Saturday, March 19, 2011

Forming a Practice routine

My new strat!! Not relevant ... just because I am stoked!

Today we have a guest entry from a fine musician. One Mr. Jeff Stocks. In a discussion we were having about forming a guitar practice routine, his post stood out as one of exceptional quality. It needs to be shared as I couldn't have worded it better! Jeff you have the floor:

"Forming an efficient practice routine is a topic near and dear to my heart . Mostly I love it because I spent years, literally, practicing stuff that ultimately didn't serve the music I was playing. I learned the hard way, and only because I finally found a great teacher, how to translate practice room material into actual music! It is something I work on and think about often.

A few bits of wisdom I have gleaned:
  • Everything you do must serve the music. I honestly ask myself when working on some random, abstract concept 'Would Keith Jarrett practice this way'? I make my decision based on that answer.
  • Apply whatever you are working on to tunes. This could be voicings, lines, concepts, etc. By rote exercises played in a vacuum never 'stuck' with me and I have anecdotal evidence they don't with many players.
  • Ear training and slow metronome work will change your playing more than just about anything.
  • Sing everything.
  • Spend some time transcribing, even just a line or two.
  • Limit whatever you are working on to a few concepts/voicings/etc.
I often think how much more valuable my practice would have been, had I taken a few tunes and used them as vehicles for concepts. Instead of just reading notes on a page or working through the cycle.

I guess a practical example would be to take a tune like 'All The Things You Are'. It goes through multiple keys, moves in common harmonic cadences, has pretty much all chord types represented, is a nice, strong melody and is a good tune to shed ideas.

Just a small sample of what you could work on:
  • Play the changes using shell voicings (3rd & 7ths). Sing the root movement. Then the thirds. Now 7ths.
  • Play the changes using triads with nice voice-leading. Sing the top note of the triad. Sounds like Bach w/ this tune.
  • Pick a certain chord extension and play through the changes using that as the top voice of the chord (9ths for example)
  • Improvise using guide tones (3rds and 7ths) resolving on strong beats.
  • Improvise using only triads.
  • Pick a 'constant' set of intervals and solo (3-5-7-9, for example) using only those notes over every chord.
  • Play a certain number of notes/bar.
  • Play only on certain beats through the changes.
  • Improvise using modes of the melodic minor for every chord.
  • Improvise using upper structure triads.
  • Improvise using only pentatonics.
  • Treat everything like a tri-tone sub.
  • Play completely free over the entire progression.
The benefit is that you will learn a tune really well, will get a real-world use of whatever concept you like, and are making actual music in the practice room. I wish I would have started this type of work decades ago as opposed to years ago....."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

THE Foundation - A salute to bass players everywhere

I came across this clip and was inspired to share it here. It is from Sabian Live 2011 NAMM Party soundcheck with my fav Tim Lefebvre on bass. As far as a piece of music there is nothing really interesting here (it is just a sound check jam in E) but what IS HERE is massive groove!

Listen to the solid table Jeff Kollman (guitar) has to work with as Chad Smith (Chili Peppers drummer) and the aforementioned Mr. Lefebvre lay it down. Listen also, at the end of the clip, as Chad changes the feel to a swing - Lefebvre doesn't miss a step. While soloing, Kolman can lay out altogether and it STILL sounds great. A bass player like this allows the soloist intense flexibility to phrase and build in holes. My hats off to him and all of his kind.

What is really cool to me about that kind of bass playing, is that it is really not flashy - it is responsible. The harmonic framework is strongly reinforced and he adds colours in the holes. But NEVER sacrifices holding it down in the interest of self satisfaction.

Many of today's bass players, when I hear them, I think they are really just guitar players in hiding. Many seem to have a quest for the spotlight ... cool... but that is really not the job. Truly great bass players get excited about holding it down. Playing around roots. Defining chords. They have the most power in the band and wielded properly it can be a thing of beauty.

I love working with great bass players. It changes the game entirely. To all you bass players learn to admire the real power of the instrument. Sure poppin and slappin is cool, but NOT if it sacrifices the task at hand. A band is like a sports team - every member has a job to do. Doing someone else's job not only breeds contempt but it will sacrifice the greater sound as a whole. AND lose you gigs!

Check out Tim's work with another fav of mine Wayne Krantz on their album Krantz, Carlock, Lefebvre. After seeing the Krantz trio live I was gripped by his bass playing. Wayne obviously heard what I heard! Tim Lefebvre is monstrous. He is a BASS player and God love him for understanding what needs to be done.

