View Article  Blog Re-location
This is the last post I'm going to be leaving on this page. I'm finding editing and posting blogs here increasingly difficult as I'm using multiple computers which all seem to present the editing options in a different way each time. This blog will continue however in it's new home which can be found here:
View Article  Time Hoover
3 months goes by very quickly...

I must have had hundreds of thoughts, ideas, jottings, experiences, interspersed with many interesting and informative conversations and practice sessions, but have I posted a single blog about any of them? No....

Which has led me to ask why? Because aside from being a document of my ideas for the light entertainment/amusement of anyone who may read it, this blob was meant to assist me in the organasation of my thoughts. Truth be told, I've been pretty absorbed in a lot of things recently. Bands, playing, recording, teaching, and the like....

One such thing which has been a bit of a pain (worthy of note from where I'm sitting), is the editor on this blog which appears very differently on the computer that I now use to browse the internet with than it did with the machine I used before. I can't seem to change the font/size/format or any of the things I used to...

So that's one thing I'll be working on....

I'm still posting the guitar related stuff on the guitargetpractice blog if people are interested.
View Article  No News is Good News
It occurred to me recently that two very different situations have a similar effect on people in terms of how much interest they generate. When I first started playing gigs, it took me a long time to understand the culture amongst a seemingly indifferent audience. I had put in a lot of practice and thought I was playing well, but the audiences I was playing to seemed thoroughly uninterested, and I had no understanding of what I was doing “wrong” at all. What I was getting “wrong” was the fact that I had failed to notice and appreciate that there was a different side to this situation. Nobody left, and nobody complained. Now I look at this situation from this point of view first, and beyond that, I’ll appreciate and the interest or acknowledgement of what I do beyond the fact that people have chosen not to leave! Sound defeatist? Maybe, but that’s how I’ve learned that it’s best to look at the situation, because that’s the way the audience are looking at it (consciously or not). A similar situation appears to be happening in the media at the moment. It occurred to me that run up to the latest American presidential elections were well covered in the media, with every poll, debate, and opinion well documented, although subsequent to the election of President Barrack Obama, there has been very little media coverage of what he’s been doing. Has he disappeared without trace? No, he is the most powerful man on the planet, but because he’s just getting on with his job, and seemingly doing what he said he would do, it all becomes mundane and holds nobody’s prolonged interest. If he made a mistake, there is a 100% chance it will be jumped on by the press and broadcast all over the world within minutes, but while he’s doing his job, and doing it well, there is no story. I liken this situation to playing a gig to a seemingly indifferent audience because it occurred to me that essentially the whole idea of “interest” (amongst the general public) works on the same level. If a band is playing well, that’s great, but not to the point where anyone will share their appreciation of the music beyond “not leaving”! If the president is just getting on with his job, that’s great too, but not so great that it is covered in the media. If a mistake is made (by either the band, or the president), it would be a very different story.
View Article  Creative Serendipity

I’ve been studying composition and arrangement for a long time and I’m well aware of a lot of established compositional techniques which make up this ‘craft’. Where I’ve spent a lot of time working through ideas using some of the techniques I’ve learned, I’ve produced what I consider to be my best work by completely indescribable and seemingly bizarre means, and not consciously employed any of the techniques for developing ideas that I’ve studied and learned for years. I’ve never been particularly good at finishing compositions or songs. I always want to return to my ideas and tinker with them, play with the ideas and really be sure that when I’ve ‘finished’ a composition that it is something that I won’t want to return to in order to improve it later. What I look upon as my ‘best’, seemed to compose itself, and strangely I feel most distant from it. I don’t feel like I ‘earned’ that work, more that I was lucky to have it fall in my lap! Upon recognising this some time ago, I tried to tap into whatever facilitated that. I didn’t try to recreate events, thoughts, or other circumstantial factors, but I did try to explore where this music could have come from, and how it related to my taste and what (and how) different influences must have drawn me towards different sounds that I liked. 

Recently I’ve found myself composing by consciously employing extensive experimentation in order that I may potentially unearth some good and substantial ideas. This has never been something that I’ve done a lot with my own compositions, preferring instead to ‘build’ pieces from ideas that I had developed over time, but what I learned through doing this and through the conversations that I’ve had with people about it, is how widespread this method actually is, and even more alarmingly, sometimes even the exclusive means by which some people compose!

I use a computer all the time when I’m composing these days. At one time it was pen, paper and the kitchen table but now I work at a computer all the time. This has meant that I may assemble ideas and transpose parts for transposing instruments quickly and much more efficiently than before. Where I have nothing against the extensive exploration of the potential of any software for creative purposes, it has occurred to me that if the entire creative process is surrendered to serendipity as an inevitable result of extensive trial and error, then I’m of the strong opinion that the craft of composition has been watered down, and I believe that in this situation the control a composer may have over their work has been foolishly abandoned. The principles of taking an idea and developing it, drawing upon the resources at a composer’s disposal in terms of sounds and instrumental arrangements (that they had learned how to recognise and use) seem to have been allowed to be lost. These are parts of the craft of composition which have stood the test of time as valuable and dependable principles. If these principles are to be replaced by a much more computer-driven approach, exploring (albeit with significantly enhanced speed and efficiency) a principle of extensive trial and error, there is a danger that a lot of the music of the future will be made by a very fragile and superficial process. Where this process may well produce some interesting, engaging, and appealing musical ideas of substance, the widespread use of this ‘trial and error’ process of composition also introduces the danger of providing the world with quite a lot of fragile and superficial music.

View Article  "Default"

Working in the studio today, I’ve concluded that it’s healthy to love and hate the word “default” at the same time. Sometimes it’s necessary, at other times it limits potential so much that it can actually be destructive although to ‘clearly recognise the distinction’ is the important thing here.

View Article  Gui-target practice

I've recently found myself writing a lot. Some things have been articles, some have been longer form explanations of concepts and ideas, some have been simple things and I've tried to fit some of them into blog entrys. I've never been very good at short-scale work and find myself much more comfortable working in longer forms, both with my writing of text based stuff, and music!

