Back Bay Music

Tomo Fujita: Guitar Book Excerpt 3

This post presents the third in a series of excerpts from a guitar method book by Tomo Fujita, a guitar professor at Berklee College of Music.  The book offers a new approach for learning to play the guitar – an approach that is outlined in previous posts.

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The advice that Tomo provides in the following excerpt will undoubtedly seem basic or even obvious to guitarists who have been playing for a while, but it is integral to two of the main themes of the book: improving basic technique and re-discovering your musicality.

If you are a guitar player with some experience and some good chops, but you feel “stuck” on a plateau that you reached a long time ago, please keep an open mind, and read on.

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Excerpt © 2011 Tomo Fujita
All Rights Reserved

Record Your Practice

Despite the limitations of playing along with backing tracks, I think there is some value in recording your own backing tracks and playing along with them. This approach forces you to practice rhythm and work on your time.

Here is what I recommend to all my students: When you practice, record yourself, preferably without capturing the sound of your metronome, backing track or CD. Keep the recording clean and simple. Do not add any effects, and do not concern yourself with levels or the positioning of the microphone.

A low-tech cassette recorder may serve you best, because the 60-minute or 90-minute tape length will prevent you from recording the hours or days of music that you might record on a computer. (If you cannot find a cassette recorder, use a portable voice-recording device and limit your recording time.) It is unlikely that you will ever find the time to listen to ten or one hundred hours of your recorded practice sessions, but you will easily find the time to re-visit one side of a 60-minute cassette tape and hear your progress.

As a part of your practice routine, listen to some of your playing that you recorded several days earlier in a practice session. If possible, isolate the sound of your guitar during playback, so that you hear only your performance, without the sound of a metronome, backing track or CD. You will find that the recording gives you “truthful” feedback about your playing. Does it sound good? Do you recognize the tune? Does your friend, who comes into the room and hears only your guitar track, recognize the tune? Would you be entertained by what you hear? If you are honest with yourself, you will know which elements of your technique need work.

I am definitely not suggesting that you record every moment of every practice session, from this moment forward, for the rest of your life, and that you devote a large portion of your life to listening to your recorded sessions. However, if you record and play back some of your practice sessions over a period of several months or even years, you will find that playing skills and attentive listening ability will improve. Soon you will be able to hear what is good in your technique, and what needs improvement, at the moment when you play. You will no longer have any need to record practice sessions.

Excerpt © 2011 Tomo Fujita
All Rights Reserved

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Interesting … three excerpts from a method book, and no sheet music!  This book is intended to travel with the reader, not to sit on a music stand.  In this respect, it is similar to the three method books that Tomo authored in Japanese, which were mentioned in a previous post.

If you would like to see a free, published lesson from Tomo, and you’ve just got to have sheet music and tablature in all your lessons, take a look at Beyond Blues: Triads Over Minor Blues in the March 2011 issue of PREMIERGuitar magazine.

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Your Feedback

Guitar players, your opinion counts here.  You are encouraged to give us your feedback. Would you like to see lesson material similar to the three excerpts posted in this blog?  If so, in what format?  Would you like (1) a book with an accompanying CD, (2) an eBook with embedded audio clips, (3) an eBook with embedded video, (4) a DVD with an accompanying booklet, (5) all of the above, or (6) something else altogether?  Do you prefer the format of the lesson appearing in PREMIERGuitar magazine?

Post a comment … or if you are connected with Tomo personally or via social media, you can contact him directly.

Tomo Fujita:  Guitar Book Excerpt 2

As previously mentioned, I have been working with my client, Tomo Fujita, on a method book that offers a new approach for learning to play the guitar.  The approach is based on three key themes: (1) improve basic technique, (2) brush up on core musical concepts and, perhaps most importantly, (3) re-discover the musicality that led to your taking up the instrument in the first place.

