Guitar Lessons in Bay Area CA

Hello, and welcome to Fast Fingers Guitar Lessons!  I offer online and in home guitar lessons to the local community.  I currently teach in Pleasanton, Livermore, Dublin and San Ramon on the weekends, and during the week in Santa Clara and San Jose.

Guitar Lessons
Let’s ROCK!!

Lessons can be 30 or 60 minutes, depending on the age of the student and their goals.

I’m a big believer in understanding music – not just playing songs.  My goal is not to make just a guitar player out of you, but a real musician.

 

Lessons include (but not limited to):

  • Songs – we can learn what you want along with signature solos
  • Alternate Picking
  • Hammer ons and pull offs
  • String Bending
  • Music reading – staff and tab
  • Scales
  • Music Theory
  • Soloing / Improvising
  • 6 String guitar, 7 String guitar, bass
  • Whammy Bar techniques
  • Double Hammer On
  • Legato
  • Arpeggios
  • Styles – Rock, Blues, Metal, Country, Jazz (I’ve played all those in various bands!)
  • Ear Training
  • Music Analysis – what key is this in?  How would you solo here?
  • Composition – sounds scary but it’s not.  We start simple and work our way up
  • Chord analysis
  • Alternative Tunings like Drop D
  • Relative Positioning on the Guitar
  • Fretboard visualization
  • Cycle of 4ths and 5ths
  • Analyzing the styles of great players like Randy Rhodes and Jimi Hendrix

So if you’re ready for a new adventure, email Spencer today!  I have openings on week nights and on Saturdays.

A bit about me:

I’m Spencer Clark and I’ve been in music nearly all my life.  I play guitar (6 and 7 string), bass, and some keyboard.  I have a degree in music from West Valley College in Saratoga, CA. and worked my way through college earning other degrees by playing in bands and teaching.  I taught for 12 years at Guitar Showcase in San Jose.  I was teaching guitar lessons since I was a teenager out of my parent’s house.

Guitar Lesson: Diatonic Steroids Part I – Major/Minor Keys

Guitar Lesson
Let’s do this!!

Greetings and welcome to another online guitar lesson!

I added a new header photo to my site, the un-cropped version you can see here ->

This was actually a nod to a pod cast I listen to – Jocko Willink – and while I don’t “know” the guy, I follow his Twitter posts and podcast episodes religiously and enjoy them immensely.  I found out he plays guitar (how well, I don’t know) and he’s a big Sabbath fan so i thought I’d return the favor and devote a guitar lesson to Sabbath.

As with any online guitar lesson, it’s challenging to to convey everything in text so I’m trying a new format: mixing text with video I’ve posted on YouTube.  In a lesson like this with a whole song and solo, it only makes sense to use Video as text alone would be nearly impossible.

But me being me, I can’t just do it straightforwardly.  Yes, you have to learn something along the way.  All my guitar lessons are like that.  Which brings me to the title of this piece, which is a pun off of Anabolic Steroids.

Definitions:

“Anabolic Steroid” – Anabolic steroids, technically known as anabolic-androgenic steroids, are drugs that are structurally related to the cyclic steroid rings system and have similar effects to testosterone in the body.  In other words, they are a performance enhancement drug.  Don’t worry, there’s not a test.

“Diatonic” – involving only notes proper to the prevailing key without chromatic alteration.  Don’t worry, I’ll explain those terms.

“Diatonic Steroids” – Way cool things to explore with a guitar!

So the diatonic concept is about scales.  What do people think of when we mention scales?  An exercise.  Technique.  Finger dexterity exercises.  Yawn.  I/we want to learn cool licks!  I want to play like [fill in the blank] and you’re going to give me scales?  Can I get my money back on this lesson?

Well before you kick your scales book to the trash can, let’s take a look at the structure of basic music.  This won’t apply to Black Sabbath just yet.  But give me some time.  One thing builds on the other.

Here’s is a 10 minute video of me explaining Major and Minor scales:

Check this out:

So the gist of this is Sabbath likes Minor keys.  And the song we’re going to work on is in E minor.  Which is a lot like G Major but there are some differences.

