines at home. This was all I wanted to do!!! And it felt like my one ally had abandoned me.

I was broken.

Why did he teach and think this way? Because he only taught what HE wanted to play.

He never listened and gave me what I wanted to learn. He was so self-obsessed, that he couldn’t see how anyone could be successful doing what he did.

Later, I would find out that learning the guitar is completely different to learning to be a guitar teacher.

When I started teaching guitar I thought “I’ll just teach them how I was taught”. It went something like this:

  1. Show off and impress them for 10 minutes, so they know I mean business and have credibility.
  2. Show them the first three chords I was shown.
  3. Show off again.

I felt elated after my first teaching experience… I thought I was a natural. But they just weren’t getting any better. Week to week I was getting deflated by how slowly they were learning. They were too. After a month they’d all quit!!

It took me a long time to realise it wasn’t about me!! What an epiphany. They didn’t care how good I was as a guitarist. They just assumed I was awesome. They didn’t need to see diplomas. They didn’t need to see me shred. Instead, I made each student feel welcome, happy and confident. They at the very least had to feel better after the lesson than before. This made people look forward to each lesson and feel good about how they were going. Confidence was the key to their success.

I’d love to hear about your experiences learning guitar… What inspired you to pick it up? The first chord you learned? What was your first lesson like? What’s worked, what hasn’t?

Learn more about on his Google profile.


How to Play Hey Hey, My My by Neil Young

Posted by Mark McKenzie on June 12th, 2014

Some songs were meant for a solo Acoustic Guitar and voice. This is one of those songs. That opening riff really grabs the audience whenever I do this in my solo gigs.

Here’s an example of a song that uses both chords and melody at the same time. So we’re not just strumming chords. It’s a really common thing for solo guitarists who have to try and make things sound interesting all on their lonesome. For beginners it might seem like it’s going to be hard, but it’s way easier than you might think.

I’ve just gone for the intro at this stage, as it’s the coolest part. And their are a lot of different moving parts all happening at the same time.

The chords are super easy. Am, G and Fmaj7. Not much to worry about there. For those of you who are familiar with my work either with the jamorama lessons or my youtube stuff, the right hand strumming side of things will be easy. So, for everyone, it’s a really good idea to master the strumming and chords part of the song first. The strums used are really cool and simple. Either the classic ‘Rock strum’ D DU UD for the Am and G (1 bar each) followed by the more funky D D DUDU. UD DUD for the Fmaj7 (2 bars)…or just play the ‘Rock strum for every bar.

Riff

Start by getting that initial chord and riff programmed. By now you should really be understanding how important it is to program before moving on….if not… you’ll simple stumble and stagger through it, never really getting it together. Take bite sized chunks and program them (play them over and over and over)…then program the next bite sized chunk…then combine them.

Note: Remember, as you move nearer to the end of the riff/pattern/progression you’re programming, that the last thing you programmed has been played less… SO you won’t have that part as well programmed. People get so impatient to finish a piece off….especially when they have most of the piece sounding pretty confident…we tend to rush through in our excitement to finish it off.

Happy playing freaks!!

How to Play Hey Hey My My by Neil Young

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The 3 Pillars to Loving Learning Guitar

Posted by Mark McKenzie on June 5th, 2014

Is there a one size fits all way to learning guitar in this modern era?

I don’t think there is… at least not yet. No, if I was an absolute beginner today, I would look at it holistically.

1. Build a solid foundation

2. Learn new songs

3. Play guitar

1. Build a solid foundation:

What I’d recommend is getting a ‘foundation in guitar’. The beginner guitar course at jamorama.com is my own personal recommendation. It’s a series of video lessons with me as your personal tutor. It’s a thorough course, but easy to follow. It’s step by step and graduates gently, so you don’t even notice that you’re learning. I’ve created jam-along tracks to make it really enjoyable. Make sure it’s good content delivered with some fun. You’ll need to know the basics of strumming, picking, finger-style, chords and some basic theory stuff too.

Note* There are some really dry and boring ways to do this too, but my course is the bestest and most funnest hehehe

2. Learn new songs:

The next thing to sort is songs. Yup, the best way to get awesome is to learn songs. Not just any songs. The songs that YOU love. Not the songs that someone else thinks you should learn. Why?? Because the thrill of playing a song you love is the biggest thrill when playing guitar. It’s why we play right? Also, when you learn a song, it comes with it’s own unique challenges and techniques. Maybe it has a tricky new chord in the intro. Or maybe the chorus has a different strum you’ve never played. The important thing to remember though, is that you choose songs that are within your grasp. That is…you can get it within a few weeks of playing, otherwise you’ll lose confidence and quit. Sites like Youtube (Mark TheGuitarGuy) and Songsterr are incredible resources for this.

3. Play guitar:

People forget this bit and yet it’s the reason we are learning. It’s like learning to ski but never actually getting out in the snow and having any fun. So give yourself permission to just play! Have fun and enjoy the sound you’re making. No judgement. Guilt free guitar playing. Play by yourself or organise to have a friend come over and jam. Put on a ‘Backing Track’ and play along. Join a band.

So you divide your time between these three things and I guarantee you’ll get better AND have fun learning guitar at the same time.

Learn more about on his Google profile.


How to Play Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke on Guitar

Posted by Mark McKenzie on May 30th, 2014

When I was in Edinburgh in 2013, the biggest song to party to was ‘Blurred Lines’ by Robin Thicke. Such a simple yet effective song to put a smile on ya dial and get you moving. We would finish a gig and all be on the bus getting geared up to go out and cause mischief. We would crank it up on the bus and get our party game face on.

So, why should you learn how to play Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke on guitar? Well, the song lesson was more for a laugh, but it actually has a few valuable technical tricks and ideas in it as you’ll see.

The Strum

It’s what I would call a ‘Reggae Strum’ and it takes a little getting used to. Normally you can just do ‘up’ strokes continuously, and you get the reggae strum. However when you’re playing alone (without a band)… you have nobody playing the main ‘One’ beat. So normally the reggae groove would be like this:

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & (Reggae guitar Up strokes only)
Or
D U D U D U D U (Reggae guitar & strokes only)

So the guitarists job was to play the Up strokes only. They would be short and sharp too.

But when you don’t have someone to play the Down strokes (1 2 3 4)…the audience has a hard time dancing and knowing where the beat is. They usually end up thinking the up is the beat…mostly us white dudes hahaha.

So, how do we get around this as a solo guitarist?

First we need to understand my terms. Here’s a list of symbols and meanings so we can do this easily.

(D) = Down
(U) = Up
(B) = Bass note
© = Chord
(#) = Muted strings percussive sound.

The strum is a simple continuous ‘Tic-toc’ pattern:

D U D U D U D U
1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &

The Groove looks more like this:

D U D U D U D U
B © # © # © # ©

Start really slowly and intentionally robotic. Then as it gets programmed (after 20x at least) you’ll be able to gradually speed it up and the strum will appear.

This works really well for ‘Barre chords’ because you can release the tension from the chord easily. That makes the ‘percussive muted stringed up stroke’ effortless…well sort of ;)

Reggae strum it Guitar Freaks!!!

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