Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Overcoming adversity

We all have challenges to overcome in life. Sadly, it's just part of being a human. With guitar, there seems to be so many hurdles due to the physical nature of the instrument. 'Was I born with the dexterity? - It seems so easy for him?  - I can never play like that' ... Sound familiar?

No matter how hard I try to feel sorry for my short-comings, I am hit in the face by a guy like this. Can you imagine the dedication and passion one would need to summon, to learn to play without arms? But yet there he is, a constant reminder of what humans are capable of. My hat is off to him and others like him, whoever and wherever you are. For climbing Mount Everest without legs. For running across a country, with cancer, on a prosthetic limb - Thank you.

So for all of you, who feel like your fingers are too short, or stumpy; throw that guitar down on the floor. Stick that pick between your toes; and find out what it would mean to have a real, tangible physical disadvantage.

Residing at the core of learning any instrument is one basic premise - music! We play so that we can be a part of it, and its wonderful community. With all the love and joy that comes with being given the ability to play. I bet when you first dreamed of playing, your goal wasn't to be able to wiggle your fingers faster than anybody? So how did we get so off-track to become almost singularly focused on technique? It's not now - nor has ever been, about that.

The next time you feel like this, grab your guitar and play a song that you love. One that moves you. Listen to it, I mean REALLY LISTEN as you play. Think about how good it feels and how far you have come. You are one of the few, able to make a sound like that. A sound that can move another human being at their core. Now THAT is cool.

You are already incredibly blessed, this is something you - we - may have temporarily forgotten. So let's remember ... and THEN, get back to work!

: )

Friday, November 26, 2010

Build your own box patterns

I quite regularly see forum posts from players looking for a resource for "box patterns" of the major scale. In the spirit of the old saying: "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime" here is a method for the 'do-it-yourself-er' inside you. The process of writing this out, can help you see the fretboard in a new light. So grab some neck paper and lets get started.

It is easy to do, you just need some very basic theory to do it.

  • All notes have 2 frets (whole-step) between them EXCEPT:
    E to F and B to C - they only have one fret between them (half-step)
  • So if you start on the note C and end with the note C you get the major scale formula:


    (W= whole-step, H = half-step)
 The cool part: Armed with this pattern memorized, you can build ANY major scale on the guitar. Start from any note on the neck, and move up in this pattern and voila! Major scale of note started on.

That's fine that there are those two fret distances.. but what is in between?
In between those is where the sharp or flat note resides. The note F#, for example, is located between the notes F & G. To make a note sharp you raise it by one fret. This same identical note is also referred to as Gb. To make a note flat you lower it by one fret. Let me reiterate: these 2 notes are exactly the same in pitch and location. They are named differently because they are needed to build all the major keys. It would get too confusing if the system wasn't so. To have all the possible variations you need both sharp and flat keys. This is a topic for another day so lets leave it at that for now.

Let's build some patterns

  • Put circles on the notes, as you find them, So if you started on the C note (8th fret) E string and draw out the neck on a piece of paper here is how you would work it out:

    C to D (two frets between) = W (whole step)
    D to E (two frets between) = W
    E to F (one fret between) = H (half step)
    F to G (two frets between) = W
    G to A (two frets between) =W
    A to B (two frets between) = W
    B to C (one fret between) = H

    Remember the distance between the notes themselves is fixed - it never changes. There is ALWAYS only one fret between E to F and B to C.

    So if you start on the Low E string it will looks like this:
    E|F| |G| |A| |B|C| |D| |E|F| |G etc
  • Then do the A string:
    A| |B|C| |D| |E|F| |G| |A|
  •  Keep going and do all the strings. If you do this, over the whole neck to ALL strings you will have just mapped out the entire neck for CMaj (Which is also the same notes as A natural min or Aeolian for you mode fans)
  • Next step, subdivide those patterns into 3 notes-per-string blocks and WHAM! - your box patterns. The C pattern will look like this using 3 notes per string

    You can finger these any way you like so I find it is better to work out your own. Then you can customize the blocks to suit your comfort. 

With all this, I will add that you need to be aware of where all the root C notes are. Also the note A. It is prudent to always practice these forms, coming off of those primary notes, to make them applicable. Many players, focus on the lowest note on the E string (barre chord-style thinking) and always start the pattern from the index finger - which can lead to real clashing when you start trying to use them.

OK, OK, for those of you who just have to have it now (you guys are probably already searching the house for your Christmas presents aren't you)! I have created a full neck matrix here (click to download the pdf). Maybe this is old hat to you, and you just want a clean copy. Whatever the reason use and enjoy. I will stress, for your own good, you should use this file to check or formalize your work. Go through the process of writing this out for yourself a couple of times first. FYI - I have labeled the modal shapes and also colour coded which form has a major or minor feel. It is a good bird's eye view of the entire form.

Remember these are C SCALES - the note and chord C is very important to these boxes (A minor too). Internalize these patterns, being very cognizant of the location of those 2 notes and their associated chord shapes that lie within the forms. Then do up some other keys with a different starting note. You will begin to see this, as a large sliding form, that simply moves the same way a barre chord does. Very powerful stuff!

