The past two years at Tillman Music has seen a lot of growth in our music education program. We have expanded our building to include several new and bigger teaching studios and have added more teachers. As in years past we have had a spring showcase of the students evolved in the lesson program. This year however we are not calling it a recital, instead, we are calling it a student performance. This change in name is due to the fact that some of students are doing so much more than just reciting music, they are true performers and come ready to give it everything they have. So to them I say Bravo! You are all an inspiration to me.
It takes so much courage to get up on stage and perform for people. It is even harder when you know that your family and friends are in the audience. This very fact makes everyone who participates in the performance a true winner in my book. I get so excited when a student finds the magic that comes from performing. It is a transcending feeling that is akin to the endorphin rush people talk about after a good physical workout. It’s a great feeling.
We have also instituted a student jam night at Tillman Music to help the participants get comfortable performing and even put them in a full band situation. The teachers and staff at Tillman Music go that extra mile to encourage involvement and try to make this experience as fun and inviting as possible. Some students start out just coming and listening to what is going on and eventually participate. Month to month we never know who will show up, so it is usually very spontaneous.
I tell you this so you will know how much work the staff and students put into their student performances. As always we end the student performance night with a full band performance, comprised of students and staff. These are the stars of the student jam nights. I almost wish I had a video camera set up to chronologically show the progression of these students. Some get so involved they even start to arrange the songs. It’s a great privilege to be a part of the staff at Tillman Music and the teaching program. I encourage every student to come to a jam night. And if you are not a student yet, then come on down and sign up. I look forward to seeing you there.
So you finally decided to take the plunge. You want to buy a guitar. Before you do ask yourself a couple of questions. Has it always been your passion? Is it just for fun? Is it for self-satisfaction? Is it to attract someone? Is it just to free you from boredom? Is it to express yourself? Do you just think it’s cool? Is it because you love music and you want to create your own? These questions will help you understand where your head is and also determine the direction you will want to go in regards to your short & long-term goals. Give some thought to this and always remember – The main objective for playing is to HAVE FUN!!! I have said it a million times, they call it playing for a reason.
First thing to do is talk to someone about your goal, preferably a guitar player, or guitar tech you trust is knowledgeable. Tell them what your goal is and let them make recommendations. Emphasis on the word trust. Ask questions like, “where did you buy your guitar? who sets up your guitar? if you break your guitar where do you take it to be serviced?” Understanding the long term goals means also maintaining your instrument. So often people buy a guitar and never even ask if it’s playable, they just assume it is or can be made to play correctly.
Find a local music store you can browse in. The staff will usually be helpful in finding your first instrument. A truly helpful salesperson wants you to get the guitar you need, and not just the guitar they want to sell you. Remember, local stores thrive on repeat business and they want you to come back. So tell them your goals and tell them your budget. They will usually make sure you get what you need. If not move one to another store. Never feel pressured to buy an instrument the first time you look. I’m kind of partial to the small independent, Mom and Pop type of store, because I work in one, and because I am convinced that they want to make you a musician, not just another sale. If they have been in business any length of time, I bet, they have had a lot of repeat business and you will not be the first beginner they have helped.
On a side note, don’t be afraid to buy a used instrument. Just make sure it is in good working order. Find a tech you trust and have them check it our first. A good tech can point out the smallest problems and tell you where you are in dollars, after you purchase the used instrument, to get it up to 100%.
Once you decide to buy a guitar there will be a couple of things you may want to consider. Just as with any hobby, there are always accessories you may want add on with your purchase. The following list is what I can think of just off the top of my head.
Items you may want to purchase: (While you’re at the store anyway)
Picks (usually free with the purchase of a guitar) Capo (great tool of the trade) Strings (like gas to a car) Guitar Strap (makes the guitar more comfortable to hold) Guitar Stand (Make you guitar more accessible at home) Guitar cables (for electric or acoustic with pickup) Metronome / Tuner (your new instructor will be impressed) Gig bag or Hard-shell case (to carry your instrument to class, or to a friend’s house) Practice amp (for electric) Music Stand (Read the blog about practice)
Now go buy that guitar with confidence. Write a hit song, and when you do that rolling stone interview, tell them that Rob gave you some good advice about your first guitar. J
Rob Jones is a guitar tech at Tillman Music and Sound in Rock Hill South Carolina.
I would like to take a few minutes to talk about confidence. This word is thrown around a lot these days, every expert from every talk show is telling you how to have more confidence. Book stores have entire sections dedicated to the subject. I won’t pretend to be an expert on confidence building but, I believe confidence is all about knowledge. Have you ever been in a room with people and paid attention to the most confident person present? Their confidence comes from the knowledge they have. Even if sometimes it’s knowledge they think they have, they believe it is gospel. That knowledge gives them confidence. So now I would like to talk about musical instruments and knowledge about them, both playing and maintaining.
