About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stay Well!

It seems that this is an especially bad flu season. Half my students have had to cancel, and some of my choir singers are sick. My own guitar teacher is sick, too, and we've had to reschedule my lesson for next week. I feel fortunate that I haven't caught the flu this season (knock on wood). I caught a cold a couple months ago, but that's all. Maybe that mild cold helped me build up some immunity to the flu virus that's going around. That's my theory, anyway. All I know is that I haven't caught the flu, and I'm thankful that my sick choir members and students elected to stay home.

With the unusual amount of lesson cancellations, my bank account may be dented, but I'm glad to have my health!

The following flu prevention tips are straight from the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm.

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Putting It to Use

This week, I'll take my second lesson with Dave Frackenpohl, who teaches jazz guitar at Georgia State University. I've discovered that I've already been able to apply some of my first lesson assignment into real world use. This was a surprise to me. In the past, it seems like I've had to work on something for at least two months before it began to surface in my playing, particularly my improvisation.

It helps that I'm playing with a quartet that plays low pressure restaurant gigs on a regular basis. I'm just a sideman in this group, which is a welcome relief. I don't have to worry about talking to the audience, negotiating with the restaurant owner, or keeping my musicians happy. All I have to do is set up my gear and play whatever song the leader calls out.

This quartet is a golden opportunity. We play a LOT of music. I basically spend 3.5 hours focusing on the music, looking for opportunities to try out new musical ideas or chord voicings.

Here is my first lesson assignment, and how I was able to apply most of it in live music settings.


  • Memorize the melody and the chord changes.
  • For improvisation practice, go through the chord changes, playing the root, 3rd, and 5th (1-3-5) of each chord in real time. Then reverse it, playing 5-3-1. Then add sevenths, playing 1-3-5-7, then 7-5-3-1. Then play the first five notes of each scale that belongs with each chord (1-2-3-4-5).
  • Improvise around the melody.
  • This certainly helped whenever the band leader called out "A Train." Beyond that, it was a good reminder that I don't always have to try to come up with a profound lick when soloing. The old time jazzers improvised almost solely around the melody, and there's nothing wrong with outlining chords in your solos. I found that outlining chords serves as a springboard for other good ideas.
  • This hasn't been of any practical use on my gigs yet, but it will. I've tended to "cheat" when playing mixolydian and dorian scales, just going back to the root of the major scale that they're based in. For example, if I'm playing G mixolydian, I'll just think "C scale, starting on G" rather than "major scale with a flat seven." What I've been doing this time is thinking within the two modes as I play the scale, essentially trying to "forget" the major scales in which they're based so that I can get a better feel for the modes.
  • This book offers a wealth of guitar comping ideas. This first etude has a lot of chord voicings that I haven't used before. There's no way I could put all of these voicings to practical use after a few days of practice, but two of the chord voicings stuck with me, so I used them on my gigs wherever I could. Actually, I'm sure I overused them! No matter where I was on the neck, I jumped for those two voicings almost every time and beat them to death! The customers didn't seem to mind. This weekend, I essentially spend 3.5 hours every night practicing those voicings in real time, and I got paid for it!
  • Before this lesson, I've always just transposed by interval. For example, if it's in F, and I need to transpose to A, I've just thought of moving everything up a major third. Now, I'm thinking in terms of function. For example, when I play the chords to "All of Me," I don't just thing "C, E7, A7, Dm7." I think "I, III7, VI7, IIm7," etc. Thinking in terms of function instead of the chord names will help me transpose more easily. I surprised myself by putting this concept into actual use after just a week of practicing it. Last week, I was playing through a new song with my friend Lori, trying to find the key that was right for her. The lead sheet was in F, but we needed to change it to A-flat. I stared at the lead sheet, played in A-flat, and spoke the function of each chord out loud…"One, six, two," etc. To my surprise, it worked! Now, I can't speak out loud like that at a gig! But it won't be long before I've internalized the process.
  • I chose to transcribe a Django Reinhardt solo. It's hard to go wrong with Django. I found a solo that seemed approachable and proceeded to transcribe it. This is great ear training, and as you play the solo (very slowly), you are literally training your fingers to move in the same path as one of the masters of the instrument. Part of this solo even stuck with me on a gig. The leader called "All of Me," and as I came to the first E7 chord, I remembered the diminished lick that Django used…so at least one small part of my solo was really good! As I memorize this solo and pick it apart, other licks will stick, too.