Because of the diversity of what I've been writing, and since I intended to set up a blog for the Contemporary Guitar Performance Workshop project, I've set up another blog which is more focussed in it's purpose and direction. I'll still be posting here for the recording, philosophical, and project work topics, but regarding the topic of guitar, and for the CGPW course and project I've set up One at a time I'm going to re-post the articles I've posted here on the guitar (particularly the guitar teaching posts) onto the CGPW blog (I'll not be deleting them from here though).

View Article  The Ultimate Guitar Lesson

Because I undertake quite a lot of teaching work, I read a lot of the guitar magazines. This is in order to keep in touch with recent developments in terms of new bands, new music, and new players, as well as keeping up to date with new innovations and equipment. All of these magazines contain some form of technique section where transcriptions of songs are published, chords, scales, modes and their use is explained and demonstrated, or a particular guitarist’s playing style may be examined and explored.


Not too long ago I encountered the cover of a guitar magazine which advertised “The Ultimate Guitar Lesson”.


I usually buy this particular magazine, but this time I struggled to get beyond my immediate reaction to the fact that this magazine had actually gone so far as to have the arrogance and temerity to advertise “The Ultimate Guitar Lesson” across the front cover! I bought, and carefully read the magazine so that I may comment fairly on this matter, but what I found was that what was contained within the magazine fell a long way short of the claim which was made on the front cover. I question my own judgement all the time, and reassess my thoughts and opinions regularly, so naturally I questioned my reaction and wondered whether or not I was being excessively judgemental, but in this case I sincerely don’t think I overreacted. This is because to be offered “The Ultimate Guitar Lesson” demonstrates a deep and manipulative use of the position a magazine is assumed to have as far as the casual magazine buying guitar player is concerned. Guitar magazines actually set themselves up as their own, unregulated authority on the subject of guitar playing which in itself is fair enough so long as the contents of the magazine are quantified as opinion where necessary and appropriate, and what is offered is accurate, balanced and fair. In this case, a blatant lie was spread across the front cover in order to sell it!


If there were such a thing as an ultimate guitar lesson, it would successfully render every other guitar lesson obsolete. Within a guitar magazine, what the “ultimate guitar lesson” would offer you, if it were true, is a one-step solution to every technical and musical difficulty you may ever have in every style, on every kind of guitar! You would never need to take another lesson, or buy another magazine again. Every technique article in every previous edition of the magazine would be rendered obsolete. Every technique article ever to be published in the future would be rendered obsolete.


What’s the bottom line on all this?


Where guitar magazines are concerned, question what you are being told. What you are being told, is what you are being sold. Buy a magazine with your common sense and judgement and don’t always believe what is spread across the front cover. The cover of a magazine is always a well-constructed sales pitch for the magazines contents (which is fair enough if the contents can live up to the hype), never where the contents cannot back up what the sales pitch claims.

View Article  To get closer to the truth, let go of your opinions

One evening this week, I had one of the strangest conversations I’ve had in a good few years. The basis of it was a feature in a local council bulletin which promoted the use of local shops in the form of a “Buy-Local Campaign”. The up-shot of this was that the local council were trying to encourage local people to spend their money in local shops in the spirit of building a mutually supportive and co-operative community (within a “credit-crunch”).


A friend of mine who runs a local music shop emailed the publication to express (within a sensible, intelligent, fair, and balanced argument) how much he considered this article to be hypocritical, as the local authority (from which he accepts up to 8 work experience pupils a year) never ask him to even offer a quote for projects or when they want to buy instruments, and that they take their business elsewhere.


A disgruntled local public sector worker (whom I respect and undertake some teaching work for) shared with me how ridiculous they felt this email was, and didn’t consider it even necessary to respond to, taking strong exception to the fact that they had been asked (by the local council) to respond to such an argument. This conversation brought out my own personal feelings towards this matter, and led me to share my own thoughts on the fact that I was never asked to record or produce anything beyond small scale recordings for the local authority. The response to this (within the conversation) was to be told to my face “I’m never going to ask you to record my music ensemble”, “you can’t do that Nik”, “I’ll call in some specialists”. Naturally I refuted this claim, stood my ground, and logically argued that this was an assumption based on nothing tangible but I later considered that such a logical argument in the face of such crass ignorance was never going to work. Where an assumption has been made based on nothing, I was never going to successfully argue a point logically. Logic had been discarded at the outset of the conversation. The initial point that the local public sector money wasn’t being spent with local businesses (or indeed, a business run by a person who had invested a lot of time and commitment to the local authority) was absolutely lost at this point. This led me to ask me two, very serious questions which had much furthur reaching implications than the immediate conversation:


How is this kind of deeply embedded belief formed?

How are these deeply embedded beliefs ever surmounted?


Through my studio (The Audio Design Workshop), I’ve been asked to record and produce a variety of projects over the years by this person, for and on behalf of the local authority. I’ve made them aware of all the things I can offer, but I’m still looked upon as the person to call for small jobs, never a bigger or more substantial project. Ironically, the next project I’m going to record is a large scale work with a large scale budget which most probably eclipses the annual budget that the “nameless” public sector worker has to play with! I'm offered this kind of work because I only ever demand the highest standards of myself. The quality and consistency of my work is something of which I am proud, and examples of the recordings I have made are available to anyone who may express an interest, all produced to the highest standards possible. My studio is equipped with the latest and highest standard of recording equipment available, and I’m regularly consulted by a number of industry professionals on a number of production and recording matters. Aside from this simple and irrefutable fact, why would I claim that I could undertake any work that I couldn’t back up to a person for whom I already undertake other work? Why, under any circumstance, would I wish to compromise the work that I already do by claiming that I could do something that I couldn’t back up? I guess when I’m talking to someone who has opinions based on nothing but unfounded assumption; this is not a question which actually applies. “The way things are”, has already been decided.

View Article  Silently Stealing Sleigh-bells

I’ve recently being doing some more filming for an upcomming DVD project, to build my online profile, and hopefully generate some interest in what I do. The video of “Silently Stealing Sleigh-bells” is online now. It can be found here:


Huge thanks to Mr Adam Shell from Waveplay for his time, suggestions, assistance, and patience.


View Article  Networking

Where it doesn’t seem to be widely recognised amongst some young musicians and new bands, musical success is largely born of good social skills and networking. You've got to be 'out there'. Getting out gigging will be building experience and learning the kind of things that matter. How to get your gear in and out of venues at what time? The kind of things people always ask you at the end of gigs, and how much you have to appreciate and respect their interest no matter how knackered you may be! It can be quite complicated and there can be more to the social networking side of your musical progress that there seems so it occurred to me that it would make a good blog entry if I properly assembled my thoughts on this topic and post them here.


