Ask Dominic

This is where you have the chance to ask Dominic a question. Please contact Dominic under contact@dominicmiller.com. Please understand that Dominic has a busy schedule and although he would love to answer all of your questions, he can only manage a few per month.

Question:

What was your experience at the Berklee College of Music like and what is your opinion on going to study music at a university? - from Adrien

Answer:

I think Berklee College of Music is perhaps the best place to go if you want to be a contemporary musician. They have an incredible reputation which is well deserved. I would recommend anyone to go there if they want to be a full time musician. Having said that, I believe Leeds College of Music (in the north of England) is the best place to go in Europe. Leeds' reputation is growing stronger every year. If I were young and living in UK or Europe I would definitely favour Leeds over Berklee. Studying music at University is another good option, perhaps the best one because you learn more about other things, not just music. Provided you can get a good teacher I would say this is a route worth pursuing.

Question:

Do you know a good music school I can go to? I thought maybe I could go abroad and study music in another country and improve my knowledge to be a good guitarist. - from Alfredo

Answer:

My advice to you would be to do a summer course at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA where you can be among musicians from all over the world who want to do the same as you. You will learn a lot there and make many connections.

Question:

I am practicing chords, scales, and playing along to music to incorporate what I have learned, my question is with regard to not falling into the same groove all the time. I'll go from for example Sting, to Stevie Ray Vaughn, to Clapton, to jazz, to classical, to try to change my approach, but while I change my tempo and key, I like to fall into a familiar rhythm most of the time. Am I following a good course? - from Kevin

Answer:

What you are doing is only natural. I also wish I could do or say things but I can't. I think it is good to mix up styles. Try learning a new style of playing you haven't tried before purely as an exercise. Then you might discover something you didn't know and might even incorporate it into what will become your style. Basically the more styles you play the more unique and distinct you will become.

Question:

I like to fool around with the classical guitar, just as a hobby. I am using the Frederick Noad Solo Guitar Playing book. I was wondering if you were familiar with it and if you thought it was any good? Are there other books you would recommend? I know you recommend Sor and I got some of his stuff off of the internet. - from Erik

Answer:

Sor is great for practicing. I am not familiar with the book you mention but I am sure it's good. Practice slowly!

Question:

My girlfriend is to buy a guitar but doesn’t have the time to go to a/my teacher so I’m going to try to the teach her the basic stuff. I will read your advices in the choosing guitar section but now what I’d like to ask your advices is about teaching. I think I'll explain her the basic musical and rhythm theory first and I might be wrong but I'm thinking of starting with some simple country songs just to feel the music and practise to read, etc. And then we’ll have really got into the music what do you suggest to learn for a nylon string? - from Andris

Answer:

I think the best music to practice and learn guitar (or nylon string guitar) is the music of Fernando Sor. It's simple but really nice. He was a guitar teacher in his day so this music was designed for learning to play.

Question:

My training in music has helped to develop my ears, through which I've been able to gain a fair amount of facility on the instrument. Bottom line, though, I want to take it to the next level. I've studied from many method books for saxophone (my first instrument), but do not know of one for guitar that gives proper fingerings for scale patterns and technique-building exercises. Would you be able to recommend one to me? I know that you are big on studying Bach, which I would love to get to, but... I really want to speed both hands up. - From David

Answer:

I know of a book by the teacher Hector Quine (who was my teacher) which is really simple and effective. I think you are going in the wrong direction if you want to 'speed up both hands' (this goes against all my principles). If you can't do it slowly you will NEVER do it quickly. Rome wasn't built in a day!

Question:

Do you think it's worth studying different areas of music? I heard you studied in London at a music school, is that something worth checking out? I can barely read music (but am prepared to learn), I do everything by ear. I'm still in high school, I start applying to universities next year so I'm trying to decide what is priority. Just a regular university or a specialized one for music. - from Sarah

Answer:

My advice to you would be to NOT go to music college but to a normal one and perhaps do music as a major. The reason being that one needs outside influences other than music to grow even as a musician. It's important to find a good teacher and learn as much as you can about theory.

Question:

About a decade ago I saw Larry Coryell at a club here in DC and I met him briefly before the concert. I told him how much I had enjoyed his recording of the Pavane on his acoustic LP The Restful Mind and asked him if he would do it that night. He said, 'you got it' and performed it beautifully. A very gracious gesture on his part and certainly one of the highlights of my concert going life. I recently purchased a transcription of Antonio Lauro's Natalia with the intention of starting work on it over the upcoming spring break. Any tips before I start? - from Kirk

Answer:

You are obviously serious about your music and everything it seems. That's a great story about Larry Coryell. I would love to learn that piece and do some kind of arrangement. My advice with the Lauro is to TAKE IT SLOWLY. I find the best way to learn his (or anyone's) pieces are to learn a line each day with the emphasis on which is the best fingering to use, ie most economical but effective. It could (or should) take a couple of weeks to learn one of these pieces to get it right. Then it's a question of finding the groove which is definitely there. Kind of like an undercurrent. I know this may sound boring, but try using a metronome at ridiculously slow speed. You'd be surprised how accurately you will end up playing it. My philosophy on practice is to practice without emotion or dynamic. Save that for the playing. It's a discipline which really works.

