Baby Boomers Return to Playing Guitar

Baby Boomers – Return to Playing Guitar – Berrido Guitars

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot Surrey, England with some thoughts for all fellow Baby Boomer guitarists out there.

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Now being a Baby Boomer myself I can empathise with why the guitar is so special to many of us.

We witnessed the birth of Rock ‘N Rock listening to such great guitarists as Hank Garland, Les Paul, Scotty Moore and James Burton. In fact it was James Burton’s solo to “Hello Mary Lou” that lit my fuse! Moving on to the 60’s we were influenced by marvellous musicians like Hank Marvin, George Harrison, Keith Richards, Big Jim,  Sullivan, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Pete Townsend, Peter Green Mick Green, Tony Hicks – the list could go on & on! This was decade of change & revolution led by the guitar.

The marvellous thing I remember about the 60’s was that there was such a tolerance for different genres of music – it was fine to listen to folk (Bob Dylan & Paul Simon), Jazz (Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass), Rock (Cream, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix) and even Country (Johnny Cash).

In my teaching practise I am seeing a significant rise in Baby Boomers who return to playing guitar. They have perhaps finished with their primary career and now have more time to return to their long lost love – the guitar. I have a number of students ranging from 50+ up to their late 70’s.

There are many good reasons and befits why you should consider returning to playing guitar: it keeps the brain and fingers working, it helps you socialise by getting you out & about but also it “feeds your soul” by getting you to experience again all that great music that filled our youth.

So if you have the urge to pick up that old 1957 two tone sunburst Strat you have laying under the bed think about giving me a call on: 07762 941931 or email me at colin.berrido@btinternet.com  If not then I’ll give you a tenner for the old guitar! :-0)

Keep plucking and enjoy the music!

 

 

Practicing Versus Playing

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot, Surrey, England.

First of a Happy New Year to you all and I hope this will be a successful one for you.

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As a Teacher the primary issue to helping students improve  crops up on a regular basis – that is the need to practice. One question I often get regularly asked is what is the difference between practising versus playing as there is a lot of confusion between the two.

The way I lay this out to my students is by defining practice as the process of learning and improving your skill sets (such as learning chords, scales & arpeggios). Playing is the process were you apply these skills in a chosen piece of music – accompanying a song or perhaps applying the newly learned chords & scales in to a solo for example.

A key point for practicing is that you should always start with a given aim in mind such a learning the  2 octave A Pentatonic Scale. How long should you practice for? For beginners my advice is for a minimum of 20 minutes a day. For advancing students this of course needs to lengthen typically to one hour a day. Now for a lot students, who have other studies to cope with, this can be a challenge. One strategy I used to adopt was to start a particular homework topic and when I’d finished that I would take a 20 minute break by practicing a chosen topic. Then I’d go back to my other academic studies and later take another 20 minute practice break. This worked for me but may not work for everyone (“different stokes for different folks”).

For some students they prefer to make a dedicated single block of time for their practicing. If you opt for this approach there is a school of thought that you should break it into defined areas to focus on. A typical schedule might be – 20 minutes scales & arpeggios, 20 minutes chords and 20 minutes going over a study piece.  Another good tip I share with my folks is the “rule of 7” – which I got from a student who was a small arms instructor at Sandhurst Royal Military Academy. If you wish to develop muscle memory, simply repeat the process seven times. I was teaching a chap this morning who was having problems changing between a G chord and a D7 chord so I got him to play the change seven times with a single strum on each chords. Bingo! After the 7th run through there was a big improvement – not perfect but much better. My advice was that for the next couple of days to repeat this process daily as part of his practice routine.

One comment I often share is to warn students not to stay in the “world of practice” too long – this world can be a very negative place where we struggling to get our scale or practice piece right and often failing. The secret is to always start with something you can do well, move on to the “difficult” practice area and then finally finish on something you are good at. If you really find something difficult and frustrating take a break and return to it a little later – works for me! Never forget, no matter how experienced a player you are – we all have “bad” days and find some aspect of our practicing difficult at first. It’s normal.