I like to think of myself as quite a friendly and sociable person but I must admit that the time I’ve spent working with music (at the level I seem to be permanently stuck at) adversely affected my communication skills and my patience for a short while. I’ve learned how to handle situations better now but like many players I’ve been a young kid in a band, played all the usual dead end gigs in pubs gaining “experience” (which is actually an experience of something nobody actually wants) and since then I’ve played a lot of gigs but because I don’t do “one thing”, the general perception of me as a musician seems to be that I’m a bit of a part-timer and not really got any focus or direction. I get offered work but it’s always on one level and it’s never anything which implies that I’m capable of anything beyond the “better than the average amateur, regular gigging musician”. No matter what I do to try and combat this, like trying to focus all my attention on doing just one thing, I’ve got an additional dilemma of needing to take on whatever work I’m offered to survive! I don’t have the luxury of being able to pick and chose what I do, I have to take what’s put on the table in front of me (especially in the current economic climate). What I have learned though, is that the better connected I’ve been, the more opportunities I’ve been exposed to. If my networking was spread wider, I would be exposed to even more opportunities, and as such it’s worth investing time and research into it in order that you give yourself the best possible chance of succeeding as a musician.


I’ve been sold all the well established promises of tours/ gigs/ record deals/ management etc at one time or another, all of which has come to nothing. Unfortunately this has led me to have little patience with some people who could have potentially been very useful contacts and good for my career. I’ve told plenty of people where to go when it’s looked like I’ve been in a situation I’ve been in before when some people have tried to sell the “big time” to me. The lesson which needs to be learned is how to handle the terminal dilemma of not knowing who is genuinely interested in what you do (and is trying to help you), and who is a time waster. It’s worth having a handful of stock, polite answers for everyone. You never know who it could actually be who’s showing an interest in what you’re doing with your music. Where everything you need to know about playing the guitar you can find on the internet, everything you need to know about how to succeed in music is a seemingly unobtainable pool of very precious information which can only be gathered a bit at a time through the experiences you have on your musical journey. While it’s eluded me for the last 20 years, I haven’t quit because one of the things that I’ve learned is the value of persistence but if I get started on that, I will end up with another couple of pages of text.

View Article  Exploring Perspective 2

To say that I’ve not been having the best time recently would be an understatement. Sparing the grim specifics, it’s made me return to a lot of resources which have helped me through times when I’ve found myself in need of guidance, support, inspiration, or just reassurance that who I am and what I do has a value. This has given rise to considering how much perspective can influence direction and success with music.


I’ve played a lot of gigs in different styles, at different levels, and on different instruments. They have ranged from small gigs in pubs to the proverbial ‘one man and his dog’, and the way up to concert halls in front of thousands. In my experience, typically you get a band together, build a bit of a local reputation and following, the band then breaks up (for a bizarre and thoroughly random reason) and you’re absolutely back to square one. Every last ounce of effort in building your profile, music, and developing the band was in no uncertain terms ‘wasted’. There are plenty of positive ways in which to look at this situation. Favourites include the notion that it’s a ‘learning experience’ amongst other descriptions which attempt to offer a positive perspective on this kind of thing but ultimately it’s ‘wasted’. The time has gone, and you don’t get it again.


Sometimes it’s actually a healthy thing to be this cynical about it. Looking at this situation in this way actually empowers you with many things which you wouldn’t imagine possible, and develop new and indomitable resolve to not ever let this ‘waste’ happen again. It can actually build stronger and better principles that you use to govern your approach to a new band or musical venture. Maybe it empowers you with more tolerance towards other members and their opinions which may differ from your own? Maybe it’s changed the way you look at your new band or project from a business perspective? Perhaps exploring new safeguards against ‘losing’ more of your efforts from a financial point of view?


The nature of the music business is that it is seemingly impenetrable until a completely unpredictable and seemingly random event ‘breaks’ you into it. Where we may have no real control over how and when this may happen, it’s worth considering that what we can control is how prepared we may be for it. Imagine getting where you want to go, but only then finding out that you havent got the outlook, tools, or proper foundations to sustain it? 

View Article  Guitar Teaching 4 "The Role of a Guitar Teacher"

Again, my experiences and questions I've been asked recently have led me to assemble a generic answer, to which I can point people in the direction of, if I'm asked this in the future. What is the role of a guitar teacher?


Before moving onto the "role", firstly I would like to express what I feel a guitar teacher (who has adopted this title and role) is actually responsible for:


A guitar teacher is responsible for the quality of a students 'teaching'. Not the quality and rate of the students 'progress'.


Regarding the 'role' of a guitar teacher: 


Essentially, a (guitar) teacher’s role is to offer information, guidance and encouragement. This is done by establishing where you already are with your playing, together with where you want your playing to be through assessment, and using that as a basis for structuring a logically progressive path towards where you want to go. This can be done in a number of different ways, both formally and informally, sometimes even consciously or subconsciously, but it's what most teachers do unless they are teaching you what they think you should know. This is a bit more like school or the more formal classical training that you can have on a musical instrument. Both approaches are valid and suit different people according to their outlook/ personality/ needs etc although I think it is a safe enough assumption that most electric guitar players are not likely to wish to surrender all decision making as to what material they cover and how their progress is structured to a classical style, formal training system. Irrespective of this, nobody ever gets any better in a lesson, or because they have lessons. People only get better when they practice but there can sometimes be a large void here in that many people don't actually know how to practice, what it is, how it works, and what it's for in extension of the very vague and general "to get better", or "to improve".


All the information you ever need about playing is on the internet. All the guidance and encouragement anyone may want isn't always necessary if people are sufficiently self-motivated. A lot of the time, if you are considering taking guitar lessons, you have to ask yourself what it is you actually want from a teacher. If you take guitar lessons but are concerned that your teacher isn't giving you what you want, it's worth properly establishing what it is that you wanted from them in the first place. Clearly establish what it is you wanted from them in your mind, and discuss it with them. It's the reason I ask the first questions (of all new students) so that this is formally established before we get on with the learning:

"What do you want to be able to do with the guitar that you can't do now?"
"How do you consider that I may be able to best help you to get there?"

