Memorizers vs. Sightreaders

Two different student categories that I have encountered have been memorizers and sightreaders. There's pros and cons to each one, but nobody says you can't be both (not me at least). In fact, I think it would be best to develop each skill set well. I think it would be less wise to stick to one and ignore the other.


Memorizers tend to get a new piece of music, and study it until they don't need the sheet music anymore, and then they leave the sheet music behind. The good thing about this is that memorized music tends to be less restrained by the limitations of the margins on the paper, and it truly comes from the inside. On the other hand, a piece of music left memorized but unreviewed has the tendency to morph and change in the performer's head. I'm speaking from experience! So it's a good idea to bring out the music every once in awhile and make sure you're on the right track.


Sightreaders will get a new piece of music, read the notes accurately and interpret the piece well. For most gifted sightreaders, their sightreading is so good that they don't have to spend much time and effort internalizing a piece. Why memorize a book if it is sitting right in front of you? The good thing is that if you can write it, they can play it. The bad thing is that if they can sightread it, they're not going to memorize it.

The Yin and Yang

Beginning students often fall into a rut of one category or the other, simply because they don't need both to play music. This can also be caused by teacher oversight or neglect. But the truth is that one can absolutely develop both skill sets and be proficient in both categories, and music is exponentially more enjoyable when this is the case. If you think about it, sightreading at its core is quick, short-term memorization. Memorization requires reading or hearing of the music in order to stick in a brain. They overlap. So when you develop all of these skills, you'll have more tools at your musical disposal.

Here are some great sightreading materials for guitar.

William Leavitt's books are also great guitar sightreading resources.

For the best training, you really should try to read anything you can get your hands on. I've found the the more I practice sightreading, the better my memorization skills become.

Take Your Instrument On The Plane-- It's The Law

As a former employee of one of the top 2 major airlines in the US and a professional St. Paul guitar player and teacher, trust me: you do not want to leave your prized instrument in the hands of anybody but yourself when traveling by airplane. Plus, it's the law that airlines allow you to carry it on the plane with you.

According to the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, section 41724:

There it is, signed by Barack Obama and endorsed by the FAA. Click here to view the official government document for carrying your guitar on the plane.

WHy Should I take My Instrument on the Plane?

Let me reinforce why taking your instrument onboard is the best choice for the safety of your instrument:

  • I wouldn't leave my instrument anywhere I wasn't comfortable. For those of you that don't know, wood is very susceptible to environmental changes such as humidity, pressure, and temperature-- things that fluctuate wildly depending on your point of reference in an aircraft. Cargo cabins can reach subzero temperatures and even if they get heat, it's manufactured air that is horrendously dry. Teaching guitar in St. Paul Minnesota is very similar: humid in the summer and bone dry in the winter, which is why I always have a humidifier with my guitar.
  • Don't chance it with airline personnel. Don't get me wrong: most airline employees are good, well-intentioned, and operate with the utmost care when they know the contents of what they're handling. However, there are just so many other things going through their mind on the job. They are being timed. They are out in the elements. They are understaffed. They are underpaid. They are thinking about where they're going to fly next with their flight benefits. Or they took the redeye from Vegas last night because that was the only one that was open. They are working long shifts. They are under tremendous mental and/or physical stress. Safety is their first priority, guitars come later. Even if they handle your equipment perfectly, things can shift inside the cargo bin, sometimes the bins are absolutely packed to the max, the pressure will change, and who knows what else is in the bin besides your instrument. I've seen pets that do not travel well (and all the biological substances that go with it), cadavers or body parts, dry ice, sweaty sports team equipment. Hell, a few employees are just total d-bags. What if they were assigned to your flight?