I believe the best way to gain confidence with a musical instrument is to have the knowledge of that instrument. The history, the theory, the technique, and most importantly the experience of playing the instrument. I think that it is only in the movies someone picks up an instrument for the first time and plays it perfectly. In 1993 study of violin players in their 20’s at a music academy in Berlin, showed the number of hours they had practiced in their youth. It was concluded that the best players put in excess of 10,000 hours of practice time by the age of 20. Later in 1998 it was revised to say it wasn’t just that the students practiced that many hours but that they constantly pushed themselves to learn new music. In other words, they built their confidence by knowing more about what they could indeed play. And to clarify, it is said that this “10,000-hour” rule applies to anything you wish to become an expert in.
Pushing ourselves to the best at something takes effort. It does not just come to you by some magic wand. If you want to have more confidence playing your instrument, take lessons from an expert. If you already take lessons, find people to play with. The more you do it the more you will become comfortable with your instrument. The best instructors still take lessons to push themselves even further in the instrument. Always be willing to watch and learn from others. What they are doing may not be to your taste, but I bet you can learn something. Don’t disregard styles that are not to your taste. They most often have some benefit with the style you do have an interest in. Most modern rock and country have roots in gospel, and all of these styles have roots even further back in classical and baroque music. Basically saying, it’s all connected.
Knowledge is not limited to just playing the instrument. Understanding the construction, parts, and maintenance of an instrument will also improve your confidence. An extreme example would be to know that you shouldn’t play an electric guitar while in the bathtub, especially if the guitar is plugged into an amp. (just Saying, they put that warning in the instruction manual for a reason). But more on the serious note. Knowing when to change strings on a guitar or reed on a woodwind, or head on a drum is important. Understanding proper cleaning and hydration of your instrument will greatly help you understand how to get the most tone. Even if you don’t feel comfortable with the maintenance of your instrument, having a relationship with a good technician will help you.
So remember, be diligent in your practice, and take lessons often. Keep your instrument maintained. And we will see you on stage. Being confident.
I have been working here at Tillman Music for about 15 years. I have watched as, every week, people come to music lessons. You see we are not just a musical instrument store; we have a full service education department. We offer lessons in guitar, bass, percussion, piano, voice, and violin. We have a wonderful staff ready and willing to bestow the many years of experience and knowledge, for a nominal fee of course. (wink)
The one question that has been asked of me by customers is, “Why should I take lesson?” “Why can’t I just watch YouTube and learn what I need to know?” Well usually give the answer, “no one says you can’t, but if and when you get serious, give us a call”.
Lately I have been giving this answer a lot of thought and in doing some research I have decided that I am not doing justice to my customers. I have decided there is a better answer to the question, and the following will explore the reasons why you should take lessons, even if your goal is to just “sit on the porch and pick and grin”, to use a wonderful colloquialism.
The first reason to take lessons is inspiration. A well-qualified instructor is someone who can inspire you to want to play, someone who will give you the benefit of their experience. A teacher will nurture your musical growth, encourage exploration, and instill their lifelong love of music. An instructor is a sounding board for your ideas and a great way to learn technique to help you move forward.
The second reason is a Music Teacher, as with and type of professional instructor, has the ability to break down the language of the area of interest. The Jargon of speech used to communicate ideas. Everything we do in life, hobbies, work, religion, have certain words that are specific to that particular subject. Think about it, if you are a doctor you know and use specific medical terms that a brick mason would not use. When you learn about music it is the same thing. We call this language “Music Theory”. Once you begin to learn this language, you have the ability to communicate to other musicians. Then you have the ability to learn from those musicians, and increase your own musical ability.
The best way I have found to look at it is like this. If someone gave you the keys to a fighter jet and told you to go fly it, could you? Oh yeah; and by the way, they have these videos that show you how to get the plane in the air. Sounds great right? But what you don’t learn from the video is that you have to file a flight plan and to top it off you’re in the air and you can’t talk to the guy in the communications tower, and the worst part is you did not file that flight plan and now there are military jets flying alongside you telling you to land the plane, but you don’t know how.
Of course playing music is not a life or death situation, but don’t you think it would be better to know how to communicate your musical ideas? Don’t you think that if there was only a way for you to understand what that guy you went to jam with meant when he said, “this is in E major with a I, IV, and V. and the bridge goes to the relative minor for 4 bars.” 1, 2 – 1,23,4.
So when you ask yourself, “Why should I take lessons?” ask yourself. “Am I ready to fly yet?”
So if I did make a good argument, consider the Tillman Music Lesson Program. Our music instructors are ready to inspire you and ready to instill that sense of ability that only the knowledge and years of experience a professional teacher can impart on you.
