Who Eddie Van Halen Was to Me

Who Eddie Van Halen Was to Me

Today, guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s long battle with cancer ended. He died. He was 65.

My condolences go out to family and friends. I never knew the man like you knew him. I can’t imagine what you might be going through right now.

And this post is not about newsjacking or talking about the trend of the day. Eddie Van Halen was – and still is – a huge inspiration to me.

Something about 80s music always resonated with me. It’s reflected in some of my own musical efforts.

1984

As I started learning guitar at 17, I gradually got into rock. I was honestly more into pop and hip-hop at the time, but before I knew it, I got sucked into Collective Soul, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and many, many others because of my guitar teacher.

One day, my guitar teacher played something in the style of Eddie Van Halen, and right then and there, he knew I was into it.

No doubt I had heard Van Halen as a kid. But up until that point, I had yet to place a name or face with the songs I had probably heard on the radio. Songs like “Jump” and “Panama” of course.

In those days, the Columbia House CD club was still a thing, and I remember my sister got a bunch of rock albums, including some Aerosmith and Van Halen. Somehow, I ended up with all those. Probably because I played guitar.

In that pile of CDs was Van Halen’s 1984. And, to this day, I still think it’s one of Van Halen’s greatest moments.

In terms of live performances, I always felt Eddie was at the absolute top of his game in Live Without a Net, but in terms of albums, nothing compares to 1984.

The Brown Sound

Any guitarist looking to establish themselves in a scene, and possibly beyond, must find their tone. Eddie’s tone was always spectacular, and something I aspired to.

These days, dialing in a tone you’ve heard somewhere isn’t that hard. Emulation has come a long way, and there are even amp profilers like the Kemper Profiler that will get you at least 80 to 90% of the way there. Whatever tone you want is practically at your fingertips.

But as I was working my way up to becoming a professional, there was still plenty of misinformation, and amps didn’t always sound so uniformly great… Or, for that matter, uniform, as they all seem to sound so close to each other these days.

I messed around with effects, and amps, and floor units, and DIs. The whole works. I couldn’t even touch Eddie’s tone.

But I was smart enough to pick up an Ernie Ball Music Man Axis in those early days of searching. I’d tried dozens of guitars before I’d tried that one, always disappointed with the results. The Axis was amazing. It didn’t let me down. I still have that guitar and still love it (even named her “Hailey” after Van Halen).

Then it was a matter of figuring out the amplifier. Eventually I determined that I liked Celestion Vintage 30 speakers. That was a win. I managed to get a Crate Blue Voodoo 4×12 cab for a steal of a deal, and that thing got me infinitely closer to where I wanted to go.

Then, I rented and tried head after head – mostly Marshalls and Randalls. There were some good ones in there, but nothing that stuck.

Eventually, I came across the Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier and I was convinced. Some of my friends told me it sounded too transparent to their ears. Wrong person, wrong amp. For me, transparent is apparently exactly what I needed.

5150

But for whatever reason, things didn’t work out that well for me in rock bands. It’s what I thought I wanted to do. Meant to do. But somehow, I kept getting pulled back into the singer-songwriter world, where I found the most success.

Eventually, I had to tear down my home studio, sell my home, and move on. I kept playing guitar, of course, but I sold my amps too.

Years later, I picked up the Peavey 6505 Mini Head, after learning that it was basically identical to the 5150 amp, only Peavey couldn’t call it that because of a branding conflict.

Through the years, I came to discover that it wasn’t just the amp you played through, but also how you played the guitar. Your attack. Your technique.

But when I plugged into the 5150, I had finally found it. Because I had been working on my technique all those years. This was it. It’s what I had been looking for all along.

No, it wasn’t identical to Eddie’s early tones. But it gave me everything I needed and satisfied every curiosity once and for all.

I put that thing through a Vintage 30 on the clean channel, and it sounds glassy like a Victoria amp.