Remember, patterns are great, but to really understand the neck, you need to begin to think notes and their relationships. Patterns, over time, can become a serious crutch ... take a look at how many "I cant break out of the box" threads there are internet wide. The guitar is a very visual instrument - that is one of it's strengths. But that same strength can end up working against you. Ultimately you must let your ears, and the music, NOT YOUR EYES be your guide.

Good luck!!

P.S. I just published a follow up to this post on figuring out the order of chords within these scales. Check it out click here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Book review - The Jazz Theory Book

Well I do believe it is about time for another book review. I can't think of a better follow up than a wonderful, detailed book by Mark Levine called 'the Jazz Theory Book'. Mark Levine, is a jazz pianist of some acclaim, he does know of which he speaks. For a full biography on Mark click here.

Of all the theory books in my collection, I would recommend this one first, to anyone interested in understanding some of the common theoretical concepts used in music. Most specifically Jazz - hence the title! Does this mean only a Jazz player will get something from this? Absolutely not. All the concepts covered are devices used in all genres of Western music.

Of course the theory discussions within are great, but the one thing about this book that sets it apart, is the amount of research that went into it. Mark did a wonderful job, backing up each concept introduced with real-world examples of the concept in action. The sheer volume of research and information - including one of the deepest 'Recommended Listening' sections I have seen - makes this book a 'must-have' for any musician's library.

If you have an interest in learning the theory behind the music, put this book on your Christmas list for sure. You won't be disappointed. From chord/scale relationships, to re-harmonization s, to the inside scoop on 'Coltrane changes', plus lots more - this book covers it.

Is it the 'be-all-and-end-all' of theory publications? Likely not, but there is certainly something in it to benefit any level of player. It's clear, concise, well-presented and researched. It certainly made me a fan.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The art of Shred - the lighter side

Sometimes things are just too funny for words - this is one of them. I happened across this site a year or so ago and it made me laugh. It is a funny, interactive spoof, on one of the more popular forms of guitar that has come to be known as "Shred". Click here to check it out... you will be glad you did.

What is Shredding?
Honestly, I have never been sure? Sometimes people use it as an insult: "Buddy is just some shredder". Translation: He just plays fast with no feel. I have also heard it used as a compliment: "That was wicked - dude, you shred!" (no translation necessary). The only thing I am absolutely certain of, is it means to play FAST! When I hear the term, instantly Steve Vai and Joe Satriani come to mind.

Whatever 'Shred' is it has created some very funny spoofs.
There is a whole other series of spoofs called "(insert player name) shreds". If you go to YouTube, and search the word "Shreds" you will get a whole list of famous video performances, by some of the biggest names in guitar. These were made by funny man Santeri Ojala. He very cleverly, removed the original audio track from the performance, replacing it with hilarious 'beginner-type' playing and crowd noises. Man these are funny! (Particular hats off to the Paco DeLucia one!!).

Here is his take on Eddie Van Halen.

Ojala actually got banned from YouTube, for what somebody deemed "copyright infringement". (I wonder which cry-baby legend filed that claim!). Here is the story.

No disrespect intended to the fine art that is shred guitar with this post. It has inspired some of the most technically advanced players and performances on the planet. Players like: Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, Guthrie Govan, John Pattrucci and many others. Shred is here to stay... and I am glad, because i am a fan of both the style and the light-hearted stuff that comes with it.

If it's here to stay I guess I better figure out what the name means!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Getting 'it' back - after a long break

Walking away from a career in music was one of the hardest decisions in my life.

Some personal background: As a young man just finishing High School, I began a career in music. During that period of several years, I worked in almost every possible musical situation. I worked and recorded with many talented and wonderful people. Taught as many as 75 students a week at my peak. Generally lived a wonderful blessed lifestyle, filled with daily workouts, followed by regular weekly late-night city performances and small town shows across southern Ontario, Canada.

I never really thought of the strain this could put on my playing. Sure my chops improved immensely, but what began to erode was some of the love. Turning the thing I love into a business, had an odd and deep-reaching effect. Instead of enjoying the freedoms and experiences that came with the life of a professional musician. I slowly grew more and more tired of its gypsy lifestyle. The desire to have a family and a home of my own lead to three dreaded words: Back to school.

So began the ever-popular career to "fall back on". During my time in college I played little, due to the workload. In third year, I went on to meet the most beautiful creature I had ever seen - then married her -  played less. Upon graduation, a college placement / turned job at a busy downtown studio ate up large portions of my available time. Then the mother of all time consumers happened - a baby! Boom, boom - two more! In rapid 18 month intervals! For the first time since the early years of my personal history, I was no longer technically a musician.

Life -10
Guitar - 0

Ouch! Hurts even typing it.

Without boring you with too many details, let me just say that as the children aged, and the new career settled in, eventually the desire to play returned. Which brings me to the reason for this post: How do you return to a life in music while balancing your responsibilities? It may seem impossible but it is not, here was what I did.