TIps For Happy Instruments

  • Buy the best hardshell case you can afford. Check reviews of the cases, do your homework. This is a guitar case that I would use with my instrument, and that I have seen used successfully.
  • Just to reinforce the above tip, don't settle for a gig bag when you're traveling. Just. Don't. Even if you're carrying it into the cabin. When I see an instrument in a gig bag at the airport, I know that person is not serious. It's almost a good way to encourage damage to your instrument.
  • Use a humidifier. I recommend the Oasis guitar case humidifiers.
  • Board first or as soon as you can. The FAA regulations depend strongly on available space. It's just easier for crew to accommodate you (and to get a safe space) if you tell them ahead of time what you're doing. So arrive early to the gate, politely introduce yourself to the gate agent and let them know what you need.
  • Be nice, polite, and firm. You practically have an ace up your sleeve with this FAA Obama signed government document, so don't get cocky. The FAA has tremendous clout at the airport, so if you need to, mention their affiliation.
  • Carry a copy or two of the relevant language in the Modernization and Reform Act. Most carriers are aware of this rule now, but some people still slip through the cracks, training-wise. The airline industry has tremendous personnel turnover.
  • If you check it, don't lock it. TSA is required to open it, and they will cut it. Even if you carry it, anything is subject to inspection.

So there you have it. Everything you need to play guitar on the beach.

Top 14 Guitar Riffs For Harley Riders

The weather is getting warmer where I am (St. Paul, Shoreview, Arden Hills, Roseville) which means the bikes are getting louder. We've been working hard to collect a few of the artists and tunes that are most popular with Harley Davidson riders. Some of them might surprise you but remember, lots of different people ride Harleys. Other selections might come as no surprise. Have fun with this and share it with someone who might like it. Maybe you'll even find some new music that you like!

1. Bad To The Bone- George Thorogood

Nitty gritty danger, that's what this one's about. The no-holds-barred distorted slide guitar makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. George Thorogood's storytelling in this song is the stuff of legend-- bold, larger than life, sometimes almost comical.

2. Rebel Yell- Billy Idol

Written by Billy Idol and guitarist Steve Stevens, this song is said to have been inspired by an event that Billy attended where Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood of The Rolling Stones were taking swigs from a bottle of Rebel Yell bourbon whiskey. He liked the name of the brand and decided to write a song about it. This single reached #46 in the US and was named one of the best hard rock songs of all time by VH1.

3. I Can't Drive 55- Sammy Hagar

Addicted to speed, or the power of having it available. You like to break the rules because you can. Or, the sheer command of having it and not using it. Have you checked out Sammy's signature Red Rocker Harley? You can also rock out to this as you ride along highway 55 in either Minneapolis or St. Paul.

4. Margaritaville- Jimmy Buffett

This one isn't as badass as the other songs, but it's a crowd pleaser and everyone at the party is bound to know it and sing along. Plus, you can connect with it on the topics of wasting time, long lost love, and partying to your heart's content. Songs about sunshine are also welcome for 5 months out of the St. Paul MN year.

5. Take The Highway- Marshall Tucker Band

Another road song from the great southern american songbook.

6. Here I Go Again- Whitesnake

If you were a teen in the 80s, you probably rocked out to this song once or twice. It peaked at #1 in 1987 and the music video featured iconic model and David Coverdale squeeze Tawny Kitaen. 

7. Born To Be Wild- Steppenwolf

This is pretty much your theme song. The open highway, heavy metal thunder, and the relentless pursuit of adventure all speak to you on another level.

8. Rockin Into The Night- 38 Special

This song was the first big hit for this southern rock band, off of their album by the same name. Written by members of Survivor: Jim Peterik, Gary Smith and Frank Sullivan. Jeff Carlisi and Don Barnes are both credited with playing guitar on this album.

9. Midnight Rider- The Allman Brothers

This is your song for riding off into the night without a care in the world what might happen. You love the open road, the cover of night, and not getting caught.

10. Green Grass and High Tides- The Outlaws

Outlaws founding member and guitar player Hughie Thomasson describes how this song was written: I wrote that song in St Augustine, Florida. We went to a cookout on the beach and everybody forgot to bring their guitars. I was standing by the ocean and there was a breeze and the words kept coming to me. It’s about all the rock stars I liked that died had come back and were playing a show just for me. Like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. And eventually more of course.

11. Bad Reputation- Joan Jett

This one and the next song are for the girls out ride too! VH1 named "Bad Reputation" the 29th greatest hard rock song of all time, making it the highest ranked song on the list by a woman. The music video is a reenactment of Jett's rise to the top and the 23 record labels that rejected her.

12. Crazy On You- Heart

This was Heart's first commercial hit and it became one of their signature songs for the rest of their career. It features hall-of-fame worthy guitar work by Nancy Wilson.