Knowing the scales is a start.  But scales can be derived from scales.  (Don’t worry, it gets simpler).  Here is a discussion about the Pentatonics.

So that gives a somewhat “lay of the land” between the Major and Minor 7 note scales and the Major and Minor Pentatonic Scales.

But I still don’t see how i can play like Tony Iommi!!

Let’s apply it to a real Sabbath song.  How about War Pigs?  This is a 15 min video getting you through the song up until the 1st solo.

After this, it gets to the first solo.  Tony Iommi does some interesting things with a droning E string in the background, before he gets into some “basic” blues licks:

 

And finally towards the end, Tony Iommi gets more into the Natural Minor scales:

 

So to sum up the main points from this lesson:

G Major is a 7 note scale:

G A B C D E F#

G Major Pentatonic is a 5 note scale:

G A B D E

E Minor is a 7 note scale (just like G but starts and stops on E):

E F# G A B C D

E Minor Pentatonic is a 5 note scale, just like G Pentatonic, but starting and stopping on E:

E G A B D

War Pigs makes a lot of use of the D (bVII of E) to E (I chord in E minor).

The solo makes use of the major 3rd of E (G#) since the harmony of this part of the song was all E power chords

Much of the solo makes use of E Minor Pentatonic scales.

Towards the end they make a melody in E Minor – using more notes than the minor Pentatonic offers.

I hope you enjoyed the guitar lesson!  Drop me a note and let me know what you thought of it.

Keep Shreddin’!!

Spencer

Tesla Vintner House Band – 7/12/15!!

Since the Turbo  Fuegos imploded on New Years Eve (that story to remain untold on this site!) I joined forces with Steve Powell, entrepreneur, and known for his singing as much as his wine making at Tesla Vintners.  The picture here was our first incarnation:TV I’m in the back and if I look a little weird, I was actually quite sick the evening we took that photo and in about 3 hours I was in the ER with appendicitis! The guys thought I was crazy for showing up for pictures like that but hey, I didn’t know.

Not long after that we had our fist gig.  Since then one member went back to the East Coast and our bassist is on vacation so we are playing Sunday at 2:00 with a fill-in bassist.

Details:

Address -> 5143 Tesla Rd, Livermore, CA 94550

Do you have to be 21?  No!  This is a family run place.  They are even dog friendly.

Is there a charge to get in?  Again, No!  Show up and have fun.

Is it just wine?  Nope – although there are 3 wine makers offering tasting (all for $20) there will be beer and food to purchase.

Hope to see you there!

 

 

Just What Do I Offer in My Lessons?

With my Ibanez at the Mountain House

Hey folks,

I was asked recently what exactly do I teach.  My teaching approach has changed over the years and it’s more suited towards what a student wants, plus what I feel they should know.

My styles include Rock, Metal, Blues, Country, Classical and Jazz.  I am currently playing with a Country/Country Rock/Classic Rock band called the Turbo Fuegos and we are expanding outside the Livermore club circuit to San Mateo, San Jose, Fremont, and Gilroy.

I have developed my own system for learning music. Here is some of what I offer:

  • Songs (I will learn and transcribe your chosen song for you)
  • Scales (Major/minor, Major Pentatonic/Minor Pentatonic, Blues scales, Diminished, whole tone)
  • Chord Construction (just what goes into a G Major chord?) and to be able to find chords all over the neck
  • Music reading
  • Chord Progressions and Song analysis
  • Arpeggios
  • Picking – alternate, country plucking, and finger picking
  • Heavy Metal techniques including legato and two handed tapping)
  • Vibrato bar techniques (also known as Tremolo or whammy bar)
  • 6 and 7 String guitar playing (7th String being a low B)
  • Alternate tunings
  • Finger Vibrato

It’s always nice to use whatever I’m doing in a band situation to include in my lessons.  Lately I’ve been working on my “country pluckin’ hybrid style of picking.  It’s called “hybrid” because some times you use your pick, some time you use your middle finger to “pluck” the string.  I’ve also been using my 7 String a bit so if you’re  a 7 string guitar owner, contact me for lessons.