Last time we talked about what scales are, how to play the Pentatonic scale and how it’s just the beginning of many things to come. This time we’re going to “modify” that same scale in part two of what is going to be a four part series. Now onto the fun! Same as last time we’re going to be playing in fifth position so we will be playing a scale in A. We are keeping everything from the Pentatonic box shape but modifying it by adding one note. By adding just this one note we change the dynamic and sound completely. With just one note! How crazy is that!? What we’re about to play set music ablaze and turned it onto its head, spawning the likes of Robert Johnson, Albert King, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and the list goes on. The pattern remains the same other than our added note, but there’s a thing or two to go over just before our examples. Now last time the pattern given used your fourth finger on the B and E string, as well as the low E, but what I didn’t tell you last time is that is not the only way to play it. You can use your third finger as well. A lot of players do this for speed since their fourth finger is slower than their third. I myself use my fourth only on the low E and use my third on the higher strings for this reason. Try it a few different ways and see what works best for you. Now onto the examples!
That ladies and gents is the Blues scale. What we added was the dreaded “Devils Note,” the flat fifth. Back in the renaissance era it was looked down upon to play this note because you would summon the devil. Coincidently the legend of famed blues godfather Robert Johnson was that he sold his soul to the devil to be able to play the blues. So have fun with your newest scale. Switch between this and the Pentatonic for some contrast. Now for a little extra fun. Want some twang with your playing? Start on the second note of this scale and run it until the first note of the G string. Next time we’re going to add some sadness to our playing but until then
I will assume that you have read the previous article as I explain the areas of this article.
Signals, mono, stereo and balanced, how do you know what is what? Signal flow is the path an audio signal takes from source to output. This can be a little complicated in recording studios and performance venues, with a large number of components, each of which may cause the signal to fail to reach its desired output. Knowing each component in the signal flow becomes increasingly difficult and important as system size and complexity increases. So let’s start with a simple example of signal flow, the electric guitar. The guitar has an output, ¼” female jack that will accept a ¼” male plug. Using a ¼” to ¼” shielded guitar cable, sometimes labeled instrument, we can connect the guitar to a guitar amplifier. The amplifier will have a similar ¼” jack used as an input. The cable makes the connection and the signal will flow through the cable. This is a monophonic signal, which means there is only one signal, “the guitar”. This cable will have only two wires inside, one for the hot, or positive, signal and one for the ground.
Now this signal can be changed. We can make it stereo, which is a signal with two or more signals. This type of signal captures, in this case imitates, a spatial difference between what is called left and right channel. Since the guitar output is mono, we will have to split the signal into two signals. This is usually accomplished with a stereo effect pedal such as a chorus. It will have a mono input and stereo outputs. The trick is you will need to have two guitar amplifiers to get the true stereo affect. However, the signal is sent all the way through via mono instrument cables.
That was a simple explanation of a mono and a stereo sound, but running two cables to make things stereo can get confusing, and in some cases is unnecessary. So enter the stereo cable, this is a cable with three wires inside. One left channel, one right channel, and a ground. You may run into this with headphones. The cable could have a ¼” jack or a 3.5mm jack. But the tale-tale sign that it is a stereo cable is the two black rings between the tip and the sleeve on each jack. Most audio sources have stereo outputs, such as CD players, MP3 players, Phones, Tablets, and Computers. These will usually be hooked up to a stereo input on your listening device.
Now here comes the part I get the most questions about, so pay attention. “What is the difference between a stereo and a balanced cable?” They look the same, and this is mostly because they are the same, as far as ¼” cables go. It is in how you use the cable. As stated before the stereo signal is comprised of a left, right, and ground, However, a balanced signal is comprised of a “hot” or positive, and “inverted hot” or negative, and a ground. The source sends the signal but before it does it splits the hot signal into two signals and inverts one of them 180 degrees, this is important to remember because now we get a little complicated.
I will try to simplify this as much as I can. Let’s start with this statement. “Radio waves are everywhere”. Plain and simple, and everything will get bombarded by these waves, all the time, every day. You and I are hit with them constantly. Now whether or not that is good or bad is for another discussion. Your cables will also get hit by these radio waves, and the longer the cable the more radio waves hit it.
Your cable will absorb some of these waves even though they are shielded. So to help with this problem we play a trick. Remember I told you the balanced cable has two signals a positive and a negative? Well both of the signals will get bombarded with the radio waves, but when the signal reaches its destination, a mixer, or EQ, the receiving equipment will take the inverted hot signal and flip it 180 degrees to make it a positive signal. This gives us two hot, or positive, signals. And here is the trick! The radio waves that hit the inverted hot, or negative, wire are now flipped 180 degrees. So now we have a positive radio wave and a negative radio wave, and basic math states that a positive and a negative will cancel each other out. So effectively, we get rid of that noise. Cool huh? And we have double the original hot signal.