Question:

I have rather small hands and relatively short fingers for a lady. Unfortunately this causes me some problems by playing chords where I need to stretch fingers. Especially I have some trouble with my fourth finger (the little one) - it seems it's to weak. Could you recommend me some exercises in order to have more flexibility with my fingers. Further on I realize that the more I play barré chords and the more I play with my fourth finger I have problems with my tendon. If I ask my guitar teacher about some 'warming up' exercises, he can't really tell me how I should warm up. - From Danielle

Answer:

The size of fingers has nothing to do with it. My teacher had smaller hands than me yet could make wider stretches. It's a question of how flexible your fingers are. Playing music is like finger yoga. You get better at it the more you do it. The three important principles are strength, balance and flexibility. Playing scales slowly will help you get stronger.

Question:

I'm 21and self-taught and playing classic guitar for about a year I've gotta bunch of questions for you but this time I just wanted to ask something for Shape of my heart one of the best tunes so far. Between what frets do you play the 2nd part of the intro? Do you play it on higher frets as you do in the beginning part or downstairs? I mean the part which starts with D note and ends in F#minor? This part is more complex than opening part with the A note 10 fret and B string. - from Tommy

Answer:

I am not sure exactly what you mean because both parts end in F sharp minor. But I believe you mean the second part that has the chords: D, A, C sharp, D, G sharp, F sharp. If so, the first D chord (D, B, F sharp, A) is fingered as follows (from the low to high): 2nd finger on 5th fret on A string. 1st finger on 4th fret on G string, 4th finger on 7th fret on B string and 3rd finger on 5th fret and E string. I hope this is clear.

Question:

I am getting further in to my study of classical playing & I am at a point with my right hand m i a where I am wondering whether I should try to stay with the three fingers on each upper string scenario or just go with what feels more comfy which is mainly using m i and thumb only, which is what I believe you play. I am not trying to train myself to be a full on classical player, though I am serious in my study. Would you recommend studying the 'proper' playing way to train myself, as once bad habits are made they can be difficult to change. - from John

Answer:

I think the conventional approach would be a good starting point for you. It may seem difficult but it's there for a reason so I would recommend you keep trying it. If this fails and you are frustrated then I would either suggest trying your own way or employing a teacher. Whichever way I urge you to do it slowly.

Question:

I was looking for some advice on right hand technique. I have been playing for many years having dabbled in most styles but continue to return to more classical/jazzy influences. I can pretty much hold my own so to speak left hand wise but feel I'm lacking solid right hand technique. - from Mark

Answer:

The best way to get a good right hand technique is to try and keep it as relaxed as possible. And of course practice slowly with some arpeggios and scales.

Question:

I tend to rest my little finger on my right hand directly below the sound hole. I find it gives me greater control over my picking, however it would seem that this is unconventional as I've never seen anyone else doing it. What are our thoughts? To rest or not to rest that is the question! - From Gary

Answer:

Good question Gary. The reason you use your little finger as support is for stability. That's fine, but I use my forearm (when playing classical sitting down) as a pivot point. When standing up, I think the best way to stay focused is to keep your back relaxed. Alexander Technique is quite useful for musicians.

Question:

What do you suggest to me to improve this right hand technique that the flamenco guitarists use when playing nylon strings, I don't to use picks mostly so I want to improve this right hand technique where you put the thumb to the bass strings and you play with the index and middle fingers. Should I practise arpeggios or are there any exercises to develop this technique? - from Süheyl

Answer:

I am working on my right hand technique too. It could be a lot better. My only advice would be to find some simple arpeggios and practice them really slowly.

Question:

I've been trying to play some tunes with fingers only (it sounds so much nicer even on steel strings) but once I get playing I seem to get my fingers/strings mixed up and play the wrong string. I've noticed in various videos that you tend to keep your thumb on the low E string. Is this to help provide a reference point for the other fingers/strings? I know it will take a lot of practice/time to perfect, but are there any tips you can suggest? - from Andrew

Answer:

Fingers will always sound better than a pick. Or, flesh is more expressive than plastic. I use my thumb a lot because it's good for getting a smooth bass sound.

Question:

I notice that you play the Rodriguez by resting it on your right leg instead of your left. Doesn't this lower position of the fretboard put added tension on your left wrist and fingers? - From Brian

Answer:

I never liked the traditional way of playing classical which is why I like to play with the fretboard pretty much parallel to the ground. The left hand position feels comfortable.

Question:

How can I get faster with the left hand (you know this Friday Night In San Francisco-Speed Thing). What exercises should I practise? - from Toni

Answer:

The only way to get the speed you are after is to practice really slowly. You can't run before you can walk. It's as simple as that. Your speed will increase once your fluency does.