That’s it for now!

Blues vs Country Improvisation

Hey all,

As promised, this blog will be about the different approach I take to Country playing vs Blues.  At first it might seem like they have nothing in common but they oftentimes make use of the same Chord Progression.

Let’s look at the key of E:

1     2      3      4     5      6     7

E    F#    G#    A    B    C#    D#

So a I IV V progression would be:

I            IV        V

EMaj   AMaj  BMaj

Blues Approach

The most straight forward Blues approach is to use the E Blues Scale:

1   b3   4   5  b7

E   G   A   B   D

The blues scale makes use of the flatted third against an E Major chord.  While that sounds like it might clash, the rhythm on blues often times leave the full chord out:

——————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————–

——————————————————————————————–

2–2–4–4—2–2–4–4——————————————————————————

0—0–0–0–0–0–0–0——————————————————————-

So the chords is E (6th string open) and B (5ths string 2nd fret) and then E and C# (5th string 4th fret).  C# is the 6th of the chord and the rhythm alternates between the two.

This gives the soloist some room to stretch out.  So the E Blues minor feel doesn’t clash with the chords.

Advanced Blues Soloing treats all the chords above as Dominant 7 chords:

E7  A7  B7

E7 is :

E  G#  B  D

So all the notes are there in the Blues scale  for the chord except the G#  – the E Blues scale has a G.  A very common lick is to coming the two – G -> G# -> resolve to E.  This can be done on any of the 3 chords above, but you have to pay attention to which chord is being played.

Playing the dominant chord shapes on the guitar for each chord as it is being played is a nice exercise to get used to where the notes are.  From there you can start to stretch out:

E7: E G# B D

A7: A C# E G

B7 B D# F# A

The B7 is most unlike the notes in the blues scale – when you start to outline them you’ll probably recognize the difference since you can’t get that sound in the blues scale.

Country Approach

So with Blues they accent the “minor” or “dominant” feel of the chords.  Instead of that, Country accents the “major” sound of these chords.  Again, most of that “boogie woogie” rhythm doesn’t include the 3rd of the chord (E and B, E and C# alternating) so the third is up for grabs.

Country really likes the sounds of major pentatonics against a major chord:

1  2    3  5   6

E: E F# G# B C#

Country really likes the G# or the major third of the chord, as well as the 6th – the C# – which is being played in that boogie woogie rhythm.

With this approach, similar to the Dominant 7 approach above, your notes will change with each chord.

1  2    3  5   6

E: E F# G# B C#

A: A B  C#  D  E

B: B C# D#  F# G#

This can get tricky if the chords are changing a lot, but your playing country is going to require that you know these 3 scales and how they overlap.  At first you’ll hop from scale to scale (nothing wrong with that) but eventually you’ll want to smooth out your transitions the way the pros do and make a melody that fits in the scales as the chords change.

Send any questions or comments my way.  You can also follow me on twitter fastfingers76

Happy Playing

Happy 2014

Hey Fellow Shredders….

2014 is off to a fast start around here.  I’m in the process of finding a new place to live (always fun!) as my landlord wants to sell his house that I’m renting (but still wants guitar lessons from me 🙂  It’s all good).

The Turbo Fuegos just added a 2nd guitar player.  This is the third guy in 11 months.  The first guy lasted 2 weeks.  The second lasted 5 weeks.  Let’s hope Steve sticks around a while.  He has a different style than me which is great – I don’t need another “me” up on stage but someone with a contrasting style.

We are playing the Sports Page in Mountain View right by the Shoreline Ampitheater on January 18th.  Admission free – come check us out.

It’s been a while since I’ve given a real “lesson” blog – quite a while in fact.  My next blog will be on the difference between Blues and Country soloing.  It will be useful info.

So I’m not even halfway through January yet and I have to box, move, work in a new guitarist, and my day job has me handling two big clients.  I worked back-to-back 15 hour days last week.  Looking forward to sleeping in on Sunday!