Now the other question I get is: how long should I play for? My answer is simple – play for as long as you like! If practicing is a kin to cooking then playing is a kin to eating. In general it takes quite a time to cook a dinner, often hours, but only minutes to eat it. Likewise you will need to practice a piece many hours to be able to play a 3 or 4 minute performance. It all boils down to muscle memory and sadly there’s no fast way to short cut this process. I used to teach a student who went to school in South Africa and his Ruby Team Coach used to drill them over and over with set plays saying that “repetition was the mother of all skills”.

Keep in mind there are four things a musician needs to develop: Ears, Brain, Fingers and “Heart”. Now the first three are perfect candidates for a practice routine and learning to play from the “heart” only comes in your playing when you have developed these skills. I once saw a former All Ireland Junior Fiddle Champion play s slow air with such feeling that it brought tears into the eyes of many of the listeners – no words, just the power of beautiful soul felt music. A truly wonderful and amazing experience. How did he manage to do this? He started playing when he was around 3 years old and just kept practicing and practicing  until he didn’t have to look at or think about his hands and he was able to let his “heart” guide his playing. He was about 30 years old when I saw him play – he was a real inspiration to all who heard him.

So, set yourself a New Years Resolution to practice and play more this coming year but remember above all to enjoy your playing.

Buying an Acoustic Guitar – Ideas for Presents for the Holiday Season

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot, Surrey, England.

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The Christmas Holiday Season is fast approaching – some folks looking forward with anticipation, others with concern of “what to buy?”. A great present is an acoustic guitar – a very portable, very versatile , “go anywhere” instrument. Every guitarist should have one!

So what’s on offer? Acoustic guitars fall into three basic categories – the traditional Classical guitar with nylon strings, the flat top steel strung guitar and the electro acoustic guitar. What’s the difference between each type?

The Classical guitar – they tend be smaller in the body which makes them more comfortable for younger students. They have nylon “finger friendly” strings – again good for younger students. As a generalisation Classical guitars tend to have wider necks – typically 52 mm although some are narrower at around 48mm. The wider neck is easier for access for your fingers when playing chords but can feel too big for smaller hands (which is where the 48mm width is better) viagra naturel acheter. The “normal” way to play a Classical guitar is by using the fingers of your right hand and this is the approach required for playing formal Classical guitar. That said as a teacher I take the approach that if it helps get a student “up & running”  by using a plectrum on a nylon string guitar then use one – you can always loop back and learn finger picking once you have developed some muscle memory with the left hand.

The flat top steel strung guitar – this is the most popular and versatile of the acoustic guitars in my humble opinion. Good for playing chords to accompany singing,  good for playing lead lines or jigs & reels on. They come in various body sizes – The Martin Guitar Company’s grading system is helpful: their smallest guitars were given the number “0”, then “00” and then “000” being the biggest. They are commonly called “Folk” guitars (since they were used extensively by folk singers such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Paul Simon, Martin Carthy & Richard Thompson and, many others). Being smaller they are claimed by many to be more comfortable and manageable to play in addition to not being so loud making them easy to sing over. The largest in the Martin range is the Dreadnought. They are not only physically bigger but tend to give a bigger, louder sound: they were originally designed by Martin to be loud enough to be heard alongside a banjo in Bluegrass music. The Jumbo sized body is in between Folk size guitars and the Dreadnought size with the sound being somewhere in between as well – louder than Folk size instruments but not as big as the Dreadnought. The default neck width for a steel string acoustic is around 42mm – some find this width easier to play others feel it’s a bit cramped when finger picking chords. Slightly wider necks are around – 43 or 44mm – as always the best advice is to try them and see what’s best for you. The biggest issue with steel string acoustic guitars is that they make your left hand finger’s sore at first. It doesn’t take long to build up calluses but unfortunately all steel string players have to go through the “pain barrier” . Flat tops can be played with both a plectrum or finger picked.

Electro acoustic guitars – these can be either nylon or steel strung. The primary difference being that they have a built in pick up system so that they can be easily amplified. As mentioned above they can come in a variety of body sizes and neck widths and can be either played finger style or picked.

One point I would mention is that if the intended user is not planning to gig the guitar then the extra money for an electro acoustic guitar in my view is best put towards a slightly “better” non acoustic model (you can always post fit a sound hole pick up at a later date for a modest sum – under £50).