Question:

I'm a guitar student at Berklee college of Music in Boston. I was wondering if you could give me some advice on how to successfully explore the modes and realise their full potential. As you would imagine I've received many great tips but I'm interested to hear the way in which YOU discovered them since I greatly admire your playing and many people have interesting paths to the same end. - from Doug

Answer:

You might be surprised to know I went to Berklee (briefly) in 1976. I have never studied modes but recognise their role in almost every genre of music. In fact any scale is in effect a mode. I have always relied on my instincts to play around with different modes. Jazz musicians are the ones who really go deep into this concept. I think the way Joe Zawinul uses modes is really incredible. He will play a simple phrase that sounds completely unrelated to the key he is in but still sound beautiful and meaningful. These are the times I might 'study' this concept. I try to work out the root and then what scale he (or many others, like Herbie Hancock etc..) are playing in relation to the key. Usually it is a very simple major scale. But which one! And why! I think the best way to learn more about modes is to listen to the great jazz musicians and try to get into their way of thinking. Different players will use different patterns. The beauty of the position you are in is you can take the elements you like and then put them into your own package. This is how you will eventually create your own style and then people will be trying to figure out what you are playing and why. I hope this is of some use to you.

Question:

After playing rhythm guitar in a few bands, I aspire to become a lead guitar player. However, I am not very fluent when it comes to soloing. This has become a frustrating problem because I feel as though I cannot truly express myself on an instrument I love so much. I have a very basic knowledge of music theory and have never taken a guitar lesson, so I learn, play, and write music only by ear (even though I am able to read music). I wanted to know your thoughts on soloing. Is taking theory and guitar lessons the key to becoming better at guitar soloing? - from Zach

Answer:

It is very useful to learn scales on the guitar. The modes like pentatonic are great for blues. The more modes you learn the easier it will be to express yourself. It's like learning a different language. You can't just start speaking Italian without learning the vocabulary. The scales are the vocabulary. Then you can say what you want.

Question:

I am playing nylon string acoustic & have decided I prefer the sound of flesh so I am playing without nails. I am also starting to play steel string acoustic, however it does seem to be easier to play with nails. My question is how do you play steel string acoustic, do you use your finger tips or plectrum as I know you don't play with nails, although I prefer nylon string I am trying to develop styles on the steel string as well. Is it a matter of compromise i.e. keeping a small amount of nail on the right hand? - from John

Answer:

The sound of flesh on nylon string is the best sound I can get or the sound that suits me the best. It makes for a smoother attack. But the most surprising thing is how good no nails sounds on steel string. It will make the guitar sound a cross between a nylon and a steel. I love it. I am using fingers much more on the electric which also sounds great. The best no nail finger electric players are Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler. They are the masters.

Question:

I know that you like playing without nails, and on Monday evening I broke the nail on my right hand 'm' finger and had to file down my other nails to the point where for all practical purposes its almost nail-less. I could have gone for acrylic nails, but I've never been able to get up the nerve. Its certainly a different sound (warmer) but it still feels a little weird. I'm practicing like crazy because I figure that the only way to overcome it is to play through it. Adversity requires adjustments and with hope, maybe a different perspective. - from Kirk

Answer:

I totally identify with this problem because I have been through it a few times. It's not until around 1998 that I finally took the plunge and committed myself to playing without nails. I am not saying it's better or the best thing for you. But it suits me and I don't think I will be turning back. The beauty of this situation is I can't suddenly decide I want to play with nails because they take a while to grow. But now, if I were playing with nails and then broke one right before a concert, I would have the facility to pull it off without. Yes it is a warmer sound and takes a while to get there (which one never really does) but I believe it's worth it.

Question:

Your non-nail approach is very sensitive and dynamic. I didn't realize how expressive one can be without using nails. I, myself, use a combination of flesh and nail for folk and jazz. Using the nail itself sounds too harsh for me. In fact, when I play with a pick I hold it in such a way that the flesh of my thumb strikes along with the pick to give a certain sound. - from Jonathan

Answer:

I totally agree with you about nails versus no nails. The sound is much warmer and has more depth. But truth be known, the reason I started playing without nails was because they kept breaking while I was playing electric on tour. I would then be back in my hotel room trying to play Bach using a right hand with a combination of with and without nails. This didn't work for me and I found it quite frustrating so I took the 'step' or commitment of re-learning how to play without nails. It's the best technical decision I have made.

Question:

I'm a classical guitarist, and I have been a huge fan of yours ever sense I bought your shapes CD. You have amazing tone, especially for someone who doesn't use nails. I would like to start crossing over into steel string electric and acoustic playing however I find the flat pick very clumsy. Do you always flat pick your steel string electrics and use your fingers for nylon? And what flatpicking exercises do you use? - from Scott

Answer:

Nowhere does it say you must use a pick to play steel string guitar. If I were you I would stick to finger picking. The only downside is your nails may wear away due to the sharpness of the steel strings. To my ears playing without nails is always better and more expressive. Flesh on string as opposed to pick or nail is the sound I like.

Question:

How do you think about classical technique (fingernails, the position of the guitar and the hand...)? - from Toni

Answer:

Position of the right hand is important with classical technique but I don't believe you need nails to get a good sound. Your right hand should be as relaxed as possible and once again, practice some scales slowly.