See you next time….

Shreddy

Happy Thanksgiving!!

To the Faithful Shredders,

It has been crazy busy in Fast Fingers land, but it is time to pause and give thanks to the wonderful things that have happened to me this year:

1) My girlfriend and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary this year.  That’s no easy feat when you’re dating me 🙂

2) I repaired an important family tie.

3) I quit my dead end day job and began working for a small but profitable startup.  Not a lot of sleep but getting a fast education in Jquery, Jquery Mobile and Project Management.

4) My band – The Turbo Fuegos – has gained momentum throughout the year.  Ok, well we lost 1 bassist and two guitarist but the current line up feels committed and we are only geting more busy for 2014.

5) My teaching schedule is bursting at the seams.  I cannot take any more students at this time.

All five of the above for me have been important priorities in my life.  All of the above came with challenges – nothing is really free in this world.  You have to work at it.

I’ve been going back to the gym a lot more recently and hope to get an early jump on that New Years Resolution that always seems to come up.  While I’m doing resistance training, I pretty much focus on what I’m doing, but when I get on the elliptical, I have more time to people watch.

I’m going to dump these people into two very broad categories: The Workers and The Loungers.  When you go to the gym, any gym, you’ll see guys and girls, completely focused.  I don’t go to any classes so I normally see them in the free weight section.  They watch themselves carefully in the mirror as they do their reps.  The guys will sometimes grimace as they get to the last 2 reps – sweat breaks out and a look of determination appears on their face as they squeeeeze out that last rep, and with a tired sigh of relief, they put the weight down.

That’s the Worker.  He or she is in there to make the session count.  They went to the trouble of packing clothes, getting water, grabbing a towel, and driving down there and so, doggone-it, they are going to get something out of it.  The same can be true of the person running hard on the treadmill or bike or elliptical.  Or trembling to hold that yoga position.

Then you got the Lounger.  You don’t see them in the free weight section.  I’m doing machines right now since I’m coming back from a long layoff and some old injuries require that I ease into it.  But other people will saunter through their workout, and many of them are on their cell phone.  What?  This is a time for focus.  I once was on the elliptical machine and the woman next to me was talking so loud on her phone (and I was listening to my iPhone music!) that I had to move away from her.

And we all know the guy who won’t get out of the abdominal machine.  You’ve just burned through 3 sets of two different exercises and this joker is still sitting there.  He should be paying rent to stay in that machine.

The same goes for guitar practicing.  Be a Worker, not a Lounger.  If your cell phone keeps buzzing (and who’s doesn’t?) turn it off for 30 min and get your uninterrupted practice time in.  If people support you, they will understand.  If my girlfriend texts me when I’m at the gym, I text back “at gym ttyl” and she gets it – “ok have a good workout”.  That’s support.

So enjoy today, eat, drink and be merry, enjoy your families, be grateful for the good things in  your life, and tomorrow get back on it.  And one day someone will look at you playing your instrument and comment “Wow, you make it look easy”.  Which should make you smile.

Shred on.

Spencer

 

How Did I Get Here??

Ok, folks, I really didn’t mean to take this long to post.  A number of things were going on, and I think we just rounded the bend, so I’m going to talk about them here.

First, the main thing that held up my post is I wanted to post the songs I talked about recording on Mother’s Day.  Way back in March.  Way back.  Well, one thing that didn’t turn out so well was the mix.

If you ever read Slash’s book, he talks about how Axle Rose refused to go into the studio, so they sent tapes back and forth – he would write down his comments and mail the tapes back, they’d work on them and send them back to him and the cycle starts again.  Doesn’t sound like a very efficient way to make a hit record.  Well it’s not a very effective way to make a demo tape either.

We must have passed those three songs back and forth 5 times to get the mix right.  And each time it took longer and longer to get their attention to mix it and send it back.  Most likely it’s because they were already paid (NOTE: No one gets paid in full until the job is done).