To those of you who have been playing jazz for a while, this probably seems like a very basic assignment. This is exactly what I need, though. Except for a couple years at the beginning, I'm basically a self taught guitarist. There are so many approaches to jazz guitar – many of them conflicting – that it has been a challenge to find my way. These lessons are giving me some much needed focus. I finally feel like I'm on the right path.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Skype Lessons

I just taught my first Skype lesson to my niece, Mackenzie. This is something I've been wanting to try for a while, and I'm glad we got started with lessons. Mackenzie learned a few chords, and I am learning just as much. At times, I found myself starting to reach toward the computer monitor to correct a fingering. There are some obvious physical limitations to teaching online, but I think this will be good for my teaching (online and in person). When you can't adjust a student's finger, you have to do a better job explaining things verbally. Also, when you can't reach out to adjust a student's finger, she makes all the corrections on her own. It may make the lesson go a little more slowly, but being able to self-correct is a big part of the learning process. The ultimate goal is to help your student get to the point where she doesn't need you anymore.

One thing I didn't expect was how fun this was! Part of the fun was the technology, I suppose. This was my first Skype call, and so there was quite a bit of novelty on top of teaching and seeing some family online. It sure was convenient, too. I just planted myself in front of my computer while Mackenzie did the same (with mom and dad hovering in the background).

I'm going to teach a few more lessons to Mackenzie to get used to the technology and the teaching challenges. Once I've smoothed out some bumps, I'll hang out my virtual shingle.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Lessons Again

One of my goals for 2013 was to find a new teacher. Just as beginning and intermediate guitar players can learn from me, I can benefit from another teacher who is higher up the food chain. My new teacher is Dave Frackenpohl, who teaches jazz guitar at Georgia State University.

I would like to develop more comping ideas, develop more improvisation ideas, and memorize more standards. Dave added one more weakness to my list: I need to be better at transposing on the fly, so we'll be learning each new song in a few different keys.

Dave is one of those teachers who makes you feel comfortable right away, and he seems to have a knack for breaking big concepts down into smaller, more approachable steps. In terms of personality and knowledge, Dave is exactly the teacher I need right now. I'm looking forward to lessons with him on a regular basis to help regain some focus and to help take my playing to a new level.

Chord Hammer-On Exercise

Here's a chord exercise that's great for beginners. (It's a pretty good exercise for advanced players, too.) If you are just beginning to learn how to play guitar chords, you probably build your chords by putting down one finger at a time. Eventually, you want to be able to have your fingers form a chord shape all at the same time. Once you can do this, you'll be able to move from one chord to the next more smoothly.

This exercise involves "hammer-ons." To play a hammer-on, don't pluck or strum with your picking hand. Instead, use your chord hand to come down on the string quickly enough to make it sound a note. Here's the exercise.

Step 1

  • Play any chord. Start with one that's easy for you. Try an E or an A minor chord.
  • Sustain the chord to make sure each string is ringing.
  • As you're sustaining the chord, let off the pressure of your left hand so that the strings that you are fingering stop ringing. Keep touching the strings. You want your fingertips to maintain contact.
  • Now, without strumming, pump your left hand fingers while maintaining the chord shape. Squeeze quickly, hold a little, and then let up, still maintaining contact with the strings. If you are able to squeeze quickly enough, you may be able to get those strings to ring softly.
Step 2
  • Form the chord again.
  • You're going to use the same pumping action in your left hand, except this time, raise your fingers so they're just barely above the strings. Without strumming, see if you can pump your left hand fingers quickly enough to get a chord to sound. This is the hammer-on. Your left hand "hammers on" to the strings to make them ring.
Step 3
  • After you're comfortable raising your fingers slightly and playing the chord hammer-on, try raising them a little bit more…just a fraction of an inch, then a little higher, and then a little higher. See how high you can raise your fingers while still maintaining the chord shape.
Quick Tip: Think of hammering on quickly rather than squeezing hard. If you focus on squeezing hard, you'll build up unnecessary tension in your left hand. That's the last thing you want. Try to keep your hand as relaxed as possible by moving quickly and loosely.