Put it on the dirty channel, and of course I can get everything from classic rock to full on metal mayhem. The “Brown Sound” is in there too.

Thank You, Eddie Van Halen

When I got into music, I never imagined spending so many years chasing tone. But it’s been a fun ride to this point, and if I have anything to do with it, it’s far from over.

The point is none of this would have ever happened without the infinite source of inspiration in the form of virtuoso guitarist Eddie Van Halen.

The man was creative. Distinctive. Unique. He was talented, hardworking, imaginative, and most importantly, inspiring.

The party rock of Van Halen certainly got people up and dancing. But if you listen closely, you can often hear something deeper in Eddie’s playing. The emotion. Maybe even the price paid.

Sounds cheesy to say, but appropriate.

Without him, I don’t even know who I would be as a guitarist.

Thanks Eddie. You will be missed.

Two-Part Writing for Horns with Fred Stickley: Session #3

Transcription:

Good morning boys and girls, songwriters, arrangers, music lovers. We are back for our third session learning about how to write for horns for your rock group and jazz ensemble. We had just left off.

In my little jazz group, we have a trumpet and sax so that’s what we’ve been talking about how to write for two horns. My trumpet player doubles on flugelhorn, and my sax player doubles on flute which is very nice. That’s kind of where we had left off the last time talking about flugelhorns and flutes. Let’s continue with that.

Treble clef. So, what I like to do is typically, you know with trumpet in tenor the trumpets on top. With flute and flugelhorn, I like to put my flute on top. If I’ve got something like this and let’s say the chord is F and B flat, okay, there is… that’s my flute line and so my flugelhorn will be down an octave. B flat… And that will sound great. Okay?

Now, B flat, hmmm… That’s pretty good low spot even though the flugelhorn is the same range as the trumpet. Down there he sounds great G. I mean I’ve written as low as G and A and stuff down form. They sound great.

For flugelhorn I try to keep it in the middle of the staff because that’s where his strength is as a flugelhorn. I’ll get up above into F and G for the flugelhorn, but I mainly cover around the staff in the staff. The flute…

Now, if you’re going to do intervals… So, here we are down here, then I will put the flute on top and we’re doing thirds or sixes and things like that. So, let’s say the chord is G, and here’s our flugelhorn and a half note. Okay? So, here’s our… Let’s make a G minor. So, this will be a B flat. To write it up a third, the flute will play a B flat to a C to a D to an E because that is in the key of G minor. Okay? Or he could be an E flat depending. Depends on what chord follows and what else is happening harmonically.

We will get into that later but that could be depending on whether if we’re an F. If this is the two chords in F, then that would be an E natural. If this was the three chords in E flat. And you don’t know until you know what the chord is before and after. It’s like words in a conversation then it would be E flat but that’s for future stuff ahead of us.

That is an example of flute and flugelhorn. What I want to get into too is some passing things that we can play around with. There’s several different passing chords that we can get into. I don’t know whether it’s too early to get into all that, but I do want to…

If we were like let’s say a passing chord would be or a passing note would be if we’re in let’s say we’re an F… Okay. I’ll put a bar line here. Let’s say we’re an F and let’s say the flute is playing A. And so, since we’re in F it’s going to be B flat, right. And C, eight notes. And the flugelhorn is going to play down a third, so he’ll play an F, a G, and an A.

Okay? If our chord is F, A and F is the first and the third degree of an F triad. Right? And here we have A and C. That’s a third and fifth degree. But what about these two notes? They’re not in an F triad but they’re in the key of F. And so, G and the key of F is a two, is a second degree, and B flat. So, if we were to continue this triad and have a D there, what chord is G…

[Alarm]

Oops, the timer. We have G, B flat and D. That is a G minor chord which is the two chords in F. So, if we were in the key of C, our two chords would be D minor built up the second degree of the scale. If our key was B flat, our two chords would be C minor.