OK, so now you know Mono, Stereo, and Balanced. The next thing I get questions about is between Shielded and Unshielded cables. This can sometimes be a problem. First, all instrument and microphone cables are shielded, and all the patching cables in your PA and guitar rig. A shielded cable will have a metallic wrapping around the main audio wire. Second, all speaker cables are Unshielded. Unshielded cables will have the same outer jacket like a shielded cable but the wires will be run side by side, thus no shielding.
Why does it make a difference? Well, going back to our electric guitar setup, if you use an unshielded speaker cable with a ¼” plug to hook up your guitar, you will have no protection from those radio waves we discussed earlier. Sometime this will manifest itself as an actual radio station coming through your guitar amp speaker. At the very least it will take away from your tone by adding unwanted noise. So always use a shielded guitar cable. On the other side, using a shielded cable for speakers will keep the cable from dissipating heat. This can cause problems with the power amp and is some cases even cause the cable to catch fire. The shielded cable will always be a smaller wire and can keep the speaker from sounding its best. So be aware of the type of cable you are using.
Now you are an expert on the cable conundrum. No? Well don’t feel bad, I do this stuff for a living. Remember if you have any problems ask a professional, like the folks at Tillman Music in Rock Hill SC. Like our famous slogan says, “We Found Your Sound”.
I am pretty good at patching things together in a studio. This hasn’t always been true, at one time I was a novice that didn’t know a phone plug from a RCA plug. I had to learn and ask questions, read books and ask questions, make mistakes and ask questions. Get my point? It took some time, and as technology changes our need for patching also changes. So I decided to write an article about the most common things you will encounter as a musician, in the studio, on stage, or just in your bedroom.
As with all things you need to know what to call something. You can’t just say, “i need an adapter to connect a thingamabob into this other thingy”. The person trying to help doesn’t know what thingy you’re talking about, trust me, cause I’m usually that guy.
The most common plug is a Phone plug, like on a guitar cable. This plug is used primarily for analog audio. The phone connector was invented for use in telephone switchboards in the 19th century, thus the name phone plug. Today it is commonly called a 1/4” plug for it’s 1/4” diameter. There are two basic types of these plugs, TS and TRS. The TS 1/4” plug will have a single black ring between the tip of the plug and the sleeve of the plug, separating the two parts of a mono signal being feed through the plug, usually called hot and ground. Examples would be a guitar or speaker cable. The TS stands for Tip and Sleeve, easy so far right? The TRS plug will have two black rings one just behind the tip and one just a little farther down the sleeve creating a metal ring between the two black rings. TRS stands for Tip, Ring, Sleeve. This is used to create a way to carry a stereo or balanced signal (we will touch on that difference in the next article) through a single cable. Smaller versions of this plug are also made, 2.5mm and 3.5mm being the most common. Examples are headphone jacks on your phone and tablet or the aux inputs on your car stereo.
Ex: Guitar or Speaker
The next most common plug is called an XRL Connector. This style of electrical connector is primarily found on professional audio, video, and stage lighting equipment. The connectors are circular in design and have between 3 and 7 pins, depending on the number of wires needed to get the signal from one place to another. They are most commonly associated with balanced audio interconnection, Including microphone, but are also used for lighting control, low-voltage power supplies, and other applications. XLR connectors are covered by an international standard for dimensions. The most common for XLR plug is the 3 pin plug, which is used for microphone and line patching in PA equipment. Cool fact XLR cables have a male end on one side and female end on the other side. This can come in handy, plugging the cables end to end can help you make a longer cable.
Ex: Microphone Cable or Used in Patching PA gear
Although the RCA plug is more commonly used in home audio. They can be used in the music world, most commonly in DJ mixers. RCA connectors, sometimes called a phono connectors, are a type of electrical connector commonly used to carry audio and video signals. The connectors are also sometimes casually referred to as A/V jacks. The name “RCA” derives from the Radio Corporation of America, which introduced the design by the early 1940s for internal connection of the pickup to the chassis in home phonograph consoles. Just look at the back of any DVD or CD player. They are usually color coded to make patching easier.
In the world of music one of the newer connections is the Speakon (sometimes stylized speakON). It is a type of cable connector mostly used in professional audio systems for connecting loudspeakers to amplifiers. There is an obvious advantage to this type of plug. First there is no possible confusion with low-current microphone or instrument cables. They lock into their sockets with a twisting motion, making them significantly less prone to disconnection than standard phone plugs. They are made of plastic and therefor are shielded from human touch, preventing electrical shock from a high-powered amplifier. The contacts do not short out during connection or disconnection. This can be a benefit when working with sound equipment that is in operation. The chassis receptacles are airtight, and do not provide an air leak path from speaker enclosures.
There are other more specialty type plugs that are used all over the industry but these aforementioned plugs are the most common, and the ones you will run into most often. In the next article we will cover the different signals you will encounter with these plugs. That’s when the fun starts.