The responses I get to these questions are predictably vague almost every time. It's always "to get better" or similar, so we move onto what "getting better" means to them and establish examples of "better playing" which is simultaneously establishing short, medium, and long term goals for the students (dependant on how complicated the "better" playing examples are). If you don't know where you want to go, how are you going to get there? No matter who is helping you (teaching you), it's just not going to happen.

View Article  Guitar Teaching 3 "Guitar Theory"

Frequently the Music Radar forum gives me plenty to think about when people ask music related questions, and a lot of the time, I’m asked similar things in lessons. One thing which surfaced recently was the idea of “Guitar theory”. I find this a bizarre subject to talk about because there really is no such thing. I often end up saying things like “try to avoid the whole idea that there is guitar theory”. There is the guitar, and there is theory. There is no “guitar theory”.

The guitar is an instrument you play music on. Theory is a system which serves to label, organise and explain notes, how they fit together and make sounds which are 'popular', how they look on the page when notated, and how they relate to each other with fancy names. A lot of the time these 2 things cross over because when you play notes on the guitar, theory has a name for them. The same is for scales and chords but ultimately, on the guitar they are noises and sounds. Theory is just a system of labelling.

If you want to know how this labelling system relates to the guitar, in contradiction to popular opinion, it doesn't. The guitar is an instrument which you use to create notes (either on their own or in combination) which you either like the sound of, or don't. Theory is a system of labels for these noises.

If you want to learn theory, it’s worth establishing a purpose first. Why? This way it's easier to find what resources you may draw upon to ensure that you learn exactly what it is you want to know, thus avoiding having to trawl through a whole load of theory which you're not actually interested in.

View Article  Musical Qualifications

First of all, a very happy new year to all who read this blog. It's been a while, it's been busy, but I'm back now and hopefully I can get some more stuff on here this year, and build up a good collection of information. First blog this year after a good few conversations about it I've had: "Musical Qualifications" 


Musical Qualifications is a topic I’m asked about quite a lot and I find myself drawn into recurring discussions about qualifications in music (which extend beyond casual enquiry) so it made sense that I wrote down my thoughts and organised them in this format. I would wish to contextualise the following as my opinion, and not reflective of the views of any institution with which I am associated, or have previously worked for/within.


First of all I think there needs to be a distinction drawn between official and unofficial qualifications; official being ‘on paper’, unofficial being more difficult to quantify because they are relative to experience. ‘Official’ Qualifications (by their nature) are inextricably liked to a ‘system’ and first of all, it is worth exploring this ‘system’ and identifying what it is. This ‘system’ (regardless of its extreme complexity) actually all boils down to a method by which life is organised, managed, and controlled. Without digressing into the potential rights and wrongs of this, a ‘system’ is in place in order that things are organised, managed, and controlled which is deeply embedded into the infrastructure of society. Because unofficial qualifications are so rich and varied, I've not explored them here. They are beyond the scope of a blog, and my blogs tend to be long and complicated enough! 


On the subject of ‘qualifications’, I like to use the following example to illustrate my views: Previous to the Wright brother’s first flight, there were no qualifications to fly because there was no such thing. Whilst this is not at all surprising or unusual in itself, by questioning whether or not the Wright brothers were ‘qualified’ to fly at the point where they actually achieved it, the nature of the ‘system’ becomes apparent, especially where it recognised the achievement by introducing ‘regulation’ of this new discovery. It can be argued that there are safety concerns to be taken into consideration in the example of flight, but essentially the system serves to organise, manage, and control. When it comes to taking a flight, you want to be in a plane with a ‘qualified’ pilot for a very good reason. This is because flight could be dangerous unless it is organised, managed, and controlled. The situation needs to be managed by an organised person who will competently control the plane. You need a ‘qualified’ pilot and this is an unquestionable certainty.


How does this relate to music?


I mention the pilot story because I’m frequently misunderstood when I speak of ‘the system’ within which people are deemed ‘qualified’ to do different things. I’m not against ‘the system’; I just like to take a balanced view of the topic of qualification, whilst at the same time asking how this relates to music. It relates to music because it’s worth considering how much organisation, management and/or control music actually needs?


How dangerous is music if it isn’t organised, managed and/or controlled? In fact, to what extent are there any consequences to music not being organised, managed, and/or controlled? Was Palestrina ‘qualified’ to compose? Was Jimi Hendrix ‘qualified’ to play the guitar? Despite their inestimable influence on the direction of musical development, were these people ‘qualified’?


So what are ‘qualified musicians’ actually qualified to do? Disregarding ‘teaching’ qualifications (which are of quite a different nature to musical qualifications), musical qualifications offer you a level upon which you should be able to expect people to consider and respect what you have to say about music. You’re qualified to talk about it. You’re qualified to have your opinion recognised by a system (which, incidentally, considers that music needs to organised, managed, and controlled).


Musical qualifications can offer you two things; firstly, they can reflect your ability to perform music on the day of your exam by offering ‘official recognition’ of your performance to a standard which is attributable to a grade which has been devised and artificially superimposed upon ‘music’. Secondly they qualify you in an academic sense which offers you the right to speak authoritatively on the subject of music, in this instance however, this right doesn’t extend beyond the boundaries of the system which has offered you whatever qualification you may have.


Is this a good or a bad thing?


I would suggest that it could be good, bad, both at the same time, or neither! This is because there are circumstances where a reflection of your skills in the form of a qualification may be necessary in order that you may achieve what you want to achieve. Unfortunately, there are academic qualifications which imply a lot of knowledge beyond the truth in some cases. To be academically ‘qualified’ offers your opinion a measurable value attributed to it relative to level on which you may be deemed ‘qualified’ within this system.


There are large, significant, and potentially damaging flaws in this situation. The music of which ‘qualified people’ speak within a system was largely created by people who do not have these qualifications. As such it’s worth considering that in this example (and according to the cold mechanics of the system) that the people who provided the music are not as qualified to talk about it as some other people who have taken an exam!


Remember ‘the system’ and its purpose to organise, manage, and control?