First things first
Talk to your mate. This is critical! I explained how much my playing meant to me, and that if I don't get it back, in some sense, I will be a less-happy person. Music was a huge part of my life - it is part of what made me the person she fell in love with. This meant that I would need to practice every night; so could no longer hang out with her once the kids were in bed. It was important she knew this was nothing personal. Also, that I would need to dedicate a room in the house for my practice studio.

Turn off the TV or video games
This needs little elaboration. There is completely ZERO reward for time spent watching television or playing games. Only days rolling by on the calendar. If you want to waste your precious time here these are great ways to do it. I enjoy both but they HAD TO GO. Non-negotiable. During the week, it's a no-fly zone.

Remember the love
With the wife on-board, studio set-up and television off, the first thing I did was get back to what it was that made me play in the first place. I went through old magazines and plastered the walls with pictures of my favourite guitar hero's from long past. It felt a rather teenage thing to do... but somehow, it just felt right to do it.

Then, I bought some guitar hangers and rather than have them in their cases I hung my old soldiers out to enjoy. It is amazing, the raw beauty of an instrument, and its ability to inspire at a glance. This was a great motivator in retrospect.

Once the 'cave' was assembled, I pulled out all the old albums that I used to lift songs from in my earliest days. I decided to re-learn all of these songs, only this time I would play them properly, note-for-note. So I did, one by one. Once I had my legs under me again, slowly the posters and pictures came down. Soon the song lifting spread out to new, uncharted (literally) pieces. I must say a word of gratitude to Mr Randy Rhoads though!

Get your A$$ downstairs!
There is nothing like a long day, to drain the desire to do anything. Set a practice time and DO IT. No excuses! Go down there and practice. You will be glad you did. This feeling fades after 10 minutes of playing. At first you will have to force yourself. Before long you will be dying to get down there.

Call the boys
Once I felt some of the chops coming back, I picked up the phone and called some of the old jam buddies. Spending time with other musicians is a HUGE way to grab some mojo back. Piece by piece, I assembled a weekly basement jam band. Having a set-list of songs to learn with people counting on you is a great way to work out the kinks. I cannot understate the importance of playing with others - DO THIS.

Be protective
Once I started playing again, the "make money" gene started to reactivate itself. Friends with children in need of lessons, gigs playing music you aren't into and many other distractions can arise if you aren't very protective. Learn to protect your time playing, and cherry pick only musical situations that excite you.

Go see live music
Kind of goes without saying, but nothing can fast forward you like some good old-fashioned inspiration. Seeing a great performance always leaves me reaching for the guitar.

Start a music program
These days, with the many online resources we are truly blessed with convenience. There is nothing like a live teacher still, but in lieu of that, some of the online institutions are excellent. There are also DVD guitar courses and sites available, so do your homework and begin some sort of program.

Learn a new style of music. Force yourself out of your comfort zone and watch your wings spread. New chords, new feels, new music to explore. The world is full of some truly great music, and most of us only ever hear a small sampling. You got the net! Seek it out.

Get a subscription
One of the biggest sources of inspiration to me during these years was guitar publications like Guitar Player Magazine. Wherever you live, find a magazine and get on their subscription list. Then, most important read them cover to cover.

The trick to all of this is immersion. Immerse yourself in as much guitar and guitar culture as you can. The difference between a pro and an amateur has a lot to do with simply the company they keep. The more musicians you have in your circle of life, the more sources for inspiration you have access to. Re-connect with old players, hit jam nights and meet new ones, answer ads for players, join online forums - just get back out there.

After all this, you will be happy to know I currently enjoy an active life of playing again. I am back involved in several group, gigging and recording projects as well as teaching. The best part - I have made more personal gains in the last many years, than in all my time as a pro. How can this be? One main difference: passion. This time I am doing it for me. You can get back to where you used to be - and even beyond. All it takes is dedication, organization and a desire to return to the simple joy of playing.

Life: 5
Guitar: 5

That was one hell of a come-back! Now if only the Leafs could figure out how to do that!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Make your own picks?

This is just too funny not to share.

Imagine being able to punch a pick out of any plastic-based material you can get your hands on? Custom colours, finishes, no more spending money on picks. Apparently, now it is all possible; from the fine folks at PickPunch

Does this work?
I have absolutely no idea! It seems like a cool idea so that is why I am sharing it with you. It made me laugh with its ingenuity so who am I to keep that happiness to myself!

If anyone has any experience with this product, please add a comment here. I would love to hear if this thing really works well.

Friday fun - guys who make me want to play - Eric Johnson

I thought, being a Friday, I would end the week by posting some inspirational material for you all. Eric Johnson was one of my earliest influences, a guy who just makes playing looks so damn fun! His tone is always off-the-hook cool! His control of the instrument: nothing short of incredible.

As added inspiration to you all, MOST of Eric's insane shredding lines: are almost entirely pentatonic scales. To those of you who are "bored" with them - look what can be done, in the hands of a person not willing to use them just like everybody else. There is much music, that lies buried, in the smallest spaces in music - so dig deep.