Question:

Do you have any tips/strategies/advice to achieving a good practice session. I find myself lately losing focus & moving away from what I set out to practice in to other areas, & can end up wasting say an hours session by meandering, usually if a bit tired or pre occupied with other things. Is it a question of focus & clearing your head of other stuff before a session or just keeping it interesting instead of rigid practice schedules, have you had any practice ruts in the past? - from John

Answer:

I think practice should be treated purely as a technical exercise, i.e. don't worry about being musical. The whole point is to achieve better articulation with your notes and tempo. Nothing more and nothing less. It's similar to a fitness regime. For instance, like a runner or athlete, you want to start really slowly by doing simple things and then build up some tempo. There is always a good point when it is good to have a short break (a cup of tea) and then get back to it with more conviction. After another break you might want to tackle whatever piece of music is troubling you and focus on the harder passages. Personally I like to practice simple Bach pieces at hyper slow speed and then apply the principles above. I always end up making improvements.

Question:

I was just reading an interview/tutoring exercise from Martin Taylor, he was saying that he feels there can be too much science & worrying about names of things & which scale fits over such & such chord sequence etc etc when really we learn best by listening hard & playing what comes naturally to us or 'sounds right'. I am spending a great deal of time playing short exercises from a classical ( 8 bars or so) tutoring book, telling me which finger goes where left hand , & right hand i m a sequences , I have been doing this for over a year as part of my playing. I am starting to wonder really if all the details of which hand does what really matters, certainly anyone listening or watching doesn't give a s***, & whether I should stop the exercises & just practice playing pieces of music instead. I just wondered if you have been down this path years ago and got to a point where you decided to go your own way. Can I ask your opinion as to whether to continue with exercises or just do my own thing, I am not trying to be a 'serious' classical player, just get to a good standard.

Answer:

I agree with Martin. But I think it helps to know as much theory as possible. When you are playing, or improvising I would advise forgetting all the theory you know and play what comes naturally. Then, after your performance you might amuse yourself by understanding dissecting why you played what you did and where it came from. I am not a great believer in doing scales or exercises but there is certainly no harm in maintaining them. This is after all just technical practice where you are trying to produce a clean sound with a solid tempo. Instead of doing scales I like to practice Bach which is mostly scales anyway. Bach's music is like mathematics with soul. It has an inner beauty even if you are playing it with no feel at all. I often practice Bach (every day actually) and play it without emotion mostly. All I am doing is trying to improve my dexterity as a player. If I wanted to play these pieces in a musical way I could never do it unless I practiced them slowly and methodically. I hope this makes sense.

Question:

I just returned from auditing a Pepe Romero master class (fantastic) and was a bit surprised that many of the performing guitarists seemed to be trying pieces above their ability. Have you found this to be common with the master classes you've given? Many of them were technically proficient enough, and could have chosen good pieces well within their range, but for some reason their 'reach seemed to surpass their grasp.' - from Kirk

Answer:

I understand this problem. I would have thought the best way to tackle a masterclass would be to choose the simplest piece possible and see how a 'master' tackles it. Then the student can apply the same principles with the more complex tunes in his/her own time. Slowly.

Question:

I am a little older than you (44) and have been playing for over 25 years. As I get older I find I am not as subtle as I once was. So firstly, do you have any particular warm up exercises you do before playing, even perhaps before you even pick up a guitar, that might help? Secondly, have you ever suffered from cramp in your left hand during a gig and if so, how have you coped with it? I try and keep well hydrated (I only drink water when I gig) and after 20+ years playing semi pro, I am not overly tense, but this cramp thing really freaked me out! - from David

Answer:

Actually, I am older than you. I was born in 1960. I don't know of any exercises before playing. I never do any because I believe playing is the exercise. Especially playing slowly and economically. I have had cramp a few times from over practicing. This has always been due to an improper position with either my back or wrists. I have always learnt something from these pains.

Question:

Do you still practice for electric guitar, any finger exercises, pentatonics, sequences, or alternate picking picking exercises? How many hours do you practice if you do? - From Süheyl

Answer:

I like to practice playing Bach slowly. It's very important to know how to play slowly because it is harder because there is more room for error. I love the harmony in Bach which has all the scales anyone could dream for.

Question:

I am having good days and bad days practicing, on a bad day (today) I seem to f*** up things I know I shouldn't, which I find very demotivating, I am learning classical from scratch (with the help of an excellent player) I am used to playing electrics which I find easier to play. I just wondered if you have bad days, do you just put it down & walk away or persevere. - from John

Answer:

Yes I do have bad days practicing when I sometimes think I am useless and a fraud guitarist. But after many years I have learnt to learn from this syndrome and actually find it quite useful because my real weaknesses are exposed. This means on another, better day I know what to work on.

Question:

I know that you practice them regularly, I’ve decided to do the same. I decided to learn the double in the Partita I (B minor) first because of the uninterrupted eight notes I think it will be a great musical warm-up. My questions are, how closely you follow the dynamics/articulation that is written? How long do you spend on finding the correct fingering and do you try to stay in roughly the same position? Out of my own curiosity do you play any of these using a pick? - from Dan

Answer:

I don't use any articulation when I practice them (or anything else). Practice is about control, not feeling. I think the articulation or dynamics become evident once you play them enough. Sometimes I listen to well known violinists’ recordings to get some accent tips. The fingering takes me ages but is my favourite part of the process. I try to be as logical or economical as possible while retaining the best tone of the instrument. I try and stay in the same position as much as it will allow. Sometimes I adjust. I never use a pick for these pieces. Actually, I don't even use nails. Flesh sounds better for me. My best tip for the Partitas and Sonatas is to practice them as slow as you can. If you can play them accurately and slowly you will have control of all the above.