Practicing chords like this will help train your fingers to move as a unit instead of one by one. Once you can play one chord like this, try another one, and then see if you can move back and forth between the chords just playing hammer-ons. It's challenging at first, but you'll get better with practice. Soon you'll be switching from one chord to the next with ease!
If you live in Atlanta and are interested in private or group guitar lessons, please check my website at www.godfreyguitar.com for more information or email me directly.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

First Guitar Chords

Santa brought you a guitar for Christmas, or maybe it was or your birthday, or maybe you bought it on a whim. You want to rock out on your new electric guitar, or you want to strum folk songs on your acoustic, or you want to play in church. Whatever kind of guitar you are holding, or whatever kind of music you want to play, congratulations!

Let's assume you have a book with chord charts and that you know how to read them. Now what? You've probably already discovered that there are a zillion different chords. Where do you start?

My first recommendation is to find a teacher. Did I mention that I teach guitar? Well, I do, and if you're in Atlanta and are looking for a guitar teacher, you can find my info at www.godfreyguitar.com. Now that the shameless plug is over…

If you want to learn guitar chords on your own, you can learn them in small groups that go well together. Here's some very basic music theory: There is usually one specific note that any given song is based on. This note is your home base…the note the usually feels "right" to end with. This note is called the "key." For example, if your home base is the G note, then you are probably playing in the key of G. There are specific chords that fit with each key.

How does this apply to learning chords? You can narrow your choices down by learning which sets of chords go with which keys. As soon as you've learned a few chords within a key, then you're ready to play a song in that key!

There are 12 major keys and 12 minor keys. (To oversimplify, songs in major keys usually sound happy or bright, and songs in minor keys usually sound sad or dark.) For starters, I suggest learning chords in the following keys. (A small "m" after a capital letter stands for minor. For example, "Em" is short for E minor, and "Am" is short for A minor.)

  • Key of G: First learn G, C, and D. (Then add D7, Am, and Em.)
  • Key of A minor: First learn Am, E, and Dm. (Then add E7 and C.)
  • Key of D: First learn D, G, and A. (Then add A7 and Em.)
  • Key of A: First learn A, D, and E. (Then add E7.)
  • Key of E minor: First learn Em, Am, and B7. (Then add G.)
  • Key of C: First learn C, F, and G. (Then add G7, Dm, and Am.)
  • Key of E: Learn E, A, and B7.
You don't have to learn the chords in this order, although G and A minor are good ones to start with. These aren't all the keys, and they aren't all the chords that go with each key, but if you learn the chords in each group, you'll be able to play a LOT of songs. More good news is that there is a lot of overlap. Once you've learned a chord in one key, you'll find that it pops up again in other keys.

One final word of advice – Take it slow. You don't have to learn all the chords at once. Start off with just one or two and expand from there. It's better to play a few chords really well than to stumble through a lot of them. Just like learning a language, your chord vocabulary will increase over time, and as you gain more experience, you'll find that it becomes easier and easier to learn new chords.

Congratulations on your first guitar, and good luck! If you have any questions, please email me

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Teaching Again

When I left home and went to college, I was absolutely certain I was going to be a teacher. My music education teachers all gave me glowing recommendations, including one from a notoriously tough teacher that read "Tom has the potential to be a leader in the field." (That was from Thomas Wisniewski, if any of you readers happen to have majored in music education at the University of Illinois. He had a reputation for being a difficult teacher, but I loved his orchestral conducting class.) I had a terrific student teaching experience in Oswego, Illinois, and I was all set to make my mark. My budding school band director career came to a screeching halt when I found myself in a difficult first year teaching situation in a small town following a band director who had retired after teaching there for 40 years. Ugh! What a horrid experience!

I left area of public school teaching and refocused on performance.

It's ironic that, after all these years of avoiding the classroom, I'm focusing my efforts on teaching again. I'm recruiting private guitar students, and in another couple months, I'll be offering guitar classes at Tessitura. For starters, I'll offer a class for adult beginners and another for young beginners. Once those classes are finished, I'll be able to continue offering beginners' classes, as well as a Guitar II class for those who completed the beginner's course.

I'm not sure when it happened, but lately I've realized that teaching is one of my favorite things. Maybe I just needed some life experience. Maybe I needed to find a way to teach on my own terms rather than be part of a school system. Whatever the reason, I'm happy that I found my teaching mojo again.