13. Voodoo Child (Slight Return)- Jimi Hendrix

This one is a shoo-in. With its raw guitar tone and fiery guitar work and lyrics fit for a legend, Jimi Hendrix gets a pass :)

14. Welcome to The Jungle- Guns 'N' Roses

Come on, who doesn't like Slash?!?! Plus, this has an epic echo-laden guitar intro. 



There's More!

Running Down a Dream- Tom Petty

Released in 1989, this song achieved moderate commercial success and topped out at #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It's a great driving/riding song and you've probably heard it at major sporting events too. Mike Campbell is Tom Petty's long time guitar player.

Man In Black- Johnny Cash

How much black is in your closet? Or should I ask, what percentage of your closet is black? From Wikipedia: 

The song is a "protest statement against racism, the treatment of poor people by wealthy politicians, the condemnation of drug users and prisoners, and the war in Vietnam."

Real talk.

Cat Scratch Fever- Ted Nugent

A song about cats! Mostly the stray ones that go from place to place.

Full of innuendos and double entendres, this one is as raunchy as they get. The original shock rocker, Ted Nugent has made his own special brand of rock. Don't forget he's also a very skilled guitar player. Have you listened to the Pantera version?

Black Dog- Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin is the original supergroup. Each member is a legend on their instrument with a very unique and famous sound.

Robert Plan describes the inspiration for this song: 

"Let me tell you 'bout this poor old dog because he was a retriever in his early days, and the only thing he could ever find in his late days was his old lady who lived two houses away from where we were recording. And he used to go see the old lady quite regularly, but after he'd "boogied" and everything else he couldn't get back. And we used to carry him back."

Whole Lotta Love- Led Zeppelin

This song's release in the US was the band's first hit and peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was later certified Gold for having sold one million copies. A lawsuit was settled in 1985 which decided that parts of the song originated from "You Need Love" by Willie Dixon, resulting in a payment and credit on subsequent releases.

That Smell- Lynyrd Skynyrd

Probably my favorite Skynyrd song, the guitar playing and production are solid on this one.

The reason the song was written is perhaps not so positive. Culminating with the evening when guitarist Gary Rossington got drunk and high and crashed his new car into an oak tree in Florida, singer Ronnie Van Zant was inspired to write the song as a warning against the abuse of drugs and alcohol. Three days after the song was released on 'Street Survivors', the band was devastated by a plane crash that killed several members including Van Zant.

Simple Man- Lynyrd Skynyrd

Since becoming available for digital download, this song has become Skynyrd's third best selling song after Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama. It describes life wisdom passed down from mother to son, emphasizing spirituality, love, and simple living over wealth and life in the fast lane.

Enter Sandman- Metallica

Enter Sandman was the first song that was written for Metallica's self-titled album, famously referred to as 'the black album'. The lyrics revolve around the themes of a child's nightmares.

Sad But True- Metallica

I couldn't choose just one Metallica song, so I chose this one too. It's heavy, it's scary, it's dark. What's not to like?

Thunderstruck- AC/DC

What would testosterone-fueled rock and roll be without AC/DC? They're old-school, larger than life, and still going strong. And they're loud too! Just ask Brian Johnson.

Back In Black- AC/DC

If you've heard this song, and I still need to explain it to you, you're in the wrong place. But you made it to the end! Congratulations.



6 Reasons To Quit Guitar... And How to Overcome Them

This post isn't for the faint of heart. I'm going to shoot straight with you because I think that's the only way to properly address these topics, and I might step on some toes in the process. I think it all comes down to one thing: How bad do you want to get good?

"I Don't Have the Time."

Let's be honest: It's not that you don't have the time, it's that you don't want to make the time. If your approach to practicing is just waiting for all of life's events to fall where they may and fill up any spare time with guitar practice, you're never going to have time. You need to make practicing a priority and you need to make time to practice.

How many TV shows did you watch this week? Movies? How much time did you spend on facebook? YouTube? Snapchat? Video games? Those things can wait. Do you think you could have woke up a little earlier? Gone to bed a little later? Plus, my guitar students hail from Minneapolis and St. Paul, do you think they're enjoying the great outdoors between December to February? Everybody has the same amount of time, it's how you use it.