Then, about the 4th iteration of this, the mix came back very, very close.  Just a few tweaks were needed.  Maybe 6 things.  Well, the songs came back and the guitar – my guitar – was awful – it was way too loud and too harsh sounding.  Our singer went back to the engineer and he fixed one of the songs.  So 2 out of 3 were ok, but the third still had a messed up guitar sound on it.

My son also went through a similar experience with a guy in Sacramento.  The guy took his time on the mix and finally gave them some of the money back and cut them loose.

This is where all those music lessons you took don’t help you.  You need to have a clear plan, a clear timeline, and keep them on it or they forget about you.  I actually had something similar happen to me when we were putting a pool in the back yard.  We paid the guy in installments and when he was 75% paid, we saw less and less of him – he was off to his next gig.

Our persistence paid off – we finally got the songs mixed.  I will post links when I have them.

In the meantime, we played one heckuva private party in Livermore in June, then added a new guitar player into the mix.  Frank has good rock and blues chops, which I guess makes me the country guy.  How did I get that title?

On Labor Day we played at R place.  It was one of our best shows yet.  Frank was only in the band 2 weeks at that point, we used Kenny’s sound system and we rocked the joint for 3 hours.  For a holiday, we had well over 50 people in that club.

Our next gig is at Downtown Ollies on Oct 11 in Livermore.   I will provide pictures and links to our demo.  Promise!

Peace Out

Spencer

“ShredZilla”

“Stand by……….Rolling!” Pt 1

Happy May to all my fellow jammers,

As I have been writing about, since February I have been in a country rock band called The Turbo Feugos.  We’re based out of Livermore, California.  We’ve solidified our line up (although we’d like to add another guitar player).

The previous lineup of the band has 3 demo songs out there, which are pretty good.  We decided we needed 3 more to make a complete marketing package of the band.  We picked the songs, much like the previous 3 – one ballad, one country, one country rock classic.

Those previous songs, like the last demo I did with my last band, we all recorded separately on computer, each instrument being added individually.  There are pros and cons with this method.

The first and obvious advantage is money, provided you have decent software and a high performing computer already.  The second pro is you can take your time.  Don’t like that take?  Back it up and do it again until you’re happy.

The first con with this approach is the sound quality.  You’re just not going to make a hit record with your Dell laptop.  The second is unless you have a lot of computer power and a lot of inputs, you’re stuck recording instruments one at a time.  What that does is it tends to remove the live feel and excitement of the band.

In “My Life” by Keith Richards, he was adamant about capturing that excitement, saying “You don’t need 16 mics on the drums, you need to mic the room!”

It’s something that I agree with.  One of our bassists that was with us briefly recommended a recording studio out in Emeryville – about 40 minutes from Livermore.  The two sound engineers actually came by our practice and introduced themselves, and told us what we could expect.

Their number 1 point was “Be prepared”.

Whenever the tape is rolling or the hard drive spinning or the recording gear is on, you get the jitters.  We all tense up.  Can you walk across a 4″ beam that’s on the floor?  Probably.  How about 20 feet up?  It’s the same width but suddenly you’re scared you’re going to fall.  In recording you’re scared you’re going to mess up.

So our three tunes were “A Woman Like You” by Lee Brice, “Fake ID” by Big & Rich that’s on the Footloose remake album, and “They Call Me The Breeze” by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Of all three songs, I feared “A Woman Like You” most.  It’s a ballad and you can’t hide mistakes easily, plus the fact that there is an intro solo guitar part and a solo middle section and a solo outro.  The pressure is on!

The guitar work is done on an acoustic.  I don’t own a decent acoustic.  Plus, as I figured out the parts, one eluded me until I figured out it was played on the 12, 13, and 14th frets – which are very high for acoustic.

I decided to go with my warmest and thickest sounding guitar – My 1978 Gibson Les Paul Custom.  That guitar has been through the trenches with me, played with many bands on many stages and weddings.  I pulled it out and in practice when I started the solo intro, our lead singer immediately remarked “I like that!”.