How does that work in this example?:


If I were to say I was "grade 6", what would that actually mean in real, practical terms? Would you know what I would be capable of doing and know what it really meant extending beyond a logical assumption that I was better than grade 5 but not good enough to be at grade 7? Even though these grades by different exam boards actually examine different things which they consider to be relevant? It's a question I've asked my friends and colleges, musicians, non-musicians, and teachers. The answers were most interesting, and widely varied."

I'm sometimes asked "Are you qualified?”. I am, but I almost always answer with the same response, "What qualifications would you recognise?”. Would they even know what my qualifications meant that I was supposed to be able to do beyond cold and speculative assumption? BA (hons), QTS, PGCE and other general qualifications are quite well known but regarding music, if I threw out the letters LRAM, what would they mean to you? They mean Licentiate to the Royal Academy of Music, but how many people know what even that means once we've established what the acronym stood for?


Deeper than the surface implication of specific musical qualifications, they all qualify people to organise, manage, and control. Sometimes necessary, but it's worth being aware that with music it's actually necessary that it isn't always organised, managed, or controlled in order that it may have a prosperous future!

View Article  Guitar Teaching 2

There is a bizarre culture amongst guitarists to be very protective of what they know, and can do. When I first started posting ideas in the online forums, there was certainly a culture of resistance to what I said, and a sense of ‘Who is this guy to tell me how to practice?’, and ‘What right does this person have to post links in here to his online blogs on guitar playing?’ I never understood this because whenever I’ve seen anyone answer questions online, or post ideas about practicing, I’ve always thought that was good of them to share their thoughts and ideas, and I and read what they’ve had to say with sincere interest.

I asked myself recently where this culture actually comes from and what purpose this may serve. Whenever I play at any of the trade shows and someone expresses an interest in what I’m doing, I’ll break everything that I’m playing down into smaller fragments, play slowly, and score (or tab) what I’m doing out for anyone. It seems to me that in a situation where everything anyone would ever need to know (in terms of resources) is available online, why would anyone be at all protective of what they know? I guess knowledge is still 'power', but it's certainly worth being aware that this is only the case for people who don’t actually know very much.


Maybe my attitude is based on the fact that I actually wanted to teach, and I didn’t start taking on students out of necessity to survive as some guitar players do. From the outset I was actually approached, and asked to teach by the co-ordinator of the local music service. My first teaching job wasn’t a job I applied for; it was one I was offered while I was still at 6th form college. Since that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been asked to do every teaching job I have ever done, and I’ve now had over 300 students pass exams at every level on guitar, piano, and double bass (using different exam boards including ABRSM and ‘Rockschool’ (where students have wanted to do that).


All this leads me to strongly believe that if you’re looking for someone to teach you how to play the guitar, it would be a good idea to look for someone who actually wants to do the job. You’ll get more out of a teacher who wants to share their skills and knowledge with you than anyone who is doing the job because they haven’t had the breaks they wanted with their playing career. There are loads of guitar players offering lessons, but I doubt they all actually want to do it.

View Article  Success
You never know what is going to happen next, even if you do become a major league "rock-star". Ask any of them, and some will tell you it isn't what they thought it was going to be...   more »
View Article  Webcam Lessons

Inspired by some players who seem to already be doing this successfully, I’ve recently been doing quite a lot of research into giving webcam lessons. I’ve been looking at committing quite a bit of time doing this, exploring costs, potential, feasibility, and practicality. The number of potential students I could reach internationally is an incredible statistic.


I'm looking at investing in a quite an extensive multi-media work station which not only facilitates webcam lessons, but also has access to my own pre-recorded video and online PDF files to support lessons.


If anyone would be interested in these lessons, or has any ideas, comments, or suggestions, they would all be most welcome.

View Article  Aliens and Lasers update

Finished one track for the Aliens and Lasers recording, I'll see if I can post it on my myspace page before the end of the day.

As ever, any and all constructive criticism most welcome and sincerely appreciated.


View Article  Projects Update

I've neglected this blog recently because I've been focussing my attention on getting some more music produced and out into the world. It's been a strange balance to strike though, because without an online presence, or any exposure to a potential market, the music may as well be confined to my studio! I concluded that I shouldn't have neglected this so much though because this blog has actually been a valuable outlet for documenting the progress that I've been making, and for sharing my ideas.

The comments I've received by email have been sincerely appreciated. To the people who seem to have had problems leaving comments on here, sorry about that. I had a look at it and everything should be working fine if you click on 'leave comment' and follow the instructions.  

I'm still out and about working with the usual people and teaching (which takes up a considerable amount of my time), but I'm trying to break out of the patterns which I've sometimes found myself in which are not conducive to achieving as much as I could. I'm not always very good at prioritising things and I tend to work very hard on 5 or 6 projects at a time and make slow, steady progress with them all rather than to focus my attention on one thing at a time and complete it before moving on to the next. I'm trying to change this, and be more directional with my work but because the nature of creativity is that it is a completely untamable beast which requires a permanently adaptive aproach, time scales for completing work sometimes seem to be very artificial and even destructive! I've tried to work to them though because I could very feasibly work on a project for 5 or 6 years and the outcome would not really be any 'better' than the outcome I could reach within a few months. 'Different' perhaps, but I'm not convinced that within a subjective artistic field that the concept of 'better' actually applys.

I would welcome peoples thoughts on this.


View Article  Aliens and Lasers

I've given 'Aliens and Lasers' some serious consideration over the last week. This has seemed to be a terminal back burner project which actually began life as a joke! It was initailly meant to be an instrumental rock/fusion album which was serious compositions, but a parody of the instrumental rock albums which have been made by certain players! I've held out on making it for a long time in favour of my ensemble based projects Turquoise Noise and Ensemble Craft (I much prefer the idea of being part of a band than being a lone wolf soloist with assistance from other players). The incentive I've had to actually make this has been in the form of a lot of positive comments and questions from the good folk who frequent the Northern Guitar Shows about certain riffs, or melodic lines which have been within the compositions for 'Aliens and Lasers'. That 'unofficial' critical feedback gave me a push to complete it and get it out into the world.  

This album shouldn't take me too long to complete at all. All demos for the compositions have been completed for some years, and any minor tweaks should be done with minimal time consumption with todays level of technology. I'm targetting getting this completed by the end of January 2009. At this stage, I'm going to give myself the incentive to work hard on this album by declaring in black and white that if this album isn't complete by the end of January 2009, I will have either had a serious amount of unforseen circumstnces to contend with, or I've been slacking off! 