Now as per my previous article buying an electric guitar the things to look out for are:

– make sure the neck is straight (a properly adjusted neck should have a very slight under bow of around 0.010 to 0.015″).

– Check the frets feel smooth (including the fret ends – often an issue on budget guitars).

– Check the action (the height of the strings above the 12th fret) is not too high – as a guide, a good low action would be around 4/64″ on the treble side and around 6/64″ on the bass side.

– Check the machine heads work smoothly.

– Colour: a little more limited with acoustics versus electrics – the “traditional” colour schemes are for natural wood and sunburst but you can find black and some very bright colours if you look hard. I tend to like “plain & simple” with no “bling” but it is after all “different strokes for different folks”.

The other pieces of advice I’d share are:

– If possible buy from your local friendly Music Shop primarily on the basis that if it goes wrong or needs a “tweak” then it’s easy to get it fixed. Most shops will price match which narrows the gap between a local purchase versus internet shopping.

– Set a budget and try to stick to it. The quality of budget guitars these days is very good so there’s less of a risk of getting a really bad guitar (as was the case when I was starting out) but in general – a slightly higher budget (say around £120 – £150) will get a guitar that is just that little bit better in all departments (you get what you pay for). That said you can get a really good budget bargain – you just have to go a hunting.

– I always recommend (if possible) that the student plays their proposed instrument – they are often only small differences in feel and sound but they are important in the decision process.

– If the instrument is bought as a “surprise” then I’d suggest you keep the receipt and negotiate with the store if it would be possible to exchange it if the student finds it not quite right for them.

-Take someone who already plays (even your Music Teacher – could be the best one hour lesson fee you ever spent) along with you when you buy.

– Buy a pack of spare strings – Murphy’s Law says, for sure one will break on Christmas morning! Also, buy a dozen picks – they always end up down the back of the sofa.

Happy shopping and enjoy the festive season!

How to be a “Bad Student”

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot, Surrey, England.

I thought in this article I’d show you how to be a “Bad Student”.

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In a “former life” I was involved in a major reorganisation programme. There was a lot of resistance to change with accompanying negativity. The Manager charged with heading up the changes employed a very cleaver reverse psychology technique at the briefing meetings. Rather than telling the work force what was needed for a successful changeover he asked them to brainstorm how to “wreck” the project. The meetings were a great success, good natured (in fact very entertaining) and he got his message across in a non dictatorial manner. Brilliant!

So, how could you be a “Bad Student”? Here are a few ideas to start you off….

–          Don’t practice!

–          Can’t be bothered to tune your instrument (or buy an electronic tuner)

–          Don’t learn the basics – scales, chords and arpeggios

–          Forget your music or study book

–          Don’t learn the notes on the fingerboard

–          Can’t be bothered “to read the book” or “read the Music/Tab” –

           RTFB & RTFM (Read the Flaming’ Book and Read the Flaming’ Music)

–          Don’t think about what YOU want to study or get help with

–          Don’t think about what you would like to play BEFORE your lesson

–          Refuse to buy and use a Metronome

–          Don’t turn up for your agreed lesson

–         And what’s worse – don’t pay a cancellation fee

–          Regularly turn up late for lessons

–          Turn up for a lesson with a broken string (and have a spare one!)

–          Don’t maintain your instrument (so it doesn’t work)

–          Don’t bring a pick (if you use one)

–          Don’t bring a note pad or Tab/Music notation book and a pencil

–          “Noodle” or strum whilst your teacher is trying to explain something

–          If in a Group Ensemble Session:

  • Remember to distract and chat over your fellow students
  • Play a “wrong chord” and look scathingly at the person next to you!
  • Never learn the piece ahead of the session – “wing it”!

–          Don’t “engage” and take part in the lesson ( being grumpy also helps)

–          Don’t cut the finger nails on your left hand (so all chords sound “wooly”)

–          Can’t be bothered to learn some basic theory

–          Forget to pay for your lesson (always appreciated by your teacher)

Now I’m sure you get the idea and you don’t have to be a genius to work out what makes a Good Student.

So, keep practising and playing!

Enjoy!