Question:

Which Bach transcriptions do you recommend for the classical guitar? - from Alan

Answer:

The Bach Cello Suites are really good for the guitar.

Question:

Can you please tell me one or two little exercises you practice on your guitar? - from Chris

Answer:

It's good to practice chromatic scales on the guitar and then do them in octaves. I hope you continue to play and remember to practice slowly. You will be better for it.

Question:

Many times I have seen on your web site a rule saying that, when learning to play a guitar you should play slowly. How about long pieces (pieces with scores on many many pages)? Should I (a) try to play the WHOLE piece slowly at first and then build up the speed or should I (b) break it in to smaller parts and learn to play each part up-to-speed and then stick those parts together? - From Artus

Answer:

I think you should do both. Try and think of it as many pieces and then join them together. It's sometimes a good idea to pick a section at random and then work on it instead of always starting at the beginning.

Question:

I saw your set at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion on Saturday September 18th and you inspired me to learn some classical guitar pieces. I am 46 years old and picked up the guitar again a few years ago. What songs do you recommend I start off with? I am patient and I try to practice at least 2 hours a day. - From David

Answer:

I am glad to hear you are learning some classical guitar. The best pieces for you would be Fernando Sor's guitar studies. They work really well and are very pleasant. Then you can move on to some Bach. remember to practice slowly.

Question:

I just wondered your opinion to the importance of sight reading now so much music is tabbed, at the grand old age of forty one I am trying to teach myself, reason being I should like to be out playing again in a couple of years after a long time out & feel if I can read it might give me an advantage over non readers if I am looking for work in cabaret session situations etc... I am finding it very laborious & frustrating, I am doing 45-60 minutes a day & making slow progress , have you found reading to be to your advantage? Should I just try & learn the basics to get by or go the whole way, I would value your advice. - from John

Answer:

I think reading is an important exercise but not crucial to your musical development. There are plenty of successful musicians who don't read. But having some reading capabilities can only make you more articulate musically. The best thing for you would be to take some elementary pieces and play them slowly without much pressure. You might find this very relaxing and ultimately beneficial to your musicality.

Question:

What is the best way, in your opinion, for a classical guitarist to learn improvisation? - from Mateusz A. I think the key here, is to not consider yourself as a classical player, but as a musician. Ear training is important. It's a good exercise to learn pieces by ear as opposed to from sheet music. Then it's a question of playing what you hear in your head. It's like learning a language and then thinking in that language. It's always a good thing to study solos by some of the greats like Herbie Hancock, Kenny Kirkland, John Coltrane, Joe Zawinul, and many others. Jazz players speak a language. Some of them say more than others with less notes (or words). Be a detective by trying to unravel how, and more importantly why they played the notes they did. Learn those solos by ear, and then you will make a start at creating your own identity or vocabulary.

Question:

I am planning on picking up a pipa (Chinese lute). I have no idea how to play this thing, but am completely intrigued by it's sound. Have you ever tried this instrument..? Would you recommend getting some proper technique via a few lessons or just working it out for myself. I tend to usually work it out on my own but thought maybe you may have attempted something like this in the past. It has 4 strings and I play guitar - how different could it be? - from Seika

Answer:

I would definitely recommend having a few lessons on this instrument so you can get a good start. The teacher can show you how to get the best out of it. I have never tried this instrument but if I did I would get help. Maybe there is a special technique a teacher can show you which you might never realise on your own. I hope you enjoy it!

Question:

I'm the kid who you gave your guitar pick to, at the concert on May 5, 2005 in Boston. Your one of my favourite musicians in the world. My name is Jack Doherty. I'm turning 9 on June 2, 2005. Right now on May 7, 2005 I'm listening to one of your albums called Shapes it is very good. I take piano lessens and just about to start guitar. All I need is to buy a guitar that fits me and that isn't old and dusty. Do you recommend any kind of a guitar for a starter? Very, very good concert on Thursday. It was my first and I went with my Mom and Dad. Thank you for the guitar pick. I brought it to school to show to my class. - from Jack

Answer:

Hi Jack. I remember you at the concert. I am glad you enjoyed it. This is a good time for you to start playing the guitar. I was about nine when I started. You should ask your parents to take you to a music store and try out a few guitars. The best way to get started is to get a Spanish (or nylon string guitar). I think the best one would be a Yamaha. Don't get a smaller one because one day you will have to play a full size guitar and then it will become harder. So a normal size one would be best for you. I think you should ask your parents to find you a guitar teacher to help get you started. You should see him once a week and he will tell you what you can practice. I hope you enjoy playing and please let me know how you get on. Playing guitar is the best feeling in the world!

Question:

I have just started to play again after 15 yrs off, I played in covers pop bands for my living in my early twenties to a decent standard, but have decided to play again from scratch. I should like to learn to read, I have poor knowledge of theory, I am enjoying diddling around at the moment but want to get some learning structure going, should I seek some tutoring or just persevere with books of scales chords etc. - from John

Answer:

Welcome back! It's good to be back because I am sure you will utilise the time better now. Just start practicing scales slowly and maybe get a private tutor. Theory is important too but first get your playing fluency back. Then you can get deeper into it.

