I’m on Facebook! Are You?

Check out the new Heartwood Guitar Instruction Facebook page:

C’mon over and “like” the page. That way, you’ll be notified through Facebook whenever I add new chord charts or other material to the site. See you on Facebook!

Kid Joins Green Day Onstage

So many guitarists just learn their favorite parts to songs. I’ll bet this kid was glad he learned “Jesus of Suburbia” all the way through.

Fortune favors the prepared mind.
Louis Pasteur

Website Under Maintenance

Hi Guitarists,

It’s been a long time coming. Heartwood Guitar is finally moving to a new server today, which will bring you lightning-fast browsing.

Over the next few days, you may see some funkiness while we make the transition. For example, subscribers to the strum pattern videos currently have no way to cancel via the My Accounts page. If you need to cancel, just email me at [email protected] and I’ll take care of it for you.

Also, the Help page is down (what help is that?!).

In other news, we should be able to accept subscriptions to the strum pattern videos again soon. Thanks for your patience.


Rock Screaming 101: From Kermit to Kurt in 6 Weeks

This Saturday is the Coffee Shop Jam, and I’m ready to scream.

Nothing’s wrong. I’m just gearing up for the weapons-grade rock vocals required for this Jam’s setlist, including “Arlandria” by the Foo Fighters, “In Bloom” and “Lounge Act” by Nirvana, and—my larynx convulses at the mention of it—“Girl’s Got Rhythm” by AC/DC.

These songs all feature high-pitched, raspy rock vocals that I used to think could only be gained from passing noxious chemicals over your vocal chords for years on end. That is, until I started taking vocal lessons a few years ago from Seattle’s screaming guru, Susan Carr, in order to prepare this Kermit-the-Frog sound-alike to teach “Smells Like Teen Spirit” for an online guitar instruction website.

It turns out that there’s a simple formula for kick-ass rock vocals: Get your voice in great shape, and then loosen things up by talking like a pirate or singing like Cookie Monster.

For the past 6 weeks, I’ve been doing the vocal exercises Sue taught me—a combination of breathing and singing scales—and then topping things off by singing “Happy Birthday” a few times in a Cookie Monster voice. The results have been awesome. I may not sound like Kurt Cobain, but I definitely don’t sound like Kermit anymore.

Well, maybe Kermit before his third trip to rehab.


The show went great. Here are a few screaming highlights:

“Lounge Act” by Nirvana
No screaming ’til the end

“Cold as Ice” by Foreigner
This one isn’t as gravelly, but it’s HIGH!

Good Vibrations

What an amazing video:

Anyone who’s played a harmonic on the guitar knows that string vibration is a magical, mysterious phenomenon. I’ve heard it compared to a moving passenger train. As the countryside flies by, your teacup is rattling on your saucer: That’s one kind of vibration. But the whole traincar is vibrating too: A second vibration. The traincar is also swaying as it moves: a third vibration. And the entire train is coursing through s-curves in a winding valley: A final, huge vibration.

In the same way, a plucked string has many different layers of vibrations happening simultaneously: The whole string is moving side-to-side, which creates the fundamental tone that our ear is drawn to. But smaller vibrations—the traincar and teacup vibrations—create overtones that are hard to pick out, but without them our plucked guitar strings would sound more like electronic beeps.

What blows me away in this video is how huge those “teacup” vibrations are. I figured they were tiny, humming wiggles, barely perceptible even if we could slow them down. But apparently, our strings wiggle like sidewinders. Incredible.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in trying to hear those subtle overtones in your guitar’s notes, play a harmonic on a string, then pluck the open string. Listen for the sound of the harmonic quietly ringing behind the loud fundamental pitch.

New Features: Hot Songs and Cool Buttons

I’ve been in mad-scientist mode this past weekend, making some changes to the site design. What day is it? Where did all these dirty dishes come from?

Let me know if you think the work was worth it.

FireWhat’s Hot

There’s now a list of the most popular songs, both on the web and on this website, in the sidebar of the chord charts.