< jG >

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Teaching - some tips on where to begin

Copyright All rights reserved by kawwsu29
Teaching is a lot of fun and can be a great job - but to do it well it is a lot of work. Just because a person is a good guitar player does not mean he or she can teach. There is a great number of unschooled, mediocre guitar teachers out there. You need to take steps to ensure you don't become one of them. First I should say: Teaching is VERY important job so if you dont have time to commit to it fully - then DON'T. For this discussion let's assume you do.

How much do I charge?
I am not up to date with current rates as I haven't done it full-time in a few years. These days, the people I teach are friends or friends kids. My suggestion is make some calls to local schools and find out what they are charging. I would say NO LESS that $20/half hour.

What about payment policies?
You should request the full month in advance (at the beginning of each month) and be firm that any last minute cancellations are billable (2 days notice OR doctors note). People will cancel on you at the last minute and you are stuck with nothing to do for that half hour. Which isn't really enough time to get into anything or go anywhere. Be firm on this and explain well up front so they all know the policy. If you are firm and professional with this people will respect your time better. If you get all loosey-goosey they will respond in kind. You can and will be left with those, above mentioned, pockets of empty time. OK once in a while, but can become a major drag if it happens often enough. If you want to make an exception, do it ONCE, but make sure you say "I'll let it slide this time but the policy is... next time you will be billed"

As far as the lesson itself:
  • BE ORGANIZED!! Form a plan of what you are going to do with students. Spend a weekend or two and chart out some courses of instruction. Figure out a bunch of beginners songs, exercises, reading and theory material. Then do the same for the intermediate and advanced levels. Students like when teachers are organized and have a plan they are working through. Go through all the basic chord shapes and rank them in terms of difficulty (F & Barre chords are the hardest for beginners). Present them and everything in an order.
  • First lesson - interview the student and listen to what their goals and dreams are. If they want to go to school for it or play professionally then more formal reading and theory heavy approaches are required. If all they want to do is have fun and bang out some songs follow that road. Be flexible, always considering their goals - even when THEY aren't.
  • Make part of the lesson teaching them ear training or how to lift a song on their own. (I did a blog entry on this with a list of songs may be helpful Six String Obsession: How to learn to play by ear - The Great Secret revealed!)
  • Keep a journal and take notes at the end of the lesson as to where you left off with the student. So as he comes back the next week you can pick up right where you left off. You can also chart progress for them - very handy for when they reach a plateau and feel down that they are not progressing as they had hoped.
  • Don't force note reading or theory on anyone who you aren't sure is in love with the instrument. Nurture the love FIRST and everything else will organically fall into place. Many bad teachers drive kids away from playing because they think they are doing the right thing by forcing them to learn to read etc. DON'T do this! Listen to the student and regularly ask them if they are enjoying the lesson. Or what could be done to make it more fun. It's amazing, but people don't offer this info up. You have to drag it out of them. Make sure you do.
  • Communicate EVERYTHING with the parents and explain what you are doing with their kid. Especially if you are NOT teaching them reading and text book stuff. Some parents get very uptight that "all the kid is learning is songs and stuff" - make sure they understand what you are doing, more importantly - why.
  • Use your creativity to come up with exercises to address specific problems. If they are having trouble moving their little finger - design a drill that has them using it a lot. OR better yet think of a song that requires a lot of little finger use. I always had better results when drills were hiding in songs a student liked.
  • As they advance and the hooks are in - begin introducing more theory and reading to the lesson. It is very important to their overall development as a musician but make sure their mind is open and ready to 'work' otherwise you may lose them. 

Most important make it FUN FUN FUN!! Keep it light and try to inspire them with great videos, expose them to good players, show them exciting pedals and stuff that excites you. Go to a concert with them. Support and help them to form a band - explaining the vast importance of this step. Make them a part of the guitar culture in general as quickly as you can. All this stuff can be as enticing as the pursuit itself.

Without great teachers great music's future is in jeopardy. We are the guardians of this trust and it is our responsibility to share and grow the community for the betterment of us all. Don't be a good teacher, be much better than that.

P.S. > I would like to add a valuable tip that came from a discussion about this post with Mr. Ken Rosser - instructor at G.I.T. in California. What Ken likes to do, is to just chart everything for the students in standard notation. Don't discuss it, just write everything down this way. I think this is a tremendous piece of advice. It presents it to the student in a "just the way musicians communicate" way, without making the student commit to some formal, perhaps intimidating learning. Great idea and thanks Ken!

