Songwriting mistakes – your mama may still love you but you’ll lose your audience

songwriter pianoWhen I teach songwriting classes, I tell students that if they’re rhyming “fire” with “desire” that they should leave. That joke always gets a giggle. As someone who’s taught songwriting and also judged song contests, I’ve heard this rhyme too many times. Don’t make that mistake or the others listed below. Keep your audience engaged with a well-written song using these tips. Continue reading

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Highlands Inn in Bethlehem, NH — with Mary and … Mary

highlands-inn-gia-and-jennyNot quite a holy place but the Highlands Inn is pretty damn close if you’re a lesbian who likes cozy inns with warm and welcoming innkeepers like Gia and Jenny. I’ve been coming here since the nineties. When I was touring full-time, it was a welcome respite from the road. I’d do a concert in their spacious living room, then stay for two or three days before my next set of gigs. I’m still doing concerts there – they have free concerts for guests – but now, it’s a sweet weekend getaway for my honey and me. They’ve hired me to play so I’m a bit biased but believe me, this road warrior wouldn’t keep coming back to a place with indifferent service and lousy food.

We arrived on Friday evening after a 6 hour drive from our home in Ottawa. Not only is it less than a day’s drive for us, it’s only 2 hours from Montreal, 2 ½ hours from Boston, and 6 hours from New York City. The closest major airport is only 1 ½ hours away.

Jenny greeted us warmly at the front desk. In the big dining room off to our right I could hear women laughing. Farther away, a small group was engrossed in a game on the TV in the corner. One of the couches in the spacious living room to my left was filled with a couple quietly reading. Jenny usually takes guests on a tour of the main floor but I’ve been there many times. I definitely know how to find the hot tub.

highlands-inn-room-one-bOur second floor room featured a bed big enough to hold an entire WNBA team. There were two closets, windows overlooking the property, and a fireplace. I’ve stayed in nearly every room in this inn over the years and there’s a lot of variety. Even the smallest rooms are comfortable, each with their own bath, DVD player and TV. Some have extras like a Jacuzzi tub or a separate entrance. Rooms don’t have their own phones but there’s WiFi and cell phone service (even for my Canadian cell phone). Downstairs there’s a bookcase full of DVDs as well as a huge library and a stack of games and puzzles.

After unpacking, we slipped downstairs to relax in the living area. It’s filled with cushy chairs and couches and often, there’s a fire in the fireplace. I grabbed a couple of freshly baked cookies from the dining room and settled in with a book. Breakfast and snacks come with the room. For other meals there are many restaurants nearby, some that offer discounts to inn guests.

Tired from the day, we hit the bed early and slept like dead people.

The quiche at breakfast the next morning looked delicious but I can’t eat eggs. No worries because there’s always a nice spread of cereal, yogurt, fruit, and cheese. And of course, tea and coffee. I wish the java was stronger, though. My sweetie always brings her own French press and makes her own but then, what she drinks could shoot a skateboard to the moon.


Two guests in the dining room. From the Highlands Inn website.

While I enjoy the food, it’s not what I like best about breakfast. It’s the other guests. These women come from all the US and Canada (and sometimes overseas) and it’s the friendliest bunch you’ll ever meet. Or maybe they just talk to me because I plop my happy arse at their table and they don’t know what else to do. At any rate, I’ve met some wonderful women there over the years. I table hop until everyone’s gone off sightseeing. There’s plenty in the area to do – hiking, shopping, biking, and in the winter, skiing. Since it was fall, there was leaf peeping to do. I didn’t, though. We saw an abundance of reds and yellows on the drive down, not to mention the beautiful view from our room. In fact, I’m one of those lazy guests who’s happy to snuggle into a chair next to the fireplace and not leave for, oh, three days. During one visit a few years ago I dragged my tush to the farmer’s market in Littleton, a mere 5 miles away. I was so tired afterward, I had to sit in the hot tub for an hour and eat imported dark chocolate. Oh the sacrifice.


The beautiful grounds around the inn, taken with my off-brand phone camera. Still looks beautiful, eh?

I started writing my first book at this inn. Back in the days before the Internet and good cell reception, I found myself there in an icy November with two days before my next gig. What else to do but spend hours in the hot tub, then retreat to my room to write a book? (What book? Why, this one.)

On a few visits, I sought out company during the day and found myself in a raucous Scrabble game with women I’d met at breakfast. Yes, raucous. You pretty much don’t want to play Scrabble with me.

Jenny and Gia go the extra mile and I don’t mean to the farmer’s market. During this recent trip, two guests had an auto accident not far from the inn and because there were no serious injuries, they had the ambulance bring them to the inn. (How’s that for an entrance?) Jenny immediately got them an ice pack, helped them process what had happened, and booked them for the extra days they needed to recover. Another guest had plans to buy a house go awry and had to quickly scan documents to email to her realtor. Again, Jenny came to the rescue. One of my breakfast companions couldn’t eat gluten so they made gluten-free muffins just for her. Try to get that kind of service at a Super 8.


Photo by Michelle Jenne

On Saturday night I had to roust my butt off the couch and do a show. I set up in the corner of the living room and played my songs for a fun crowd. At the end we sang “Happy Birthday” to two of the women, then hung out and ate birthday cake. If my job gets any worse I don’t know what I’ll do.

highlands-inn-poolI’ve never been there in the summer. Too bad ‘cause I could take advantage of that pool. There’s something going on in every season including a Thanksgiving celebration and also one for New Year’s Eve. Have your wedding there or celebrate an anniversary.