An Alternative to Scales – Jigs & Reels

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot, Surrey, England.

As an alternative to using scales and arpeggios to build finger speed, strength and muscle memory I often teach jigs & reels and the like partly because I’m on a mini-mission to keep the old traditional tunes alive albeit in a modern format.  I’m always surprised at how many of my younger students take to them with a passion even though their core genre interest could be something radically different  – such as Heavy Rock or Metal. I’ve thought about why this is and whilst I don’t have definitive answer I think it’s because they have strong melody line coupled with a technical challenge to play them well – you have to work hard to get them right on guitar but when my students do I see a real sense of achievement on their faces.

The inspiration for me to start playing jigs & reels on guitar was the wonderfully innovative guitarist Richard Thompson. I can remember hearing him duet and duel with Dave Swarbrick on the 1969 Fairport Convention Album “Liege and Leif”. Now I’d heard a number guitarists play some traditional tunes on acoustic guitars, which was all well and good but Richard Thompson did it on a Fender Stratocaster. What a sound, what a tone! It simply inspired me to both learn to play the tunes (which is another long story!) and I had to have a Fender Strat! Which is still my go-to guitar of choice.

Returning to the comment regarding a strong melody line – I have pet theory that music that has a strong melody line tends to also have a long life and gets passed on to successive generations of musicians. An example being the music of Mozart – superb complex harmonies coupled to wonderful melodies that we can all hum or whistle. Alternatively Bartok wrote some very complex pieces but with much more emphasis on dissonant melody lines. Now it’s unfair to say one composer is “better” than another but if we use the yard stick of who gets played more regularly on “Classic FM” then Mozart is clearly requested more often by their target audience.

The fact that traditional music is in general very melodic in nature it would go some way to explaining why they have been passed down for hundreds of years – plus they were written to make you dance and feel happy.

Now I did have one student who just loved to play scales but after pointing out the he’d could do with “getting out” a bit more I tried him on some traditional jigs & reels and he loved ’em! He found them frustrating at first- getting the fingering right, getting the timing right, not to mention those dammed triplets but once he’s cracked a couple of them he was a “happy camper”. Job done – another convert and I hopefully saved his sanity as well.

So check out some traditional Irish, Scottish or English tunes and have a-go! ‘Till next time – keep enjoying your playing!

Ideas for Presents for the Holiday Season

Hello again from Colin Berrido, the independent music teacher based in Bagshot, Surrey, England.

The Christmas Holiday Season is fast approaching – some folks looking forward with anticipation, others with the concern of “what to buy?”.

If you have a musician in the family, particularly a guitarist, ukulele, mandolin or banjo player then I’d thought I’d help out with some suggestions of what to buy them.

So here we go:

  1. Buy them a New Instrument– this is a great idea but can be tricky from the stand point that I always recommend the player tries out the instrument first, as my previous articles mentioned – no two instrument feel or play quite the same. But, all is not lost – there are a couple of options:
    1. Buy the instrument from your “local friendly music shop” and ask if they would be prepared to swap out the instrument if it’s not quite right (remember to keep the receipt!).
    2. Buy a voucher from your music shop so that the gift recipient can go and select the instrument of their choice (plus they can top up the value with money of their own)
  2. Buy them A Different But Related Instrument – if they currently play the guitar but them a Ukulele (or a mandolin or banjo), as often said – variety is the spice of life!
  3. Buy them an Electronic Tuner – this is a great low cost “stocking filler” that will really improve a player’s sound.
  4. Buy them an Electronic Metronome – from my own teaching experiences keeping time does not come easy for some folks so playing along to a metronome can help out big time (once you get over that annoying “tick-tick-tick”!).
  5. If they play an electric instrument buy them a New Amplifier – this can also be a little tricky but if you apply the same two strategies as buying a New Instrument (that is buy a voucher or arrange a swap-back deal) that way I’m sure you’ll end up with a “happy camper”. I guess I need to put “buying a new amplifier” on my “to do list” for a future article viagra sur ordonnance.
  6. Buy them some Music Lessons with an experienced and Qualified Teacher. Even a few lessons can help sort out those bad habits and get you back on the straight and narrow. Book early and get the lessons arranged during those “in-between” days between Charismas and the New Year.
  7. Buy a Tin of Plectrums – they always get lost so you can never get enough of them.
  8. New Leads  – a good lead will significantly improve your sound so is a worthwhile gift. My advice is – don’t buy cheap ones (they can make you sound worse!). Think about buying some short high quality patch leads (for connecting effects pedals) – a lot of musicians buy expensive leads to connect their guitar but then degrade the signal with poor quality patch leads.
  9. Buy them a pack of New Strings – this could be from a single set to multi-set packs. Strings always wear out and need replacing so it’s a good idea to have some handy to switch in.
  10. A small Tool Kit is a great gift with say a string winder, string cutters and some polish. A bit of “TLC” on your guitar can give it a new lease of life.
  11. Ear Plugs are an often neglected item but are a real help towards the long term health of a players hearing – I find they make gigging much more enjoyable and you don’t drive home with muffled “woolly” hearing (not a good thing!).
  12. Buy them a Recorder – it’s a real benefit to personal development to be able to hear what you sound like. There are lots of good options out there ranging from hand help digital recorders, stand alone recorder/mixers, loop-stations and Apps for your Smart Phone or Tablet plus Recording Software Packages.
  13. There are number of good Music Writing Software programs out there and these are a great help to any musician in capturing their work and improving their skills.
  14. Purchase a good quality Music Stand – apart from being an essential piece of kit for any musician it helps with minimising repetitive strain injuries (RSI) by improving your posture whilst practising (now that’s got to be good and cheaper than a series of visits to a chiropractor).
  15. A good Music Book – either a Music/Tab book or a book on their favourite instrument can be a good read over the holidays.
  16. A couple of Blank Music Notation or Tab Books along  with some pencils (with erasers) make a good present.
  17. Think about buying them a sturdy Piano Or Guitar Tool for their practice room.
  18. Some Music Related Clothing – there are lots of tee-shirts, base ball caps and jacks out there that a fashionable and fun.
  19. Think out of the box! Make them a sound proofed rehearsal room. Maybe you can convert the garage, cellar or loft area. A mature student of mine has done just this so that he and his wife (who is a fine drummer) can rehearse together – no more having to load the car up with “tons” of kit and hiring a rehearsal room.
  20. Buy them some time at a Rehearsal Room or Recording Studio – it’s nice to be able to turn up and make your amp sing or have a keep-sake of your work

Well these were my first 20 thoughts but I’m sure you can come up with more ideas. Have fun hunting down great presents for the musician in your life.

 

 

Buying Your First Electric Guitar – What to Check Out in a Strat Style Guitar

So, you and a buddy who can play (or your Guitar Teacher) are standing in your local Music Shop.  You have come to take a look at a Strat style guitar – choices, choices, choices! Before you came to the shop you will have done some research to home-in on some makes in your price range. In general the quality of budget guitars is very good today thanks to modern computer based manufacturing however there are still a few points you need to look for.

So which one do I check out first. Well the first thing that will probably catch your eye is the colour. Is the colour important? Well it is to you but it will not make the guitar sound any better (but some say red guitars sound the best!). Colour choice is a personal thing – you may like a sunburst  one because your favourite guitar player has one or it’s the colours of the team you support. As just mentioned colour does not affect the sound but it can affect the re-sale value of the guitar – most budget guitars will be a stepping stone to a higher priced model and often you will need to sell your first guitar to be able to afford the new one. “Safe” colours that generally sell well are black or white. Sunburst or red ones (or other “bright” colours) tend to be polarising – that is, you will either love or hate them. All that said, if it don’t like the colour don’t buy it!

Now the first thing you will notice when you pick up the guitar of your choice is its weight. A typical weight will be around 8 pounds (3.5kg) plus or minus a little. There has been a lot of discussion about whether light or heavy guitars sound the best but I won’t get into that other than saying what matters is how the guitar sounds to you.  What is important however is how comfortable is it to play. My personal preference is for lighter guitars as I find them more comfortable to play both sitting down and standing.