P.S.S > Here are further words of wisdom from the masterful Jon Finn. Instructor at the prestigious Berklee Institue in Boston. Author of the books:

Advanced Modern Rock Guitar Improvisation
Blues/Rock Improv
Foundations of Rock: Guitar Riffs in the Style of the '60s & '70s
One Guitar, Many Styles

"I've been teaching for a really long time (25+ years!). Here are a few nuggets of wisdom I learned along the way:

  • If you convey to your students how much you love to play guitar, they will pick up on that. It might be the single most important thing you can teach them.
  • There's a saying: "When a man makes plans, the Universe laughs." Make your plans, stay organized, but be flexible too.
  • Never work harder than your student. If you do, no-one benefits.
  • Focus on what they CAN do, not what they can't.
  • Remember that your student is a different case than you.
  • Your student will "get it" when they're ready. No matter what you do, you cannot speed that up.
  • Your best students will learn despite your best efforts to sabotage them.
  • Your worst students won't learn despite your best efforts to advance their knowledge.
  • The more you learn about yourself, the less likely you'll be "taken in" by your student's issues.
  • Start on time, end on time, be sure to get paid.
  • Really, guitar teachers are therapists who subscribe to the "strum" method."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Monk - words of wisdom from a master

I am straight up stealing this from my friend Sean Driscoll. Thanks brother! Sean is a wonderfully gifted New York based guitarist. I was reading his blog (So Much Sound) where he plugged us all into these very cool hand written notes from the masterful Theolonius Monk. There is some real gold in this advice and applicable to players of all instruments in all genres. So it needs to be shared. 

The older I get, the more I realize how important the mental aspect of playing is. At a point in your development, it can supersede the scales and chords. These days, lessons I often gain the most from have more to do with approach and less to do with the nuts and bolts. So for me these notes went right to my core.

Here is a written out transcription of the notes to help your tired eyes.

  • Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
  • Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head, when you play.
  • Stop playing all those weird notes (that bullshit), play the melody!
  • Make the drummer sound good.
  • Discrimination is important.
  • You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
  • Always know….(MONK)
  • It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
  • Let’s lift the band stand!!
  • I want to avoid the hecklers.
  • Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that. Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
  • The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
  • Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important that what you do.
  • A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
  • Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, and when it comes, he’s out of shape and can’t make it.
  • When you’re swinging, swing some more.
  • (What should we wear tonight? Sharp as possible!)
  • Always leave them wanting more.
  • Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene. These pieces were written so as to have something to play and get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
  • You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (To a drummer who didn’t want to solo)
  • Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along and do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
  • They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along and spoil it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Rabbit Hole - Stretching your options on a dom7 chord

For me I have had several "Eurekas!" over the years on the guitar.  One of the cool ones was the day I realized the power of the min7b5 (or diminished) chord, when combined with tritone substitutions. I know I know - jazz terminology. But stay with me. When you are trying to grip this, get your guitar and play the chords I am referring to in the examples. It is the best way to make something that sounds very complicated much simpler.

Getting back to our concept. Let me explain how this pretty simple concept can open the fretboard right up for you. Some basics you need to understand:

  •  A min7b5 chord (said minor seven flat five chord - sounds fancy ... easily played) can very commonly substitute for a Dom7 chord - starting of the chord's 3rd. So instead of A7 you could play Dbmin7b5. (Min7b5 chords are essentially diminished chords. Or commonly referred to as half-diminished. A slightly different chord - but follows similar rules)
  • Diminished chord repeat, or invert, every 4 frets (a minor 3rd apart) so the above Dbmin7b5 chord can be slid all around the neck in minor 3rd intervals. As the Mall Cop would say "Fun fact for ya" - A diminished chord can be named by any of the notes of the chord. Any of the notes in the chord can act as the root.
Pretty cool right? There's more:
A very common substitution for a dominant chord is it's tritone - so for our A7 example you can sub Eb7. Very quickly, using all of this, you have 3 different chords possibilities - A7, Eb7 and Dbmin7b5 (plus all the sliding inversions of the diminished chord) next time you are playing a blues in A.

Feeling good? Got it? Let me throw a wrench in it!
NOW, what if you do the same diminished chord swap for A7's tritone sub (Eb7) - with ITS min7b5 substitution? Remember - that THIS diminished chord is also found every minor 3rd (4 frets). We are moving away a hair from consonance here but still very much in.

All of a sudden on a simple Blues vamp where all chords are dominant (which is 90% of the blues) you now, armed with this knowledge, have a HUGE amount of available chord options for creating melody or vamping for EACH dominant chord. The same principal applies to any occurrence of a dominant chord. All of which sound pretty damn cool. All of which are still pretty 'inside' sounds.

Now if this works with chords ... could it work with their scales?


The rabbit hole is truly deep folks!!!!