Spiritual Atrophy still going strong, and on schedule! I'm going to be making some videos of performances of some of the Spiritual Atrophy tunes which should be online by early November. I'll post notification on here when they're online.

View Article  Blog Bandwidth


First of all, sorry this hasn't been updated as regularly as I initially planned it to be, I've had to expand the bandwidth on here because of popularity. Fantastic in one sense, although irritating in another! Thank you very much indeed to the 'regulars' who visit here frequently. The popularity of this blog has grown rapidly and it's been very inspirational and encouraging to find so many people taking an interest here. I've been working hard on a website recently and currently got a temporary offering online which can be found at 

Full scale website with some decent videos, pictures, and more articles is on it's way, as promised. Thank you to the 'hardcore' amongst my students who have been so patient. I'm working on it, and it's on it's way.

Current projects update:

Spiritual Atrophy under way and going strong. Should be complete and available soon. Videos to be sorted properly and online shortly.

Turquoise Noise "Remedial Kinetic Assertion" under way and going strong also. Should be complete and available soon

Videos for Turquoise Noise track 'Digital Woodshed part 1' and the Ensemble Craft track 'Toadstool People' currently in production.

For those who may be interested, next time I'm out and playing some of the more technical demonstration/exhibition type stuff will be at the Leeds guitar show on the Bulldog Pickups stand (currently the worlds finest sounding pickups, in all my electric guitars, and steadily gathering an international reputation). This show:

Pudsey Civic Hall, Pudsey, Leeds, LS28 5TA

on Sunday 7th September 2008

View Article  Modes

This blog serves to answer another widely asked question about Modes. What are modes?


I define them as “The use of a scale through the displacement of its tonal centre to another note within the scale”


The historic use of the word “mode” has referred to different things dependant on times, places, interpretations, and the meaning of the word “mode” has actually changed and evolved throughout the development of what can now be identified as established, modern-day music theory. Historically, they were originally applied to Church (or “sacred”) music and as such can sometimes be found actually pre-fixed with additional adjectives such as “Church Modes”, “Ecclesiastical Modes”, “Plagal modes” and some other names. Throughout history, some of these names have been used to refer to different aspects of a modes usage more than an actual difference in the mode itself. Currently they are considered as the use of a scale through the displacement of its tonal centre to another note within the scale, and this is the way in which I’ve defined them at the beginning of this article. Any seven note scale has seven potential tonal centres. Where each of these notes of a scale can be used in this way, music which utilises this idea is commonly referred to as a “modal”.


Modes only apply to “asymmetric” scales. Symmetrical scales do not have modes because of the manner in which they are obtained and identified. An example of this would be the whole tone scale which can only be displaced once because of the symmetry of the interval pattern which is used to generate it. The whole tone scale interval pattern is simply a succession of tones which completes itself across 6 notes. Because of this symmetry, both of the Whole Tone Scale’s “modes” are invervallically identical and as such, there is no necessity to identify them separately.


Major Scale Modes:


Scale Degree Name




1, Tonic

Ionian (Major scale)

2, Supertonic 


3, Mediant


4, SubDominant


5, Dominant  


6, SubMediant

Aeolian (Natural Minor)

7, Leading Note



A good article going into the modes of the major scale can be found here:


Harmonic Major Scale Modes:


1, Harmonic Major

2, Dorian b5 (“Dorian Diminished”)

3, Phrygian b4

4, Lydian Minor

5, Mixolydian b9 (or b2)

6, (Currently, I’ve not devised a “proper” name for this one – It’s a kind of “strange altered Phrygian/ Locrian hybrid thing”)

7, Locrian b7


Melodic Minor Scale Modes:


In this case, the Melodic Minor Scale that I’ve used is built from a consistent interval pattern (which can be considered as the major scale using minor 3rd instead of major 3rd). This is not the traditional "classical" melodic minor scale which is different in its ascending form from its descending form.

1, Melodic minor
2, Dorian b9 (b2) or (Phrygian with a natural 6th)
3, Lydian Augmented (Lydian #5)
4, Lydian Dominant (Lydian b7) (overtone scale)
5, Mixolydian b6 (also sometimes called the "Hindu scale")
6, Aeolian b5 (or Locrian #2/ Locrian #9)
7, Superlocrian (altered scale)


Harmonic Minor Scale Modes:

1, Harmonic minor
2, Dorian b9 b13 (or b2 b6) or Locrian (with major 6th/  natural 6th
3, Ionian #5 (Ionian augmented) or Major with augmented 5th (not "Harmonic Major")
4, Dorian #11 (or #4)
5, Mixolydian b9 b13 (or b2 b6) “Phrygian Major” (sometimes called “Phrygian Dominant”)
6, Lydian #9 (#2)
7, Superlocrian b7 (Altered Diminished)

I'm not too convinced by "Phrygian Dominant", but I've sometimes seen it labelled as such so I've included it here.


Modes, named with “altered” intervals relative to the major scale (which is the manner in which they are presented here for simplicity in presentation) I'm not 100% keen on. This system of labelling implies too much alteration from a hypothetical “default” position, which isn’t necessarily a clear, accurate, or appropriate reflection of these interval patterns. Once learned, I feel that they are much better understood (from a practical application point of view) on their own merits, without thinking too much in terms of raised or lowered intervals (or sharpened or flattened intervals), relative to a scale which is essential just being used as a reference point, and exclusively for labelling purposes. What causes problems (discussing music theory in this way) is the manner in which truth can actually generate confusion. It's the difference between truth and fact which is the basis of many misconceptions in music theory. Major, harmonic major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales are all built from interval patterns (although the "classical" melodic minor scale introduces a new level of complication, in that it has a different interval pattern in it's descending form from the retrograde of the ascending version, simultaneously compromising any static, reliable, or hard and fast "rules" regarding it's harmonisation). Where these interval patterns (for the respective scales) may be used to build chords on each of these scale tones extending beyond the triad into extensions of the 7th, 9th etc, to describe them all in relativity to the major scale is where a lot of misunderstanding and misconceptions about harmony are generated. This is worth being aware of when studying scales, modes, and harmony. See the article on my website under lessons and articles called: “A Consideration of the Theoretical Language of Music”.