And so, those are the notes that we would use. This will work beautifully because these notes are in the key of F and everybody’s moving. That’s the important thing you want. You want to have good voice leading.

In the next lesson we will get into writing for three voices – trumpet, tenor, and trombone. That seems to be a pretty common mix. You can interchange your tenor with an alto sax if you want depending on what’s going on but we’re going to get into some three-part writing which opens up a whole other can of worms.

Thanks for dropping by. Don’t forget to shoot me an email fred@fredstickleymusic.com. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by. I’ll see you again.

Two-Part Writing for Horns with Fred Stickley: Session #2

Transcription:

Hello music lovers, songwriters, arrangers, boys and girls out there in internet land. This is our second session of writing for horns for your rock ‘n roll or jazz group.

We had started out talking about trumpets and tenor saxophone because I have a jazz group and that’s what we have, and I thought it would be a good place to start which is two horns. It’s kind of its own thing, very different from writing from three and four and five horns. We’ll get into that later on.

I don’t know if I missed this before but I’m assuming that you know something about chords and notation. If you don’t, there are some other information online that can help you with that.

Also, on reading your horn players, I can help you with some of that. Horn players aren’t necessarily arrangers. A lot of times they don’t know some of these concepts, but they typically know how to read, and they can help you get through that hurdle if you have troubles there.

We ended up last session with talking about octaves. Just write your trumpet in tenor saxophone and octave sounds great in a rock scenario. Sound is big and fat. That’s especially true if my trumpet is up above the staff. I’ll just write them in the octaves because in the tenor it gets kind of thin when it gets up there and it won’t sound as good.

A lot of this depends on who’s playing your horns for you and how good the players are. But typically, it’s going to sound a little thin, so I wouldn’t really write intervals for the trumpet in sax unless the trumpet was somewhere in the staff.

The trumpet sound is different depending on… you know all colors or instruments sound different depending on where they are in their range. That big brilliant high stuff you hear on old R&B records the trumpet is above the staff. In the staff is really nice sound too.

Let’s say the chord is a C7 chord. I’m just recapping a little bit what we did last session. Let’s say he’s playing C, D, and E. And then let’s say he’s going to play a half note.

Okay. So, we’re in 4/4 time. Okay. So, he’s going one and two, three, four. So, the sax down here if he wants to he could play a sixth down which would make… This is the first degree, second, third. Okay. So, he would play E, F, G. And then it’s a B. So, there is C7. And so, I would jump up to a B flat which is the seventh. The trumpet is playing the fifth degree.

Notice how we wrote out our trumpet first and then wrote our stuff underneath. That’s what you want to do – you want to write your lead part out first. It makes it so much easier. And that’s really what your ear hears when the band plays. I don’t care if it’s five horns. Whatever that lead trumpet player is playing or whoever the top voice is, that’s what your ear hears and then you just hear the harmony underneath.

There we have it. Now, if we want to do it… Now it’s going to be open. That’s going to have a nice sound too because the sax is down in its range. If you want, instead of sixes we could do thirds. Okay. And then he would be up to there, so he would be playing A. There is your B flat, C natural. And notice now I have three voices. Well, if you have trombone in the mix, the tenor would play the middle voice and the trombone would play the lower voice. We’re going to get into some three-part writing later on.

Also, my horn players also play flugelhorn and flute. What I do in that scenario a lot is instead of the flugelhorn being on there… Basically the flugelhorn – let me back up – is the same range as a trumpet. It’s just got that beautiful round sound. And typically, when I write for flugelhorn, I try to stay in the staff down low. I’ll get up to F and G but mainly you know it’s all around being in the staff and getting that most out of the instrument, right.

On the flute, the most of flutes that you see are C and their lowest note is middle C up to like a… Let me see. Here’s C. Here’s C. And I believe they can get up to this next C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C. Up to there. Okay? So, typically what I do with flugelhorn and flute is if I’m going to write octaves I’ll put the flute on top.