Now the Les Paul isn’t that easy to play high on either compared to my Ibanez but it’s a lot easier than acoustic.  I made up my mind I was going to sit to play it, using my foot rest for my left foot to get a better angle on the high end of the neck.  The song came together well that way.

Fake ID was more of a challenge on a band level.  There are 5 breaks in that song: one after each of the first two choruses, one after the 8 bar guitar solo, one after the next chorus, and then the ending chorus.  The ending chorus has a slightly extended verse so it doesn’t go like all the others.

As we ran through this, our drummer and bassist were running through the breaks, and even I wasn’t sure where they all were.  Our singer probably knew them best because he had to key off them.  Singers oftentimes know the form of a song better than most of the band when first working on a song.

I took my iPad and plugged it into my PA and said “Everybody stop playing – listen”.  We listened to it from beginning to end and noted where the breaks were.  One by one we smoothed them out.

“Breeze” is a classic and I love Lynyrd Skynyrd but they have three guitar players in that band.  Even though I know the opening lead, I can’t play it with the band live now because I have no rhythm behind me.  So I couldn’t practice the lead with the band – I had to do that on my own.  I’d been working on the lead with one of my students so I was aware of a lot of it.

This is where my philosophy of copying leads comes in.  Some leads I have to have down note for note, like “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by the Eagels or if we do “Hotel Calfornia” – could you imagine someone playing that song and NOT doing those leads?

On the other hand, when we do “Jonny B Goode”, I do what I want.  I’m not interested in doing that original solo.

Then there are times when I want to get the essence of the solo without killing myself to do the thing note for note.  Fake ID has an OK solo on it, it’s 8 bars. I copy some of it but really, as long as I get the essence of it and hit the breaks right coming out of it, I’m good with that.

Breeze is kind of in between those two examples.  It has signature “parts” to it which I wanted to capture, but beyond that, I wanted it to be me.  That is probably my ego talking but I take pride in my solo work and I think I do a good job (on most days).  So I got the parts down that I thought were needed and filled in the rest with my own ideas.

Our recording day was Sunday, May 12, so we practiced Friday, May 10 focusing on those three songs only.  And played them. And played them.  Fixed some things and played them again.

When we broke for the night, we felt we were reasonably prepared for our session.

I made a list of the things I wanted to have.  I’d never been to this studio, so I didn’t know what to expect.

I brought:

My amp and effects

My Les Paul and my Ibanez Prestige, both restrung on the Saturday before.

At least 2 sets of extra strings for both guitars..  Once I put on new strings and one string broke right away.  Take 2 extra.

Extra picks. You know how those fall, and take odd bounces and end up blending in with the carpet or under a couch.  I think guitar players spend 9% of their lives looking for their picks.

Extra guitar cords.  My crate contains nearly every redundant thing I can think of.  (Actually, in writing this, I only have one speaker cord for the connection between my amp head and amp cabinet.  I will fix that!).  I even now have 2 digital mic cables that connect my Pod HD to my Amp. (I don’t sky dive, but if I did, I’d probably want 3 chutes if they would let me.)

Footrest as mentioned above.

Folding Chair.  I thought they should have some but just in case…..

Food!  I reminded everybody that we have 8 hours to do 3 songs.  We don’t want to be boppin’ off to In n’ Out burger in the middle of it when we’re paying for studio time and I don’t want to be in the middle of a guitar solo thinking about how hungry or thirsty I am.

My list done, the stuff purchased, the guitars restrung, I was up Saturday night until 12 midnight trying to get tired.  I had to be up at 6:00am as the recording session started at 8:00am.  Yes, AM.  We got a crappy time because we weren’t able to coordinate with some band members (and some now ex-band members) on the time.  But, like anything, there was a good side to it and that was going to be light traffic getting into a bustling little town like Emeryville.

On the negative side, if I needed strings or a pick or a cable, who’s open on Sundays?  Another good reason to take a fail safe approach and have 2-3 of everything.

Next post – The Recording Session.

Happy Shredding!

Spencer

 

 

 

In home guitar lessons in the Tri-Valley area of California. This includes Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon, and Livermore. Other arrangements negotiable.