Tomo140Fabrizio

Tomo has developed this approach over the course of nearly two decades as a guitar instructor at Berklee College of Music. He incorporated this approach into the three guitar method books that he authored in Japanese, and at least one of these books went on to achieve best-seller status (in the music category) in Japan.

An earlier excerpt/post on this blog introduced our project and touched on themes (2) and (3) above.  Here is an excerpt that is directed toward improving basic technique.

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Excerpt © 2011 Tomo Fujita
All Rights Reserved

How to Practice

My younger students tend to believe that more hours of practice will lead to more improvement in their playing. This is not necessarily true. In my opinion, noodling away while you watch television will not make you a better player. Memorizing licks or playing up and down two-octave scales for an hour may not be the best use of your practice time.

When interviewed for magazine articles or broadcast media, famous artists sometimes say that they used to practice fourteen hours a day. You should take what these artists say with a grain of salt. The quality of your practice is more important than the quantity. You need to find the practice methods that work for your learning style and your schedule.

If you are like most people, and you have a busy schedule with long work hours, fifteen minutes of practice each day will move you forward – and it will serve you better than practicing for several hours one day per week. (If you were training for a marathon, would you run every day, or would you skip your exercise six days a week and then run ten or fifteen miles every Sunday? Which approach would prepare you for the big race? Which one would likely lead to an injury?)

Rather than practicing late at night, or when you are tired after a long day at work, try spending a few minutes with your guitar in the morning, before you get on with the business of your life. Leave your guitar out of its case, so that you will be encouraged to pick it up every day – even if you only have time for a short practice session.

It is important for any musician who is growing artistically to have goals and a sense of direction. I encourage all my students to set specific goals, but not too many goals at once, and to decide upon a specific direction, even if it is only tentative.

I recommend writing out goals and direction in a notebook or binder, and modifying or refining your goals and direction, from time to time, as you progress. After a practice session or a lesson, write a summary of what you have learned, and what you think about it, in the notebook. Limit this summary to one page, and write each note on one side of a sheet of paper. Later, you can re-visit what you have written, and you can add your latest thoughts on the opposite page.

More preparation leads to more success in playing, not only in the context of organizing your practice goals and being disciplined in pursuing those goals, but also in playing with other musicians, which is discussed later in this book. Here is one obvious component of this preparation (perhaps too obvious, but still overlooked by many aspiring musicians): you have to listen to music. As a part of your practice routine, listen attentively to music, without any of the distractions of a phone, computer keyboard or television. Listen with nothing in your hands (not even your guitar!) for thirty minutes every day. Background music does not count. Concentrate on the music, and internalize it, so that when you play, you can improvise by drawing from the reservoir inside you.

Excerpt © 2011 Tomo Fujita
All Rights Reserved
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What Guitar Players Want

If you are a guitar player, your opinion counts here, and you are encouraged to give us your feedback.  If you think you would be interested in lesson material like this, Tomo and I would especially like to know your preference as to format.  Would you like to see (1) a book with an accompanying CD, (2) an eBook with embedded audio clips, (3) a DVD with an accompanying booklet, or (4) something else altogether?   Feel free to comment on this blog … or if you are connected with Tomo, you can contact him directly.

Tomo Fujita: Guitar Book Excerpt 1

Recently I have been working with my client, Tomo Fujita, on a book that offers a new approach for learning to play the guitar.  Tomo is a professional guitarist and an Associate Professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston.  He is also one of the most popular guitar instructors at Berklee.

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Tomo has released various instructional materials in the United States over the past decade, including Accelerate Your Guitar Playing and Berklee Instant Guitar.  These materials follow a (more or less) traditional route – exercises, sheet music, audio clips and video demonstrations.

The challenge for guitar players who learn with traditional lesson material is that many of these players progress to a plateau and then hit a wall.  They feel stuck, and very often the obstacle to their progress is in the rear-view mirror.

As an instructor, Tomo spends much of his lesson time on efforts to help players (at every level above beginner) to overcome their particular obstacles, so that they can move forward.  His approach with these players is as simple, and complex, as this: (1) improve basic technique, (2) brush up on core musical concepts, and most importantly, (3) re-discover the musicality that led to your taking up the instrument in the first place.