There’s the timer. And I’ll put the flute, so the flugelhorn will be down here, and the flute will be up there. That’s what I do when I write intervals 2/4. Like in this scenario here, this top note would be flute and this bottom note would be flugelhorn. So, just the reverse of what you would do for trumpet and tenor. Flugelhorn is nice. I love it when my saxophone person can double on flute because that’s a whole another color that you can bring into the palette.

Anyway, don’t forget to send me a comment. fred@fredstickleymusic.com. I would love to hear from you. I love to know that there’s people on the other side. If you have any suggestions, any tips, any questions, I’d love to hear from you. All right. Thanks for stopping by.

A Practice Hack for Mastering the F Barre Chord

A Practice Hack for Mastering the F Barre Chord

Few chords give beginners more frustration than the F barre. It’s completely different from most other chords you’ve probably learned until now like A, E, D, or G. That’s because with the F barre, you have to contort your fingers and hand into unfamiliar positions. And it’s really difficult to get a clear sound – especially when you’re just starting out.

But a lot of songs use F Major and this fact alone makes the journey worth it.

Better still, you’ll own a lot more of the fretboard once you’ve locked down your first “barre” chord. In fact, it’s possible to play every single major chord in Western music using the F barre shape. When you add in other barre shapes (like Am, E7, or Cmaj7), the possibilities are limitless.

So this isn’t a chord you should run from. Instead, you should embrace it. And with the technique down below, that’s exactly what we’ll do.

The Batch Method for F Chord Mastery

When teaching students in the studio, many guitar teachers use “batches” of songs to help explain difficult concepts. They’ll then assign these songs as “études” that the student is supposed to practice at home.

And that’s what we’ll be doing here. We’re going to learn the F barre chord by practicing a whole bunch of tunes together.

Let’s begin.

1. Choose a Song That Uses F Major

The first step involves choosing a target song that uses guitar chords you already know – plus F major. You probably have a tune in mind (which is why you’re reading this).

But for demonstration purposes, we’ll use the Beatles’ And I Love Her. The version we’ll be playing uses the following 6 chords:

  • Dm
  • Am
  • F
  • G
  • C
  • Em

You’ll need a capo to play in the right key. But that’s okay. Pitch “accuracy” is not the goal here. We’re simply looking for songs to practice.

2. Find Songs That Use These Exact Chords

The next step is to find guitar songs that use our 6 chords. And you can do that very quickly with this free Search Song by Chord tool. Simply plug in Dm, Am, F, G, C, and Em, and it’ll spit out a list of tunes that use those 6 chords (and only those chords).

Here’s an example search.

You need to pick 10 or so tunes that you really like. If you wanted to stay in the same genre and decade as “And I Love Her,” for example, you might choose the following songs:

  1. Sweet Caroline | Neil Diamond [C,F,G,Am,Em,Dm]
  2. Mountains on the Moon | the Grateful Dead [G,F,Dm,C,Em,Am]
  3. Can’t Help Falling in Love | Elvis Presley [C,G,Am,F,Em]
  4. Do You Believe in Magic? | the Lovin’ Spoonful [C,Dm,Em,F,G]
  5. You’re So Vain | Carly Simon [Am,C,F,G,Em]
  6. Where Did Our Love Go | the Supremes [C,G,Dm,F]
  7. This Magic Moment | Jay and the Americans [C,Am,F,G]
  8. See See Rider | the Animals [C,F,G]
  9. Spanish Harlem | Ben E. King [C,F,G]
  10. Bad Moon Rising | Creedence Clearwater Revival [C,G,F]
  11. Just My Imagination | the Temptations [C,F]

You’ll notice that every single song from the above list uses some exclusive combination of Dm, Am, F, G, C, and Em. And they all use F major, which is our target chord.

Moving forward, we’ll treat these tunes as our “practice études.”