"I Don't Want to Waste The Teacher's Time."

No offense if you've used this before, but this one is kind of weird. Have you broken down what it actually means?

Any teacher worth their salt should have determined a rate of compensation that they deem a valid exchange for their time, no matter how hard the student. So to say that you're wasting the teacher's time is to say either they don't charge enough, or you're not paying enough, or you've gotten worse since you started. Either way I don't think anyone really means any of the above when they use this, they're just saying something without thinking a whole lot about it. I've found it to mean, "I don't want to waste my (the student's) time."

So, how do you address this issue? Often times with this particular objection, people need to be brought down to earth. Figure out your goals and break them down to small, manageable pieces. Think about what kinds of music or songs are interesting to you and try to create or re-create what is so exciting about them to you.

"It's Too Hard."

Guitar is one of the easiest instruments to learn. Unfortunately a lot of books and even teachers don't give you the easy stuff first. So first, talk to your teacher about why what you're learning feels difficult and maybe talk about some easier material or topics. Sometimes different things are difficult for the same reasons and we don't realize it. For example, maybe there is a physical limitation. Talk to your teacher about it and show them-- maybe there are exercises that they can show you to get past this physical limitation.

Keep in mind, difficulty is always a precursor to learning and breakthroughs. Resistance is always part of the recipe to getting stronger.

"It's Not Interesting Anymore."

When's the last time you went out to see live music? I'll bet it's been awhile. There is certainly no shortage of live music for every taste and price range at any time of day, especially in the Twin Cities. Did you know that Minneapolis and St. Paul have the second highest number of performance seats per capita? New York is number one.

So, do you need to perform? Go to for a great way to find free and welcoming performance opportunities and a chance to put your guitar lessons to good use. Nothing makes it more interesting like applause from a crowd of people. Or think of some guitar players you like and google similar artists, you might find some inspiration. Talk to your teacher about doing a different topic for one lesson. Any teacher worth their salt is going to understand the place you're at and your need for diversity.

"The Kid Isn't Practicing Anymore."

First question: are you making practice a chore? It's a weird thing that I observe every day but kids just so often do exactly the opposite of whatever their parents tell them to do. The worst thing is that I know it will happen to me when I'm a parent! My recommendation is just let them foster a love and appreciation for the instrument on their own and they will hold onto it for a long time. If it's not for them, they'll tell you!

Don't get me wrong, guitar isn't for everyone. And there isn't anything wrong with asking about your kids guitar lessons every once in awhile, or negotiating practice time for something more epic like... ice cream!

This issue could also fall on the teacher. Make sure they're open and in tune to the music that you or your child are interested in. Sometimes simply changing songs will do the trick. Another thing that might work is getting your child involved with other kids that play music-- a "band" type situation.

Second question: how many other things is your kid doing??? I don't know if it's an american thing or a midwest thing or what, but I see kids with a billion things on their plate and no time to just be a bored kid left to their own devices. I'm all for getting kids to try a variety of things and find that thing that they are passionate about, but you don't need to stretch them too thin. Plus, I am a huge believer in the principle that desire reveals design and kids will find their own way no matter what the circumstances.

"We Need to Take A Break."

I've spent a lot of time studying music and guitar, and there have been many times where I just felt like I was going through a routine, saturated with information, and it seemed like I wasn't progressing at all. I realized that I had a solution to all of my guitar problems and an answer to all of my music questions, and it was just a matter of time and execution to integrate it. That was also boring to me-- the fact that I didn't have any unsolved mysteries that I was chasing. But I stuck with it and when I look back on it I realized too that even though I felt like I had enough, I was still learning like crazy. I think this is what Steve Vai calls "The Ultra Zone"-- it's a mental overload situation that can be stressful yet immensely effective.

I realize that not everyone wants the Ultra Zone for themselves-- that's cool too. Maybe you need to take more frequent rests when you practice. Try setting a mandatory break timer. For example, set a timer for every half hour and when it rings you must stop anything you're doing and do something completely different for  5 minutes.

You also might need more inspiration. Try getting out to see live music more. There are plenty of shows happening every day and even if your schedule or pocketbook is tight there are plenty of free shows during the day. Heck, go look at youtube.