FYI - to those not familiar: At the beginning of this clip, he sets up a nice little loop using a footpedal. I did a post about these great devices - click here to read.

Hope you enjoy. A-happy Friday to you all!


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Chord tone soloing - I wish someone gave me this lesson!

On the journey that is guitar, there are certain observations you make over time.  Over these many years, and after learning how to play countless guitar solos, one thing above all else has become abundantly clear. Most soloists use chord tones during their solo.

What is chord tone soloing?
Well, it is exactly what it sounds like. It is using predominately the notes, that make up the chord you are playing over, in your solo to make melodies. So, if you are playing over a C Major chord: The notes in C Major are - C, E, G. Therefore, if you are soloing, what 3 notes on the neck do you think will likely always sound good?

You got it! C, E, & G!

For you advanced people you would probably say "Well that is just an arpeggio*?" To which I would respond "Yes it is!". I have always maintained, that for actual application, arpeggios are actually far more usable than scale forms to the beginning soloist. But that discussion is for another day!

So how do I use this?
OK, down to the nitty-gritty! Let's say you have the following chord progression:

|  C / / /  |  G / / /  |  Dmin / / /  |  C / / /  |

This progression is in the key of C, so theoretically any note of the C Major scale will work over this.

Here is the scale form for C Major. The darker circles form the scale pattern.

However, for this chord-tone approach; over the chord C you would want to stress the notes - C. E. G. For the chord G you may want to stress the notes - G, B, D. For the Dmin chord you would want to stress the notes - D, F, A. All these notes reside inside the C major scale. 

As the progression passes these notes of the scale should "light up" in your mind. These notes represent home-base for each chord if you will. They will always sound good for the beginning, or more importantly, the ending of your phrases. 

Here are the 3 chords in their "lit up" state. The coloured notes are your chord tones for each corresponding chord.

So why wouldn't I just save time and use the C Major scale for all 3?
Sure you can, that is one approach and it is MUCH easier. But herein lies the crux of why most  players don't learn this. It takes work to not only learn the scale form; but then learn how each chord within breaks out of the form. It is this "work" that is the gate between many, and the promised land of melody we all seek. If you can do yourself one favour, do this: stop looking for shortcuts! Face the work head-on and you will get there quicker. Take it from the KING of all shortcut lookers. Let me help save you the wasted time. Rant over : )

Consciously changing your notes, with the chords going by underneath, takes a lot of practice to get smooth at. But trust me, you will get better at it, once you begin approaching it this way. The first time you try, you will think "this is WAY too hard" and many will give up. But I urge you, for the good of your playing and for all those that will listen to you, forge onward. It WILL get easier with each passing session.

OK buddy, you got my interested ... now inspire me.
Honestly I could post many examples of famous players doing this for your listening pleasure... but I won't. I will do one better! One of my favourite all-time guitarists, is the masterful David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Known for his melodic singing-style solos.  Over the years, I have had many students eager to learn how to play the way he does. There is one element to David Gilmour's playing that many fail to recognize - he uses chord tones constantly. He is ALWAYS addressing the chords.

The following is an analysis of the first solo in Pink Floyd's classic song 'comfortably numb'. Take a look at how often David hits chord tones in this very cool solo. I have coded the chord tones in colour, with their corresponding chord above. I believe, he views each chord change as almost a key change... with minor pentatonic lines mixed in.


As you can see at a quick glance, there are more coloured notes than non-coloured. This demonstrates the power and melody that chord tones can bring your solos. Actually some of the non coloured notes are the 7th's! So if we extended out the chords by one more note almost all of them would be labeled. (Remember as you look at this, when you bend a note, it is now a new note regardless of the fret number - a full bend is the note 2 frets higher and a half bend in the note one fret higher. )

For an up close video of the both solos in the song, click here to see this post

Is it the only way to solo? Of course not. But it is certainly a skill all advanced guitarists have. As I said in my rant, there truly is no one-size-fits-all solution where music is concerned. Some players do all of this by ear. Many dont realize they are doing it... they just think that note sounds "cool" over that chord. OF COURSE IT DOES YOU FOOL! It is most likely part of that chord.

This approach is not genre specific. Rock, Jazz, Country, you name it. The chord types change but the principle of the approach remains the same. Do yourself a favour and get this skill in your pocket. You will be glad you did.

Then send me a cheque : )

* from wikipedia: In music, an arpeggio (plural arpeggi or arpeggios, or known as a broken chord) is Italian for broken chord where the notes are played or sung in sequence, one after the other, rather than ringing out simultaneously.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How to learn to play by ear - The Great Secret revealed!

Over the years, I have heard many, many excuses as to why people "can't figure songs out by ear". To be more accurate, I should say: excuses as to why people "WON'T figure songs out by ear".

The most common by a mile, is the ever-popular: "I just wasn't born with it I guess". Or the sublime: "I tried and just can't do it.". Then there is my personal favourite: "I dont want to learn something wrong - accuracy is important to me.". I am sure many of these well meaning guitarists actually believe what they say. I mean, ... they must... They deliver the lines with such sincerity and gusto.