Question:

I have just started to play again after 15 yrs off, I played in covers pop bands for my living in my early twenties to a decent standard, but have decided to play again from scratch. I should like to learn to read, I have poor knowledge of theory, I am enjoying diddling around at the moment but want to get some learning structure going, should I seek some tutoring or just persevere with books of scales chords etc. - from John

Answer:

Welcome back! It's good to be back because I am sure you will utilise the time better now. Just start practicing scales slowly and maybe get a private tutor. Theory is important too but first get your playing fluency back. Then you can get deeper into it.

Question:

I have a PRS Santana Se and run it through a Fender Blues Jr amp, with a Big Muff pedal. What pointers can you give someone that doesn't understand music theory but has a desire to want to play? - from Mark

Answer:

My advice to you would be to continue enjoying it by simplifying your approach. The slower you play or think the quicker you will become a better player. You will probably never be able to play like some of the people you admire or aspire to but you can ALWAYS play like yourself which involves taking aspects of different peoples' playing and then creating your own style. My golden mantra is PRACTICE SLOWLY.

Question:

My Mom just saw you in concert and she got your autograph for me. Thank you for the guitar pick. I like your new C.D. Any advice for an 8 year old learning to play guitar? - from Chris

Answer:

I am glad you are learning to play the guitar. I started the same age as you. The best way to start is by getting a good teacher to show you some open chords and then play around with them so as to make them feel natural or fluent (your mom can explain what I mean). The next thing is to practice really slowly because if you do this you will end up playing as fast as you like. Good luck!

Question:

My parents bought me a cheap electric guitar about 2 years ago, but I've only really started to try to play anything recently and I spent a long time trying to find somebody with a style I liked. What I'm wondering is this. You said that you started playing at 15, and I'm 15 now, and I was wondering a) did you take any lessons or just play around to teach yourself, and b) how long did it take for you to get to a level good enough to play live in a band etc? - from Chris

Answer:

I am glad you have started this journey of playing the guitar. My sister first taught me to play. Then I took lessons from a classical guitar teacher. During this time I was also learning musical theory which is REALLY important. I was always learning by ear as well and continue to this day. I think you are ready to play in a band as soon as your timing is adequate. Playing with other people is all about listening. What you play should make them sound good. If you think this way you will always sound better and ultimately be in demand. I hope this helps.

Question:

What advice would you give to a guitarist who is looking to pursue a career in music? I'm now 14 and am currently getting a variety of experiences i.e. studying music at school, playing in a rock band and also playing at church. - from Nic

Answer:

It sounds like you are doing all the right things to be a guitarist. I think it's important to try many different styles, particularly classical. It could make you a better player in the style that you want to play. Practice slowly!

Question:

I have two sons, 2 and 4 years old. I would love to have them learn guitar similar to the way Rufus did in your family. I think this will spark a lifelong love of music in their lives. However, as you have said of your formal studies...the classical pieces are 'bloody difficult'. I do not want to discourage them and scare them off. With that in mind, do you think classical lessons are a good idea or simply torture for them? And what age is a good age to start? - From Brian

Answer:

I think eight years old is a good time to start playing guitar. The best way to start is by learning open chords with the emphasis on timing. Once this is conquered it could be a good time to progress to simple classical pieces and exercises. It is crucial to have a teacher who makes it fun. I hope this helps, and thanks for you kind words.

Question:

As someone who took drumming lessons for a few years when I was younger, I'm interested to know what your thoughts are with respect to keeping time. Some of the time signatures of Sting's songs, for example, are quite exotic (5, 7, 9, etc), and I wonder whether you tend to count these as you play or just kind of go with the flow? I find this even more puzzling in jazz because the bar lines tend to 'disappear' and it's easy to get lost. Any tips? - from Graham

Answer:

I find the best way to approach weird time signatures (although they are not weird to us because we have all listened to Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra etc for years) is to think of everything as if it were in 2. For example, divide the bar with one backbeat somewhere that feels comfortable to you and then don't think about it. This backbeat could just be in your head but there nevertheless. The other way is to count (but would you be counting if you were in 4/4?). It's just a question of familiarising yourself with these rhythms until they become second nature. Try practicing variations in 7 while you are driving or on a bus. Same with 5, 9, 11 etc. I hope this helps!

Question:

I have question about how to use the metronome. I understand the basics that if you have a song in 4/4 it means that each measure has four beats. So if you play a whole note it lasts four beats, a half note two beats and a quarter note one beat. But how about when it comes to any of the other notes like an eight note, a sixteenth note or a dotted quarter note, how do you play these notes with a metronome as a lot of them naturally appears in between the beats. How do you know if you've played a note that doesn't start on a beat at the right time not to mention for the right amount of time, when the metronome only plays quarter beats? - from Christoffer

Answer:

This is a good point. To play an 8th note with a quarter note metronome you need to place the note EXACTLY in between the metronome beats. This is what playing with a metronome is all about. It's like mathematics. Then it gets even more involved when you get a dotted quarter note (or crotchet). The metronome is there to guide you, but you must play with it. If for example you come in too early in between the beats it will sound as if the metronome is coming in too late for the next entry. Of course this is wrong and makes what you played an error of judgement. Then you will see how hard it is to find that sweet spot. The longer the gap between metronome beats (or the slower it is moving) the more room for error and the harder it is. This is why I think it is crucial to practice slowly which will ultimately make you a better musician and more reliable with timing.