View Article  Other People's Goals

I’m sure a lot of professional musicians find themselves in the situation whereby they are making a living, and working with music (playing or teaching), but where this also feels like it may as well be any other job, and very removed from the ideals which made a career as a professional musician appealing in the first place!


I’ve been working on a lot of other people’s projects recently. They have been a wide and varied mixture of musical styles, from structured and intensive reading for independent album projects, to teaching and performing student compositions for submission to exam boards. This is becoming a seemingly terminal dilemma whereby funding an existence (which is costing time which I want to be using to create, record, and achieve my own goals) is a matter of performing, recording, sharing skills, and serving to assist others achieve their goals.


I’m putting this in a blog primarily for my students because recently I’ve found that I have had to do something that I frequently tell my students they need to do when they complain that where they want the skills, they have no time to practice because of other commitments. I’ve practicing what I preach and “made time” for my own practice, and work. If I didn’t do this, my own creative work would be on back burners and on hold forever, because (as I’ve found) there is always someone who wants me to teach or play something somewhere! Comfortable as this situation may be, and reassuring from the point of view of being “employed” (within an increasingly fragile employment and credit climate), in the end, spending time doing what people actually want to do with their lives is very important.

View Article  Resources for developing General Musicianship for guitarists

This blog is in response to question I’m asked regularly. I’m not usually too keen on the “magazine feature” style of these things but where it works, I don’t mind so much. This is what I currently consider to be the best books for developing an understanding of general music concepts, notation reading, approaches, creativity, and musicianship (focussed on guitar players needs). This doesn’t include books (or online resources) which serve to build technical skills, or have a specific technical purpose:


  1. Elementary Training for Musicians – Paul Hindemith
  2. Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns – Nicolas Slonimski
  3. The Advancing Guitarist – Mick Goodrich
  4. Musicianship and Sight Reading for Guitarists – Oliver Hunt
  5. Music Reading for Guitar (The Complete Method) – David Oakes
  6. For Guitar Players Only – Tommy Tedesco
  7. William Leavett – Modern reading guitar method 1, 2, 3
View Article  Morgan Custom Guitars

Recently, I've been spending a lot of time practicing, playing and preparing pieces for recording. I've also been working on some other projects, and tracked some guitar parts for Simon Goulding's new album:


Whilst playing the guitar a lot, I’ve reached the conclusion that Morgan Custom Guitars shouldn’t need advertising. Aside from the classical and acoustic guitar tracking, all electric work that I've recorded has been almost exclusively been using a Morgan Griffin. As a customer, Neil's website and other promotional material look to me very much more like a straightforward "announcement" that his guitars are available more than an advertisement. Also, as far as I can tell, Neil's customers are looking for him, not the other way around. When I first met Neil, I was handed one of his guitars which simply demonstrated to me how good guitarists could really have it! There was no considered or contrived sales technique at work. The instrument I was handed lived and breathed under my fingers, telling it’s own story beyond any conversation that I could have had with the man who made it (which I had as well). What happened next was possibly the single most straightforward purchase decision I’ve ever made on a guitar, and some very good conversations discussing ideas for more guitars have taken place ever since. The test of time, and some real road wear and tear later, and my experiences have comfortably reinforced everything I previously believed about these guitars. They are truly awesome instruments.

View Article  Project Work Update

From the outset, one of the purposes of the blog was to keep a diary of sorts as to how I was progressing with my own project work. Since I’ve posted nothing regarding this so far, I felt it would help if I outlined what I’m currently working on and when I hope to get these projects finished and available.


For my own creative music work, I record within three separate projects. These are “Ensemble Craft”, “Turquoise Noise”, and NHP (or Nik Harrison Project). They all have respective myspace pages which have more information on them than I could write here:


I’m also currently working on developing my website, making some videos of performances of my music, and video lessons online soon.


My current project work focus is on the NHP “Spiritual Atrophy” recording, and the Turquoise Noise “Remedial Kinetic Assertion” recording which I hope to have finished and available before the end of this year.


Any and all comments most welcome.

View Article  Perfect Pitch

Recently, I got into a conversation (again) about one of the most contentious and divided musical subjects, "Perfect Pitch", and felt that it merited a mention here.


Where it’s no secret that I can pick out notes and name them, frequently I’m asked to demonstrate this skill and “prove it” far more than I’m asked how it works with a view to devising an approach which would serve to effectively develop it. There are courses available which can assist in the development of perfect pitch but frequently these courses are misunderstood as the “answer” to the perfect pitch “question”. Some people seem to want these courses to actually supply the skill of perfect pitch for them, and don’t often realise that these courses only actually provide means by which an end may be met. Often, these courses are criticised but in truth, there is nothing really “wrong” with any of them. They all point people in the direction that they want to go, but don’t always clearly explain that developing perfect pitch is no different from learning any other skill. Some people don’t have the patience or the discipline to dedicate sufficient time to the development of this skill, and cruelly interpret this situation as a matter of being “fooled”, and declare “These perfect pitch courses just don’t work”.


Where there a lot of quite amusing definitions of perfect pitch, like “the ability to hit a skip with a clarinet at 50 yards” (and other such variations), how perfect pitch has been defined (seriously) is a varied mixture of ideas. Essentially, perfect pitch is an ability which can be identified as “a level on which one perceives musical notes”, and I would go on to define perfect pitch as: “The ability to recognise and recall notes, independent of their relativity to other notes”.


This frequently leads to a lot of “What about this? What about that? What about melodic movement and relative pitch? What about recognising intervals and notes placed within chords? What about chord movement? What about notes on different instruments? What about notes in different registers? Etc although these questions are almost always regarding the context within which these notes appear. This introduces the idea of “levels” on which perfect pitch can work. As people begin to develop perfect pitch, they develop the ability to recognise notes in certain circumstances but not others. This is sometimes where people actually “stop listening”, and consider that they have gone as far as they can go with perfect pitch but the ability to recognise notes in almost all circumstances can be developed.