3. Work through These Songs

Over the next week or so, work on every song from your list. The order doesn’t matter. And you can move back and forth as much as you want – trying one song before switching to another.

The beauty is that no matter what song you’re practicing, you’re always working on the F barre chord. But because you’re playing so many different songs, boredom never sets in. That’s because the tempos and melodies change as you move from one title to the next.

Variety is the spice of life.

After that first week of practice, the F barre chord will still sound a little rough. And it may also be a bit painful too. But guaranteed that in week #2, the road will be much smoother as you work through all of your songs a second time.

You can actually feel and hear the difference. And this gives you the motivation to keep pushing forward for another week – or however long it takes to master the F barre.

That’s precisely what I did. I worked with a batch of 10 songs for about a month. By the time I was finished, the F barre had gone from an intimidating hurdle to one of my favorite chords to play.

The same can and will happen with you. And as an added bonus, you’ll end up with a much larger repertoire than when you started. Instead of walking away with a single song, this method ensures that you learn 10 or more new tunes – simply by adding one new chord to your practice.

Stop Running from the F Barre. And Start Running Towards It

If the F barre (or any tough chord) is still giving you trouble, try out this technique. To get started, visit the Search Song by Chords search engine and find some music to play.

Good luck. And happy strumming.

5 Tips for Improving Your Guitar Practice Sessions

5 Tips for Improving Your Guitar Practice Sessions

Learning to play guitar is something almost everyone wants to do once in their life.

So, if you are one of those who want to learn to play guitar as quickly as possible, then this post is definitely for you.

We are going to offer some tips that will make it easy for you to learn to play guitar in a short span of time.

Provided you want to learn to play the guitar, there are certain things that you must consider.

Firstly, you should create a list or a rough structure of what you need to practice. You can also motivate yourself by setting personal goals.

Here are some of the pro tips that will help in improving your guitar proficiency significantly.

1. What to Practice

The most important part of starting guitar practice is deciding what to begin with.

The experts say the best way of starting any practice session is with a warm-up exercise.

For this purpose, playing a chromatic piece that contains all the 12 pitches is best, as you will use all of your fingers. After warming up you can practice different scales, chords, single-line melodies, etc.

2. How to Practice Chords

Playing chords properly is crucial if you want to learn to play like a pro.

Therefore, practicing chords effectively should be your priority. You can simply start with learning to play each chord slowly, then gradually advance and perfect your melody. With proper practice you will be able to play guitar with speed and clarity of sound.

There are many applications and websites your can use to learn to play the guitar. You can visit one of these websites to learn to play guitar; this is a free and effective way of learning to play guitar.

3. Practicing Transitions

After getting clarity in your chords, you should start practicing the transition between them. The best way to learn how to transition is by playing chord progression exercises.

Start by strumming each chord four times using a metronome. Start playing off each chord at 50 BPM, gradually strumming down each beat.

Once you can transition between two chords easily without pausing, speed up. By practicing you will learn to eliminate pauses between chord transitions.

Once you’ve figured out how to transition between chords, try learning your favorite songs.

4. Deciding When to Practice

Undoubtedly, practicing more will help you learn faster. But you can make a schedule for yourself.

As a start, you can set a fixed time of the day for practicing your guitar skills; you can decide according to your daily routine.

A great way to keep up your practice routine is by maintaining a practice sheet because it will help you maintain track of your progress.

5. Where to Practice

Deciding a proper place for practicing is important because it dramatically influences you.

When choosing a place to practice, try to choose a place where you feel comfortable and don’t get disturbed. Practicing in solitude always produces the best results.

We hope that by following these tips, you will be able to quickly learn to play the guitar.

The 5 Worst Mistakes Guitarists Make When Trying to Play Fast & Clean

The 5 Worst Mistakes Guitarists Make When Trying to Play Fast & Clean

Playing fast is something a lot of guitarists would like to accomplish but there are a few things that hold them back. With different advice from different musicians, it can be tough to know what you need to focus on. Luckily, speed isn’t all that complicated.