Google +1 and Like ButtonLike and Google +1 Buttons

You can now share your favorite blog posts, chord charts, and other pages on this site with your friends on Facebook.

Also, I’ve added Google +1 buttons, Google’s answer to the “Like” button, on some pages. Your friends will see pages you’ve +1’d when they sift through Google search results.

Google +1 and Like ButtonNavigation Bar Redesign

I made the navigation bar at the top of the page smaller, making more room for the vastly more interesting stuff below.

The Heartwood Beat, Issue 16: Chord Chart Update and Restringing Tips

Hello Heartwood Beat Subscribers,

I hope you’re all well and enjoying the start of summer. I’m having fun with my most recent writing project: Creating a beginning guitar course that I’ll offer on my website starting this summer or fall.

Chord Chart Update

I just posted thirty new chord charts, including a trio of toe-tapping Taylor Swift tunes, a round of indie-rock refrains, and a cornucopia of classic-rock crowd-pleasers. Most include strumming diagrams (I know how helpful those are to many of you), and there’s strumming video support for $7/month, too.

U2The Allman Brothers – Ramblin’ Man
America – Horse With No Name
Avett Brothers – Shame
Belle and Sebastian – Judy and the Dream of Horses
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Lodi
Taio Cruz – Dynamite
The Decemberists – Down by the Water
Bob Dylan – Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
Green Day – She’s a Rebel
Steve Earle – Pilgrim on this Road
James – Sometimes
Jet – She’s a Genius
Joni Mitchell – Conversation
MGMT – Time to Pretend
The Mountain Goats – Sax Rohmer #1
Nada Surf – Always Love
Tom Paxton – What If, No Matter
Katy Perry – Firework
Katy Perry – Hot N Cold
The Pretty Reckless – My Medicine
Radiohead – Karma Police
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Storm in a Teacup
Kevin Rudolf – Let it Rock
Amanda Seyfried – Li’l Red Riding Hood
Taylor Swift – Speak Now
Taylor Swift – Teardrops on My Guitar
Taylor Swift – You Belong With Me
They Might Be Giants – Roy G. Biv
U2 – Love Rescue Me
U2 – Where the Streets Have No Name
Eddie Vedder – Society

Restringing Tips

Restringing25 years of restringing my guitars have taught me the following tricks. I hope these help you enjoy, or at least zip through, this chore.

1. Clear a table and lay down a towel

You want enough room to rotate your guitar without knocking over lamps, empty beer bottles, etc.

2. Make a restringing kit

Wire cutters
Dunlop Formula 65 Cleaner
Gertlitz Guitar Honey (for conditioning rosewood and ebony fingerboards)
Mechanical Pencil

3. Clean your guitar after you remove old strings

There will never be an easier time. If you oil your fingerboard, use separate rags for oil and cleaner.

4. Lubricate nut slots with a pencil

Have you ever heard a quiet, high “ping” when you tuned your guitar? That’s the sound of your string suddenly slipping through your nut slot. This is bad: To easily tune your guitar, you need your strings running through that slot like water through a pipe. Les Pauls are notorious for this problem, because their headstock design requires strings to take a sharp turn as they pass through the nut, increasing friction.

To lube the nut slots, just scribble graphite in each nut slot with a mechanical pencil.

Fan Mail

Rob's Totally Awesome Guitar Teaching HandbookEvery few days I get the pleasure of reading praise from a reader of my Totally Awesome Guitar Teacher’s Handbook. Here are a few recent ones that made me smile.

“Rob – in the short amount of time I have been reading your hand book – you have save the musical lives of 10 young students I have been struggling with. Thank you – I can’t wait for class today.”

“Your book is just what I needed. I’ve read it twice and just printed it out today so I can highlight and scribble notes. Now I feel good about turning my garage into a professional looking studio for learning.”

“Thanks to reading and applying the info in your ebook, my site is drawing in a steady stream of new students and I’m loving the journey of building a stronger and stronger teaching practice.”

Learn more about the Handbook here.