All kidding aside, learning to figure out songs using only your ear, or "lifting" is I'd say the single best skill any guitarist can have. If you devote yourself to learning how to do this, I promise you, the rewards for the time spent, will appear in your playing for years to come. Not only are you learning great licks and ideas, but you are also developing the single biggest asset you as a musician has - your ears.

These days, with the ease and availability of internet-based video lesson and tab resources; it makes it THAT much harder to force yourself to do the work. Don't fall into the trap of internet reliance that many young players fall into today. The 'net is a wonderful resource, but should be used to supplement your current learning - NOT direct it. There is a growing number of tin-eared, yet highly advanced technical players coming up. Don't let this be you.

The key to lifting success in the earliest stages definitely lies in one decision: song choice. Trying a song that is above your level is usually the catalyst for creating the negative "I can't do it" thoughts.

The first thing you need, is a song that has a VERY strong and obvious riff. Deep Purple's classic 'Smoke on the Water' is the poster-child for what you are looking for: a riff that is clear, repeats and is memorable.

The second thing you need is PATIENCE! (and a tuner helps! Be in tune). Listen to the riff several times first before you even pick up the guitar. Sing along with it and get the pitches in your head. Then, try to find the first note. All following pitches are relative to this so find the starting point, then stop the music and find the notes as best you can. Start the music and play along listening for notes that sound a little off. Keep at it, be patient, until you have it down.

The third thing that is an immense help is one of the software packages that will assist you in the process. Lucky you! I just did a post about my personal favourite (Transcribe!) - click here to see that post. There are other products on the market but these will help you. I WISH they had these when I was learning! I ruined more than a fair share of records, slowing them down with my finger, or moving the needle in fractions of an inch endlessly (yes i am that old!)

So here comes your homework! I have assembled a list of songs that I feel are excellent gateways into the world of non-tab-reliance. I want you to figure out as many parts of as many of these as you can. Don't get frustrated! If you can't get a part, simply move on. The more you do it, the faster you will get.

These songs all reside in the rock genre. So if this isn't your taste - too bad! : ) Treat it as a truly academic exercise. Once you have the basic principles down, you can venture off into whatever style you choose.

What we are looking for here is the riffs. The chords and solo sections will come later. Start slow and get the feel for how this process works. Before long you will be wondering why you avoided doing it.

Here are the songs:
  • Smoke on the Water – Deep Purple
  • Iron Man – Black Sabbath 
  • Aqualung – Jethro Tull
  • Heartbreaker – Led Zeppelin
  • Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
  • Paranoid – Black Sabbath 
  • Breaking the law –Judas Priest
  • All Right Now – Free
  • Wipeout - The Surfaris
  • Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix 
  • Highway to Hell - AC/DC
  • Lets get it up - AC/DC (I could list almost all of AC/DC's catalogue on this list)
  • Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana) (Same comment as AC/DC)
  • Crazy Train (main riff) - Ozzy
  • When I come around (Green Day) (Same comment as AC/DC)

Please feel free to add comments to this post with any questions as you go through the process. Or song suggestions for the list. If you are truly serious about learning to play the guitar, you owe it to yourself to learn this skill. Trust me, once you get good at it it gets FUN!! With this skill you have access to the whole world of music. No more searching for tab books or sites.

Just grab your guitar, hit the 'play' button, throw on your spandex* and rock out!

Good luck!!
* spandex optional

Monday, November 8, 2010

Can a pedal actually improve your playing?

YES! Believe it or not, it CAN.
For those of you who haven't been formally introduced, this little parcel of unbridled sonic joy is the Boss LoopStation.

What does this strange sounding thing do? 
Well, it is quite simple; insert this little sucker at the end of your effects chain between your guitar and your amp. To engage it, hit the left foot-switch as you play a riff (in time). When you are finished your riff hit the same foot-switch (again in time) and, just as simple as that, the riff you just played will begin looping over and over. Hit the left foot-switch again and you are now into "overdub" mode. This mode allows you to add more layers to the current loop: Chords, bass line, percussion - wherever your imagination takes you! The right-side foot-switch acts as a stop function, or hold it down for 1-2 seconds to erase the created loop.

If you want to keep your creation, you can easily save it in one of 11 "Phrase Select" locations in the on-board memory for later recall. The 'Loop Station' also comes with on-board, pre-recorded backing tracks. These can be used to practice endless hours of soloing. Or, free up space by simply erasing them.

Can it be used in performance?
You bet! Artists such as Bill Frisell (check this clip - the green box on the floor is his looper. It is made by Line6), Oz Noy (same, Line6 green box) and many others (look how much fun this dude is having!) have used this wonderful device to create new sounds and textures. These things are so cool there are even "looping competitions" where guitarists DJ style create spontaneous music on the fly in the hopes of taking home prizes top spot. Actually not many shows go by these days that I don't hear one of these suckers being used. The best part: the audience is ALWAYS blown away by it. Even if you know how it is done, it still IS very cool.