Developing Perfect Pitch


The underpinning principle on which perfect pitch works for me is that the notes actually sound different from each other. This is independent of their relative position to other notes. I believe that how these notes sound different from each other to me (whilst not a secret) wouldn’t actually be of any practical use for anyone who wishes to develop this skill, This is because throughout history, musicians who have had this skill have offered very different interpretations and descriptions of what they hear when they are recognising or recalling notes. Each person seems to develop this skill in their own way. To develop this skill, you will need to listen for these differences. Frequently at this point I’m asked: “What am I listening for?” (Not in the sense “Why are we listening?”, but in the sense “What, within this sound, am I trying to develop the ability to detect?”). At this stage I frequently make the analogy with sight. If you ask someone to look for something, they may ask “What am I looking for?”, but even if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it doesn’t compromise your ability to see it when it appears. For now, this analogy with sight is the best expression of “the way in which you have to listen to develop perfect pitch” that I can find.


Where perfect pitch can be developed, some people who have not developed this skill within a timeframe that they have set for themselves will often take a very strange view of perfect pitch, and will criticise those who don't share it. This is one reason I avoid talking about it so much. I frequently ask; “how long did it take you to learn a few simple chords?” However long that may have been, I usually find out that they wanted to develop the entire skill of perfect pitch in less time! Realistically, that’s just not going to happen.


Nik Harrison

View Article  Exploring Perpective

I’ve found that an incredible part of my mind seems to be accessed by repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again. Where I’m aware that repeated patterns are used for hypnotic induction, and I’ve considered that I’ve most probably ‘mesmerised’ myself here with the repeated patterns within reinforcement exercises whilst practicing, they have certainly opened up a part of my mind today which offers consideration to many things that I’m sure would have been filtered out within “normal” consciousness. Today’s excessively philosophical pondering has led me to consider that it’s not in our nature to destroy ourselves. It is in our nature to squander the responsibilities that we have in the form of choices that are born of consciousness, and that this is the result of a tragic misunderstanding of the actual importance the ability make decisions has. Where the presence of power needs to be met with the ability to control, a very simple lack of understanding of our actual circumstances and nature is where we fail. I’m hoping that this thought passes the test of time, and that when I return to it in a few months it will remain valid and have the same profound effect on me as it has done today. This is because where I can’t see any practical application of these thoughts, I’m convinced that they will have a value over time, and (subsequent to passing the time test) prove to be significantly beneficial to my perspective on life beyond music. 

View Article  The Evolution of the Use of Vocabulary within the Theoretical Language of Music

I post quite a bit of stuff on the music radar forum, and not too long ago someone expressed the purpose of a scale to reflect “the assonance of tones” which I thought was quite poetic and a nice description of it. The thread went on to discuss this descriptive “mistake” but I took a step back and gave this “mistake” some thought and realised that some quite interesting things surfaced when the vantage point of objective consideration is used. We have a whole range of terms in music theory to identify intervals in different contexts, but we only use 2 words to describe what they are all like from a perceptive point of view. These are “Consonance” and “Dissonance”. They are also expanded upon (and prefixed) with more adjectives such as “strong”, “weak”, or “mild”. Surely the perceptive vantage point on intervals has greater importance than the theoretical expressions which are used to describe them? This being the case, it seems strange that this situation is accepted so blindly when intervals sound so different? We don’t describe the weather using two words prefixed like this, and it’s just as complex! It occurred to me that this situation (through the natural evolution of the language of music) will change over time, but also that it is people who influence this change (albeit inadvertently). Maybe we can actually take control of this evolution, based on considered analysis of these situations? Really, the only way that “what can be done” has been made apparent historically, is where it’s been recorded that somebody somewhere has actually done it! As far as I can tell, it’s usually only a lack of perspective that will determine whether or not you, or anyone else, can be that someone.

View Article  3 Aspects of Musicianship

I’ve recently been reading through some lessons and articles (devised over a long period of time), editing and updating them for publishing to my website. One of these articles is about (and titled) “Three Aspects of Performance Musicianship”. It currently appears on the Audio Design Workshop myspace page:

I’ve been considering the content of this article a lot recently, since I engaged in a discussion about some aspects of theory (on the music radar forum not too long ago. I’ve become concerned that this article may be misunderstood as the “guitar perspective” on music, and I would wish to avoid using this point of view as a basis for establishing a balanced and overall outlook on playing. A reply to something I had posted made reference to “guitar theory” being different from “common practice”. I disagreed with this distinction at the time, although later in the discussion, it became clear what was actually meant by this. What was meant, was that that people who learn music in different ways (though learning to play different instruments) usually develop different perspectives on theory, unfortunately sometimes to the point where their knowledge can offer someone what they consider to be a “comprehensive outlook” on theory. In actual fact, they really just have a basic grasp of a small part of theory (from the point of view of studying an instrument on which certain things are easier to grasp than others). I occurred to me that where the old adage “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, didn’t quite apply, a modified and similar “little knowledge based on the study of one particular instrument, will lead you to have a totally different little knowledge of theory from someone who has studied a different instrument” probably did (to a certain extent). My contribution to the discussion was as follows:

“Theory is theory. How that is practically applied to any instrument (melodic/harmonic) is immaterial. Chords, keys, scales, modes, modulation, harmonic suspension and resolution, are all the same no matter what instrument you play. There are recognisable differences in the manner in which theory is sometimes expressed within different styles/ genres of music which is perfectly acceptable for practical reasons, but ultimately within the western system of equally tempered instruments (which modern classical and jazz theory relates to), theory is universal.”

From the practical viewpoint of studying “guitar playing” in general, these considerations raise some interesting questions regarding where and when one actually begins to learn theory, and where and when one perhaps should begin? Also, should we just accept, or reconsider the entire “natural approach” to learning theory as a guitarist, where an emphasis on the theory which makes most sense to guitar players (borne of the nature of the instrument) is learned first? Is this the best approach in the interest of developing a thorough and comprehensive understanding of theory? When it comes to learning, should we continue as we have done for a long time, or change? Perhaps learning theory as we learn to play the guitar (as and when theoretical questions arise regarding theoretical expressions and explanations of what is actually being played on the guitar) cannot be improved upon? Do we consider the practical aspects of guitar playing and the theoretical aspects to be separate subjects and study them independent of each other? I believe that the large space in between the extremes of theory being on one side of the table, with “practice” on the other, is where most guitarists will find their own experience of learning. Taking that into consideration, I would like to put the question to “accomplished” guitarists: Was this the “best” way you could have learned all this stuff? And if it wasn’t the “best” way, how could it be improved?

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