Over the past two years, Tomo has authored, in Japanese, three guitar method books using this approach, and all three have been published by Rittor Music in Japan. These books have been very popular with a Japanese audience.

PlayByEar&Feeling

Rittor Music says that, for business reasons, these books will not be translated into English for release in the United States.  So … here is a short excerpt from our project, which does not yet have a title.

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Excerpt © 2011 Tomo Fujita
All Rights Reserved

Developing Pitch-Recognition Ability

Many players rely too much on guitar tablature. They learn scales and chords as shapes or grips, and they become overly dependent on the “picture” presented by tablature. This is often the shortest route to learning some songs and licks, but by continuing to use this method for years, players sometimes short-change themselves – they do not develop their own musicality to its greatest potential, and this limits their style in many ways. Some of these players are capable of playing cleanly through rapid chord changes that are quite difficult. Others can play lightning-fast licks within the confines of a minor pentatonic scale “shape” that they have memorized. Eventually, these players begin to recognize that what they can confidently play is limited by what they can visualize – the shapes and grips they have memorized. That’s why, sooner or later, many of my students ask me the question, “How can I move away from the pentatonic shape?” (Notice the choice of the word shape, rather than scale, in that question!) Guitar playing has become a visual exercise for these players, and many of them want to turn it (or turn it back) into a musical experience.

In my lessons, I try to move players away from shapes and toward hearing the music – hearing how others have used intervals, degree, triads, harmony and so on – and learning to recognize what is going on in the music, so that it can be played with feeling, rather than simply copied, note for note. My goal is always to encourage players to bring out their own musicality, so that they will not be boxed in by visualized shapes and patterns.

The challenge for any guitar teacher is this: traditionally, guitar players learn two-octave scales by memorization based on positions on the fret board. I prefer to teach my students to hear sounds and to duplicate those sounds, rather than thinking about key signatures. Later, students can focus on other details, such as which notes are included in a particular scale. In any case, the “shapes” of these scales are easy to see and to memorize. A typical student can put off learning these shapes for two years and then learn them very quickly after building a good sense of pitch.

Developing your musicality in order to become a better player does not require a formal education in music or extensive knowledge of music theory. What it does require is some ear training, which is nothing more than developing your pitch-recognition ability. In my opinion, pitch recognition is the most practical application of music theory.

We are never too old to learn pitch recognition. I encourage you to try out some of the pitch exercises presented in this book. Perfect pitch is not necessary. Relative pitch is all you need.

Do not let music theory intimidate you. It is not a formula for making music. Although music theory is sometimes taught as if it were a math problem, it is not mathematics or science. It is a tool for recognizing, understanding, describing and organizing (in our minds) the music we hear, as well as the music we create.

Excerpt © 2011 Tomo Fujita
All Rights Reserved

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Music Footnotes

This excerpt mentions a “pentatonic” scale and the “shapes” of scales.  It is likely that you know this already: a pentatonic scale consists of five tones.  Appearing below are the notes in the A Minor Pentatonic scale, a scale that is used regularly by rock guitarists.

 A Min Pentatonic

Pictured below is a pentatonic scale “shape” on the fret board of the guitar. If the “1” (indicating the first finger) is positioned at the fifth fret on the sixth string, then this is an A Minor Pentatonic scale diagram.

Pentatonic Scale Shape 1-1

For readers who are particularly attentive to detail, let me acknowledge that the “A” on the staff above corresponds with the seventh fret on the fourth string in this diagram.

Encore

One or two additional excerpts from the project will be posted in this blog.  Meanwhile, if you are a guitar player, please tell us whether you would be interested in lesson material like this, and your preference as to format – book with CD, eBook with embedded audio clips, DVD with booklet, or whatever.  You can comment here, or if you are connected with Tomo, you can contact him directly.

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