There are many different manufacturers and different makes and models featuring varying levels of complexity. Pick your favourite; in essence they all do the same task: record a part you play in on the fly, and create an instant seamless loop.

Sounds great... but how can it improve my playing?
Since I purchased this little beauty, very rarely does a practice session go by where I don't use it. You want to find out how an Amin7 arpeggio sounds over a C chord? No problem, hit the left pedal, record a C chord vamp, and arp to your arp's content. Need to work on your rhythm? No problem, hit it and slap and pop the strings making pant-splitting rhythmic loops. Then solo over them! You are a jazz guy? Grab a 'RealBook', lay in the chords, then sight-read the melody or improv on a standard. Why not record the melody, loop it, and practice comping. The sheer speed with which you can record and get to playing, is the real strength of these things.

Any learning player really should have a device like this in their arsenal. I list it right there alongside the great books and lesson DVD's in my collection. To this old-school guy, rarely does a foot-pedal earn the right to be listed alongside these types of learning resources. But in my practice room, these days - this one has!

The best part: it is SUPER fun to to boot. So I guess it's goodbye Clark Kent! Hello .... Looperman? ("enjoy your dinners folks - I'll be here all week!" : )

For more information or to purchase here is a link.
Here is a shootout article in Guitar Player Magazine.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book review - The Music Lesson

There are some really great books out there, by many wonderful and gifted musicians. From time to time I will present the ones that had a meaningful impact on my playing. First up is a gem authored by bass player extraordinaire Victor Wooten called 'The Music Lesson".

This is a book that goes beyond notes and scales, dealing directly with the head-space and mental aspects involved in playing well. Victor delivers this message through a fun-to-read story of a somewhat mystical and very unorthodox teacher named Michael. This character one day just shows up, as if summoned, and takes Victor on a strange adventure - that is both enjoyable and filled with very usable tools for any musician.

The older I get and the more advanced I become as a player; the more I realize that the mental aspects of playing, is another aspect that separates good players from great ones. Many times we get so caught up in technical aspects of learning, that we can forget the most important mental elements required.

This book helped me get back in touch with that which is most important - making the emotional connection between you, the music, and its listeners. Highly, highly recommended.

Here is the link for info and purchase if you are interested

Friday, November 5, 2010

Artist Profile - Scott Henderson


Inspiration is a huge part of the process when learning to play at a higher level. Many players out there have given me the fuel to carry on by demonstrating what is possible with passion, dedication and determination. One of the mainstays on my journey has been Scott Henderson.

Henderson first came into my world as the founding member of the fusion* group 'Tribal Tech'.

From Wikipedia:

"Henderson formed Tribal Tech with bass player Gary Willis in 1984. Under the direction of Henderson and Willis, Tribal Tech became one of the most highly-regarded fusion bands of the 1990s. He toured and recorded with the band up until their dissolution following the 2000 album Rocket Science, and during that time brought himself to the forefront of modern jazz/fusion guitar playing. In 1991 he was named '#1 Jazz Guitarist' by Guitar World magazine, and in January 1992 he was voted best jazz guitarist in Guitar Player magazine's Annual Reader's Poll."

- For a full bio click here

After Tribal Tech, among many other projects, Scott went on to record three of the most listened-to albums in my collection: Dog Party (1994), Tore Down House (1997) and Well To The Bone (2003). I almost consider these as tools, or lessons in and of themselves. These vastly underrated, lesser known recordings, house samples of some of the finest blues guitar playing these ears have heard.

Granted, it is difficult to classify these albums as traditional blues per se ... or Mr. Henderson as a "blues" player (more like a blues player on steroids!). This classification confusion has been. I think, one of the difficulties for Scott to overcome in his career. Also likely why, despite his incredible talent, he remains lesser known to the general public at large. Similar to Alan Holdsworth, Scott Henderson has always been seemingly too unique to categorize.

I can categorize him: AWESOME!

What grabbed me about Scott's playing instantly, was his adventurous spirit and AMAZING phrasing**. He seemed to have the ability to freely flow, with a series of ideas that could go on forever. I had then, and still have today, the feeling this guy could solo on the same chords for hours, yet continue to be entertaining. Listen to the above clip; specifically the way he takes us on a sonic journey, with sounds and spaces that go beyond the notes. His vision helps disguise the fact that he is playing for long stretches over what could be deemed a monotonous one chord vamp.

For those of you who feel "Stuck in the pentatonic box" during your solos, I urge you to get your hands on one of Scott's albums and begin lifting lines out of the songs within. His blues albums are a great place to start because much of the chord structure is based around the ever popular I, IV, V progression***. This stuff is instantly applicable in most blues based rock situations.

Even more exciting, many of the phrase's notes can be found in the pentatonic minor scale. The way he musically places the notes makes them sound fresh and new - a lesson of its own. Often times when I feel creatively dry, I pull out one of Scott's songs (and my handy copy of Transcribe!) and by the end of the process, I always have some new tricks to work with.