Bottom line, if you've made up your mind that you absolutely don't want to play anymore no matter the circumstances, you shouldn't play. But I often find that people's reasons for stopping are exaggerated and dramatic. In other words, they would say of themselves, "If I could only ____ , then I would play all the time!" 

Fill in that blank, and make it a reality.

Internet Tabs vs. Published Materials

Just about everyone that plays guitar in the modern era and has sought to learn something, or turned to the internet to get their musical fix, has come across guitar tabs. Nearly everyone who has encountered this internet phenomenon has probably been frustrated with the vast variation in quality that this format provides.

What Are Tabs?

Tablature, or 'tabs' for short, is a very straightforward and basic way of writing out guitar music. Basically it consists of six lines each representing a string on the guitar, and numbers representing the fret number of what is supposed to be played. The lowest line in the group of six is the lowest sounding string, and the highest in the group is the highest sounding. One simply reads them from left to right, like words on a page, and plays them in that order.

What is needed to make tabs?

On a computer, all that is needed is a simple word processing program like wordpad or notepad, and a little bit of familiarity with the program in order to place the notes where they need to be. Need an example? Just google your favorite song and append 'tabs' to the end of the query.

Pluses and Minuses

There are pros and cons for guitar tabs. In the most common formats, it's pretty hard to know by looking at the paper what the song is going to sound like if you haven't heard the song before. So in most cases you should have a recording of the song handy so you can follow along and play it like you hear it.

The other drawback with guitar tabs is that there is hardly any sort of regulations or checks and balances to filter out inaccurate tabs. Anybody can publish a guitar tab. So it's critical that you have some sort of experience with guitar in order to know what is worth paying attention to and what isn't.

On the other hand, since it's so easy to publish a tab on the internet, they can also be available much quicker than alternatives like published materials (books, magazines). Did your favorite band just release a new album? Chances are you can probably already find tabs for their songs online.

Published Materials (Books & Magazines)

Conversely, there are many more filters and checks and balances in the publishing industry to make sure that the transcriptions you're getting are accurate and educational. Think about it: If you are a major publisher, you have a reputation to uphold and it is in your best interest to make sure that your publications are accurate, thorough, and complete. Often times many of the transcribers have a wealth of education, experience, and insight into playing that allows them to make well educated decisions in the transcription process.

Most publications also provide rhythm notation with the tablature as well. This is good because if you know how to read music, rhythm notation will give you a good idea, if not exact, of how the music will sound. Even if you haven't heard the music before.

The Bottom Line

I know how to read music, but my personal favorite notation to teach with is tablature with rhythm stems attached to it-- it's most accessible and also has the most information in the format. One can tell what the song sounds like without hearing the recording, and it's presented in a straightforward way that is easy to learn.


Like what you read? Please share it with someone who needs it! It would mean the world to me. Just copy and paste the URL into your favorite platform. Better yet, come visit me at my teaching studio in Shoreview!

Let's Make Some Mistakes!

Our society stigmatizes mistakes. All the way through school and careers, kids are penalized for missing a question, forgetting something, misstepping, wrong answers, breaking rules, questioning the norm, and the list goes on. The next step is a retest, review, do over, redo, retake, etc etc.

Societal Programming

So when they first get into my St. Paul teaching studio and they make a mistake, like a human does, they stop. And start over. Every. Time.

In my room, this is a habit we have to unlearn. Think about if I let it continue: They would stop every time they made a mistake, just like they practiced, and their neurons and muscle memory would deem that the correct reaction every single time, including when they perform for people.

What Not to Practice

Guess what? You can't stop and start over when you're playing for people. Especially when you're playing with a band. The band isn't going to stop the music and wait for you to catch up, so that's an impractical method to practice. But so many (frustrated) people practice that way for the entirety of their musical experiences.

My approach to making mistakes is this: Make them and learn from them. Mistakes are going to happen, you're going to mess up, BUT practicing how to recover from mistakes is a far more practical approach than restarting so you can play it perfectly.

So practice recovery skills, not perfection.

The Best Way to Improve Your Sound

So you bought an entry level instrument for your beginner and they've been taking lessons for awhile, they've learned how to take care of it, they've gotten used to the dimensions of the instrument and stopped bumping it on everything around them. You want to upgrade their sound without spending a fortune and buying another all-out guitar.

