Posts Tagged lessons

Gospel Music for Guitar: the 16 bar Gospel Form

I’m a guitar player in a piano player’s world. In the context of Black gospel music, the guitar is not considered a lead instrument. Most choirs rely on keys, organ, or synths to lead the band and the guitar plays a support role by playing rhythm parts or maybe lead fills. To make matters worse, I’m a white dude and most white dudes show up to a cross-cultural worship setting with their beautiful Taylor or Martin acoustic and when the set-list strays from Houghton-esque “rockspel” then then they find that their guitar becomes less relevant. Then things get really ugly when the set-list includes a more traditional black gospel song. The guitar becomes downright offensive as the acoustic strum-er starts to make the urban, Chicago-style  Black gospel sound more and more like rural Nashville-style SOUTHERN gospel. There’s a BIG difference.

It’s not the guitar player’s fault. They have not been taught in the traditional of gospel guitar players like the great Sister Rosetta Tharp or the slightly more modern sounds of Pops Staples 

A good place to start is the 16 bar gospel form. My church sings a number of songs that use variations of this form: “Glory Glory Hallelujah”, “Jesus is on the Mainline”,  “I Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell”, “Now Let Us Sing”, and even more moderate tempo “God is A Good God”.

Our children’s choir is working on an old southern gospel tune called “Glory Glory Glory Somebody Touched Me” which is all over youtube being performed by everyone from bluegrass legends to tiny little southern baptist churches. I had to make a demo for the kids to sing along with and I made my best effort to give it a little more “blues” and a little less “bluegrass”.  This represents how I would play a 16 bar gospel song especially in a setting where I was the only instrument. There’s a driving quarters bass sound that implies what a bass player would do and I’m hitting the muted strings on 2 & 4 to simulate a snare drum. The chromatic lead-in to the dominant at the end of each chorus is a cliche that helps define the style. The results also make a play-along demo for bass or drums to practice their gospel chops or for lead instruments to practice improvising.

I’ll admit that it would still fit into a song by Vince Gill or into the honky-tonk groove of a lot of country tunes. It’s certainly “down-home”. For an even more advanced bluesy take on the 16 bar gospel form check out this video of Pops Staples:

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Is It Time for Guitar Lessons?

I’ve been teaching guitar for the past 10 years. I’ve seen a lot of different kinds of students: kids, teens, grown-ups, jazzers, metalheads, punks, folkies, hipsters, bubblegum popsters and then the occasional guy who has no interest in music but his mom is forcing him to do something productive.

Is it time for you to get lessons? Maybe you’ve hit a stagnant place in your playing. Maybe you love music and want to experience the thrill of performance. Maybe you want to do something more productive than serf for cat pictures and Star Wars parodies. These are all valid reasons to get motivated, but let me share with you what I tell people when they ask me about if they should take lessons: don’t take lessons unless you can say that you have time, passion, goals, and money – in that order.


Time is the most important resource for guitar practice. You can’t learn the guitar or improve your playing without investing time. When I was in school, I practiced about 2 hours a day for 6 days a week (that’s pretty light-weight as far as music students go.) It wasn’t until my 3rd semester that things began to click and I felt real  improvement. I’m not saying that you have to do that; I’m just making it clear that time is the most important factor. You will not improve as a musician without copious time spent in the woodshed. If you have a 30 minute lesson, you should try to practice 30 minutes a day for 6 days a week. Decide when your 30 minutes will happen and lock that time in place when you will say no to other activities or commitments. If you can’t commit the time to practice, then the lesson becomes your practice time and your progress is slowed down significantly.


Passion might be more important than time, because without passion, you won’t sacrifice your time. However, passion is  not what makes you better; it’s only the fuel for your practicing. There’s nothing more depressing for me as a guitar teacher than trying to teach a kid to play an instrument who has no passion for music. They never practice and when they do, all that comes out is a cold, robotic performance. Don’t make your kid take lessons until they are begging you for the chance. Don’t buy your kid a guitar until you have found them trying to build one from their bedroom furniture out of a desperate need to shred. Before you make music, you need to listen to music and be a fan. Every great musician was a fan first.


Goals are more important than money. If you can define what you want to accomplish with your playing, then you can find resources for  free online. You might not even need a teacher because there is so much content available to a motivated and goal driven musician. The greatest asset for me of sitting under the teaching of an expert was the process of learning how to learn, how to practice, and how to set measurable goals. Today, I don’t need lessons because I have learned how to make my own goals and pursue them. Obviously, your 12 year old might not have clear goals (unless “impress girls” is an acceptable goal) but you might have goals that you can make together, and your teacher can help you define those goals as well.


Money is not as important, but it will cost some. You will need an instrument (eventually). You will need supplies like a tuner, picks, a strap, a case, strings, and books. However, I always advise parents to borrow an instrument before buying and don’t buy a cheap guitar that will not be fun to play. Perhaps you can give the kid an incentive to practice – every practice time earns a fraction of the cost of an new instrument. If you start a student out with a sense that music skill is an asset as well as a pastime, maybe they will find ways to create income in the future.

Are you still interested in taking guitar lessons? What a coincidence! I am in need of a few students for the fall.

Location and Times: I teach from our church offices at 1142 Hodiamont 63112 and my lessons are 30 minutes every week. I am available to teach Tuesday-Friday after-school or earlier.

Method: My specialization is jazz so I can teach blues, rock, gospel, or R&B styles, and if you are just starting out, I teach a basic method that can prepare the student for any direction they might want to go with their music.

Cost: My fee is $20 a lesson, so you will need to have to budget $80-$100 a month.

send me an email at if you are interested in getting more info.

BTW: I can also teach bass guitar or ukulele

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A Piano Master Class with Bob Kauflin

Piano players, band leaders and other curious church musicians: rhis is worth viewing if you have an hour to invest in your gifts.

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Soukous (Congolese) Bass Lesson

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Article on South African Bass Playing (no vuvuzela jokes, please)

Joshua Saleem sent me a link to this article from Bass Player Magazine. It’s great to see that they are going to highlight the skill and unique voices of various African countries in a series of articles. Guitar players: I did a search on the Guitar Player Magazine for “African” but came up empty handed. You’ll have to just check out this guy.

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