So do your playing and your ears a favour: spend some time looking into Scott Henderson's catalogue. (Also, check out his website).

BTW - Scott also released 2 of the more impactful and informative DVD's in my travels ("Jazz Fusion Improvisation" and "Melodic Phrasing"). This guy is that rare combination of sublime talent while remaining a great teacher. Likely why he has been employed for well over a decade by one of the top music schools in the world - G.I.T. in Hollywood, California. I highly recommend both his videos.

(Cool News: Alfred Publishing has released Henderson's instructional DVD entitled "Scott Henderson - Jazz Rock Mastery", which is a compilation of his two videos "Jazz Fusion Improvisation" and "Melodic Phrasing".). Click here buy... seriously DO IT!

* Fusion is an offshoot of jazz music. It is the "fusing" of Jazz with it's celebration of improvisation (soloing) with the more accessible feel of Rock. Fusion has long been the gateway for many rock guitarists into the world of jazz.

** Phrasing is a term that means the way a soloist groups their notes together in a more vocal type approach.

*** I, IV, V is a standard progression of chords within most blues songs. I = One chord, IV = Four chord, V = Five chord. These chords start off each progressing note of the parent key's scale. i.e in the Key of C: C=1, D=2, E=3, F=4, G=5, A=6, B=7. So a I, IV, V in C would be: C, F, G

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Free theory lessons??? Can it be so?

I wanted to write a special post to THE coolest place I have found on the net. This place has by FAR helped me more than any other in my understanding of the principles of music and it's related theories. It is a wonderful forum, hosted by Harmony-Central, a place called the "Lesson Loft"

Here is the link

This place is home to many gifted regulars. Names like Jed, Poparad, mosiddiqi, Trickyboy, meganutt, jonfinn, JonR, jonPhillips, GreenasJade, bydoempire, 3shitfgtr, Jasco, 1001gear, yours truly and far too many others to mention (no slight intended to any of you guys I failed to mention - you know who you are). These players - many of them pros - take their time to answer questions of all varieties to players of all levels. For nothing more than maybe the good karma and the joy of simply helping others. Their collective experience and knowledge is a asset I can no longer live without. It's like having 50 guitar teachers!

Seriously, I never thought myself a "forum" type guy ... sounds weirdly geeky somehow. I just, one day, stumbled across the site several years back. Very tentatively put up my first post - a question to the group. Once I saw how quickly the answer came, I immediately saw the value and was hooked.

I can't stress enough how great it is to have a place you can go online, where you can openly share ideas, ask questions, hear new music, speak to musicians from around the world, meet name players, do "backing track jams" and generally be inspired and re-focused daily.

Many of these types of sites exist. I have been on many (another great one I frequent is over at the Gear Page it is very similar in it's quality of great minds, players and info. I have just not been there as long as I have with the 'Loft'. It takes time to make the same friendly connections.). Sure, every once in a while in these places an argument breaks out, but it is rare and almost always handled with mutual respect - a rare commodity on the internet.

I urge you all to stop in for a visit and, more importantly, join in on the conversation. Just reading the existing posts will help you ... but being involved in the discussions will help you learn faster than you can imagine.

Seriously, don't be shy! Who cares if you are wrong - don't be intimidated or embarrassed. Every advanced player has learned from raw beginners so your input HAS value to the collective whole – no matter your level. Besides, you don't know these people and will never likely meet them in your life. Remember they hail from all over the planet and are all there to learn. Just like you.

The best part - IT'S ABSOLUTELY FREE!

I urge you to come on by and join me in the conversation. Or find your own "loft". Whatever you do, internet guitar forums are one of the best resources this "picker and a grinner" has ever found.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Get some "umm hmm" into your playing

Copyright All rights reserved by Pan-African News Wire File Photos

The image kind of says it all! NOW have a listen to the masterful Oz Noy Trio and check that GROOVE!!

Of course it never hurts to have a machine like Keith Carlock on the drums layin in something that tight!

Where am I going with this you ask? Well over my years of teaching, there is an observation I have made. THE one principle aspect to many people's playing that divides the good from the bad OR the good from the VERY good - is GROOVE. Some call it pocket, tempo, timing they all essentially mean the same thing: One's sense of rhythm. Typically many players are weak in this area without being aware of it. How can this be?

  • Many people are (sad to say) just born with it - an over-abundance OR lack thereof. (I'll expand on this in a minute)
  • Much of the time many devote to practicing is typically devoted to harmony*. Internet forums are full of chatter about musical theory and what scale goes with what chord etc. 
  • Music magazines seldom cover the topic of rhythm. The topic apparently lacks the sizzle to move magazines off the shelf.
As far as being born with it, we all have a natural sense of rhythm. This is visible in even very young children. Truthfully some people are just more naturally rhythmic than others. Some of it is cultural too (i.e. latin or african music and culture is more closely tied to rhythm that some other cultures). This creates a situation where those who are good at it -  don't know why they are. These players never really needed to consciously work on it, so therefore have a tough time relating the "how" to those that are less funk-sional. It's not all that bad, don't jump yet! In my experience there is a quite small percentage of lost causes. There is conversely a small percentage of strong rhythmic people. The vast majority of us lie somewhere in the middle of all that.