Investing 10 minutes of focused practice every day can truly bring you some amazing results over time (yes, you don’t need to practice soul-draining scales for 10 hours a day). In this post, we’ll explore all the common problems that you are more than likely facing and how to effortlessly fix those problems.

1. Your Playing is Too Fast

This may not sound right but this is hands down one of the biggest problems for many guitarists when learning to play fast. When learning exercises such as arpeggios, you must start playing as slow as necessary even if you are only doing one note every two seconds.

You may notice when you are doing alternate-picking exercises, you don’t get as much unmuted string noise compared to playing arpeggios. The reason behind this is that alternate picking is much simpler and much easier to mute the string you’re playing. Keep in mind though, you won’t be hitting the notes accurately.

The problem with playing too fast when you are starting is that your hands are not in sync with each other causing your playing to sound sloppy. If you are hitting one string when your fretting finger is on another string then you will start to get string ringing and unwanted noise in general.

2. Your Picking Technique is Way Off

When attempting to play alternate-picking fast, it’s important that you’re economical in the way that you strike your pick. If you’re doing big picking motions when hitting the strings, then this is likely where you’re falling flat.

The wider the range of motion, the more time that it takes to hit the string and get more hits in-between. To solve this issue, you need to start playing slowly as mentioned above. Start at a speed that you’re comfortable with and then focus on your picking hand to observe how wide each strike is when you hit the string.

Chances are that you will find big movements in-between each pick, try to move your hand slowly up and down with minimal movement. If you’re curious about what sort of exercises to do, then playing the chromatic scale up and down the neck is a good place to start.

3. You’re Lifting Your Fingers on the Fretboard Too Much

This problem ties together with your picking technique. When doing guitar exercises, such as running the chromatic scale, pay attention to your fretting hand.

Are you lifting your fingers off the fretboard when going to the next fret?

If so, then try to release them without your fingers going too high off the fretboard. Start by picking a fret then lifting off your fingers gradually and repeat the process.

Ideally, you want to combine small picking motions with your fingers, making sure that your fingers are hardly lifting off the fretboard. Practice one at a time to get a hang of it then combine both exercises.

4. You’re Using the Wrong Guitar Pick

With hundreds to choose from, it can be difficult to find the right pick for your style. If you’re using a standard guitar pick, such as a Jim Dunlop Tortex pick, then you will have a hard time trying to play fast.

As recommended by other guitar players, you should get a pick that is small and has a sharp edge. One of the best options on the market is the Jim Dunlop Jazz III. When you attack with a standard size guitar pick, the pick needs more time to cross over from the current string to the next string.

If the pick is sharp and small, it will reach to the end of the string much faster. Change your pick over and you will notice the difference immediately. You won’t be a guitar god, but the difference will be significant.

You might find larger picks are better for strumming as there is more room, and speed isn’t much of a concern. At the end of the day find out what works for you but do consider the Jazz III.

5. You’re Not Using a Metronome

The metronome is quite an overlooked tool for learning to play fast but more importantly, clean. A metronome serves as your personal goal tracker. By practicing at a certain bpm, you will know exactly at what speed you can play a section perfectly clean before it gets messy.

For example, you might find that your playing gets messy when you go to 80 bpm. In this case, you can reduce it to 75 bpm and nail the section before you move on to a higher speed. A metronome comes with many other benefits such as preparing you for live performances, giving you a good sense of timing and helping to keep your guitar playing sounding tight.

Conclusion

It’s recommended that you combine all the tips in this post as it’s what will help you reach your end goal of playing fast. Practice one at a time until you are comfortable with it and then combine everything and practice slowly.

Above all, remember that there is no rush when it comes to learning the guitar, it’s a journey and you should be having fun. Not all practice will be fun, but trying to rush the process and trying to achieve success faster will lead to frustration and will ruin the fun that you should be having.