Enjoy the music,


Q &#8800 Quiet

“Q” was not for “Quiet” on April 30th, when we descended on the Q Cafe for the 2011 Spring Coffee Shop Jam. The show featured my guitar students, and the students of my friends Brady and Mark, who teach bass and drums. The Coffee Shop Jam is always incredible, and this was no exception: Moments of epic grandeur, quiet beauty, terror….

ConnorSamJackClairePhotos by Seattle photographer MKM Photography

I played on about 30 of the songs, and rehearsed many of them just a handful of times, so I had my own moments of terror. One came halfway through the second show, when I realized, with about four bars to go, that I’d neglected to sufficiently practice the solo to my student Jack’s cover of Green Day’s “Holiday.” It was in a different key than I was used to, and in the heat of the moment, I blanked. Is it in 8th position? 9th position? What key is this song in, anyway? This is not what you want to be thinking when you’re on stage.

Despite my occasional “jazz chord” and “avante-garde improvisation,” I was happy with my performance, and the students were in their typical fine form. I usually feature the younger kids on this blog, since their skills and passion are so striking. But today I want to share two performances by older students that stand out in my mind:

Here’s Claire doing a gorgeous cover of the Avett Brothers’ song “Shame”:

And here’s Gary singing “Pilgrim” by Steve Earle:

“That’s great Rob, but where are the kids?” you might say. Oh, OK, here’s Jack rocking that Green Day song. No making fun of my solo. Musicians are sensitive people.

“Dude, this music is lame,” you say. “How about some metal played by an overcaffinated 11-year-old and a student drummer pulverizing his teacher’s jazz kit? And let’s have the kid freak out at the ending and use a mic stand as a slide.” OK, you asked for it…

You can see all the Jam videos here.

And here are some great photos taken by my wife, Meg.

Another Happy Strummer

I love getting fan mail from musicians using my strum pattern videos.

it’s me again, Rob, but really i have to tell you that your videos have changed my guitar playing life…after 45 years of playing the same old DDUUDU (nice enough in its way), i really have all sorts of new rhythm options thanks to your videos…it all just comes together perfect, chord charts, lyrics, strum patterns and the videos. 

so here i am in Paris and it’s after midnight and i can’t stop.  got that Redemption Song rhythm into Stand By Me and i am grooving.  syncopation, who knew????

thanks thanks thanks.

How to Teach Guitar: The Role of Empathy

Rob's Totally Awesome Guitar Teaching HandbookThe following is an excerpt from Rob’s Totally Awesome Guitar Teaching Handbook.

When was the last time you were terrified trying something new? I’m not talking about the fear of sharks at your first surfing lesson. I mean trying something you really want to do, but you’re worried that Jah had other intentions when he doled out your aptitude. Perhaps it was dancing lessons, auditioning for a band, deciding to write a novel, or going on your first date after a bad breakup.

Many beginning guitar students will have the same kind of fear. They’re often courageous adults who were told in elementary school that they have no rhythm, or are tone deaf. They’re coming to you because they’re still searching for a way to make music despite discouragement, and they’re hoping you can point the way. Empathizing with them—feeling what they feel —will help you teach them.

FistOne way to empathize is to recall a comparable time in your life. You may have to dig deep. Kids risk failure all the time, but as people mature, they tend to find their path and then cruise it—seat back, one hand on the wheel. Even if you’re a dedicated life-long learner, it might be hard to remember the last time you were scared of being bad at something.

I got reacquainted with the fear of failure when I started singing lessons a couple years ago. I spent my first lesson mortified at all the unpredictable sounds I made. Afterwards, I remember recovering in my parked car soaked in sweat, staring at the dashboard, feeling like a vulnerable kid.

I recall that moment when I start lessons with a new student, reminding myself that while it’s just another day of work for me, it might be one of the scariest things they’ve done.

What do you think: How necessary is it for a teacher to empathize with their student? I’d love to hear some stories.

You can learn more about Rob’s Totally Awesome Guitar Teaching Handbook here.