Which brings us to the reason for this post. What can you do to improve this area?
These are in no set order but ALL have impacted my funk-meter to the positive:
  • LEARN TO DRUM!!! Hands down the simple most effective thing you can do - and FUN! You don't need the 20 piece Neil Peart kit (including gong and tubular bells). You can start the process with a hand drum. I do however believe the most effective is using a full kit though - as it gets all the limbs into the process. Rhythm is a full body experience.
  • Record yourself - this is a HUGE way to hear yourself as others do. Listen to your phrases... are they landing right where they should be? Make them.
  • Practice with a metronome a LOT. When it is clicking away you will know when you are landing in the right spot because the click disappears. Test yourself and see how many clicks in a row you can make vanish. Or imagine the clicks are on 1 & 3 of the beat... or 2 & 4 if you want some swing.
  • Use jam tracks - these are like karaoke tracks for the guitar. It is the songs without the guitar track. Just google jam tracks - there are many sites with these available - like this one
  • Listen to some funk!! James Brown, Bootsy Collins, Red Hot Chili Peppers whatever your taste. Listen to how the apply the phrases - then play along.
  • Move your body to the music. Whether it is dancing or just putting on a set of headphones and going for a walk. Walk in TIME. Stay on the beat. You can fix your "issue" you just need to reset the internal clock.
  • Awareness - this is honestly the most important thing of all. If you are aware you have an issue with anything (in life and guitar) that is the first step towards fixing it. Record yourself - listen back and be honest. Don't get discouraged but constructively critical. Learning to play well isn't something that happens overnight. There are no shortcuts so learn to enjoy the process.
So grab that guitar. Hook up a nasty 7#9 chord and make some funk happen. Just remember - it's all about the ONE two three four , ONE two three four , ONE two three four  

(Insert James Brown splits here)

* In music, harmony is the use of simultaneous pitches (tones, notes), or chords.[1] The study of harmony involves chords and their construction and chord progressions and the principles of connection that govern them. (source: wikipedia)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The coolest software EVER!!!

Man, am I a geek to be so excited about this.... you have no idea.

THE greatest software this guitar player has ever come across is a wonderful package called "Transcribe!". This joyous bundle of code allows you to import a sound file of a song you are trying to learn. Once imported, you can slow it down to less than half speed. The best part: you don't alter the pitch at all! You can also maintain the tempo but raise the pitch in semitones. All you floating tremolo system guys can celebrate; no more retuning songs in Eb! Just pitch adjust that sucker up one semitone and whammo! Instant Stevie Ray Vaughan!

Even cooler, with a click and a drag of your mouse across the file, you can highlight any piece and endlessly loop it until you figure it out. What?!? There's more?? Yes!! You can EQ out the bass part or any other interfering frequency. My personal favourite: flip it into Karaoke mode to remove those annoying "it's all about me" vocalists (yeah I said it!). Honestly, it does more than all this. There are so many features I don't even know yet.

For the record, I am no company shill.  I have no affiliation with these guys and stand to profit zero from its promotion. I am just SO darned happy that someone has used their skills to make my life so much easier. Long gone are the days of dragging my finger across my vinyl to slow the turntable down (destroying yet another album). Priced at a mere $50, this packs so much value for the money.

There is a free, fully- functioning demo to boot:

Putting on my teacher's hat for a moment - ANY guitarist who is serious about improving MUST learn to use their ears to figure out songs. This is a critical skill all pro players have. In this era of internet Tab and YouTube lessons, extra steps must be taken to avoid falling into the trap of getting someone else to do the work for you. If you don't learn at least one song per week using only your ears, you are (as the singer of Japanese metal band Loudness used to say) CLAZY!

The world of guitar could use all the good ears we can get!

Welcome to Six String Obsession!

Hey all!

Welcome to the first official post in my new blog. I'm a blogger?? Seems inconceivable somehow, yet here I am writing.

I have had a lifelong journey with the coolest instrument of all - the guitar. Since the age of 12 when I used to sneak into my older brother's room without his knowledge and play his (then new) Ibanez Roadstar Custom. For reasons only my 12 year old self knew, I didn't want anyone to know I was learning. This went on for almost a year before I was found out.

Once "out of the closet", the world of music opened its arms to me and, since then, has filled my life with such purpose and passion that only a creative art can give. I have taught likely over 400 people over these years (at one point around 75 a week!) and most recently my children. Let the torch be theirs to hold high or so they say!

Which brings me to the reason for this blog: In my travels I come across tricks, gadgets, performances, lessons, insights and a whole gamut of guitar-istic madness. My intention is to post all that stuff here so that we can all learn and grow together.

So join me in all this! If you have never played, hopefully I can help inspire you to do so. If you do play, hopefully you will get something from this - or maybe even contribute to it. If you come across anything particularly cool, please drop me a line through this blog. I would love to have a community of like-minded individuals to share info with!