Question:

How important do you feel the usage of vibrato is in your expression of ideas when playing classical or electric guitar ? Are there any guitarists whose vibrato technique you admired or emulated in your development as a player? - from Chad

Answer:

I have never thought too much about vibrato. I am not a huge fan because I like notes to be pure. If your intonation is really good you don't need vibrato. One of the reasons I love Sting's voice so much is because he doesn't use vibrato much at all. I am sure I use it but not consciously.

Question:

What is improvisation for you? Are you thinking in terms of scales and modes that you learned? Why don't you sing on your CDs as with Sting? You often overdub the melody over a second guitar, could you sing those melodies? - from Fabien

Answer:

I don't have much improvising on my albums because I believe improvisation works better in a live setting. Composing and recording are a more structured discipline to me. But there is about 25% improvisation in the way I play some of these melodies. I like to make short stories with my tunes, like songs. When we perform my tunes live I like to stretch them out by trying variations. This is fun. I like singing with Sting but I don't want to on my albums. Partly because if I do people will talk more about the singing (which isn't as good as the guitar playing). I can say what I want to say without words. Notes are my preferred language. Chords are the adjectives.

Question:

I am 31 years old, originally from Brazil, and for about 12 years I've been playing the guitar. My focus has always been - from day one - on writing my own songs and expressing my ideas through music. Music is my deepest passion. But since I have always been interested in finding my own sounds, as opposed to spending the necessary amount of time working on technique and exercises, I find that my playing is much less refined than it should have been for someone who has been playing for as long as I have. To be quite honest, I consider myself a relatively weak player. To make matters worse, I am left-handed but I play regular right-handed guitars... just 'upside down'. In other words, my low E is at the bottom and my high E at the top. Now, I find it somewhat difficult to evolve, mainly because I can't find anyone to teach me in the way I play. So my dilemma is do I keep going as it is now or do I buy a normal left-handed guitar and start from zero again? - from Marcelo

Answer:

Definitely don't change the technique of playing upside down. Look at it as an asset, not a hindrance. I know of two fantastic guitarists who play the same way as you. One is Gus Isidore who has recorded albums with Seal and the other is my old band mate Karl Wallinger from World Party. I have always been fascinated with their approaches. Gus is one of the best guitarists in the world and I am glad to say a good friend. Playing upside down gives the instrument a unique quality. Use it. Don't think of it as a problem anymore. I urge you. Sit down with the bass and make yourself learn some tunes and practice them slowly until it feels comfortable. Try using your ears to work things out. Ear training is very important because those who play by ear always have the edge, especially paired with reading. Please let me know how you get on and bon voyage!

Question:

I'm a guitarist of 20+ years and have a few students off and on at times. Whenever I get questioned about how to incorporate the guitar into group settings, I always tell them my best advice is to 'listen to Dominic Miller with Sting.' At one point in the show it looked like you were tapping out odd and even harmonics or something (close to the 12th fret of your electric). You had used one of your fingers to sort of 'bar' across one of the frets either your left hand and used another finger on that hand to percussively tap something behind it, and with your right hand you were tapping what looked like other harmonics in front of the finger you had barred across the fretboard. What were you doing? I've played a Chapman Stick for 10 years, and use a lot of that same technique on guitar as well, but what you were doing sounded fascinating. - From K

Answer:

You may think I am the example to your students in the role of guitarist in a band but I have always aspired to Lindsay Buckingham's (Fleetwood Mac) playing. I think his parts always complement the song in the best, tastiest and classiest way. In a nutshell, playing ensemble is about making the people around you shine. The tapping technique you refer to ('Never coming Home' off the 'Sacred Love' album) is exactly how you described it. I am tapping harmonics. The left second finger on the seventh fret and the right index finger on the twelfth. The third finger on the right hand is just making a dead percussive sound. I have been doing this for years and haven't come across it with other guitarists. However I think it is similar to the Stick technique. On my 'Second Nature' album I do the same on a track called 'Truco'. It can get fun with different tunings.

Question:

I've been having trouble playing a F# and F#m I was wondering if you can give me some tips on how to improve to play these type of notes. - from Carlo

Answer:

Try playing these chords open E and B strings (for the F#minor use your thumb on the bass).

Question:

I've been trying (perhaps stupidly) to play Every Breath You Take on my cheap steel string acoustic guitar the way I've seen you play it on an electric. However I'm finding it impossible to stretch and fret the chords the way you do. I don't know whether to buy a new guitar with smaller frets (but which one?), have my hands surgically replaced or just give up. What would you advise? I'm a bit worried about developing bad technique and/or early arthritis. - from Graham

Answer:

It is a stretch but doable even with small hands. It's all down to the thumb being strictly positioned directly behind the neck and not over it (like many players do). Its almost a classical position. It is also important to have your arm in a good position to allow you to make the stretch. Try making the stretch just with your hands and without a guitar and see where your arm is. Then do the same with the guitar. If this doesn't work take up gardening... Either way please let me know if this helps!