The next thing to look out for is how the neck feels in your hand. Necks can come in all shapes and sizes (as do hands!) – they can be “C” shaped, “V” shaped or “U” shaped, wide or narrow, fat or thin. In the budget category manufacturers do a lot of market research to offer you a neck that, to most people, will feel good – not too wide (a typical width at the nut is around 42mm) and not to big in the hand (the “C” shape is a good compromise).  A good tip is to try a few different necks and compare how they feel. Always buys a guitar with a neck that feels right for you.

Starting at the “pointed end” – called the headstock, point the guitar away from you and look down the neck. What you should see is essentially a straight neck with a very slight under curve (called the neck relief – which if measured should be around 0.010″ at the 8th fret but that’s getting a bit technical!). Also the frets should look even – with no high ones. To an inexperienced eye “sighting” a neck can be difficult so again ask a friend who knows what to look for to check it out for you. As you have gone to you local Music Store, they will have checked all the guitars they stock so it’s unlikely you will get a major problem with a new guitar (buying a used guitar can be a different matter though!).

On the headstock there will be six machine (tuning)heads – check that these turn smoothly and easily. Defective machine heads can be a major source of tuning instability. I am continually surprised that the quality of the machine heads on budget guitars is really very good these days but you can get exceptions so check them out.

Moving down the neck we find the “nut” – usually made of hard plastic (but can be bone or metal) with six slots cut in to it to act a as string guide. A badly cut nut can be a major contributor to poor playability and tuning instability since the strings don’t move smoothly and freely through the grooves (they get “pinched” and can stick). A quick and easy check is to gently lift the string out of its slot – it should lift out without catching or sticking.  As an additional check, play each string open (not fretted) and listen for any “rattles” or “buzzing”  – this can be caused by the nut slots being cut too deep and the string is fretting out on the first fret. Again the Music Store should have checked that all is OK but it does no harm to double check.

In the next instalment I will share tips on what to look out for with the fingerboard & frets, electrics and the Tremolo.

Exam Tips – After the Exam

Well the Exam is over – and you’re still alive!

So what’s next? Well go and relax – have a party, go for run, have a jam session with your buddies. Go and enjoy yourself! After all the hard work you put in it’s important you reward yourself.

Now the first point – stop worrying about the result! It is only human nature to think we did badly – probably a defense mechanism to help soften the blow of failure. But, most likely you haven’t failed. Also, don’t worry about what the grade. Remember, the basic aim of sitting the Exam was to Pass – a Merit or Distinction Grade is just a bonnus.

It’s good to take a break from study but don’t make it too long or you can get “rusty”. I once taught a Sports Physiotherapist who said that we start to lose our finley honed muscle memory skills in as short a time as 8 days! Nicolo Paganinni, the great virtuoso violinist once said, “If I don’t practice for a day, I notice. If I don’t practice for two days, the orchestra notices. If I don’t practice for three days, the audience notices!”

So take say a week off from study and play – “noodle” around, relax and enjoy playing your favourite pieces. During your week off order your next set of Grade books (stop worrying, most likley you will have passed). When they arrive take a causual look at the new syllabus – surprise, surprise it all looks very familiar. The scales and chords will be often based on, or extensions of, what you learned in previous Grades, that is there will be interconnects to prior learning so the new syllabus shouldn’t look too daunting or difficult. Just take gentle “walk” into the new material – no pressure!

The Exam Result – either you will hear via the Post or from your RGT Teacher. It’s one of the great pleasures a Teacher can have sharing the good news that a student has passed – it’s possibly our greatest reward. It’s even more satisfying is to see their faces when when they receive a Merit or a Distinction. This is the best example a candidate can experience of an Intrinsic Reward – that is the feeling of personal satisfaction that comes from within knowing that you worked hard and achieved success. A great “life lesson”.

Now, horror of horrors – you didn’t make it! Don’t despair sometimes we all experience failure – it’s all part of learning and life. Sit down with your Teacher and review the Exam Feedback Sheet (a very useful map of your strengths and weaknesses). It will not be all gloomy – look for the sections you did well in and then look at the areas that let you down. These are the ones you should focus on for the re-sit. To that end the best postive strategy is to get your re-sit Exam booked for the next available date – don’t focus on the past, look forward to the future!

So, keep moving ahead with your studies and learning and, be successful!