I’m hard pressed to name anything I don’t like about this delightful women’s inn. I’d like fluffier toilet paper (I’m such a delicate flower) and the WiFi can sometimes be cranky but heck, I’m not there to work (unless you count playing the ukulele for a crowd of happy lesbians). Neither of those things would keep me from coming back, anyway.

On Sunday, as my wife and I were preparing to drive away, Gia tapped on our window. She cautioned us to be careful on the road, reminding us about the recent accident. Who does that? AND bakes cookies every day? I’ll definitely be back and I’m sure there was an inn full of satisfied women who feel the same. Maybe I should ask Jenny and Gia to knock down a few cell phone towers so I can write another book … nah.


Want to know more? Check out their website.

I wrote this because I love going there. No one paid me, unless you count the chocolate chip cookies I consumed.

Posted in Stories from the road, Women's Music | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Our Amazon: Maxine Feldman


Photo by Toni Armstrong Jr.

Before Stonewall, on May 13, 1969, folksinger and trail blazer Maxine Feldman wrote “Angry Atthis,” a song about not being able to openly love her female partner. Songs like that didn’t exist before then. Maxine went on to perform and record for the exciting women’s music network in the seventies and beyond with songs about a myriad of topics, especially lesbians. Not only was Maxine a friend of mine, but she was a great entertainer who was vital to our culture.   Continue reading

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Five essential guitar strums

with Kara

Kara Barnard and Jamie Anderson. Photo by Janice Rickert.

The question I get asked most by guitar students is “How do I know what strum to choose?” I could tell you I’m freakin’ brilliant and charge you $100 for a lesson. Or I could simply tell you that most songs* are either in 4/4 or 3/4 so you only need to know five strums, whether you’re playing guitar, ukulele, or a similar instrument.

Continue reading

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When should my child start music lessons?


We’ve all seen this video of young Korean kids playing the guitar:

Pretty astounding and it probably leaves some parents wondering if Junior should be starting music lessons in the womb. I’ve taught guitar for over 15 years and I’ve talked with parents who thought their two or three year old was ready for private lessons because “He loves music.” All kids love music and benefit from live music but some aren’t ready for lessons until a certain age. When should your child start lessons? Continue reading

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Easy to play stringed instruments

guitar mandolin ukuele

L-R: mandolin, electric guitar, electric bass, banjo, ukulele.

In this case, size doesn’t matter although ukuleles are little and pretty easy to play, even if you’ve never played an instrument before. In the video below, I play a bunch of different instruments and give you advice, most importantly to step away from the mandolin (unless you already play a stringed instrument or you’re so smitten with Chris Thile you want to propose marriage.). Although, I can teach you that instrument as well as guitar, ukulele, and songwriting. Contact me here. On to the video where I impart wise advice: Continue reading

Posted in music, Music instruction, Playing the guitar, Playing the ukulele | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ukulele lesson. Free. Yeah, free.

Often when you pay nothing for something you get what you pay for — advice from “experts” who couldn’t find their hind end with both hands, sites that fill your device with cookies, and well-dressed church ladies who show up with pamphlets about Jesus. Maybe you like all that, but it annoys me. Well folks, here’s something free and I promise not to bug you. I’ve got years of teaching experience and if you want to sign up for Skype lessons later, it’s all on you. Contact me here and we can make it so.

You just bought a ukulele ’cause they’re easy to play, portable, and it matches your outfit. Now what? In the video below I teach you two chords, a strum pattern, and a song that you can play. Cool, eh?

Ignore the fact that in the screen shot, I look like I’m sneezing. I just got this video camera and anything technical is challenging to me. However, I’ve been teaching music for over 15 years and I do know how to teach ukulele.

Want private lessons via Skype? I can teach you more chords, strumming patterns, how to play melodies, finger picking and more. Contact me here.









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More music instruction? Where do I sign up?

guitar teacherAt least, I’m hoping that’s what you’ll say. My blog gets 100 to 200 hits a day, many of them on posts that offer music instruction, from beginner guitar chords to what to wear while playing the ukulele. So far, I’ve offered everything for free (although there’s a donation button should you be inclined). Would you be interested in a higher quality of lessons — video and text you can access anytime? Whether the answer is yes or no, I’d like to hear from you.

Please take a moment to answer this quick survey. I promise you won’t be added to any mailing lists or receive extra spam about Canadian pharmacies. I do happen to live in Canada but I am not in the habit of sending out drugs. The authorities frown on that.

As always, I offer Skype lessons on guitar, ukulele, mandolin, and songwriting from anywhere in the world. If you live in Ottawa, come to my home studio and get a face-to-face lesson. Contact me here for details.

Lots of stories and tips for guitar players here.

weird guitar

I can teach on almost any guitar but this one will cost extra.


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Songs of Pride and Strength


It’s been a tough week, especially for LGBT folks. In times like this, I always turn to music. Continue reading

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Come for the half and half, stay for the music: Virginia Women’s Music Fest 2016

That white powdered stuff may be labeled “cream” but it isn’t something I’d put in my java. I want real dairy and the Virginia Women’s Music Festival understands that, as well as other comforts a woman may need. It’s not just about great music – and you’ll have that too – but it’s about taking care of each other. And hey. Coffee every morning plus real half and half says “I love you” almost as much as “Here’s a million dollars.” Continue reading

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