Practice First

First, the best way to improve your sound is to practice. Much of a player's sound is in their fingers and how they use them. Eric Clapton will sound like Eric whether he's plugged into a $100 Squier or his one-off ~custom~ custom shop Strat (yes, I said it twice). There are countless stories of stars who reached the dressing room, found a cheap piece of junk to warm up on, and made it sound like a million bucks.

Did you practice?

The second best way to upgrade your sound without spending a fortune is to upgrade your pickups. Pickups are the electronic, magnet-containing gizmos under your strings that pick up the vibrations and send it through your controls to the amplifier. There are thousands of pickups out there and they all can sound slightly different than each other, even the same model by the same company.

Tone Detective

The way to approach a pickup decision is to reverse engineer it and do your homework-- find a sound you like, experiment with the products they use, and find your own sound. Be careful though-- every pickup company wants you to look at their endorsers and choose your pickups from there. That's a good start but not the best way. Those pros have thousands of dollars and hours invested, and hired more pros just for their sound. So take that information with a grain of salt, and then go to youtube and find regular, run of the mill average Joes that have made videos of them using the product. Their sounds are going to be closest to what you can get, so make your decision from there.

Tweak It

When you find the stuff you like, have a pro install them-- it's well worth the money to have it done right. It might take some experimentation to find the combination you like, but the YouTube approach will get you in the ballpark. With the prices for mid-level instruments these days, it's a valuable alternative.

Email us if you're in the Minneapolis & St. Paul area and you're looking for a reputable repair man, we know the best.

Tips on Playing Position

Nowadays with the resources on the internet it is very easy to get started playing guitar. YouTube videos, blogs, tab sites, and video conferencing all make it very easy to get started without a live teacher directly in front of you.

However, one thing that is pretty difficult to learn on your own is playing posture. I get a lot of students coming in for their first formal lessons who have been self taught up until that point, and usually one of their biggest concerns is whether their playing posture is correct. They are the smart ones, because they know better than to ignore it.

Your playing posture is something you should be concerned about. You may even have bad posture now, and not know because you are young or otherwise healthy and your body can take it. But as you grow older and keep playing with poor posture, it can lead to debilitating strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, as well as other unexplainable fringe pains. It can also hinder your capabilities like speed, strength, and endurance.

Here are some general guidelines for playing faster, stronger, and longer:

-Stay fit. Overall physical fitness is a great and broad thing you can do to help your playing. It improves circulation, maintains muscle vitality and keeps your joints comfortable.

-Speaking of circulation, warm up. Especially when you come into my teaching studio in St. Paul from a cold Minnesota winter in the dead of January. You don't want to embarrass yourself or even worse, injure yourself.

-Keep your joints close to the middle of their range of motion. I'm talking about wrists mostly. Avoid sharp angles.

-Listen to your body. If you feel pain that lasts for longer than a day or two days, talk to a seasoned performer/teacher who has legitimate expertise on performance injuries, or better yet, a doctor or physical therapist.

-Take frequent breaks. If I know I need to practice for a long time, I usually set a timer for mandatory breaks, say every half hour take a 5 minute break. When the timer goes off, just drop whatever you're doing no matter what it is and go do something different for 5 minutes, preferably something physical. Go out and shoot some hoops, play with the dog, play catch with a friend. If you can't go outside, jog around the house, go up & down the stairs a few times, or just stretch.

-Sit up straight. This will do wonders for the rest of your body if you just take care of your central structure.

-Don't wear that guitar too low. You might think it's cool now, but you're not gonna look cool when you have wrist braces in ten years and you can't play in a band anymore. A good rule of thumb is to wear your instrument high enough so that the position remains constant whether you sit or stand.

Now keep in mind, if all these tips are new to you and you implement them today, it will definitely feel different. Some might say weird or awkward. This is mostly because you're just not used to it yet, but that doesn't mean it's not worth it. It would be well worth your time to visit an expert on the topic, have them observe your playing, and ask questions and invite feedback.

Here is a good video I made a while back about guitar playing form and posture. It's a little old but at least you can see what I've been writing about in this blog post.