Question:

Which Bach transcriptions do you recommend for the classical guitar? - from Alan

Answer:

The Bach Cello Suites are really good for the guitar.

Question:

Dominic, have you used strings with polished or semi polished E,A,D on your P-Project or Guild Paloma? If not, what do you do to reduce finger noise on the wound classical strings? - from Garry

Answer:

I only wash my hands AFTER playing. This helps. In my opinion, natural sweat and general grime from the fingers is the best squeak deterrent. Also, I don't change the strings on the nylon until they are dead which can take months. Don't be fooled into buying silly products that claim to have the answer. In the end it's only Pledge with different packaging. Finally, the difference between professionals and amateurs is that amateurs always feel the need to complicate matters when in fact the solution is more often than not quite simple. I hope this helps.

Question:

I find it very difficult to play and sing at the same time and it's especially hard in a rhythm part. Should I try to learn singing and playing separately or I should try to practice both of it same time? - from Swanse

Answer:

I am sure you can do this provided you use patience. Try just looking at the first line of the song and just work on that for as long as it takes which might even be a whole day. Then take it from there. When I am learning a new piece of Bach I look at perhaps two bars of music a day (equivalent of about 6 to 10 seconds of music). After two or three weeks I know the whole thing and am very connected to every note. Look at EVERY syllable and note and analyse their relationship. By doing this really slowly you will get there quicker.

Question:

What do you think it is most important playing guitar (or playing another instrument) the feeling or the technique? What is most important for you? - from Xaloc

Answer:

I believe that with a good technique you can achieve more feeling. I always prefer feeling over technique but they work together.

Question:

Last night, my boyfriend and I went to see you open for Sting here in Atlanta. It was an incredible show! On the way home we were discussing how a great guitarist gets his big break. My boyfriend is an awesome guitarist. The problem is that he just turned 40 and feels like his big break should have come in his 20s. He gets depressed thinking that he will never fulfil his dreams. He just wants to make great music and needs to meet someone who can help him do just that. Do you have any advice that you could give him? - From Erica

Answer:

I know hundreds of guitarists who are in a similar position who would like to get the 'break'. Think of how many guitarists out there who listen to me and think 'I can do it better'. There are literally thousands of players who want my job. The trouble is they don't know what it really entails. For example, let's say I am playing something jazzy and there's a jazz guitarist in the audience, he would say 'I can do it better' therefore I should be there instead if him. Same with Rock, Country, Heavy Metal, Folk, Spanish, Classical, Bossa Nova, Bluegrass, Funk, etc etc. This job and any job that can bring on a 'break' is about being able to adapt to ANY style at the drop of hat or at the artist's whim. I may not like country, but I can play it sufficiently to make it convincing to the person I am working with or to the audience. Just not a country guitarist. Same with all the other styles. Before anyone says I can do it better that 'him' he or she needs to ask themselves if they are adaptable, not just musically/stylistically but emotionally as well. All breaks I have had have been of my own making. It takes a lot of determination and open mindedness to create opportunities for oneself. For example, if someone asks your boyfriend to play a session for an artist he thinks is not worth it, he might not realise that the tape op or receptionist in the studio is the one who will remember him thus passing on his number to whoever. That's the way it worked for me. My biggest 'break' came working with Phil Collins. But the way it happened is so unrelated to his world. It was through meeting a percussionist at a session for a girl singer I didn't want to particularly work with who knew someone who knew someone else who knew Hugh Padgham (Phil and Sting's producer) who eventually recommended me for Phil. Finally, getting a break or a good job is one thing. Holding it down is another. I have to keep the standards up on a daily basis or else I know someone will take my place. I hope you find this useful. I wish someone had told me stuff like this when I was in my twenties.

Question:

Do you think its to late for me to become a professional musician, and if I have the passion for it to happen do you think it could happen? It’s just that I actually got to play with Chris Botti behind stage before one of his performances and it really changed my outlook on that possibility. I mean you don't every day get to play with a professional trumpet played, let alone my idol Chris. I just would like to know what you think I should do. - from Manny

Answer:

I don't think it is too late to become a professional musician as long as you are prepared do be disappointed on a regular basis. There's a big difference between being an accomplished amateur and a pro. Once you 'come out' as a pro people will start to judge you which is not for the faint hearted. No one judges an amateur. There are many ups and downs involved, mostly downs so again, if you are willing to put up with it I would say go for it.

Question:

What I wanted was a little advice on how you think I should market my music in an unfortunate time where boy bands and pop idols have a major influence in the charts. I am constantly writing till the early hours because that's when I get my mind going. - from Demitri

Answer:

It's always a good time to get into songwriting and recording. Don't be put off by boy bands etc. It's only temporary in the grand scheme of things. Artists like Nora Jones are not like that at all and are selling millions. Do your own thing. I find the best time to write music is early in the morning because your mind is fresh and you are still in touch with your subconscious mind. A lot of authors get up at 5am!

Question:

I not only want to be a great guitarist, I want to be a great musician - what does it take, in your opinion? - from Alan

Answer:

I don't think you can one can ever call one self a great musician. I think if you are prepared to always study and listen well you can become something like that. Learning about theory can improve you as an instrumentalist.