Music Lessons

If you’ve looked at retirement funds for any reason, you know that the money you put in first has the greatest chance to do you some good in the long run. If you put $100 into the average mutual fund thirty years ago, it is worth almost $1100 today, even with two recessions in between. If you put it in twenty years ago, it’s worth just under $500 today. If you put it in ten years ago, it’s worth about $220 today. If you put it in five years ago, it’s worth about $150.

Why the dramatic difference? Because your thirty-year old $100 investment has been earning dividends, and the dividends have been earning dividends, and the dividends on the dividends have been multiplying like frisky rabbits the whole time. Your twenty-, ten-, and 5-year old investments haven’t had nearly the impact as that early investment – they haven’t had time.

What does this have to do with music? You may think you just need to learn how to play an instrument to be a “musician.” And you may think that you will always have time “later” to learn about scale and chord structures, chord relationships and progressions, and so on. But if you invest the time to learn those basics now, they will help you learn everything else faster and better. And being a better instrumentalist, accompanist, songwriter, or arranger early will not only pay short-term benefits – it will mean that you keep learning faster and better – exponentially – the rest of your life.

Want to write better songs? Want to know why some chord progressions “work” and others don’t? Want to know why folks you can outplay six ways from Sunday on your best instrument can sit in on jams and pickup bands on songs they’ve never heard, play great parts and (almost) never miss a note?

If you were born into the Carter, Mandrell, or Marsalis family, you may have the excuse that you picked all this music theory up by osmosis before you were ten. But if you weren’t, consider picking it up the way the rest of us did – by making a deliberate effort to learn it, the earlier the better.

Disclaimer – I didn’t learn this stuff from a web page – I took a year of college music theory in 1970-71. At the time, I didn’t see how much all that dry Bach stuff related to the folk, rock, and pop music I was playing in weekend gigs at the time. But the longer I’ve played, the more I realize just how much I benefited from that training. When I started to work on these articles, some 40 years later, I dug out my old textbook to “fact-check” my writing and make certain I wasn’t overlooking anything critical. It wasn’t hard to “connect the dots” between the stuff I thought was so boring back in 1971 and nearly every musically creative thing I’ve done since.

The “Music Theory” articles below are only a fraction of what there is to learn on these topics, but the sooner you learn this stuff, the better you’ll be able to “connect the dots” when you’re learning everything else.

Music Theory Articles

Some years back, I was planning a project that involved working with young “wannabees” to help them be better songwiters, performers, etc. So I started creating materials I could assign them to read between sessions. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on your point of view), the rug was pulled out from under the project and it never happened. The music theory lessons never got all the features I had planned for them. But the information they have will help anyone wishing to advance as a musician of any kind. For some of you it will be review, but that couldn’t hurt either.

The last one is in the best shape, as it was updated in early 2015 as a result of some things I was trying to explain to my banjo students. It includes charts to help you learn this stuff, no matter what stringed instrument(s) you play, including the cool chart at the right for dialing up the chords you’re likely to use no matter what key you’re in.

Instrumental Lessons

I’ve taught guitar off and on for years, and have developed my own “handouts” to give to beginning guitarists. Most recently, I developed materials for learning to strum and to play alternating bass with a flatpick – a popular and very useful technique for Praise, Folk, Country, and Bluegrass. Unfortunately, I haven’t converted those to HTML yet, so I don’t have a link to them here. Fortunately, there are about a million other guitar resources online, and hopefully we’ll add ours eventually.

On the other hand, the reappearance of banjos on the radio in the last few years has led a number of friends to wonder what it would take to learn. Some are talented guitarists; some have no instrumental background to speak of.

I’ve been happily playing my 5-string off and on since the 1960s, but I recently learned that several self-appointed 5-string banjo “experts” have been promoting their favorite technique as the only “authentic” way of playing the banjo. So I figured I’d put together a set of materials that would allow students to learn their way around the fretboard and about a dozen popular banjo tunes before they decide to devote their rest of their lives honing one specific approach to an instrument that can be authentically played any number of ways.


As mentioned earlier, I have some guitar flatpicking resources that I would like to convert to HTML and present here. In addition, since I posted my first article on six-string banjos, lots of folks have asked questions about how to play it, so I’ve considered putting our answers and suggestions into html format and publishing them as well.

So I expect this section to grow, just not exponentially. 🙂
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